Laina Dawes, author of the book "What Are You Doing Here?: A Black Woman's Life And Liberation In Heavy Metal" (Bazillion Points), was interviewed yesterday (Friday, January 4) on the "Morning Edition" show on NPR (National Public Radio). With over 13 million weekly listeners, the show is America's second most popular radio program. Topics discussed include the author's lifelong attraction to metal after discovering KISS and JUDAS PRIEST; her subsequent rejection by black friends who didn't consider her "black" enough; and the challenges and rewards of sticking with heavy metal and punk regardless of occasional racist incidents and confrontation.
The full interview, including music, is now available for streaming below.
On discovering metal as a young misfit:
Dawes: "Being 11 or 12 years old, I really resonated with the sound of anger and my internal struggles or what I was going through. I found that listening to the music in my bedroom, being able to feel like you could scream and yell and really express your anger, that really helped me out when I was a kid. ... I went to a primarily white school, so we dealt with a lot of racism. My parents, even though they were always there and supportive as much as they could be, I didn't feel that they were taking my concerns seriously. Like, you know, getting on the school bus and things being thrown at you and racial insults. As soon as I got home, I knew that I couldn't tell my parents. I knew that they wouldn't understand, and that really caused a lot of depression for me as a kid because I really didn't feel like I had anyone to talk to about it."
On feeling resistance from all sides:
Dawes: "There was a boy who went to another high school. He was really into metal, and we would talk on the phone, and I remember that he said that he wanted to meet me at a shopping mall on the weekend. And he said, 'Well, what do you look like?' And I said, 'Well, I'm black and this and this...' and he hung up the phone. I never heard from him again. [I also remember] my black female friends in high school and their parents wondering why I was wearing a DEF LEPPARD T-shirt or whatever, and really kind of questioning me on my cultural legitimacy as a black person. All of those together made me really understand at a pretty young age that, as a black woman, I'm not supposed to be doing this, and there's something wrong with me because I enjoy this music."
On preconceptions about "black" and "white" musical styles:
Dawes: "In black communities, music is so integral in terms of a storytelling mechanism. Back in the blues era, African-American women were actually able to talk about their hardships and sorrows through music, and be very personal. [The same is true of] hip-hop because it's also obviously a black-centric music form. When I was in my 20s and hip-hop was coming out, a lot of black people felt that if you listened to hip-hop, that means that you're really black, that you're proud of yourself, that you know who you are. So when black people listen to 'white-centric' music — which is rock 'n' roll, country, heavy metal, punk, hardcore — it's seen that they are somehow not proud of who they are."
Featuring a foreword by Skin of SKUNK ANANSIE, "What Are You Doing Here?: A Black Woman's Life And Liberation In Heavy Metal" is available now in softcover wherever books are sold, and in eBook form via the Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, Apple iTunes Books, and Kobo platforms.
For more information, visit www.bazillionpoints.com.
Laina Dawes is a journalist, cultural critic, and photographer. She has contributed to CBC Radio, Metal Edge, The Wire, Afrotoronto.com, and Blogher.com. An active public speaker, she has appeared at SXSW and the EMP pop music conference. She lives in Toronto, and her personal blog lives at WritingIsFighting.com.