Growing Up Metal

by Daniel A. Kaufman


Though not really Metal – something I’ll try to define at some point – my first love for hard rock music came when I was in the third grade, in the form of the band KISS. 

It was 1976, and KISS was perceived as edgy and dangerous and could be counted on to be hated by parents, and while their style was not entirely new – the New York Dolls and Alice Cooper were doing something similar earlier – KISS brought a level of spectacle that was unmatched at the time, aside from Prog Rock acts. For an eight-year-old like me, the sex-drenched lyrics, striking makeup and provocative presence, and the killer riffs and solos coming off of Ace Frehley’s guitar – Frehley is a woefully underrated guitarist – made for an intoxicating experience. That I was introduced to the band by the class delinquent and local tough kid only lent the whole thing an even greater appeal.

KISS, “Deuce,” from Alive (1975).

This “allure of the heavy” is something I’ve been wondering about lately. What about heavy rock music spoke so strongly to me and to other boys my age? I’m not suggesting for one second that there are no female hard rockers or hard rock fans, as nothing could be farther from the truth. Going as far back as Suzi Quatro, whose first album was released in 1973, acts like The Runaways, Girlschool, and more recently, The Donnas have demonstrated that the girls can and will rock out as hard as the boys. [1]

Suzi Quatro (above) and two of the Runaways (Joan Jett, Left, and Lita Ford, below).

The point, rather, is that Heavy Metal is masculine in its energy and affect: the grandiosity; the epic themes; the brazen displays of technical prowess; the fist-pumping anthems; the naked aggression and force; delivered by way of pounding rhythms, heavily distorted guitars, big chords, and wailing, sometimes even operatic vocals. All represent ways of showing off and acting out that are most common among males, and most importantly — and unlike Punk — Metal was un-ironic. Many boys don’t like their fantasies messed with, and at the time, to me, Metal was the ultimate power fantasy.

Later, when I reached an age at which girls had become an object of serious, rather than merely voyeuristic interest (in my case, around fifteen), this music was the first thing that had to go. The number of Metal girls – or even Metal tolerant girls – in my high school was just too small, so I needed a serious music/style/friends makeover. Given the times and the kinds of girls I was into, this meant a New Wave/New Romantic renovation on my part. It was only a partial concession, as a substantial portion of the New Wave included some pretty hard rocking music, being created as it was by former Punk musicians. (Billy Idol’s Rebel Yell (1983) was a personal favorite, as well as the favorite of a punk/New Wave girl on whom I had a crush and with whom went to see Idol live at the Beacon Theater in 1984). But if I ever listened to bona fide Metal back in those days, it was in private. I would only openly display my love of Metal again years later, after college.

Me at 13 [left] and then at 16, after my “for-the-girls” makeover [center], and Billy Idol’s Rebel Yell [right].

But, back to KISS. By 1977, I had all of the records up through Destroyer, whose “Detroit Rock City” had become my personal anthem (the fatal drunk/stoned driving incident that is the subject of the song’s lyrics went completely over my head), and I was dying to see them live. My father, to his eternal credit, secured tickets for a show at Nassau Colosseum in Uniondale, Long Island, not far from where we lived (and where my parents still do), and took me to it, as I obviously was too young to go by myself. While KISS’s music and image made me feel cool and tough at school and at home (I would dress and make myself up like Paul Stanley and leap around my living room, playing air guitar to their records and even posed for my school class photo, with my lips visibly pursed, in solidarity with the Hottest Band in the Land), once at the concert, I quickly realized that neither the music nor the band were really meant for kids at all. [2] Aside from my father and me, everyone at the show was big, long-haired, and tough-looking as hell. The entire arena reeked of marijuana (I had no idea what it was at the time, of course), and everyone was drinking beer and smoking cigarettes. During the super-popular songs, girls were pulling off their shirts and climbing on guys’ shoulders to shake their tits at everyone. I was thrilled beyond measure and scared to death, and clutched my father’s hand throughout the whole thing.

KISS, “Detroit Rock City,” live at Budokan (1977). This was from the same tour I saw.

In my later childhood and “tween” years, I got heavily into Science Fiction and Fantasy literature and films. In the fifth grade, I began playing Dungeons and Dragons, which came out in 1974 and offered a level of immersion in fantastical environments and narratives far beyond anything possible in books or film. This also helped feed my interest in Metal, whose lyrical content and musical atmosphere often drew from the fantasy, science fiction, and horror genres, and this led me to a local band, Blue Oyster Cult, founded by a bunch of guys at SUNY Stony Brook. Their sci-fi/fantasy inflected hard rock music was played regularly on 70’s and 80’s FM radio (BOC’s 1976 song, “Don’t Fear the Reaper” and 1981’s “Burnin’ for You” were hits), and the band even invited legendary science fiction and fantasy writer Michael Moorcock — whose books were among my favorites at the time — to contribute lyrics, as in the song “Black Blade,” which is about Moorcock’s most famous character, Elric of Melnibone. [3]

Blue Oyster Cult, “Black Blade,” from Cultosaurus Erectus (1980).

