I was a pretty big metal head as a teenager, as I’ve talked about before. Because when you’re a pizza-faced teenage boy in a rural Swedish town where the sun never shines and you can’t get laid to save your life, metal rules. OK? Nothing will speak to your feelings like some guy in bondage leather with a voice like an air raid siren yelling about breaking the law.
Now, the industrial little town where I grew up didn’t have black people—it was a lily-White KKK wet dream. Seeing a black person when you went to big cities like Stockholm or Gothenburg was An Event.
Even American TV and movies didn’t help. Back in those days any black person who showed up in a movie or TV series was a white person with a serious tan. Remember the Cosbys?
So obviously I had no concept of there being a black culture in America.
I also liked hip-hop. Early ’80s hip-hop. As far as I was concerned—being an ignorant little punk who’d never been anywhere—hip-hop was pretty damn metal. Same concept, right? Angry young man spewing his anger into a mic. Tomayto tomah-to.
(Deciphering what the heck LL Cool J and Schooly D were on about was a fun exercise in forensic linguistics.)
Not knowing even about the existence of black culture, I of course assumed hip-hop worked the same as metal. Meaning it’s all an act. Sure, you have this guy up on a stage screaming about how the dragon flies at NIIIIIIIIIIIGHT, but when he gets off stage, he’s just a regular guy—albeit with a tragic haircut—who talks like everybody else, goes to the grocery store, and watches Bruce Willis movies. What happens on stage is an act, and that’s cool, because everybody’s in on the act.
Right. So I figured Schooly D gets off the stage, starts talking standard English and takes off his gold chain till the next concert. This was the logical conclusion to reach based on the limited evidence I had available.
And then I ended up in Louisiana. Turns out there are a lot of black people in Louisiana, and a lot of black culture. Which is not the same as white culture. No, really, it’s true.
This was brought home one hot, muggy morning in June. It was 7:30 a.m. I was on campus early for some reason, and saw a black guy swaggering down the sidewalk, rapping along to a tune on his WalkMan loud as can possibly be, something like:
I’m that kind of N-Word
Something something N-Word
N-Word something something, yo
And I realized that, no, this is not the same as metal. LL Cool J keeps his gold chain and Kangol on at all times. Public Enemy are pissed off about The Man 24/7.
Which makes me a little sad that there’s no real metal culture where people talk about dragons and wizards all the time and never stop wearing their leathers.
The dragon flies at NIIIIIIIIIIIGHT.
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What I wish I’d known when I started podcasting.