Saturday, November 1, 2014

"Two Bros From Way Back": In Praise Of Metalheads

Though it's been circulating since the early 1990s, I only heard of "The Derek Tape" yesterday.  I have to tell you - it is a thing of beauty.  I'm not exaggerating when I say that to me, artifacts like this are as important to our cultural heritage as a Grandma Moses painting or an Aaron Copeland composition.  Like many great works of art, it clearly identifies the spirit of a distinct time and place* (and in this case, a subculture).  Like many great works of art it is entertaining, provocative and leaves as many questions as it answers.  And like many great works of art, there is something that resonates. We all knew dudes just like Derek.  Please, please, please - listen to this, but don't listen to it around those with delicate sensibilities.  Derek speaks the muthafuckin' truth, bruh.  Truth can hurt, and the truth can also contain the word "fuck" a lot.

So what exactly is "The Derek Tape"?  The full story is here, but basically it is this:  "The Derek Tape" is a recorded phone call between a very chill dude named Kurt and super excitable metalhead named Derek.  Derek does most of the talking.  He spends approximately half of the call talking about how he's going to kill this dude Terry because Terry stiffed him $20.  While that is amusing, it's when Derek shifts into his discussion of music that the clinic happens.  Derek expounds like a college prof on types of metal bands (hate metal versus straight Satanic metal), guitarists/guitar solos, drugs, higher and lower orders of demons, and the Necronomicon.  Unlike most college profs, Derek brings a unique enthusiasm to his exegesis.  He is articulate and thorough.  His word choice is brilliant, dude.  Listen to Derek.  When challenged on his assertion that the Grateful Dead is a Satanic band, he is specific and hell, even believable to an extent, arguing that there is no more effective way to spread any message (let along a Satanic message) than via an ear worm/music.  Put on some headphones and prepare to be dazzled.

I knew Derek.  Only his name was Tony Webb.  Tony and I went to St. Mary's together.  We were held back together.  We were in the same lower math class, and we were required to get tutoring together.  Although I don't remember the diagnosis being around at that time, I'm positive that Tony suffered from Attention Deficit/Hyperactive Disorder.  The kid moved a million miles an hour - in body and in mind.  He was intense and never half-assed anything except maybe school work.  But his true passion - the thing that jacked him more than anything else in the world - was metal music.  He was an evangelist for all forms of metal, from the hair metal bands that were emerging in L.A., to the classic metal bands like Black Sabbath, to the Satanic bands that were just starting to freak out middle America.  "Circus" magazine was the Bible, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal all rolled into one for Tony.  He openly shared both his stash of Circus back issues and his opinions on what was and wasn't "metal".  When he spoke about heavy metal music, his eyes bugged out and his body vibrated.  The dark lord had taken him.  I'm not making this up.

One time after school me, Tony and about three other friends (sorry - "bros") rode our bikes to Tony's house.  He lived over the big bridge in our town - I forget the name of it - in the blue collar section of town in the shadow of the bridge.  He lived in a tiny two bedroom house with his mom and dad, heavy metal older brother, and hot heavy metal sister.  This particular visit, no one was home so we smoked cigarettes and raided Tony's brother's porno mag stash.  As we thumbed through old issues of Penthouse, Tony read Circus magazine.  I think Lita Ford did it for him more than Dorothy Stratten.  Or maybe Rob Halford did it for him - who knows?  All I know for sure is that he lived and breathed heavy metal.  He probably actually would've sold his soul if Satan required that of metal fans.  I don't think he does though.

Tony Webb is a common species of music fan, but metalheads (as this species is known) are unique.  They had a loyalty to their favorite artists and they put their money where their loyalty resided.  Punks did too, but the punk scene was slightly more fragmented (ask the Meat Puppets how L.A. punks treated them) and a lot more stoic than the metal scene. Metalheads saw drugs and booze as an avenue for more fully appreciating and intensifying the music and representing a lifestyle; hippies used it to mellow things out.  Metalheads knew more about their bands and scene than their Prog-fan cousins knew of theirs.  Guys like Tony were the Comic Book Guy of the Heavy Metal Parking Lot sans the elitism.  Only all metalheads were like that.  And that's bad ass.

It's hilarious to make fun of metalheads.  They're so delightfully out of touch, and so goddamned quotable.  But be honest:  have you ever had an all consuming passion like the Tony Webbs and Dereks of the world?  Was it what got your through the school day, your shitty minimum wage job, and the grim reality of a sub par home life?  Did it get you out of bed?  Maybe, but I bet not.  I'll continue to point and laugh at dudes like Derek and Tony, but I admire that passion that quickens them.  Keep rockin', Tony.  Keep rockin', Derek.  I know you are somewhere.

*-You like how I avoided using the word "zeitgeist"?

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