I pulled up to the stoplight at the corner of Westwood Ave. and Wilshire Blvd., just south of UCLA. As usual, I had the stereo cranked. A tricked out Honda Accord sitting a half-inch off the ground pulled up next to me, his stereo even louder. I looked over. The sixteen-year-old driver looked at my 4 door sedan, white shirt, tie and glasses. He sort of smiled like he was trying to keep from laughing.
The look on his face said “Who is this old guy in the family sedan with the MI 2 soundtrack cranked? Shouldn’t he be listening to Manhattan Transfer?”
It was an easy mistake. With my male pattern baldness and sensible shoes you might never know the truth.
I’m a headbanger.
In high school my hair flowed halfway down my back. I reviewed hard rock albums for the high school newspaper. I was an expert at getting backstage at concerts to interview rock stars. By 1976, at fifteen, I had interviewed Black Sabbath, Boston, REO Speedwagon, Blue Oyster Cult, Bob Seger, Focus, Golden Earring, Aerosmith, Ted Nugent and more. Too many to count.
I used a cassette recorder I bought at Target. It looked like a shoebox with piano keys on one end.
I love it loud. Always have and still do. My friend in the other car had no idea. To correct his misperception, I cranked up the volume a notch. Limp Bizkit’s “Take a Look Around” boomed off the walls of my car, drowning him out.
He glanced over at me. Then he reached down for a counterattack, jacking up the trip-hop. I stared straight ahead. Barely moving the smallest muscles of my right hand, I eased the volume knob a little clockwise. My speakers were throbbing, the seats were vibrating and passersby started to look. He eased up the volume a little louder.
The game was on.
I needed heavier artillery. I clicked to the next track – Metallica’s “I Disappear”. With the tip of my finger I pushed on the volume knob and gave it a quick flip. The speakers almost jumped out off the rear window deck. Other drivers instantly looked over and scowled. I could see some of them yelling but couldn’t hear a word. The glove compartment popped open, CD’s and maps to Palm Spring golf courses spilling on the floor.
I acted like I was in the front row at a Nirvana concert, banging my head on the steering wheel. My Saks Fifth Avenue silk tie whipped the air. The music pulsated through my entire body like I was on the electric chair. Hey, dude, you picked on the wrong guy! I was partying backstage with Alice Cooper before you born!
I shouted along with James Hetfield: “Hey, Hey, Hey!” Soon my voice was hoarse. The music swirled through my brain. Everything began to get blurry. Was I hallucinating? I looked down on the instrument panel and noticed an idiot light flashing on and off that I’d never seen before- a small figure of a man holding his ears.
I couldn’t even hear the other guy’s music anymore. But I didn’t want to take any chances. I turned it up another notch and played wild air guitar. Red drops splattered my clothes as my ears began to drip blood. “Hey, Hey, Hey!”, I screamed. I drifted in and out of consciousness. Memories from my hard-rock-high-school past flashed through my brain: interviewing a drunk Ozzy Osborne and not having any idea what he was saying; hanging out with REO Speedwagon in their hotel room with 15 half naked women walking in and out of the room; almost getting hit by a beer bottle thrown by the bass player of Boston. So many concerts. So little hearing left.
The noise was deafening. My car was shaking. “Do I look old now?” I shouted into the void. I looked over at his car for a response. The light had changed. He was long gone. I was sitting still at a green light.