“I don’t drink milk, and I never will… you asshole!,” Lemmy spits to our face while he sticks his stick between our eyebrows, still intimidating no matter what… The ad for Valio, Finland’s main milk producer, appeared on its YouTube last January 7th, when Mr. Kilmister had already been sitting for days on his stool of heaven’s Rainbow, controlling with one hand his inseparable Jack Daniel’s and Coca-Cola, and inserting coins in his favourite jackpot with the other. An eternal jangling of ice cubes and guaranteed jackpot prizes, a most than deserved reward for a guy that lived (and drank) the way he bloody wanted.
In 2014, the renowned medical weekly The Lancet published a study entitled Chronic subdural haematoma secondary to headbanging in which it exposed the case of a German fifty-year-old patient treated at the Hannover University Medical Centre for severe headaches. The guy didn’t take drugs or had a medical record that helped identifying the possible causes of his malaise; but, hey!, he told the doctors that the previous month he’d been having a hell of a time –that is, headbanging– at a gig by his favourite band: Motörhead. A scanner revealed a haematoma on the right side of his brain; skull perforation, extraction of the blood clot, a few staples and back to enjoying your metalhead life, a bit more calmly. The study spread around like gunpowder, of course, and digital journalists/talk show guests/pessimists had a lot of fun for a few days painting an apocalyptic future of pain and suffering to scare the shit out of all those (us) that practise the unstoppable art of headbanging.
Eating red meat, drinking Jack Daniel’s and Coca-Cola, playing Assassin’s Creed, reading our editorial contents… Any worldly pleasures might seriously damage our health should we enjoy them without any kind of measure, obviously. But in the same way that a Galician old cow 2kg T-bone steak shouts to our hypothalamus, “throw me to the grill!”, the frantic rhythm marked by Lemmy’s bass in Ace of Spades pulls our hair so that we bang our nuts as if there were no tomorrow. It’s a reflex act, only avoidable if one possesses the mental control, of a Buddhist monk or is a great fan of Papá Topo.
Few will be able to discuss that the canonical headbanGIF is the one showing Tom Araya, singer and bass player of merciless trash metal heroes Slayer, shaking his mane like a madman to the frantic rhythm of some track from Reign in Blood –named heavier record in history by British magzine Kerrang! in 2014– or Hell Awaits –the title theme of which stars a video in YouTube with a revealing nostalgic name: When headbanging was real. When in 2010 Araya announced he was going to stop his banging due to medical prescription –three decades devoted to it made him undergo surgery to get one of his vertebrae replaced by a titanium prosthesis–, the headbangers of the world stopped their heads as a sign of admiration and respect.
It was like the end of an era. Our bodies had defeated us and it was even difficult re-visiting the most emblematic scenes of headbanger audiovisual without noticing Jimmy Cricket pinching the back of our heads. I’m talking about, what else?, Bohemian Rhapsody for five heads in Wayne’s World, or brats Beavis and Butt-Head trembling like hyenas possessed by the riff in KISS’ War Machine. But heavy* audiences, showing again their unbreakable (sic) faithfulness, took a nanosecond to naysay those cervical health Talibans to guide themselves again for the hundred and fifty beats per minute that their rhythm of life dictates. As Metallica used to bellow: “Adrenaline starts to flow / You’re thrashing all around / Acting like a maniac / Whiplash!”. All would go back to normal; here you have three recent examples of the phenomenon’s good health:
YouTuber Kranoc gained viral fame in 2014 with a video, entitled Metal Construction, in which he appeared doing different jobs at a building site –drilling, plastering, demolishing or… holding a lamp– spurred by the overwhelming beat of Meshuggah’s War and banging his big mane following that version of headbanging known as the “mill”, of which George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher (Cannibal Corpse) is a supreme master. More than four million visits help him deal with his subsequently stiff neck…
Danish photographer Jacob Ehrbahan immortalised with his camera headbangers in action and in their natural habitat: festivals Copenhell (Denmark), Wacken Open Air (Germany) and Metaltown (Sweden). His powerful and colourful snapshots, compiled by Powerhouse Books in the volume Headbangers, manage to transmit that mixture of mental alienation and exaggerated joie de vivre that possess metalheads in the midst of a mire surrounded by heavy riffs.
Last November, Finland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced the first emoji set launched by a state government to promote its particular national idiosyncrasy and enable the communication though emojis with its citizens. The three first ones presented were a couple smiling and enjoying a sauna, a Nokia 3310 (the most iconic model of the Finnish phone giant) and a metalhead with visible horns and his long hair covering his face in the middle of a massive banging. Nightwish’s and Children of Bodom’s Whatsapp accounts are fuming mad…
Let’s defend this ode to headbanging (something that in the infinite movement format associated to GIFs works as a warning: this isn’t going to end!) with Andrew WK’s wise words –his debut I Get Wet from 2003 is a first-category neck breaker–, extracted from his weekly column at New York’s Village Voice: “Now, some people have said that headbanging is bad for you. They say it causes brain damage and kills brain cells. All I can say is this: The parts of my brain that have been damaged by headbanging are the parts that I didn’t need anyway. Headbanging killed the brain cells that made me feel sad and depressed, that made me think that life sucked. Headbanging gave me a lobotomy and left behind only the good parts of my brain. The bad parts of my brain flowed out of my nose and out of my life. Headbanging saved my life.”
So, now you now: Bang your head! Do it for Lemmy! Do it for yourself!
(*) Although headbanging has been historically associated to the speed of metalheads’ manes, it goes without saying that it’s a non-restrictive discipline, open to any musical style that makes your head start, looney tune style. Or ask Taylor Swift to see what she thinks…