Happy Mother’s Day!
The older I get the more I see the ways in which my mother gave of herself. I’m thankful for her commitment to me, my brother, and my sister. I’ll never overlook the early life we were fortunate to have. We did many memorable things together as kids, but we were always granted the independence to become our own person.
My independence came through music, which started at a young age. My mom was there to cheer that on. She always had the radio on when we were growing up. Her radio was like an actual unit, almost like a flat computer. It didn’t just have a radio bandwidth that guided you with a glowing bar that slid across the interior of the machine when you turned the dial. This unit also played records as well as eight tracks. When my mother graduated to another unit, one that included a cassette player — and later CDs –, I would get her old one. Getting her old music player was a prized possession that I cherished.
Music was always playing, whether it was the Beatles or Top 40. There were the select times when my mother would corral my brother and I in the living room where she kept her radio. She usually did this when it was a song she liked. She’d turn it up, start clapping, and let us break loose. Songs that gave us this liberty included “Hot Stuff” and “Copacabana (At the Copa).” I’m not sure if my brother danced or just followed me, but I shook my little toosh and ran from one side of the room to the other, laughing until it hurt. Meanwhile, I caught glimpses of my mother’s smiling face, lost in a moment. Those experiences were an outlet of something undefined to me, a freedom I later stumbled upon, and ultimately a sliver of the sublime.
I didn’t just hear the fun songs that allowed me to shake my behind. I also heard the not-so-fun songs, like “The Rose” or weird songs like “It’s Still Rock n’ Roll to Me” that damaged my young ears and made me question why they existed. I tried to run away from those songs, but there was no where to go. I had to endure them. I thought the popular ballads of the late seventies/early eighties were emotional stories, personal stuff between two adults that a child shouldn’t be privy to. I never understood why they were on the radio in the first place. Just talk it out in private. I thought these kinds of songs were people singing about why their relationships were so crummy. Who wanted to hear that? I wanted more Copa.
My mother’s radio was a constant in my young life. It was always on. Through her, I learned about the Beatles and John Lennon. When she pulled out her slim box of records, I saw that these large circles had songs on them. She (along with my dad) allowed me to buy my first cassette at the age of eight. They knew I was interested in music and let me listen to it by myself. Soon, I was allowed to experiment with other cassettes based on what I heard on the radio. Just as I got turned on to hard rock and heavy metal, due to the kids I hung out with at school, I remember my mother intervened when she felt I was listening to the music because of the excessive cursing; but she held on loosely. She allowed me to own that responsibility. Sometimes she did censor some of my choices (like Anthrax’s I’m the Man or Guns n’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction), but that was for my own good. When I thought she would question the cover art of all those Iron Maiden cassettes I wanted and later bought, she just accepted it. Or even when she asked me what I wanted for my birthday and I told her AC/DC tapes, she said I could pick five. It may seem as though she wasn’t paying attention, but she was. Besides, Moms don’t not pay attention — at least not the good ones.
When I grabbed her hand and dragged her in to Wild Tops, a store that existed in the eighties that was similar to Hot Topic, and asked her if she would buy me a t-shirt, she didn’t object when I picked out Anthrax’s Spreading the Disease. She eventually returned it, but that was because my mouth got me in trouble, not what I picked.
There were the times she would pick up cassettes for me, if I gave her my allowance or paper route money. She’d walk into my room later that day holding Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet or U2′s The Joshua Tree or even Billy Idol’s Rebel Yell. She saw the excitement come over me and noticed the long stretches in which I would just sit and listen to the music. She came to understand that toys had little to no value to me. It was all about the music.
As time went on and I became a teenager, I thought she might step in, feeling an obligation to tell me what I could and couldn’t listen to in her house. Instead, she stepped back and let me make that decision on my own. And then, in the last five years, we’ve sat and drank coffee, listening to music on her CD player. Sometimes ABBA and Paul Simon; other times Rod Stewart and R.E.M.; The common thread was still there, just like that slim moment when we danced and clapped all those years ago.
I have found myself in the music much like I did in that dizzying moment as a young tike. So, for that, I thank you, Mom. Thank you for allowing me the chance to find that different drummer. Thank you for allowing me the freedom to experiment and find the music that has shaped my life as early as eight years old, and thank you for holding on loosely.
