Does Your Age Define Your Taste in Metal?
The following is the second in a series of editorials that tackle topics more personal in nature than MetalSucks’ usual fare. These journals will attempt to bridge my personal experiences with the world of metal while offering a behind-the-scenes look at forces within the industry and a peek behind the curtain of how this website operates. The first entry in the series, “On the Natural Bias of Friendship, Metal Bands, and Access Journalism,” was published in late April.
Age is just a number. Or is it?
The older I get, the more I realize how locked in we are to our age groups. Sure, you’ve likely got friends older or younger than you. But I’m talking about your primary people, your crew, the people you talk to regularly and hang out with the most. They’re mostly your age plus or minus a few years, aren’t they?
The older I’ve gotten in an inherently young industry, the more aware of this truth I’ve become. The thing is, age isn’t really “just a number;” it’s something I feel now in a very real way in comparison to what’s going on around me, and not just because my back hurts from standing at shows.
I experienced a shift in my thinking when it comes to my age over the last five years or so, and I didn’t feel it happening while it was in progress. Change is gradual, you never notice it in real-time — like how one day you look down at your toenails and they’re due for a trim — and so it goes for getting older. You don’t feel any different at 23 than you did at 22, no different at 32 than 31, no different at 37 than 36… but damn, you sure do feel different than you did five or ten years ago, no question. (For the record, I’m now 38).
Have you ever indulged in a drunken bar conversation about music with a stranger much older or younger than you? Of course you have, and more often than not your age disparity becomes obvious pretty quickly even if there’s plenty you agree on. For example, most folks born after roughly 1990 don’t get why Pantera were so monumentally important to metalheads during that decade, don’t see anything particularly special about the band, find them brutish, macho and corny. Likewise, folks my age were blindsided by the rise of fourth generation metalcore and the crab-core / bright-colored merch band boom that followed in the late ’00s / early ’10s; “this shit is so derivative, why is it so popular with the youth?” There’s a disconnect: in both cases, you had to be there, be part of it, to fully understand and appreciate it.
One trend I’ve witnessed lately is today’s 20-somethings and even young 30-somethings having no appreciation for what bands like Lamb of God and Killswitch Engage did for metal in the early and mid ’00s, which is bonkers to me because of how colossally important and universally loved those bands were then. But I get it. I get why they don’t get it, that is. Because flipped the other way, it’s the same reason I don’t feel particularly affectionate towards bands like Knocked Loose or Vein; I was part of that scene 20 years ago when it was first a thing but I’m not now, and it’s for the youngs anyway, not me. I still listen to plenty of young bands and actively keep up with the scene, way more than most music fans do as they age, but certain trends simply elude me.
Folks your age, meanwhile, have the same experiences as you; you’ve got a shared history with them even if you’ve just met. Spare me the lecture about how we should expand our horizons by talking to people with different tastes and life experiences; yes, of course! My goal here is to point out how we behave most of the time, not the instances when we step outside our comfort zone (which yes, I agree, we should do more often).
Try socializing with someone much younger than you, and whew, you’ll feel the age difference. I’m not saying conversations can’t be had between generations, that’s ridiculous. I’m also not saying friendships can’t be forged. Of course they can!
But something feels different about it most of the time. You know it and they know it. There is an unspoken dynamic that manifests from the very beginning of the conversation, almost like the way your grandparents, aunts and uncles inquisitively and awkwardly ask you questions about your life at the holiday dinner table. When you’re the older one, you’re expected to guide the conversation.
I don’t know when or how I got here, but I’m here: I’ve been doing MetalSucks for 13 years and I’ve been in the industry even longer. I don’t think of myself as “old,” but YouTube didn’t even exist when I began my career and MySpace was just taking off. I often imagine how those who have been around much longer than me must feel. Shit, some of them have become my actual friends now! They used to be the very ones I sought advice and validation from when I was coming up, but now all of us are just “old” together and grouped into the same Metal Scene Establishment by default, those five to ten years between us suddenly way less significant in proportion to our ages.
