An Accidental Metalhead

My sister used to be a metalhead. I'm sure it's not a secret and if it was, I may be able to evade severe punishment by owning up to growing up in the 70s which meant the music I liked when I was a teenager is far more embarrassing.

Which gets me - rather swiftly for me - to the point. Because I don't think being a metalhead is embarrassing (OK, some of the hairstyles associated with being a metalhead could be, but we're talking about music today, not fashion). And this is why.

Janne and I spent a lot of time together growing up. Not only do we like each other a lot, as well as love each other – how lucky can you be that one of your best friends is your sister? - but a couple of things threw us together more than we might have otherwise. Because of my disability, I was probably home more than the average teen/early adult and there are 10 years between us. The ten-year gap meant that I was at times elected chaperone based on the thinking that an older sister was much less mortifying company than a parent. And one of the times when I got roped into being chaperone was when Janne went to concerts - our first one (before the metalhead stage) was Depeche Mode and My. God. The hair.

A few years later, she had moved on to the metal genre and this was a time when she and I spent a lot of time in a car together with the music cranked and singing along. Although she had a drivers license, my parents felt she was too young to go see Guns N’ Roses in concert by herself, so I got volunteered to go. At the time, I had read the lyrics to their songs and was very busy sneering down my nose at them. But still, she was my sister, she very much wanted to go and I saw it as an opportunity for some anthropological research.

Skid Row opened and it was the loudest band I've ever heard it, then and now. There was a saying among the metal cohort that “if it's too loud, you're too old,” but I would like to counter that with the opinion that if your ears are still ringing 30 minutes after the music has stopped, it is indeed too loud. And then, GNR came on stage and it was one of the top two concerts I have ever attended. Sting’s … Nothing like the Sun is the other - I dragged Janne to that one, which made her a fan, so I wa's only fair that she returned the favour. But back to my conversion experience. GNR played for hours, feeding off the energy of the crowd, which fed off the energy coming off the band until the stadium became a symbiotic organism. They came out for an encore, playing song after song until 1 AM, saying it was one of the best gigs they've ever played and by the time it was all said and done, thousands of people walked out of there buzzing, high on the experience (and for some, probably high on other substances, as well).

That was the point where I parked all my preconceptions on the shelf and asked my sister to show me more. I learned about hair metal, ripped jeans and power ballads - I have a favorite memory of Janne and I am walking down the strip in Las Vegas, singing Wind of Change. I also learned that Thrash - an extra loud and discordant subcategory of the metal genre - could blow a migraine out of your head. It happened more than once and I'm not sure metal has been sufficiently credited for its healing properties. If you get migraines, try it sometime. Admittedly, it takes a certain level of guts and a bit of perseverance to voluntarily expose yourself to this kind of music at a loud volume, but you'll have a fair chance of kicking the sucker to the curb.

The reason all this has come back to me is my latest movie from Rogers Video Direct (the Canadian version of Netflix). I've come to relish the randomness of the shipments - my previous DVD was The Maltese Falcon and now, I've just finished watching Metallica: Some Kind of Monster. Bit of cinematic whiplash there. I was prepared to feel like I'd moved on, perhaps consider it a visit to my misspent youth, but instead found myself completely captivated by this documentary of Metallica recording Some Kind of Monster while undergoing group therapy. And aside from being a compelling look at the band and the strong personalities therein, it reminded me how much I like good metal.

Take Enter Sandman, one of my favorite Metallica songs. It's raw and primal and intense and just rips through you, leaving you invigorated and slightly stunned. Take AC/DC – how can you not move? Take Aerosmith, who I sadly have never seen in concert. And getting back to GNR, take Welcome to the Jungle – how can you not get caught up in that (just Axl’s hair is worth a look)? And then there’s Sweet Child of Mine – iconic and lovely. And it is the song that was played at the end of Claire’s funeral, an occasion so sad and devastating that we, all of us in the room, were reeling and raw with pain and when those first unmistakeable notes of her favourite song rang out, we, all of us in the room, looked at the friend or family member sitting next to us and laughed with love at the perfection of the choice.

Healing power of metal, indeed.


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