I’m still shaking my toosh. I hope you’re still clapping your hands with the radio turned up and a smile on your face.
© 2013 Michael Martinelli
The original members of Guns n’ Roses may not have plans to reunite Velvet Revolver with a new lead singer anytime soon, but I guess it’s better to realize that now than wait for something that’ll probably never come. In the meantime, Duff McKagan has gone on pursuing his solo project Duff McKagan’s Loaded. Slash has heralded a new band with Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators. Steven Adler even has his own project simply titled Adler. As for the Axl-fronted version of Guns n’ Roses, I suppose that’s nothing more than an ongoing guessing game.
Meanwhile, Guns n’ Roses drummer Matt Sorum steered in the opposite direction. He may have dabbled with an album here or there, but he’s never stormed forward with any kind of solo venture. Instead, he recently brought together legendary musicians and friends Gilby Clarke, Slash, Duff, as well as Joe Elliot and Vivian Campbell of Def Leppard, Glenn Hughes of Black Country Communion and Deep Purple, Billy Idol guitarist Steve Stevens, Sebastian Bach, and Ed Rowland of Collective Soul to tour venues in select locations around the world.
The band’s called Kings of Chaos, and with this high rank of musicians, they have plenty of classic songs to choose from. They’ve played a few dates in South America as well as Sydney, Australia and plan to hit South Africa this June. When this kind of band comes together, I think of it as a celebration. For one, it’s the closest fans have come to a full Guns n’ Roses lineup since the Illusion era. The second is being witness to four legendary vocalists (Elliot, Hughes, and Bach) on stage at the same time. But, most importantly, it’s about being in the presence of decades of iconic music — it’s the best of the best of greatest hits.
Kings of Chaos may be the first of its kind in terms of its lineup, but it’s not when it comes to memorable shows. Bands like Kings of Chaos ignite the lingering nostalgia of tours we all wish would happen again, but never will. I’m talking about the Big Four (Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, and Slayer), the Guns n’ Roses/Metallica tour in ’92 (despite it’s eventual collapse), the first couple Lollapalooza festivals, and the Monsters of Rock festival at Donnington when it was one of the biggest highlights of the summer. Those shows can only happen once, despite our hope that they will go on. But these are not the only ones. How about the Beatles’ show at Wrigley field in 1965; Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock or Blind Melon at the second Woodstock; and just when we thought MTV unplugged couldn’t get anymore bloated, Nirvana redefined it in one night.
I think of these legendary shows and how much they’ve become part of our cultural history. And I’ve just scratched the surface. There’s still Elvis, Dylan, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin. The list goes on. It’s like an ever-growing circle of defining moments. This is exactly what Kings of Chaos does: steps in to offer a historic moment we’re likely to never get again. We really have Sorum to thank for this experience. Not only did he think it would be a fun thing to do, but it was the only real way to bring the music back to the fans. And that’s what all historic shows do: give back to the fans in ways they’ll never get again. They’ll never hear Sebastian Bach sing, “Welcome to the Jungle” or Joe Elliot sing Billy Idol’s “Rebel Yell.” Then, there’s Glenn Hughes and Bach joining Elliot for “Pour Some Sugar on Me.”
McKagan said in a recent interview at the Soundwave Festival with Andrew Haug that Kings of Chaos is “a cover band.” He added that they’re not a super group, but play together for fun. Kings of Chaos is a cover band — the best of its kind — giving us what we would never get otherwise: another opportunity to hear the music in unforgettable ways. If we as fans get one more chance to be in the presence of legendary musicians playing songs we all know and love, then how could anybody not think it’s a special moment — cover band or not?
© 2013 Michael Martinelli
Seeing Yukon Kornelius live is like reading one chapter from A Clockwork Orange, then reading the following chapter from The Bridges of Madison County. It’s the strangest combination of musicians. Yet when they come together, they make you a believer that it’s one of the best shows you’ve seen in some time.
