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  • Writer's pictureAbeer Ramadan-Shinnawi

Def Leppard are more than just a rock band to me.

Music has always been my solace, my safe space. Through music, I was able to learn about other people, cultures and be transported to worlds that were beyond my reach. Growing up, MTV was the channel to watch if I wanted to learn about the latest trends in music, fashion, world politics and more (when it was REAL music television...youngins don't understand!) MTV went beyond just music: it taught me about life.

You see, growing up, I didn't have many friends outside of my family or family friends. We always associated with our tight knit Palestinian American community. Add to the mix that I attended a private parochial Muslim girl's school, Aqsa School, the first of it's kind 30 years ago (think of Catholic schools for girls except this was a bunch of 1st gen. Arab American girls) which left zero chance of understanding the world outside my bubble. Here is where television became my escape-my chance to know what was on the "other side". Enter: my first encounter with the a relatively new band called Def Leppard.

Now you're probably wondering: why them? What made they different than other bands that I watched? What was so special about them that made them stand out? Good question! Read on to enter the world of my obsession with this British band from Sheffield, England that led to an extension to my lived experiences.

Richmond, VA 1983- Photograph (and not the one by Ed Sheeran, he wasn't even born yet!)

To this day, I cannot tell you exactly what it was that drew me to the band. When I first saw the video for Photograph, I knew I was hooked. Maybe it was the simple vulnerability of an obsessed person that came out as I listened to the lyrics? Maybe it was the raw energy of the band on stage playing their unique sounds? Or maybe it was my little girl curiosity who wanted to know who this band was, where they were from (I knew they were from the UK thanks to their Union Jack shirt), but I wanted to know it ALL! There was something about the band that was different from other British bands I had watched and heard.


I don't want your Photograph

I don't need your photograph

All I've got is a photograph

You've gone straight to my head

Look what you've done to this rock 'n' roll clown

Look what you've done

I gotta have you

1983 was an interesting year. Besides discovering the band, that year was a major turning point in my family's life. My maternal uncle was killed leaving our family in total disarray. My mother, who was pregnant with my youngest brother before we left, was not having us stay in the state of Virginia anymore so she wanted out. Long story short: my dad decided to send my mom, myself and 5 siblings, to live in Palestine instead of staying in the states. At that time, many Palestinians were sending their families off to the Mother Land so they can become closer to the culture. Little did I know that leaving in 1983 due to a family tragedy was not only one start to a new beginning for me, but one year later a major turning point for the band as well.

Chicago, 1987-Coming back to America + Hysteria, the album.

After living without my father for almost 4 years in Palestine, raising 6 kids on her own because my father stayed in the States as our means for an income, my mom told my father that she wanted to return to the United States. Instead of returning to Virginia, we settled in Chicago where both of parents had family. For many who live abroad for many years, returning to their home country, takes as adjustment process. That happened to me and I had to adjust fast! The one item that helped me was finding solace in music. Again, this was the only escape I had to learn about the "outside" world.

During my time living abroad, Def Leppard was not being circulated on the air or television so the memory of them was tucked away in my memory box. Not until 1987 with the release of their new album Hysteria with much fanfare, that my excitement about the band began to resurface. After watching interviews with the band along with their videos, my love for the band did not skip a beat! There they were: Joe, Steve (may he rest in power), Phil, Rick S. and Rick A. in all of their hard rock glory. Except-there was an element to their band that had changed, and it wasn't the fact that they were older. Just as my family and I had to adjust to new beginnings because of tragedy, the band was experiencing the same.

Def Leppard 3 Ways

I know! You're probably thinking: ok, so what's the point? What's the deal with the band? How cares? Well, allow me to explain! Def Leppard wasn't just a childhood obsession, the band became an extension of my own lived experiences. Here is where I connect the dots. I call it: Def Leppard- 3 ways.

Way #1: Fondest memory

When we moved to Chicago, our financial situation was terrible. Having 6 mouths to feed was not easy. My mom did not work outside the home so my father drove a taxi in the city to make ends meet. Being a taxi driver is a grueling job, but you also become extremely familiar with all the nuances of the city. When I realized that the band had a new album drop, I desperately wanted a copy. This was the time before internet, so there was no Apply music or Spotify so we resorted to recording our favorite songs off of the radio but that was not the same as having your own album, or in my case, cassette. There was no way my parents could afford any extravagances but nonetheless, I pressed on, hoping to get my own copy.

Everyday when my father would come home, I would ask if he was able to obtain a cassette of the album and each day I was faced with failure. They had just released their best single, Pour Some Sugar on Me, so the album was selling out fast!

Nonetheless, I pressed on, hoping to get my own copy.

A few weeks later, my father came home and the usual ensued:

Me: Daddy, did you get a chance to find it?

