Full Metal Parenting #2: interview with Beth Winegarner

Full Metal Parenting

By illustrator Ali Hinch (http://www.alisonhinch.com).

A lot of metal fans will tell you that the genre has taken them on journeys to dark, unexpected, and wholly beautiful places, leading them to question nature, reality, and the meaning of existence. Well, welcome to parenthood! It’s pretty much the same, and often twice as loud. Parenting is livin’ after midnight by default at lot of the time, and two die-hard metal fans and parents, Craig Hayes and Matt Hinch, are here with Full Metal Parenting — a series devoted to sharing tales from parenthood’s trenches, with lessons torn straight from metal’s scriptures.

One of the things I’m trying to teach my son is not to put people on pedestals. I’m certainly trying to instill in him that it’s very good idea to applaud the efforts of those we respect and admire, but also to keep in mind that people are a fallible and contradictory bunch. That said, I’d now like to go right ahead and make a complete hypocrite of myself by introducing you to Full Metal Parenting’s very first interviewee (someone Matt and I are both quietly in awe of), author, poet, blogger, and journalist, Beth Winegarner.

Beth is the last person to ever want a pedestal constructed in her honor, but through her Backward Messages blog, and her recently published book, The Columbine Effect: How Five Teen Pastimes Got Caught in the Crossfire, and Why Teens are Taking Them Back, Beth’s out there fighting the fight for all of us. Backward Messages and The Columbine Effect both tackle the misrepresentations around metal, gothic culture, and other “so-called controversial teen interests,” countering myths with lucid and logical reasoning — and that’s something we all should be very thankful for.

Beth Winegarner (photo by Tyler Winegarner)

Beth Winegarner (photo by Tyler Winegarner)

Beth and her partner Devin live in San Francisco, with their five year old daughter, and she’s our very first FMP interviewee because she’s an inspiration to many writers and parents alike. Beth has talked a lot about parenting online, and she’s been open about the challenges and joys therein. So, without further ado, it’s our pleasure to welcome Beth to FMP.

Beth, thanks for taking the time to chat (I know you’re busy). Metal is only one of the genres you enjoy, and we both share a deep love of gothic rock, but what it was about metal specifically that attracted you in the first place?

There was a period in my adolescence when I shifted from listening to pop and R&B to “darker” music, including the Doors, Led Zeppelin, and then gothic rock and metal. I don’t think I could have put my finger on the reasons at the time, but there was a very clear psychological shift. Suddenly all those dark, soaring guitars and vocals were the most soothing thing I’d ever heard.

Looking back, I’d say it was because I was going through the typical adolescent emotional rollercoaster, but I’d also had a very traumatic first romantic relationship, a close friend of mine died, and my mom was hospitalized for several weeks with the lung disease that killed her a few years later. That was a lot to deal with, and I wasn’t dealing with it all that well. Having music available that matched those feelings was probably a way of working on them subconsciously. I was lucky that metal had a surge of massive popularity right when I needed it.

Parents are pretty much absent in metal. Unless I’m hugely mistaken, there’s not a lot of bands singing about changing nappies, making school lunches, or finding remedies to get grass stains out of the only decent pair of pants your kids own. Parenting seems so responsible, in comparison to metal’s rebelliousness, so why have you still stuck with metal?

I don’t think that much of metal deals overtly with parenting issues. But there are plenty of songs that work allegorically for the feelings associated with parenting — especially that kind of anguished love that is so deftly expressed in metal and is often how we feel about our kids. I think, too, that listening to music that explores the child’s perspective can remind us of how we felt in our youth, and that can inform our parenting.

I haven’t stuck with metal because of my role as a mom, though. Metal is one of the only things that helps me cope with the world and its stressors. It remains a kind of medicine, one I’d have a great deal of trouble without.

Like a lot of parents you’re busy balancing work pressures and parenting time, so do you still find you have enough time in your life to enjoy metal like you used to?

I listen mainly while I’m working. I’m a full-time journalist, so I spend several hours a day at a computer, writing. Granted, that means I need music that doesn’t distract me from the topics I’m writing about; I can’t really focus on work when I’m listening to thrash or speed metal, both of which I love. What works better is doom, sludge, blackgaze and drone — sounds that create a wonderful ambiance without screaming for my undivided attention.

I also try to go see metal shows live. It’s often my only time to pay attention to the music without distraction. I typically go alone. I’ll say hi to friends, but mostly I’m there to be with the music.

You’ve mentioned in the past that being a parent changed what you read and watch — i.e that you became more uncomfortable with depictions of violence, etc. Metal obviously delves into horrific themes and features plenty of controversial imagery too, so has becoming a parent given you pause to think about what you listen to as well?

It has mostly affected my tolerance for visual depictions of violence. Before my daughter was born I was much more into horror, and now I can’t bring myself to watch very much of it. Reading violence is fine (I’m currently re-reading “No Country for Old Men,” for example), and in music it’s all right, although I was never drawn to the more horrific styles of metal, either.

