11/11/11 is National Metal Day. So what does the number eleven have to do with heavy metal? Well, nothing really. Actually it's a joke. In the mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap, the farcical heavy metal guitarist, Nigel Tufnel, displays with pride a set of amplifiers with a volume control that goes up to eleven. Normal amps only go up to ten, but these allow the band to kick it up one more notch to eleven when the occasion calls for it. The mockumentary filmmaker asks Tufnel, "Why don't you just make ten louder and make ten be the top number and make that a little louder?" Uncomprehending, Tufnel simply responds, "These go to eleven." It's a hilarious moment. Trust me. If you've never seen This Is Spinal Tap, shame on you. Go watch it now.
So the scene that made famous the number eleven is actually making fun of heavy metal, depicting the people who play it as idiots. And, of course, like most stereotypes, there is some truth to it. There certainly are a fair number of dolts among the ranks of metal musicians. But like most stereotypes, this one is grossly unfair. And that's what makes it ingenious and appropriate to "take back" the number eleven. As women and African Americans have taken back some of the labels and slurs used against them, today metal heads are taking back the number used to mark them as morons. OK, in truth it's not as serious as all that, but also in truth, metal, its fans, and its artists have gotten a bad rap.
No other genre of popular music inspires the level of devotion that metal does. And there's a reason for that. Metal isn't just music. For many fans it's a religion, a way of life, a philosophy, if you will. While there have been plenty of metal bands who have played only three chords and sung about nothing but fast cars and fast women, the great majority have been accomplished musicians with something significant to say.
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