Yukon Kornelius is bigger than just a super-group, they redefine what a super-group is. Anchored by Dave Matthews Band’s Stefan Lessard, Barenaked Ladies’ Ed Robertson, Guster’s Adam Gardner, and Spymob’s Eric Fawcett, the band invited a string of some of the most unexpected faces onto the stage over the course of the night. The four of them can offer variety, but how is that not like any other super-group? What separates Yukon Kornelius, named after the burly mountaineer from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, from others like them is they’re more super than just super. Understand? I’ll give you an example.
Take the original four, then add Sebastian Bach into the mix. Of course, who could complain is Dee Snider of Twisted Sister jumped into the circle. Pull in guitarist Warren DiMartini from RATT. And if you’re going to bring classic rock and metal into this, then you have to bring in some modern metal as well. Sprinkle in Sully Erna of Godsmack and Brett Scallions of Fuel.
But they don’t stop with the rockers. Throw in Brad Corrigan of Dispatch and Al Schnier from MOE to balance out the lineup. Anyone else? How about Dave Matthews Band percussionist Rashawn Ross and Marc Roberge and Jerry DePizzo of O.A.R. Jeez, almost any musician could join them at this point. How about the guys from GWAR? Marilyn Manson? Not quite. But if you want a curve ball, how about American Pie’s Jason Biggs. I’m sure you’re wondering what Biggs could possibly do onstage: stick his penis in an apple pie for all the revelers? Not exactly. Like Christopher Walken made clear, the band needed more cowbell. And that’s exactly what he did: play the cowbell like the rest of them. There’s also DJ Logic and Ed Robertson’s 10-year-old son, but we don’t want to get too far off track.
The original lineup began the show, weaving in songs from their respective bands. Robertson drove the vocals to “Pinch Me,” while Gardner sang Guster’s “Center of Attention.” Nothing from Fawcett’s Spymob and not a lick from DMB. But Yukon Kornelius was not about playing each other’s songs all night. It was, as I later learned after I left the Icehouse at Okemo Mountain Resort, about celebrating the music.
After Robertson’s introductory rap, welcoming the crowd, they brought out Biggs to help them with Blue Oyster Cult’s classic,
“Don’t Fear the Reaper.” Between Gardner, Robertson, and Lessard, — and, oh, I can’t forget Biggs –, they nailed it. Afterwards, they took on the Talking Heads “Psycho Killer” (without Biggs) in perfect harmony and Rolling Stone’s “Miss You.” What I began to realize as they moved from one song to another is that these really were classics, despite what they stood for or how anyone viewed them. And Yukon Kornelius drew on the emotion and nuance of each perfectly.
Robertson disappeared offstage only to return with a key-tar for David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance.” Gardner matched Bowe’s tenor, while Robertson bopped around. MOE’s Alan Schnier joined the foursome onstage for the Cars’ well-known number “Just What I Needed.” I thought I’d be bored of their rendition, but Stefan revived it with his passionate vocals and Robertson’s continued antics on the key-tar. (But how could you not?)
With a handful of songs behind them, and the crowd where they wanted them, the momentum was stabilized. It was time to bring things to the next level with O.A.R.’s Marc Roberge for R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine).
Prior to Yukon Kornelius taking the stage, O.A.R. opened the show. The crowd drew on the spirit of O.A.R’s variety of jams and pop songs. For a fairly regular mainstream rock band similar to the likes of Matchbox Twenty and Maroon 5, they seem just outside the spotlight. Based on the crowd’s response at the end of their set, it seemed they should be a bigger radio band than they are. They certainly didn’t play like an opening band, offering almost as many songs as Yukon Kornelius. Whether it was the response of the audience or the general spirit, I began to wonder if the crowd really came to see O.A.R.
Roberge sang every lyric without slipping. It’s a hard song to sing as fast as Stipe does, so Roberge’s ability to do it with ease drew more hype from the crowd. The O.A.R. frontman stayed on for Led Zeppelin’s “Hey, Hey, What Can I Do?”
By this point in the show, the collective brotherhood of Yukon Kornelius drew on the diversity, bringing out Fuel’s Brad Scallion and Godsmack’s Sully Erna to hammer out some of their hits. Watching Stefan Lessard jam to Sully’s hit “Awake” was quite a spectacle. It’s rarely something you see, just as it’s rare to see Sully and Stefan share the same stage. Erna and Scallions weren’t there just to breathe life into their hits. Erna sang “Come Together,” while Scallions performed Tom Petty’s “Running Down A Dream” and Billy Idol’s “Dancing with Myself.”
