A Heavy Metal Concert: The Sensory Equivalent of War
Heavy metal is, as much as anything else, an arena of gender, where spectacular gladiators compete to register and affect ideas of masculinity, sexuality, and gender.
-- heavy metal scholar Robert Walser,Running with the Devil
The death of a culture begins when its normative institutions fail to communicate ideals in ways that remain inwardly compelling. . . . At the breaking point, a culture can no longer maintain itself as an established span of moral demands. Its jurisdiction contracts; it demands less, permits more. Bread and circuses become confused with right and duty. Spectacle becomes a functional substitute for sacrament.
-- Philip Rieff,The Triumph of the Therapeutic
You must wait in line to enter the concert arena, along with the pilgrims. There are several lines leading into the arena, but every person who enters must be frisked to make sure he is not attempting to smuggle in alcohol or photography equipment. It is quite cold outside, being early March in the Midwest, but few people seem to mind. Their thoughts are on the spectacle to come and on past spectacles. You hear their comments. "Did you see these guys last year?" someone says, presumably referring to the headline act for the evening, the heavy metal band Iron Maiden. "It was great!" His companion says regretfully that he missed that show, but he offers similar praise for a Metallica concert he attended.
Most of the concertgoers waiting to enter are young males (about 90 percent of the crowd), in their teens and early twenties. You see a few who look younger, surprisingly young, perhaps nine or ten years old, and a few others who are clearly adults, middle-aged. Some of these adults you will recognize later on during the show, reading, smoking, and chatting in the lobby, avoiding the noise to the extent possible and waiting to escort their children home.
At last you enter the lobby, which is warm with activity. The action is centered around the concession stands, where t-shirts ($18-20), programs ($10), and other items bearing the logos of Iron Maiden or Anthrax are being sold. The young "metalheads" (as they call themselves; also known as