1980s Metalhead Kids Are All Right: New Study Suggests They Became Well-Adjusted Adults

In the 1980s, The Par­ents Music Resource Cen­ter (PMRC), an orga­ni­za­tion co-found­ed by Tip­per Gore and the wives of sev­er­al oth­er Wash­ing­ton pow­er bro­kers, launched a polit­i­cal cam­paign against pop music, hop­ing to put warn­ing labels on records that pro­mot­ed Sex, Vio­lence, Drug and Alco­hol Use. Along the way, the PMRC issued “the Filthy Fif­teen,” a list of 15 par­tic­u­lar­ly objec­tion­able songs. Hits by Madon­na, Prince and Cyn­di Lau­per made the list. But the list real­ly took aim at heavy met­al bands from the 80s — name­ly, Judas Priest, Möt­ley Crüe, Twist­ed Sis­ter, W.A.S.P., Def Lep­pard, Black Sab­bath, and Ven­om. (Inter­est­ing foot­note: the Sovi­ets sep­a­rate­ly cre­at­ed a list of black­balled rock bands, and it looked pret­ty much the same.)

Above, you can watch Twist­ed Sis­ter’s Dee Snider appear before Con­gress in 1985 and accuse the PMRC of mis­in­ter­pret­ing his band’s lyrics and wag­ing a false war against met­al music. The evi­dence 30 years lat­er sug­gests that Snider maybe had a point.

A new study by psy­chol­o­gy researchers at Hum­boldt StateOhio State, UC River­side and UT Austin “exam­ined 1980s heavy met­al groupies, musi­cians, and fans at mid­dle age” — 377 par­tic­i­pants in total — and found that, although met­al enthu­si­asts cer­tain­ly lived riski­er lives as kids, they were nonethe­less “sig­nif­i­cant­ly hap­pi­er in their youth and bet­ter adjust­ed cur­rent­ly than either mid­dle-aged or cur­rent col­lege-age youth com­par­i­son groups.” This left the researchers to con­tem­plate one pos­si­ble con­clu­sion: “par­tic­i­pa­tion in fringe style cul­tures may enhance iden­ti­ty devel­op­ment in trou­bled youth.” Not to men­tion that heavy met­al lyrics don’t eas­i­ly turn kids into dam­aged goods.

You can read the report, Three Decades Lat­er: The Life Expe­ri­ences and Mid-Life Func­tion­ing of 1980s Heavy Met­al Groupies here. And, right above, lis­ten to an inter­view with one of the researchersTasha Howe, a for­mer head­banger her­self, who spoke yes­ter­day with Michael Kras­ny on KQED radio in San Fran­cis­co.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

Sovi­et Union Cre­ates a List of 38 Dan­ger­ous Rock Bands: Kiss, Pink Floyd, Talk­ing Heads, Vil­lage Peo­ple & More (1985)

Free Online Psy­chol­o­gy Cours­es

Heavy Met­al: Doc­u­men­tary Explores the Music, Per­son­al­i­ties & Great Cloth­ing That Hit the Stage in the 1980s

Orson Welles Records Two Songs with the 1980s Heavy-Met­al Band Manowar

A Blue­grass Ver­sion of Metallica’s Heavy Met­al Hit, “Enter Sand­man”

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Comments (19)
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  • Dave says:

    Of course they became well-adjust­ed adults, because there was nev­er a prob­lem with them in the first place. They sim­ply enjoyed a cer­tain type of music prone to the­atrics in imagery and lyrics. They were (and still are) a sub­cul­ture of kids who pre­ferred to iden­ti­fy with enter­tain­ment and fash­ion that is out­side the main­stream. The cul­tur­al hys­te­ria over heavy met­al in the 80’s was main­ly per­pe­trat­ed by evan­gel­i­cal chris­tians, who ridicu­lous­ly claimed that bands put satan­ic mes­sages in their songs that could only be heard when played back­wards. Remem­ber that idio­cy? Hav­ing lost that cul­tur­al bat­tle, these evan­gel­i­cals moved on to now per­se­cute and stig­ma­tize LGBT teens and adults.

    To those who com­mis­sioned this study, it would actu­al­ly ben­e­fit soci­ety more to study how well-adjust­ed are the mem­bers of the Fam­i­ly Research Coun­cil or any oth­er Chris­t­ian nation­al­ist orga­ni­za­tion. What dam­age are these peo­ple cur­rent­ly caus­ing to hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple in our nation?

  • Michael Coats says:

    Just remem­ber this met­al fact. John Den­ver lost his chance to be an astro­naut, because he spoke up for the met­al scene. If John Den­ver did­n’t turn on the Sen­a­tors and their cen­sor­ship, he’d prob­a­bly still be alive today. There is youtube video of his tes­ti­mo­ny, talk­ing about how his song “Rocky Moun­tain High” was banned, because the Con­ser­v­a­tive Chris­tians thought it was a ref­er­ence to Weed.

  • Joe Pelley says:

    Al Gore, what an ass. SO glad that d‑head nev­er became Pres­i­dent.

  • Lisa Hill says:

    I was a teen in the 80’s and a met­al head. All that mess with the PMRC was a joke. Most of us did­n’t fit in with the ” pop­u­lar kids” and became a group onto our self. I feel like it gave us the strength and want­i­ng to try new things and ” live out­side the box” Some times it does not turn out good but I think met­al also gave us that abil­i­ty to pull our self up by the boot straps. I am 49 now and have a daugh­ter who among oth­er stuff lis­tened to met­al and tak­ing her to con­certs has been an amaz­ing expe­ri­ence. I also think we raise our kids a bit dif­fer­ent encour­ag­ing them to ” think out side the box” Long live 80’s met­al.

