Mean Man: The Story of Chris Holmes (2021)

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Mean Man: The Story of Chris Holmes (2021)

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Back in middle school I knew a kid named Tommy. Tommy had shoulder-length curly hair and wore concert t-shirts to school every day, covered by a jean jacket. At an time when my best friends and I dreamed of splitting a single can of beer four ways (and almost puking when it finally happened), Tommy was regularly dropping acid before school. Tommy was the first person I knew with a CD Walkman, which he brought to school with him. One day I asked him what he was listening to, amd he showed me a CD I will never forget. On the front cover was a guy's crotch with a buzzsaw blade coming out of it. The top of the CD said "W.A.S.P." and the bottom said "Animal (Fuck Like a Beast)."

I had heard stories about W.A.S.P. but was only familiar with the songs that got MTV airplay ("L.O.V.E. Machine" and "I Wanna Be Somebody"). W.A.S.P. was known for throwing raw meat into their crowds and whipping scantily-clad women on stage, two things that ensured they would never tour the conservative Midwest. If people knew any member of W.A.S.P. it was Blackie Lawless, the towering (6'4"), evil-looking lead singer. None of my friends knew who Chris Holmes was.

That of course changed with the release of the film The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years. When I was a teen, that was the metal documentary to see. It had interviews with Lemmy, and the guys from KISS, and Aerosmith, but the two scenes everybody remembers from that movie are the one where Ozzy's getting interviewed while making breakfast, and the scene where Chris Holmes is being interviewed while drunk off his ass and floating in his pool. As Holmes guzzles three bottles of vodka, his mother sits poolside, watching the whole thing. Throughout the interview Holmes refers to himself as a "piece of crap" and predicts he'll be dead in ten years.

In the music industry there are fates worse than death, one of which is signing a bad contract. Despite Holmes writing most of the band's music, it was Blackie Lawless who wrote the lyrics and fought for songwriting credit. One day Holmes looked around and realized everyone around him was a millionaire. When tensions came to a head between Holmes and Blackie, Holmes left the band with little more than his guitar on his back.

"I don't get paid for being in W.A.S.P.," says Holmes in Mean Man. "I never got paid for being in W.A.S.P."

Mean Man documents the second act of Chris Holmes' life. He's no longer the attractive 20-something lead guitarist of W.A.S.P. He's in his early 60s now. His once rail-thin body now resembles a tree trunk with a small pot belly. His hair, once long, blond and clean, now looks a bit homeless. He has tattoos that go from his neck to the tips of his fingers, including one on his back of a knife that says something to the effect of "go ahead and stab me in the back, everybody else has."

Holmes did two stints with W.A.S.P. After quitting the first time, Blackie Lawless somehow coaxed him back only to fire him again. Holmes' second attempt and starting a hair metal band was steamrolled by the arrival of grunge. After giving up on the Hollywood music scene, Holmes moved first to Finland, and then France, where he currently resides.

Mean Man covers Holmes' past as well as his current life. In the 80s, guitarists everywhere looked up to Holmes. Once, Holmes got to meet his idol, Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi. When Holmes admitted to Tony that he had been trying to copy Iommi's guitar sound for years, Iommi confessed that he had been trying to copy Holmes' setup. Once, when Eddie Van Halen was trying to get a specific guitar sound, he asked to borrow Chris Holmes' guitar.

Today, the effects of Holmes' life seem to be catching up with him. He "tours" in a tiny hatchback pulling a small open trailer full of his guitars and amps. His wife sells t-shirts at his gigs for him. Everybody asks him about W.A.S.P. Nobody asks him about his new material. Holmes comes off as the rude, loud guy who is fun to party with but not fun to live with. He randomly honks his horn while driving through small towns at night. "It's funny, because people are sleeping," he says.

In the documentary, Holmes comes off as likeable, but kind of bumbling through life. He bounces from gig to gig. He and his wife live with her mother. In the middle of one scene, a car drives by with an odd engine and he wanders off to ask the driver if he can look under the hood. He laughs off the fact that he lives in Cannes and can't speak French. "This is the universal language," he says, alternating between thumbs up, thumbs down, and the middle finger.

Holmes mostly comes off as inoffensive, but then again, he largely funded the documentary (the footage was intended to kick off a reality show that didn't happen). Outside of this cultivated world, Chris Holmes is not as polished. In interviews, he often refers to rap music as music for (a word this forum doesn't allow), and says he moved to France because "black culture ruined music" in America. He has other opinions you can probably guess.

There's a reason his new band is called "Mean Man."

"Jack Flack always escapes." -Davey Osborne