Hell Bent for Leather: Confessions of a Heavy Metal Addict (Book Review)
Released: 2004, Harper Collins
Let’s get one thing clear. This book is not really about heavy metal. This is an autobiography of a guy who grew up in the 80’s, listened to a few popular bands and ended up telling his life story to date.
Seb Hunter is a witty and funny author. I laughed out loud on many occasions. He was witty, insightful, sarcastic and I did have fun reading the story of his life. It traces his early childhood in England, falling in love with metal and rock, starting a band, collecting records, and eventually moving up to move adult past-times like smoking, drinking, swearing, spitting, girls, drugs and so on. The skeletal framework of his book is his long-standing (pretend) love-affair with heavy metal, and trying to make it in a band.
All of his life Hunter was a total poser and he was well aware it; wearing things to be cool, pretending to like things he didn’t actually like for acceptance, and so on. He looks back on it at laughs at the shallowness of youth. He pokes fun at himself, his friends and does it with style. He changes favorite bands as soon as someone tells him too and changes his look the minute something else comes along. He spends a long time explaining about how he would dress up and strike poses in the mirror even into his 20’s, displaying a remarkable degree of insecurity.
Without the element of humour, Hunter could be seen as a very sad and dislikeable, foul-mouth, uneducated lout, presumably like most lower class youth in England at those times. He was a nasty character who steals, becomes a drug addict, frequently lies, cheats on his wife, gets fired from every job he ever had…generally not a nice person. His broken home, alcoholic father, chronic un-employment and substance abuse, lack of education, lack of self-confidence and/or personal identity contributed to his eventually winding up homeless. The book ends abruptly with the death of his father and Seb’s one failed attempt at jumping trends to be like Kurt Cobain. Seb’s grunge band ends and he meets a girl and the book ends in space of about three pages. It was an unfortunate, depressing and abrupt ending to a depressing tale. He didn’t have the drive to make it and the dream died on the mean streets of London, so it really was a sad but realistic ending.
It is not all doom and gloom. Like most of us he remembers the good times, the parties, the girls, the highs, and uses humour very well. He splices in his view of metal which is sometimes surprisingly accurate and supportive despite him not really being a fan. Hunter makes many, many technical mistakes about metal (names, dates, facts, figures) in the book but I suspect they are used for effect. There are some great pictures, funny captions, a few indexes, some lists and so sprinkled throughout. It is almost like a metal-primer written by a casual fan for a non-fan. He tries hard (and gets lots of it wrong) but Hunter (in hindsight perhaps) sees the big picture and his youthful enthusiasm shines through.
Another similar book is Klosterman’s book, Fargo Rock city which is a comparable chronicle of a youth growing up listening to music. Hell Bent is far superior to Klostermn’s Fargo Rock City on most levels, if perhaps for only one reason. Hunter ‘gets’ metal. He understands it and embraces while being able to poke fun at it. He understands that while Manowar do seem ludicrous to some, they are the heart of metal. He understands why normal people are afraid of Slayer and Cannibal Corpse. HE appreciates the incredible technical proficiency of metal musicians and feels that metal is alive and dangerous. Klosterman on the other hand seemed to completely miss the point.
There are many other insightful observations about metal and despite his obvious lack of knowledge or interest in the actual music, Hunter was immersed in the culture enough to understand it. His enthusiasm is infectious and despite being one of 99% of the starry-eyed rock kids who failed but he lived to tell the tale. Hell Bent was an entertaining and enjoyable read about a kid who tried really hard to be in the metal club but just never quite made it.