The following 1000 words of mildly interesting thoughts are brought to you today by iTunes shuffling to Love At First Sting, which teleported me back to the living room floor in our house in Sunland, surrounded by M.U.S.C.L.E. figures while I tried to figure out which ones I was willing to trade the next day at school. Through the magic of memory, the scene shifts to my bedroom around the same time, where I carefully copy a program from a computer magazine into my TI 99/4a computer, and then to the same room where I fudge a roll because I really needed my WIS roll to be higher than 8 for the Wizard I was making. I’m at the desk where I do my homework, trying and failing for the nth time to draw Eddie on the cover of Piece of Mind. I am a child, a pre-teen, and always, always weak and weird and awkward and strange. But I have music, and that is comforting.
There’s this moment in a child’s life when they start to build a sense of self, as they develop their own likes and dislikes that are more complicated than “I don’t like milk” or “I want to have more ice cream” (ICE CREAM HAS MILK IN IT YOU STUPID KID! THAT’S WHY YOU DON’T KNOW ANYTHING! YOU’RE STUPID KIDS! JUST TELL ME HOW TO FIX THE FREAKIN’ SHOW! *cue Ralph Wiggum turning the dial to sad.)
For me, this sense of self is heavily tied to music, to the exclusion of almost everything else. My earliest memories all feature music in some sense, from listening to Fleetwood Mac and Elton John on my parents’ record player with the giant can headphones and the 20-foot curly cord to sitting with my first wind-up record player out on the lawn with a 45 of The Beatles Love Me Do that belonged to my mom. Those memories are from around 1975 or 1976, I guess, and in my memory, they look like the pictures in The Happiest Days of Our Lives.
My whole childhood, my dad had great taste in music: ELO, Boston, Steve Miller Band, Pink Floyd, and whatever was on KMET. My mom was … not so much. She was all about Barbara Streisand and Joni Mitchell and Christopher Cross and artists that just seemed whiny and wussy because they were. I spent a lot of time in the car with my mom when I was going on auditions, and I still hear Streisand in my nightmares. When dad took me on auditions, we got to listen to The Doobie Brothers, mom! I MEAN JEEZE.
My musical awakening came in the fall 1984, when I was 12, and a kid I knew at school slipped me a cassette tape at school. It was Judas Priests’s Screaming For Vengeance. I thought the cover was cool, and when I got home that day, I played it on my little single-speaker tape player thing that was standard issue if you were a lucky kid in the 80s.
I wasn’t sure about this music when I heard The Hellion, but by the time Electric Eye was finished, I was on board. It was You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’, though, that hooked me. I still can’t say why, but when I bought the album, I put that song on every single heavy metal mix tape I made for the rest of the 80s … even the ones with Metallica. I took the cassette back to him the next day, and asked him for more heavy metal. In the coming weeks, he gave me Ozzy, Iron Maiden, Dio, and The Scorpions.
I loved them all, saved my allowance, and bought my own copies of Diary of A Madman, Number of the Beast, and Love At First Sting at the local record shop. (I should point out that we were in a parochial school at the height of Reagan’s Conservative American Nightmare, and the Satanic Panic was about to hit its peak. It says a lot about my parents that they let me buy Number of the Beast, instead of freaking out like a lot of parents did at the time.) I loved the thick, heavy guitars. I loved the raw vocals. I loved — I mean, really loved — Iron Maiden’s lyrics, which were smart, literate, and about history and mythology instead of less important matters.
I wasn’t an angry kid, I wasn’t a particularly rebellious kid (though I admit that I’d already decided that religion was something I didn’t want or need in my life, so listening to music every authority figure in my life besides my parents deemed terrible and ZOMG SATANIC did give me a bit of a thrill). I just really liked the music, and the artwork, and how it seemed like a natural extension of Thundarr The Barbarian for some reason. There was real power in the music that didn’t exist in any of the rock-and-roll I was used to. This music wasn’t about just sounding nice, it was about kicking ass.
This music became a huge part of my sense of personal identity. It was one of the first big choices I remember making for myself, because it was something that I liked, not because my parents or a relative gave it to me, or because it was something popular in school that I wanted to have. )Metal was decidedly unpopular at my school, and since I was already a nerd, I really didn’t need to give the Cool Kids something else to use against me on the playground).
It became the soundtrack to my life. While I made D&D characters and dungeons (a little on the nose, I know, but it’s true) I listened to Maiden. While I played with my M.U.S.C.L.E. figures, I listened to Dio. When I played with my WWF action figures, my Transformers, or my Stomper Trucks, metal was there. I made dozens of mixtapes featuring the same songs in different order, always using Dee from Blizzard of Ozz to fill in the space at the end of each side.
As I got older, my musical proclivities changed. I fell in love with punk rock, then British new wave, then grunge. Metal was still there, but less and less frequently. I think it was Metallica’s shitty Black Album that started pushing me away. Not even Tool could bring me back. Thanks a lot, Lars, you dick.