I’ve been listening to metal since I was about eight years old. No one got me into it. It was something I found completely on my own, and for a little while I thought I was the only one in the world who knew what it was. Which is super dumb because obviously someone had to make those albums.
The first time I ever had any exposure to it was at a church fair. There was a row of games and one of them was a deal where you threw darts at balloons. If you popped three with five attempts, you won one of those mirrors that kids used to put in their lockers. I actually won. After a quick look around I spotted one with the art work for Iron Maiden’s Somewhere in Time. It was the first time I’d ever seen anything as cool. I didn’t even know it was related to a band.
Up until about a month before the fair, I had been living as a shut in with my grandmother and the only music I ever heard was country on The Nashville Network. She had the TV on more or less 24/7 and it never came off that channel except for a few glorious hours on Saturday morning when I would rot my brain and teeth with cartoons and Captain Crunch cereal. I knew cartoon time was over when Soul Train cam on. I had to turn the TV back to TNN, so I never got to see any of the cool stuff from that show until much later.
This church fair was about three blocks from my mom’s house and I think it might’ve been the first thing I ever walked to by myself. The church itself was Episcopalian and used to throw all kinds of wild shit to get people to come in. One group they hosted was called the Power Team. It was a crew of bodybuilders that did old time strong man tricks and circus gimmicks to impress upon the young or mulleted how powerful Jesus was.
It was quite a show, but when they called people to come to the stage and accept the Lord, I just sat in the pew by myself and watched everyone raise their hands and totally freak the fuck out. It wasn’t that I was some sort of atheist protege (I’m actually sort of religious in my own way, which I don’t often talk to people about); I had read quite a bit of the Bible by then and the whole affair seemed to be in direct violation of Matthew 6:5-6
And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.
Nowadays I’d be totally into some shit like that. I think one of the major uses for faith is that it works like motivational nitrous, boosting your resolve when you need it. I even have this weird practice where I silently repeat the Lord’s Prayer before I work out. I don’t think it boosts your testosterone or anything, but I find some comfort in it.
Back to the mirror. The carny handed it over encased in a cardboard frame and I sat down in some grass and stared at it intensely. Lights from the rides behind me flashed on the reflective parts of the mirror, creating an almost magical flickering flame effect. The ride nearest to me was The Scrambler. The operator was blasting the craziest music I had ever heard. Eventually I would find out the song playing was Metallica’s Four Horsemen, written by Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine while he was still in the band.
It would be a few more months before I even discovered Iron Maiden was a band. My younger cousin was always an earlier adopter of cool shit than me and he got his mom to take us to a record store called Warehouse Records and Tapes in Metairie, Louisiana’s booziest neighborhood, Fat City.
Warehouse Records and Tapes was where I learned about Iron Maiden. I wish I could say it was my first album, but that was actually an album by The Highwaymen (a supergroup with Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Kris Kristofferson). On this trip I finally saw a cassette tape of Somewhere in Time. I didn’t know what it was, but my mom bought it for me and I took it home and listened to it. I became completely transfixed.
Over the summer I went back to Warehouse Records and Tapes as much as I could. The clerk had a goofy poodle haircut and he would recommend different bands for me to try. When I get into something, I usually become completely obsessed. I bought every single Iron Maiden album before I even tried to listen to anything else. After Iron Maiden, I got in to Metallica and after Metallica it was Megadeth.
This was right in the middle of the “Satanic Panic” and for some reason my mom wouldn’t let me own a Slayer album because it had a pentagram on it. I could never figure out why that was an issue since she bought Number of the Beast for me.
Eventually I discovered Headbanger’s Ball on MTV and my knowledge grew. It wasn’t all positive, hair metal was ascendent and I ended up with an enormous KISS tape collection along with some really questionable shit like Poison and RATT, which are kind of cool now, but definitely false metal.
By the time school rolled around I was deeply into heavy metal. The only shirts I owned were Iron Maiden T-shirts and when I went to class I was in an unenviable position of being hated on by normal kids for being a freaky Satan worshipper and completely ignored by cool kids who thought I was a poser because of my Coke bottle glasses, hick accent, and short bowl hair cut. Fortunately I was never really afraid mouthing off or fighting back, so most of them moved on to softer targets.
One day a really pretty girl who hung out with the metal head hoodlums in my school said, “cool shirt.” I just about passed out and immediately crushed out on her. The concept of a girl liking Iron Maiden was one I hadn’t considered and it blew my mind. The fact that there are tons of hot girls at metal shows now still blows my mind. I think I may have fallen in love with Mrs. Lott when I visited her apartment for the first time and saw an enormous amount of dark music, including the majority of Slayer’s discography. She’s definitely a keeper, even if she hates Chevy stepside trucks.
I still listen to metal. There’s never been a better time for it. You still have all the classics as well as incredible new shit coming out all the time. I probably love the Southern metal like EYEHATEGOD and Pantera the best, but all the new shit like Mastodon and The Sword crushes it too. It’s a great time to be alive, brutal, and evil.