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In Search of Hanoi Rocks and the Holy Grail: Introduction to my Interview with Dave Dickson
About a year ago, I rekindled my youthful obsession with Hanoi Rocks. It all started with a dim recollection of an issue of Kerrang! long lost. This one magical Kerrang! contained, sure as I could recall, a timeless tribute written by Hanoi Rocks' chief correspondent Dave Dickson. Somehow, I had to find those words again. The obsession with locating and replacing my old Kerrang!s rose to a fever pitch, leading me onto eBay and into the realm of Hanoi fans and collectors. One collector who scanned through every Kerrang! in vain dubbed the missing tribute "The Holy Grail." After a bizarre search laden with letdowns, I did indeed find my Holy Grail (turns out what I was looking for was not Dickson's "official" tribute, but an obscure record review). But along my way to the Grail, something else happened. I ended up closer to the band than I ever expected. One night in January, I found myself on the phone with none other than Dave Dickson himself.
When I finally managed to track Dave down, he was in Los Angeles doing a stint of projects in the U.S., writing on uniquely American subjects like pro wrestling for reasons known only to him. As far as I know, Dave's still in L.A., and I can imagine him now, holed up in the Hollywood hills, writing screenplays and occasionally emailing Alice Cooper. When I got Dave on the phone for the first time, he seemed reluctant to dust off the Hanoi memories. Later, I came to the realization that Dave is less obsessed with Hanoi Rocks than I am, probably because he lived the Hanoi adventure firsthand. His experience was complete, perfect in its own tragic way. My attachment to Hanoi Rocks seemed, next to his, strangely vivid. I was still looking for something; Dave had found it a long time ago and locked it away for the long haul. But I did my best to charm his U.K. "old school" demeanor with my comparatively naive passion for Hanoi Rocks. In the end, he warmed to the conversation and gave me more than I ever expected.
Dave and I spoke only one time - a three hour bender last January. At the time, Hanoi was entering an exciting new phase. After more than fifteen years, Michael and Andy had begun a new songwriting collaboration - a project which eventually resulted in the controversial "rebirth" of Hanoi Rocks. (I eventually published my own take on the reformation of Hanoi Rocks to the Hanoi Rocks mailing list). But my conversation with Dave took place before Mike and Andy took the step of calling their new band Hanoi Rocks, so we can only speculate as to what Dave's opinion on the subject might be. But reading between the lines of what he says here, I think we can form some tentative conclusions.
Since this interview, a lot has happened on the Hanoi Rocks front. The first new single, "People Like Me", charted number one in Finland (my off-the-cuff review of the first new EP was also posted to the Hanoi list). A full record of new Hanoi Rocks material is expected in the fall, and one can assume (and hope) that an international tour and record deal are forthcoming. Once again, we can only wonder about Dave's take on the new music. I suspect that Dave's response to the new Hanoi Rocks material will be privately conveyed to the band and not printed. He remains friendly with Michael and Andy to this day, but I sense that his role as the key journalist promoting the band in Europe has long since passed.
Which raises an obvious question: what was I doing on the phone with Dave Dickson? What was I after? The answer takes us back a year ago, when I began my quest as a Hanoi Rocks collector. Yes, I wanted my old Kerrang!s back, especially that Holy Grail, but I also wanted some rare tracks, some new Hanoi music after all these years. The search went international; one collector led me to another. I didn't know it then, but I was getting closer to Dave Dickson one degree of separation at a time.
This search for Hanoi rarities soon led me on a fascinating tour of the post-Hanoi solo efforts. The more I learned about Michael and Andy and their unsung solo careers, the more I wanted to make some kind of contribution. I wanted to do something to support both the memory of Hanoi Rocks and the visibility of Michael and Andy's solo work. So I decided to do a series of tributes to Hanoi Rocks, calling attention to the historical importance of the band, the continuing productivity of its key members, and the feverish support of its fan base almost twenty years after the fact. And who would be a more quotable authority than the original Hanoi scribe, Dave Dickson? Eventually I found him. My Hanoi tribute turned into an in-depth interview with Dave himself, an unwieldy project which I came back to in my spare time whenever possible.
In the meantime, of course, Michael and Andy have taken the fate of Hanoi Rocks back into their own hands. I sense that in days to come they won't be needing a fringe writer like myself as much as a well-connected editor at The Rolling Stone. And to be honest, the time for a series of tributes to the band's memory seems to have passed. After all, the new unit is touring and creating new memories and music. Michael and Andy are now building on and affecting the legacy of Hanoi Rocks quite directly. I hope they'll put out brilliant and relevant music for many years to come, silencing the nay-sayers who can't believe the nerve of two legends stepping into the fray at this late hour. Musically, I'm behind them one hundred percent.
