“Pop tart” is the qualification by which Rob Halford identifies most readily in his newly released book (Confess: The Autobiography). And although he has the musical-phrasing proficiency of the crooners of popular music at its height, it hardly shows in this book – a rather dry, sparse, and substance-lacking piece.
The lack of substance does not pertain to Halford’s romantic life, which is the main subject of the book. There is no way his need to be out with his sexuality could be underestimated – it is no less than cathartic and life-saving – his personal purgatory, as he calls it. After following him through his ordeals and dalliances, we are happy with the conclusion of Rob being in a commited relationship for twenty five years.
The “shock” and problems of the book begin outside its deeply intimate narration.
There seems to be a bias, unwillingness, and general lack of interest to get to the core of most matters.
A first discrepancy is Halford’s vehement assertion that the impression he had been into BDSM was “an urban myth and utter bollocks: I’m pretty vanilla”. That urban myth, however, was created by Halford himself through various interviews, including one for The Advocate, when he came out of the closet. If any amount of sincerity could be surmised from his lyrics, these, too, refer to him as “sadomasochistic to the core”, in one of the most convincing songs of his solo career, Fetish. He admittedly signalled the handkerchief code from the stage with Judas Priest in his years in the closet – messages such as “fisting”, “watersports”, and “heavy S&M”. In any case, he puts to rest a dispute with K.K.Downing of who came up with the leather-and-studs image that would become a trademark of the heavy metal genre: K.K. did suggest the style and Halford went along.
Speaking of K.K., his individual musical contributions (prior to British Steel where Judas Priest began writing as a team) seem almost entirely omitted from the book, in favour of various references to Glenn Tipton and his “ingenious riffs”. There are words full of sentiment as to how he and Halford wrote music together; in contrast, there’s no reference to Before The Dawn, a ballad by Downing which is known to have been very personal to Halford, who wrote the lyrics. In addition, there’s a distinct negative colouring of Downing’s character, referring to him as “constantly moaning: that’s what he does”, at times completely irrational, and being notorious for holding a grudge. In contrast, Glenn is portrayed as self-assured, determined and clear-visioned, almost a saintly figure “with a beatific smile”, who would regularly dismiss Downing’s “moaning” with a sarcastic remark.
It is nearly painful to read such accounts in light of the book by K.K. Downing, which serves as a poignant outlet for his life of frustration within the band, caused primarily by the condescension and dismissal by its dominant figure (Tipton), even when vital matters were brought to the table, pertaining to both the band’s business and interpersonal dynamics.
Rob Halford, on the other hand, has no issue with authority of any kind. He dreads confrontation – a leitmotif in the book. We see him, in a large portion of it, fawning over various “stars”, including Johnny Depp and Lady Gaga, and not least, “Queenie”. It feels awkward to witness Halford’s delight at being noticed by a “celebrity”. At least once in the book, he describes himself as masochistic.
In contrast to the drooling accounts of encounters (or their contemplation) with Freddie Mercury, Cher, Jack Nicholson, Madonna and various others, there’s little in the book pertaining to musical matters. Halford claims, understandably, that Judas Priest is the most important thing in his life – and yet music seems a backdrop for his next romance or brush with a celebrity.
He awkwardly derides some of his work, both in and out of Priest, for various reasons: projects outside Priest (except for Resurrection which he designed purposely as a statement that he was “metal” and an appeal to rejoin the band) are given little significance, particularly the album Crucible, strangely described as “not heavy, unlike Resurrection”. A work with Priest such as the infamous Eat Me Alive is addressed as lyrically “a joke”, although it can’t be a more poignant sublimation of Halford’s “enormous sex drive” which coloured both his work and personal life.
Halford seems most concerned with the perceived authority of not only Judas Priest, but the metal scene in general; in fact, he has recently stated that “metal” is his favourite word.
Like Downing, he embraces Nostradamus wholeheartedly and swears that the album should one day see its proper presentation and rightful place as a rock-symphonic masterpiece; unlike Downing, he does it somewhat apologetically: after all, the album had divided “our beautiful metal maniacs”, as he likes to refer to them in public. A simplistic, formulaic, easily digestible album like the band’s latest, Firepower (a big commercial success) is laudably extolled.
In conclusion, Halford leaves us on the happy note that “The Metal God” can’t be more fulfilled – a title he likes using, leaving us to question the extent and depth of his self-irony. It doesn’t seem to penetrate between his self-effacing and his self-aggrandizing sides, nor does it aim to. Halford’s irony is neither of the Socratic nor the Romantic kind: it is content with the lustrous duality of the surface.