My essay for the Heavy Metal Trauma reading at Duff’s!
This piece was somewhat inspired by Helen Gurley Brown – she wrote Sex and the Single Girl in the 60’s, which is one of the cultural milestones that started to open things up for women – she also unfortunately promoted some rather constricting influences as well. She recently passed away at the age of 90, she was a grand old broad and the love/hate relationship I have with her was present as I wrote this.
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My first taste of the single life was also the tenth time I saw GWAR.
The relationship I’d been in for ten years wasn’t over yet, but the end was coming, and this was one of the first shows I’d gone to on my own. Going alone was something I was starting to get used to – I still didn’t really know anybody in NYC yet, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me from getting my annual dose of gore. There had been a snowstorm that afternoon. I’d called the venue to make sure they were still going on, and of course they were, Antarctica, right? I spent the night happily slipping and sliding around the Times Square theater that they’d coated with their bodily fluids, reveling in the old-school slam circles, standing in the green rain of a Lady Gaga decapitation. But the show came to an end, and it was time to head back. I walked out of the venue into an urban winter wonderland. I had never seen Times Square so quiet, it was silent – I stood there staring out at the lights of Broadway, my skin covered in fake blood and sweat, watching the neon glow across a perfect blanket of fresh snow. It was beautiful, one of those rare amazing moments that stick with you forever…and there was no one to share it with.
There is not a lot of encouragement in the world to be single in your 30’s. There’s a cultural pressure to be coupled up, to find that perfect mate – or desperately settle for one that will do. Wedding rings, biological clocks, the preservation of youth at all costs…these are the things society seems to want me to be fixated on. It’s hard enough to feel lonely, it’s exhausting when these slings and arrows won’t stop coming for your self-worth. (And wallet.)
It’s even worse when your tastes are of a non-mainstream flavor. “Haven’t you outgrown all that yet? All that senseless noise? Aren’t you a little too…mature, to be living in a fantasy world?”
And living in NYC while female and single means the Sex and the City comparisons are going to happen whether you like it or not. Especially when you’re a writer. Believe me, with all the uncertainty of where my future was going to end up, the last thing I needed was to feel like Carrie motherfucking Bradshaw.
Perched at my keyboard while contemplating the posh, fabulous view of a Montrose Avenue parking lot from my bedroom window, I had to wonder…wasn’t this all a steaming pile of necro-bestial anal buttsex?
A really good piece of advice I once read on a radical feminist blog, and found repeated in various permutations over the years, is this: “Do what you love, and do it with a vengeance, to keep the soul-destroying stuff from seeping through.”
For me, that meant senseless noise.
By the time GWAR came to Williamsburg a couple months later, my eleventh time seeing them, the relationship was over and we were starting to go our separate ways. I had no idea what kind of new home I’d be able to build for myself. I have always had a place in my heart for metal – this was a time in my life when it found a place in its heart for me, when I most needed one.
Here’s where having non-mainstream tastes came back to save my life: I’d already been to Motorhead and Dimmu Borgir and Grave and countless nights at Duff’s drinking my way through the breakup. What I began to sense was that yes, I was alone, but…I belonged. Metal meant camaraderie. It meant community, unlike the excruciating meat market of a singles bar. I was coming to discover that if romance wasn’t going to happen, the night wasn’t over – there was music, there was art, there were horror movies and epic shows and favorite albums to keep a connection going. “So we’re not gonna be fucking – OK then, I’ll put you on my mailing list.”
Metal was there for me in a way that Cosmo certainly wasn’t going to be. Metal loved my chipped nail polish and combat boots and Headbanger’s Ball VHS tapes. It was not ever going to tell me I was being too loud, or smart, outspoken. It has always been about living life on your own terms.
And given how many other women were at the show, dressed in white and eagerly anticipating the rain of beheadings, it felt good to not be alone in this philosophy.
So there I was, feeling again like a stray molecule within clusters of excited fans, but it was as if the ambient tension to grow up and be feminine already was making me more determined to enjoy myself. And oh, did I ever. Headbanging and screaming and laughing and pushing back the moshers and flinging back wet hair and sizzling in other people’s body heat and midway through everything, I felt a hand on my back and suddenly I was launched forward and I made it into the front row. I was so close I could see the eyes on Oderus’ cuttlefish. Even better, I was right in front of Balsac, Jaws of Death. Now, Balsac, Jaws of Death, is one of my totem animals. He has a face made of teeth. He has really cool horsey feet. I have a statue of Balsac, Jaws of Death, on my desk at home. He was there while I was writing my first novel, presiding over everything, reminding me that whatever I was doing, be utterly ferocious and have a great fucking time doing it. I knew it was Mike Derks inside the costume. I knew that this was a whole reality made of foam latex and food coloring. I didn’t care. I was communing with my muse, and I was shameless. No matter what happened to me, I was going to have this. Volume, and power, and a firmly entrenched sense of the absurd. This is what was going to get me through. And as if the cosmos decided to confirm all this, Balsac threw me his pick.
And the show came to an end, and it was time to head back. The Music Hall of Williamsburg brought the lights up along with “Stayin Alive.” The dirty, ragged, drenched audience members started to file out but not everybody – quite a few metalheads were still on the floor and grooving along to the regional delicacy. There was one tall, pierced kid standing by himself in the middle who looked a little like the way I’d felt back at that lonely snowfall in Times Square. I danced up and did the bump, and that got a bit of a smile out of him. Just one little moment before the exit and the walk home, where I would triumphantly add Balsac’s pick to the statue on my desk, where I would shower off most of the show but traces of red and green would still show up tomorrow anyway. Sexecutioners and Salamanizers and part-time antichrists, all seeping into my skin, making sure the soul-destroying stuff doesn’t get through.