If you've ever been to a metal show in Albuquerque, you're well aware of how rowdy fans can get, particularly the adolescent herd. But since the tragic Columbine High School shootings of April 20, 1999, there's been plenty of speculation about whether or not metal music is actually damaging our kids. Gerald Chavez is a musician, chief instructor of an Albuquerque martial arts studio and clinical psychology Ph.D. candidate of Fielding Graduate University in Santa Barbara, Calif. He wanted to go further into the mind of heshers, so for his doctoral thesis, he devised a study to examine the negative stereotypes that have been thrust upon the metal music community, using Albuquerque as his research base.
Chavez came up with a simple hypothesis: Metal does not increase aggression in juveniles. He carried out the landmark study in the natural habitats of Albuquerque metalheads—The Compound, The Launchpad and The Sunshine Theater.
The results are in. Chavez sat down with the Alibi to give us a peek at his preliminary findings in the correlation between metal music and the mentality of young listeners.
What prompted you to study the connections between metal music and aggression?
As a musician, therapist and martial arts instructor, I wore these different hats. But the martial arts made me aware of the aggression and things that go on in the world, and the therapist side of me wanted to know what was the healing process of that, and the musician side of me wanted to know why music is always getting blamed for such weird stuff.
Why do you think metal is scapegoated for causing crime and violence?
Any music that flies in the face of the norm is going to get scapegoated. If you look at some of these stage plays, some of these album covers, some of the music, and you were to look at Macbeth, and you were to create Macbeth as a metal song, that'd be pretty gory. But Macbeth is a classic. It's bad for people to kill, and people who kill are not driven to kill by the music they listen to. That's a sick person.
What did you study specifically?
I was looking at males between 12 and 18. I got a really good demographic breakdown of Anglo, Hispanic, Native American and some African-American kids. Initially, the thing I was looking at was metal, but some kids will not consider certain styles metal music, so I started to look at some punk, some alternative, black metal, new metal, death metal, you name it. I looked at anger, aggression, alienation, all as moderated by their parent-child attachment [emotional bond] and relationship.
What is the association between metal music and these kids' social life?
They're creating identities, and it's a powerful thing for some kids. They're not wearing the football helmet and the uniform and the pads, but maybe they're wearing the black leather jacket and the studs.
How did your results match up to your hypothesis?
They were very close. I'm excited for it to be a springboard for the idea about metal music causing aggression. I can say right now there is not a causal connection. Kids who listen to metal music do not appear to be any more violent than other kids. You see a mosh pit and people think, “Wow, this is insane.” Well, they're helping each other up when they fall. It's like a camaraderie, you know, an interesting sort of opportunity to have a ritual. An adolescent, be it male or female, is creating a personality. They're testing different identities, and let them do that.
What are you going to do with your findings?
I want to be able to present this to parent groups, law enforcement, PTAs in schools and clergy. My goal here is to, No. 1, open a dialogue so that next time something bad happens, we don't run right over and arrest Ozzy Osbourne, and No. 2, give kids a voice. So when they say, "Listen. I am not a bad person because I like to listen to Pearl Jam or the Ramones or Slipknot." And I want to be able to help parents understand better that their kids are not demented because they listen to that.