The most recent album from rock-God Thor got quite a bit of love here on WFMU. But I want to talk a bit about the real Thor. That's Jon-Mikl Thor, former bodybuilding champion, Las Vegas attraction, and most importantly...actor and screenwriter.
I first heard of Thor not through his 80s hair-metal albums, but via a dusty video cassette from the rental store called Rock and Roll Nightmare. A good friend giddily introduced me to this film one spooky night (his mother watched it with us) and I must say that my world has not been the same since. Synapse films finally released this lost gem in a deluxe DVD this year in all its widescreen(!) glory and with tons of extras. There has been no greater moment in my life then when I tore open the plastic of my freshly purchased copy only to find, much to my surprise, my own darn name listed in the thank you credits.
So how did a humble little fanboy like me make it to the inner circle of one of the old ones? Well, first let's start with the film...
The plot involves a metal band (the Tritonz) who head to a secluded ranch house in order to record some material for their new album. The house has everything - a 24 track recording studio in the barn, a bevy of giggly groupies, plenty of Coke ("Gotta have my Coke"), and, oh yeah, an evil spirit that randomly possesses our heroes and plucks them off one by one.
I won't lie, Rock & Roll Nightmare is not a good film. It is a cheaply made, slowly paced, poorly acted, and an ultimately not-at-all-scary horror film. Watch this sample for a taste of the characters and a typical moment of suspense.
RnR Nightmare clip: Arriving at the house (Quicktime 25mb)
The jokes (and that Australian accent) don't get any better. But unlike the har-har Ed Wood comparisons from many reviewers (haters!), I genuinely love this movie. There is something about Thor that rises above it all. He has an infectious spirit and an overall like-ability that is just hard to deny. Shucks, for a Mr. Canada and Mr. USA champion who could wipe the floor with my face, he just comes off as such a lovable big puppy-dog - especially in that sexy shower scene. Besides, the music is actually pretty enjoyable.
RnR Nightmare clip: We Live to Rock (Quicktime 39mb)
And then there is the ending - perhaps the most surreal, unexpected, and, okay I admit it, hilarious twist ending to ever make it to the video shelf. Again, I have to give Thor full credit for bringing it all home and somehow making everything so ridiculous that it is somewhat transcendent. Not only because he is completely believable as an Arch-Angel (despite his heavy-metal posturing, there is still something very sweet in Thor's eyes, a genuine caring for humanity), but also because he wrote the screenplay for Rock and Roll Nightmare. So you know that this amazing shocker ending was in his brain the whole time. I hate to be a spoiler, but this ending is a big selling point to the whole film, so you just have to take a little peek.
RnR Nightmare clip: Old Scratch (Quicktime 45mb)
After this scene it gets even better... Now don't you just have to see this movie?
After discovering this film I sought out all things Thor. Admittedly his metal albums and singles didn't really do much for me - other than conjure up glorious memories of the film - but then I found his first album, Keep the Dogs Away.
Released in 1977, this album is pure glorious glam-rock confection with a slightly heavy edge of the best order. RCA billed Thor's new sound as "Muscle Rock". It failed on the LP racks, but as a lasting testament to Thor it is truly among his best work. And it still isn't on CD, dangit, so let's share it here.
Video for Keep the Dogs Away (Quicktime 30mb)
Check out the outfits on Thor's band, not to mention his own stage theatrics. From the DVD An-THOR-logy.
This one-two punch made me seek out the man himself when I was running a non-profit theatre in Boston (this one, if you're curious). My goal was to play the film in our midnight movie series. Sadly, Thor had no idea how to get a copy of the film, but he was about to embark on a new US tour and wanted to play a show at my theatre. Not at a nightclub or a bar - but at the movie theatre. How could I say no?
So came the fateful night in October of 2002 that Thor and his band showed up in their well-traveled van. They hadn't arranged for a place to stay, so I told them they could drive over to my place and crash there. I convinced Thor to ride with me in my car, so we had plenty of time to talk. He told me about his teen-age bodybuilding career, his "big break" appearing on The Mike Douglas Show*, his years as a swinger, the hard break-up with his longtime wife and partner Cherry Bomb, and his possible abduction by UFOs (I wish I could remember exactly what he said about that). It was an amazing drive - not only because, you know, THOR! - but because he was just such a nice, genuine, unassuming guy.
* You've got to watch the Mike Douglas clip (Quicktime 46mb) and witness first-hand Thor dancing for the ladies while singing Sweet's "Action". Then he blows up a hot water bottle until it explodes, quipping "I bet you Donny Osmond can't do it." Pay close attention to the befuddled country band trapped on the stage during Thor's act. Is that costumed country schtick really any more dignified?
The concert the next night wasn't as crowded as I would like, we had a ton of sound problems, it ran too long, and the opening act Damien Storm was not very well received (I thought he was pretty amazing, but his act was a little too esoteric for the kids who just wanted to rock). And despite all that it was one of the best damn things we ever did at that theatre. I put together a 20-minute greatest hits edit of Rock N Roll Nightmare from my old VHS copy and the crowd loved it. After the mini-film ended, the man in person immediately took the stage. It was truly like a God descended upon the theatre. We all went completely ape-shit. (The aftermath - pictured)
In the morning I made french toast for Thor and his band. Not only were they appreciative, but Thor himself insisted on doing the dishes after breakfast. The phrase "Thor did my dishes!" will forever be my favorite saying.
To think after all these years the big guy remembered me and I ended up in those liner notes. Sniff. A little tear just rolled down my cheek. Seriously.
The very next week Jello Biafra came to the theatre and stayed at my house as well. It was a freaking nightmare - the polar opposite of Thor. I mean, the man handed me a cup of his own urine! But that, dear friends, is a story for another time.
Rock Warrior links:
In 2005, Thor returned to the theatre on his new tour. The new album was amazing, the show was amazing, the screening of Intercessor (a bogus sequel to RnR nightmare) was a mistake. Here's a fan review of the show.