Kids in their mid-20s (lol @ me now being one of those people who calls mid-20s people “kids”) now come up to me at shows and want my opinion on things, what I think of so and so’s latest album, my career advice… in a word, my validation. It’s fucking weird, dude. Pleasantries are exchanged, lots of “yeah, man!”s and “totally, bro!”s are flung back and forth, and that, in essence, is a distillation of how these relationships unfold in the long-term (if there’s a long-term at all). They’re mostly one-sided, there’s an unequal dynamic. Inevitably they’ll express a fondness for some new metal trend I’m not really into (hardcore bands recycling early Cave In riffs, for example), but I’ll be polite, I’m not gonna shit on their taste. Likewise, without even meaning to, I’ll mention crazy story from “back in the day” or some band I saw years and years ago that they likely don’t relate to, but they’re polite, they don’t want to seem disrespectful. Either way, they look up to me too much as an “elder” (again, lol) for a truly equal two-way friendship to exist.
It’s much easier to have conversations with — and forge friendships with — folks within a few years of your own age that you have a lifetime of shared experiences with, even if you’ve never spoken before.
So you mostly stick to your age cohort.
Having children is a big separator for sure. Again, it’s not that you feel any different inside or have any less of a connection to the scene — I still go out, I’m at shows all the time, I see my friends, I talk to them regularly — but your schedule necessarily changes, and with that comes an automatic separation. You can’t stay out drinking until 4am (even midnight is pushing it) when the real shit goes down, the crazy stories that will later be told and laughed about for years on end, because you’ve got to wake up and parent early the next morning, no excuses, out of bed and right at it. There is no sleeping off a hangover, lying in bed all day, scrolling through Instagram and ordering in breakfast, lunch and dinner, waiting till 5pm to shower, jerking off and then going down for a nap. At best your SO gets up with the kid and lets you sleep in for a couple of hours, then it’s back to the grind.
Let me be clear: I am in no way attempting to make a statement that equivocates having kids with “growing up.” That is not what this is about. Some people choose to have children and that is fine. Others don’t, and that is also fine. I’m not your grandparents asking, “Sooooo, when are you going to quit the stupid metal stuff, settle down and start a family??” This is not that. I do not care. You do you! There is no right way, and neither is “more adult” than the other.
But what I am saying is that having kids necessitates a different lifestyle, and for those that choose to do it it becomes an inflection point that accelerates the perceived divide between age groups. There’s a definitive chasm between you and your [mostly younger] friends in terms of your daily routine, and you feel it. Socializing at shows suddenly feels different simply because you’re not there as much, you can’t be, so you’re not as plugged in to the shared experience of people hanging out with each other all the time.
I don’t want to dwell on kids, though; they’re just one factor in this larger conversation.
Within what age difference can a successful friendship be forged? I don’t fucking know, it varies! It’s not an exact science, and there are plenty of exceptions. The older you get, the wider the relatable age range becomes; see my comment above about now being grouped in with the same metal industry olds who once seemed impossibly wise and experienced to me. But it’s a real thing, and you know it — you FEEL it — when it’s happening.
So we stick to our kind. It’s why nostalgia exists; we all experienced that thing together, so we all appreciate it the same way! Look around you next time you’re at the nostalgia tour of the moment — Tool, Korn, Def Leppard, Guns N’ Roses, Mötley Crüe, whoever — and you’ll see people mostly your age. YES, I know, there are exceptions, young kids who appreciate the old stuff and gray-haired gurus who keep their ear to the ground and dig the new stuff. But they are the outliers, not the rule! Nostalgia for crabcore is basically a thing already, and while at first that seems insane to me — didn’t that fad just happen? — I totally get it, because when ‘80s hair metal came back into vogue some time in the early ‘00s I was fucking stoked, having not been of age to experience it when it originally happened. Yeah, it had only been ten years, but to a 20-year-old that’s half their life. Shit, kids in their mid-20s are now waxing nostalgic about .rar blogspots — fucking .rar blogspots, they totally sucked! — but, you know what, I truly do understand. We’re all nostalgic for that trend for which we were just a bit too young to fully grok as a fully-formed adult with distinct, developed tastes.
How old are you? How old are most of your friends?
Are there metal trends from yesteryear that you simply don’t understand?
Are there metal trends happening right now that feel like they’re for the kids?
Who do you look up to in whatever industry you work in? Who looks up to you? Are they your true friends, or is there an unequal dynamic at play?
Sure, age is just a number, except when it isn’t. All of us will eventually get older, and all of us will be forced to reckon with our place in the world when that happens, especially those of us who live and breathe a youth-oriented movement like metal.
“Stop thinking of yourself as the oldest young person in the room and start thinking of yourself as the youngest old person in the room,” a wise person once told me. Truer words! That subtle shift in self-identity has done wonders for my psyche.
Where will you fit in as you age? How will you adapt?