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Rocklahoma: Still Hair Metal After All These Years

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Guns is not surprised people are jones­ing for glam again. "I think when the country gets depressed, the music gets happy. The government was fucked up in the Eighties, and now it's fucked again, with Dick Cheney and Scooter Libby. So we're back in the fun business." For him, the fun business isn't an escape from real life; it is real life, a job where he works his ass off with some buddies and his kid ("Damn, your bassist must have a beautiful mama," a guy in another band yells), playing music he can stand to listen to.

One of the strange things about Rocklahoma is that the bands aren't trying to act younger than they are — these are all men who had to face the passage of time. Nobody came here expecting the star treatment. (A popular T-shirt among the crew says "I Don't Care Who You Used To Be.") All the sensitive egos crawled away years ago. Only the lifers are left. LeSté says, "Bang Tango's gone from being a big band to a little band to a cult-level band. That's my favorite spot to be at. I'm addicted to the flat beer and smelly clubs. That shit builds character."

Nobody is less excited to be here than Vince Neil. "A gig is a gig," he shrugs a few hours before he goes on and tells the crowd, "Hello, Montana!" I'm ushered into his private sanctum, where Vince sits poring over a new translation of Virgil's Eclogues. Nah, just kidding — he's basking in the sun with a couple of leathery blondes. Not a bad day to be Vince Neil. Vince seems bemused by Rocklahoma. "People call it 'hair metal,'" he says. "But there are always goofy new bands, you know? And they all have hair, right?" Point taken! "All these goofy bands grew up listening to us anyway." He talks about his upcoming Motley Cruise tour. (Just Vince, not the band.) "It's weird, I don't get a lot of respect, and this genre doesn't get a lot of respect. But listen to that," he says, waving royally toward the field, where the crowd is screaming for Skid Row. "People didn't stop listening."

Lots of musicians are hanging out this weekend, not just the ones on the bill. Steven Adler, the original G n' R drummer, turned up. He's just here for the good times: shaking hands, getting recognized, breathing it all in. Everybody's buzzed to see him, blond curls still blazing. He tells everybody who'll listen how Axl needs to cut the bullshit and get the band back together. He also discusses his G n' R tribute band, Adler's Appetite. The guy presents a shaky argument for the "I used to do a little, but the little wouldn't do it" metal lifestyle — in all candor, he may not necessarily be in peak physical condition. But he's a friendly mess, sprawled on the couch in Enuff Z'nuff's trailer. He and Chip Z'Nuff pound a few early-afternoon beers and smoke some hand-rolled goodies. Enuff Z'Nuff — you remember, the Chicago power-pop boys who hit in 1989 with "New Thing" and decorated their albums with Day-Glo peace signs — just got offstage, and bassist Chip's in fine spirits. "We're underground now," he says. "You know what underground means. Playing fuckin' dives. But the real rock is coming back."

"Oh, it's back," Adler says, cracking a beer. "Like the Journey song on TV."

Z'Nuff launches into one of his spiels about the rock life. The Bulletboys' Marq Torien pops in and does a double take to see his old L.A. buddy Adler. He gives him a bearhug and plops on the couch. "There are two types of people at this place," Torien says. "NAS and IAS. 'Not a Star' and 'Is a Star.' There are a lot of N's here, but not many I's. It's like, don't go into that trailer! Too many N's!"

"Right now, we've got three I's on this couch," Z'Nuff says. Adler asks about a mutual friend. "He couldn't make it this weekend," Torien says. "Rehab."

"Rehab," Adler nods. "I've been there."

"We've all been there," Z'Nuff says.

"Well, he's trying to make some changes in his life," Torien says, before Z'Nuff cuts him off. "Oh, he's not trying. He's fucking doing it. Just like you were fucking doing it out there on the stage." Torien beams at the praise. He mumbles something apologetic about his time slot. "Oh, no, my friend. You showed them what a real rock star is. You didn't come to the picnic with an empty box! You brought the sandwiches and the Fritos and shit!"

Naturally, they chat about their dogs. Each one shows off cell-phone photos and gushes about how cute his dog is. "Look at my pug!" Adler cries, waving his phone. "Isn't she pretty? She's got the prettiest face." He giggles and begins to sing a Mötley Crüe song everybody knows. "She's got the loooks that kiiiiiilll!"

Z'Nuff starts another rant about real rock (it's coming back). Adler keeps singing to the picture of his pug, switching to Cheap Trick's "Big Eyes." This leads the three men to a long argument over whether "Big Eyes" counts as one of Cheap Trick's "hits." It's music-geek talk, but it's music to my ears. It takes me back in time. I know Guns n' Roses used to sing, "Yesterday's got nothin' for me," but the Gunners hadn't seen a lot of yesterdays back then. Sometimes you're in the mood for one.

The only people having a bad time at Rocklahoma? The serious metal dudes, easily identified by their Testament T-shirts, disgusted expressions and horny-looking wives. Everybody else is riding the night train all weekend — middle-aged campers reliving their youth, local kids who would be here anyway for the monster-truck rallies or tractor pulls. There are military recruiters, so you can join the Army to "Slave to the Grind." There's a mechanical bull ride, a make-your-own-DVD karaoke trailer, a booth where you can get your photo taken with Playboy model (and former Fear Factor contestant) Kelly Hopper. The local band in the beer tent is grinding out a medley of "Night Train," "You Shook Me All Night Long" and "Should I Stay or Should I Go?"

The tribute band Kiss Army hang around all weekend in full makeup, posing for fan photos. The Ace Frehley guy, Douglas Gery, is a Nashville guitarist who makes his living from ad jingles. "I'm not even a huge Kiss fan," he says. "I'm more of a Southern-rock guy." When he's not Ace, he's on the road with his Eagles tribute band, Tequila Sunrise. (He's Don Felder.) The Gene Simmons guy goes for a smoke behind a trailer but won't let me watch. "Sorry," he says as if explaining to a child. "Gene doesn't smoke."

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