I’ve not done any research on the topic, but I contest that humans are invested with a deep evolutionary connection to music. Maybe, more accurately, we are connected to sounds — sounds as warning signs, sounds as a guides, sounds as methods of communication — and from that connection we developed music.
As pattern-seekers, it seemed inevitable that we would organize sound to our own ends, mainly in developing language and, of course, music. In so doing, we set in motion the thing that we all understand. We may have a difficult time deciphering foreign languages, but we all know what is being conveyed when music is playing.
Music, indeed, has always helped me convey that things I could never say. As a child, I would spend full days alone in my room, listening to the radio, recording songs, making mix tapes from vinyl records. As I became a more proficient musician, I began writing and recording my own songs. Now, as a full-time musician, I look back on my childhood with reverence and longing. And I am thankful that my parents allowed me to listen to anything and everything.
They bought me KISS albums when I was 5. When I asked for Iron Maiden’s “Number of the Beast” for Christmas in 1982, it was there, under the pagan tree. My dad took me to my first Iron Maiden concert, and my parents took me to my first two Van Halen concerts. And my mom sat through the entire Studio 54 destruction video, watching Exodus, Venom and Slayer perform.
Warning: This video opens with language some parents might find inappropriate for children.
Metal has always been a part of my musical life — from that day in 1975 when I first heard KISS Alive I. And I can honestly say, in many ways it has made me a better musician and, oddly, a better person. Here are five reasons I think all kids should listen to metal.
Children are aggressive by nature. More evolution, I guess. But as parents, we have a tendency to discourage aggressive behavior. Sometimes we allow kids to channel that aggression into sports, but that comes with a host of emotional baggage. Yeah, kids learn about the competitive spirit and sportsmanship, but they are also saddled with that whole winning thing, not to mention the unreasonable expectations of a dad who is living vicariously through his child.
As a kid, I never got into fights, but I broke a lot of stuff. Guitars, model cars, windshields of cars. I spent a brief time vandalizing property, though it was minor and didn’t last too long. The moment I experienced a full aggression release was at my first hardcore show in college. It was 1985, a triple bill with Hellwitch, Agnostic Front and Corrosion of Conformity. Holy hellhammer, I was delighted to be skanking and moshing with abandon, but found that, in weird way, the violence was communal and fairly innocuous.
I imagine that if children were afforded this kind of release, in a controlled environment, they’d have a much easier time managing aggression in more delicate social settings. They do it anyway, wrestling in the front yard, jumping on each other at the public pool, and sometimes bullying their classmates. My suspicion is, if those same kids were in a pit together, they may find some common ground, digging the music and the tribal experience of the mosh.
This may fall into the aggression category, but lists of four always seem incomplete. Moreover, aggression and speed may be bunkmates, but they are not inseparable. Kids like going fast. In cars, down slides, on thrill rides. They love to run, ride bikes and skateboard. The fast subgenres of heavy metal — speed metal, blast metal, thrash metal — allow for this in the auditory landscape. Of course, some kids will use this as an excuse to get crazy, and good for them. Others, though, will listen to what is happening, and the musicians among them will appreciate the skill and technique required to execute at such high speeds.
Too often, as kids (and adults) we ignore our dark sides. This is how serial killers and politicians are created — by allowing all that darkness to fester inside, rather than addressing it and managing it. How often have we told our kids it’s OK to feel like you hate something. It’s OK to think about doing nasty things. It’s natural.
Rarely do we say those words. So we rarely have a chance to follow up with …
What isn’t good is acting it out, thus hurting others and ourselves. Indulging our dark sides by watching horror films, reading ghost stories and, yes, listening to metal, can help kids come to terms with the evils of humanity (which are, in truth, out-of-control evolutionary tendencies) and learn how to deal with it constructively.
So many kids consider childhood and adolescence a battlefield, attempting to find themselves amid the expectations of parents and teachers while trying to navigate the desires of similarly lost classmates and friends. Yes, I played organized sports and joined clubs throughout school, but I found real acceptance — and made my closest friends — through music. Part of that was listening to metal.
Look, metal is fun … and , better yet, it’s funny. Metalheads can take themselves way too seriously, and we need outfits like Spinal Tap and Deathklok to remind us that it is, at its core, just another way to have a good time. Kids could take a lesson from this, too. We have to learn to poke fun at ourselves. Life is hard enough as it is. When egos get in the way, everyone loses. Let’s have some fun, shall we? Crank up some metal and mosh. Around the house, on the sofa, on the trampoline.
And don’t forget to laugh.