Review Date: April 2020
There is a growing field of work that I have dubbed ‘Metalographies’. This term is used to define a book written by someone who chose to write their memoirs or autobiography but primarily framed it in a Metal context, namely the authors relationship to, and/or experiences with, Heavy Metal music. These books are not written by industry people or band members, these are books by regular fans who just want to get that book that we all have inside us, out in the open. In addition to books by Baker, Jensen, Hunter, Mackenzie, Spenillo, etc, there seem to be more and more metalographies published every year. My term is not probably not all that original, maybe someone else has already thought of it, but hopefully it catches on.
Very often these metalographies are presented as in a quite personal context as confessions, addiction, shame or being a ‘closet’ metalhead but in this case in this case it is an ‘adventure’! I like this tone, it adds a bit of personality and warmth as compared to, for example, the autobiography of a politician or captain of industry, which are usually highly vetted and formal.
ADVENTURES OF A METALHEAD LIBRARIAN is written by Anna-Marie O’Brien and although the gender of an author is irrelevant (a good book is a good book, regardless of biological realities) it is perhaps worthy to note that of the dozens of metalographies that are out there, this is one of the very first written by a woman. This is perhaps important because it is the only the second one I’ve read that is not written some middle-aged, white guy from North America! I don’t really care about that ‘political identity stuff’, but this book certainly provides a different perspective. There are a couple of other metalographies written by women, most prominently being Tellez’ book ROCK AND ROLL HIGH SCHOOL about growing up in Hollywood in the late 80’s early 90’s, but suffice to say the published perspective from female Metalheads is in short supply. It is a welcome change.
The book itself is a standard paperback, 350 pages long and although it seems to be self-published, it is very well done. The book starts with a bit of disclaimer to protect the innocent (and guilty) and Lonn Friend (RIP magazine) writes a whirlwind foreword in which he says it’s not about him (twice) but ends up being mostly about him anyway. The icing on the proverbial cake is a nice endorsement by none other than Brian Slagel.
There is no really coherent way to write an autobiography except chronologically but O’Brien does mix it up a bit, jumping back and forth in her timeline. The essence of her story is that she was an Italian-American kid growing up in the 70’s and 80’s in semi-rural mid-west US, Ohio to be precise. She had a bit of a rough childhood; an only-child, only her mom to take care of her, not a lot of money but she had solid values, worked hard and got by. In a story as old as time immemorial, after high-school, bored and restless, she decides to go west to Hollywood, California to seek her fame and fortune.
O’Brien seemed to have an above average perspective (ie, realistic) on the goals of her journey, and although being lured by the bright lights of the big city, she was not quite naive enough to feel she was going to step off the proverbial greyhound bus into stardom. I can’t count how many great songs from Poison to Guns ‘n’ Roses to the movie ROCK OF AGES that are about that cliché. However for something to become a cliché, it has to actually happen and O’Brien actually packed up her life, her Walkman and her favorite cassettes, in a beat-up old car and pushed it down to LA and on Day One crashed in a strangers pad. The adventure begins!
Motley Crue was O’Brien’s band of choice growing up and in fact, each chapter is named after a Motley song! Through a set of fortunate circumstances she ends up meeting many of her heroes (including Tommy Lee) and landing a job with Metal Blade Records! There are lots of great anecdotes and stories, an insider’s glimpse into the Hollywood music machine; clubs, rock stars, managers and just a tiny hint of sex, drugs and rock and roll to keep it spicy. In terms of Metal related content for our readers, there is a lot of insight about the LA music industry, the arrival of grunge and many cool stories of her working with Armored Saint, Megadeth, Cannibal Corpse and more.
O’ Brien is a great story teller and she wears her heart on her sleeve. Her descriptions of her joy, literal joy of arriving in LA are very vivid and evocative. Like many, I too have felt the pull to go see the fabled land of Hollywood that I read so much about in my youth in the rock magazines and saw on TV and movies. However, it may not be good as it seems on paper. In one poignant moment, she admits to herself and the reader that due to her lack of education, experience and money she had to get out. She says, “Los Angeles was a lover that seemed to fail me at every turn.” (p. 328) To me this demonstrated a higher than normal degree of self-awareness. I mention this only because it leads to the next phase of her life. After the LA riots things get ugly, the economy goes bad and she needs another change. I won’t spoil the story but she ends up leaving LA, heading east, meeting her husband, marriage, moving, having kids and establishing a career. It’s not much of a spoiler, that pattern is pretty common life-arc for most North Americans.
Where and how does the ‘Librarian’ of the book title come into play? Despite a subtle sub-theme of books and literature weaved into the main narrative, the term librarian applies to later in her life when almost as a very pleasant denouement she describes her experiences presenting her final thesis to the panel of academic advisors at UCLA to achieve her Master’s Degree in Library Sciences. Yes, she really is a Metalhead librarian now! Also linked into the final chapter is an impassioned defense of free speech, especially how it relates to Metal and how important freedom is, even if at times content is distasteful.
I cannot recommend ADVENTURES OF A METALHEAD LIBRARIAN enough. It is certainly one of the best metalographies I’ve read. The only thing I worry about now is that if she reads this review she is going to get out her red pen to fix all my mistakes!