Imagine, if you will, a nation, rich and powerful, but a comparative newcomer to the international scene. Imagine that this nation, within two generations of its international "coming-out," has put its cultural and military stamp all over Europe as well as the rest of the world. Imagine that this nation's industry, technology, and culture have been admired the world over.
Now imagine that this nation has just fought a war, and suffered a demoralizing defeat, though none of the war was fought on its own soil. Imagine that the soldiers of this war have felt that cowardly politicians and a left-wing cultural elite have betrayed them, and snatched certain victory away from them, making all their suffering and death worthless.
Imagine that this nation's popular culture has embraced a form of art, music, and fashion that repudiates what has come before. A cultural style that focuses on women, homosexuals, and minorities. A style that, as time goes on, becomes a ripe target for a white, male, heterosexual, "traditional" backlash. A style that gets signified as "degenerate," as evidence that this hypothetical nation has gone to hell in a handbasket.
Some of you, particularly students of European history, may have already guessed that I'm referring to Germany in the 1920's and 30's. And you would be correct. But more particularly, I am also referring to the United States in the 1970's. All you have to do is swap jazz for disco, and swap Hindenberg for Carter, and the parallels become eerie.
And yes, I'm going to come out and say it-- the rural heavy metal fans of Rust Belt America in the early 1980's are uncomfortably similar to the German proto-fascist brownshirts of the early 1930's. Disco, like jazz, was a music that was urban, multicultural, influenced by Latin and African rhythms; the genre provided stardom opportunities to women artists, African-American artists, Latino/a artists, homosexual artists, to a popular degree that would not be seen again for years. Heavy metal music, by contrast, was overwhelmingly white-oriented (and at times aggressively so--remember Skrewdriver?), heterosexual (see below), and, while most heavy metal bands were from urban areas, it was the music most eagerly latched on to by kids out in middle America. And, particularly in the early days, it was a direct effort to destroy the disco style that existed at the time. For example, at Chicago's Comisky Park in 1979, between games at a double-header, a pile of 40,000 disco records was dynamited before the crowd, as they chanted "Disco sucks!"
Disco, said the metalheads, was lame. It was stupid. And most importantly, it was queer. And for me, that's the touchstone. Chuck Klosterman wrote a significant work, Fargo Rock City, about growing up as a metalhead in rural North Dakota. His reminisces about the early metal scene in the middle of nowhere are interesting and often entertaining--and then I got to the chapter where he defends heavy metal bands' use of the words "fag" and "queer" as terms of pejoration. And Klosterman lost me, right then and there.
Because disco music is one of the big signifiers of homosexuality, isn't it? Just as much as the "degenerate" bohemian life of jazz and abstract art was in 1930's Berlin. Heavy metal, like Fascism, has very, very clearly defined gender roles. It is aggressively macho. Jazz, however, like disco, is more androgynous, more sensual, and not so much with the "let's go out and beat the fuck out of people we don't like." Perhaps the parallels seem tenuous, but to me, they're there.
...I need to think about this more. To be continued.