Embrace the metal

When I saw a feature story on the cover of the Times-Republican about the Marshalltown Metal Militia, not only was I stunned, but a sense of pride ignited a wave of nostalgia that put a smile on my face that has not gone away.

When a question like “why is this place such a breeding ground for metal,” I think of several things.

I think of May 26, 1986. On that day – Memorial Day – the Iowa Jam at the state fairgrounds featured Aerosmith, Ted Nugent, Dokken, Armored Saint and a pre-world domination Metallica, which still featured the late, great Cliff Burton on bass. Then that night, Van Halen played at Vets Auditorium, and my friend Matt Mitchell gave me his extra ticket. It was my first concert ever. I was only 12 – I had zero means of pulling off THAT doubleheader. My age betrayed me! BUT … I know for a fact that many Militia members did.

I think of a guy like Doug Norton, who was playing bass in bands around town back then. When I was in junior high in 1988 to 1989, he spoke during a music panel at Anson Junior High Career Day (along with our band teacher, Norm Egli; the guy who ran Smith Music; and local guitar-lessons guru Bruce Randall). I still remember, to this day, Doug saying, “When I was your age, I didn’t want to play scales. I wanted to play ‘Dr. Love’!”

A year before that, we all first met Doug before our school talent show when he was there helping some dudes pull off an accurate lip-sync performance dressed in classic Kiss get-ups. My buddy Jeremy Linsenmeyer (who now plays drums in local cover band Exit 185) was sitting there and picked up one of their guitars and tried playing a hilariously awful version of Iron Maiden’s “Wasted Years.” And while we were laughing and giving him crap, Doug looked over and said with a big smile on his face, “Yeah, Maiden, dude. It ain’t easy, is it?” and tried showing Jeremy how to do it right. Oh, he still couldn’t do it after that, but in that moment, we had made a new friend. Didn’t matter that he was a lot older than us. You meet a metalhead, there’s a bond.

(A year later, Jeremy played in that same talent show on drums with my friends Aaron Eads (bass and vocals) and Brian Hill (guitar) on a cover of Metallica’s “Seek and Destroy.” They called themselves the Raw Chicken Eaters. I’m still surprised no one snapped up THAT band name.)

I think of guys like Ian Aiken and Pat Bell. Ian was a friend of my older brother’s, and he really liked a Slayer t-shirt I had bought that just didn’t fit me right. He asked me what I wanted for it and I was, like, “I don’t know. What do you got?” He just told me to ride my bike over to his house the next day. Summer of 1989, I think. I was 15. So I did, from my house over by Turtle Park to his house in the neighborhood north of Lennox. And he gave me the CDs of Slayer’s “Reign in Blood” and King Diamond’s “Them” for the t-shirt. Blown away. Then we both got on our bikes and rode from Lennox over to Pat’s apartment by the Sixth Street Softball Complex, where he played us Sepultura’s “Beneath the Remains” – on vinyl – for the first time. (Pat’s younger brother, Tim, was my age and a friend – he used to run during track practice in a sleeveless Anthrax t-shirt, which I just loved.) Then I pedaled home from the softball complex back to Turtle Park. At that age, that was like doing the Tour de France. Totally worth it. I did it all for metal.

I think of a guy like my friend Jarod Elsberry, who managed to jump on stage at the “Clash of the Titans” tour in Cedar Rapids in 1991. I remember standing there in the crowd and watching the security guards

make a move at Elz before Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian got between them, nodding at them as if to say “it’s OK, guys, let him go,” and singer Joey Belladonna then jumping on Elz for a piggyback ride while he belted out the bridge to “I Am The Law.” Every M’towner in attendance? We just beamed with pride.

I think of the day after any concert. Marshalltown was an hour away from Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Ames, Cedar Falls … if any touring metal band played a gig in one of those places (and they always did), you could count on seeing the t-shirt the next day at school.

I think of many high school parties and various get-togethers, where there were always a handful of dudes who stood in the corner in leather jackets minding their business … until someone dropped a needle on the new Metallica. Then it was on.

And we’d be remiss to NOT mention Modern Life Is War. OK, yeah, they’re not metal. They’re hardcore punk. But can you name another band that formed in Marshalltown with a feature spread in an international metal magazine where the singer is wearing a Taylor’s Maid-Rite t-shirt in the story’s two-page photo? I certainly can’t.

And I think of guys who are no longer with us. Guys like Jason Spurlin, Jacob Wyllie and Phil Wedgwood, among so many others. Guys who played in our local bands, guys that were our friends. The music – stuff that they made or stuff that we all shared together – will always keep them alive.

The music united us. Even if you were diametrically opposed by archaic cliques – meathead jocks, art freaks, band geeks, so-called burnouts – if you were stuck in a room together and figured out that you both loved Sabbath, Priest, Kiss, Maiden, Motorhead, Van Halen … hey, just like that, you had something to talk about. No other music forges brotherhood – hell, sisterhood – like metal does.

I love Marshalltown. I love metal. I love that Marshalltown loves metal. We’re not ashamed to be outsiders. We embrace it, with horns in the air.


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