This love for genre literature and film also brought me to Black Sabbath, although at first it was to the brilliant though short-lived incarnation with ex-Rainbow singer Ronnie James Dio, between 1980 and 1981, rather than the band’s classic 1970’s, Ozzy-Osbourne era music. The two records Sabbath did with Dio then — Heaven and Hell (1980) and Mob Rules (1981) — included some of the heaviest, most distorted guitars Iommi had produced yet, and Dio’s lyrics ranged across the full spectrum of fantasy, sci-fi, and horror. I absolutely loved it.

Black Sabbath, “Neon Knights,” from Heaven and Hell (1980).

Black Sabbath, “Falling off the Edge of the World,” from Mob Rules (1981).

It wouldn’t be long before I was a fan of the classic era material too. After all, given the kind of boy I was, there was no way I wasn’t going to love a band that had albums with covers like this.

The cover for Black Sabbath, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (1973).

In the sixth grade, I even got a t-shirt with this image on it and “The Mob Rules” added in iron-on letters on the back. To this day, I’m amazed that my parents bought the thing for me.

Ozzy-era Sabbath channeled horror more than fantasy, and their first album was so atmospheric and heavy that it created a new genre, “Heavy Metal,” a negative image of the Flower Power that had dominated the music of the previous era and which, post-Altamont, seemed out of touch. [4] There had been hard rocking bands before — The Kinks, Led Zeppelin, Cream, and Blue Cheer all had songs with heavy beats and distorted guitars — but nothing even in the same universe as this. And while the album is heavily steeped in the blues, this would be less and less true over time, and eventually would be abandoned entirely when Metal finally “purified,” in the years that followed.

Black Sabbath, “Black Sabbath,” from Black Sabbath (1970).

In Junior High and early high school (1980-1983), I was friends with a bunch of Metalheads. Not the most extreme variety — our local “greasers” (yes, we actually called them that) were into early Thrash Metal and bands like Venom that represented a Bridge Too Far for my friends and me who, for all of our Metal-ness, were still pretty bourgeois  — but with all the characteristics and accoutrements of the typical Metal fan. Denim jackets covered with patches of our favorite bands, sometimes even with album covers meticulously painted on the back panel. Long hair. Aviator sunglasses. Fantasies of toughness and manliness expressed through a devotion to violent action movies like Escape from New York (1981) and The Terminator (1984) and juvenile enthusiasms for ninjas, mercenaries, and Soldier of Fortune magazine. [5] Add my then-newly discovered and favorite radio station, WCWP (broadcast from the campus of Long Island University), which hosted a show devoted entirely to the New Wave of British Heavy Metal that had roared onto the scene in 1979 with Saxon’s debut, and my quest to becoming a young albeit somewhat mainstream Metalhead was finally fulfilled. [6]

Saxon’s Debut.

The NWOBHM represented Metal purification, shedding itself of any remaining blues elements, and the music was heavier and faster, an almost relentless sonic assault. (Subsequent purifications would be responsible for extreme sub-genres like Thrash and Death Metal.) The NWOBHM also established the look of Heavy Metal: leather, denim, studs, and other accessories previously belonging almost entirely to BDSM subcultures (including, interestingly, Gay ones). But though all of these elements were established with the NWOBHM, they really all go back to one band: Judas Priest.

Priest is as old as Sabbath (their first album debuted in 1974, but the group was formed in 1969), and enjoys an equal place as one of Metal’s originators. If Sabbath gave Metal its subject matter, guitar textures and tones, and major riffs, Priest stripped it of the blues and gave it its speed and look (the latter most iconically represented on its classic 1979 live album, Unleashed in the East). What was started by Sabbath was refined and polished by Priest and then codified in the NWOBHM.

The look of metal on the cover of Judas Priest’s Unleashed in the East.

Judas Priest, “Dissident Aggressor,” from Sin After Sin (1978). The song would be covered by the Thrash Metal band Slayer on their 1988 album, South of Heaven.

I fell hard for the NWOBHM, and to this day several bands remain high in my list of favorites – Saxon, Diamond Head, Tygers of Pan Tang, and Girlschool are staples in my Heavy Metal mixes – but at the time, two bands really stood out to me: Def Leppard and Iron Maiden. Leppard would cross over into the mainstream in a huge way with their albums Pyromania (1983) and Hysteria (1987), which were all over prime-time MTV, but their second album, High and Dry (1981), was a NWOBHM classic that I played to death.

Def Leppard, “Let it Go,” from High and Dry.

Maiden was another animal entirely and especially with their original vocalist, Paul Di’anno, and first drummer, Clive Burr. Di’anno had a lower, gruffer voice than the operatic Bruce Dickenson who would follow him, and the music was faster, nimbler, and tougher than the mid-tempo, flirting-with-Prog-Rock fare Maiden would be known for later. And those early album covers! Even had I never heard Maiden on WCWP, I would have bought their albums just based on the covers alone.

