Metal Heart: Seven Essential Life Lessons from an 80s Childhood

80s-1

12 of Anything for a Penny is Inherently Awesome

When candy went from a quarter to forty cents back in Reagan’s first term, you were outraged. When baseball card companies started substituting stickers and puzzle pieces for that prized, powdery balsa wood of bubble gum, mass hysteria didn’t even begin to cover it. Then, amidst the rubble of lost innocence, a break in the trees. A light from above. Columbia House. For a teenager without any visible means of support, they were a godsend. You mean, I will receive a dozen freshly wrapped, never-before-listened-to cassettes of my choice, mind you and all I have to do is promise to buy a few jacked-up regular price items at some future, who-gives-a-shit date? Sold, my good man. And the subscription cards were everywhere: dropping out of magazines in the 7-11, full page spreads in whatever metal rag had my attention at the time, coaxing me with an undeniable come-hither stare from any number of increasingly convincing commercials. Shit, man, you were 16, the future might never come! Buy now, pay later; it’s practically a Constitutional mandate. Only I wouldn’t pay later. And neither would you. In a dirty little secret that that was far from dirty, and not at all a secret, I could get my free shit in a mere 4-6 weeks, play the fuckers until my cheap stereo inevitably reduced the tapes to tatters, and sign up again. Maybe I’d use my moms work address this time. Or a fathers PO Box. What were they going to do arrest and prosecute a teenager?

And so it went, again and again, until my metal stash became a hoard, and I could theoretically rock that shit until college. Sure, when I failed to buy that mandatory item or items, I received an earnestly type-written warning or two, but its not like I had a credit rating to ruin. Or anything those people could ever want. I’d just wait a year or so, let the dust settle, and sign up again, this time as Enrique Montoya, or any number of aliases that tickled me (and only me) to no end. It was, for an unemployed, broke-ass dipshit like myself, the closest thing to welfare I was ever likely to see. And then, as if God himself was a headbanger, a little company by the name of BMG entered the fray. Instead of being required to buy several tapes over a period of time, I only had to buy one! At a price that was more than reasonable, if you shrugged off the inexplicable shipping and handling charge that acted as if they were sending me a used car through the mail, rather than the new Bulletboy’s release. By this time, CDs were available, but I’d only get eight of those, and who wouldn’t rather have four more cassettes that melted in the car at any temperature above an average May afternoon? Fine, I’ll admit that here and there, I paid for what I received, if only to throw the little devils off my scent. But it wouldn’t be long before I’d be up to my old tricks, treating a for-profit corporation like my own private lending library. America!

 

80s-2

The Tingle Down Below Will Ruin Your Life

It was sixth grade. Mom had left for work, my sister had long since caught the bus. I was alone. School beckoned, but I might not get this kind of shot again. Fully undressed, I spied the rug in the bathroom. You know the one the soft, shaggy thing that made little difference to your freshly-showered feet, but was an untapped reservoir of lust to the untouched gherkin that was your most prized appendage. You could be typical average and simply coax forth the pleasure with your hand, but why not rub? It was kind of like sex, as if you would ever know until you were of drinking age. Friction? Possible rug burns? Not likely, given the plushy depth that awaited. And so you began. Time has not been kind to my memory regarding the exact number of thrusts, but lets assume it was somewhere between one and two. All young boys know what happened next. A sea change, an undiscovered country that would affect your very soul like nothing else. From that moment on, until you were lowered into the earth, you’d be chasing that initial rush like the proverbial crackhead. Sure, I can freely admit that I, like any lad, might be romanticizing that first fully conscious orgasm, but even if I exaggerate slightly, it was still the most powerful blast my body would ever produce. I shook, I shivered; I may have even been paralyzed for a minute or two. I would never be that young again.

Now that I’m past 40 and merely playing out the string, I daily curse a God I do not believe in for saddling us with the sadistic duo of desire and orgasm. I hate them both with equal force, and would sooner be a sad gelding at rest; sent to pasture to live out my days without the pathetic need for ejaculatory release. From sixth grade on, I’ve probably shot 25,000 loads, a few within earshot of an actual woman; each one burdened with regret well before the tissue was dropped in the toilet. Guilt? Hardly, but as I knew I’d be ready for another within minutes, my life soon became a belligerent stumble through the lust-filled reeds of life as a man. A horny man. All the energy and need, and none of the release, at least if were to define release as that which satisfies and soothes. I wanted women I couldn’t have, landed others I rarely wanted, and I couldn’t see how all this wasted time wouldn’t be better spent writing books or solving life’s mysteries. If, for example, I had read anywhere near as much as I jerked off, Id likely have a dozen degrees I wouldn’t be using, instead of just the two. But I could never go back. No one can. Maybe that distant rug was my Waterloo, but it could just as easily have been something else. Its the curse we all share.

