“Babe, you don’t know shit.” He said it kindly, which made it sting even more.
It started about a year and a half ago, when my husband had a midlife crisis. David claims that if you are over forty and you aren’t thinking about what kind of legacy you will leave, then you aren’t paying attention. For months, he was quieter than normal, pondering those Big Questions.
Was he doing meaningful work?
Was he being the best father he could be?
Was he becoming a man he was proud of?
Reflection made him realize that he had been coasting on autopilot without being truly awake. So he stopped drinking alcohol, started running (never underestimate the power of some endorphins on your well-being), and started going to see live music every week, an activity that had always given him joy but had gotten lost in the shuffle of work, parenting, and saving for retirement.
And that’s how he accidentally began his torrid affair with heavy metal. Initially, he was going out on Thursday nights because it was convenient to our family schedule. And that is when many small local bars showcase bands with names like Swamp Witch and Acid Tongue. David has never cared what sort of music is being played; he only cares that it is played well. A year later and he’s driving all over the state to follow bands that he loves.
So what’s the problem, right? I started to worry about his new hobby. What I thought I knew about metal was based on long-held assumptions and a few of David’s own tales.
He told me about the transgender bassist wearing the opossum mask that interrupted her face-melting guitar jam with a spoken-word soliloquy about marsupials. The dude in line at the taco truck who had had horns surgically implanted in his forehead. The well-known guitarist who continually did lines of cocaine off the speakers all night. The lead singer who handed the crowd his monitor lizard to “babysit” while he sang. My husband shared these gems over coffee, as nonplussed by them as I was incredulous. I took these tales and meshed them with some stereotypes from the 80’s hair bands where metalheads were portrayed as either violent druggies or stupid Beavis and Butthead types who had no respect for women. And who can forget the urban legend that playing Slayer albums backwards would reveal Satanic messages? This insufficient data convinced me that metalheads are all angry. David suffers from anxiety, so I presumed that being around that hostility might trigger his panic attacks to return. My mental story ended with him trampled in a mosh pit by some drunken devil worshipers.
Well, as he so aptly stated, I don’t know shit. David claims metal shows are governed by an unspoken code of conduct and that metalheads represent a wide global audience. It’s less the hive of violence I had imagined and more a safe space where everyone is welcomed. The fans are of all ages, colors, and sexual orientations, and about a third of them are women. “I’ve met attorneys and students and policemen and dudes working the late shift at the Speedway. I’ve seen people in wheelchairs and parents with their kids. We talk about everything from string theory to where to find the best pizza. They’re my people.”
Further research bears this out. Many anthropological studies of the metal community have found that heavy metal is transgenerational and more culturally inclusive than other forms of music. There are “elders” that teach youngsters mosh pit etiquette. Examples include “if anyone goes down, moshing stops immediately while we tend to the fan” and – my personal favorite – “it’s never okay to pull someone’s earring.” In a world where many of us have traded our concert-going days for digital downloads, metal has consciously chosen to keep an integral relationship between fan and performer through live shows. David added that you rarely see metalheads videoing the show in their phone. “They’re there for the music,” he said. “I’ve seen grown men cry as they listen to a jam. It’s really cathartic and really beautiful.”
It is beautiful and I feel ashamed for skating on unfounded suppositions. Assumptions are surface level choices. It’s lazy to accept truths based solely on mental narratives, irresponsible to judge someone based on insufficient data. We treat our suppositions as true even though they are only true for us. We make up stories in our heads (metalheads are violent) and then we act on those stories as if they are real (listening to heavy metal will make you violent).
The only way to turn an assumption into intelligence is through inquisitiveness. Ask questions and actively seek information about the topic. Turn your curiosity into clarity. An assumption is simply a thought and thoughts can be released.
I won’t be joining my husband in rocking out; I prefer acoustic folk. But I also won’t worry about David getting flattened in a mosh because now I know better.
Bang your head baby.