My 30 Years as a Metalhead (Part 1)

My 30 Years as a Metalhead (Part 1)

2016 marks my 30th year of being a metalhead. Some may wonder why I would advertise that, much less write about it. Well, that is pretty simple: The music has brought me more joy over the years than many other things in life. When other things have let me down, metal was still there for me. I identify with it and it’s a part of who I am.

As a kid I liked all kinds of music (and still do), but I was not exposed to the real metal genre until 1986. If I had, I certainly would have written this article years earlier. Sure, I had been exposed to various forms of hard rock, such as Van Halen, Def Leppard, The Scorpions, Ratt, and the slew of hair bands/glam rock that was exploding in the 1980′s, but to what degree these types of bands were actually metal is highly debatable. While I did like some of that music, I always had a hard time identifying with it or respecting all the external crap that had nothing to do with the musical art form. I was a music fan -not a fan of silly, over-the-top appearance, and the rebellious partying attitude that accompanied a lot of it. As I got older I found myself gravitating to heavier music. The heavier songs from the rock bands I listened to would often be my favorites. It could be said that my first purchase of a metal album was a cassette of Def Leppard’s Pyromania in 1983. However, using the examples of metal that eventually completely converted me and what I consider metal to be today, Def Leppard would not be included -though I still love that album. The same would go for some classic stuff from The Scorpions, AC/DC, and Ratt -one of the few bands that I liked out of that godawful glam/hair “metal” trend in the ’80s (though I admit that genre is entertaining to me today).

It wasn’t until 1986 that I finally was exposed to what I consider real metal. I was a freshman and sophomore in high school that year. I had short hair, went to church, generally was a nice, harmless, somewhat conservative young man, and was on a path that would eventually take me to college and a normal, conforming life. I simply knew no different. I had turned the corner from the dorky, socially uncomfortable boy I was in grade school and junior high, but I was still missing something -an edge that would separate me from others and give me the courage to find my own identity. Metal would eventually bring that out of me.

Here I am, age 15.

I had a small TV in my bedroom. It was one of those that had one manual dial that went from stations 2 to 12, and a second dial that went from 13 to 50 or something. We didn’t have cable in my house, so I settled for the three and later four local channels that we could receive on a pair of old rabbit ears antennas. My TV also had one of those weird square or round UHF antennas that could pick up the higher number stations. We did not have any local channels that would get picked up by that. However, being the curious kid I was, I’d still check those channels from time to time just to see if anything was there. At some point, I believe in the second half of that year, a station came through. It was Much Music -Canada’s version of Mtv. It’s still around today but has since shortened its name to Much, and like Mtv, has turned its back on music for the most part. Anyway, back in ’86 they had a show airing once a week called The Pepsi Power Hour. This was Canada’s version of Mtv’s Headbanger’s Ball -though a lot better. In the following years with Headbanger’s Ball you’d have to wade thru video after video of garbage that was trendy and not always technically metal just to get to something actually heavy. The Pepsi Power Hour went to the real stuff right away. The first metal videos I remember being exposed to were Circle Of The Tyrants by Celtic Frost, The Ace Of Spades by Motorhead, and Wasted Years and Stranger In A Strange Land from Iron Maiden -off of their Somewhere In Time album, which had recently been released. I was hooked. The first official metal album I bought was a cassette of that album in December.

Though I quickly grew to love Iron Maiden, it was the more extreme songs like Circle Of The Tyrants that were really grabbing my interest. The problem was, there were so few of those kinds of videos to sample, and I did not know anyone who could guide me down that heavier path. As a youth my friends would expose me to new bands, but I didn’t know any metal heads at the time. That changed early in the following year. There was a guy named Jason that I had some classes with. He had longer hair and we became friends. My friend Pat and I started hanging out at his house. His room was decked out with all sorts of metal posters and hand drawn logos on large pieces of paper. I told him how I had recently been getting into metal but wanted to hear more heavy, aggressive stuff. He went to his drawer of cassettes and handed me a copy of Metallica’s Master Of Puppets. This would turn out to be one of the more significant single moments of my life. From that time forward I began stepping off the path of conformity and into the unknown. To this day that album is still my favorite, and in my opinion, the finest metal album of all time. Apparently my opinion is not in the minority, either, as nearly every poll over the last twenty years or so ranks that album as #1 in the metal genre. It’s easy to ignore Metallica these days as they have become a joke, but that should not negate their groundbreaking ’80s work. The songs on Master Of Puppets, while being 30 years old, still represent well in 2016, as any truly great piece of art transcends time and people’s evolving tastes.

Shortly after my exposure to Master Of Puppets I started to change. I gained more confidence, became more intolerant of oppressing social standards, and realized that my life was my own to do with what I pleased and blaze my own path away from the beaten one of the majority of blind followers appeasing other people’s standards and expectations. I started growing my hair long, not because I necessarily wanted to rebel, but because I liked the way it looked. That goes the same for getting my ear pierced. In the late ’80s/early ’90s in Billings, Montana, such a change was much more rebellious than it is now. That look made it more difficult to find a good job, and there was a certain prejudice that came with it, as many people looked down at such people. Of course all that did was make me more defiant and unapologetic being the person that I wanted to be.

Here I am in May of 1990, playing a show, three years after I started growing my hair (don't ask why it's curly).

That summer my friends and I formed a joke band called Plasttica and videotaped ourselves dorking out playing plywood guitars. Embarrassing now, but still funny. One day Pat’s dad asked a simple question, “Why don’t you learn how to play real guitars?” This set off light bulbs in our heads. Yeah, why not? This was the final piece of the puzzle to my life-altering transformation. I’m not going to go into the whole story of my experience in bands (another story for another time), but ultimately it took me off the college bound path in high school, gave me roughly twelve years of unique experiences, with dozens of songs to my name, about 100 shows under my belt, and 5 albums. My hair transformed over the years, too, as I went through periods of struggle to keep my long hair that was slowly falling out. I felt like I had every hair style under the sun before I finally got tired of looking like a freak and shaved my head for good. Today I may not have the classic look of a metal god, but in my head I will always have hair down to my ass. At age 46 I am more of a metalhead now than I have ever been. It’s the blood in my veins. Some may silently judge people like me and think it’s immature and silly, but I defiantly look back at them with my head held high and wonder why so many of my peers keep getting more lame and soft the older they get.