The first Iron Maiden album (1980), self-titled, featuring would becoming their regular mascot, “Eddie, the Eternally Rotting Corpse.”

Iron Maiden, “Purgatory,” from Killers (1981).

The second half of high school and my college years represented the point where my Metal inclinations were at their lowest ebb. It was the late 1980’s, and the Metal that remained was either of the Glam-inflected, “Hair Metal” variety that I wasn’t into back in the day (I have a more favorable view of it now), or ever more extreme purifications and distillations of the genre, which at the time remained beyond my sensibilities. There also was the matter of girls or at least the ones whose circles I found myself in. I went full-on Greek during my four years at the University of Michigan, and the kinds of girls we encountered in the sororities with whom we partied were not the Metal kind.

I fell back into Metal in a major way in 1991, the year between college and graduate school. I was living in my parents’ house and working at a restaurant, situated in the Roosevelt Field shopping mall, an archetypal American mall that I recently discovered was the subject of an NYU Film Student documentary. (You’d laugh if you knew how many times I’ve watched this thing to see if I’m in it.) [7] My fellow employees were mostly students at our local community colleges and universities: Nassau Community College, Adelphi, and Hofstra University. They generally came from less wealthy backgrounds, as most of the middle class, upper middle-class, and wealthy kids on Long Island went to college out of state, and this meant that there were plenty of Metal enthusiasts and notably, female ones. (Metal and economic class is a whole subject of its own that I won’t go into here.) Two girls in particular were seriously into Metal, and given that I was seriously into both of them, Metal was back in my life. It was different this time, though, and that was due partly to cocaine.

The Metal that had been a Bridge Too Far became the metal that I listened to regularly and primarily, Metallica, Slayer, and Megadeth. It was ferocious, brutal, and lightning fast and the perfect music to listen to while doing coke, which was the drug of choice in the restaurant business back then, given the energized high it offered and the duress that is endemic to the trade. The girls did it. I did it. The managers did it. Everyone did it. And then, after our shifts were over, we would pile into our cars, blast Metallica (or Slayer or Megadeth) on our stereos, snort more coke and smoke joints and then descend upon the local bars, where we would drink until closing time and enrichen the bartenders with all the money that we’d earned the night before.

Metallica, “Creeping Death,” from Ride the Lightning (1984).

Slayer, “Angel of Death,” from Reign in Blood (1986).

Megadeth, “Wake Up Dead,” from Peace Sells, But Who’s Buying? (1986)

At this point, some may be thinking that my life took rather a hard turn, but the whole thing was deliberate. I had already been accepted to the Ph.D. program in philosophy at the CUNY Graduate Center, with a substantial stipend, and deferred it for a year. After twelve years of primary and secondary schooling and knowing that I would be years more in graduate school, I felt like I needed a year off just to run wild. This didn’t worry me, as I knew its duration would be finite and short and that once I started graduate school, I’d find be in entirely different circles and engaged in different activities. There was zero chance I was going to become some derelict or junkie.

Once I was in Graduate School, one of the students in my inner-circle of friends, Mike Menser, shared my love for Metal. [8] He became my Metal companion, the guy I went to concerts with and who could be counted on to be the one person who would be happy when I played Thrash Metal at parties. We saw multiple Slayer shows together, including one legendary concert at Roseland, which also included Biohazard and Machine Head on the bill, in 1995.

At this point, I was 27 and no longer felt quite up to the physical demands of the “mosh pits” that had become routine at Thrash Metal shows. [9] So, when I would go to these shows — which were always at smaller theaters that had bars in them — I would hang out at the bar in the back with the other “old-timers,” who could be identified not just by apparent age, but by the fact that they often wore t-shirts sporting the logos of older bands, like Sabbath and Priest.  We would smoke cigarettes and joints — no one cared if you smoked pot at concerts back then — and watch the “kids” beat the snot out of each other in the mosh pit. When this particular show ended, I looked for Menser (who never saw a Mosh Pit he didn’t like) but couldn’t find him. When I finally gave up and left the venue, I noticed an ambulance nearby and Mike, sitting on the ground by it, being tended by paramedics. Apparently, during the playing of “Hell Awaits,” the crowd had surged forward at the point when the song first really kicks in, and Mike got crushed against the metal railing that separated the audience from the stage. Nothing could be more Metal than that.

After moving to Missouri in 1999 to begin my career as a philosophy professor, I married, became a father, and eventually stumbled and lurched into middle age. At this point in my life, my musical tastes are eclectic and wide-ranging, and Metal is just one of many things I listen to.  What is interesting, however, is which Metal continues to make my playlists, and that’s the early stuff: Sabbath, Priest, and the NWOBHM. Thrash has been largely left behind, and the only really fast and hard music I listen too now is Hardcore Punk, something I wrote about in another essay, several years ago. [10] 

At middle age, I find myself (largely) secure in my masculinity, without a need for external expression. (I have noticed, lately, that tennis seems partly to be playing this role again, which is interesting, but I suspect has more to do with age than manliness, per se.) I no longer burn with the boyish and adolescent energy that only heavy guitars and anthemic choruses used to satisfy, but now, at 53, I sometimes find myself longing to remember how it felt when I did. And when I do, it is for the first, purest versions of those feelings, which are the ones that I experienced in my earlier years and to which those earlier versions of Metal spoke. 

