The lüv that dare not speak its name

“I found the simple life ain’t so simple.” — D.L. Roth

I left work a little early to insure that I’d make it home before my wife; I had something coming in the mail that was part of my secret life. Steph is understanding enough, and quite respectful of my privacy, but even after being together for almost seven years, there are still some things that are shameful, and require solitude. Having previously worked a job selling sex toys over the Internet, I knew that I wasn’t the only husband shipping or receiving discreet packages via the U.S. Postal Service.

Opening the front door and inspecting the day’s mail, I quickly recognized my special delivery. My breath shortened just a little with anticipation. The shades to our house were conveniently pre-drawn as I ripped into the manila. The digital media was warm in my damp palm. Humming with delight, the disc drive, my willing accomplice, gave me a psychic wink as I inserted the silver circle. Quickly I pressed pause; I needed to make sure the mood was perfect. I grabbed a beer, took the phone off the hook and leaned back on the sofa. I hit play and closed my eyes for the opening track, “Invaders.” Fuck yeah! I couldn’t believe it had been this long since I’d heard Iron Maiden’s Number of the Beast. I had returned to the warm, blood-soaked embrace of my first musical love, heavy metal.

Over the years I’ve played the field with punk, prog, and even jazz. I even seriously dated ’90s alt-rock through the entire decade, but I had come to realize that I, like all junkies, was merely chasing the dragon. I longed for the lost thrill of my first KISS (and no, it doesn’t stand for Knights In Satan’s Service). I was stunted in my desire, a virtual Humbert Humbert of music fandom.

“My name is Lucifer; please take my hand.” — Ozzy

We first met when I was about seven years old. That’s when I was admitted into the secret world of my cool older cousin’s room behind the door at the far end of the hall, which often vibrated with muffled, exotic sounds, and which, with the help of a damp towel, partitioned the rest of us from the pungent, skunky odor. This day, I sat on the edge of his bed as he lowered the needle. I immediately recognized the popping sound of dust on vinyl from my parents’ Simon and Garfunkel records, but I was not prepared for the proclamation that was about to be made by Ozzy “God” Osbourne: “III AMMM IRRRONNN MAAANNN.” Dread filled and invigorated my sixty-five-pound frame as Toni Iommi churned out my first power chords. I had been carried through a secret portal in the speakers and transformed forever.

Come Monday, I tried to relay the experience to my classmates: “It was like an entire field of guitars all playing the same thing at once.” No one got it – oh well. They could keep their Eagles, Elton John or whomever. Let them enjoy their ignorance; I inwardly vowed, “Someday, metal shall rise up and take over the world!!!”

“Here I am, rocked you like a hurricane.” — Klaus Meine

My love of all things metallic blossomed from there. Combined with my naturally large hair, however, it didn’t always make for a stylish relationship. Finally, when I was fourteen, my mother saw fit to allow me to go to my first big concert, Ratt at the Capital Theater in Passaic, NJ. What a night: hot lixx and hot chixx! My pinkies and forefingers got quite an intense workout. The next day I awoke with the afterglow of humming ears that only Marshall stacks can bring.

That morning, my reception at school was quite different from years earlier, when no one had cared about my life-altering experience with Black Sabbath. Metal by now had become, at least, marginally cool. I strutted my stuff in my new three-quarter-sleeve concert tee, the ultimate signifier that I had finally arrived – so much better than bragging about sports, grades, or some other such nonsense, because this statement required no words. It was all in the way one’s spike-braceleted wrists cut through the air, like surfing a wave of cool. A string of concerts followed. It seemed like I was a practicing metalhead forever, but the whirlwind lasted only till I was about sixteen. I was blinded by the white-hot, pyrotechnic flashpot of love and did not see the breakup waiting around the corner.

“She’s got the looks that kill.” — Nikki Sixx

A friend once said to me, “Heavy metal becomes irrelevant once you lose your virginity.” I had never experienced a flash in which I “discovered girls”; I had always liked them. I guess I just never thought that they would discover me. The problem was this: girls, or at least the ones I was interested in, didn’t really get what was so cool about Iron Maiden or Dio. Something had to give. So there you have it. Metal and I were separated by a force even greater than the leather-clad Rob Halford could muster. Of course we would see each other from time to time, mostly in passing. In the late ’80s, for example, Danzig was acceptable since he was previously in the Misfits, and everyone liked Guns-n-Roses (sorry, but they are a metal band). Bands like Maiden, Priest and the Scorps, however, were just not cool with the ladies, and I had to pretend that I didn’t see them sitting forlornly in the bargain bin at my local record store, dance card empty, as I bought the latest Jesus Jones disc.

“If it’s too loud you’re too old.” — Gene Simmons

Midlife brings out different things in different people. Some grasp for the fleeting acknowledgement from younger generations that they are still hip, and some stop caring so much what the hipsters think. The latter was my emotional state when I met Ernie-Ray Hensen, formerly the lead guitar player of the hair-metal band Mon Cheri. Ernie is, shall we say, a less reformed metalhead than I. He had all the favorites of my youth and the willingness to burn as many CDs as I longed for. The Blizzard of Ozz, Holy Diver, Blackout were all once again within my sonic grasp. This brings me to the beginning of the story. As any real music fan knows, burned discs are a great stopgap measure, but they never quite scratch the spiritual itch. You need the artwork, the photos, the lyrics. This is why I began buying all of my old favorites online.

