Parents and Metal
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I'm an '80s baby. People still speak of the '80s as metal's golden age and for good reason. Many of the musical and cultural tropes we associate with metal developed during that decade. The eighties gave us The Number of the Beast, Reign In Blood, and Master of Puppets. It gave us Evil Chuck, Kronos, and Quorthon. It also gave us the Parents Music Resource Council and the "Suicide Solution" lawsuit against Ozzy Osbourne.
I was but a twinkle in my father's eye for most of the '80s. Nonetheless, my original idea of the relationship your parents should have with heavy metal comes from an iconic '80s metal moment: Twisted Sister's video for "We're Not Gonna Take It".
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Twisted Sister - "We're Not Gonna Take It"
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When I was 12 or 13 years old, I genuinely believed that this video's opening scene accurately portrayed how anyone over 40 years old would react to even the poppiest metal.
Mark Metcalf reprises his role as the hardass ROTC commander from Animal House. We see him here as an uptight, militaristic suburban dad. When he hears Dee Snider's degenerate howling from his son's bedroom, he storms in and loses it. His ensuing rant recalls R. Lee Ermey's legendary screeds in Full Metal Jacket. I suspect that at least a few real-life '80s dads felt the way he does. ("I carried an M-16, and you carry that . . . that . . . guitar!")
But just as he delivers his moral coup de grâce—"Who are you? Where do you come from? Are you listening to me? What do you want to do with your life?"—the son ripostes in a way that every metalhead has wanted to riposte against an overbearing authority figure.
"I wanna rock," he says, and hits a power chord.
What happens next is the stuff of legends. Dad gets blasted out of the window by his son's pure rock fury. The kid transmogrifies himself and his sibs into terrifyingly ambisexual Twisted Sister members. They proceed to run Dad out of house and home, while Mom sympathetically douses him with water. Metal conquers all!
"This," thought tweener-me, "This is how to piss off your parents."
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But it didn't work. Like many '80s cultural tropes, "We're Not Gonna Take It" misrepresents reality for effect. Listening to metal does not automatically initiate war against your folks any more than
blasting Peter Gabriel from a boombox outside your beloved's window will win her heart.
Like most teenagers who get into metal, I was drawn to it partially by its purported ability to freak out peers and family members. The PMRC's moral panic was a decade behind us, but Columbine was a fresh memory. Loud guitar music retained some cultural menace. I expected a backlash, or at least some confusion, from my mom and dad.
But unlike Mark Metcalf's character, my parents are not uptight or militaristic. They are open-minded people who have been listening to riff-based rock since they were teenagers themselves. They found my At The Gates and Morbid Angel records intriguing rather than disgusting.
As the years passed, their interest developed into a genuine appreciation. They watched as I got more involved—going to shows, playing in bands, writing for webzines. And through this process, they learned what all of us here know: metal is more than angry kids venting. It is a rich, varied cultural tradition. A vast trove of beauty lies beneath its off-putting exterior.
My parents are now metal fans themselves, albeit casual ones. My mom can define 'blastbeat' and knows the difference between death and black metal. And my dad recently invited me to come visit him for the purpose of seeing Mastodon live.
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As a teen, I was irritated that my rebellion fizzled. Over the years, I've become deeply grateful of my parents' acceptance of my tastes, especially because I know it's atypical.
And so I ask you all: how do your parents feel about your love for metal? I'm especially interested in hearing from those of you who came of age in the '80s, when the general populace still regarded metal with fear, but all stories are welcome!
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