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A Headbanger Remembers Bits and Pieces

Updated on November 23, 2011

A Fringe Group of Yore

Dirtbags. Stoners. Hairbags. Losers.


Terms of endearment or derision, depending on who uttered them, to describe fans the obvious fans of heavy metal music. For some reason I woke up this morning with a Motley Crue song in my head, and it started the dominos falling back to about 25 years ago.

Long before Facebook and iPods and the endless list of media wh*re reality stars, we had the heavy metal subculture. Anyone else remember the glory days of Metallica, Judas Priest, AC/DC and Ozzy Osbourne long before he became a charming, avuncular international treasure?

There was eyeliner and lots of it. Leather fringe and lots of it. Anyone being halfway honest would admit the scene was 55% about the music and 45% about the fashion. We’d blow dry our hair upside down and spray the bejesus out of it (the guys, too) so that it would stand straight up in a proud, spiky, modified mullet nightmare. The bigger, higher, and frostier the better. High heeled, pointy-toed pumps in black or red were mandatory accessories to the tight denim, leather, lace, and fishnet with shiny metal accents. The nails were long and red. And let’s not forget jewelry so large and voluminous that you could pick up cable signals if you stood on the roof.

There was the Spandex worn under ripped jeans and belts wide enough and decorated enough to give a pro wrestler pause. The guys all wore boots. Cowboy, dingo, or some other pointed and studded affair, but always boots. They’d go without eating for a week in order to afford the compulsory black leather jacket. Some would also acquire additional roommates in order to afford additional leather jackets in red or, the biggest coup of all – the long, genuine leather trench. Yowza. And even though the majority of them wore makeup and hairspray, it didn’t seem feminine or like a pathetic attempt to appear sensitive in order to snag girls (e.g., emos – don’t get me started). It was an impromptu fashion show every time someone walked into the bar through a haze of Marlboro smoke and Poison (the band AND the perfume) to see who was there at the copper spools used as tables.

You could say we were pretty shallow. And yeah, sometimes we looked a little scary to the civilians. We were often associated with criminals and devil worshipping serial killers. But in all honesty, I’m going to assert that we were in possession of a higher morality than the majority of the mainstream cultures of today. While there was the occasional fistfight and stolen joint and drunken trashing of a buddy’s resident party house, we never popped a cap in anyone’s *ss over turf rights or participated in drivebys. There was shame and remorse and sympathy when someone unmarried and under the age of 20 got pregnant. We would not have let ourselves be filmed performing intimate acts in hope that the tapes would be distributed worldwide and would eventually land us a reality show where we could flaunt hair extensions costing more than my first car.

And maybe most importantly, we listened to music where they actually sang and played instruments. There was no bloody autotune or troupe of choreographers necessary to put on a show. Just screaming guitars and vocalists that could hit those high notes without a computer and us pumping our fists into the smoky air. And let us never forget the power ballad… that contrived ambrosia with its halting drum beats that would inevitably build to a screaming crescendo of devotion to his girrrrrrrl. Good, good stuff. Incidentally, we ALL owned secret copies of George Michael’s Faith album that we stashed way at the back of the stack behind the Megadeth. Everyone knew, but no one talked about it.

Then came Guns ‘n Roses, which was pretty much the beginning of the end. I would argue that they were the best of the hair metal – geniuses in my book – but they represented the swan song of metal before it was ushered out in favor of grunge. I’m not dissing grunge – it was fun, too, and God knows much more intelligent, but hearing a Nirvana song will never produce that wide of a grin when it comes on the radio like a Quiet Riot tune will.

You could say metal is still alive. You have your speed or thrash or black metal or whatever it’s called now. I had satellite radio on my previous car, and whenever I really needed a good laugh after a bad day at work, I’d tune into the metal station and chuckle at those dramatic goons growling about cannibalism, dismemberment, necrophilia, burning destruction, and blood sacrifice in their best cookie monster on speed impersonations. I’m hoping that all that stuff about exhuming charred bodies at midnight under the direction of the dark lord is tongue-in-cheek, but I kind of doubt it. I don’t know - I try to appreciate its artistic intent, but it’s right up there with fusion jazz and Chinese opera – I just don’t have the ear for it.

I don’t really see any of that old crowd now. I suspect they’re also working as desk jockeys or gas station attendants or are one of the bazillion unemployed that comprise this country. I suppose a few are in prison or at least are required to report to probation officer on occasion. I don’t remember any of their names at the moment, but I can still tell you about the outfits they wore on Fridays and the stack of tapes (what’s a CD??) on the floor of their late 1970s Monte Carlos and Cougars.

In all honesty, I don’t listen to heavy metal on a regular basis anymore. While I have everything in my collection from Frank Sinatra to Marilyn Manson, I’ve been on an alt folk kick now for years. But when I was pregnant about 4 years ago, the hormones or something had me listening to classic metal again at top volume nearly every day. The very first time my daughter heard a heavy, pounding number, she instinctively started headbanging. She didn’t make the devil horns with her chubby little fingers or do air guitar, but I firmly believe the forward head thrust, complete with flying hair, was innate from being exposed to so much Iron Maiden and Dio in the womb. Maybe she’ll bring it back when she grows up.

In the meantime, I’ll keep that Motley Crue song in my head while I remember being 25 years younger and I won’t say how many pounds thinner.


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