Ask Andrew W.K.: Headbanging Is an Art

Allow your head to bang you.
Allow your head to bang you.
Photo by Rick Day

[Editor's note: Every Wednesday, New York City's own Andrew W.K. takes your life questions and sets you safely down the right path to a solution, a purpose, or — no surprise here — a party. Need his help? Just ask: AskAWK@villagevoice.com]

Dear Andrew,

While you've touched on some more serious issues, there's one issue that's been on my mind for some time. Sometimes when I'm partying, I feel the need to headbang. I must do it! The release I get from headbanging brings me a lot of joy, but there's one major problem...I always end up getting a sore neck afterwards! Am I headbanging wrong, or am I just partying too hard?

Yours truly, The Wolf

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Dear The Wolf,

You're not headbanging incorrectly or partying too hard — instead, you're probably not headbanging or partying hard enough.

You see, headbanging is an art form, and just like painting or ballet, it requires dedication, practice, and, above all, a level of enthusiasm and passion that emerges from the soul and travels through the body. That passion enables you to rise to the heights required for mastery of the art. Headbanging also requires a large amount of letting-go and a willingness to turn one's self over to the exhilaration of just letting your body move you, instead of you always moving your body.

The feeling of a good headbang is difficult to describe. It's a high-contrast combination of rage, excitement, calm, happiness, anger, dizziness, clarity, and an otherworldly sense of power. There are moments while headbanging where everything about life seems to make sense — a glimpse of truth in the midst of a euphoric physical high point — where you really feel on top of the world and completely free. It feels like you can destroy any obstacle, as long as you headbang your way through it.

I remember the first time I really, truly headbanged. I had tried earnestly shaking and slamming my head to music a few times before, but I could never quite keep it going. I'm not saying there's really a wrong kind of headbanging, but I definitely remember the moment I had a kind of headbang breakthrough, and I could bang my head with a new kind of flowing intensity. It felt like I had suddenly figured out how to fly — like all along, being able to headbang had just required my accessing some part of my body that was previously just out of reach. Like figuring out how to cross your eyes, or wiggle your ears — once you've discovered the muscles, you can locate them again more easily each time.

That's how it was with headbanging — all of a sudden it just clicked. I no longer had to try and bang my head. Instead, I just allowed my head to bang me. I let my skull move my whole body back and forth. In fact, when I really got it figured out, it felt like my head was the only thing not moving, and my entire body and the entire planet were moving around me as my head stayed still at the center of it all — kind of like when you strap a camera to a pole and attach it to your head, aiming at your face — your head looks completely solid while the world around it pivots. That's what headbanging feels like to me.

The sore neck muscles are just like any sore muscle that you haven't been using that way or that often. When I first figured out how to really headbang, my neck was so sore the next day that I could barely move it. And the day after that, it was so sore I could barely talk. It was like my spine was trying to balance a boulder where my head would be. My jaw was fused to my feet — my entire skeleton was floating in someone else's body and I had turned to cement.

It was more severe than just aggravating and tearing some muscle fibers. I think I had actually liquified the tissue all around my neck and throat — my neck felt soupy, like sharp metal pulp. I not only couldn't turn my head, I couldn't lift my head up at all. I had to use my hands to keep my head from falling into my chest as I walked or sat or did anything. I thought I might have actually broken my neck. I remember the muscles were so sore that the tightness ran all the way into my eyebrows and scalp. Everything above the shoulders had been destroyed and would have to be rebuilt, but it would be rebuilt with a purpose — I had a new dedication to mastering the art of being able to effortlessly enter this headbanging joy zone. The recovery was slow and painful, but I had a mission and would not be deterred. The only solution was to be patient, consume a lot of protein shakes, and just keep headbanging more and more.

Between 1998 and 2000, all I did for exercise was headbang, slam shakes, recover, and repeat. My neck size went from a 12" collar to 14" in two years. Now, all these years later, my neck size is 19" and still expanding. I recently had to get a suit for a court appearance, and when I was getting the dress shirt fitted, the guy at the store didn't understand why my neck was that of an eight-foot-tall, 400-pound man. I tried to explain it was just from headbanging, but all he did was keep asking why and glancing fearfully at my throat. My hair usually hides it, and that's probably for the best. One good thing about having a neck size almost double the norm is that I can fit a lot more food and drink down my throat at once. And people can't strangle me as easily. But it is hard to button that top button.

Now, some people have said that headbanging is bad for you. They say it causes brain damage and kills brain cells. All I can say is this: The parts of my brain that have been damaged by headbanging are the parts that I didn't need anyway. Headbanging killed the brain cells that made me feel sad and depressed, that made me think that life sucked. Headbanging gave me a lobotomy and left behind only the good parts of my brain. The bad parts of my brain flowed out of my nose and out of my life. Headbanging saved my life.

So my advice to you is to just keep headbanging. If you take too much time off, your neck muscles will get soft and weak again and you'll have to start all over and get real sore each time you headbang. I don't really get sore anymore, because I headbang at least twice a day. It's just part of life for me now, and it's something that has truly made everything better. I can count on it — waves of joy whenever I want — all I have to do is bang my head to the music I love. How often can you find something in life that so reliably makes you feel amazing? Headbanging is absolutely one of the best things about being alive for me, and I truly mean that. I'm so glad you are in love with it too. Keep on headbanging and really harness that feeling of power it gives you. If more people in the world could feel this good and powerful from just banging their heads, I really think the world would be a happier place.

Your friend, Andrew W.K.

Read all of Andrew W.K.'s advice columns here.



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