Pride, Prejudice and Heavy Metal

Ever since I was a kid, I've loved music. I listened to whatever was getting played on my parent's stereo until eventually I got my own portable radio. As a child, I had no idea that there was any kind of music other than what was on the radio, so that's where I went to get music.

One day I was riding the bus home wearing headphones, listening to a song I had heard many times before when suddenly, it didn't sound good anymore. It was like an epiphany, “this is kind of cheesy” I thought to myself, then I took off my headphones and sat quietly, thankful that no one else could hear what I was just hearing.

I began to wonder why I had enjoyed the song in the first place and if I really ever enjoyed it at all. I tried again later and heard more of the same stuff I had been listening to, but it just didn't appeal to me at all this time. Thankfully, before I had a chance to give up on music altogether, a friend introduced me to the wonderful world of Heavy Metal.

I wasn't a complete stranger to Hard Rock and Heavy Metal at the time, but much like now, it didn't get a lot of airtime on radio or television. I guess you could say the small handful of Hard Rock songs I had heard up to that point got buried under the weight of radio's sugary, pop avalanche. It wasn't until I heard Metallica on MTV (back when they played videos all day) that the mountain of now-boring radio pop crumbled in my mind and I started feeling enamored with music again.

I told my friend about this great new band I heard and he scoffed, “You've never heard of Metallica?” and told me to come over for a bit of a music lesson. He had older siblings with their own music collections, so he knew about way more than what was on the radio. He started playing the song “Master of Puppets” and I immediately lost my mind. I have yet to find it, it must have fallen out when I started ferociously banging my head. Even though I had never done such a thing before, it came to me like second nature; it was like a reflex. We listened to that for a while and then he told me, “If you think that's cool, check out this band I just heard about, Slayer.” and a Metalhead was born; or rather, unleashed.

I've said for years that Heavy Metal fans are born into it, it just takes that one song to trigger their love for sonic rebellion. Perhaps you've met someone that got rid of their Cannibal Corpse albums after “settling down” because they were told to do so by their spouse. I assure you, those people were probably never really that into Heavy Metal because true Metal fans are obsessive. Heavy Metal is law, Heavy Metal is life and anything else is weak by comparison.

Metal concerts are a little bit like comic conventions. Instead of "cosplaying" animated characters and superheroes, people wear their patch jackets, spikes, bullet belts and favorite band T-shirts. Who cares if it's 100 degrees outside, it's a Metal show, break out those leather pants! It's true that Heavy Metal fans are often nerds and I'll be the first to admit that I'm one; in fact, I'd be happy to join your D&D campaign. (I have a totally bad ass Half-Orc Barbarian.) Shows are where we gather and feel most comfortable around strangers, we know that we're among friends. Not all of us have been abused or bullied, but most of us are quite familiar with being looked-down upon in one way or another.

Every Metal fan has been told at some point in their life that what they listen to is noise, not “real music”, “a bunch of screaming” and that they are stupid for enjoying such “garbage”. So much so that a large portion of fans avoid the question “what kind of music do you listen to?” like it's going to give them Cancer.

Here in the bible-belt, if you walk around wearing all black (especially if you're a guy with long hair) chances are you will be stared at, ridiculed and feared. I've had potential employers turn me away as soon as I walked in the door because of my appearance and I don't have a single tattoo or piercing.

Fans who don't sport any outward signs of being a Metalhead are often greeted with disdain once co-workers or acquaintances find out they enjoy the genre. Sometimes even other fans will view them as “posers” because they don't meet the imaginary dress code, these fans are known as “Metal Elitists” or simply “Douchebags” and they make all of us look bad.

They are one of only a couple sub-sects of Heavy Metal fans that cause problems. They're usually the ones who complain about everything and don't have a lot of friends, mainly because they have an unrealistic view of music and oftentimes, the world. Unfortunately, that isn't the only faction of Metalheads that make the rest of us look bad; there are also the “tough guys”, the worst of the worst. I've been accused of being an elitist in the past because I have had strong opinions of what is and isn't Heavy Metal. I no longer give much thought to things like this because I recognize their unimportance and frankly, I have better things to do than try to convince people that “Band X” isn't Metal because of “Reason Y”.

