Remembering, Maybe, ‘Heavy Metal Parking Lot'

U. Maryland exhibit chronicles head-banging history of cult classic set outside Capital Centre in 1986

It was a snapshot in time -- a time when t-shirt sleeves were ripped off, when wearing a zebra-print shirt and pants was pretty cool, when the hair was big, the metal was loud and the beer was cheap. 

"Heavy Metal Parking Lot" is the practically no-budget, 17-minute documentary of a night spent with the partying crowd before a sold-out Judas Priest concert in 1986 at the old Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland. 

It was shot by two would-be filmmakers with a borrowed camera. But over the decades, it spread among music-loving circles, eventually becoming a favorite of bands including Nirvana. 

Now, it's the subject of a University of Maryland exhibit that tells its story.

"It’s a tribute to the Caps Center," said filmmaker Jeff Krulik, a Maryland grad who is now an independent documentarian. "It might not have been the greatest but it was our place, growing up here.

"I had a connection to it, a lot of people did, so it’s fun to pay tribute," Krulik said. "And of course music and rock and roll and concert-going is something everyone relates to, whether you’re a fan of Judas Priest or not."

The movie is now a bona-fide cult classic. "That thing is the Citizen Kane of wasted teenage metalness," said Rick Ballard, who appears briefly in the movie and now owns his own record label. He was quoted in a lengthy article on "Parking Lot" that appeared on Deadspin.

The movie has spawned more than long reads: There's a fan site that chronicled every t-shirt in the movie. And there's a beer, which makes sense. 

"Heavy Metal Parking Lot" also has what might be called stars -- or, at least, people that stand out among the muscle cars and mullets. There's the Girl in the Leopardskin Dress, aka Maureen Maxwell.

"I was getting phone calls for years and years, 'I saw you on VH1 on Heavy Metal Parking Lot,'" said Maxwell, who was among the documentary's subjects who gathered for the Maryland exhibit.

There's Zebraman, of the matching shirts and pants, who utters one of the movie's most-quoted lines: "Madonna can go to hell as far as I’m concerned."

And there's the Girl in the White Dress, who cut her leg in the festivities. She's Cherie Steinbecher.

"We banged our heads and we didn’t care, we loved it," Steinbecher said, remembering that day. "It was fun. Nowadays, kids can’t do anything."

In the movie, Steinbecher appears to believe that she is at a Metallica concert.

"I was so wasted," she remembers. "It cracks me up because I didn’t care where I was at that day -- I was having a blast. It kills me 'cause I look at it now, and I say, 'Oh God, what are people thinking?'

"But I had a blast, we're still married 30 years later and we were rockers. We're still banging our heads."

The Maryland exhibit includes the original "Parking Lot" tapes, a stub from the Priest concert and even a piece of the parking lot. If you want to party with Zebraman, click here for more information. 

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