Sunday, January 9, 2011


My brother was a music fan before I was. Perhaps in most families it is the older brother who introduces the younger brother to the wonderful world of radio stations and LPs—I mean CDs—I mean MP3s—but in this regard I failed Scott. He was the first one to tune in our clock radio to KFRC so we could listen to Dr. Don Rose, and he was the first one to ask for record albums for birthday and Christmas gifts.

Scott knew musical genres and the names of the members of many groups. His knowledge was encyclopedic. At the end of each year we’d spend an entire day writing down the entries as the KFRC disc jockeys played the top 100 songs of the past twelve months. Scott would know all of them.

All I contributed to the relationship was tying him up in the front yard with the hose and sometimes pretending he was invisible when he tried to talk to me. I wasn’t a perfect older brother, but I had mastered the torture and humiliation bits.

Scott introduced our little bedroom to rock and roll, and later heavy metal. He had the Kiss album Love Gun and practically wore it out, playing it over and over again. Christine Sixteen, what a song! Almost Human! And who can forget Hooligan?

“I’m a hooligan. Won’t go to school again.”

Now that is a top quality rhyme worthy of Yeats or Poe. Or Simmons (Gene).

About the time I began tapping my toes and snapping my fingers, Scott’s tastes grew more refined. He continued listening to rock and roll but became interested in a larger variety of musical styles. I, meanwhile, grew myopic. And my music grew louder. All I listened to was the head banging stuff. It very well may have been the case that I was trying to annoy society, a popular activity of some youth.

There was some hope that I would grow out of my interest in heavy metal. Evidence included the fact that most of its fans appeared to be juvenile miscreants, and even as a juvenile miscreant I perhaps had larger goals for myself. Certainly the typical fan IQ had to be somewhere south of average. When I started going to concerts (AC/DC, WASP, Judas Priest, Triumph, Ozzy) you might have thought that the youthful audience, as a representative sub-group of the larger “future of America” crowd, spelled doom for our society.

Fifty-year-olds weren’t going to the concerts I was going to. They certainly weren’t standing in the same aisles at Tower Records as I was. The older folks buying the easy listening and the classical music had grown up with such tunes and had stuck with them. It was familiar, which is probably what happens to most people. You are fond of what you remember from your youth.

Hence my current predicament.

Except sometimes musical tastes change. It could be maturity, or a wiser ear, or you are fond of someone who likes something different. There appears to be ample evidence that with maturity comes a more refined musical sensibility. Sure, Scott achieved this when he was still a teenager, but there was hope I’d do the same. Heavy metal was seen as kids’ folly, accused of being loud and nasty and not very musical.

This hoped-for maturity didn’t happen in my twenties, though. I bought a three-inch spiked leather wristband and a silver rat earring. I hung up a poster of Gene Simmons in my bedroom. I made home videos with my friend James, lip synching to Mötley Crüe and Van Halen.

It didn’t happen in my thirties either. I made compilation tapes of the best metal from my record collection for my brother-in-law and sent them to North Carolina, trying to spread the word to the uninitiated. I played the freeze dance with my children as we listened to Marilyn Manson.

It thus far hasn’t happened in my forties. I have inculcated an appreciation for the music in my son, and my daughters know enough about it to impress their friends. When Kelsey was in middle school she knew a kid who wanted to be my best friend because I knew who Dream Theater was.

Now I’m not far from fifty. I saw Iron Maiden in concert last May and have recently downloaded Otep and Sevendust onto my iPod. To quote Slipknot’s 2008 album, in regards to my lack of maturity, “All hope is gone.” It just doesn't appear that I am going to “grow up” and change my musical preferences. I listen to choral music when Kristin sings, and I can tolerate just about any kind of tune (at least for a little while).

But to quote Popeye, “I yam what I yam.”

I was the oddball when I was listening to the heavy metal noise as a teenager. I guess I’ll be the oddball doing the same when I’m an old man.

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