If the stunning performances of classic songs weren’t enough to stir the pot, then the crowd really boiled over once Dee Snider hit the stage. I’d never seen Snider live before. So when I saw him take command moving across the stage and interacting with the crowd in between songs, I was surprised by the kind of presence he carried as he sang, “We’re Not Gonna Take It.” One secret he revealed was how he wished he had written the song “Round and Round” by RATT. The crowd began cheering as Warren DiMartini appeared and “Round and Round” they played.
Now the spirit was high, the audience eager for what was next. There was a sense that whatever was coming would blow over the audience. The towering Sebastian Bach ran onstage for his take of “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” Bach has a presence similar to Snider, but Snider’s more of an entertainer, Bach the passionate metal-head. I was impressed with Bach and how well his signature vocals added to the song. I even wondered if Bach had any interest in doing a covers album in the near future. The actual playing of the song fell short. Slash’s guitar sounded tinny, thin, and just below the cusp. At the same time, it was the only song of the two dozen performed that came below average. After “I Remember You” and “Youth Gone Wild,” which pushed Bach in the spotlight, Snider returned with the explosive “I Wanna Rock.”
After “I Wanna Rock,” everyone left the stage. With the crowd thirsty for more, the Yukon army returned for two classics: “Rock You Like A Hurricane” and lastly, “Highway to Hell.” Snider and Bach shared vocals on the Scorpions’ hit, while everyone joined in for “Highway to Hell.”
Whether you were a hard rock fan, a metal fan, a pop rock fan, fans of these classic songs, or even fans of these bands, there was something for everyone — in every way. And, unlike the concert experience in which fans and audience members want to only hear certain songs, this crowd got a little bit of everything, in an unlikely experience called Yukon Kornelius.
© 2013 Michael Martinelli
I didn’t go into Wal-Mart that night expecting to come out with Iron Maiden’s The Number of the Beast. I don’t know what I went there for, but I wasn’t alone. I was with my sister and friend Dan. And they were by no means fans of heavy metal. The details of the experience and what led me to pick up Iron Maiden are a bit fuzzy, but I think I have an idea as to how such an insignificant event led to a resurgence in a band I loved as a kid.
It was the late nineties, a strange time in music. Radiohead’s Ok Computer had stopped audiences dead in their tracks. Jeff Buckley’s Grace was continuing to gain popularity. And nu metal bands like Limp Bizkit, Papa Roach, and Korn helped brand a new sound in the metal genre.
Dan and my sister enjoyed a variety of music that ranged from Nine Inch Nails to Tori Amos. But they couldn’t take Iron Maiden seriously. To them, heavy metal of the eighties was not only laughable, but surely a character flaw.
When we entered Wal-Mart, I steered in the direction of the electronic section where the music was, while Dan veered off somewhere and my sister followed closed behind. Scanning titles and album art, I came to Iron Maiden. The Number of the Beast stuck out. I picked it up and looked at the cover of Eddie reaching out to me and wondered if the music would still have an impact like it did in the eighties when I had it on cassette. I held on to it. Before I knew it, I was handed a small plastic bag with the CD in it. By this point, no one had questioned it. Part of me believed I had done it in hiding, but I knew better. They were just waiting until we got back in the car.
I took out the CD and looked deep in the detail of the artwork. Dan saw the excitement in my eyes and chuckled. He sat in the passenger’s seat, shaking his head, as though I had fallen out of position as top friend. I knew this was coming. My sister was a little more understanding. Sure, she laughed, poking fun here and there, but she knew how passionate I was about the band as a kid. I was swept up in the moment and was quick to take off the plastic and place it in my disc man on the dashboard. I pushed play and the speedy thunder of “Invaders” hit me square in the face.
I turned the car over and let the music sweep from “Invaders” to “Children of the Damned.” They went along with it, not happy I chose this as our music for the road, but I was onto something. The memories began seeping in. The songs were calling me back, superimposing my sister’s infrequent laugh and Dan’s intermittent disapproval. I pulled onto the main road, eyes watching what was in front of me, but my concentration focused on a flashback of my younger self.