 

80s-3

Everyone Needs a Suicide Solution

As with everything dark and brooding, Nietzsche said it best: The thought of suicide is a great consolation: by means of it one gets through many a dark night. When I wasn’t masturbating as a young man, I was considering suicide. Most of the time, one followed the other as night follows day, a vicious circle whereby a roar of passion would yield ever-so-gently to the vision of self-slaughter. It was the love/hate dance we all share, only mine was pretty much an unending hate-fest. If the sun rose, I wanted to die. If a breath emanated from my lips, I thought of little but the grave. I existed, yes, and that was fine, but I couldn’t help but wonder about its polar opposite. Was there an afterlife? A God to judge my hasty exit? A rule against ridiculing my latest haircut? Sure, suicidal despair is as natural to youth as acne and awkwardness, but as with everything we go through at that age, it always appeared to be a solitary burden. No one could possibly understand, even if everyone else in the world was thinking the exact same thing. It was sheer narcissism then and now that forces us to believe that we can show them by exiting in as dramatic a fashion as possible, when all but the hopelessly depressed and sick know that were just pissed the other guy got the girl we’ve been wanting all fucking year. Besides, I was, like so many, all talk and no action, and given my fanatical cowardice, one wonders how it all could have gone down. Left without a practical method, I simply prayed I wouldn’t wake up in the morning.

Still, I’m convinced that greatness and suicidal thoughts go hand in hand, though by my own definition, that would mean every single human being under the age of eighteen is a budding genius. So I speak only to my specific burden. And why not? No one understood me, I spoke too much truth, my individuality couldn’t handle the rush to conform, and on and on it went, until I was convinced that I alone had to die because the world didn’t deserve my singular brilliance. All a distraction, I assure you. Like everything youth-oriented, I wanted to die because I wasn’t getting laid. And had I gotten some, I would have wanted to die for not getting enough. Its why teenagers are inherently ridiculous. But as I ramble on towards a horribly melancholy middle age, I am again refreshed by thoughts of a permanent disappearing act. Plumb the depths, and everything is gravy by comparison. If you live each day as if its all coming apart, the days when it doesn’t will become treasured memories, moments in time where good enough was, well, a perfect fit. As a man ages, suicide is usually connected to financial woes or illness, so its still on the table for me and anyone else who hasn’t saved a dime for retirement or bothered to exercise. And thank the stars for that. When it rears its head, the image remains one not of pain, but reassurance. A way out, and on our terms. The only real power any of us retains.

 

80s-4

If You Peak at 13, Its Going to be a Long Road Ahead

October 25, 1986 was and is the greatest day of my entire life . Somehow, I knew it even then, wanting desperately to freeze it evermore as an experience that could not possibly be duplicated by the hand of man. Sure, it was amidst an eighth grade year that was otherwise monstrous in its implications for my future development, but regardless of the loneliness my Moe Howard haircut hath wrought, I had Game 6. I shouldn’t have to explain further, so I wont. If you’re thinking of another Game 6, you’re not only on the wrong page, but likely in the wrong life. There’s nothing else to challenge its supremacy, and if it seems hyperbolic to declare that long ago meeting between the New York Mets and Boston Red Sox as the greatest baseball game ever played, consider that I among a chosen few to believe it to be the greatest game of any type ever seen on planet earth. And, in typical fashion, I go further. In the end, it transcends mere sport to become the most enduring few hours ever experienced in any context or capacity. If its highs, lows, emotions, and jubilations could be bottled and sold as an elixir, disease itself would be as quaint a notion as the Pony Express. Distill the evening down to a sexual connotation, and we’d be talking about an eternal series of blowjobs by the blondest, fittest, most buxom ladies the world has ever known. Not oral sex for a few years, my man, but, like, forever. Whatever life brings, I had that. Its always there in memory, and as a DVD set if I ever start to lose my marbles.

