Too Cool for School
Let me break it down: when I was a teenager, I wanted to rock. Raised on Black Sabbath, I worshiped a velvet, black-light poster of Ozzy on my bedroom wall. My parents split on me, so I was brought up by my aunt, who had a boyfriend named Jack Daniels whose needs were always met before mine. All I wanted was to play guitar, but every time I saved up cash toward my axe, my aunt would steal it to buy booze, calling the dough her "rent money." Rent, my ass! So when she locked me in the garage once while her "honey" came over for a three-day binge, I came across a dusty mahogany box. Inside, I found pictures of my aunt. Turned out she was a stunning musician during the '40s who played the cowbell in a hillbilly trio. That moment changed my life 'cuz her old cowbell was in that box, too.
I spent endless nights practicing the cowbell, getting the tempo just right, learning all the intricacies of cowbelling. So many drummers think they can strap a cowbell onto their kit and play double time, but that's an absolute insult to cowbell players everywhere. I started playing for change on street corners, and one fateful day, I met a scraggly guy named Tommy Lee. He invited me to jam with his band, Mötley Crüe, at a backyard party in Covina (he was really just trying to get into my pants, which he did—no regrets). The Crüe had been working on this song called "Too Fast for Love," but they just couldn't quite get it right. Then I dropped in some 'bell—the crowd went nuts!
Tommy and I continued balling while I continued belling. The buzz around us grew so fast that we were playing parties every weekend, which eventually got us signed. The year I spent with the Crüe was the best year of my life. I was a total rock star. Problem was the audience wanted more of me and less of singer Vince Neil, and he knew it. Vince tried emulating my platinum-blond feathered hair, but there's a certain appeal to a hot chick's feathers that a guy just can't capture. Vince threw a hissy fit, and I was kicked out of the band.
The streets became my new stage. I was doping, smoking, turning tricks, anything to get by—anything to keep the music alive, man. The late '80s were not a good time—everyone but me was rocking, and Vince had done everything he could to make sure I never rang another heavy-metal cowbell again. But my legend lived on. I carved a unique place for women in metal that even Lita Ford couldn't match. I became a sort of cult figure among female musicians, unbeknownst to me—I was too busy smoking crack.
One afternoon, I woke up from an all-night bender in a Palo Alto doghouse, covered in blood. I passed out after carving the word SLAYER into my arm with a rusty razor. We don't want to get into all that, but the worst part was that the cowbell I had worn around the waist of my black leather pants during my rock & roll years was gone. I sobbed uncontrollably, which prompted the dog to start AHOOO-ing. When we both quieted down, I heard some crunchy guitars going off in a nearby garage.
I walked up and peeked in a side window and couldn't believe my eyes: four young chicks rocking the fuck out! Ace Frehley-worthy riffs screamed from the amps of guitarist Donna R. The singer, Donna A., spotted me, and all the Donnas came running. I lost my footing on the crate I was standing on and slipped, hitting my head on a rock. When I came to, I was on a couch with drummer Donna C.'s mother hovering over me.
She told me the story behind the girls: they started playing together as Ragady Anne at a school talent show when they were 14. Some dude named Darrin Raffaelli stumbled across their act a year later, after they had switched their name to the Electrocutes, and gave them some songs he had written with the idea of cultivating his very own girlie supergroup. He fancied himself a sort of Phil Spector and rechristened the girls the Donnas.
They recorded Darrin's "Everybody's Smoking Cheeba," and Darrin pressed the Donnas' 1995 debut on his indie label, Super*Teem. Not really happy with this arrangement, the band continued to play as the Electrocutes on the side and eventually kicked Darrin's ass to the curb so they could rock their own songs as the Donnas. While their peers were taking SAT tests, the Donnas were perusing record contracts.
The girls were raised listening to KISS, Ratt, W.A.S.P., the Muffs, L7 and—most flattering—Mötley Crüe. They knew all about me. Mom C. showed me into Donna C.'s bedroom, and I was blown away—there was a shrine of sorts to me and my fellow metalers. I'd been out selling my soul for a bottle of Night Train while these girls had been living my dreams! Then the Donnas walked in and immediately begged me to jam with them. They had been trying to perfect their cover of "Too Fast for Love," but Donna C. knew she wasn't doing justice on the cowbell. How could I refuse?
They helped clean me up, dressing me in some tight-ass leather to cultivate their signature late '70s Leather/Pinky Tuscadero look (which I hadn't realized had ever gone out of style). Since my hair was still layered, I knew it was meant to be—it was comeback time!
Seems they had already recorded "Too Fast for Love" for their latest album, Get Skintight, but it wasn't too late to take me out on the road for this year's Vans Warped Tour. They were finally complete! I studied the rest of the album and bought them beer every night. We bonded—it was like I was the band's drunk-ass older sister, the one who still liked to hotbox (note to the unhip: that's smoking dope in a car with the windows rolled up).
The Donnas are truly my soul sisters. They play Ramones-meets-the-Crüe, teenage high-heel patent-leather hip-boot rock. Their best song might be the breakup paean "You Don't Wanna Call," which brings me tears—tears I cry over memories of Tommy (that hussy Pamela Anderson Lee looks an awful lot like me, though, so I think the old boyfriend's got some issues as well). But fuck Tommy—I'm in love with the Donnas. At least they pay attention to me. They understand the essentials in life: partying, smoking good pot, drinking all night, kicking ass and banging chords until their calluses bleed. That's my girls! Come see us—we're gonna rock that shit.
—ARRISSIA "DONNA O." OWEN
THE DONNAS PLAY THE VANS WARPED TOUR, ARROWHEAD POND PARKING LOT, 2695 E. KATELLA AVE., ANAHEIM, (714) 704-2500. THURS.-FRI., JUNE 29-30, NOON-UNTIL IT ENDS. $25.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.