Despite its distracting academic jargon, Steve Waksman’s This Ain’t the Summer of Love: Conflict and Crossover in Heavy Metal and Punk (University of California Press) pinpoints an underappreciated truth: While elite critics have championed punk as the vanguard of pop cultural revolution, “the emergence of metal has never been treated as a historically significant event.” Punk struck the intellectuals as properly conceptual and arty; metal just seemed like brutal noise for brutes.
Waksman, who teaches music and American studies at Smith College, retells the history of pop music from 1970 to the present. His topics range from the depth and richness of Motörhead’s pioneering thrash to the genre- (and gender-) bending theatricality of Alice Cooper and David Lee Roth. The two quick-and-noisy musical arts communities, separated by the critics, have mingled and cross-pollinated on their own, helping to create today’s dynamic and delightful world of self-chosen, mix-and-match subcultures and musical identities.
Punk, despite its abrasive nature, was a genre that stayed within the margins of popular music and so it got quickly recognized as a revolution in popular culture. Metal, on the other hand, and despite using templates from pop music, such as its instrumentation, was outside the frame of modern culture from day one, both sonically and ideologically. As its concepts and musicality are simply too “out there” for most modern people to understand, it remains a misunderstood child of its time.
Not for long, though. For Metal, it will take more time than it took for punk to get proper credit as a true artform, but eventually recognition will take place, as its historical importance as the first true counterculture movement of the modern times is too strong to be denied, naysayers be damned.