The Unassuming Metalhead: Stories from a Guy You Can’t Believe Listens to Heavy Stuff

the unassuming metalhead

“Wait…YOU? Like metal?”

That’s usually how it goes. I’ll reveal to someone—a friend, a colleague, a date, you name it—that I’m into heavy music, and they’ll do this gaping, wide-eyed expression with their head tilted to one side. As if metal fandom is some kind of odd disease or syndrome that’s somehow managed not to deteriorate my physical and mental well-being.

Me: “I do. Problem?”

Them: “You just don’t look like someone who’d listen to metal, that’s all!”

There it is—that ever-so-slightly judgmental undertone with which metal fans are so often pigeonholed as “others.” And chances are, you know the stereotype: we’re all long-haired, hard drinking heshers with black band t-shirts and lots of tattoos; we associate only with other metal fans, and wouldn’t dream of listening to anything but heavy music; we headbang to everything.

Except no, that’s not it at all, actually. Sure, there are plenty of folks that fit that description, but there are also plenty that do not. Like me. I keep my hair short, rock Adidas Sambas more often than combat boots, and have even had the audacity to hit up the Governors Ball Music Festival each of the last three years, each time, just two weeks after getting my ‘bang on at Maryland Deathfest. I don’t fit the mainstream’s preconceived notions of a metalhead. Hell, most people don’t.

I could get into the range of different people I’ve met at shows over the years, but I’d be here all day—and at any rate, that isn’t the point. I’m not trying to lament the mischaracterization of metalheads among the masses, because frankly…I don’t care what the masses think of my listening habits, and nor should you. What I am trying to do, however, is to share some of the interactions I’ve had with them around metal. Because they’re often quite hilarious.

So that’s what The Unassuming Metalhead will be all about. I’ve got no shortage of stories from times when I’ve revealed my metallic tendencies to others, so why not use them to entertain the masses? And for this first edition, I’d like to describe the time my grandfather caught me listening to AC/DC…   

Just to clarify before we get started, I don’t want you to think I wasn’t allowed to listen to AC/DC. (My family isn’t that square.) But for my grandfather, let’s just say they weren’t a band to cross his radar screen. For him, popular music stopped in the early ’60s—if that late. He’s a jazz guy, a polka guy…he’s old school, which is pretty much what you’d expect a grandfather to be.

But…he had a huge TV—60+ inches worth of tube—in his basement. Which is how, probably 10 years ago now, my friend Mark (*name changed*) and I found ourselves at his house when it came time to watch my then-newly-acquired DVD copy of AC/DC Live at Donington.

At the time, I was in high school, and only just taking my first steps into heavy music. Back then, AC/DC were my gods. After hearing “Highway to Hell” in the credits of Little Nicky (I know, I know), I slowly began collecting every album in their discography—yes, even Blow Up Your Video. I had double-disc live albums, I had a burned CD full of bootlegs and then-unreleased tracks (now available as part of the Backtracks box set)…you name it, I had it. When Live at Donington was released—after only being available as an import VHS for years—I gobbled it up.

The weekend after its release, we went over for a visit at my grandfather’s. After making lunch and spending 45 minutes or so pretending to care about the NASCAR race on TV while Pop slowly fell into his afternoon nap, we took the DVD from my bag, snuck downstairs to the basement where he kept the big TV, and popped it in.

And it. was. glorious. Thunderstruck, Back in Black, Fire Your Guns—some of these even with special “Angus Cam” angles—were all coming through across a 60-inch TV, with surround sound. We sat there mesmerized, worshiping at the temple of all things rock. You couldn’t get a better afternoon. And then my grandfather awoke from his slumber and came down. It happened, of course, during “Jailbreak.”

“Jailbreak” is notable for being featured in a 14-minute extended version in Live at Donington. A couple of those minutes consist solely of Angus Young performing a strip-tease while Cliff Williams and Chris Slade hold things down on rhythm. And it was during that couple of minutes, naturally, that my grandfather came downstairs. I’ll never forget the look of stunned disbelief on his face.

“What the hell is that? Is that music?”

Silence. Except for AC/DC in the background, that is.

“What are you guys watching? What is this?”

It wasn’t anger, so much as it was…confusion. Bewilderment, I think, is a better description.

Me: It’s AC/DC, Pop. It’s hard rock!

Pop: Hard rock? What the hell are you listening to that for?

Me: Because we like it!

He seemed to realize it wasn’t worth putting up a fight, so instead he sat down in his recliner and began watching with us. Which, truth be told, kind of diminished the experience from a DVD-watching standpoint; instead of focusing our attention on the show, we began checking back periodically to study his reactions. (From an overall standpoint—watching my grandfather listen to AC/DC?—it was hilarious.)

He’d stop us periodically with the occasional question—“Where are these guys from?” (Australia); “Why d’you like this hard rock stuff? Why don’t you listen to Glenn Miller instead?” (We weren’t born in the ’40s)—but generally kept up with what was happening. When the band’s giant inflatable “Rosie” balloon came out during “Whole Lotta Rosie,” he laughed out loud and told us we were nuts. And yeah, looking back, he was probably right. But we didn’t enjoy it any less.

We powered through the rest of the DVD without much back and forth. After the final burst of cannon fire rang out at the end of “For Those About to Rock,” I looked over and, of course, he’d fallen back asleep. Catch us right as Angus takes his pants down, miss out on the band bringing the goddamn house down. Go figure. My first experience as an unassuming metalhead and it didn’t even piss someone off; just put ’em to sleep.

That’s my first story, but it won’t be the last. Check back next month for more dealings with the simps, and share your own with me in the meantime! Other than that…IT’S WEEKEND TIME, KIDS!

Keep it heavy,

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