Most people who know me, know that I’ve loved heavy metal music for a long time. For the people who don’t know me, a quick check on my website shows that I’ve been in several heavy metal bands, started my own hardcore/punk/metal music project called Truth Assassin, and attend numerous heavy metal concerts per year. I’ve even blogged about why I love mosh pits and while you’ll find me in them. But most people don’t know how I got into heavy metal and how my life was forever changed by the music.
In 1993, when I was about nine years old, my mom, dad, and three-month old brother lived in a small house in North Potomac, Maryland. The house had three bedrooms on the top floor, one for me, one for my brother, and the master bedroom for my parents. I didn’t have a television in my room–I was too young–but my parents had one in their room on top of my mom’s dresser, across the room from their bed, and it was hooked up to the cable television jack.
At nine years old, I was quite impressionable, and my mother knew this. “No watching MTV,” she told me. My dad backed this restriction. One day, either when my parents weren’t home or when they were not upstairs, I turned on their television and flipped the channel to MTV.
My eyes grew wide and glazed over like I was in a daze. My heart started to beat faster as the screen began to overtake me. The flashing, strobe-light-like effect of the music video I was watching was mesmerizing. It flipped back and forth between a drummer, a boy, an old man, and a guitar. The strobe effect made it hard to tell what was happening, but the sound was melodic and heavy. The song continued to build up until it exploded in a crash of cymbals and distorted guitars.
I had no idea what I was watching, but it was the most amazing thing I had ever seen. A man with long hair appeared on the screen and began to belt out lyrics in an aggressive, but tonal manner. I found myself starting to rock my head back and forth along with the beat of the music. Then I heard, for the first time in my life, a guitar solo. I stood there watching every second, glued to the television. I couldn’t look away. I didn’t know what I was watching, but I knew that I needed to be a part of it. Whatever this was, I wanted it, and I wanted it in my life. It was the most incredible sound I’d ever heard.
The song ended, and MTV flashed the song’s information in the bottom left of the screen. There it was:
- Enter Sandman
- Elektra Records
Metallica. I had never heard of Metallica before, but I had now, and that was all that mattered. I needed Metallica in my life. I turned off the television and went about the rest of my day. I couldn’t tell you what else happened that day because it didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered was that I had found Metallica. I had found Enter Sandman.
My music collection at the time consisted of MC Hammer’s Too Legit to Quit cassette tape, which I listened to via a Walkman. That needed to change. Some time after I watched the Enter Sandman video, my grandmother took me to a Kemp Mill Records store, one of 30 or so that used to dot the Washington metro area. I walked over to the wall of cassette tapes, which were alphabetized, and found my target, with its large gray letters on the side. The store had about six of them. I grabbed one and flipped it over to the backside. I checked out the song list and found what I was looking for: Enter Sandman. This was the one I needed.
I looked at the front of the case, barely able to make out the Metallica logo and the coiled snake in the bottom-right corner. I walked up to my grandmother, who was standing near the register, and handed it to her. I’ll be honest and say that I don’t remember what I said to her or what she said to me, only that she looked at it and gave money to the cashier.
I had my first heavy metal album. It certainly wouldn’t my last. It would be my first foray into a genre of music that would forever shape my life.
I went home and put the tape into my Walkman. The gears in the player began to turn and I heard the opening riff of Enter Sandman for the first time since I saw the music video. I sat in my room that afternoon and listened to the rest of the album…both sides of the cassette. Just as I felt when I watched the video, I still wasn’t sure what I was listening to, but it was the most incredible sound I’d ever heard.
My love for heavy metal only grew from there, and I began to share that love with others. The following summer, I brought my Metallica cassette tape to Camp Harlam, the summer camp where I spent a month. I’ll never forget the time when my bunk’s counselors were going to host a “music night,” where they wanted to expose us to different genres of music. Each room in the building was a different style. When I arrived in one, they told us they were going to have us listen to monk music.
“Relax, and lay your heads back on the couches,” Dan, one of our counselors, told us. So we obeyed and relaxed. Suddenly, an explosion of sound came from the speakers. My bunkmates were in shock not knowing what they were listening to; everyone had surprised looks on their faces.
Not me. I was headbanging. It was my Metallica cassette the counselors had used. Earlier that day, in a dead giveaway, they asked me if they could borrow the cassette, inquiring as to which side of the cassette was “heavier.”
“The B side,” I told them.
The follow year, still in elementary school, I was working on a diorama for a social studies project. My task was to build a scene from the Oregon Trail adventures in a shoe box. I did exactly that, but I’ll never forget listening to my first Metallica CD, …And Justice for All, which played on repeat on the CD player boombox in my bedroom. No more than 10 or 11 years old, and there I was, headbanging to 1988 heavy metal while building a diorama.
And that was how I fell in love with heavy metal…