Notes and Links


Funnily enough, I was quite familiar with Quatro as an actress, long before I knew her as a hard rock pioneer, as she played the character of Leather Tuscadero in the sit-com Happy Days, which was my favorite show as a kid.

The Donnas’ guitarist, Allison Robertson, is a huge Ace Frehley fan, and the Donnas did a rocking cover of KISS’s “Strutter,” on the soundtrack for the film Detroit Rock City.

[2] Here I am, top, second from the left.










47 responses to “Growing Up Metal”

  1. Interesting, my trajectory is pretty much opposite to yours. I’m 58, and enjoyed more mellow music growing up (Van Morrison, Simon & Garfunkel, Motown & soul stuff) through my teen years. I have only recently started to enjoy heavy music.

    The masculinity angle is also interesting. I found heavier music by searching for music so I wasn’t just listening to my old favorites. What I am finding is that to my taste the really skilled current groups are often playing either Jazz or fusion or Prog or heavy music. Among the heavy or metal groups I am finding myself drawn to female led groups (generally from countries). Not sure what it is about my psychology that is behind this. I am an introverted personality, enjoyed playing sports taking on guys much bigger than myself, and I think was always pretty comfortable with my masculinity although I felt it was underestimated due to my size and introversion. The guys I played sports with didn’t underestimate me, but the girls who only knew me outside that arena did.

    Anyway, if you have any interest in hearing new music that female led, and heavy, and has skilled musicians I would suggest a couple bands.

    One is out of Ukraine, named Jinjer. They can be very heavy, but also incorporate some progressive elements although the tracks are not long. The female vocalist is one of a kind, and it really took me quite a few listens to hear the nuance in what she does (she sings in various clean styles, and also growls — not for everyone). The drummer is classically trained (supposed to be a concert level pianist), writes a lot of the musical structures, and gets a lot accolades from other musicians. I think he is great. The bassist is also great, and the guitarist never overplays, is always serving the song. They don’t feature guitar solos.

    Another group I like is all female group out of Japan named Lovebites. Very different from Jinjer. They have two lead guitarists who I think are both incredibly skilled. One is a speed shredder, the other more melodic bending of notes (also an amazing classically trained pianist). I guess they are mostly power metal, but they also do thrash. The drummer is a 4 foot nine dynamo, and the lead singer has pipes and has great stage presence. The Bassist founded the group and is also skilled.

    Another one from Canada is Unleash the Archers – again a female lead singer who is very talented, and the drummer is also really good. Good guitar soloing.

    A couple hard rock groups as well:

    The Warning — Three young sisters from Mexico, been playing togther for a long time but they are still super young. I find it encouraging to hear this type of music coming from a new generation.

    Another one would be the Japanese group Band-Maid. Don’t let the gimmicks of LoveBites (dressed in white dresses), or Band-Maid (Bar Maid outfits) deceive. Both groups are comprised of really skilled musicians, and Band-Maid has really interesting song compositions (although they do sing in Japanese).

    I have delved into the prog-rock of the 70’s pretty deeply, but not the early metal groups. Someday I will get to that. I will use this essay as a guide.

  2. I will do a prog rock essay at some point too.

  3. PatrickFO

    This was a very fun read. Funny, at 34 I am finding myself getting really into death metal. Turns out, it’s my favorite genre and it’s not even close. I can do thrash, but it has to be the blackened type (see Demiser for a new bad ass example). I am also exploring black metal, old school metal, doom metal, and progressive metal but death metal, the heaviest music of all time, does it for me something fierce. I can do dirty production, or super clean; I cam do guttural, low vocals, but also raspy or shrieky type found in the bands Death or Obituary. No point to this comment other than to say I enjoyed reading your post and I am REALLY loving my quarter life deep dive into death metal. I’ve probably listened to nearly 100 new 2021 extreme metal releases and close to 400 “new to me albums” is just the past year or so. What have I sacrificed? I’ve read less than ever this year. And I am probably staying ABD longer because of it. But, my university cut my pay by 50 percent, and I’m feeling very disenchanted. And yeah, I just don’t care. lol.

    So, I’ll probably just apply for a normal job, slowly finish my PhD, and continue to listen to more music than anyone in my life would care to know (or find healthy).

    Eternal hails to you Daniel!

  4. What a nice thing to read! Thank you!

  5. Gordon Barnes

    Great story. This was really fun to read. I didn’t listen to much metal as a kid. Probably the closest I’ve ever come is when I started listening to Tool several years ago, which I love.

