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Music > Turbo Teen

No more puppetry

How Metallica helped this kid break away from stereotypes and find redemption

MT photo: Michael Jackman
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Published 7/6/2005

I was at a school fair the other Wednesday. It was an internship fair. My school prides itself on such things, so I had to be there. My internship is, you see, at Metro Times. But, I didn’t have anything exceptionally riveting to present other than my Metro Times work and that I was a huge heavy metal fan. I got some looks. I got some laughs.

After the presentations, everybody just wandered around. Two ladies came up to me, probably parents of a few classmates. I guess they didn’t know me. Most really don’t. But they seemed interested in my presentation. After a few minutes of conversation about music, one woman asked me, “Why rock?” And I could only answer: “Because that’s what took me in.”

Why do I like metal? Many of my schoolmates ask me that. But I have no idea what to say. I put on an Iron Maiden album and just understand. Music is the definition of who I am.

Would I be a different person if I liked something else? If I listened to hip hop would I not like to play guitar? If I liked pop, would I not love reading? Thinking about life without metal is scary.

How did I come from a family of R&B- and hip hop-lovers and end up longing for Morbid Angel, Iced Earth and Slayer? It’s confusing. Then again, the answers are right in front of me. I could look at it chronologically.

In the earlier years of my life, I killed for rap music. Yeah, it spoke to me, even at the age of 8. It was aggressive, harsh and unforgiving. I couldn’t buy any records then because I was 8, but I had an uncle who loved rap. He could be the guy responsible for me getting into music.

That period in my childhood was great. I knew everyone around the ’hood. I hung with them every day and was always outside.

In those days, everybody I knew listened to the same shit. I was with them. I wanted to be them. Anybody who listened to anything other than rap or R&B would have to do it secretly, or risk getting their ass kicked. It’s funny, looking back, to think that elementary school kids had rules of acceptance. I never mentioned the acceptance thing to anyone. These are the kinds of things that kill you a little inside.

Elementary school was a bitch. Since I was small in stature (and still am), I was ripe pickings for a bully. Some chose to pick on me because I was “different.” I never knew what they meant by that. I didn’t think I was different. But I wouldn’t know what that meant until a few years later.

In junior high, I went to University Preparatory Academy in Detroit (I’m now attending University Preparatory High School.) It’s a very different school. Its curriculum is built on the interests of the student instead of regular, boring school programming.

At the time, I knew I liked to write and I wanted to be basketball player (don’t ask). But I had never really succeeded in school. I was still an inner-city kid listening to rap — still emulating the rappers on TV and fronting to friends that I really liked it. But eventually it dawned on me that I was a “geek” (not my words) and I didn’t really like rap. But I didn’t know what I liked. I was just trying to be a part of something, the crowd. I was confused.

I think MTV and confused preteens form a magnetic bond, because everybody I knew my age watched it. I did too. Most of time I watched rap videos and tried to decipher some kind of clear meaning, but that was hopeless. But as I kept watching, the more I liked other musical genres.

But the only other music on MTV is horrible pop and contemporary rock. And rock just touched my confused preteen mind like nothing else. Admittedly, MTV got me into Linkin Park; it was one of my absolute faves back then (I can just sense the scorn of metalheads reading this.)

As the teen years came, I lost the lust for the street outside, and I became a shut-in. I kept my bedroom door closed and just contemplated life. Maybe I was thinking too much. I listened to Korn. The teen years put some kind of spell on me. I started going through so damn many phases. I’m pretty sure my mom often wanted to kill me.

I don’t blame her — I felt like killing myself. At school I felt betrayed. I tried to find solace in those people who didn’t give a shit. At home, after my parents (who were separated) decided it was a good idea to move back in together, I felt angry and depressed. I tried to hide it, and I don’t know how much of that anger I let go. Games, crappy music and TV are what I had. But I still didn’t feel anything. I was bored for no reason. Any joy I had was short-lived. Korn, Linkin and the Real World don’t tell you how to deal with that. Worse, I dressed all in black, wore Hot Topic jewelry and sported a grim look 24-7.

But the look and the music are just a cover-up. And my phases (and a million other teenagers’) did absolutely nothing to help me. Everybody else had “individuality” because it was placed on them through TV advertising. At this point, I understood “different” and I truly believed that I was different from every other person in the world.

Anyway, while rotting my brain with MTV’s bull, I found, luckily, Metallica. I knew nothing of them beyond their latest record, St. Anger. So, I bought what I thought was cool, which was Metallica’s 1986 thrash-metal mecca, Master of Puppets.

Master of Puppets is Metallica’s full-blown opus of pure thrash beauty, although it’s not the best record in the world. But it’s one that fucked me up, in a good way. It was an awakening. All of my troubles — school, home, parents and my own annoying feelings of self-doubt — disappeared that day three years ago. And the day I discovered Metallica will always be the day I learned the true power of music. I learned how music can speak to me. My journey as metalhead, and as a person, had finally begun.

Though Metallica put me on my way to becoming a different person, I still was overindulging in Hot Topic wear and MTV. I was still a commercial commodity. My dress was still influenced by some of the metal-punk bands (Avenged Sevenfold): studded belts, studded bracelets, belt chains, etc. I was young(er), and I wanted an identity. I wanted individuality. I wanted to stand out. But, when I think about it, I was in deep fear of that individuality. Yes, I wanted to stand out, but I didn’t want anybody to notice. Such contradictions end in confusion.

Then things began to really change. The music I listened to made me want to do something. So I learned an instrument, which I was dying to do for a long time. I picked up the bass, and I played it day and night. I now play guitar. I dress how I want to dress.

In 2002, I finally learned what the word “different” meant. I’m an African-American teenage metalhead, and that’s something you don’t see every day in Detroit’s inner city. And I write about it. And I get the looks from people in my East Side ’hood. I had wanted to be different, but not noticed. Now people notice me, but I don’t care. I’m only annoyed by the constant stares I get wherever I go. But as soon as I hear that wall of metal sound, I forgive all those judgmental people. And I can keep my sanity.

Fifteen-year-old Kent Alexander is a Metro Times intern. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

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