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Performed Identity: Heavy Metal Musicians Between 1984-1991 (Book Review)
Released: 2007, VDM Verlag
Finally. It’s nice to read a study of Metal that is not just about Death Metal or Black Metal. It’s about time the 80’s mainstream got some attention from the hallowed halls of academia!
Dr. Klypchak is a professor at Texas A&M University in College Station Texas. This 350-page work is his dissertation that was picked up by the German publishing group VDM-Verlag. It’s a decent book, lots of quotes and black and white phots of album covers and artists. The Appendices cover some recommended listening, his references and a semi-useful list of mainstream albums released between 1984 and 1991. It is woefully incomplete in terms of all albums released in that era, but focuses on the mainstream releases as per his theory.
Dr. Klypchak covers a wide range of topics and ideas within the Metal genre. The sub-title is ‘Heavy Metal Musicians Between 1984-1991. It’s interesting that he choose this era, but it makes sense. To cover all of it (1970-2006 at time of his study) would be too overwhelming to even attempt. By covering the (so-called) classic era of Metal he attempts to explain that, “Ultimately, the shift from sub-cultural distinction to mainstream commercialization illustrates Metal’s lasting legacy as a popular culture entity effective in reestablishing larger mass-cultural hegemonies.” (p. iii)
There is the unfortunate but common misperception that 1984-1991 is the Golden Era of Metal and I feel that Dr. Kylpchak may fall prey to that notion, one is often held by older, more conservative Metal fans. He admits as much and suggests that he is not really an expert on the international Metal scene, multiple sub-genres or gender issues and his work seldom strays from his stated goals. On the plus side of the many, many academic works Dr. Klypchak actually talks about music and performers, for a refreshing and welcome change, instead of an endless stream of psycho-babble about trying to analyze alienated teenagers who are in reality just trying to enjoy music. PERFORMED IDENTITY does have a somewhat unique focus on the actual performers and how they shaped Metal during that era, rather than some sociological studies that focus on the fans and ‘the scene’. The good doctor goes to the root of the culture, who created these ideals and asks how were the archetypes of Metal initially defined before they were brought into the mainstream and then eventually morphed into something quite different. He discusses censorship, the PMRC, imagery, lyrics, social mores and norms and so forth.
I really enjoyed reading this book but deep down I felt it didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. Having grown up in that era, reading the magazines, watching the videos and of coursing going to concerts and listening to the music, his work wasn’t really full of any revelations. I’d recommend this perhaps for the younger Metal fans who might have a hard grasping the social and political relevance of Metal and it’s impact on society. I talk to many much young metal fans who just don’t ‘get’ what Metal was like as a cultural force in society in North America in the 80’s and PERFORMED IDENTITY very succinctly describes what it was like and how it effected many parts of culture. Either way as a new discovery of a time gone-by or a nostalgic look back at a segment of Metals evolution, PERFORMED IDENTITY should be on your bookshelf.
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