- Posted September 2, 2013 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Life in the early 1980s: Style and politics
Living Metal: Headbangers and The Witch Hunters
- hhanks, CNN iReport producer
I find it so amusing when people call me a “Gen X’er” because they seem to be under the delusion that nothing happened in the 80’s. The 60’s may have woke us up from the 50’s and the 70’s exploded with a new cosmic consciousness and a sense of urban shamanic connection. But, just because we weren’t “doing it” in the middle of the road anymore, hardly means nothing happened.
As a child of the 70’s, I was too much in my own world to really pay attention to anything tangible. I played “Wonder Woman” and re-enacted the “Isis” shows under the huge, magical willow trees in our home in Fishkill, NY. We swung on tire swings in the woods, got cut, collected frogs, made music from trash can lids, and made up rules to made up games. Everyone on my little planet around me seemed to be disconnected from the immense multi-verse of my imagination where it didn’t matter that I was taller than everyone else or fatter than everyone else or weirder than everyone else. I just simply mattered. I wanted to scream, “Is this IT? Is this the big deal?!” but no one would’ve heard.
No one, except maybe Alice Cooper, that is.
I was barely 8 years old when I saw this…guy with this big, scary snake slung around his neck, singing about his body on an old 9” black and white TV in the spare room and I was completely entranced. It was the strangest, scariest, unnatural, and beautiful thing I had ever seen up until that point and I remember feeling so scared because someone might catch me watching! Would they punish me? Would they think I was crazy? I don’t know, but all I knew is that something clicked. I didn’t get it for a long, long time, but for the first time, I finally found something unreal in the real world to connect with.
If the 70’s was about “Our” voice, then the 80’s was about “My” voice. And we were loud!
Alice and Sabbath were only the beginning. As the guitars got more distorted and the vocals reached higher, the more my “nothing” generation found ourselves. The Sex Pistols, Black Flag, Dead Kennedys and the pioneers of the real punk scene – regardless of Malcolm McLaren’s blatant marketing ploys – were the bullhorns against the present society’s expectations of their youth and many of us still hold these acts in the highest respect. But, it was the emergence of Heavy Metal that touched the individuality in each of us. Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Twisted Sister, Metallica, W.A.S.P., Slayer and others didn’t put the fear of godlessness into our culture, but the fear of individuality. The hypersensitive reminisce of the peace and love movement made our elders flinch at anything they may have considered adversarial, no matter how threatening or tame.
The volume, the power, the riffs, and the screams reached into many of our lost souls who didn’t believe to be a part of the collective whole, but stood out as the stars we were and back then, and to many, that’s just dangerous. After all, if people are too displeased, they just might do something crazy like…make things change.
And that we did.
Before Marilyn Manson, there was everyone else. Rather than try to understand or even pay any kind of real attention to what was happening, members of the Moral Majority determined that the heavy metal influence was a satanic influence. Ozzy Osbourne’s infamous, “Suicide Solution” presented a prime example of the present hyper-defensive climate, as every Metalhead in the world understood that the song was written about the late Bon Scott, former lead vocalist of AC/DC. But, rather than doing any respectful research, the Moral Majority and other intimidated self-appointed and elected elders of the communal council jumped to the conclusion that the song was giving instruction on how to take one’s life. At the same token, Iron Maiden’s legendary “Number of the Beast” is a classic composition about a dream, but the voting folks just took bits and pieces of the tune, came to their own conclusions, and proclaimed them to be advocates of Satan. Fear mongering escalated nearly out of control, bringing Tipper Gore (then wife of former vice president, Al Gore) to the forefront of the anti-conformity battle, with her minions marching behind her, calling themselves the Parents’ Music Resource Center (PMRC) and they meant business.
Finger pointing wasn’t enough. They were determined that the amps had to be unplugged once and for all.
The threat became very real when record store clerks were actually arrested for carrying the incredibly controversial, pornographic 2 Live Crew records. The PMRC’s influence in congress, national publicity campaigns, and their persistence in attempting to strip the First Amendment rights away from these artists became a very real threat. Now, the Anti-Conformity movement shifted to the Anti-Censorship battle and we were all sitting on the edge of our leather seats. MTV, when they actually played music videos, kept us abreast of the developments and aired special reports such as interviewing real Satanists and asking them what they actually preferred to listen to (most of them said classical) in order to illustrate the unfounded silliness of it all.
The ugly zit finally came to a head when the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) and some our most beloved artists such as Frank Zappa and Dee Snider were brought before the SCTTC (Senate Commerce Technology Transportation Committee) in 1985 to examine the porn and violent content of heavy metal and other forms of music, which could’ve led to a bill brought before congress. As us Metalheads, the punks, rap fans, and champions of the First Amendment rights held our breaths watching the debate, clenching our fists preparing for a fight, an unexpected hero in the late John Denver took his gentle demeanor and simplistic views to the heated table and deflated their ambitions. With this, a compromise was made: Instead of taking the work completely off the shelves or proclaiming them illicit, they came up with the “Parental Advisory” label that we see today. By no means did the censorship issue die completely, but it was a great step in taking the discretion out of the government and back into the homes where it belonged.
Later, Tipper was pushed to take a back seat and step aside from her platform when the former governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton, ran for president in 1993 and chose Al Gore as his running mate for fear of losing the votes of the younger generations. He was very right to do so! Too many of us were already shot down and pushed off to begin with, and we were not about to forget or forgive how the witch hunters nearly shut us up, too.
That is not “nothing.” It may not have been sexy or pretty or glamorous or loving or sweet or tie-dye floral-let’s-all-sing-Khumbaya fabulous, but it was no less important. My generation brought the individual voices to solo within the universal harmony that our parents and grandparents fought for and everyone learned that one size does not fit all. We are all singular threads in the great tapestry and some of those threads are pumping with hormones and passion, pride, and dissatisfaction of the status quo. That is neither something to run from nor fear. But, that is not “nothing.”
We are not an “X” in history. Maybe they ran out of clever labels in the media factory or maybe they just wanted to forget, but whatever the case, that’s fine. Really. Call us or don’t call us what you will. But, you know something? Today, we’re everywhere, in everything. We raise families, build, teach, program, create, heal, pay taxes, work, play, and vote and we’re still louder than you.