In his book Angels With Dirty Faces, photographer and bassist Kelly Garni paints a different picture of the late Randy Rhoads than we are accustomed to. And all I can say is thank god!
Since Rhoads' death in 1982, after perishing in a freak plane accident while on tour with Ozzy Osbourne, the blonde guitar icon has been portrayed as something of a neutered, Christ-like figure. Tales of his legendary kindness, patience and extreme dedication have made him seem more like a holy man than a rock and roller.
But while Rhoads was no doubt a good dude, it’s hard to imagine anyone who grew up in the decadent LA hard rock scene in the Seventies and Eighties being that squeaky clean.
Finally, some 30 years later, the truth comes out. Garni, who played with Rhoads in numerous pre-Ozzy bands, delivers a thoughtful, provocative and thoroughly multi-dimensional portrait of the man. While Rhoads is described in a largely positive light, the book doesn’t ignore the cigarette-smoking, school-skipping, alcohol-drinking, skirt-chasing, fist-fighting side of the man.
Garni is a natural storyteller, and he recalls their wild days in breezy prose that puts you right in the middle of the surprisingly rowdy action. For example, in one of the book's many outrageous passages, the writer recalls a particularly destructive Rhoads prank: “[Randy] took me aside and informed me that he had gone into the bathroom [of a house owned by friends], locked the door, crawled out the window and then stuck the garden hose into the window and turned it on.”
When Garni expresses his disapproval, it ends up in a brawl: “[We were] punching, kicking and rolling around on the ground. The Rhoads family had one of those old phones that weighed about 3 or 4 pounds, or at least that’s what it felt like when he smacked me square in the head with it. Luckily for me, there was a rolled-up extension cord nearby and I grabbed that and whipped him in the face.”
I know many Rhoads fans prefer to think of him as being as pure as the driven snow, but great artists are always flawed—that’s what makes them compelling and relatable. Some of what Garni has to say in his book is not pretty, but it puts actual flesh on Randy’s legacy and, in many ways, it makes him far more intriguing and cool.
Rhoads dies midway through the book, but fortunately, the author is quite a character in his own right, and his post-Randy exploits are equally strange and entertaining. Angels With Dirty Faces could’ve very easily been exploitive, but Garni’s willingness to examine his own flaws, as well as the flaws of others, makes it a surprisingly satisfying and eye-opening read.
Brad Tolinksi is the editor-in-chief of Guitar World magazine.