By the time I reached eighth grade, my parents had given up trying to get me involved in sports or other extracurricular activities that I feared might lead to injury, or worse, me having to touch other people. I was happy spending my free time alone in front of the television, staring wide-eyed at a new channel called MTV. I would suffer through hours of cheesy pop music eagerly awaiting the good stuff—videos by bands like Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, and AC/DC. While many of my classmates idolized bulked-up sports heroes, the walls of my bedroom were covered with posters of skinny, long-haired guys dressed in spandex and leather. When I taped a poster of Mötley Crüe to the outside of my bedroom door, my dad stared at it with a mix of bewilderment and disgust. “What a bunch of jerks,” he said. “Jerks?” I thought. “No dad, these are my people.”
For my fourteenth birthday, my parents broke down and bought me an electric guitar and amplifier. By that night my fingertips were the color of roasted beets, and for the next month I spent every free moment teaching myself the opening riffs of my favorite heavy metal songs. But the sound was disappointingly clean and tinny. So I saved my allowance and bought a $60 distortion pedal, the most expensive thing I’d ever purchased. It was a revelation. Once I plugged it in and stomped on the switch, my guitar sounded like a chainsaw—heavy, loud, and most importantly, badass.
Toward the end of eighth grade, my friend Shawn, who played bass, told me he’d joined a band. I tagged along with my guitar to a practice session held in a smelly, one-car garage located behind the house of the lead guitarist’s parents. Aside from Shawn, the other band members were unknown to me—three mullet-wearing, pimple-faced guys I’d seen sulking around the halls of my junior high. I asked if I could join the band, and after playing the opening lines of “Breaking the Law,” I was welcomed as an official member. Although my acceptance probably had more to do with the fact my dad drove a station wagon big enough to carry around the band and its equipment.
After a couple of months of practice, we signed up for a battle of the bands being held at an auditorium in Asheville. On the way to the battle we stopped at the mall in hopes of buying leather vests, chains, and other heavy metal fashion accessories, but all we came away with were tennis sweatbands and a few bandanas. The other bands in the contest were semi-professionals who we considered to be geezers, although there was probably no one there over the age of thirty. As band after band played soft rock cover songs, we sat in the back of the auditorium and snickered at their lameness. We were the final act, and since no one in the band could sing, we played a set of original, heavy metal instrumentals. When the votes were finally tallied, we placed dead last. It was our first, and ultimately last, public performance. But we didn’t care. On that stage, for forty-five minutes, we were loud, aggressive, and banged our heads like the metal gods we were.
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