Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Music & Monsters, or "What Do Gamers Listen To?"

A few months ago, the excellent Beyond the Black Gate blog did an interview with five OSR "luminaries" - James M. from Grognardia, James R. from LotFPWFRP, Thomas from Original Edition Fantasy, Zak of Playing D&D With Porn Stars, and Michael from Chicago Wiz's RPG Blog

One of the questions I thought was interesting was "You're off to a desert island – what’s the one album you’d bring and why?" 

With the exception of James M. who demurred by saying "No idea. I'm not a huge lover of music, popular or otherwise" (which, may I point out, is just weird - how can you not love music?!), the rest of the interviewees all picked Metal (or, "Hard Rock", in Michael's case) bands: Iron Maiden (James R.), Black Sabbath (Thomas), Eyehategod (Zak), and Lez Zeppelin (Michael).  And, even though James M. chose not to answer, he has mentioned several times on his blog that one of the people he learned to play D&D with was a "metal-head."  

Until I got into reading blogs from the OSR, I had never heard of so many self-proclaimed metal-heads playing D&D/RPGs.  

Where I grew up in the early 80s in Sandy, Utah (a suburb of Salt Lake City), the metal-heads didn't play D&D.  They wore the now ubiquitous gamer uniform of faded jeans, old tennis shoes, and black heavy metal concert t-shirts, and then had long hair.  But, they were not gamers.  This group of metal-heads (or, as we called them back then, "Hessians") only pretty much wanted to talk about music (our metal bands of choice were Iron Maiden, Saxon, Black Sabbath, and Judas Priest from what I remember), horror movies (we had just watched "The Thing" and "Videodrome" on a friend's VCR), or girls.  That was pretty much it.  One thing that we didn't talk about was religion, which was a refreshing change of pace for a non-Mormon Junior High School kid like me growing up in Utah.  As I recall, non of my Hessian friends were Mormon, which is what I believe drew me to start hanging out with them in the first place - our common ground was that we were outsiders.  Later on this particular group started going to parties, doing vodka-shots around age 14, and a couple years after that, they got into drugs.  I stopped hanging out with this group right about this time.

Our "sworn enemies" at the time were what we called the "Preppies", or the New Wavers.  They wore pastel-colored short-sleeve Izod shirts, penny loafers or top-siders with no socks, and had short, neatly trimmed hair (almost all of it blonde).  They listened to the Thompson Twins and Duran Duran and later on, some ventured into Frankie Goes to Hollywood, but most of them found that music too risque.  They were also, almost to a man, Mormon.  

I really didn't fit into either group, but the Hessians were my friends (and my protectors, for awhile, when I used to get hassled by bullies for not "going to Church") until they got into drugs, which is when I decided that we really didn't have that much in common after all.

Right around that time, I met a "third group" at school.  It was a mixture of non-Mormons and what we called "Jack-Mormons" (meaning, they were Mormon by birth and tradition, but they didn't really practice the teachings or talk about it all the time).  The musical tastes were all over the map - some listened to the local "rock" station, KSRP-FM (I might be getting the call letters wrong, but I'm pretty sure that was it) that played an eclectic mix of stuff like Pink Floyd, Quiet Riot, the Police, and Hall & Oates, some listened to country (although we tried to pretend they didn't), and some listened to underground college radio stations that the rest of us had never heard of the played bands with names like the Circle Jerks and Suicidal Tendencies.  Some were smart kids.  Some were art kids.  None were jocks although some of us played soccer after school in an AYSO league.  The clothes styles were all over the map - at the time, I distinctly remember wearing gray, black or brown corduroy pants with either long-sleeve button-up shirts and sweaters, or sometimes with short-sleeve graphic t-shirts.  I guess maybe we were nerds, but the group was such a mish-mosh that the nerd label really doesn't fit.  It was as a member of this group that I first heard of U2, INXS, Dire Straits, and Howard Jones.  I also got the confidence to ask girls out to school functions like the roller-skating party held during school hours for the kids who had achieved above a 3.5 GPA for that quarter.  I also learned to draw better, and got into sword & sorcery fantasy and classic science fiction.  So, like I said... a mixture of nerd and non-nerd, I guess.  

