GETTING MORE TALE #856: Why Metal?
As you’re aware, I’ve been doing a lot of introspection lately. I hope you don’t mind. A lot of my reflection has been to my distant past. As I look back, I am reminded how music was always there in my life. One of my first truly beloved records was the original soundtrack to The Empire Strikes Back. The bombast, drama and power of those pieces really appealed to me. It’s safe to say that I discovered music through Star Wars and John Williams. Until they came along, music was just something that was around me. It wasn’t inside me until Star Wars.
They stopped making Star Wars movies (or did they…?) in 1983, coincidentally the same year that Quiet Riot released Metal Health, and Styx came out with “Mr. Roboto”. I simply jumped from one train to the other! They were both going in the same direction so it wasn’t much of a leap. Rock music was very much about bombast, drama and power. And it stuck with me, bonded at a molecular level.
But why metal? There were other trains I could have boarded. At school, every other kid was into Duran Duran. I couldn’t have given a crap about Duran Duran, even if they were in a James Bond movie! So why metal?
The first factor to examine would be peer groups. Essentially, I had two: the school kids and the neighbourhood kids. The school kids were, frankly, assholes. But none of them lived in my neighbourhood. It was like growing up in two separate worlds. My classmates weren’t near me and I was fine with that. Every time I came home, it was like I had entered a safe zone. The older kids in my neighbourhood were legends. Bob Schipper, Rob Szabo, and George Balasz. They were the ones I looked up to and they were all rocking the metal. Szabo’s favourite bands? Motley Crue and Stryper. Balasz liked Kiss. Schipper was into Iron Maiden.
We would gather on front stoops with boomboxes powered by D-cell batteries. Van Halen cassettes would be passed around like a joint. I heard Maiden Japan by Iron Maiden on my front patio for the first time because George brought it over. The guys were eager to educate me. Quiet Riot, Helix, Judas Priest, W.A.S.P., Black Sabbath were names I was trying to memorize. I had a few things mixed up though. I thought the song “Sister Christian” by was Motorhead, because when they sing “Motorin’!” I heard “Motorhead”. So sure.
On the other hand, the peer group at school was mostly what we called “wavers”. They liked Mr. Mister and Michael Jackson and whatever else, I simply wanted nothing to do with it. At an instinctive level, I think these people repulsed me. I had witnessed and been victim to their cruelty. I wanted nothing to do with their music or their sports and I think that was largely unconscious. I would have loved if they liked me instead of mocking me; it would have made life easier. Obviously I had given up trying. So why not? Heavy metal music was like Musica proibita in Catholic school. There were a few headbangers — I didn’t like them either — but just a few. Those guys thought it was hilarious that I was still into Quiet Riot in 1985 when they had moved onto Van Halen. They would challenge me to “name three songs by Helix” to see if they could trip me up. That was the difference between the rock guys at school, and my friends at home. The guys at home would have just taught me what songs were by Helix.
Fucking school assholes.
An other notable factor on the road to heavy metal that has to be mentioned is the one nobody wants to talk about: puberty! But it is true that the bands I was discovering were (mostly) masculine manly men, and soon I would be wanting to attract a mate like they taught us in sex ed class. To exude masculinity, I chose metal. I am certain that was a conscious decision. Despite the long hair, the guy in Iron Maiden was clearly a tougher dude than the guy in Duran Duran. If there was going to be a fistfight, I wanted to be on the Maiden guy’s side. Easy choice. It seemed that simple in grade seven.
Of course, heavy metal music had the opposite effect in trying to attract girls. It absolutely repelled them, every single one of them. The fact that I just went double-down on the metal showed that my love for the music was genuine. Girls didn’t like metal, but I did, and I was already too committed to discovering all the bands I could. I was living in the rabbit hole.
A gleaming, riveted stainless steel rabbit hole. With a million watt stereo system.
Parental approval? Not really. Though they liked Bob Schipper, they didn’t know what to make of this metal music. They tolerated it, and never gave me a hard time about any of the bands I liked. They probably would have preferred Springsteen like the family across the street listened to. But hey, they bought me the tapes I wanted for Christmas, and they let me tape the videos on TV, so a big applause to my parents. I think my dad was worried that I was becoming such an introvert. I remember him telling me “Garnet Lasby doesn’t sit in his room listening to tapes all day.”
When he said that, all I could hear in my head were the Kiss lyrics, “Get me out of this rock and roll hell, take me far away.” I was so confused. I loved listening to music in my room. The only thing better was listening to music with my friends. Was it bad? I really thought about it, but obviously decided to follow my heart.
One more factor in my journey to metal that is easily overlooked but must be accounted for: the fact that rock and roll is one big soap opera with enough drama, violence and musical brilliance to fill an entire Star Wars trilogy. As my friends taught me the songs, they also introduced me to the stories. “This is Randy Rhoads. He was the greatest until he died in a plane crash.” And Kiss? Woah nelly, there was every kind of story within Kisstory! How many guitar players? And crazy costumes and characters to go with the story? Buying a Kiss album was never just “buying a Kiss album”. It was always buying a issue of a comic book. What would Kiss sound like this time? What seedy subjects would they be wrestling with on a lyrical level? What would the cover look like and what colour would the logo be?
It seems obvious now, but the only way for me to go was metal. In every single alternate universe, I am a metal fan.
Music allowed me to rewrite my persona a bit. I hoped that, instead of that nerdy kid with the Star Wars fetish, I would be remembered as the nerdy kid that was really into music. (Music that is still popular today, incidentally.) Why metal? Because it really only could have been metal.