  6. terranbiped

    I really didn’t think I was going to have anything to say on this topic. I’m a boomer so my music trajectory definitely overlaps yours but there is a shift in alignment that I think represents are age differences. Not that I’ve ever come close to being a rock aficionado as yourself.

    There is definitely something of the stereotypical masculine essence in the more visceral, raw and heavy rock that’s ripe for speculation as to the reason. Camille Paglia (whatever you think of her) opined quite forcibly that rock is surely an expression of young male sexual energy.

    Out of curiosity I checked Sethleon’s recommendation of the Japanese heavy metal girl band Lovebites. You have to check it out. Something compellingly bizarre and incongruent from the Western perspective of what constitutes a heavy metal, head banging band:

    The optics are really disjointed to what one expects from the music. The young beautiful lady musicians, the outfits, the mannerisms all give a possible hint that, though the music is pretty good, it is a contrived moneymaking gimmick. Of course I expected a different perspective from an Asian culture; their interpretation by imitation of a Western, heavily male genre but as interesting and exotic as it was, I don’t know if it comes across as being anything more than a quirky copy, albeit enjoyable. So the question is, does this represent another feather in Western cultural hegemony or is there a slick Japanese promoter in the background along with a British/American composer interviewing eye candy with musical skills and putting them on the stage for the Yen? Just doesn’t seem kosher but neither is Lobster Thermidor.

  7. It’s fun to watch. Don’t love the song, though. As with much of contemporary progressive metal, it lacks groove, grit, and soul. I think Metal nowadays is overproduced.

    Here’s some live footage of all-girl Metal / Hard Rock acts that I really like.

    The Runaways, “Neon angels on the road to ruin” (1977)

    The Runaways, “School Days” (1977)

    Girlschool, “Emergency” (1981)

    Girlschool, “Out to get you” (1984)

    The Donnas, “Take it Off” [Date unkown]

    The Donnas, “It’s on the Rocks” [2008]

  8. Tool are considered progressive metal at this point. I think it’s fair. They aren’t that far from Porcupine Tree musically, but PT are pure progressive, not progressive metal.

  9. I never followed Metal as a genre, although by the late ’80s there were cross-overs of taste between older punk-rockers and younger thrash metalheads (Metallica, Megadeth, Motorhead, etc.) But the mainstream of Metal always suffered from guitar solos. I have a thing about traditional guitar solos, they always sound the same, regardless of genre – and they always will as long as the player remains withing standard Western harmonics and melodic invention models. I confess an admiration for one notable progenitor of Metal, and the God of guitar soloists, Hendrix. But actually proves my point – Hendrix realized that feedback was itself the music his instrument could make, and twisted harmonics and invention way beyond what anyone was expecting, and beyond what most imitators could produce, (with the possible exception of Greg Ginn of Black Flag, but he hasn’t done that sort of thing since the late ’80s).

    All that said, while I disdained Dio Sabbath (which tended to sound like every other mainstream Metal band at the time) , I love and revere Ozzy Sabbath – truly a special band in the history of rock, utterly unreproducible either musically or as phenomenon. The spirit of the industrial working class just before its deconstruction, roaring into the darkness of all its fears, anxieties, and drug-induced fantasia.

    One last thing to note of Ozzy – off-stage he’s a drug/ alcohol soaked addle-brain; yet onstage he was always alive and articulate. If you watch the live performances carefully, you’ll realize that there is a real bond of love between Ozzy and his audience, I can’t think of any other performer so profoundly loving of his audience, who love him in return.

    BTW, I probably mentioned this before, but I once saw the original Runaways in Boston (I think it was the old Rathskeller) – what a hoot! They actually had a hard time playing seriously as long as Cherie Currie fronted them. Perhaps not surprisingly, unlike Jett and Ford, she really never proved her chops in a later career.

  10. Ozzy era Sabbath is remarkable. And Ward is more of a swing drummer than any kind of rocker. The craziest tempos and time signatures and incredible transitions — usually multiple ones — within songs. They were better than Zeppelin in my humble opinion.

  11. And EJ, I never would have expected you to like Metal. I may be wrong, but from the EJ I know, I can’t imagine you ever having had the very typical, somewhat mundane, definitely brainless period of juvenile machismo that I had and that I think most Metal heads have had.

  12. EJ, I’m curious as to your assessment of this paragraph:

    “Ozzy-era Sabbath channeled horror more than fantasy, and their first album was so atmospheric and heavy that it created a new genre, “Heavy Metal,” a negative image of the Flower Power that had dominated the music of the previous era and which, post-Altamont, seemed out of touch. [4] There had been hard rocking bands before — The Kinks, Led Zeppelin, Cream, and Blue Cheer all had songs with heavy beats and distorted guitars — but nothing even in the same universe as this. And while the album is heavily steeped in the blues, this would be less and less true over time, and eventually would be abandoned entirely when Metal finally “purified,” in the years that followed.”