Anyway, based on my experiences, I found it interesting that it seems there is such a big correlation these days between metal music and RPGs.  What's your experience with music and gaming?  Are you all mostly metal-heads, as it seems is the norm, or do you have different tastes? 

Every once in a while, I've mentioned at the ends of my posts where I am, what I'm drinking, and what I'm listening to.  I'm going to try to make that a more regular habit.  These days, my listening tastes, in general tend to be more in the vein of jazz (Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Chet Baker), electronica (I'm a big Thievery Corporation fan), classic rock (the Police, the Clash, Zep, the Stones), some old 80s stuff (like classic U2 and New Order), and the occasional "alternative" (if that's even a label any more) track.  

Hanging: Home Office
Drinking: Anchor Steam beer
Listening: "Bring on the Dancing Horses" by Echo & the Bunnymen


  1. Back in my teenage group, there were a couple of metalheads, and I was swayed by their dark arts for a while. I still have a fondness for some metal, but my tastes are more diverse nowadays, and my favourite group is Orbital, so make of all that what you will.

  2. I am, and always have been into New Wave. I'm branching out into some jazz and jazz fusion stuff, which I actually always liked, and of course I like Rush.

    Mostly, though? New Wave, baby.

  3. In my youth, a was a bit of a headbanger as it were (though mostly "mainstream" metal/hard rock) but those days were ending by the time I was leaving high school and have never returned. My current tastes are eclectic: classic rock, retro-sounding bands of harkening back to different styles (Gaslight Anthem, the Black Keys, Louis XIV), alt country, soundtrack music, and main of the moderate to hard rock bands of my college and medical years (i.e. the 1990s--Everclear, Soundgarden, Live, Stone Temple Pilots, Counting Crows, etc.)

  4. Not sure what the kids around your way are wearing these days, but here in South Jersey there's been a resurgence of the metal head look. The jeans, the metal t-shirts, the long hair...all of it. And I have to say, it's pretty cool, IMHO! I never was a metal head, but I always thought they were fun for the most part. Some of them were a-holes, sure. But I appreciated their passion for music, and I actually liked some of what they listened to of course.

    That being said, yeah, I never thought of metal heads as gamers. At least not the ones I knew. They were into metal, cars, and girls and that was it.

  5. You touched on one of my other passions. With kids, though, my ability to discover and follow new music has fallen off considerably. But I used to spend the better part of the 80's and 90's actively listening to music. Started with "new wave" and "alternative" acts: New Order, Smiths, Echo & the Bunnymen, Joy Division, Sugarcubes, Pixies, Stone Roses, Sonic Youth, U2, and the Police (which, while considered classic rock, I always liked for their ska/punk elements). The late 90's were *all* about Siouxsie & The Banshees for me and I continue to rank them as my all time favorite band.

    The 90;s was a mix of college alternative (Poi Dog Pondering, Camper van Beethoven, Smashing Pumpkins), goth-rock (Sisters, Bauhaus, Fields of the Nephilim, Faith & the Muse, Dead Can Dance), Industrial (Thrill Kill Kult, KMFDM, Nine Inch Nails), and Trip-Hop (Massive Attack, Portishead, and Tricky).

    These days, it's pretty much all of the above plus Thievery Corporation (my home town heroes), Nick Cave, Dresden Dolls, and Interpol. And anything cool that I'm lucky enough to discover with crap radio options.

    And assorted trance/techno... and various music soundtracks.

  6. Yeah, I had some metal friends that played D&D, but my musical tastes were pretty eclectic. Then I discovered girls and bars, in that order. That led me to house in all its forms, though i'll listen to most anything these days.

  7. @ Risus, @Dr Rotawang, and @Trey - you all list a ton of bands/genres that I totally listened/listen to. Risus Monkey, in particular - your list is like a mirror of mine. The only thing that's missing from your list is that in the late 90s I "discovered" early jazz stuff and have really gotten into old-school jazz. It's kind of like my default "background" music while I work, write, etc.

    @Paladin - I'm totally with you on the house scene at bars. I still really like some of that stuff, although I prefer more of the more mellow downbeat stuff that you can actually talk to someone over without shouting.

    @Drance - the kids around here wear... I don't even know how to describe it. Our house is actually catty-corner from the local community college, so you wouldn't believe the outfits I see. I will say, though, kudos to whoever brought short-shorts back for the ladies. I salute you, wherever you are. :)


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