Heavy metal did not die in ’91

I know cos I was there,

but the critics and TV shows

make it seem like one day

we sported spandex and lipstick

and the next day flannel shirts

climbed up our torsos

like kudzu. And listen, dude,

I know, narrative needs

tidy endings. But shit was

complicated in ’91. Metalheads

liked Nirvana fine, but people

loved Tesla a lot, too. Plus

Ozzy’s new album didn’t blow,

and nobody was putting Bon Jovi

out of the Bon Jovi business.

You don’t go back to 1991

and tell Def Leppard or Van Halen

to take a powder. Sure,

Dokken flew the coop.

Night Ranger, too.

But nobody begged for a tune

that sounded like Boston

dry-humped Hüsker Dü

to get played

every ten minutes.

So what we get now is this

whole flashback-montage,

Velvet Revolver-type

flattening of history.

Some suit puffs a cigar

and thinks, “Sure, why not

have Slash and that dude

from Stone Temple Pilots

make an album or two?”

It’s easy to think

heavy metal died off

in the fall of ’91

when you never listened

to Judas Priest in the first place.

It’s easy to laugh at men in lipstick

when you never took mushrooms

and saw KISS back in makeup

at Madison Square Garden.

Or if all you do is brood

to Leonard Cohen all day.

Or think pure thoughts

about form and minor chords,

and how Mickey Rourke

in The Wrestler was realistic

about Kurt Cobain ruining

his Mötley Crüe’s heyday.

Heavy metal was just

something you saw on TV.

Go back in time

to September 21, 1991—

“Smells Like Teen Spirit”

made the lowest debut

on Billboard, behind

the Chili Peppers and Siouxsie.

Any time you pit truth against myth,

myth takes the cake.

And the truth is, some of us

never stopped making devil horns.

The number of the beast never changed.

Metal doesn’t die because of

one song. It tours South America

and waits things out.

So, listen, you go back to 1991

and tap on Ronnie James Dio’s shoulder.

Tell him heavy metal bought the farm.

I’ll be right here, playing air guitar.

Daniel Nester is the author of Harsh Realm: My 1990s, a poetry and prose poetry collection coming out in 2022 from Indolent Books. He is the editor of Pine Hills Review. He’s on Twitter, reluctantly, @danielnestermfa.

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