  13. I’m also wondering if you were a fan of Deep Purple.

  14. Specifically, I’m wondering what you think of the claim that Sabbath wouldn’t have happened pre-Altamont.

  15. I want to give a serious shout out to Mariah Gregg-Fling whose illustrations I think really make this essay. For those who may not realize, a lot of the art she’s done for EA is archived over at her Instagram page, the link to which is right next to the Twitter and Facebook page links.

  16. Altamont signed the end of Woodstock Nation, no doubt; but the truth is that the bands that came up in the mid-’60s were pretty much exhausted by the early ’70s. The rise of FM radio opened up a new venue for them, but it also effectively reminded them of the need for commercial access for audiences, and commercial success in order to continue to make music. By 1971, Sabbath’s watershed year, the ’60s bands were all retooling for more commercial sounds, at least in America – the psychedelic era was over. It was at this point that what amounted to a second “British Invasion” changed rock music in ways that were sustainable beyond the hopes of Flower Power or the anxieties over Vietnam – Sabbath, Bowie, Zeppelin, “Who’s Next,” “Every Picture Tells a Story,” not to mention the development of Prog Rock, the rise of Floyd – well, one could go on…. A trend this large and with such impact doesn’t happen on the basis of disappointment alone. The fact is, Britain was in a stage of collapse that America would not experience until the end of the decade, and it sought responses to that both inwardly and externally – the era of ‘sexual revolution’ was over, replaced by the ironies of ‘polymorphous perversity’ (as Freud called it); ‘consciousness-raising drugs’ suddenly became ‘recreational drugs’ – they were the same drugs, but no one was expecting enlightenment from them anymore.

    What ultimately became Punk rock was also part of this story, but in a much different way. Nonetheless, the Stooges were not the Doors, the New York Dolls had little in common with Jefferson Airplane. Rock had at last found its way back to earth, so to speak, and that is precisely how it at last became the music of the mainstream.

    As to Deep Purple – and for that matter, early Grand Funk, early BOC – here in Rochester, we had an AM station (WSAY) that decided to program as if they were FM, but chose to highlight all the bands that the rock-snobs at WCMF-FM refused to play, so yeah, I heard a lot of that, in mono, late at night. In mono it was a bit messy, but it was fun. Meanwhile CMF did help to make “Free Bird” the unofficial anthem of the city. For some ten years or more, I doubt a day passed by when CMF didn’t play “Free Bird.” Again – guitar solo hell.

    Again BTW, I got to attend the Sabbath/ BOC “Black and Blue” concert – and I was actually paid to do so, as a security guard. The over-doses we had to haul out to ambulances! BOC was going through a boogie-metal phase; but Sabbath especially was glorious.

  17. God, EJ, this is so fucking good. Thank you.

  18. And the fact that you worked the Black and Blue tour is incredible. What was the venue?

  19. The War Memorial, Rochester – first made notorious as the arena that got the Stones banned from Rochester in 1966; then the venue that couldn’t sell enough tickets for the Monkees to support their show, so they had to cancel; then the venue where Bowie was set to play when they busted him for grass in 1976. Now the Blue Cross Blue Shield Arena, where nothing interesting ever happens – and don’t we in Monroe County prefer it that way!

  20. Try the live version of ‘Set the World on Fire’ if you want something more more thrashy, or ‘Holy war’ from that same concert. This group was not conceived in a corporate lab. The bassist and drummer were in an earlier group, and the Bassist found the other players and put them together. The guitarist with the dark hair really is an amazing pianist, check out her Chopin Etude which leads into ‘Swan song’ also live from that zep city concert. She writes most of their music,

    I will admit they do feel gimmicky and they are definitely highly influenced by 80’s metal groups, so I guess there is line between copying, and brining some originality. I think I am a bit of a sucker for assertive theatrical feminine displays. Something like that also draws me to the music of Tori Amos when she performs live.

    The group Jinjer is very different story, Most definitely a very unique band, and I would say groove and grit would be a good two word summary of what they are.

  21. Bill Hoffman

    Out of curiosity, were you listening to any OSDM (eg. Death, Morbid Angel) in the early 90s? I think it would have been pretty amazing to be around for that scene.

  22. Pavo Drovenge

    Hell yes. What a fun essay to read! I’m a geriatric millennial (just turned 40) and often feel like I was born in the twilight of a great musical age.

    In 1993, during an otherwise stifling multi-family vacation to Germany, my friend’s older sister took us to an Iron Maiden concert. I was only 11 at the time and it blew the doors wide open to my understanding of what music could be and make one feel. I wasn’t even five foot tall at the time and one point a huge German guy (who was definitely trying to get in my friend’s sister’s pants) put me on his shoulders so I could actually look around – man, I still don’t have words for how mind-blowing seeing the crowd-filled stadium was. For years I always got a kick out of telling people that the highlight of our big European vacation wasn’t any of the museums or things I was *supposed* to like – it was Iron Maiden and the beginning of my love of hard rock.

    On a side note, thanks to this essay I just ordered the first volume of the Elric Saga omnibus collection. Matt Colville, a game designer who creates material for D&D, piqued my interest by sharing snippets of the stories on his Twitter feed. And now that you’ve mentioned them as well, seems like a cultural touchstone worth visiting!

