Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Def Leppard on the Reservation

Def Leppard On Standing Rock
Rock! Rock! 'Til You Drop 
By Dakota Wind
FORT YATES, N.D. - I think that I was fortunate to grow up on Standing Rock in the 80s. In retrospect I’d say that I grew up in a clash of cultures and I didn’t know it. I played outside and ran to the top of Golf Hill as much as I watched TV. It was like there was not enough time to do either. All the media I was exposed to in school, on TV and the radio was all in English. All the live music I was exposed to was what you might call pow-wow music.

I lived with my mother, but I grew up in my grandmother’s house where she and my Lala (grandfather) spoke Lakota daily. At school, at the same time we learned Lakota from Mrs. Good Left, and my grandparents thought it was waśtė, or good. Sometimes my grandparents would tell me something in Lakota, expect me to remember it, and relay it to Mrs. Good Left. Mrs. Good Left would laugh a pleasant chuckle, pleased that I wanted to learn and not because I said something incorrect. Sometimes, Mrs. Good Left would have me remember something to say to my grandparents too.

In those days on Standing Rock, sometime in the mid-eighties, cable arrived and with it came HBO and MTV. When movies like “Iron Eagle” came on, one of my uncles felt just as comfortable calling it Wambli Maza, Iron Eagle. Only for me, in my mind, to apply Lakota language to American media, felt decidedly odd. The first time it happened, or I heard my uncle Kenny jovially announce Wambli Maza ahi, śakowiŋ mazaskanśkan, not that he spoke Lakota all the time either, but his use of it amused my grandparents, and confused me to hear him say “Iron Eagle is coming, 7:00 o’clock.”

Louis Gossett Jr. seemed like regular feature on HBO with Enemy Mine and Iron Eagle.

I pictured in my mind a movie about Indians in the old days with tipis and horses. I didn’t know whether to be insulted or pleased that the movie was called “Iron Eagle” when I saw it. I liked the movie enough then that I got past the traditional Lakota village I envisioned when he’d announce Iron Eagle. Now, at least to me, Louis Gossett Jr. will always have the unofficial “Indian” name of “Iron Eagle," or Mita Toka, "Enemy Mine."

MTV was one of my favorite channels. My uncle Kenny and I would watch and memorize the videos. That was back when MTV actually played videos. My younger brother and I would enthusiastically watch HBO’s Double Feature Friday, especially when Commando and Terminator were scheduled, then we’d watch the Friday Night music fights and call in to support Van Halen’s “Jump” video. We'd stay up to watch reruns of Star Trek, the original series.

Here's a screen capture of Joe Elliot wielding a sword which had nothing to do with the song, but was pretty cool. I swear this video and the first Highlander made swords awesome. My brother and I would sword fight with my mother's knives when she left us alone - needless to say, we ruined all of her nice knives during our play. 

I fell asleep in the living room too many times to Def Leppard’s “Foolin’” that I swear I dreamed of myself beside Joe Elliot screaming “Is anybody out there? Is anybody there?” on a cliff side on the other end of Golf Hill.

My grandfather would take us to all the pow-wows, traditional celebrations you might call them, but I don’t think my grandfather ever really saw them as traditional. He would slap some Old Spice aftershave on, perch his WWII ball cap atop his head, we’d jump in his car and on our way out of town, he’d gas up at Tim’s and buy us a Coke. On the way to the pow-wows, Wacipi, as we call them, he’d slap a cassette tape in his black tape recorder and play songs he recorded at a previous pow-wow.

I’d usually bring along my personal cassette player and headphones and jam to Def Leppard, U2, Journey, Boston, Asia or hair metal bands like Trixter, Steelheart, and Cinderella, on the road trip. I didn’t always listen to my music. Sometimes I’d run my batteries down and then listen to KFYR 550 AM with my grandparents, which sounded especially old-fashioned to my ears. I wished I had asked more questions and listened with a sharper ear to my grandparents.

Once, well, more than once, I had the audacity to wear my headphones at the pow-wow. Def Leppard was nearly always handy in my pocket. I liked to imagine that somehow I’d snag a beautiful pow-wow girl and we’d make out to “Love and Affection.” That never worked out. I was rockin’ hard to “Rocket” as I was walking around the pow-wow bowery one evening, and I swear I laughed out loud, and the memory is still in my head clearly after all these years, men traditional dancers were dancing to the beat of Rocket and stopped when the song ended. I can’t hear Rocket today without thinking of men’s traditional dancers.

My mother had a great big stereo in the living room, and we listened to it as much as we watched TV. On Saturdays, after cartoons, we’d clean house to the radio, and we always listened to the Top 40. We also had some of my grandfather’s pow-wow cassette tapes there, and once in a while we’d play those loud until the drumbeats and the base rattled my mother’s windows. Her stereo used to have a turntable too. I remembered that it had a sapphire needle and when it went missing she went ape shit. To this day I when I see a turntable I can’t help but remember her rant.

Here he is, Wicasa Maza, Iron Man. I'd totally adopt this guy as my brother in the Lakota tradition and give him that name.

I live off the reservation these days. I find myself saying the things like, “Let’s go see Wicasa Maza (Iron Man), Iktomi Iniha Kin (The Amazing Spiderman), Hoksila Mni (Water Boy),” to my boys, as if to make the movie we’re going to sound like something Hollywod made something about Indians. My favorite movie to do this with was Ozuya Wicakpi, or Star Wars. When the prequel movies came out, I’d announce to my oldest, “Let’s go see that new movie, Ozuya Wicakpi,” I’d even embellish my take on it, “Indianing it up” so to speak. I made Qui-gon Jin and Obiwan Kenobi sound like medicine men. When he wouldn’t want to go, I’d say something to the effect that I was going to see Star Wars (in English) and he’d change his mind.

I like Def Leppard. Its like the soundtrack to my life or something. That group has been a part of my life in childhood, middle school (I held a girl’s hand to “Pour Some Sugar On Me” for the first time), high school, college, work, and life in general. I even made a video of my boys to Def Leppard’s “Promises.” I don’t expect them to like my dated tastes, I’m glad though, that when they’ll hear it, they’ll think of me.

We’re going to name our boys with traditional Lakota names in a few weeks. I’m taking care of a few last things and we’ll be ready. With this kind of tradition, a give-away or feed is usually called for the occasion. I’d like to invite Def Leppard if I could. I would love it if Robert Downy Jr. came too. I'd give him the name "Wicasa Maza."


  1. Thanks for sharing great thoughts on the soundtrack to our lives

  2. I think I speak for the whole world when I point out that we are all waiting for you to render "Def Leppard" in Lakota.