As I watch (or re-watch, as the case may be) the movies for this project, I usually only make it through half of any given commentary, since the time starts getting out of hand.  But I re-watched This is Spinal Tap, then listened to the entire commentary with the lead actors.  It’s a testament to the film, as well as the pure entertainment value of hearing Michael McKean, Christopher Guest and Harry Shearer riff of one another.  And this is coming from someone who’s never cared for heavy metal — or rock ‘n’ roll — much at all.

(Currently on the headphones, Battles, Mirrored.)

I had most of my exposure to heavy metal at an early age, in middle school and high school.  I listened mainly to the radio, and every now and then, a track slipped onto the airwaves.  Quiet Riot, Ratt, Twisted Sister, Whitesnake, Guns ‘n Roses, Skid Row — ambassadors from a louder and shreddier world.  I viewed them then as I view nipple clamps today:  sure, I know people like it, and, sure, I know it’s a different lifestyle.  I can also understand why it’d be popular, but I, myself, would simply prefer not to be exposed to it.  My eardrums, like my nipples, just can’t take much punishment.

But during middle school, one of my best friends was a metal head.  Her name was Jenny, and she had frizzy brown hair that only semi-poofed away from her head.  They were like a pair of wings that hadn’t yet fully deployed.  We weren’t friends that hung out after school or went to movies together; instead, we were the “in school” friends who’d sit near each other during class and pass notes back and forth.

My own musical tastes had not yet ossified:  at the time, I still took piano lessons, and classical music made up the majority of my listening repertoire.  I had made tentative steps in other directions — my brother, for instance, had years before to pop-soul — but I never pursued these avenues.  (True story:  a few months ago I woke up with Maxine Nightingale’s “Lead Me On” stuck in my head.  I had to look it up the next day.)  What heavy metal knowledge I lacked, Jenny filled in for me.

On the cover of her spiral notebooks, she faithfully reproduced, in pen, with appropriate shading and thunderbolts (if necessary), various band logos.  “Who’s Stryper?” I asked.

“Stryper.  You know Stryper,” she said.  Her fingers formed the metal salute:  the thumb and forefinger in an L, the pinkie extended.  “To hellllll with the devil!” she sang.

She wore concert black t-shirts with iron-on decals of Poison album covers, the colors so bright they might have been radioactive.  She told me about the episodes of Headbangers’ Ball that I had missed on MTV:  “Last night, it was ‘Rockin’ with Dokken.'”

This was the first time, perhaps, that I realized that music was not merely something you listened to — it was an identity.