    Thanks for a great essay!

  23. Terranbiped

    Black leather, spike heel boots and whip. I’ll submit:)

  24. And then, again, there’s this:
    Death metal meets J-Pop – the future of music?

  25. I never could go more extreme than Thrash. The Cookie Monster vocals are an immediate “No.”

  26. TheDudeDiogenes

    Thanks Dan for the terrific essay! It has caused me to become instant-fans of both Judas Priest and Deep Purple (or their respective debut albums, at least!) For some reason, I’d never given either band a listen, though given my sundry musical tastes (including, e.g., Zeppelin, Hendrix, Ozzy-era Sabbath), one might have expected me to have at least given them a chance before.

    I’d never heard of Saxon, so gave their debut a listen, but it wasn’t for me. Without this essay, however, I’d never have had the impetus to re-listen to Iron Maiden, and that has caused me to drastically upgrade my opinion of them. They’d never caught my ear before, but I gave their debut a re-listen and thoroughly enjoyed it, and am currently highly enjoying their second album.

    I’m looking forward to a piece on prog, about which I know very little (except that I am quite fond of Rush, and the contemporary prog bands The Mars Volta [defunct or at least on extended hiatus] and Coheed and Cambria).

  27. TheDudeDiogenes

    Oops: I was listening to Iron Maiden’s third album, I see after going back in to my music app.

  28. zeusboredom

    Great post and great videos. 1976-77 was an important turning point for both music and culture — for the better and worse. However, KISS was never perceived as edgy and dangerous. They were for school kids, not college kids.

    Why do so many people enjoy popular music, in which the guitars are run through devices that make them sound like robots playing! And why is the trend lasting so long!

  29. Your first paragraph is false. It became more true as time went on, with the makeup-free period in the 80’s being a kind of “hair metal” interlude, which also was not for kids.

  30. Saxon’s best albums come after the debut. Wheels of Steel; Strong Arm of the Law; and Denim and Leather are fantastic. As is Power and the Glory.

  31. zeusboredom

    “Your first paragraph is false.” !?

    Yeah, the toys, action figures games, and collectable bubble gum cards are all indicators of “not for kids.” Maybe a few years earlier they might have been considered “edgy”, but then only by Tipper Gore types. There were punk and art rock artists that were actually edgy and dangerous during that time.

  32. zeusboredom

    Pretty tame stuff for the time…

  33. I didn’t say they were considered the most edgy. Obviously bands like The Stooges were a lot edgier.

    The essay is about my personal experience with metal growing up in the suburbs of Long Island. Our parents hated KISS for the reasons I already explained. That you don’t think they should have hated them, because they weren’t as edgy as other bands, is really irrelevant.

  34. Not for suburban Long Island kids in the middle 1970’s.

  35. I should have known that I couldn’t even write a literary, autobiographical essay full of personal reminiscences and not have someone try to argue about it.

  36. zeusboredom

    Understood. Just giving my personal experience as well.

    Now if you had said Sabbath, I might agree on the edgy/dangerous front. And those were major acts, whereas the Sex Pistols and punk bands of the time were too small to impact the Tipper Gore set — or reach your parents I’d guess.

    My parents were indifferent to late 70s music, but I was in Los Angeles and my older siblings had already exposed them to the Doors, Stones, Lou Reed, Grateful Dead, etc.

  37. zeusboredom

    It was the impression I got in high school in Los Angeles back then…

  38. Was too young at that point to have heard of Sabbath. Even discovering KISS was contingent on my having been in the same class as that other kid who introduced me to the band

  39. Also my parents were born in Europe in the 1920’s, so what was intolerable to them would have been very different from other adults of the era.

  40. Bill Hoffman

    lol fair enough, in my case they were an acquired taste. I do have to reiterate the recommendation someone else made above for Unleash the Archers. Just saw them for the second time life and their twin lead guitar attack is Iron Maiden-esque. I would suggest “Awakening” and “Apex”

  41. TheDudeDiogenes

    Thanks! I enjoyed 2 and 3 much more than 1 (especially 3). I’ll definitely be giving 4 and 5 a listen.