I could go on, gushing endlessly about Mookie, Buckner, Ray Knight, and the sheer impossibility of it all, but a larger point needs to be made. Is a life worth living when its highest peak occurred a quarter-century in retrospect? More than that, when the owner of said life acknowledges that it will never, ever get better? As in, the door to opportunity is shut tight and forever locked against any and all possibility? I’ll concede the utter despair inherent in such an admission, but what have you to offer in its stead? I could hit the lottery, I suppose, or stumble upon a town consisting of horny college chicks who need my sperm to survive, but in the realm of the realistic, what are we talking about here? A particularly striking mountain vista? A surf and turf special that sets new standards for each? Something else with bacon? I’m just not seeing it. Game 6 has it all beat, with something left over for the afterglow. I’m aware of the implications for my own state of affairs, but back then, I was a true believer. This wasn’t just some way to kill an evening for the casual observer, but the Gettysburg of ball games for the die hard, true blue devotee. I loved the Mets like you love your kid, only mine doesn’t shit the bed when everything is on the line. A mere two years removed from a time when I came as close as I ever had to ending my life because I was on the wrong end of a football game. Only this time, there was victory. A shared moment. A love affair of Shakespearean dimensions, with the additional burden of having to carry a life. Mission accomplished.

 

 

80s-5

When in Doubt, Bet on Steel

Maybe 80s metal was more than just fucking and fuming disguised as music, after all. Maybe once the spandex was put away, the hairspray at last emptied, and the rumblings of the tour bus having settled into idleness, metal itself tapped into the essence of what ruled America for a century or more until the oil boom steel. It forged an empire, darkening the sky with a righteous soot only the namby-pambys considered anything other than the price of progress. From fire to furnace, steel built the great cities of the American empire, bringing us out of the dark ages of farming and into the bright light of child labor, pollution, densely packed living spaces, and substandard wages. Buts that’s just talk. Steel gave us height and breadth, weapons of war with which to conquer and civilize those who challenged our ultimate supremacy, as well as a renewed identity on the world stage. But save your nuance for the history books. The music of my youth taught me ultimate respect, obsessing over that revolutionary alloy of iron and carbon with a fanaticism that bordered on the sexual. Because it was. More than mere process, steel was the stuff of life; an orgy and flesh and flame that bonded us to the earth in a manner unseen in any previous incarnation of pop culture. Perhaps it was just the eras way of sneaking in images of muscled gentleman as a celebration of work, rather than gay sex, but even if the holy enterprise had an undercurrent of homoerotic appeal, it was a version we could believe in.

In some ways, it started with Judas Priests British Steel, but it took a return trip across the pond to make it fully real. Its an impressive list: Shok Paris Steel and Starlight, Helloweens Steel Tormentor, Anvils Metal on Metal, and the ultimate in overkill, Onslaughts Steel Meets Steel. Sure, we came back to Priest again and again, be it Metal Gods, Between the Hammer and the Anvil, or Hard as Iron, but there was always Iron Maidens Sun and Steel to keep us honest. Still, nothing quite prepared us for Manowars seminal hit, Black Wind, Fire, and Steel. Maybe it was the pairing of everything essential about heavy metal music into one orgasmic triumvirate, or its straight-faced appeal to a wind having color, but in the end, its Manowars glorious album cover that set the world back on its axis. Entitled Fighting the World, it was perhaps the heaviest heavy metal depiction of all time, and few can challenge its central conceit: that when were being honest, loud, aggressive music is about reverting to a primitive, lawless state. Be it drum or guitar, the licks and pounding reveal a quest to once again don bearskin, our glistening skin exposed to a world that retreats in quivering fear. So empowered, we channel nature itself for our ends, usually something related to destruction and the smoke-filled ash heap of our foes. Its what actual steel gave us, and what 80s metal sought to replicate. In all, a rousing success, with crippling erections as an unintended bonus.

 

80s-6

Obscurity Connotes Value

I’d like to argue that only my teenage years witnessed the battle between the popular and the obscure, but like so much that defines the human experience, I’ve failed to mature in the slightest and continue to believe that if something is well-liked, its a small step from worthlessness. A subtle way to elevate my own status as an unloved, isolated martyr? Perhaps, but in the end, I’m still fairly suspect of anyone who enjoys my company, so I’ll continue to foster the fiction that if you love it, I don’t. If it sells, it sucks. If attention is paid, my attention will be elsewhere. Juvenile, yes, but in its own way, fairly reliable. I could cite box office totals for the year of your choosing, or the life course of any random senior prom king as evidence of my thesis, but in the here and now, there’s the world of 80s metal. While Metallica was engaged in a meteoric rise that ended in wholesale humiliation, I was scanning the trades (fine, just Rip magazine) and music stores far and wide (fine, just Independent Records in Colorado Springs, CO) for any band about which only I gave a shit. Not any band would do, of course and I did find many a clunker whose appeal rarely lasted the single side of a cassette but Ill freely admit that I bent over backwards to justify my love. In the end, it was a feeder course for my smugness; a direct line into the bloodstream of privilege and anti-populism that remains unchecked to this day. As if I’d apologize.

