As a yoga practicing vegetarian, with a passion for Heavy Metal and beer, I know I can seem a bit eccentric. I’m quite comfortable with that, but I haven’t always been.
I didn’t really enjoy childhood. It was like wearing a suit that was too tight and, no matter how much you pull and tug the material, it just doesn’t feel comfortable. There were so many rules that I didn’t understand.
I’m adopted, and although I didn’t always ‘get’ what this meant, I did realise it made me different. I’ve always been an introvert by nature and, in a world that encourages and rewards extrovert behaviours, this made me feel even weirder. I still get easily exhausted by situations that involve lots of people competing for attention. As large groups of children generally tend to compete for attention noisily, I withdrew to my own space.
I was desperate to find something that I could relate to and understand.
That moment came while I was watching a TV advert, aged 10. The advert was for a certain fizzy orange drink, but that’s not what matters. The background music was Iron Maiden’s ‘Phantom of the Opera’ and hearing that guitar intro made me feel more alive than I ever had before. I had discovered what would become a life-long passion and shape the person I was to become.
It’s hard to describe what Heavy Metal means to those who love it, to people who don’t. The pure intensity of the music awakens something primal. I can put on some Anthrax, turn it up to 11* and completely lose myself in the music. You lose and find yourself in the same moment. It’s visceral and hard to intellectualise, but you know it if you feel it.
This was before heavy metal became acceptable (around the time Metallica’s black album came out in 1991). It was music for outsiders. I soon discovered the sub-culture of heavy metal. Finally, I had found where I belonged. As soon as I was allowed to, I started going to gigs and spending Saturday afternoons with my friends browsing record shops. I wore ripped jeans, sleeveless heavy metal t-shirts, and big white trainers (I must have looked like a golf club when viewed from the side, but I didn’t care). I went to rock pubs and clubs and came home in the early hours of the morning. I went to parties and moshed to my heart’s content. Suddenly I had a life and I loved every wild minute of it.
Being a metalhead changed my life in so many ways:
- It awakened my intellect in a way school hadn’t to that point. There were songs about the environment, racism, literary classics. It awoke my curiosity and encouraged me to question things.
- It helped me forge connections to others. There’s no stronger bond than the one between two outsiders and I have some wonderful people in my life solely because of my love of heavy metal. My husband and I got together due to our shared love of Iron Maiden. We have romantic meals while Slayer play in the background. I’m still in touch with many of the friends I made as a teenager and I still meet some of them at gigs or festivals.
- It gave me a sense of belonging that I’d never had before. I half-joke that my spiritual home is being in a pub, surrounded by metal fans, right before a gig. I’m willing to bet that no other type of music brings the same sense of community and shared purpose.
- It gave me passion and a thirst for life, which I hadn’t had before. I can vividly recall listening to Metallica for the first time. I was 12 and on holiday in the Lake District. My parents gave me some money to spend and I bought ‘The $5.98 EP – Garage Days Re-revisited’. It blew me away. I listened to it on my Walkman, loudly, for days. I’m pretty sure my parents frequently told me to turn it down, but I couldn’t hear them…
- It taught me not to judge people by the way they look. Metalheads can look scary, but on the whole they are some of the smartest, funniest and thoughtful people you can hope to meet.
I still get the occasional funny look when I tell people I’m going to a Slayer or Iron Maiden gig at the weekend, but I’m proud to be a metalhead. I’m proud to be me. And I wholeheartedly encourage everyone single one of you to embrace your passion, however weird other people may think it.
Throughout life we are told to fit in, to be normal, to be afraid of standing out. But our greatest joy comes from embracing the things that set us apart.
If something resonates with your very core, if it makes you feel as though your soul is singing, then grab it and hold onto it as if your life depended on it.
*The reference to ‘turning it up to 11’ comes from the superb film about a spoof heavy metal band, ‘Spinal Tap’. If you haven’t already watch it, do so. Now.