“Don’t dream of women ‘cause they’ll only bring you down.” — R. J. Dio

Stephanie, bless her heart, tries to be understanding when I turn the key in my ignition and the Crüe start “Shout[ing] at the Devil,” full volume. “Sorry ‘bout that,” I say, switching to another disc in the carousel, cutting Vince Neil mid-shriek; Beck’s Guero in its inoffensiveness quickly salves the metallic abrasions. From time to time I try to explain to her what it is that I love so much about this incredibly stupid music. Her response is usually a glossy-eyed nod of quasi-understanding. Translation: “I don’t want to be subjected to that crap again.”

So there you have it. My love of metal has become ghettoized and lies on the fringes of my otherwise reasonably hip life. Our affair is a dirty secret I usually only share in newsgroup chat rooms. Metal, I wish I knew how to quit you. But alas, every time I think I’ve kicked this sweet, sweet addiction, I hear the siren’s call from Iron Maiden’s “Number of the Beast”: “I’m coming back; I will return. I now possess your body and I’ll make you burn.” Truer words were never more operatically delivered.

8 responses to “The lüv that dare not speak its name”

  1. Jeremy Zitter says:

    I remember the first time I was exposed to heavy metal, back in like 5th grade, being completely unsettled–not necessarily by the music, but by the terrifying iconography (especially those Iron Maiden album covers and posters which, for me, conflated heavy metal with horror movies, of which I was mortally afraid). The fact that my best friends were all huge KISS fans meant that I had to pretend to “get it” (when I really liked Duran Duran).

    I enjoyed this post, Scott, probably because we can all relate to these embarrassingly guilty pleasures. At least your “luv” is sort of tough; Duran Duran: not tough. My conversely comparable secret (and perhaps much more embarrassing) “luv,” though, would have to involve a number of late-80s, early-90s super-twee bands (bands with overly precious names like Heavenly, Talulah Gosh, Tiger Trap, et al.).

  2. PB says:

    First of all, excellent post.
    Second, at the risk of being judged by all of virtual-o-city as a closet sexist–do any women really listen to heavy metal? I worked in a record (yes record!) store for five years during the height of the motley-ratt-whitesnake era and I did not see many girls partake. I think it might be a genetic “y” thing, like the three stooges.
    (the guitarists tend to be cute though)

  3. JaneAnne says:

    I think some girls listen to some heavy metal, but you’re right, Pandora, it’s mostly a boy thing. I myself own the complete oeuvre of both GnR and Led Zeppelin, but my forays into the harder stuff (well, not harder, per se, but more genre-ific) pretty much stop at the far side of the Black Album. Van Halen’s first five albums? Yes yes yes yes yes. Judas Priest? Sabbath? Ratt? Dokken? Queensryche? No no no no no.

  4. Scott Godfrey says:

    The beauty of heavy metal is really its subversive homoeroticism. For the better part of twenty years, millions of boys who considered themselves straight were (for the most part unconsciously) fantasizing about grown men in superhero costumes; when Rob Halford finally came out, people were actually surprised.

    I don’t remember a whole lot of girls who were into metal. Really it seemed like the girls who were into it were really into the boys who were into it. Bon Jovi, on the other hand, was a whole different thing. There were a few years there in Jersey when it seemed like every girl was wearing a Jovi tee. The converse of course was that every boy was wearing a Metallica tee. Oh the cycle of teenage sexuality.

  5. Stephanie Wells says:

    Led Zeppelin, of COURSE, but the others, of COURSE not. I do know a number of girls who love(d) metal, including one friend who has a Motley Crue “Dr. Feelgood” TATTOO. And now this post that exposes the seamy side of someone who usually comes off as so enjoyable. Sigh. It’s all so embarrassingly distasteful. Why can’t he just watch porn?

  6. Tim Wager says:

    Hey Scott,

    Just catching up here, having been out of town. Great post!

    We’ve all got guilty pleasures when it comes to music. I’d hazard to guess that they’re usually associated with some transformational moment, when we put away childish tastes and move on to something we like to call our own. The connection to the actual music is more or less inexplicable, but the connection remains — visceral and unchangeable.

    For me, an accidental Grateful Dead concert (my first real show) put me on that track. My parents’ Beatles and Blood Sweat and Tears records were shoved aside to make way for “Go to Heaven.” In the 90s I tried to put my affinity for the Dead into the closet, but the effort was just too demanding. Here’s to embracing and re-discovering first musical loves!

    And Stephanie, if Scott can tolerate the occasional Adam Ant record, don’t you think you can find it in your heart to listen while he shouts at the devil every now and then? Can we all just get along?

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  8. J-Man says:

    I must confess my dark secret, SG – I was into metal….for like, three weeks. I was 20 years old, dating a drummer who was skinny, 6’2″, and had a huge jewfro. We went to the Roxy and the Whiskey, also the Troubadour (the Troub went through a rough patch in the 80s) as well as Madame Wong’s West. I really tried to like it. But I think there’s a qualitative difference between hair bands and metal bands, and the crap I was listening to with the drummer boyfriend was bad hair band music. I’ll never forget staring up at this dude with a huge metal mullet, wearing painted-on black vinyl pants and screaming operatically into the mike, raising pinky and forefinger in air. I tried, I really tried.