For you, bands worthy of lackluster record sales. For me, diamonds in the rough; hot and heavy lovemaking in the shadows to show the world I was there first. And oh, the cherries I popped back in the day: Meliah Rage, Whiplash, Artch, Laaz Rockit, Kick Axe, Shok Paris, Sword, Wrathchild America, Forbidden, Faith or Fear, Forced Entry, Destruction, Lucy Brown, and Sanctuary, to name a few. Mine, like a toddler with a candy bar, and goddamn us all if album sales soared into the dozens. Sure, there was an Impaler or two, or an embarrassing foray into Fishbone territory with Psychefunkapus, but for every battle lost, I emerged with a 24-7 Spyz, or even a Gothic Slam. They came and went like my hopes and dreams, but each dalliance meant something, and it speaks volumes that they trip off the tongue with effortless abandon over a quarter-century since our last encounter. They were the ugly girls with personalities only I bothered to notice; the fat kid with a heart of gold who just needed a break. And had they stumbled upon a breakout video, or been a topic of heated debate among those who dabbled in metal, but failed to live the life, I would have been forced into a reassessment that had but one possible outcome. My partner in crime during those years was allowed a peek behind the curtain, but no one else. It would only confuse you. Standard lyrics and themes, perhaps, from alienation to the rottenness of the whole enterprise, but too much for a silly sort better suited for mindless celebration. Self-indulgent brooding rarely translates across party lines, and my party was a solo affair.

 

80s-7

Satanism is Just Another Word for Self-Empowerment

Given another stab at youth, I probably would have been a Satanist. It seemed a silly stretch at the time, especially when my eventual atheism disallowed a belief in either God or the devil, but in retrospect, it might have solved more problems than it would have helped create. Despite the hysterical headlines, and all the talk of animal sacrifice, child molestation, and late-night vandalism, Satanism was, at least during the 1980s, little more than an avenue for ugly kids to get laid. Like Libertarianism today, only with a more reasonable philosophical bent. You could renounce God and Jesus and morality all in one shot, with the added benefit of having a suicidal chick suck you off during some backwoods ritual. At worst, you had to endure stoned conversations about backwards message and the like, but it was more likely you’d turn on some tunes, turn down the lights, and get to kissing with unparalleled fervor. Who couldn’t support that? The devil thing was always added for shock value, and I’m not certain even King Diamond gave a shit in the end. Beelzebub was there for color and a bit of spice, perhaps only to let mom and dad know that if the allowance ever stopped, someones throat might get slit. Not that I’m making threats, mind you. In that sense, it was like a shot of courage to get through a day. A self-help course to survive high school. The dark lord of the underworld as my own personal Tony Robbins.

Yes, I know Black Sabbath once crooned, There’s no escaping the power of Satan. I also know that Exodus openly screeched, My God is Lucifer, as if announcing a run for the White House. But they only wanted the youth to pay attention. Non-conformity is inspiring, as well as good business, as the demands to be your own man were getting stale. There are only so many ways to say I want what I want when I want it, as KISS has more than demonstrated over a 97-album career. Add a dash of the devil, and the kids can be even more defiant. Be strong, be honest, and chart your own course: perhaps the antithesis of Satanism according to Biblical precepts, but at the end of the day, exactly what it all means to a 14-year-old with bad skin. Unfortunately, I wasn’t exactly ready for prime time, and to this day, I’m still a little scared to listen to the entirely of Slayers Hell Awaits, but as I think back, I’m not sure I could have handled guilt-free anal under a blood-tinged moon. I’m not exactly one for ritual, at least not the kind that asks for a change of clothes and copious dancing. But lets at last put to bed any notion of Satanism being a threat to the republic. At its core, Satan merely asked you to keep your chin up and not take any shit. Pretty reasonable, and more than attractive to a kid on the edge. Better that than Gods undying message: apologize for everything, live in fear, and die anyway.

About Matt

Matt is the site’s Longest Serving Critic and chief misanthrope. He divides his time between classics of cinema and the most ridiculous movies he can find on Redbox.
Follow Matt: @mattcale52