The Unassuming Metalhead – November 2015 (“Middle School Friends”)

the unassuming metalhead

I think we can probably all agree that middle school is a weird time. You’re pretty much at peak awkwardness during this window: hitting puberty, discovering the opposite sex, first realizing how confusing members of said opposite sex can be, etc. In my case, I was also discovering heavy metal music, which only added to the awkwardness factor. That’s not to say I consider metal or its fans to be inherently awkward, but at my particular middle school…let’s just say it didn’t sit well for someone scrounging for any spare popularity point he could get among his peers… 

Why the scrounging? A little context will help here. As I’ve mentioned in this column before, I grew up in Annapolis, Maryland — a generally lovely town, but one with a strong predisposition toward popped collars and O.A.R. to be found among its adolescent population. (A point of clarification that should, by now, be obvious: I’m not pointing this out to retroactively judge my peers for their tastes; it’s just to paint a picture of the situation.) And then, there was me — black-t-shirt-wearing, heavy-metal-listening, long-hair-sporting me. These descriptions alone should tell you I was never the center of attention. That said, there were some fun interactions around the music I gravitated towards.

For starters, there was definitely a stretch where metal — or what I, at the time, perceived to be metal — was the only thing I listened to. I don’t really favor this strategy anymore, and especially not given that “what I, at the time, perceived to be metal” translates roughly to, basically, “nü-metal.” (Yes, I somehow thought nü-metal would prevent me from being a loser. Silly Dan. Silly, silly Dan.) This led to ill-conceived decisions like “do an experiment in science class to see if listening to music raises your heart rate, then choose Slipknot as the test music” or “request KoЯn songs at middle school dances” (oh, yes — that happened).

Even when I got into more acceptable forms of heavy music — the Iron Maidens, the Judas Priests…basically anything that I caught wind of through Grand Theft Auto: Vice City‘s V-ROCK radio station — I remained relatively tactless in expressing my interests. I’d lurk off to the side as friends discussed [whatever hip-hop song was popular at the time], and then inject myself into the conversation with “BUT RAP IS CRAP.” (I know, I know.) Or, more cringe-worthy, I’d randomly bring up how disappointing it was that Iron Maiden could only hit the high teens on the album charts with Dance of Death.

So yeah, the metal had something to do with this awkwardness, but mostly it was just that I was a weird kid. I can see this all too clearly now.

Still, though, I’d like to think it wasn’t just my weirdness that would lead a kid named Kevin* [name changed, because duh] to, one year, sign my yearbook with the following message:

Dear Dan,

I dislike AC/DC and Mudvayne. Cash Money 4 life. H.A.G.S.

Kevin

Completely impromptu. Also, can we talk about “H.A.G.S.”? Are kids really so lazy as to not be able to scribble out “Have a good summer!” Like, really?

Then, there were the goth kids. (Please note: I’m using the misinformed school-age definition of “goth,” with which I want nothing to do; not the cool, actual definition in which I could quite easily get lost while listening to the Sisters and Nephilim all day long.) To be clear: even at my most awkwardly metal, I never considered myself a goth. I have never not thought that Hot Topic is the stupidest place on earth, and I’m pretty sure listening to a band like Mindless Self Indulgence would have ranked among the cruelest, most unusual punishments I could have thought of at the time.

Still, both me and the four-or-five goth kids I knew at our tiny little school were well outside the circle of social popularity, so it seemed like a natural group to try and forge a connection with. But it got tough when I refused to listen to groups like Jack Off Jill or bow down to the purportedly supernatural being known as Amanda Palmer. Since I tended to avoid both of these and several other Hot Topic mainstays like the plague on principle, bonding proved tough.

I also found it hilarious when people would use my metal fandom to try and punch down. These, generally, were the “fringe kids” — the ones that weren’t losers by any means, but also weren’t enormously popular either. I remember one girl called Alyssa* [yes, name’s been changed], who actually tended to get on pretty well with the popular kids, but who would, every once in a while, do something completely, inexplicably weird to prevent her from ever fully assimilating into their fold. Like, I don’t know…completely refusing to use sunscreen one summer, and showing up on the first day of school looking like an actual tomato. (This is the Satan-honest truth.)

Anyway, at one point during the intermission of our school musical — which pretty much everyone took part in because there were literally 160 kids in our entire high school — the cast decided we needed some pump up music after a less-than-stellar first act. Someone had an iPod sound dock (R.I.P. iPod classic), so I decided to throw mine on and pump a ’90s one-hit-wonder mix — the thinking being that a little “I get knocked down, but I get up again / you’re never gonna keep me down” was pretty much exactly what we needed at that moment.

I guess Alyssa was feeling particularly fringe-y at that moment, because right as I was about to press play, she yelled over “Ugh, Dan, can you not? We don’t wanna hear, like…Lamb of God or whatever right now.” (Nice, Campbell’s. Nice.) Fortunately, everyone was down with Chumbawamba and I didn’t even need to and make a witty comeback. (Which would, inevitably, have gone disastrously.)

Anyway, I’ll stop there. I don’t see the point in talking about this further, because while most of these memories are negative — or were negative at the time — it was middle and high school. I was weird, everyone else was weird…it’s just a weird time, period. There’s no point in holding grudges against anyone for adolescent stupidity.

But making a blog post out of them? Yeah, that’s still fair game.

Keep it heavy,
Dan

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