Having said that, I will badmouth “tough guys” and their crap taste in generic, watered-down “Lite-Metal” (Aluminum-core?) for hours simply because they just aren't very good people. These are the guys who run into a mosh pit and start throwing punches; these are the guys who get excited about MMA and the physique of their favorite Pro Wrestlers, but throw around slurs against the LGBT community. These are the ones who are making the rest of us look like assholes and I want no part of being associated with these idiots.

In my experience these people are not the majority, but I've come to understand that my current location is a bit of an anomaly in many regards. It seems that a relatively small portion of this global community of Metalheads have many people convinced that the majority of them are the idiot stereotypes from TV and movies, as well as bigoted buffoons that start trouble wherever they go.

The “tough guys” are the first ones to run up to a stranger and criticize them because they're usually big and think no one will stand up to them. They're the ones who are way too drunk, way too early, waving their shirt around and yelling “Come at me, bro!” or “Get some!” They also happen to be the first ones to get thrown out of the show by security.

Much like the squeaky wheel that gets the grease, the belligerent, bigoted Metalhead gets the attention of the press. Heavy Metal has been labeled as a genre filled with misogynists, homophobes, racists and imbeciles. To me, this has never been what Heavy Metal, and it's culture, is about; quite the opposite, in fact.

Heavy Metal was created by poor Englishmen who were influenced by African-American musicians from the rural south. If it weren't for Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, I probably would have never bothered listening to Robert Johnson or Son House.

Heavy Metal morphed into an over-the-top, theatrical production thanks to bands like Kiss (which has two Jewish members) and Alice Cooper (who is French and Native American), while Judas Priest gave Metal it's leather-clad appearance and tough image. It's a shame that Rob Halford was publicly in the closet for many years for fear of how people would react.

The fact remains that every Heavy Metal fan owes him a debt of gratitude. I don't know a single Metalhead who doesn't love “Sad Wings of Destiny” and think Mr. Halford is a legend. The 80s did bring along a lot of misogyny thanks to “Hair Metal” and it's legion of groupies, but the legitimacy of that sub-genre has always been questioned and let's be honest, Lita Ford didn't do women any favors by rolling around half-naked in her videos.

Thankfully, there are currently some quality Metal bands out there with Female members who don't resort to selling their bodies for attention. (Not you, Butcher Babies.) One of the biggest Hard Rock/Heavy Metal bands of the 80s, Guns N Roses, had a guitarist of African-American heritage. Don't even get me started on how important Jimi Hendrix was to Hard Rock and music in general. It took all these different backgrounds to create this striding behemoth we call Heavy Metal and it's foolish to view this genre as being only for one group of people.

In my eyes and in the eyes of many other life-long Heavy Metal fans, this music is for everyone, regardless of your race, gender or whatever else convinces people that we're all so drastically different. This is a style of music that is about empowerment; being strong in the face of adversity and putting a fist through the face of prejudice.

I'm fortunate enough to live within a music community that is truly all-inclusive. Everyone gets in the pit, raises hell and helps each other up when we get knocked on our asses. It doesn't matter who you're attracted to, what you look like or what neighborhood you're from, you are welcome at any show you wish to attend. If a bunch of people in the supposedly most bigoted part of America can do this, why can't you?

It's well past the time for all of us, no matter what culture you identify with, to live and let live. Stop projecting whatever archaic ideals you've been taught (and your own insecurities) onto others and make a conscious effort to be a decent person. We need that in this world way more than another group of narrow-minded people who force a strict set of unnecessary rules upon others just because they feel like that's how things should work.

It's up to those of us without any prejudice to step up if we see someone being mistreated, whether it happens at a show or at the corner store. If there are bigoted people in your music scene or in your community, be very clear that they are not welcome. Stand up for what's right, be strong and don't take any kind of bullshit from anyone because that's fuckin Metal!

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