Heavy metal is a violent, head-banging music complete, in its live performances, with its own arena of rage and celebration, the slamdancing pit. It is a music in the red corner of society, loud, angry, and, to most adult ears, practically intolerable. And yet, the art form radiates a message about American adolescents well worth examining and comprehending: Its devotees, primarily adolescent boys, are alienated from their world and angry about its future. Heavy metal speaks throbbingly the message of rage, loneliness, and cynicism.
In this sensitive book, Jeffrey Jensen Arnett synthesizes the stories and experiences of seventy male and thirty-eight female "metalheads" in a successful attempt to understand the often alienating results of a society that exalts an ever more extreme individualism. The vacuum such an atmosphere creates in the individual can be temporarily obliterated by a heavy metal concert, which Arnett sees as a substitute manhood ritual. This conclusion is just one of the many striking hypotheses the author advances in this dynamic study of a music and its followers.
Of the more than one hundred metalheads interviewed for this volume, nine are featured in the profiles preceding each chapter -- the reader becomes fully acquainted with Jack, for instance, and with the multiple crosses decorating his body, his black rose tattoo, and his tumultuous family life; and with slim and well-groomed Jean, dressed entirely in black, her favorite color, and wearing the temperament of withdrawal.
This is a unique study filled with compassion for a disenfranchised subculture and the respect of a desire to understand it.
Jeffrey Jensen Arnett is associate professor of human development and family studies at the University of Missouri at Columbia.