Goulburn Valley, Victoria,1989
If you squinted, the shapes looked like stars. If you closed your eyes, you could imagine the stars as the Southern Cross, clustered, as they were, between Natalie’s collarbone and her bra. The shapes were splotches of black and red; bruises punctured by what we knew were teeth marks. Natalie called them “love bites”, but they looked like a disease. Sandy, Elodie and me, we couldn’t look away.
Natalie and Elodie were sisters. Natalie was 17, grown up, and cool. Her pastel-pink bedroom had a pink TV, and walls adorned with rock-band posters. Floorboards, no carpet; the heat of the afternoon sticking our chubby thighs to the waxy floor. If you slid the wrong way, you risked a cut from exposed flooring nails. We didn’t care. We would have scraped ourselves bloody to get as close to Natalie as we could.
“Do they hurt?” someone asked.
Natalie laughed, and dropped her shirt. We didn’t speak; we could barely breathe. I stared at Natalie’s chest, trying to imagine what on Earth would make a boy want to bite my skin, and how it was possible I could enjoy it. Everything I’d seen in the movies did not point to this as a boyfriend/girlfriend demonstration of affection. I felt uneasy, like the world I knew at 11 was broken, and 17 transformed kisses into wounds. Natalie noticed me staring and looked down at her shirt, emblazoned with a red scribble reading: Skid Row.
“You listen to metal?” she asked.
I snapped from my trance. Of course I listened to metal. I’d spent the entire summer blaring Bon Jovi’s New Jersey tape in my walkman, ignoring my dad’s instructions to “turn that bloody noise down”. I was a rebel, a burgeoning metalhead, poised on the edge of absolute-cool.
“Yes!” I declared. “I listen to Bon Jovi!”
Natalie’s eyebrows lifted, her inquisitive gaze morphing un-delicately into disgust.
“Are you fucking serious?” she spat. “That’s not metal, that’s hard rock.”
I froze. My friends looked at me with hard judgement. Apparently, this distinction was common knowledge, though I knew the only tapes Sandy and Elodie owned were Kylie Minogue and the Bangles. I swallowed hard and pulled my knees up to my chin. Natalie flipped on the TV.
“This is metal.”
She crouched in front of the set, fiddling with the VCR. I saw a Coles commercial zoom by on fast-forward; a snippet of ‘Hey, Hey It’s Saturday’. Then she stopped, turned up the volume, and hit play. A voice said “rolling” and we all sat forward. We saw a flame tattoo, a guitar smashing into a TV, and a whole lot of hair. Tinny guitars met thrashing drums, and then an “oh yeeeah” screech erupted from the singer, so raw and loud we lost our collective minds. My friends leapt to their feet. They flicked their hair, and grabbed each other, kicking their legs about in a righteous, rock frenzy.
They call us problem child
We spend our lives on trial
We are the youth gone wild!
I was transfixed, as much to the message as its messenger, intense and beautiful in bovver boots and black eyeliner. What was this sharp-edged manifestation in front of me; this genderless sceptre squealing in perfect pitch about wild kids who couldn’t be held down? I braved a glance at Natalie. She slow-blinked; an oracle revelling in her power. The devastation of youth was a five-piece called Skid Row, and I was at the gates of Valhalla.
“His name’s Sebastian Bach.” Natalie said.
I could only stare.
‘His’ name, I thought.
Here’s the bit where I say Everything Changed; where we cut our thumbs and signed in blood, swearing allegiance to metal, bonded forever by our discovery of insurrection inside this pastel fortress. But that’s not what happened. Natalie rewound the video, and my friends lost interest. They moved on to trying on Natalie’s clothes and reading her magazines, while Natalie and I kept watching. We watched Sebastian Bach prance and wail, bouncing his shoulders so that his hair would shimmy and flip. I took a full breath in each time he slid across the stage, crotch-first, all legs and cheekbones. I was unaware at the time just what Sebastian Bach’s androgyny was crystallising within me, yet I was firmly aware my cells were moving beneath my skin in new ways.
There were no allegiances that day. But there was change. Rebel-spirits formed. Shifts in self-definitions germinated, dancing at the edge of understanding. For a moment, we were there, Sandy, Elodie, and me. We banged our heads, and thrashed our air guitars. We thought about the bruising pain of love so far in the future as to be inconceivable. We were the youth, and we were wild.