  • Graaaaaaaaaahhhhhl says:

    They already were well adjust­ed. In the 80s the met­al fans were just a geeky strand of the con­ser­v­a­tive main­stream, and were much more accept­able to your aver­age big­ot than punks or hip­pies. I don’t think many of them came from poor or bro­ken homes — they would nev­er have been able to afford the albums and leather jack­ets for a start!

  • Camper Man says:

    You are a fool and a tool. Tip­per Gore was no evan­gel­i­cal. Dee Snider and Alice Coop­er are ordained Chris­t­ian min­is­ter. The Crue and Poi­son were dress­ing up as women WAY before it became the left­’s new hip trend. The lev­el of your igno­rance, to some­one like me who grew up in that era, is stag­ger­ing. Stop drink­ing the Kool Aid while watch­ing CNN.

  • Mark Mayers says:

    Imag­ine that, It’s because in the 80s we were grow­ing up fast and sinse we did not fit into main­stream crap­py pop music and we did not look down upon peo­ple ‚we were a cul­ture of our own.We all learned to coex­ist in the Met­al world and it was a great time. We adjust­ed because we were already adjust­ed and knew who we were at a young age that pre­pared us for todays world.
    Most of those who lis­tened to Wham, maddona,Culture Club ect.turned out to either be in jail, overdosed,dead or works at mcdon­alds and most of my met­al­heads are the ones who grew up and raised fam­i­lies and are still my good friends. So to all you geeks that har­rassed us MHs , how that work our for ya? As Queen­sryche says, ” We are the strong, the youth unit­ed” from Take hold of the flame.
    Proud as always to be a met­al­head til the day I die,
    Mark May­ers
    Gas­ton SC

  • SS says:

    Beau­ti­ful­ly said. No fur­ther com­ment need­ed.

  • Matt J. says:

    Sigh. Brings back mem­o­ries. I played drums in an Iron Maid­en trib­ute band from 1985–1987, among many oth­er things. I even had my drums set up exact­ly like Clive’s (RIP). The Paul Di’an­no spikes were cool, but very expen­sive.
    How­ev­er, I recall very few females with us. It was very much a male thing, for bet­ter or worse. The pho­to above was not tak­en in the 1980s. The pho­to­graph­ic qual­i­ty is much lat­er. I think it was picked only because the spikes on that one kid.
    I need to explain some­thing — the PMRC was cre­at­ed by the record com­pa­nies. It was the best thing to hap­pen to them since Thomas Edi­son. It boost­ed sales and the stick­er itself became a badge of pride. The record com­pa­nies were under no com­pul­sion to adopt that. The PMRC was a pri­vate group that had absolute­ly zero pow­er.
    It was a pub­lic spec­ta­cle and noth­ing more. With­out sat­u­ra­tion media cov­er­age (from media com­pa­nies that owned the major record labels) no one would have heard of it. It cre­at­ed an “ene­my” the “met­al world” could ral­ly against.

  • Deano says:

    Sur­prise sur­prise. The con­ser­v­a­tives nev­er learn. The kids end­ed up ok in spite of their argu­ments and what wast­ed mon­ey for the hear­ings campaign,etc. Maybe the only cen­sor­ship thats need­ed is their own, if you dont like some­thing don’t lis­ten or do it, but don’t remove oth­er peo­ple’s rights to do so if they wish.

  • Jeff Blanks says:

    Hel­lu­va lot bet­ter than Bush II or Trump. Some­times you have to let bygones be bygones.

    All the same, I think lots of lib­er­als don’t real­ize what a move the right wing put on them by let­ting Tip­per Gore be the PMR­C’s main speak­er. That way, Susan Bak­er and oth­er Repub­li­cans get off scot-free.

  • Jeff Blanks says:

    Hel­lu­va lot bet­ter than Bush II or Trump. Some­times you have to let bygones be bygones.

  • Matters says:

    Now it’s the Left that tries to sen­sor and ban every­thing!

  • Jay potter says:

    Al gores wife was a con­ser­v­a­tive ?

  • Jeff says:

    No, but James Bak­er’s wife was. She was smart to stay in the back­ground while Tip­per was the front lady–that way the fans did­n’t know there was a Repub­li­can con­nec­tion unless they were real­ly pay­ing atten­tion.

  • Jeff says:

    No, but James Bak­er’s wife was. She was smart to stay in the back­ground and let peo­ple think it was Tip­per’s thing.

  • Jason Sloboda says:

    ‘The kids are going home feel­ing bet­ter because they let out a lot of their frus­tra­tions’ Right on Dee. That is exact­ly the pow­er of met­al music and attend­ing a con­cert. Its dis­ap­point­ing when secu­ri­ty does­n’t allow ‘mosh pits’ at con­certs. It’s fun stomp­ing around and bump­ing into fel­low con­cert hard­core enthu­si­asts. You either get it or you don’t, to out­siders it seems vio­lent and destruc­tive. To par­tic­i­pants its lib­er­at­ing and cleans­ing. No bet­ter feel­ing in the world than leav­ing it all on the con­cert floor and going home exhaust­ed. Thank you Dee and Twist­ed Sis­ter, your music and con­certs helped a lot of fans through times when your music was the only out­let to release built up angst.

  • Sensorhead says:

    Actu­al­ly, cen­sor just the ones that can­not spell for s**t

  • dave says:

    Exact­ly what is wrong with hav­ing spir­i­tu­al beliefs?

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