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Steve Perkins: Metal and Me

Published on june 9th, 2020 | by Steve Perkins
I'm not sure what strikes people more oddly, that I am a Latin teacher who likes heavy metal or that I am a Christian who likes heavy metal.  However I put it, it raises eyebrows.  The first combination seems strange because Latin teachers and Classicists have an image as people who are scholarly and like the so-called finer things, such as poetry and philosophy, history and art.  Heavy metal music, by contrast, seems to be about a bunch of Neanderthals who barely know three chords screaming inane lyrics that could only be heard as profound by a seventh grader.  The second combination seems equally unlikely, since the metal scene is often perceived as trading in devil worship, sex, and drugs, or even drug-fueled sex as an act of dark worship.  The Christian faith, on the other hand, is about love and joy and light.
Michael Sweet of Stryper with my Latin
translation of "Soldiers Under Command" I had given him

Well, I do like to think of myself as a scholar in that I love to study and learn.  I am positively giddy in a used or rare book store and have been absolutely beside myself tracking down a journal article in a large, research library, often in preparation for an article of my own.  I love reading Homer, Plato, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristotle, Cicero, Horace, Catullus, Seneca, Ovid, and Vergil, and perhaps even more, I love teaching them, or rather, exploring them with other learners.  Masterworks of art and architecture thrill my soul, and few things are better than going on a walk while pondering a particular point of philosophy.

I am also a Christian.  I confessed Jesus as my Lord and Savior and was baptized as a boy.  I fully surrendered to His lordship years later with my friend and noted Christian apologist Mark Mittelberg.  I am at a place in life where I truly do not want to think, say, or do anything that is not in accord with the Holy Spirit, and while I do often fail at that, I am confident in the saving grace of Jesus Christ to put me back on the right path.

So how could a guy like me be into heavy metal?

There are three parts to the answer.  It is a matter of taste, it is a matter of style, and it is matter of form and content.

A Matter of Taste

Loud, I wanna hear it loud
Right between the eyes
Loud, I wanna hear it loud
Don't want no compromise

So sang KISS in their 1982 song "I Love It Loud," which has become a staple in their live shows.  And guess what?  So do I.  I love cheering for my favorite teams...LOUD!  I love cranking the beginning of Star Wars and Rocky movies...LOUD!  I love playing my favorite bands...LOUD!  And the reason for that is the last line in the chorus of that KISS song.  I don't want compromise.  As John Cougar Mellencamp put it in his 1987 song "Real Life," "I want to live my life close to the bone."  Such a perspective is not one based in a reckless, adrenaline-junkie, YOLO mindset, but rather in what Jesus offered in John 10:10.  "I came that they may have life and have it abundantly."  As a result, I enjoy music that is uncompromising and, well, loud.

I have taught students for three decades to confront problems head on and not in a passive-aggressive, manipulative way.  If you have something to say, say it.  Don't sugarcoat it and don't qualify it to such a degree that you end up not committing to a position.  For me, the straightforward poetry of Alexander Pope, the unflinching songs of blues music, and the face-melting rock of heavy metal all go hand in hand.  They are of one piece for me.  

A Matter of Style

At the end of the school year in 2014, my students gave me tickets to see Mötley Crüe's The Final Tour.  They were sweet enough to give me two tickets, thinking I would want to take my wife.  What they did not know was that my wife has no interest whatsoever in hard rock and metal.  She enjoys country and pop, which is pretty much as far from Mötley Crüe and opening act Alice Cooper as you can get.  Ever the good sport, she accompanied me to the outdoor show, and while I enjoyed and she did not totally hate Alice Cooper, we left just a few songs into the Crüe's set.  There was only so much profanity from the stage and the crowd we could take, along with only so much debauchery amid the lawn seats at the outdoor venue.  I found myself praying as much as singing along, but there came a point where we had to call it quits.

While I thrill to guitar riffs, pounding drums and bass, and soaring vocals, I do not condone and cannot participate in certain activities that some who like the same music seem to enjoy.  Then again, the same can be said for some sporting events I have attended.  When I am in public venues, including theme parks where I have witnessed some truly debauched behavior, I find myself praying.  A lot.  I pray for protection of people who are opening themselves to all sorts of spiritual attack.  I pray for those who do not know Christ to find Him.  I pray for His covering on children who have accompanied their parents and are witness to their less than exemplary behavior.  My point is this.  I can still enjoy a roller coaster despite the woman sporting the "MEN=SH_T" tattoo who is holding the hand of her little boy walking by, and I can enjoy the style of rock and metal without becoming myself the subject of a "Behind The Music" documentary.

A Matter of Form and Content

Here's where I get explicitly Christian.  Hard rock and metal are two of the best genres of music for communicating the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Christian life.  Consider just two quotations from the Bible.

I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me. -- Jesus, John 14:6

So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.  But Peter and John answered them, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard." -- Acts 4:18-20

One thing Jesus was not was confusing.  He made it utterly clear who He was and what a relationship with Him meant, and when it came to His disciples, they followed in His footsteps.  Peter and John were big and bold in their response to the religious leaders.  I can imagine kind people with good intentions telling all of them, including Jesus, that they needed to be a bit more delicate when sharing their message.  They would offer tips on how to fly under the radar and how not to give offense.  But if you think Jesus would have gone in for market-tested strategies, think again and consider passages like these.

To another he said, "Follow me." But he said, "Lord, let me first go and bury my father."  And Jesus said to him, "Leave the dead to bury their own dead.  But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God."  Yet another said, "I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home."  Jesus said to him, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God." -- Luke 9:60-62

And I really don't think Jesus could have been more clear and direct than this.  "For whoever is ashamed of me and my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels." -- Acts 9:26

That sort of bold, powerful content finds a perfect form of communication in the guitar-driven, rhythm-pounding, vocal pyrotechnics of hard rock and heavy metal.  Do you want to proclaim the deep theology of the atonement?  You can't do much better than Bloodgood's "Lamb of God."

Do you want to announce what awaits Satan, the great plague of your life, at the end of time?  Or perhaps you just want some music to accompany your study of Revelation 20:10.  Either way, Stryper's "To Hell With The Devil" quite literally screams the truth.

Do you want to draw someone into the excruciating moment of the crucifixion of Jesus?  Jacapone da Todi did it in Latin, and no classical version is better than that of composer Arvo Pärt, but I would argue that W.A.S.P.'s "Golgotha" is every bit as poignant and pleading.  It also has the benefit of being an example of what a new life in Christ looks like, for lead singer Blackie Lawless was one of the most notorious and obscene metal musicians in the heyday of the 1980s.

So, there it is.  If it still doesn't make sense how a Christian and a Classics scholar could enjoy music cranked to eleven, then you'll just have to fall back on that old Latin expression, de gustibus non disputandum est.  There's no arguing about tastes.

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