Been thinking about how the life and image of rockers – or at least my interpretation of it – has changed over the years.
There were so many expectations and unwritten rules when I first discovered metal. Granted, I was a teenager, I would have sniffed out the “proper” behavior in any type of community, because you were so eager to fit in. But there weren’t many female role-models, so you became one of the guys.
There were a few “rules” that I remember from back then.
1. Thou shalt not listen to any other type of music because that is extremely uncool (see list of approved bands below)
2. Thou shalt be dressed properly
A) Denim jacket or vest, alternatively leather jacket, decorated with badges, patches and large back-patch of your favorite band to gild your creation.
B) Jeans must be stone-washed, dirty and have holes at the knees. Should be as tight as possible.
C) T-shirt with any metal band, doesn’t have to be your favorite band, but no matter what you wear, you must show to the world that you are a true ROCKER (it was like a religion, metalheads were supposed to spread the gospel much like Jehova’s Witnesses…)
D) Footwear: sneakers or boots
E) Accessories: Anything with studs, any kind of studs but preferably these:
You could never ever compromise with the above if you wanted to be cool. I remember walking around in a leather jacket, covered by a denim jacket – OPEN all winter, freezing my ass off (I’m pretty sure my lips were blue and purple every winter) because it was extremely uncool to button your jacket. Probably because you couldn’t show your metal t-shirt properly if you did.
Bands that were considered cool had to be butt ugly and preferably British: Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Motorhead, Ozzy, Sabbath or even Def Leppard (their pre-Hysteria era…) or some got dispensation because they looked and sounded like brits, such as Accept or Anvil or something like that.
It just had to be “manly”, as masculine as possible. Which is why I still don’t really get how the hell MANOWAR could ever be considered the “manliest” band in the world, when they are any gay dude’s wet dream? I mean, seriously – check this out and tell me if that’s not a poster that would look great on any YMCA wall:
[Why would a straight dude want to look at another dude wearing a thong?!]
You really had to be careful what you said and did, what you wore, how you acted – because the slightest thing would make the other “disciples” think you’re not cool enough and not “a TRUE headbanger”.
Actually, some of that still lingers now, at my age (I just don’t give a crap nowadays, I sure as hell don’t need to prove to anyone how “metal” I am anymore). Like the detail that I don’t like beer. Never have, never will. “What kind of rocker are you if you don’t like beer?” is a line I’ll hear in the company of rockers if I say no to a beer.
At some point I even pointed out that metal to me is about choosing your own path, making your own decisions. How cool is it to just follow everybody else’s footsteps? If I want wine instead of beer, and have the balls to say so, regardless the comments I KNOW I’m gonna get – then who’s more metal? Drink your beer and shut up, loser. ;)
The expectations on what was required to be a rocker changed a bit in the mid-/late 80’s, but then people were divided into two groups: “Real” rockers and posers.
The so called “real” rockers were the ones who still wore their denim jackets and sneakers – and then, there was the “posers” who got into the glam-side of the genre and started spraying their hair, wear colorful clothes with glitter (preferably a neon color, pink, yellow, purple…) bandanas and (god forbid) MAKE UP!
[Still “gay”, but in a different kind of way]
As I was on the Judas Priest-side, I remember quickly taking sides against the glam era. I thought they were so embarrassing and so….sissy. I could have puked on bands like Poison, Pretty Boy Floyd or Tygertailz.
But all of that somehow merged as the years went by, because even our own heroes started looking like girls. Even Judas Priest and Whitesnake joined the band-wagon and started to bleach their hair or got bad perms.
And with bands like Skid Row or Guns n’Roses who weren’t old-school metal OR glam/sleaze, the whole scene became accessible to old-school and newbie-rockers. It’s like they were the glue that was needed to unite rockers again.
You could be, or wear, a mix between the old denim-style and whatever glittery you wanted to spice it up with. And it was cool as fuck with guys who used eyeliner and got that “I haven’t slept for three days” kind of look. It wasn’t “gay” anymore.
