[Cross-posted from New Books in Popular Music] When I was a teenager growing up in the early 80s, I took it as an article of faith that punk rock and heavy metal were definably different genres. To be sure, punk and metal bands both played heavy, loud, and fast music, but beyond those sonic similarities, these groups and their fans seemed to have little in common. When I read heavy metal magazines, metal musicians expressed contempt for punk bands and their purported lack of musical talent. Conversely, when I read the skateboarding magazine Thrasher, punk musicians mocked heavy metal acts for their supposed obsession with instrumental virtuosity. Closer to home, the shorthaired punkers who wore Black Flag shirts and combat boots to school sneered at the longhaired metalheads who donned their Black Sabbath shirts and high-top sneakers. And so my sense of this divide was crystal clear by the time a punk-rock loving friend of mine played the Circle Jerks’ 1985 hardcore punk anthem “American Heavy Metal Weekend” for me, which lampooned metal bands for their provinciality and lack of authenticity.
It turns out that like a lot of critics, fans, and scholars who have observed this dynamic, I what I thought I knew about heavy metal and punk rock wasn’t quite right. As Steve Waksman shows in his illuminating and entertaining This Ain’t the Summer of Love: Conflict and Crossover in Heavy Metal and Punk (University of California Press, 2009), punk and metal engaged in a relationship of musical cross-pollination that stretches back to the early 1970s, more than a decade before the notion of punk-metal “crossover” became part and parcel of the culture of heavy music. Drawing on the insights of music theorists, critics, and journalists and based upon a close examination of the interviews, writings, and music of dizzying array of bands and musicians, Waksman offers an essential revisionist study that helps to redefine popular conceptions of these abrasive and aggressive musical forms.
Steve Waksman is an Associate Professor of Music at Smith College. Along with an array of essays and reviews, he has written two books, Instruments of Desire: The Electric Guitar and the Shaping of Musical Experience (Harvard University Press, 1999), and This Ain’t the Summer of Love: Conflict and Crossover in Heavy Metal and Punk, which won the prestigious Woody Guthrie Award for best scholarly book on popular music by the U.S. chapter of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music in 2010.