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Wharton: Heavy metal madness
First Published Jun 26 2013 09:41 am • Last Updated Jun 26 2013 02:01 pm

My infatuation with heavy-metal music began with the best of intentions.

In 1997, my youngest son, Bryer, and I were having a difficult time connecting. At the time, he lived for music. His favorite band at the time, Metallica, was coming to what was then the Delta Center.

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Trying to do some father-son bonding, I volunteered to review the show. Bryer and I ended up writing side-by-side stories. Tribune cartoonist Pat Bagley illustrated the piece, showing me in a tie-dyed "Summer of Love ’69" T-shirt and a mortified Bryer wearing a black hat backward, sitting as far from me as humanly possible.

So we went to the show. The warm-up act was Korn, a band Bryer disliked. I confess to this day to having trouble deciphering metal band lyrics except on rare occasions. I did recognize a common word staring with the letter "F," but having worked in a newsroom and been in the Army, it didn’t bother me much.

Metallica’s show proved quite a spectacle. A mostly steel-looking stage with lights that looked like hovering space creatures filled the arena floor.

Near the end, we saw smoke coming from the sound mixing area. Seconds later, a roadie completely engulfed in flame dashed out from under the stage. I was ready to call my office with a real news story. Then the space-creature lights began exploding and falling everywhere. Soon, the stage was in shambles. The arena went dark and, if memory serves, what looked like an IV bag with a single light descended from the rafters. Lars Ulrich, Metallica’s drummer, pulled it and the band did a few songs from a very stripped-down stage.

I thought that one experience might be my last metal show. Was I ever wrong.

A few years later, Bryer conned my son Rawl and me into spending the July Fourth weekend in Minnesota, where we saw an arena show featuring Pantera, Slayer, Static X, Morbid Angel and Skrape. That would be the first of three times I would see Slayer.

The two of us kept going to these shows. We saw Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax at the Maverik Center, Alice Cooper at Saltair, Rob Zombie twice, Iron Maiden, and Marilyn Manson twice.

I got to hear songs with titles such as "God Hates Us All," "The Number of the Beast," "Jesus Frankenstein," "Disposable Teens," "Peace Sells (But No One’s Buying)" and "Disposable Teens."

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Bryer and I were at it again a few weeks ago, when we saw Marilyn Manson and Alice Cooper at Usana Amphitheatre.

Cooper is just a couple of years older than I am and remains my favorite, largely because I can actually understand most of his lyrics.

I try to fit in at these shows, usually wearing a black T-shirt and hat. Because I often write reviews, I research the bands’ music. I even did one-on-one phone interviews with Cooper and Manson before their recent concert.

Bryer writes about metal music in all its incantations. He seems to have an encyclopedic knowledge of even the most obscure bands. I’m not sure if he’s seen Black Sabbath yet, but I know attending a Rammstein show might be on the top of his bucket list.

In a month when I have seen Taylor Swift, Marilyn Manson and Tony Bennett with plans to enjoy Alan Jackson, John Prine, Dave Matthews and Brad Paisley concerts later in the summer, I like to think my musical tastes run the gamut.

The reality, though, is that despite seeing some of the more famous metal acts, I still have trouble relating to mosh pits, fans wearing obscene black T-shirts and the aggressive nature of fans and bands at these shows.

But I’m always up for a challenge. I might not like some of this angry music, but I think I understand the rebellious nature of the genre. It takes some listening and a little online research, but these bands often reflect what’s going on in society and do their best to challenge conventional wisdom and the political establishment.

In the end, that’s what music — and, for that matter, all of the arts — does best. I like to be challenged to hear or see something different while trying to understand how artists are reflecting upon society. Plus, it’s great to hang out with Bryer.


Twitter: @tribtomwharton

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