I was walking down the road in my neighborhood, newspaper bag around my shoulder and the opening of “Hallowed Be Thy Name” coursing through my earphones. I had my route down to a science. This made sense because I wasn’t paying any attention to where I was walking or what house I was delivering to. I was deep in story, amidst the rise and fall of Bruce Dickinson’s chant. I wanted to hear how the story turned out, but I already knew from hearing it so many times before. When I returned my focus back on what I was doing, I had three more newspapers to deliver.
Then, there was the time I was laying on my bed, listening to “The Prisoner.” Without warning, Bruce Dickinson’s operatic voice morphed to that of Alvin the Chipmunk. I vaulted from my bed and hit STOP. I took out the cassette and held it, the reel spilling over. I tried to repair it, something to resuscitate a collection of songs so monumental, so pivotal in my young life. But it was gone. There was no bringing it back. It was an untimely and tragic parting, but I needed to handle this respectfully. Later that day, I walked into the woods and buried it. I used the case as the tombstone. It was the only way to honor the magnitude of what I lost.
“Where are we going, Mike?” Dan asked, annoyed we had been driving without a destination in mind.
“I don’t know. Where do you want to go?”
Before I heard his response, I asked myself how a cassette that had such an impact on me vanish from my collection for over a decade? I eventually got another copy. But then where did that go? Where had I been since?
“Mike, I think I’m gonna just head home,” Dan said.
Nodding in response, I changed direction and drove to where we left his car. As much as I wanted to answer why I didn’t continue to hold on to an immensely influential album, I couldn’t bridge the gap except to say that I changed.
“Hey, what happened to the music?” I asked.
“I turned it off,” Dan said. “I couldn’t take it anymore.”
Maybe I wasn’t being fair. I expected both of them to listen to something neither had any interest in. But maybe that was the problem. Maybe I was relying too much on everyone else to dictate what I should like and what I should listen to. Now it was clear. Back in the early nineties, I had jumped from heavy metal to alternative music. And why? Why abandon one and not enjoy both?
Today, I still have that copy I bought at Wal-Mart. I have that copy as well as the rest of the band’s albums. I might not understand decisions I made in the past, but I know where I’m going now. It’s the music that stays, the friends come and go, right?
© 2013 Michael Martinelli
I used to hate it when other kids stole my thunder growing up. They were the kind who, without any rationale or deeper insight as to the wrongdoing, would go and tell on you. It never made sense to me. They were never awarded anything or given special privileges. They just wanted to bust your ass. And when they knew they had you good, they let you have it. Well, my brother was one of them.
It was my twelfth birthday. The friends who came to my party were an awkward mix, but it was during a time when everyone still accepted each other. The judgments and stereotypes wouldn’t start for at least another year or two. Even though the mix was an array of the unpopular, popular, and average, when we came together we were all regular, everyday kids.
I was the one who waved the heavy metal flag amongst my friends. I began leaning towards heavy metal music as I came into contact with Metallica, Iron Maiden, and Anthrax. I’m the Man was the band’s EP and it was hard to ignore. It had the rap/rock feel of what I knew from Licensed to Ill. But it still had the pulse of pure metal. Anthrax possessed an addictive combination of energy and mystique in their music that eventually lassoed me in. I would talk to others about what new music I uncovered when I didn’t have dubbed copies to listen to. But hardly any of my friends shared my interest in heavy metal music.
My friend Chuck paid attention, though. He might not have known about the heavy metal bands I talked about, but he could see the passion in my eyes when I brought them up. I would tell Chuck about the headbangers, sometimes pointing to them, and how they sometimes wore Anthrax t-shirts or had full back patches of the band. Chuck was encouraging and played along, the rise in his voice came when he responded.
My birthday was on the precipice of summer vacation. At my party, my friends and I had a blast swimming in the pool, playing a game of tackle frisbee or basketball, and just telling jokes. Meanwhile, my brother acted as the shadow. He would get involved in a game or jump in the pool, then disappear for reasons unbeknownst to any of us. Friends might’ve asked where he went, other times we just went on with what we were doing. Either way, my birthday was summer’s kickoff. And since my friends were also sleeping over, I anticipated an exciting night.
