Welcome to the Rocktopia Interviews Section (* For Members Only)
Interview with Daniel Bukszpan
03 August 2012
Interview by Neil Daniels
Based in the USA, Daniel Bukszpan is the author of the acclaimed The Encyclopaedia Of Heavy Metal, which was published in 2003 and featured a foreword by the late Ronnie James Dio.
When did you first become a heavy metal fan?
Actually it was pretty late in the game. I didn’t really embrace it until I was a college student. Before that I listened to a lot of alternative rock, although it wasn’t called that yet. I got to college in 1987 and a guy who I ended up playing in bands with for many years was a big metal fan and he showed me the error of my ways. I never went back.
What artists’ did you listen to growing up?
That changed around a lot. When I was a kid I listened mostly to whatever was on the radio or whatever filtered out of my older sister’s bedroom. We both agreed on the Beatles, the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, and ABBA. When I was 10 or 11 I started buying my own records and it was mostly classic rock stuff. One of the first records I ever bought with my own money was some Styx record, if memory serves, and I mostly stuck with classic rock stuff like Queen, the Who, the Doors and the Rolling Stones until I became a teenager. By then it was 1984 or 1985 and I started listening to Husker Du about 97% of the time. I had never heard anything like them, and their music just completely blew my head off.
What made you want to write such an ambitious tome as The Encyclopaedia Of Heavy Metal?
I had no idea what I was getting into when I decided to do it, so it wasn’t until it was all over that I realized what an undertaking it was. I was working in website production and had written some stuff for a few magazines, but nothing more than just short articles, nothing even remotely on the scale of a book, much less that book. I was offered the job and took it more just to transition into writing as a full-time occupation than anything else, but it ended up being a real labour of love for me, so if it was ambitious it didn’t feel that way to me. I just kind of did it. I knew it was a lot of work to do in a short period of time, but it never felt like a burden.
How long did it take you to write and research the book?
Three months. I quit my job to write it and wrote it on full-time job hours of 40-60 hours a week, so it was possible to get it together in that kind of time frame. If I had been working at a full-time job at the same time it would have taken much longer.
Did you get any feedback from featured artists’?
Not good feedback, and not directly. Victor Griffin from Place of Skulls let me know that I had made a factual error about a songwriting credit, and Keith Alexander from Carnivore told me that I had wrongly said he had left the group, when actually he was fired. Those were the only artists to speak to me directly about the book. Any other criticisms I heard about third-hand, and if any other artists liked what I wrote, I never heard about it. But people don’t tell you when they like your work, just when they feel like you fucked up.
Can you name check some other books on the history of heavy metal?
I liked Stairway To Hell by Chuck Eddy very much, and The Collector's Guide to Heavy Metal: Volume 1: The Seventies by Martin Popoff. I’ve probably read them both 500 times. The Popoff book in particular is a really great guide. There’s a whole section in the appendix of albums not to buy even though the covers made them look like heavy metal albums. That alone made the book worth buying.
Is there still yet to be a definitive book on the genre written and published?
I’d have to say yes, but only because the genre keeps evolving and new bands keep forming and the old ones keep on going. It would have to completely stop for many years before you could say anything definitive about it. My own book certainly wasn’t definitive. It’s almost ten years old and a lot of the information is out of date, and there were bands chosen that were hip at the time that seem laughable to include today. You could maybe make a definitive book about rockabilly or tin pan alley or some other antiquated genre that hasn’t seen any movement in decades.
What are your thoughts on the reunions of Judas Priest and Motley Crue et al?
I think it’s fine. I’m not really sure what else they could possibly do for a living at this point. I can’t see Nikki Sixx selling real estate, or Glenn Tipton working as a Wal-Mart greeter.
Should Judas Priest call it a day?
I thought they did? My understanding was that this is their last tour. Whether or not they should call it a day, I can’t say, but I think as long as they’re enjoying what they’re doing and people still want to hear it, I don’t see any reason why they should stop.
What do you think of the current line-up of KISS?
I’ve never been a KISS fan, so it doesn’t really make any difference to me what the line-up is. My understanding is that the band was always the Gene Simmons & Paul Stanley Show anyway, so as long as they’re involved I guess it’s fine, although I’ve seen a lot of bands still do worthwhile, credible stuff even after losing key members.
Which rock/metal writers do you admire?
