ARL Archive

“Feeling the Burn” of Adolescence

Here at the Anachronist Reference Library, we not only quote liberally from the reference books in our collection, we’re also writing works of our own … albeit very, very slowly. Hence the following entry from one of our long-range projects — a sort of an encyclopedia of hard rock and heavy metal  — a book from which we’ll be sharing excerpts from time to time.

 

metalhead
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Adolescent / Adolescence

In general, adolescence is defined simply as “growing up,” therefore, an adolescent is one who is in this process of transformation from a child to an adult. In psychological terms, however, “an individual may be said to enter adolescence when he or she no longer views him or herself as a child (and no longer wishes to be treated as such) or when others begin to expect more mature behavior from him or her than they do from a child.” And what happens when the adolescent who wishes to be treated as an adult is handled like a child by his or her parents, or when adults expect greater maturity from an adolescent who doesn’t yet possess it? You guessed it, alienation, angst, and rebellion.

Hence Jeffrey Arnett’s assertion in his book Metalheads that, “If heavy metal music did not exist, adolescents would have to invent it, or some comparable way of declaring their alienation.” For this metal critic, adolescence is a period in which young people begin to see the “the imperfections of adult society and the hypocrisy inherent in much of adult life,” and metal, which flies a triumphant middle finger in the face of social respectability, becomes the base from which adolescent rebels can launch their attack.

Youthful passions burn bright, of course—indeed, my Webster’s dictionary defines the Latin root of adolescent, adolescere, as “[to] be kindled, burn”—and it’s been noted that the young artists who’ve been able to tap into their adolescent (or maybe post-adolescent) rage, regardless of its legitimacy, have made some of metal’s best albums. As Gylve “Fenriz” Nagell (of Norwegian black metal favorite Darkthrone) puts it in Albert Mudrian’s Precious Metal:

You know the simplest thing in the world is for white kids that are a little bit troubled to go really pompous on it all—like you get a splinter in your finger and suddenly you have a whole grindcore album. That’s how it is—adolescence and early 20s—I guess people feel really strongly in their lives at the time. Most artists, they make their most vital music early and spend the next 20 years sucking.

Could it be those “grown up” metal artists “suck” because they have lost the passions of their youth? It’s an interesting question ….

It’s been said (in various ways) that, “As long as there are angry teenagers, metal will have an audience.” It’s not clear, however, whether this means that metal artists are sensitive to the trials and tribulations of youth or that, commercial pressures in the music industry being what they are, record companies are banking on them. I don’t mean to be so cynical, but one can’t read a statement like, “Despite being old enough to be my father, [Ozzy] spoke to my adolescent angst, fueling my middle-class rebellion,” from Black Sabbath and Philosophy editor William Irwin, and not get at least a little suspicious.

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