What if Heavy Metal Never Happened?

James Randall, tattooed vegetarian clinical psychologist
Editor of forthcoming book #SurvivingClinicalPsychology
Twitter: @Randall_JAC Email: Randall.JAC@gmail.com


In primary school, I remember a teacher once asked me who my favourite musician was and she was shocked when I replied “Alice Cooper”. Ever since I was young, rock music has had a comforting grasp upon my heart. Later, I’d wander into heavier terrains and go on to become a lead vocalist for a very loud, scream-fuelled band – whose claim to fame was a monstrous review that cited my “abysmal, monotone vocals did nothing to achieve the hard-hitting sound this band was looking for”. My mum was so proud.

Heavy metal has played a significant part in shaping my identity, gave me permission to experience a whole repertoire of emotions without the pull to smother these out. Heavy metal gave me a voice and made me feel visible, in a busy, sometimes hurtful world. It gave me a sense of belonging and an avenue to explore and express myself creatively. Heavy metal sustained me during difficult times. Heavy metal enabled me to develop a contextualised hope and critical vision. It taught me that a sense of community is crucial and just about anything can be achieved, when in solidarity with others.

In my thirties, I now position myself as a tattooed, vegetarian psychologist and this is important to me. My life experiences have got me here and I am proud to have reconnected with the personal and political within my work as a professional. I have scribbled elsewhere on the personal politics of becoming a visibly tattooed psychologist (download it here: http://bit.ly/2IjM1Us). From here, I decided I would integrate my love of metal with my stream of work. I don’t do ‘presentations’ and so adventured into the Community Psychology Festival last year playing my guitar, ukulele, subjected people to my singing, played some Modern Life is War very loudly, played a Jacob Banon documentary clip that notes the links between metal, creativity and art – and finally, a spoken word piece, inspired in part by the King Blues track ‘what if punk rock never happened?’.

So here, Heavy Metal Therapy readers, I present to you my story and my account:


My life changed somewhat last year, decided no longer… I will again, live here,
And there sat on the bookshelf, surprise – was a book – but as if a novella to my self,
I glanced through the pages written whilst at school, and I knew, just knew, this was end of career material,
It was something like Itch’s what if punk rock never happened, and through me, I’ll defy those what ifs, those myths;
Every metaller’s a weirdo, wears only black, is somewhat twisted and most likely in the class to be on Prozac;
Well, “this will not be pleasant” it read on my back; the kids would beep as I pass as if the barcode on my back was Tesco’s exact,
The reduced isle, I guess I sat in, I had all the piercings, the boots, yep, bondage trousers, but fuck off – did I have a fringe,
I weren’t cool, that I tell you is the surest fact of everything – I can’t emphasize enough, a boffin’, a ‘try hard’, a fatty with everything who felt he had nothing,
For if metal never ‘appned, for me, it would have changed everything,
I wouldn’t have kept on having, my chance to change everything – again,
Wouldn’t have had my lessons, that self-pity’s shelf-life was thin,
Wouldn’t have heard that people are shit, but it’s okay, because that’s a collective shit,
The son of a dustman, who taught you look after your family, you care for your friends,
And from these tales in the narrative, these poems confusing within, holding probably what others would call lots of sin,
Still held me together – despite my mind telling me this or that, for metal is and metal always will be,
The one who can listen, and the one who tells you everything – time and time again, you will overcome this, wipe the dust from your skin,
For as itch say’s: You will make a difference, you can change everything,
So with metal as my ally, I am thankful to have put that belt down,
So with metal as my therapist, I can only serenade you right now – you heard me and you held me, you changed everything,
With metal as your community, it gave you a place, not despite your difference, but because you were different, it thanked you for coming and didn’t encourage you to depart,
You were a part of this group, if you fell no matter how hard, a hand would pick you right up,
From a mosh pit, to your life’s shit, the guy in the mascara and the new rocks, would pick you up, dust you off, and give you a pat on the back for good measures,
For metal ain’t no enemy, for metal ain’t no sin, for metal is a family, for metal can be your everything,
When life is so fucking lonely, that you can’t even find yourself – and when you do, you can’t leave quick enough because, you know, you’re just a waste man, ugh.
That there is where you heart sits, where you’re heard and you fight, yeah sometimes you’re angry, but that anger ain’t no hollow fight,
It’s an anger for movement, an anger that doesn’t hold on for longer than it needs,
But if you ain’t fucking angry, then those foot prints on your clothing, those shouting vile things in your name,
those moment’s will continue and the sadness can only win,
So with metal your lover, and metal your fighter, I don’t think it’d be much a world – no rhyme, no significant meandering imagery to capture your attention, just simpy – metal wins,
If we have a world without, I’d have lost everything – and I’m not sure I’d be standing here, or there, or anywhere,
Let’s imagine that world without metal for a min…

If only Slipknot had shown us that we all wear masks from time to time,
If Converge hadn’t been heartbroken, then how would we know we could connect through the ‘helpless’ disconnect,
Perhaps without Modern Life is War, having been to the edge, we’d have never known “what it’s like to want to die…” and we’d never have realised that this is not something we’re willing to glorify,
We could have found the strength to walk the other way,
If only Break Even had reminded: sometime you’ve got to get lost, to really find yourself,
If only One Minute Silence had exclaimed “I wear my skin like it’s not a problem”,
If only Bleeding Through, have given that invitation to get up and RISE,
We’d look them in the eyes, they’d swallow their pride, and the truth would be heard – thanks to Your Demise,
If only the King Blues had pushed that “going to war, to prevent war was the most stupidest thing we ever heard”
Or even, “how dare you tell women what they can and can’t do- when it was a woman who gave life to you!”
If only Manson had recognised that there’s a pill to make you numb, a pill to make you dumb, a pill to make you anybody else,
And If only you’d heard Amen scream it’s “too hard to be free”
Perhaps Bizkit, Korn and Mudvayne coulda got you justifiably angry,
If only Nine Inch Nails had told us to get a little closer…
Perhaps you coulda adapted, kept your head down low and your hopes up high, if A Day to Remember had anything to advise you to live by,
To help you to avoid defeat… by peering down at your feet,
If only TRC had defined cocky in the moment of your fragility, then they could have advised you to: “look in the dictionary and you’ll find the word cocky defined as overly self-confident or conceited”, but they’d remind you, “is it really cocky if you know that it is true?” and believing in that – coulda got you through,
If only Skunk Anansie had reminded you that everything is fucking political,
So Rage’s number one wouldn’t have seemed so satirical.

If only I had a poem had inspired me, to resist racism in a band,
If only I befriended the cool, ‘trouble-maker’, who offered me her hand,
If only I took a chance, found my voice and lost my voice,
I could have shouted as my therapy, I could have overcome anything…
I could have found my liberty, I could have been free to be me!