Heavy But Healthy Metal

at 12:35 AM

I was sixteen when heavy metal grabbed me and refused to let go. Before that, bands like Megadeth and Slayer sounded like undifferentiated noise to me, but suddenly a switch had been flipped.

The music that once sounded so angry and off-putting was now the perfect counterpart to my adolescent life. Metallica's heavy riffs and Guns N' Roses' gritty sound created whole worlds I could step inside, worlds where I felt much more comfortable in my own skin than I did as a teenage girl in rural Sonoma County.

At the time, heavy metal was under attack from the likes of Geraldo Rivera, Pat Robertson and the Parents Music Resource Center. According to them, this music cast a spell over low-achieving loser kids and turned them into Satanists or violent criminals. I didn't fit that stereotype at all. I was a quiet, nerdy teenager who got good grades, did my homework and didn't act out against my parents.

But, like many teens, I was constantly awash in intense, confusing emotions. Heavy metal's epic riffs and lyrics often lifted from myth and literature helped put those emotions into context. Metal doesn't shy away from big or dark feelings. When Queensryche sang about looking into the eyes of a stranger, it was as though they understood just how chaotic and disorienting my life felt.

Loving metal and growing up so close to the epicenter of the Bay Area's legendary thrash metal scene might seem lucky. But I may as well have been living on another planet. My mom was too protective to let me travel to San Francisco for concerts.

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At least my high school was full of fellow metalheads, some quiet overachievers like me, others more overtly rebellious. None of us resembled the numbskull delinquents depicted in the press. There's good reason for that; recent studies show that intelligent teens often turn to metal to cope with the pressures of being smart.

These days, I still listen to metal almost every day, and my circle of metalhead friends is now global. Like us, the music has grown up, but it still provides a shelter when life gets rough.

With a Perspective, I'm Beth Winegarner.

Beth Winegarner is a journalist and author of a book about heavy metal, violent video games and other teen pastimes.

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