I don’t worry too much about what my daughter might overhear at this stage because she really doesn’t like the music. She’ll say, “Mommy, that’s too loud!” I worry more about things she overhears on public transit, which we ride daily and is full of colorful language!

TCE-frontcover-med copyYou’re making a major contribution to the debate about metal’s supposed harm (and can I just say, once again, kudos to you for that.) You have your Backward Messages blog, which seeks to “debunk articles and research that misrepresent controversial teen interests” and have recently released your book, The Columbine Effect, which aims to help us understand “how Slayer, Satanism and Grand Theft Auto can be a healthy part of growing up.” Does any part of being a parent play into you seeking to demystify or realign misrepresentations about metal?

Not exactly. It comes much more from a place of growing up within metal and recognizing that so few metal fans I knew, including myself, fit the dominant stereotype. It made me angry that outsiders built this straw-man argument about the dangers of metal, and meanwhile healthy, everyday kids who needed it were being separated from it like it was a plague.

It’s ridiculous to say metal makes kids act out. If anything, it’s the other way around. Some kids who act out seek metal because it matches their inner state — just like the rest of us seek it out because it soothes or validates something inside us. But there aren’t many voices pointing that out, so I wanted to be one of them. It does make me wonder what my daughter will be drawn to when it comes her turn, though!

As I’ve grown older, and my son’s grown up, I find myself in my the position of trying to sneakily encourage him to be a metal fan. Do you ever think, “I really hope my daughter digs metal as she’s growing up?”

No, although I might change my mind as she grows. I love metal, but it’s not the only music I love; there are tons of valid choices. I just hope that she finds music that really speaks to her, and makes her think and connect with herself, rather than just liking something because it’s cool or her friends like it. I went through a period of hiding my love for metal because nobody else thought it was cool, and I regret it now.

I don’t want my son growing up thinking women are all Mötley Crüe video extras, and it does worry me when I see how women are often represented in the media he watches. Does having a daughter give you any extra concerns about how women are represented in metal?

Not any more than I worry about how women are depicted elsewhere. Our current breed of pop feminism tells women it’s OK to bare their bodies, as long as they’re in control. I love Rihanna and Lady Gaga, but to a young girl it’s awfully difficult to discern the difference between a celebrity choosing to bare her skin now and, say, Jessica Hahn in the “Wild Thing” video or Tawny Kitaen dancing on cars in Whitesnake videos.

In some ways, I think metal provides a relatively safe space for women. Metal is about claiming personal power, for starters. Women who “dress metal” and go to shows are generally accepted. There are occasionally dumb comments, but I suspect men receive some dumb comments, too. There’s also still a great deal of misogyny in metal, from the whole “Hottest Chicks” phenomenon to videos like 3 Inches of Blood’s “Metal Woman,” which I’ve also written about. But I think it’s worse elsewhere.

Metal’s always something I’ve turned to to help me manage life’s frustrations, and parenting can be incredibly frustrating at times. I’m wondering if, like me, you’ve found metal to be a panacea and outlet for managing the innumerable challenges that parenting brings?

Oh, absolutely. My daughter, who is 5, gets really loud and boisterous at the end of the day. I’m not the world’s most patient person by any stretch of the imagination, and I’m oversensitive to noise, so my frustration level runs high by bedtime. I almost always listen to a little something after my daughter goes to sleep, just to decompress. There’s no specific album or subgenre that works better than any other for this; it’s just about whatever piece I’m in love with at the time, or something timeworn and trusted.

One last question, and this is the most important one of all! Here’s your chance to recommend your Top 5 metal discs to soundtrack the joys, frustrations, laughs and loves of parenting.

I’m sure if I answered this on another day, it would be five completely different albums. But here are my picks today:

Alcest, Les Voyages de L’Ame: This album perfectly captures the dreamy playfulness of childhood as well as the gorgeousness — and occasional screaming agony — of parenting.

Sleep, Dopesmoker: There are times that parenting can seem like a long, repetitive, heavy trip, but there are moments where new refrains break through. This album is like that.

King’s X, Gretchen Goes to Nebraska: There’s a real sense of wonder and beauty in this album, as well as a connection to family. I hope I’ll be able to help my daughter experience those feelings.

Northumbria, S/T: This album is sublime, and yet it was created through improvisation. I’m not great at improvising, but I appreciate the reminder that being flexible and open can lead to beauty.

Slayer, Seasons in the Abyss: The name alone says it. Parenting is like a mirror that shows you everything you haven’t dealt with, challenging you to move past it all so you can be present and whole for your children. Plus this album captures a political awareness and vigor that I hope someday my daughter will possess.

Look out for further installments of FMP, where we’ll be interviewing parents from all over the metal spectrum, including writers, musicians, fans, mums, dads, step-parents, and every configuration of families we can find.

Internationally published writer, columnist, and radio producer.