Kirk Novak: Audio Cassette Tape Volume One, “Theater of Pain.”

A new recurring series from Kirk Novak. Originally published in a lesser form on the inferior blog Pretension Headache also written by Kirk Novak.

“Theater of Pain” was a 1985 album by the band Motley Crüe. The band Motley Crüe is loved far too much by some and derided too greatly by others, but this is not about them. This is about me purchasing the cassette tape for “Theater of Pain” from a Venture (they were like Target) store around 1985. I didn’t know a thing about Motley Crüe, I had never even heard of the album or hit single “Shout at the Devil,” but if I had, I surely would’ve thought this was the greatest band that ever existed without the need to hear a single lick.

I was being given the opportunity to buy a cassette tape of my own choosing with my own money at Venture. I was going to buy the most evil, soul destroying, heavy metal record that good-hearted, white, kind of racist, midwestern Christian parents feared would lead to me killing small animals (for the record, I am only capable of saving small animals). I saw that Motley Crüe had an umlaut in their name. I had no idea what an umlaut was. What really caught my eye, what really assured me that this was the record I should be buying were the theater masks on the cover.

If you are a theater person you are probably picturing the illustration of comedy and tragedy that were represented on the cover of “Theater of Pain.” Except the theater mask for tragedy had a fucking pentagram on its forehead and was shedding a single tear of bright red blood. I knew that this was the tape that I was going to buy. It was going to magically turn me into one of those burnout kids that hung out by the railroad tracks that I thought were the people that I was supposed to become in life. It was my destiny.


I went home full of endorphins from anticipation of the life-changing music I held in my hands. I opened the package like it held a powerful object inside. I pulled out the liner notes so I could study them like homework that I didn’t do. I put the cassette in the top deck of my dual cassette deck boombox. I pressed play and sat down on my bed with the liner notes in my hand, unsure what was about to happen, maybe even a little afraid.

What happened was I got to hear some pretty weak-ass glam metal that did nothing but fill me great disappointment. “Home Sweet Home” was the biggest hit off the record for fuck’s sake. I blame that song, that I quite liked at the time, as the impetus for the power ballad death knell that killed cock rock. I would find that cassette that I was looking for one day very soon. The cassette tape that would be like the college I wouldn’t be attending because this path I was going down did not lead to education. Like that college, I could annoy people by talking about it incessantly and making it a part of my personal identity, but “Theater of Pain” was not to be that tape, and today would not be that day.


  1. Kirk,

    I agree that this album left you stunted in your quest for rebellion. That said, I do feel like you need to really give the album another run. There were some pretty good songs on that record that were very true to Motley Crue. The girls and pop culture at the time ran with Home Sweet Home and of course their cover of Brownsville Sation’s Smoking in the Boys Room. That said, you had often looked over tunes like Louder than Hell, City Boy Blues, and Tonight. I am not trying to convince you that it was the best Motley Crue album but, am saying that people overlooked many of the heavier songs because mainstream media choose to focus on the salable songs such as Smokin’ in the Boy’s Room and Home Sweet Home.

    Anyway, great article.

  2. I’ve never listened to this album and can’t comment on the weakassedness of the music but I certainly can feel your disappointment. Very vivid accounting of an important moment in your life. I enjoyed it, not your disappointment but your writing. 🙂

  3. I starred this post midway through sentence one. However, you fell victim to what we all fell victim to in the 80s. Wanting some kick ass music and basing your decision on the cover art. I struck gold a few times with this method, but more often than not it was a bust. This album was the beginning of the end for the Crue. Too Fast For Love and Shout at the Devil were great, but this album was very lame. Enjoyed the post, though!

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