I stumbled upon hair metal at a rather pivotal point in my life; adolescence. Just as I was beginning to discover the wonders of boys in came Axl Rose and his ilk like a tidal wave of drugs, sex, and eyeliner. Though the bombastic metal of the 80s was no longer considered cool, my little adolescent heart didn’t care.
My BFF / arch enemy Mina received the album “Appetite for Destruction” as a birthday present courtesy of one of her random white trash friends whose parents thought such a gift was appropriate for a 12-year-old girl. Everyone knows you’re supposed to buy these things at the mall when your parents aren’t looking.
Thankfully, our immigrant Indian parents had next to no conception of Western music, save for the obvious ones like Madonna or The Beatles. Given their unabashed ignorance, it was easy to get away with listening to the wild screams of Axl Rose on “Welcome to the Jungle” without arousing suspicion. Sliding in the CD for the first time was like finding a portal to heaven. The music was raw, primal, heavy, dirty, and above all sexy. For our little first generation ears it was intoxicating.
We had been brought up like good Indian girls. Or Stepford children depending on how you look at it. Our lives revolved around getting good grades, keeping our rooms clean, staying away from anyone with an XY chromosome pair, and obeying our parents at all costs. Not listening to your parents could only lead to death, abandonment or life in a trailer park as far as we could tell. Like the other Indian kids we grew up with, we were expected to tow the company line no questions asked. EVER.
And most of the Indian kids I grew up with did listen. They were loathe to disobey authority, preferring to do exactly as told for fear of societal shame. So ingrained was this fear, that no one ever scored below an A-, drove past the speed limit, had sex (not even BJs), smoked weed, or stayed out past curfew.
Which is what made Axl so appealing. He didn’t give a fuck. He didn’t care what anyone thought of him. He didn’t care if people thought he was racist, sexist, a homophobe, or just a general asshole. Not that any of those qualities are particularly appealing anymore than the having one eye or the measles would be. But his attractiveness lay in the fact that he was not beholden to anyone, polite society be damned. And for two girls who were expected to not even acknowledge the existence of boys, his blatant sexuality and disregard for authority electrified us.
Appetite was our gateway drug. It wasn’t long after that we discovered Motley Crue, Led Zeppelin and The Stones. We developed crushes on anyone with long hair from Sebastian Bach to Tommy Lee and even Jon Bon Jovi and Jani Lane. I started to collect Circus, the heavy metal magazine, pouring over the pictures of sweaty young men passed out with bottles of Jack Daniels in hand. The men in question depicted themselves as unabashed hedonists with a lust for life that stood in stark contrast to my boring puritanical upbringing.
Much as I tried to find the stable, yuppie, male my parents espoused attractive when I was older, I found it impossible as though I were a gay man forced to fancy women. I just couldn’t be attracted to men who just did as mommy and daddy told them as was often the case with many of people I grew up with. I dated a slew of tattooed, pierced, rocker, surfer, motorcycle-driving, don’t-give-a-fuck types. It was an exciting, thrilling roller coaster ride that if nothing else assured me that I was not towing the company line so to speak. I was fun! I was rebellious!
But after the last breakup in which the guy in question turned out to be a closet alcoholic who posed as a screenwriter, I realized something profound; Axl Rose was ruining my love life.
Even after I realized Axl had morphed into a fat, bloated, housewife in leather pants, I was drawn to men who were outwardly showing all the signs of being badasses; long hair, drinking whiskey, speaking like “Spicoli” and having unconventional jobs like DJs, roadies, or tattoo artists. To be fair they were all very sweet; it wasn’t like I was dating assholes. But in the long run they were hardly serious relationship material or at least not for me. I was looking for love in all the wrong places.
Then came Paul.
The first time I met Paul I hardly found him attractive. On the contrary I thought he looked and behaved like a doofus with his hideously ill-fitting “dad” jeans and predilection for shouting “yee haw!” like a deranged hillbilly when excited about something. Like a presidential election or gummy bears. As funny and entertaining as I found him, exciting he was not. He worked for the government after all. FEMA of all things. My dad worked for the government and he was about as rebellious as Homer Simpson. But in typical rom-com style, the combined hours of witty banter and mockery soon led to falling for each other.
I didn’t see it coming at first. It snuck up on me like a silent but deadly or a lion ambushing a zebra. But over his stories of working at refugee camps in Africa, starting an amusement park in China, stabbing the worm growing in his foot while in an Amazonian jungle and subsequently pouring a bottle of whiskey on it, leading a revolt against ill treatment of foreign workers when he was working in France, (yes these are all true), and fibbing about being a master chef just so he could finally get a job in Israel. Having finished his worldly adventures, he was now content with his 9-5 job but still sought to help people and stand up to injustice.
It then dawned on me — Axl was not the original badass; it was Paul. Paul with his total lack of style and refusal to wear shoes unless absolutely necessary. Paul stood up to shady employers, accosted random people for littering, and exhibited no fear whether in a war zone or in remote jungle. What I had really been looking for was not a shaggy haired faux rebel, but someone who could actually stand up for their values and beliefs, not because they had something to rebel against but because they had something to stand up for.
Paul didn’t need tattoos or piercings to show he was a rebel. He was a rebel for the simple fact that he actually fought for what he believed in no matter what the consequences. Paul didn’t care about the status quo or peer pressure. And that is way cooler than any amount of Jack Daniels. Especially if you’re pouring it on your foot.