Like I said before, I like Chuck Eddy and Martin Popoff a lot. The fact that they can actually form coherent sentences kind of puts them in a class by themselves.
Can you name some worthwhile rock/metal (auto)biographies?
No. The best biographies are country singer biographies. They consumed so much more alcohol and drugs than any heavy metal musician, that the stories are actually better. The George Jones autobiography, I Lived To Tell It All, is hysterical. I don’t see how he’s even still alive, with some of the stuff that he describes in that book. He shouldn’t have lived to be 20. The story about Tammy Wynette taking his car keys away is priceless. He was drunk off his ass but he was out of liquor, so she hid his car keys so that he couldn’t get to the liquor store. So he drove there on a fucking lawnmower!
Can you recall some of your most memorable interviews with bands/singers?
I’ve never done any. I’ve met very few musicians, and to be honest I kind of prefer it that way. I like preserving the distance I have from them as an audience member, and I would hate to have my enjoyment of some of this music taken away from me by meeting some musician who it turned out was a total asshole, which I’m sure comes up a lot.
What are your thoughts on online metal writing?
It’s great. Metal is really the fans’ music and online writing gives them a voice and gives them a way to seek each other out and find new music. It’s very healthy.
Is there a future for the printed metal magazine? In the States it is not especially healthy...
There will always be print journalism. It may not be what it used to be but that’s just how technology goes, throughout the whole course of human history. The magazines only cornered the metal journalism market because the internet didn’t exist, but something better came along. Too bad. That’s the way it goes. There will always be something new to make the old thing less dominant.
What are some of the best gigs you’ve been to?
Every Carnivore show I ever saw was great. Iron Maiden always put on a great show, Dio always put on a great show. Husker Du were one of the best live bands I’ve ever seen. The most memorable one of recent years was Heaven and Hell. I saw them at Radio City Music Hall for the concert that they filmed at Radio City Music Hall for the DVD, and I went with my wife, who was 7 months pregnant with our son at the time. I like to pretend that the music somehow got to him in utero, or that someday when he’s older, I can show him the DVD and tell him his fetus was there.
What is your music collection like (CDs, LPs, books, etc.)?
I still buy CDs, although that’s been kind of waning in recent years. I don’t have any LPs at all, and I haven’t owned a turntable in a very long time. But the more music becomes an mp3 experience and an iPod experience the harder it is for me to justify owning physical media. I travel three hours a day for work and it’s only the iPod that gets me through. The physical CDs are pretty much just for reading liner notes while I’m using the toilet. I do almost all my reading on the toilet.
Which metal magazines do you currently read?
I don’t. I’m 42 years old, a husband and the father of a 4 year old, and I just don’t have the time to keep up on what’s going on any more. I could barely keep up even when I was an active musician.
What do you write for these days?
For my main day job I write for CNBC.com, and the volume of material that I crank out for them on a weekly basis is ridiculous. I’ve probably written the equivalent of 25 encyclopaedias in the two years that I’ve been here, just in terms of sheer word count. I just got done writing The Encyclopaedia Of New Wave for Sterling Publishing, and that’s scheduled for release in May 2012, the same time as the Iron Maiden book that I contributed to for Voyageur Press comes out. It will be very, very amusing to have both of those books in stores at the same time. I also contributed to another Voyageur book about Aerosmith that came out in September 2011, as well as one that came out last year about AC/DC.
Do you have any more book projects lined up?
The next thing that I’m about to start is the second edition of The Encyclopaedia of Heavy Metal. We’re adding 40 bands and taking out a couple, and updating some of the entries where necessary. It’s going to be a little bittersweet, since Ronnie James Dio died in the interim, and he wrote the original forward. I’m still not sure how we’re going to handle that. Some other musicians that really meant a lot to me have died since then too, like Peter Steele and Denis D’Amour. After I finish that revision I don’t really have anything lined up. There are a couple of other “encyclopaedias” I’d love to write but I don’t think Sterling is interested in doing them. So we’ll see what happens next.
Anything left to say?
I am very, very grateful to everyone who’s bought my book or just enjoyed anything I’ve written. I’m very happy that I can actually support my family on what I earn as a writer, and I especially want to mention my wife, Asia, because she’s stood by me while this career looked like it wasn’t going to amount to much, and she believed in me. I’m a lucky guy and I feel very lucky to be living the life I am.