Dad: No wallah ya Daddy, I looked everywhere.

Me: You sure you looked all over? Every record store?

Dad: Wallah ya Daddy I tried, drove all over...nothin!

I walked away very upset and angry. Upset at my crap for luck but also angry at fact that I couldn't even have something of my own! As a child, we never truly understand the extent of how things work so I was angry for no legit reason. But as I walked away, my father calls me back and says to me:

Dad: oh wait, I forgot to show you something.

He moves his hand to his back pant pocket and pulls out a cassette tape. He pulled out the actual Hysteria cassette I have been begging to get for weeks! OMG!! To this day I remember the sheer joy, excitement and thrill of having that actual cassette in my hand!! Not only did my dad not forget about the entire ordeal, but now I have an actual copy of one of the hottest releases of the time. I was some hot stuff now ;-).

My relationship with my father has not always been the best, but when I think back at that one moment in my life, I realize how much time, effort and love he placed to make his girl happy.

Hysteria Cassette (I am sure my own children wouldn't know what to do with these!)

Way #2- Introduction of rock to a bunch of House Music lovers

Obtaining a cassette of Hysteria upped my popularity at school in regards to music, but that wasn't the only reason. When we moved to Chicago, I realized that Chicago had its own music scene called: House Music. This music was fast, upbeat, mix of dance/pop and Chicago's own flare. Living on the south side in predominantly Arab or Latino neighborhoods, that's all that was blasted. Enter me: newbie to the area who had a love for all types of music who did not shy away from expressing my love for all things Def Leppard. As their music began to gain popularity among non-traditional listeners with the explosion of their song Pour Some Sugar On Me, girls at school were now interested in knowing more about this genre of music. I became the go-to person about any metal/rock bands but Def Leppard was MY THING.

Yup- that was me, y'all. Aqsa School girls who were introduced to Def Leppard all thanks to me. You're welcome!

Way #3- Def Leppard's tragedy helped guide my professional development

When I was living in Palestine, I tucked away the memory of the music of Def Leppard thinking their music wasn't popular in that part of the world. Later I would realize that, just as my family was dealing with a tragedy, the band was overcoming one as well.

Def Leppard fans all know that their music is not the only unique element that makes them so amazing. The band actually worked around the tragedy of their drummer, Rick Allen, who lost his left arm in a tragic car accident one New Years Eve night as he was driving home. I recall watching interviews of the band discussing the dilemma they had to face and what they should do. The decision was career changing for all of them but also a testament to how they adapted. The band basically said: Rick is a member of our family so we have to keep him and do what we can to make it work. When I watched those interviews, I was blown away at the level of dedication the band had to each other.

What the band decided to do was create a drum set that would function like a regular drum set but Rick would have to operate parts of the drums using his feet. Yes- HIS FEET! This is a great video with Rick Allen showing off his skills during a drum solo. Keeping Rick as the drummer by working around his new physical condition was a powerful expression how humans are capable of making a bad situation better.

When I was still in the classroom as a department chair, the use of technology became the new educational frontier with a lot of push back from educators, but for many reasons. My task was to discuss how the use of technology enhanced teaching and learning, not take away from the experience. I had a difficult time trying to explain my reasoning with solid agreement from teachers. love for Def Leppard as the light bulb moment. As I was listening to their music, it hit me! Why not use the Rick Allen's story as a gateway to modifications in the classroom which can lead to enhancing the learning experience?? That was a darn good idea for many reasons:

  1. His story was a good example of humanity therefore humanizing the teaching experience.

  2. Educators realized that they didn't need to redo everything or change their entire teaching career for technology, they just needed to adjust.

  3. Those who have never heard of the band, now know about them (this was my selfish way of incorporating my love for the band in my work...heehee!)

Although some educators were still resistant to the idea of having tech in the classroom, many had a better understanding of how to incorporate tech just from that simple example.

Music: my ride or die!

Growing up, music was my solace. It still is. I use music to help calm my nerves, hype me up or to recall beautiful memories. Although my music taste varied heavily from students, they were always willing to learn why I liked what I listened which also opened the door to connecting with them. I learned so much about my students from the music they listened to. I may not have liked many of their choices, but that was a teachable moment as well.

Music was my connecting factor to an outside world but also a factor that made me unique in a world that knew nothing about my taste in music. To this day, I always use music as an entry point when I provide professional development. People always enter with one perception when they see me, but when they leave, they leave with a totally different perspective. The biggest takeaway many have after learning about my taste in music: you can never judge anyone by their appearance. This hijabi woman loves her music with a deep love for the boys from Sheffield, England. Who would have thunk?

Music will always be my solace. Def Leppard will always be my bad.

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