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My Heavy Metal Journey

With most kids, the first music they become familiar with is the music their parents listen to. For me this meant mainly country music and 50's era rock and roll. I knew about KISS as they were the biggest band around when I was a little kid. I had heard Nazareth and Queen, but not much. My musical world was mostly Waylon Jennings and Elvis Presley.  Then my parents got me my own radio. I was about 9. Up to that point I had mostly listened to their record collection. But now I had access to all the things being played on local radio stations. Now, this was a small town so that didn't mean as much as it might have in a more urban area. R&B was not getting played on the radio where I grew up. But among the religious stations and country stations there were one Top 40 station and one rock station. I can still remember finding the rock station.

I was dialing across and heard the beginning of a song. It was something different than anything I had really heard before. Even the KISS songs that I had heard weren't really all that heavy, I hadn't heard Creatures of the Night or Lick It Up at that point. The song was Turn Up The Radio by the band Autograph. Now, that song in my estimation is just okay. But not really having heard hard rock before it was good enough to catch my attention and get me to stop and listen to that station. And once that song was over, I was slowly introduced to Nazareth, AC/DC, Judas Priest and a host of early 80's hard rock bands.

Thanks to Thriller I already knew Michael Jackson. I was also beginning to see and hear a lot of pop music that was really exciting, from Aha singing Take On Me to Prince singing When Doves Cry. But this was something on a whole new level. There was something about the sound of a distorted guitar that just transported me. It was a catharsis for feelings I wasn't even aware of having yet. It also tapped into my awakening sexuality (kick started by Madonna) with the sexy girls in the videos and on the album covers. At this point we didn't have MTV (I'm not even sure if it was available in our area yet) but we could see videos on shows like Night Flight on Friday nights.

A couple of years went by before my next big step. That was when I started buying rock albums and singles. It began when I had some money from having done some chore or other. I walked to Wal-Mart and went straight to the music section. My dad thought there was something wrong with me as a kid because I would rather go to the music section than to the toy section, though I did also enjoy my toys. I was looking for something new, something I had never heard before (a search that continues to this day), and I came across the two tapes I decided to purchase. Both of them would have a big impact on me for different reasons. The first was License to Ill by the Beastie Boys. At this point the only rap song I had ever heard was the Run DMC cover of Walk This Way. But the important one for this story was the second tape. I looked at the cover and thought to myself, "Wow, those chicks are really hot. I think I will buy their album". After I got home I discovered they were not chicks after all, but were in fact the glam band Poison.

Look What the Cat Dragged in wasn't really heavy (except the title song, which is still my favorite thing the band has done) but it did introduce me to the wider world of hair metal. From there I got into Bon Jovi (Slippery When Wet was the soundtrack to the fall of 86 and the summer of 87), Ratt and Whitesnake. I also rediscovered KISS when they release Smashes Thrashes and Hits. It was not terribly long after this that I moved to a new town and became friends with the heavy metal kids in my neighborhood. I remember the first time hanging out with them all in one of their bedrooms. We were listening to tapes and playing air guitar. I was introduced to two bands, one of which hit me like a lightning bolt, and the other which I thought was the worst thing I had ever heard but came to be another favorite.

The first was Motley Crue. They played me Shout at the Devil, and I thought it was the coolest fucking thing I had ever heard. He even gave me his vinyl copy because I was so taken with it and he had it on tape. I remember being so impressed with that gatefold cover and the black on black pentagram. I thought Vince Neil was the greatest singer I had ever heard. I thought 10 Seconds to Love was the raunchiest song ever written. God Bless the Children of the Beast struck me as being so theatric, and I loved it. I had yet to discover the joys of Rush and Alice Cooper. The second band they played, the one I really disliked, was Metallica, They played me Master of Puppets, and I thought it was noisy and abrasive and I couldn't understand anything the "singer" was screaming. Ironically, Master of Puppets is now one of my all time favorite albums, but I didn't take to it right away.

Actually I got into Metallica because of the scarcity of cd's. I wasn't interested in them after that first exposure. But my mom got a bonus at work and decided to get me a new stereo. So we went to Sears and they had this one that had a record player on top, twin tape decks in the middle, and a cd player on the bottom. Since we were getting a cd player she said I should get a few cd's to play on it. I picked out Storms of Life by Randy Travis, which was my favorite country record at that time, and Aerosmith's Permanent Vacation because Dude Look Like a Lady and Angel and Rag Doll had all been big hits. She said I should get one more, but I wasn't seeing anything that really caught my attention. Then I noticed the cover for ...And Justice For All.

I remembered that I didn't really care for Metallica that much, but that cover looked really cool so I decided to give it a shot. And I guess by now I had been conditioned to appreciate heavier music, because I really dug it. So I went back and listened to Master of Puppets again, and realized it was actually even better than Justice. And now the flood gates had been opened. From Metallica I springboarded to Megadeth, Anthrax, and Suicidal Tendencies. I discovered the Headbanger's Ball, and since I was too young to go out on Saturday nights I would stay up and discover bands like Death Angel, Testament, and Exodus. I never listened to any one genre exclusively, I've always had eclectic tastes, but there was a period where hard rock and heavy metal were definitely the dominant style that I was into. 

A couple of other random memories linked to metal. I remember being at a keg party in the middle of nowhere. Not a lot of people showed up so we decided to fuck around with a ouija board. We played the opening of the Shout at the Devil album to see if it would react. One kid there got so freaked out he ran out of the room screaming. Shout at the Devil remained an important album to me for life, so much so that every year the first day of school would start with it. Then when I got older and I would start a new job, the first day would always begin with it. Another keg party at the same house was where I first heard Anthrax. Someone was playing Now It's Dark from State of Euphoria and it instantly became one of my favorite songs. A great memory is playing Dungeons and Dragons all weekend and I had just bought Iron Maiden's Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, so we listened to that tape on a loop the entire weekend. 

One of my favorite memories though involves Metallica. My cousin was also my best friend for a big chunk of my childhood. He was a few years older than me, but we were inseparable. This particular night we had picked up a bunch of friends in his little Ford Festiva. We were crammed in like sardines, I want to say there were 6 or 8 people in there. We were looking for this party we had been invited to out in the middle of nowhere. We were on this dirt road in the middle of the country, and we were listening to Metallica. It was playing Creeping Death, and we had been talking about how the setting was perfect for a horror movie. I think we were starting to get in our own heads, because we stopped to get our bearing and this giant dog came barking and snarling at us out of nowhere. We all screamed and my cousin threw the car in reverse and it felt like we did 60 in reverse all the way back into town, screaming all the way. I'll stop here for now, but don't be surprised if there is at least one more post with musical memories down the line. 


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