Before long, we were called inside for pizza and birthday cake. Chuck approached me and said, “I think I have an idea of what you want. But you’ll never guess what it is.” What was great about Chuck was how much pleasure he took in keeping you in suspense. My other friends either didn’t know what their mother picked up for them or they weren’t really that excited about it. But Chuck was. The passion he would see in my eyes could now be seen in his.
I don’t remember how much pizza anyone ate, but I do remember the boisterous voices and laughter combined with farting and burping as we ate. Once the cake came and the labor of singing happy birthday was behind us, we gorged on thick slices, most of which was laden in chocolate or vanilla frosting. Chuck was done before any of us and without asking my parents if it was okay, he began placing presents before me. My friends looked on and commented on Chuck’s excitement. “Jeez, Chuck, you act like it’s your birthday.”
The last present was the largest one. “This one’s from me, but I want you to open it last.” A moment passed before he leaned in and said, “Oh, I told your brother what I got you, but I told him not to tell you.” I could care less who he told. I just hoped he had been listening to our talks and maybe, just maybe he got me the Anthrax EP. I ripped through the other gifts and thanked each of my friends. Then, I had Chuck’s gift.
In the background, I heard someone say, “swears.” Undeterred, I tore the box open only to find another box. Laughter erupted. Each box led to another, smaller in size. Finally, there it was: the shape of a cassette all wrapped. Barely audible, I heard it again. “Swears.” Mom heard my brother and asked what he was saying. I just ignored him.
I clawed at the wrapping. It started to sink in that I was the owner of Anthrax’s I’m the Man. Was Chuck really listening to me? Yes! It was the real thing. I held it up as though I had won a hard-fought battle. The cover art contained the members of the band looking unique and comical, but still able to kick your ass if you crossed them. My friends looked on, but it was clear the music I was interested in had little impact on them.
Chuck laughed and played along like he always did. I left the table and went upstairs to my bedroom. I needed to hear it. Most of my friends followed me, caught up in the excitement of what was happening.
“SWEARS,” it came again.
“Tony,” my mom yelled, unable to catch on. “What’s wrong with you?”
I continued to ignore my brother, but I knew he wouldn’t let up until my mom knew the cassette contained explicit lyrics. And in my house, there was no tolerance for that. In fact, if my brother let the cat out of the bag, the cassette would be confiscated.
I didn’t get past the band’s version of “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” before I heard my mom call me downstairs. I hadn’t turned the radio up too loud. She couldn’t have heard the cursing. But she didn’t need to. My brother told her exactly what I feared he might.
From what I can remember, I had to hand over the cassette. I did so begrudgingly. Afterwards, I fell into a weird depression. I went back upstairs into the bathroom and closed the door. I put the cover down on the toilet and sat there. Call me selfish. Call me a little shit, but, damn it, my brother stole my thunder. I was climbing ever so carefully towards the beacon of young adolescence when my footing was tripped up. Just when I reached for the crown, I was denied.
Friends soon knocked on the door and walked in. Before long, we were all in the bathroom, sitting around the toilet and commiserating over what happened. As much as I wanted them to go away, I was happy they were there. They couldn’t give two shits about Anthrax or the music. Yet here they were sitting around a damn toilet, pushing me past this hard time. They were there for me, not a damn cassette.
We moved past it and enjoyed the rest of the night. I think we went to sleep pretty late, but that’s not surprising. As for the cassette, I never saw it again. The following year I got my hands on a copy of Anthrax’s followup State of Euphoria and loved that album more.
As for the friends who huddled around the toilet that night, I think they grew up and went off to huddle around something far more important.
© 2013 Michael Martinelli
The headbangers were the first group of kids I wanted to belong to in middle school. I wanted to meet girls too, but they just didn’t seem as important. It made more sense to stand with the kind of kids who had passion and stood for something. I was an average sixth grader, a kid who just blended in. And as I stood in the area designated for the lower grades during morning recess, I would gaze to where the seventh and eighth graders congregated. Standing a fair distance from the jocks and other smaller cliques, the headbangers were a group whose lifestyle was marked by the music they loved. They wanted to be left alone to live their own way. On the outside, they looked like a mysterious pack of wolves born of the same blood. But, on the inside, they were still separate individuals driven by the music.
