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Dream Deceivers: The Story of James Vance and Judas Priest
Reviewed by Feb 21st, 2010

I’m going to ramble a bit in this one, because it recalls a lot of childhood memories.

I couldn’t remember his name until recently, but one way or another, the James Vance vs. Judas Priest trial had an impact on me as a youngster. I wasn’t really aware of the thing so much as it happened because I was so young, but footage and talk of it kept popping up throughout the ’80s and into the ’90s. The PMRC and the religious right created hysteria about backwards-masking and heavy metal, and meanwhile you had satanic panics, and since the religious right associated metal and satan, there was just this big conspiracy in which metal bands were out to prey on children. Things were taken out of context, for example, Iron Maiden’s “666 The Number of the Beast.” If you look at the lyrics of the whole song, you can hardly interpret it as something getting kids to worship satan.

But anyway, what we have here is a documentary about a witchhunt, and Judas Priest are the ones they want to burn at the stake. Fortunately, the judge isn’t quite that stupid.

So here is the story: once upon a time in 1985, there were two teenage boys. They looked like your average teenage unwashed metalhead. They were best friends and their favorite band was Judas Priest. Unfortunately, the boys in question had nutters for parents, they were beaten and physically abused, and apparently profoundly unhappy with their lives. One night, they sat on a playground carousel and shot themselves with a 12 gauge. The first, Ray Belknap, died right away. The second, James Vance, put the shotgun under his chin and blew his face off. He survived.

It must’ve been sometime in the late ’80s the footage aired again on a talk show my mom was watching, maybe Oprah or Sally Jesse Raphael. I don’t think she watched much Geraldo… All I remember was a kid on a carousel with no lips, whose face looked like a Mr. Magoo mask, talking about shooting himself in the face and listening to Judas Priest. I was transfixed. I immediately wanted to go buy some Judas Priest albums, but I don’t think I got an allowance at that point… In any case, I credit this interview for giving me a morbid interest in watching shockumentaries and seeing what people look like with their faces blown off. LDG and I used to buy the Catalog of Carnage ($5, advertised in Fangoria magazine) and look through all the pictures of crazy, gory, fucked up shit like a dude who put dynamite and rolls of quarters in his mouth, or a dude who got his face eaten by his pets. So this is a message for the religious right and the PMRC: You are a failure. You made me want to listen to heavy metal and ogle rotting corpses in my spare time.

But onto the documentary in question: this is actually fairly balanced, considering the outrageous subject matter. The judge reminds the jury that what was on trial was not Judas Priest’s music or lyrics, but whether or not it contained hidden messages that could make someone kill themselves. You read right: these assholes were accusing Judas Priest for the suicide and attempted suicide I mentioned. When played backwards, they heard “do it” repeated a few times, I forget which song it was in. This is another thing I find insane. Ok, even if they put subliminal
“do it”s in there, there is no context. Do what? Why would that suggest suicide in the first place?

Rob Halford gives some great soundbites in this, I laughed out loud while he was talking about lyrics in popular music. The best part is actually when he gets out a ghetto blaster while on the stand and plays part of “Exciter” backwards, and it says, “I asked her for a peppermint… I asked her to get me one.” Another good part is where the sister of the dead kid is interviewed. She attempted suicide twice, and has never been a heavy metal fan, making it even more obvious that these kids just had an unhappy life and were abused.

Then there are the interviews. The only people who come off as sane in this entire thing are the members of Judas Priest. James Vance comes off as having been completely brainwashed by his mother and/or religion, or he was just so fucked in the head after having blown half his head off that he was clutching at straws and just placing blame on anybody. The interviews with him are just disgusting, the way he and his mother shit all over everyone, the constitution, and decide to blame music. They invent this strange duality of metal vs. Christianity, which was never even the issue! There was nothing vaguely religious in the lyrics in question, and yet they are being blamed for getting their children for “turning away from the church” and then blowing their heads off. The parents never consider the fact that their kids were abused (by them), unintelligent (judging from interviews) and totally unhappy. Vance’s parents come off as completely backwards, abusive, backwoods idiots. If we came into this feeling a bit sorry for James Vance, we stop feeling sorry as soon as he starts to speak, because, besides drool, the only thing coming out of his mouth is bullshit. However, it makes a great case for how far plastic surgery has come in recent years. Vance looks like Mr Magoo with his lips ripped off, the nose is all lumpy, you can see his toothless jaws flapping around in the motionless mess that was his face. I’ve seen some TLC specials where they’ve done much better with people who have tumors and things on their faces, like that one, “A New face for Marnie” or whatever. “Face Transplant” was a good one, too, but I think that was Discovery Health.

So anyway, after having the imagery burned in my mind from so many years ago, I was tracking down the footage and I found this. It’s a fairly well done documentary and shows the insanity of the times. It is amazing to me that anybody took the case seriously enough to bring it to court. Sure, it’s sad that these kids had insane, abusive parents and shot themselves, the the injustice and stupidity shown here is even sadder. The interviews with the parents of Vance are sick, it’s like something out of Gummo, they come off as dumb, abusive white trash. The interviewed metalheads aren’t much better, but at least they aren’t blaming music for their stupidity and/or inadaquacy. This really shows how dangerous religious nuts can be, and how strongly people can be brainwashed.

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