photo & text by nacrowe
adolescence sucks for just about everyone. its an awkward time where you are experimenting and essentially defining an identity that will carry over into adult life.
i can't even imagine the difficulty in negotiating those same issues while coming out, especially in the 1990s when this memoir takes place. in my opinion HIGH SCHOOL (SIMON & SCHUSTER, 2019) by CANADIAN INDIE ROCK duo TEGAN + SARA poignantly explores this emotionally-wrought minefield in an honest manner that makes this memoir a must-read for anyone gong through the same situation or seeks to empathize with such a journey.
i personally never went through this experience, but i have friends who did. especially when i attended high school in KUWAIT where anything HOMOSEXUAL-adjacent was literally a crime. in public there was always this front my friends had to uphold that seemed exhausting to me, CODED LANGUAGE and BEHAVIORAL TICKS manufactured in order to conceal their actual identity. this type of polari always fascinated and utterly horrified me despite the fact that it didnt directly affect me.
in the case of the TEGAN + SARA, their story is one of SELF-DISCOVERY and any concealing behavior they exhibited was largely to protect family, friends and the reputations of their partners. the word SHAME is never brought up once in the memoir (which is structured with alternating chapters by each sister that serve as insightful vignettes), and yet it seems to be a central theme. SARA especially is an advocate to the community, calling out her FAMILY, TEACHERS and such for their HYPOCRISY; yet she is closeted for most of high school.
it is through music that the sisters find a sense of agency and control over their own narrative. a sense of solace in that they can express themselves while still concealing in plan site their identity as members of the LGBTQ community.
given the potency of their frustrations, confusion and heartbreaks in not being able to be open about themselves (or even having a definition yet for their own sexual preferences) makes this the perfect book for teenagers be familiar with, irrespective of their own SEXUAL ORIENTATION. if anything it promotes empathy, compassion and understanding for the hidden experiences of others and makes you think twice when allowing someone to utilize hurtful language regarding a minority group because they dont appreciate PC culture (im looking right at you STATEN ISLAND, SACRAMENTO, NIGERIA, KUWAIT, MYANMAR, JAPAN, ALBANIA, VENEZUELA and all the other HOMOPHOBIC communities i've called home at one point or another).
HIGH SCHOOL should be read by everyone. can't recommend it enough. it is the rare memoir that seems entirely current to issues at stake globally right now regarding human rights and the common dignity we all deserve. all identities should be celebrate and cherished and this memoir provides an insight into that personal journey of accepting yourself at a point of emotional and physical transition we all go through as adolescents.
photo & text by nacrowe
for all its posturing, METAL is a pretty conservative genre. i remember going to OZZFEST more than 20 years ago in 1999 and first witnessing not just live METAL bands, but the crowds they drew. im not gonna lie, it was all pretty intimidating as a teenager. there was this bullshit macho culture that informed nearly every aspect of the concert experience from how the bands reacted with the crowd and the crowd to one another. to date my least favorite aspect of METAL in general is the whole misogynist "show us your tits" culture that thankfully is starting to die out. i remember when walking around the venue how uninviting this event must have felt towards 1) women 2) gay men and 3) all rational humans.
obviously the almighty ROB HALFORD of BRITISH NWOBHM legends JUDAS PRIEST is the most famous homosexual in METAL history (that we know of). his memoir CONFESS (HACHETTE, 2020) is his recounting of his journey from the ENGLISH BLACK COUNTRY to becoming the preeminent METAL GOD that he has been for more than five decades. arguably only BLACK SABBATH and METALLICA have been as institutionally well-regarded and celebrated in METAL as JUDAS PRIEST. which makes his coming out as a HOMOSEXUAL that much more courageous, especially given the widespread conservatism elements within the METAL community.
that journey is described in detail and centers around HALFORD feeling entrapped by his SEXUALITY for a good portion of his adult life. for me it is that sense of repression, claustrophobia and inability to fully express oneself for fear of retribution, both against oneself and those he cares about (i.e. family and his band), that serves as the crux of this memoir and makes it very unique. what is interesting is how once he outed himself during an MTV interview, his family and fans (for the most part) all stood by and accepted him. JUDAS PRIEST had known for years and were always a steadfast in their support of one another. perhaps my initial reservations about the METAL community back in 1999 were wrong, maybe not.
another aspect i really appreciated about this memoir was HALFORD's personal touch as a wrier, routinely utilizing BRUMMIE dialect and turns-of-phrase which gave the language a decidedly BLACK COUNTRY flavor. it is obvious 1) that he wrote this memoir and 2) his pride in his background as someone from the WEST MIDLANDS in ENGLAND, much like predecessors in BLACK SABBATH. oftentimes when artists utilize ghost writers the writing takes on a more formal tone that often doesn't gel with the public persona of the artist. the fact that HALFORD unapologetically gushes about decidedly un-METAL subjects like CILLA BLACK, MADONNA, QUEEN ELIZABETH II or even LADY GAGA makes this book feel all the more personal, which i enjoyed. the only downside to such was that certain episodes in his life were brought up and then summarily passed over quickly, as if there was a checklist of events to get through.
i understand that as a gay man, HALFORD wanted to stay away from wading too deep in cliches such as the misery and depth of pain associated with the gay community during the 1980s when conservative governments lead by RONALD REAGAN and MARGARET THATCHER largely ignored the AIDS epidemic. this topic of self-hatred brought on by an unempathetic culture surrounding LGBTQIA issues has been fodder for plays, films and tv shows for decades now. i also understand he didn't want to delve into politics, consistently mentioning that he wasnt political by nature. unfortunately his identity as a gay man made him political and not by choice. for me that was a missed opportunity. i would have loved to learn his feelings about such but i understand and respect his decision not to delve into that topic.
all in all this was a very enjoyable memoir from a singular artist with a unique background that hopefully moving forward will become less so. one can only hope that the METAL community, like all aspects of society, progresses towards a more inclusive and empathetic ideal. one where people dont care about one's ethnicity, sexuality, gender identity and so on.
honestly, when i hear ROB HALFORD sing, i just think of how brutal JUDAS PRIEST are and how badass they sound, like freight train of unadulterated METAL. in JUDAS PRIEST i hear the twin guitar onslaughts of SLAYER, LAMB OF GOD and early METALLICA as well as the gymnastic vocals of DEVIN TOWNSEND and PERRY FARRELL. his sexuality never really comes into view, although now undoubtedly i'll never hear "JAWBREAKER" the same way again. cant believe i didnt see that one in retrospect, ive definitely got another thing coming.