New York City is intrinsically metal. But, before we get into why: what makes anything “metal”? What does calling something “metal” mean?
Among those uninitiated into the metal “scene” (a word used mostly by journalists and not so much by the occupants of said “scene”), metal conjures images of extremely loud music played and listened to, usually, by very hairy males. Other associations may include drunkenness, drugs, the color black, and Satan. While there’s some truth in all of these points of reference, they’re really not what metal is about. In fact, they’re about as representative of the adjective “metal” as they are of New York, which isn’t populated by drunk Satanists, either. Not entirely, anyway.
Metal gets pegged as a sort of outsider culture, a place where the nerds, geeks, deviants, felons, and other such social misfits or fringe members of humanity can unite, claim a dark corner of the world to belong to, and intimidate the rest of society away. The alienated perpetuate their alienation by doing things like wearing inscrutable band logo tees and shoving each other at concerts. Again, this isn’t totally what metal is about. (Likewise, while riding the subway can feel like playing a contact sport with weirdos, there’s obviously more to New York than this.)
So, at its most basic level, what does metal mean? In essence, metal means going against the grain. It means pushing against opposition for the sake of being true to yourself. The heroes of metal are people like Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath, whose unique style as a guitarist was defined in many ways by the fact that he was missing parts of his fingers. (Talk about beating the odds.) Or Rob Halford of Judas Priest, one of the first openly gay rock stars (at least in heavy music). Or Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine–yes, even Dave “Open Mouth, Insert Foot” Mustaine–who lost the use of his left arm, was told he’d never play guitar again, and is now shredding better than before. All of these guys and countless others embody what metal is about: overcoming challenging circumstances–which can be, as metalheads say, brutal. But you know this.
Now, let’s talk New York, the city with the highest cost of living in the country and the largest population vying to survive it. It’s natural selection at its cruelest: show merely a hint of weakness, and New York will break you.
When you are down and out, or young and poor, or carrying student debt, or unemployed, or lonely, or, at any point in your life, human, this is probably the toughest place in America you can possibly be. NYC will beat you into humility and self-responsibility until, in a state of maimed ego that approaches enlightenment, fully knowing how tiny and expendable you are, maybe, just maybe, you will land a job. With this job, you may possibly, at the right time of year, qualify to cosign a lease (not singlehandedly sign, mind you) for an apartment in a neighborhood where a detective may knock on your door late at night to inquire whether anyone within was wounded by stray bullets fired across the street. This apartment will represent an accomplishment–even when your laptop gets stolen by someone who seems to have had a key.
And let’s talk about “winter.” About the snowstorm that arrives on the heels of a hurricane. About the blizzard that arrives five months later, when you thought winter was over. About the inadequacy of Duane Reade umbrellas in the rain that blows horizontally through the wind tunnel created by skyscrapers. About the underground trains which, for some reason, are affected by the elements above ground and will, without fail, stall between stations for up to hours at a time on the day you didn’t pee before leaving the office. (On that note, let’s not fail to mention the gruesome horror that is Starbucks restrooms, inexplicably the only public toilets in a city of eight million bladders.)
These aspects of New York represent the odds. Some of them.
Now look at yourself. You may or may not be wearing black. You might or might not be someone who frequents NYC metal hangouts like Duff’s, Lucky 13, Saint Vitus, or The Acheron. Maybe you’re aware that New York can lay claim to bands like Anthrax, Brutal Truth, and KISS; or maybe you’re not. You might already know that the first documented use of the words “heavy metal” was a description of Brooklyn band Sir Lord Baltimore in Creem magazine in 1971. Or you might not know that. Doesn’t matter. Because as metal as those things are, they’re not what makes New York metal. What makes New York metal is the person who manages to thrive here, who overcomes the improbability of succeeding as one more creature in this crowded, smelly, competitive city of pipe dreams. If you’re doing your thing, and you’re doing it in New York, you are metal. And New York is metal because of you.