Satan's apprentice 

I’ve been seeking the heart of metal for nearly half a day, and the only thing I’ve really learned thus far is how to be extremely adept at stepping over prone bodies and avoid the flailing arms of out-of-control headbangers who don’t realize that their moshing bears a strange resemblance to what Men Without Hats called "The Safety Dance."

It’s Ozzfest, dead center of the summer concert season, and I’m two beers closer to an epiphany that comes in quick glimpses: Heavy metal is the ideal of rugged American individualism in the flesh. I went looking for the burnouts who taught me about smoking and Shout at the Devil, but I found weekend warriors who were mostly trying really, really hard to get soooperfucking wasted. At $50 a pop and $7 a beer, metal at this level is a lifestyle choice. There wasn’t even a preponderance of mullets (aka hockey hair, etc.) in attendance. What the hell kind of metal show is this, anyway?

There were tricked-out sound systems pumping from custom pickup trucks, vans and, yes, Camaros – some stereotypes are there for a reason. There was brazen public pot smoking, the kind you just don’t find quite as openly accepted anywhere else in our culture. There were men who really shouldn’t be as comfortable with their naked torsos as they obviously are and women for whom the halter top is a political statement: letting it all hang out.

The shirts had been off the men and boys for well near seven hours at this point. Well-insulated guts and fading demon tattoos were sprung from their workaday clothing prison. Skin was beginning to turn that distinct lobster red that only a full day’s worth of sun and a whole weekend’s worth of watery beer can conspire to create. It was Pine Knob. It was Ozzfest. It was heavy metal time. At 6:30 p.m. on a Friday afternoon, 15,000 good metal militia members were screaming, "Wake up, Ozzy! It’s time to go on!"

"This is America!" says Mikestradamus, as he dishes out an "Ozzy Dog" – actually hamburgers shaped like hot dogs (quite tasty!). Mike is one half of the Forewarning Ghosts; his better half, Erika, is his partner in exhibition. Sort of a headbanger version of the guy in the rainbow wig, the FGs don elaborate ghost outfits and enter the fray of rock humanity armed with fluorescent signs sporting such messages as "Ozzy Knows!" "Ozzy is the Way" and other notes on the coming rock apocalypse. "We get the crowd pumped," says Mike simply. "Once you’ve seen us, you won’t forget us," says Erika while proudly displaying photos of the FGs backstage with GWAR.

A Grateful Dead crowd may be all about community and a flock of ravers may wax communal, too, but the heavy metal crowd is full of rogue agents whose only common denominator is the devil’s-horn handsign.

While, say, Nordic death metal requires a huge commitment to lifestyle and ideology, this kind of rock debauchery is clearly safe for weekend-only consumption. I’m not even sure anyone was really watching the bands or listening to the music.

"I could do that shit on acid if I had some," boasted a sunburned, mullet-headed Captain America as he sized up a 30-foot cylindrical tower made to look like the sheer face of a cliff. A half-dozen ambitious rock ’n’ roll music fans were clinging for all their buzz was worth to the strategically placed footholds trying to reach the peak and the glory and prizes promised there.

"Dude, just try to stand up."

"I can’t. Every time I do, I just fuckin’ start dry heavin’."

"Alright, dude. I’ll go get someone."

I slip past as he’s checking himself in the mirror, combing out his long mane, clearly confident that his friend is just having a little too much fun.

"The secret is, you gotta squeeze super-ass tight with your legs, otherwise it’ll throw you. I know, cuz I spent some time in Texas," intones one cool cat sizing up the mechanical bull ride that’s claiming inebriated rocker after inebriated rocker.

As the sun sets on the banging heads, the aging Mr. Osbourne – a man who more than once has struck mortal fear into the hearts of parents – is awakened from his demonic slumber and all is well in metalville. Ozzy knows.

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