W. Todd Kaneko

Metalhead is Born

It’s Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” blasting from his father’s tape deck that Sunday afternoon in the garage. It’s a space where his father retreats to work on the car after a blow-out fight with his wife. Metalhead is ten and does not like going to church, does not understand the difference between the Devil’s music and the way high school kids menace the neighborhood with cigarette swagger and dangerous lipstick. It’s the way men and women talk to one another with words that don’t make sense, the way they don’t have to know what each other want to deny everyone. He imagines the lizard people, slithering through subterranean tunnels, tongues flickering to warn the darkness that there is a hunt on. Further down, the beetles churn the dead into soil, flesh into spirit until there is nothing left for ghosts to feed upon. It’s the way a boy looks at a house before it’s a fond memory, at his family before he is old enough to forget how small he was before he heard rock and roll. It’s a sudden rush of energy spasming through his limbs. It’s a loss of bodily restraint, a lack of control of the body’s reaction to the caterwauling of an electric guitar, the violence of a heartbeat. It’s a furious dash away from home: out of the garage door, down the driveway, into the street and headlong into a parked car, where people emerge from their doorways to see what’s wrong with the neighbor kid. It’s that way Metalhead’s mother rushes to bring him back inside, that way his father shakes his head and looks at the sky. He feels this new thing, but does not yet understand what it is.

 

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Metalhead Bangs His Head

When Metalhead goes to a concert, everything is a blur. He is caught up in the tang of pot smoke, the jostle of bodies pressed up against his own frail form. He pushes himself forward, a thrust down toward the inferno, down where the Devil tallies all the things a boy has done to secure a place after his body has settled into ash. The world is a string of vertical streaks, lights and long hair, a mash of bodies congealing into a single being, undulating for the electric guitar. The world is a three bedroom house in the suburbs where the grime is painted egg shell white. He cranes his head back to try for a glimpse of feather and gown, sick wisdom stolen from the ground and hidden in the clouds for birds. He is lightning and spiderweb, the vertebrae in his neck the whiplash for brainstems. The world is a jumble of wolf howl and cat call, of luxurious interiors and black exhaust. His father is laid off from the auto plant, his mother a throng of angry nerves. When Metalhead goes to a concert, he shakes his head free of spiders and paychecks. He gives in to sweat and fists and teeth rattling in his mouth because one day, he will lose so many things that a teenage boy refuses to believe in: conversations with his father about baseball, the feeling of his mother’s cheek at night, his sister’s knuckles hard against his chest. He will lose his best friend to the army, his electric guitar to the swap meet. He will lose everything and in its place will be a completely different life that will consume him until he remembers how he used to listen to a song.

 

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Metalhead Outside the 7-Eleven

Suppose that the city feeds on its citizenry, chews them up into steel for factories, smog to hide the sky. Suppose that in fifty years, Detroit has run out of people and begins to feed on itself, the cityscape emaciated down to its bones. Suppose the suburbs will be the same then as they are now—every house built from a kit, every kid bored out of his cranium. Suppose there are two kids standing outside the convenience store by the payphone, Metalhead leaning into the wall like he might slip between the bricks, Rockgod listening to a guitar solo in his headphones and shuffling his feet in a nervous dance. Screw that guy, Rockgod says to the sidewalk, referring to the clerk who refused to return his fake ID. All they need is a half rack of beer on a Saturday night. All they need is to escape the suburbs and find their way back to Detroit where they can feed the city what it needs to survive. Rockgod says one day he will drive around and buy beer for every kid he sees because youth is not something to be wasted waiting outside a 7-Eleven. He says that one day he will have a factory job, a pretty wife and a couple of kids somewhere in Detroit. He says that one day the cities will be reclaimed by the Earth, and Metalhead wants to believe that Rockgod will be there to transform the Ford factory into a marijuana farm. Suppose that if nobody buys them beer, they just go off to find some drugs. Suppose that the suburbs have their own dangers: lawn sprinklers, birdbaths, the tediousness of mice pretending to be snakes. Suppose that the city will one day crumble—what is one case of beer?