And speaking of gay, you realized how latently gay the rocker world really was, when Rob Halford came out of the closet. Dudes dug his S&M style for years, and women were pretty much banned in the world of metal in the early days. So you had guys strutting for other guys – and somehow they managed to call it “manly”.
Motley Crue were considered wimps when they first started to appear in magazines with their glam style. But in fact I suppose they were more “manly” than the dudes who were afraid of women back in the day. All of course depending on how you choose to define the word “manly”.
The kiss of death came with the grunge era. Suddenly, all the leather and spandex was out. The sloppy “homeless”-look was in. Baggy, plaid flanel shirts, hair mugs, the roadie-style cargo pants – all of it looked like it was from a Salvation Army dumpster.
Over night, everybody else became uncool. Unless you looked like you belonged in the gutter and listened to Nirvana or Pearl Jam, you had no right to exist in the metal world. It was the dark ages of rock in a way. Many people I knew cut their hair and desperately started looking for something else to identify with. I remember people being very confused during thir period.
The whole religion as we knew it, had been shattered. There were barely any non-grunge bands touring, all the rock clubs that had blossomed in the 80’s closed down, Headbanger’s Ball on MTV didn’t show the kind of music we liked anymore. Everything was just so depressing. The rock scene had been taken over by bands who hated themselves and wanted to die (Nirvana quote).
Eventhough metal came back even after those “dark ages”, fashion or expectations weren’t as distinctive anymore. You could look any way you damned well pleased, pretty much.
But it’s like any other religion, you want to support your beliefs, show the world who you are. So, go to any metal festival in Europe during summer-time, and you’ll notice that people still look like time stood still.
I’m still wearing rock t-shirts, but maybe to a more limited extent. I’ve ditched the denim jackets, and leather is cool to look at but it doesn’t keep you warm when it’s cold out – and when it rains.. forget it. :) Sneakers are still a part of my “rocker identity” but not because I’m trying to prove anything, I just think they are great for everything and still look cool (nowadays you can even buy them in leather and studs).
Metalheads still have the need to show who they are. We still want to be a part of the underground movement it once was, kind of like the punk era. It separates us from “the common people”. Even if we just choose a simple rock t-shirt or our true rocker jeans.
What has changed though, is that after all these years, metal has now landed a different image.Iron Maiden is no longer a band for sweaty young guys – it’s a respected, well known band that even non-rockers know. Bruce Dickinson is invited to speak on BBC news and whatnot, it would never have happened in 1983.
Ozzy is no longer the crazy, dangerous bat-eating madman, he’s the guy on TV who yells:“Sharon!! The fucking TV is stuck on the fucking weather channel!” and is a guest on “Ellen”.
Alice Cooper is seen golfing and supporting the republican party. Quite ironic that the man who has been anything but conservative with his art and music, is now a part of the establishment that would have tried to ban him twenty-thirty years ago.
Things have changed radically. Metal isn’t so shocking anymore. After the shock-rock era ofMarilyn Manson, and after the kind of old and outdated attempts by extreme death-metal bands to create headlines, metal is now almost as accepted as Bruce Springsteen.
And people listening to it don’t have as many rules to follow anymore. Look anyway you want, listen to whatever you like (cause even Bon Jovi is considered hard rock – or you can choose the crossover-bands that mix death metal with techno/pop, such as Amaranthe).
The boundaries are not as tight anymore, there’s not as much to prove as there once was. Back in the day you were fighting for your music to get recognition – but in fact, you didn’t WANT it to be mainstream. You wanted to be a part of that “misunderstood” group of people who were into metal. Because it was like a family of outsiders, and there’s just something appealing about that.
Many rockers who didn’t fit anywhere else, found their home and their identity in metal. Gave them strength in numbers, for sure. That’s probably why it’s still such a rush to be in the crowd of 20 000 people, chanting to our heroes’ classic songs, going absolutely crazy. Metal survived, through everything.
Now, when metal is on national TV (at least here in Sweden it is) it’s as if it’s not “our” music anymore. It’s become mainstream, more or less.
We are rockers and we stuck through it all. I think we’ve finally got something to be proud of. :)