Book Review – David Gunn, Summertime in Murdertown

I am probably obsessed with King 810, I’ve been to see them 4 times and have a fair range of merch. I can recite their spoken word piece ‘a conversation with God’ off by heart (because you never know when you might be called upon to deliver an emergency bit of performance poetry).  There is something about their music for me that feels quite raw and real, I can connect with it despite the experiences they describe being vastly different from my own. King seem to be like the marmite of metal, and receive plenty of flak from the media and critics, needless to say I’m absolutely in the ‘love’ camp, they are one of my favourite bands.  So when David Gunn brought out his memoir ‘Summertime in Murdertown’ I was obviously going to have to get a copy – it took ages to arrive here in the UK but once I’d got it I read it in a day, and here are my thoughts on it.

Basically Summertime is David Gunn’s story of growing up in Flint in Michigan, facing deprivation and violence from the earliest of ages. What’s striking about his description is how disrupted and chaotic it feels, not to over psychologise it but there is no sense of ‘safe base’ when he describes his early life.  The poverty is relentless; the violence starts to feel ‘normal’.  He describes it in a matter of fact way, which made me think about people who have experienced ‘complex trauma’ (when bad things repeatedly happen) and how they may sometimes talk about the events in their lives.  However, the thing that’s most interesting to me is how he describes the role of his music, at the start of the book he denies that there is any therapeutic effect, no ‘purge’ or catharsis, indeed it seems to be quite painful for him.  But he is driven to write and share what it is like in Flint, and I wonder if through his music he connects to emotions that are otherwise pushed away (with good reason, detaching from feelings could be a survival strategy in situations such as those Gunn describes, despite this having potentially unintended consequences in other ways).  He gives a nod to having faced some mental health struggles – self harm and suicidal feelings, though the emphasis on day to day survival takes understandable priority (Maslow’s hierarchy and all that).  There are some things that are surprising and kind of amazing about Gunn, mainly emphasised in the contradictions in his account.  For example, he talks about fierce loyalty, yet he doesn’t describe strong attachments, people seem to come and go; He says that writing and performing is painful, yet he pursues it with an almost relentless focus, indeed his ability to focus on his goals despite the chaos around him is remarkable;  He was a straight edge drug dealer; He dropped out of school early but became an avid reader where the library was a sanctuary.  Pretty much everything he does is self- taught and all of it is hard won.  He talks about some of the reading he has done, particularly psychology and sociology, through which he gives some very astute (if partly detached) insights about his circumstances growing up.  There are also some interesting cultural reflections about the band’s background being markedly different from most others in the metal genre.  I’m struck by a conflict of pride about where he has come from but with none of the ‘I’m better off for my experiences’ stuff that so often comes with these accounts (indeed I have found that Gunn offers a refreshing alternative to the ‘positive re-frame’ of trauma into ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’, I have read accounts of his where he describes the effect of his experiences and how it would be better if they hadn’t happened – which I imagine may resonate for lots of people who have experienced trauma).  It’s also written in a way that I think will probably make sense to most people, which I’m all for, definitely worth a read.

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Robert’s Story

More of you have shared some of your experiences with us, like this from Robert. This one is about how sometimes the family we grow up with can be tricky, managing physical health challenges and finding a supportive metal family…. Thank you for sharing.

“I used to get bullied and beat up tormented by alcoholism in my family and hated I alcoholics. I would still get verbally abused and would be bullied by my brother. Every day and night I would cry myself to sleep filled with anger, depression and suicide on my mind. I would listen to Five Finger Death Punch and Breaking Benjamin and it helped me to go to sleep to ease my mind and fight my depression only to get stronger. Now I still suffer a little depression but knowing metal is fucking there and my savior; its made me stronger till this day, in and out of the gym.

I had cut my foot on glass and had 6 months of recovery and 3 surgeries. Before and after surgery all i could listen to was five finger and it helped cope with the pain and the sadness and depression i went through while learning how to walk again on that foot, as well as dealing with an alcoholic father. I needed the help of metal to help calm myself from bleeding through the gauze. I suffered cut nerves,arteries, veins and a major tendon injury which i still have in my big toe so my toe drops but all that metal made me fight through the pain and make me become stronger.

Going to my first rock metal festival last year was a very amazing experience to show that metalheads take care of each other, replenish each other and apologize if they do something reckless. I met my first metal friends at that festival.”

Robert chose The Bleeding by Five Finger Death Punch as a song that means a lot to him, and also shared some very cool pictures 🤘🏻🤘🏻🤘🏻(you may spot Jose Mangin in that collection, ooh 😊). He also shared a pic of his foot 😳🤣

Metalhead Poetry

We’ve been squirrelling away here on a new section for our webpage because a few people have sent us some bits of poetry that we can’t wait to share with you. Therefore we are launching our first few pieces over the next few days in a poetry week of sorts. We’ll add the links as soon as possible to

We are happy to receive continued submissions as well, including art and lyrics

Article in the polyphony

Very pleased that the online medical humanities blog The Polyphony have published this piece I wrote about psychology and heavy metal. Specifically it looks at how voice dialogue theory relates to heavy metal music, and some reflections on the early stages on the project. Take a look if you fancy:

Here’s to 2019

2018 will always be remembered for me as the year that we started heavy metal therapy. Obviously it’s only been about 3 months but I’ve been overwhelmed by the response and wanted to say thank you to everyone who has been involved from its inception, which happened partly in a bloke called Steve’s kitchen while listening to black metal and playing with a yoyo, and partly was invented by me and “patient 0” (his choice of name 🤣) in our sessions.

I’ve been amazed at how willing people have been to share thier stories with us including some pretty personal and difficult stuff really. I hope it becomes something to help others along the way because that’s basically the point.

My colleagues and fellow mental health professionals have taken this thing seriously when I assumed they’d think it was a stupid idea. Some have been generally encouraging and reassuring, others have spammed my stuff about and even shared stories of their own. One or two have helped out with research and academic ideas for the metal university which is rather exciting for a nerd like me.

Some people have basically become my roadies, you don’t have to be called Ben but most of you are…….sending me stuff of interest for the pages and helping to build the community

And most importantly the people I work with/support/therapize/whatever that thing is we do. Some of you have been totally on board from the start and helped to ‘invent’ heavy metal therapy by being really giving of yourselves and helping me understand how your experiences relate to metal and why it’s helpful. You guys teach me loads, and that what you lot (and by which I mean all metalheads) think and get out of this project is the most important thing. So thanks

We have some plans for 2019 to grow the webpage a bit more with new stories and playlists, hopefully promote it more. There are also some early ideas of writing things up for metal university and maybe to even attempt to speak about or publish them more formally. We’d like the social media bits to keep growing as well and I guess this just takes time so hopefully you’ll stick with us along the way. Happy New Year 🤘🏻🖤