A couple of months ago, I was at one of those fancy industry shindigs I sometimes
am forced to go get to go to, since I’m, y’know, the most important person in metal. My choice of attire for the evening, I admit, was not what “traditionally” metal in any sense — I was wearing blue pants, a matching cardigan, and a tan shirt. It wasn’t long before someone fairly prominent within the industry walked over to me, told me I stuck out like a sore thumb, and questioned my very metalness.
I smiled politely and walked away. The suggestion that the way I dress means I am not an authentic metal fan is, in a word, nonsense.
See, I’ve recently made a very conscious decision to change the way I dress. At some point last year, I looked in the mirror and realized that at age 37, I was still wearing the same sorts of clothes I wore when I was 17: jeans, sneakers, and a band’s shirt upon which there was either a monster, a swear word, or a swear word and a monster. And I decided this wasn’t good… for me. (Which is to say, I’m not judging others who choose to rock this look. More on that in a moment.)
And why, pray tell, was this bad for me? Well… as is the case for so many of us, I’ve long struggled with anxiety and depression. At some point, it occurred to me that a lot of those issues, although perhaps chemical/biological at their base, were being exacerbated by feeling like I was still a kid. Something dramatic would happen in my personal life or professional life, or I’d realize I hadn’t properly kept track of my finances and was just about broke, or I’d get sick, or whatever whatever whatever, and I’d start to feel panicky and ill-equipped to deal with the matter at hand. My first instinct was often to call my father for advice, which was problematic, because my father no longer takes my phone calls on account of the fact that he has been dead for eight years. In other words, I would regress, and like any child, I would feel desperate for an adult to tell me what to do.
It has taken — and continues to take — a lot of work on my part to combat these feelings. But something that I found IMMENSELY helpful — again, for me personally — was to “dress like an adult,” for lack of a better description. Looking in the mirror and seeing someone who looked like a full-grown man with a “respectable” job, a sensible diet, and a 401(k), and not a high school kid, helped remind me that I am a full-grown man, and that helped lessen, if not altogether eliminate, my feelings of dread and helplessness. Embracing aesthetic change was key to embracing psychological change. I mean, it’s not like I’m walking around in a goddamn tuxedo — I just look a lot more like a member of Between the Buried and Me than a member of Cognitive.
I didn’t throw away any of my metal merch (I’ll horde that shit ’til the day I die). I do still wear it when the mood strikes me. But I no longer wear it on a daily or near-daily basis. Even when I wear t-shirts, they rarely have any kind of design on them. I do still buy merch from time to time to support bands I love, but a) whereas I used to wear merch immediately upon buying it, now it goes into the general collection and will be worn whenever I feel like it, and b) if there’s a merch item I can purchase that isn’t clothing, all the better (for whatever reason, I have no problem sipping coffee from a Lake Bukkake mug the way I do wearing my Lake Bukkake threads on a regular basis).
Which brings me back to that original diss about how the way I dress somehow denotes the earnestness of my fandom.
This is the defining parallel of heavy metal: it’s about non-conformity, only not really. Go to any metal show and you’ll find yourself surrounded by a sea of people who are dressed more or less the same way. Which makes sense, despite the constant emphasis on rebellion. No one wants to feel alone. Everyone wants to belong. And one really easy way to feel like you belong is dress the same way as a lot of other people. So of course everyone at a metal show will be wearing some variation of the same outfit.
But the idea that one has to have long hair and tattoos and torn jeans and a Mortician shirt to be a metal fan is completely dated. It’s been twenty-four years since the metal community busted Metallica’s balls for cutting their hair (and in case you haven’t noticed, the metal community lost that fight). But somehow, tr00 kvltists still refuse to take artists like Killswitch Engage’s Adam Dutkiewicz, Periphery, and Deafheaven seriously just because of the way they look. I’ve even seen people online take swipes at Devin Townsend for abandoning his skullet-and-death-metal-shirt look. It’s absurd! When Kim Kardashian is rocking a Morbid Angel shirt, the very idea of a Morbid Angel shirt as a signifier of fandom is obsolete. (Again, that’s not a knock on Morbid Angel — simply a statement of fact: the era of being able to assume that someone actually likes the band whose merch they’re wearing is long over.)
For metal to truly be the open-minded, progressive form of music it claims to be — for it to actually practice what it preaches — it has to welcome anyone and everyone. It has to say, “Hey, dress however you like.” Do you wanna wear all black and cover your flesh in tattoos and your face in piercings? Go for it! Do you wanna dress like you just stepped out of a Banana Republic catalogue? Go for it! Heshers, corpse painters, preppies, so-called “hipsters,” those adorned in battle vests and those adorned in leather and those adorned in JNCOs… hell, even Juggalos!… all must be welcome.
Otherwise, metal is completely full of shit, and what the fuck are we even talking about?
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