Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The evangelistic metalhead

If you're reading this blog, you probably read metal forums- for what reason, I can't possibly explain (and I'm included), but you likely do. And if you do, you've probably run across at least one (and more like a dozen) threads that detail various posters' attempts at 'converting' their friends or acquaintances over to metal. It's unique that this is always expressed as 'converting' someone to metal, as though metal was some sort of mindset, religion, or political system rather than a genre of music. These threads usually come from kids in high school, which makes it a little more understandable, but once you hit about 16 this should probably stop.

Predictably, I don't think I've seen a single story where this actually worked out. On and on posters drone about how desperately they tried to get their friends into metal, constantly showing them CDs, giving history lessons, and otherwise discussing the sheer IMPORTANCE of a genre of music, as though metal is some sort of key that unlocks the mysteries of the universe in one glorious flash of light. The disappointment, confusion, and dismay that comes off these people is palpable; they really can't understand why it is that anyone WOULDN'T be swayed by their passion and endless, nauseating promotion of their own particular cultural trinket.

Now, if you read this blog, you're probably laughing at this idea, which is an appropriate response, but threads like these always seem to draw a disturbing number of posts where people think this is not only logical, but perfectly acceptable and appropriate. I can get it to some degree- when you're some outsider kid in high school, metal can seem like just about the most important thing in the world to you. But that's just that: it's high school, and attempting 'conversions' of this sort will generally just lead to profoundly embarrassing memories down the road.

But let's collect this idea a little bit: why do people do this? There's a few plausible reasons. Metal is indeed a genre that in the more extreme reaches presents itself as a lifestyle rather than a simple genre of music, which does encourage its adherents to promote it a bit more vociferously than usual. The merits of this are mildly debatable, given the cultural parcel that metal presents through its imagery, ideologies, and sonic presence. Then there's the possibility that particularly alienated youth think that getting someone else into metal (when finding another dedicated metalhead is difficult or impossible) will somehow bridge the gap between themselves and the others around him- the shared bond of the music will somehow result in meaningful relationships down the road. Then, of course, there's the more sinister (and stupid) option: that there are people out there so firmly convinced of the philosophical and musical superiority of metal that they, in some sort of Manifest Destiny situation, feel it's their duty to cast metallic pearls among the mainstream swine.

There's a few things that these conversions indicate about those who attempt them. The most obvious and important is a massive sense of self-loathing and shame which somehow attaches itself to metal itself. Considering metal's (supposedly) individualistic, powerful ideologies, this is pretty perplexing, but if you consider a great deal of metal to be an adolescent power fantasy, it makes a little more sense. Impressionable little outcasts are given a world in which one can slay dragons, rape women, and exercise self-expression to a degree wholly impossible in reality. Of course, when the CD comes out of the player and the lights come back on, it just draws into clearer focus the powerlessness and fears of that individual (at least if you're 15 and haven't figured out who you are yet).

Perhaps more profound, though, is that it expresses an equally massive lack of empathy for others. Empathy isn't a word that implies some sort of emotional connection or sympathy, but simply being able to perceive something from another's viewpoint. The simple existence of self-centered people isn't really news, but the way it seems to attach to the metal genre is something I find sort of fascinating. I've never had anyone on the street say they were going to 'convert me to hip-hop', or some hipster in a coffee shop tell me 'you're going to fall in love with post-rock'. However, I've had multiple people from the metal scene, even with full awareness of all the writing I've done on metal, tell me that they wanted to 'teach me some new things' about metal.

The reason why this is so ridiculous should be readily apparent: musical taste is not some apprenticeship. No one in the world has ever fallen in love with a genre of music over the tutelage of another, and especially not in the overly-structured and obsessive manner that metalheads tend to do it in. Instead, like nearly all taste, they develop it naturally, by exploring their own interests and developing their identity as they grow older. Even metalheads themselves go through this process, but it feels like a huge number of them forget it just as quickly as they go through it in a desperate bid to position themselves as 'serious metalheads'.

Do you want your friends to get into metal? Well, here's how you do it: hang out with them. Be normal. Play your own music around them whenever it's appropriate for you to play your music. Answer any questions that they have about it (preferably in a normal, unfaggy manner, without you going into how 'The Red In the Sky is Ours' is a magnificent recreation of classical music or whatever bullshit you've convinced yourself of lately). If they like it, they'll explore it on their own. If they don't, you'll live. Somehow


  1. nice. oh, the irony of listening to music that is prima facie NOT FOR EVERYONE, but also thinking that everyone should listen to it.

  2. I think people are just herd animals and want to feel validated. If others think their favorite band is shit, they feel somehow insulted. I never understood this. I've encountered people I know who have apologized, seriously!, for not liking the same music as me. This is baffling to me. And others that have said to me, "[Band] sucks!" for whatever reason, apparently trying to upset me, but this doesn't work, because I don't care. It doesn't change the fact that said band appeals to me. But again, like so many things, many people want to feel validated and that's why this matters to them, and why they try to "convert" others. And then of course, it must be said that most people, including most metal fans, are morons. People like to talk about the individualistic aspect of most metal, but few of them are actually that way.

  3. I think you're right about the need for validation fueling the impulse to proselytize. I do think, though, that there are some other reasons for getting really emotional about differences in taste.

    If some dude were to tell me that Joy Division sucks, I'd get fucking pissed, probably more so than I'd like to admit. I think this has less to do with my need for his recognition (after all, he has just reduced himself to the ranks of the peasantry in my eyes!) than with the huge emotional investment I have in that band. I identify with them, so it's not just my critical opinion that's at stake. An insult to Joy Division comes as a kind of insult to me, etc.

    Of course, this may be just as juvenile in its own way...

  4. i hate joy division because of all the 'alt' girls in my high school who thought that love will tear us apart was ABOUT THEM DUDE

  5. i hate those girls (and guys) too. that song is great but totally uncharacteristic for them.

  6. Yeah, I understand to an extent.

    Well, not metal, but I fucking like Gary Numan. Some dude said, "burn me some Numan stuff so I can check it out" and I did that, then he repeatedly kept telling me "Gary Numan fucking sucks!" That's a valid opinion, and I admit Numan's stuff can be quite flawed in many ways, but I appreciate some of it. I didn't understand why dude was apparently trying to invalidate my opinion by repeating himself so much, as if I'd be somehow crushed by this opinion. I don't care. It doesn't stop me from listening to Gary Numan.

    But yeah, I can understand in some cases, being annoyed by people talking shit on bands. But I am more annoyed by people who talk shit on bands for stupid reasons, rather than just a difference in taste. And it depends on who is saying it and how they are saying it.

    Reminds me of high school, when it was all clique-y and I actually did hang out with people who listened to metal.

    I have some ex-friends who actually kept sending me Slipknot mp3s years ago. When I said that I listened to the mp3s and still hated the music, they repeatedly told me I just needed to listen to more Slipknot and surely I would begin to like them. WTF? No amount of Slipknot mp3s are going to make me like that band. I didn't understand why they couldn't accept that fact.