Hair bands and heavy metal were as much a staple of the 80s/90s teens as the Beatles were to our parents, bad taste in some cases being requisite, yes, but we also experienced the iconic–give it up for Guns-n-Roses. The lesser forms certainly had something of a B-rated cult music following, but still, one must pay tribute to the lesser so rampant in our youth, if not for nostalgia then for the bevy of comical material and all those late night roller-skating birthday parties, disco balls casting moonlight and stars on the wood, hand-holding with the drum and guitar beats of Poison, White Snake…
I can still remember the rumors flying about Ozzy Osbourne and the bat head biting incident and how it struck fear in the girls, made the boys sneer, it was something of a rock horror. Having never attended a rock horror show–I will admit to being a little scared and squeamish–I can’t speak for the actuality of the bat head being real or not, though, I had friends who swore it was. I do remember thinking it wasn’t so different than Alice Cooper for my mother, and how much I liked Alice Cooper. The kids in high school, who followed this form of music, carried it around with them like a shroud, shield and sword. It seemed to somehow make them more dangerous, just listening and preferring such music, a sad and often unjustified prejudice, but to which so many of us subscribed. It might be suggested some of the heavy metal kids knew the effect of their clothing and musical preferences. It yielded the aura of safe space, heavy metal, bubble wrap around them. One could not blame a teenager for hiding in such space, safe distance from other cliques being a rich commodity in high school.
To my surprise, I eventually dated a boy who was into heavy metal, Metallica being his favorite, but also well-steeped in Cooper, Osbourne, some of the alternative heavy bands, Nine Inch Nails and Alice in Chains, which I too preferred, still do. And he was one of the sweetest, most gentle boys I’ve ever known. The music, for him, wasn’t a violence or means toward violence, it was a release, a place to unwind and put down the day, I think. I came to better understand the lure of heavy metal and the nuances through him. I have since regarded any new aesthetic with more openness. I’m thankful for that.
As comical and hairy as some of these bands may have been, there were great artists, too, and some of them have been as much a part of a broader arts presence nationally and internationally as the “higher,” Julliard forms. I like to think there are spaces for all of them and, in some very special cases, genius in the fusions. Rage Against the Machine, perhaps being one of my favorite examples. And so I’ll leave you with a little Rage now. Happy Easter, everyone. Rock on. Rock right.
Rae Bryant’s short story collection, The Indefinite State of Imaginary Morals, released from Patasola Press, NY, in June 2011. Her stories and essays have appeared in The Paris Review (online), StoryQuarterly, McSweeney’s, BLIP Magazine, Gargoyle Magazine, and Redivider, among other publications.