I grew up in the eighties, but I didn’t listen to what is today considered “80s music” until the latter half of the 1990s. Although there were a few notable exceptions, like the Beastie Boys, along with the Dead Milkmen and The Violent Femmes, both of which my sister introduced to me, and Suicidal Tendencies, I didn’t listen to many of the iconic bands of the 1980s. Instead, during most of the 80s and early 90s, I was listening to heavy metal music. I listened to an awful lot of Iron Maiden, Anthrax, Metallica, and Guns N’ Roses. I also enjoyed Motley Crue, Poison, Cinderella, Twisted Sister, Megadeth, Ozzy Osbourne, WASP, Dokken, and more. I stayed up late with friends to watch MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball as often as possible. I loitered around music stores looking for new cassette tapes or posters to purchase. And I tried to see as many big-name concerts as I could.
Telling StoriesOn the whole, I wasn’t interested too much in bands or music that were focused on sex, drugs and rock-and-roll. Of course, large portions of the heavy metal catalog are filled with nothing but songs about sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll, and some of the lasting anthems from that genre can’t be avoided. Similarly, I wasn’t particularly interested in bands that I perceived as mean spirited or overly aggressive (though I did thoroughly enjoy listening to Rigor Mortis when I discovered them).
I always liked bands and songs that expanded my horizons, and gave me something more than just a catchy refrain or a powerful guitar riff. Iron Maiden was always one of my favorite bands because many of their songs told stories which I found to be interesting, and inspired me to go beyond the music. I memorized all of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner because I so enjoyed the Iron Maiden song based on that poem. I read books on ancient Egypt after listening to Iron Maiden’s Powerslave. They also have a song about Frank Herbert’s Dune; and their Seventh Son of Seventh Son is a concept album that sparked a lot of my own ideas.
Although Iron Maiden was probably the most influential in terms of my exploration of themes and source material for their songs, they were by no means the only band that told stories with their music. I was introduced to the Cthulhu mythos by “The Thing that Should Not Be” by Metallica. Anthrax wrote a number of songs about Stephen King novels, most of which I had already read, so I was immediately able to appreciate the musical adaptations. Other bands sang about stories and movies with which I was not familiar, and was prompted to seek them out.
The BandAs with most teenagers into heavy metal music, it was always my dream to be in a band. My inspiration was Steve Harris, bassist for Iron Maiden. I knew I wanted to play bass, and never had much interest in guitar, drums, or singing. My parents purchased for me a bass guitar and a cheap amplifier, and signed me up for bass guitar lessons at the local music store. I didn’t apply myself very hard to the lessons, and the instructions never really stuck with me. I’m deeply regretful that I didn’t try harder, as I would love to have some inkling of musical ability today.
Needless to say, my aspirations of being in a band were relatively short-lived. Interestingly enough, though, I recently learned that my dabblings with bass guitar are directly responsible for my friend Andy’s success in various bands through the years. At a recent housewarming party of his, he confided to me that he has always remembered sitting in my room watching me play a few Iron Maiden bass lines, and he can clearly point to that moment as his own inspiration for learning to play bass, which later led him to be the front man for various acts over the years. I have only the vaguest of memories of Andy hanging out with me while I played bass, but I’m glad that my own absolute failure to carry on provided some impetus for him to succeed!
DiversifyingIn college, I was introduced to industrial music, to which I took an immediate liking. It shared much of the same styles and themes as the metal I had grown up with, and I appreciated the intellectual quality of many of the songs. And of course, with cross-over bands like Ministry, it’s easy to blur the lines between industrial and metal. Industrial music exposed me to gothic music, and some of the slower-tempo music of the day (it also exposed me to techno and dance music, though that wasn’t the kind of stuff I would often listen to on my own).
It was also during the latter portion of my college years that I finally began to listen to, and appreciate, the iconic 80s bands. This was largely because Mean Mister Mustard’s, my favorite college bar, had a fantastic 80s Night regularly attended by many of my friends: I couldn’t help but learn to like the music! Most of my friends were intimately familiar with the music played at 80s Nights, because they had actually listened to it all when it was new music. It took me a little while to warm up to the songs, but soon enough I knew them as well as any child of the 80s should.
It’s funny to me that both classic 80s music, as well as many classic metal songs, are now featured in commercials and the background music played in shopping malls and retail stores.
Modern MetalI don’t listen to a whole lot of new metal these days, though I’ll occasionally let last.fm play through the “metal” tag to see what’s happening. It’s entertaining to hear some of my favorite classic metals songs interspersed with new stuff I’ve never heard before. I don’t pay too much attention to the new songs, using them primarily as background to fill the silence of my office, but sometimes I’ll hear something that really catches my fancy.
Speaking of new metal, I’ve had my eye on Severed Fifth for awhile now. I know of Jono Bacon, the driving force behind Severed Fifth, through his participation in the Ubuntu community, and because his blog posts get aggregated onto Planet Ubuntu. I had the pleasure of meeting him when he was in Columbus as the keynote speaker at Ohio LinuxFest, and I spoke briefly with him about his musical project (I had asked for a sneak preview, to which he consented, but then the conference prevented me from following through). I recently downloaded the debut album, Denied by Reign, and gave it a listen. If you like hard-pounding heavy metal music, you should check it out! Plus, it’s free, so you have nothing to lose!
Here and NowMy musical tastes these days are all over the map. I still enjoy the metal I listened to in my youth, as well as the 80s music I missed. But I also listen to classics like King Crimson, Kraftwerk, Talking Heads, The Cramps, and The Sex Pistols, and newer acts like Franz Ferdinand, Death Cab for Cutie, and Cake. I rarely listen to the radio, so the music I find is almost always recommended to me. You can browse my last.fm track list to see what I’ve been listening to.
If you have any recommendations for music – new or old! – feel free to leave a comment.