The kids I stood with during morning recess were like me. They came from safe neighborhoods and were from relatively similar backgrounds. I often grew bored with their conversations about half-hour sitcoms, family outings or Big Foot, the monster truck. During these times, I would turn my head and steal glances at the group of headbangers. Looking back at the kids I stood next to, I felt as though they tried too hard. Their talk centered more on saying the right thing than what was important to them. It was impossible to ever get to know them because they were afraid to show me who they really were.
Meanwhile, the headbangers stood together, huddled like a force to be reckoned with. Their collective personality reeked passion. They dressed in denim from head to toe. Yet the details stuck out to me. Some wore leather cowboy boots and hiking shoes, and almost all had the emblem of their young existence: the jean jacket. To them, a plain jean jacket meant no identity, but as soon as you chose your preference of hard rock and heavy metal patches, then you became someone. You stood for something.
I was too far away to hear their conversations, but I was convinced that they were filthy, gritty, and edgy. I imagined what they said to each other. For instance, was one of them considering skipping school and hitchhiking to the mall? Would they return to the trail for a cigarette during lunch? Were they planning a fight? Drifting even further from the confines of my friends, I watched as one of the taller kids in this mysterious group darted glances between a few teachers and the woods. He had a head of dark curly hair, wore acid-washed jeans, and a jean jacket. On the back, he had a full black and white Motorhead patch. Without giving it a second thought or considering the potential of getting caught, he walked a few steps before breaking into a full sprint down the hill in the direction of the trail, where he could smoke at least half a cigarette before the bell rang and everyone lined up. My eyes lit up. Did he care if he got caught? Did he realize the consequences? Meanwhile, the rest of the group continued on as if nothing happened.
Soon, a shorter kid with a thin mullet, ran down the hill to the woods. I remember passing this guy in the hallway. He always wore a Dangerous Toys t-shirt and a jean jacket that were too small for him. His jeans though, hung from his waist like loose rags. I noticed the group shifted once the shorter kid left, as though they were trying to cover for him. I moved closer and squinted to see if I could make out what bands they liked. It was a cornucopia of heavy metal’s finest. They wore full back patches of Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Metallica, KISS, and Megadeth. The graphics spoke to me, forcing me to question what they were about. What did the illustration mean? How did it parallel the music? This is how I learned about hard rock and heavy metal bands: through the patches kids in this group had stitched to their jackets. But that wasn’t all. Those same patches were an open display of the spirit these kids had for the music. Those bands and songs meant something to them.
I grew determined to understand each patch I saw and what the band sounded like. I thought Iron Maiden would be some of the hardest metal, considering the graphic nature of their artwork. But that wasn’t the case. Turns out Exodus, Overkill, Slayer, Metallica, Anthrax, and Testament were all well represented by their artwork and fictional mascots. These bands offered some of the heaviest and edgiest music I had ever heard. The combination of heavy riffs and darker, more complicated themes made these bands stand out. This all came after I spent time listening to the music and thinking back to the visual. When I could see the patches of these headbangers, I noticed they ran the gamut. Everything from hard rock and blues-influenced bands like Tesla and Cinderella to classic rock icons Van Halen and even the litany of glam rock bands from Twisted Sister to Ratt.
My fascination grew for the headbangers and I watched for them each and every morning. It wasn’t long before they started arriving at school dances like a gang, gravitating to the darkest corner of the room. They kept to themselves, but when a song played that they liked, they would form a circle and head bang. Some played air-guitar, heads bent with hardened expressions.
Whether it was what I admired about the headbangers or just the fascination with the music, I had had enough of my friends. I was tired of their desperate attempt to be accepted. I stepped outside their circle and into my own. I stood alone now, like the headbangers, but felt relieved I could be my own person. A year later in the seventh grade, I had my own jean jacket and with that came my own Iron Maiden patch. I dressed the way I felt. I never joined the headbangers, but I always stood out there like one of them, and knew the distance from here to there would be liberating as soon as I took that first step.
© 2013 Michael Martinelli