What a shocking note! Pic by Brenda Ouellette

Had a great conversation with a friend today on the phone (what? no text?) and one thing that she brought up was how heavy metal has/had these rules that you had to adhere to, in order to fit in that tribe.

I never got the memo apparently.

She said “When you do something different, you’re no longer part of the heavy metal tribe.” Well, I wish I knew this person back in middle school. Would have saved me a lot of grief! I struggled for years to fit in. Like any teenager growing up in the 80s, bands like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Scorpions, Metallica, etc. were part of my musical diet. And like any teenager, I wanted to be in a heavy metal band. I simply wasn’t meant to be in one. So, many years later, I had to make my own “metal band” (basically me with a revolving door, which wasn’t part of the plan).

What went wrong (or right, depending on your angle?)

While I was visualizing myself in a heavy metal band, I heard other bands along the way such as The Police, Squeeze, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Yes, Genesis (pre-soccer mom years), King Crimson, Prince…stuff that was NOWHERE near heavy metal yet still grabbed me in some way. How and why was I drawn to all these artists? Do I dare lose my supposed metal cred? (I already did because my hair wasn’t long in high school and I didn’t drink.) I could pop on an Exodus cassette one minute and then throw in ZZ Top. To me, if it stirred my soul, it was good. I even digested punk/hardcore bands such as Black Flag, Sex Pistols, and Discharge. (Yes, I liked some hair metal for a brief period before I saw the light…)

Then along came three bands that steamrolled me just as I was graduating high school: Living Colour, King’s X, and Jane’s Addiction. These bands were playing “smart metal” (to loosely paraphrase Martin Popoff) so I latched onto them. Could these bands he heavy yet be soulful, funky, and downright WEIRD? Yep! And I lapped it up! (Faith No More wasn’t until two years later but they also inspired me to be as quirky as possible, which was easy.)

So were heavy metal bands embracing these newer bands at the time? Yes and no. There was respect but also “They’re not REAL metal” and all that nonsense. My friend calls it a “Crab in a barrel” mentality, meaning if you step outside the barrel, someone else will pull you back in so you don’t move up another level.

I was already doing that in high school! I just didn’t see it at the time. I was combining metal with some other twists and was told “You can’t do that!” And I started believing it. Wasn’t until I joined up with a band in 1990 where I felt creatively free. I could write something funky, something heavy, there were seemingly no rules. (Well, the drummer and singer didn’t like me being TOO over the top…) Ever since then, I was on a quest to be as different as possible but not too different.

That didn’t quite pan out that way. I would audition for bands and hear “Can you play less like Steve Vai and more like Kurt Cobain?” or “Don’t use that chord, it’s gay” (yes, a bassist said that to me…) Inevitably I would wind up doing instrumental music and being thrown in the role as front man.

I simply was not born to blend in.

So yes, I proved in some strange way that heavy metal could be freed up from the constraints of what belongs. I simply never belonged, and the music reflects it.

I think too much.

Published by steviehimself

Guitarist/guitar teacher/cat lover in New Jersey.

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