  42. Billy Gibbons

    Thanks, Dan!
    I also loved KISS as a young boy and always considered Ace the ringer. I thought you’d appreciate this fun story about his first audition and meeting with the band:
    “We had about 50 guys come in,” Paul Stanley recalled in an ‘80s TV feature. “Some guy walked in with an orange sneaker and a red sneaker.” “I thought a bum had walked in off the street, except he was carrying a guitar,” Gene Simmons added. Ace Frehley noted that much had been made of his mismatched sneakers, but it had just been a case of hurrying out of the house and not realizing what he’d done until he was en route to the audition. “I wasn’t worried, though,” he said. “I thought I looked kind of cool.”
    “He walked right past us, didn’t say a word or anything,” Simmons continued. “And basically plugged in his guitar and just started playing – and we almost threw him out,” Stanley said. “‘Who the hell are you? Shut the fuck up! Sit down and wait your turn!’” Simmons recalled, “I thought, ‘Boy, this guy is spaced, out of his mind.’” Frehley remembered Simmons telling him he was being rude, so he apologized. He also remembered refusing to fill in the job application presented to him, thinking, “If they wanted to know more about me, they could ask.”
    When his turn finally came, Frehley said Simmons threatened to “kick my ass if it turned out I was wasting their time.” It quickly proved to be a memorable audition – instead of a discussion about mutual influences and finding songs both parties might know, the band performed an original, “Deuce,” and asked Frehley to play along. He threw “every cool lick” he could think of into the solo, thinking to himself, “If this is the kind of stuff these guys are writing, then they might just be on to something.”
    After 20 or 30 minutes, Frehley “felt like I nailed the audition, and I felt like these guys had potential, but I didn’t have expectations for changing the world or anything. It wasn’t that dramatic. … Nevertheless, I wanted in.”
    They wanted him too. “When we all plugged in and played together, there was just magic,” Stanley recalled. Simmons agreed. “As soon as he played, it was like, ‘This is it,’” he said. The pair, along with Criss, went to watch Frehley perform a few weeks later, then invited him back to their loft, talked and jammed a little, then offered him the job.

  43. TheDudeDiogenes

    I discover a lot music by using my app’s “Similar Artists” function. Via Saxon, I saw Anvil (a Canadian metal band), and from there I saw Diamond Head, and after looking at their catalogue, decided to listen to their second album. It was only upon checking for any new comments here that I realized Dan mentioned Diamond Head in the essay. Two thumbs up!

  44. s. wallerstein

    This is a little late, I know.

    I never listened to the music you talk about above. I left the U.S. in 1977 and was out of touch with U.S. pop culture until 2000 when I got internet.

    However, my point is that rock and rock musicians play a role in youth culture beginning in the 60’s, going through the period you describe above and that no longer exists today.

    Growing up in the 50’s, I listened to rock and roll, to Elvis, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, etc., but neither I nor anyone around me saw them as role models or as cultural leaders for youth. Sure, they were idols for a lot of kids, especially young girls, but very few saw them as indicating a path to follow in life.

    That changed around 1964 with the Beatles, the Stones and Dylan going electric. The Beatles, the Stones, Dylan and several other rock stars became important cultural figures, role models, even gurus, for youth culture. Think of it: when a guerrilla group is formed in the U.S. around 1970, it’s called the “Weathermen”, after a line in a Dylan song as if being an often stoned rock star made one into an insightful political leader.

    From reading your essay, I gather that various rock stars were key figures in forming your youthful cultural attitude and
    probably still are an influence on your worldview and attitudes.

    That no longer exists today. Pop music no longer is the vanguard art which kids look to find a direction in life. I’m not sure where they look for orientation in life or if they find it anywhere.

  45. If you saw my dialogue with Jay Jeffers, you’ll know that I think this is a very bad development.

  46. terranbiped

    Better late than never. I think you make a very interesting point about the new phenomenon of social influence brought about by technology that has shifted the primacy of influence from adult to peer group young. Whether this in fact is diminishing and whether the new dearth is a bad thing is debatable. One has to assume that there is a hidden or innate wisdom in youth that somehow is ultimately superior to that which adult society passes down through the traditional means. Did young adorable Dan start wearing a black leather harness, Klingon shoes and start licking his eyebrows, demanding he wanted to “party every day” because of his fascination with KISS? I say this half in jest.

    But, I don’t think it’s an even, or, situation. All aspects of society influence each other, even if peer group affinity may present a special natural attraction to the cohorts of their developmental age. I think the situation you mention is more a case of the chicken and the egg. Who influences the influencer? Dylan was influenced by adult folk e.i., Woody Guthrie, etc.. Elvis and rock in general by African American influence/gospel. And the pill and greater female independence didn’t hurt but abetted the urge to gyrate one’s hips as a forerunner to the sex lib of the sixties.

    How many pop stars are so genius in themselves that they originate a new cultural direction independent of the prevailing milieu that is already heading in a certain direction, stemming from multiple sources? They may however add their alluring panache and crystallization of the imminent forming fad and culture that is greedily lapped up by adoring fans. And who is more arduous of the new, the different the rebellious of the former status, than the young and adolescent? Still the young are only amenable to what is currently in the “air”. A group called the Eggheads, shredding their guitars to the lyrics of abstinence and hitting the books like an Asian, I think, will go over as well as Mao’s’ Little Red Book as per the Beatles. One old stuffed shirt musical pundit once proclaimed that Rock & Roll music is nothing more than institutionalized adolescents. That is something to ponder. If at present the only direction offered by pop culture to the young is back to the old standards of romantic and unrequited love, be patient, the next generation of pop talent and impresarios may not lead the new cultural parade but you can be sure they will be jumping on the bandwagon and rousing the teenyboppers into action.