What Metal Means to Me
As part of Rhapsody Metal Madness week, please welcome guest essayist Jeanne Fury, a highly respected critic for such outlets as Decibel, Magnet, the Village Voice and SPIN.com. She's got a day job, too, but as she puts it, "the plum-colored circles under my eyes have been carefully cultivated by years of fluorescent lighting, vitamin deficiency, and lots of late nights in venues with poor plumbing and even worse air circulation."
For as long as I can remember, I severely resented being told what to do. Anything that impinged on my free will could summarily kiss my ass. Rules were for dummies who had sub-primate levels of intelligence. When I was a little kid, I instinctively knew not to cross the street when a car was coming, yet my parents felt the need to constantly drill this rule into my head. They would take it one step further and threaten me about what would happen should I disobey orders. I was only five, but I was no idiot. Dangerous stuff can get you hurt, and when you got hurt, it meant you had to go to the doctor, and I hated the doctor.
As a pre-teen, I wasn't allowed to watch MTV because evidently it would lead to drugs and pregnancy, and there was clearly no way I could be trusted to make the decision to not to shoot heroin and get pregnant. My parents' compulsion to warn me against such obvious things made me think they thought I was too stupid for my own good, and that pissed me off. Then I thought maybe they were issuing these mandates as a way of throwing their parental weight around, and that pissed me off even worse.
The older I got, the more pissed off I became at any and all authority figures. Teachers, managers, cops, the Pope -- they could all kiss my ass for trying to foist orders upon every facet of my life. There was also a growing awareness of the fact that the rule-makers, from the Supreme Court on down, were the most inept and disconnected specimens to survive evolution. How these assclowns fell into such powerful roles was mystifying, not to mention infuriating and terrifying.
I reached the peak of fear and loathing, like most people do, as a teenager. I went to an all-girls Catholic high school in an upper-class New Jersey suburb where it was unbecoming of a young lady to question authority or possess an independent thought. Meanwhile, the amoebic moron teacher in the front of the class could get by on his/her pathetic credentials bestowed to them by some other idiots who had previously stood at the front of a classroom. My ass: you can kiss it. As a freshman, I had neither the desire nor the patience to obliviously fall in line. I read a lot of news and nonfiction on my own time; the more aware I became of social injustices, the more powerless I felt and the angrier I grew.
But unlike the countercultural youth movements and scenes (Riot Grrrl, '90s punk and hardcore) that I knew were taking place in magical lands far away from my tiny corner of existential hell, being marginalized didn't empower me. As semesters passed, my resentment kept mounting, but the girls in my high school didn't band together for some massive uprising. We didn't form bands or make zines; we didn't have time, between studying for the SAT and AP exams and doing our best to live up to someone else's idea of excellence. This was tiring. Eventually, we fell in line because it was the path of least resistance, and honestly, we were exhausted from all the pressure to succeed. We didn't have the confidence to really and truly rebel, to love ourselves regardless of the fact that certain grown-ups thought we weren't achieving our potential or whatever fatuous, self-righteous crap they said at the time.
It seemed like a Herculean effort, and for what? Frankly, I wasn't even sure I wanted to rebel; what I really desperately wanted was to feel some semblance of normalcy or serenity. Being a young adult was like enduring some kind of spiritual famine. I just hated everything and wanted nothing more than to be left alone.
Throughout my slog through this dispiriting teenage wasteland, I found tremendous comfort in loud, fast, obnoxious music. My parents never, ever told me to lower my stereo, because they saw just how much the songs meant to me. For as out of my control and inane the outside world was (and will be forever), I could temper my own hostility with the gargantuan, relentless energy of heavy metal. The small stature of funny-looking guys like Alice Cooper, Rob Halford, Noddy Holder and Ronnie James Dio -- gods in their own right -- will always be reassuring in a culture that fetishizes physical perfection. Metal saw through the bullshit and stood up to the bullshitters. I respect that.
Now that I'm an adult, heavy metal continues to save me on a daily basis. I've come to learn that the only thing in my life that I can actually control is my attitude, and there's nothing better for fortifying one's attitude than heavy metal. I gravitate toward big-bottom boogie metal made by men and women who look like sinister mechanics. That music swings hard, and it's got soul. I wish I had more time to hear more new music; metal has developed so many sub-genres, I can't keep up with all the emerging bands, albums, festivals and sites devoted to this stuff. I've become someone who writes about heavy metal as part of my living, so I'm obligated by professional duty to keep it in my life. But even if I didn't do what I do, I'd keep this music with me at all times.
And I never outgrew my old standby songs. My love of "18 and Life" by Skid Row or "We're Not Gonna Take It" by Twisted Sister isn't the least bit disingenuous, and I sure as hell don't consider them guilty pleasures. Dio's "Rainbow in the Dark" still puts a lump in my throat, and Girlschool's "Yeah Right" will forever make me throw two middle fingers in the air. These songs are my allies. Metal is tougher, badder and bigger than I can be by myself.