But I'd be lying if I said I was completely comfortable with the name "reclamation" and how it was handled. Try as I might, I just don't feel the exact same way about Hanoi Rocks since the rebirth. How could I? Something that was frozen in time forever has been thawed out and I don't know what to make of it. The time for tributes has turned into a time for wait and see. But I wish the guys all the best. I'll be the one in the front row screaming like a teenager when the new Hanoi hits New York City on its first American tour.
With Hanoi on the move again, there's still a need to preserve the past, and that's where this interview with Dave Dickson comes in. For a band of Hanoi's significance, there's a surprising shortage of historical material. There are a few fine web sites, a Japanese biography that will supposedly be released in English someday, some patchwork interviews on video, and that's about it.
This sparse documentation made my mission clear: get Dave to tell me everything a fan and journalist would want to know about Hanoi Rocks. But you'll see that our discussion generated very little dirt - I wasn't trying to uncover any "tell-all" secrets. Dave already published all the tell-all he was willing to tell in Classic Rock Magazine a couple of years ago. If there's ever going to be a true confessional, it has to come from someone close to the band who was there at the time and saw it with their own eyes. So I decided to take a different approach. I would ask Dave to take a hard look at what Hanoi Rocks was all about. I would ask him to help me reconcile his firsthand experience with my romantic belief in the once-in-a-lifetime something that Hanoi captured in their music.
With that said, be warned that there is a fair amount of assumed knowledge about Hanoi Rocks in this interview, so those readers who want more background should refer to Hanoi Rocks web sites for more info on the band and its members. Also be sure to check out my own quick guide page - a good starting point which contains brief bio's of the band as well as Dave Dickson.
On several occasions, this interview changes from a classic "Q & A" into Jon Reed sounding off. I am by no means the most informed party, nor the most polite, but I have developed my own theories on the band over the years. I left in my own comments when they seemed to contrast and enhance Dave's perspective. While not definitive, I hope you'll find my comments thought-provoking. During the editing process, my goal was to achieve a conversation which was focused and chronological, but that also flowed into intriguing side channels before coming to a head. Thus, the unfolding of the conversation has been completely preserved. And yes, the interview does include the Dickson tribute I spent the better part of a year chasing, so you can decide for yourself if it was worth the effort.
Now that this piece is done, I'll be moving on from Hanoi Rocks advocacy and addressing a number of pertinent issues, not the least of which are some glaring financial matters (to lose money while busting ass on a Hanoi project seems oddly appropriate). One of the many things I've learned through this project: as much as I might want, I wasn't meant to be friends with my idols. Can journalists and bands ever move beyond a professional relationship? In Dave's case, they did, and this interview documents some of that story. But that was a unique time and place. I don't have the benefit of comradery with the band to offset whatever I might say to offend them. Nor do I have the powerful media connections to really impact the Hanoi bottom line and earn their respect that way. My only credentials are a passionate connection to the band's music, and, hopefully, an ability to capture that in writing.
Any dreams of becoming friends with the band may have been just that, dreams. But one of the real joys of this writing process has been to make very real connections with Hanoi Rocks fans and collectors the world over. I owe many of you thanks for your help with this project. There are too many of you to mention here; I'll trust that you know who you are. Special thanks, however, must go out to Lambchops and Xan, both of whom have shared Hanoi resources and time generously on so many occasions.
I also owe apologies to the fans of Nasty and Sami, both of whom are not dealt with extensively in this interview. I had only one chance to cover a lot of material and some things got overlooked. Nevertheless, all true fans know that Nasty and Sami are an integral part of the Hanoi Rocks story. I think Dave's comments about the band's chemistry make that abundantly and absolutely clear.
As fans, we're all drawn to Hanoi Rocks for our own reasons. Like any great obsession, Hanoi ultimately leaves us with more questions than answers. My search for the truth about Hanoi Rocks led me to disappointments I did not anticipate and to great music I never knew existed. In the end, I had to face that I couldn't truly separate the breakup of Hanoi Rocks from the loss of my own youth. It was the gritty solo careers of Michael and Andy that showed me the only way forward.
The story of Hanoi Rocks truly does have all the elements of classic Greek tragedy. But while we can never return to the innocence of that great storyline before the dark clouds moved in, we can remember. And I'll always be glad that I had the chance, one January afternoon, to bring out Dave Dickson's memories of a place in time - a time that is best remembered not for the sorrow of dead hope, but for the happiness of life lived to the fullest, and opportunities seized in the face of all odds.