Recently I got the opportunity to talk with Laina Dawes, a kindred spirit and an awesome lady. In case you folks are unaware, Dawes is the author of the book What Are You Doing Here? A Black Woman’s Life and Liberation in Heavy Metal, about her life and her involvement in the scene. I discovered Dawes through Racialicious and, as a black female metalhead myself, I knew I had to talk to her. Of course I wanted to share her story to the lovely HearEvil audience, but my motives were admittedly selfish. I’ve got a few close black female metalhead friends, but I’m always eager to compare stories with others. It gets lonely sometimes.
Like me, Laina Dawes became interested in metal at an early age. “I was just fascinated by the makeup and what they were wearing, as well as the music,” recalled Dawes in a story about watching KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park as a young girl. “I asked my parents for a KISS record for my birthday, and so they got me KISS’s Double Platinum when I was 8.” She continued, “I started collecting magazines when I was 11 or 12, ordering away to get Circus and CREEM Magazines, and then finding out more about Judas Priest and Def Leppard, and some of the NWOBHM stuff.” I couldn’t help but smile and relate the story of my own spiral, discovering metal through Extreme Championship Wrestling as a child and growing increasingly interested in the scene as I got older.
Dawes comes from a musical family — her father, brother, and younger sister are all classical musicians — so a growing interest in music, no matter what kind, did not perturb her parents. However, her unusual interests occasionally caused some interactions with the families of her closest friends to be strained. “The black Caribbean families were like ‘what the hell?’ and then just blamed my parents and said my parents were taking me to the devil,” Dawes explained. As the black adopted daughter of white parents outside of rural Ontario, Canada, it was assumed that Dawes’s obsession with hard rock and heavy metal came from her upbringing. “They thought that it was my parents’ fault, but it was actually my own personal preference in terms of what I wanted to listen to, and really getting involved in the culture,” Dawes asserts.
As she got older, her love life suffered on account of her ongoing interest in metal, yet another way in which I felt the parallelness of our lives. “Having boyfriends, black boyfriends, just never worked out, because then it was like, ‘How come you’re not listening to soca?’ ‘How come you’re not listening to reggae?’ ‘You should do this, you should do that!’” I could hear the exasperation in her voice. “I don’t like anyone telling me what to do, so that was a problem in terms of not being black enough, and that is something that has continued to this day.”
Stay tuned for Part 2!