Book Spotlight: Beth Winegarner, author of A Riff Of One’s Own: Gender, Queerness and Hysteria in Glam Metal

Journalist, essayist and pop culture critic Beth Winegarner was listening to a podcast early last year when one of the hosts was talking about how her teenage attraction to long-haired Brad Pitt in Legends of the Fall was a sign of her queerness.

“That got me thinking about the gorgeous front men of bands like White Lion and Skid Row, and the feelings I had toward them as a teenager,” said Winegarner. “I decided I wanted to write an exploration of what those attractions meant in terms of my queerness, and also wanted to go deeper on the gender experimentation those bands were doing. I find it interesting that they adopted hyper-femme looks and makeup in a lot of cases but expressed hypermasculinity – and even toxic masculinity – because heavy metal in general is a hypermasculine, heteronormative culture.”

That essay is one of two in Winegarner’s latest zine, A Riff Of One’s Own: Gender, Queerness and Hysteria in Glam Metal. Along with the “Finding My Queerness in Sebastian Bach’s Gold Pants,” she also delves into Def Leppard’s biggest-selling album in “What Def Leppard’s ‘Hysteria’ Teaches Us About Actual Hysteria”.

“After I finished the Skid Row piece, I started thinking about Def Leppard’s album Hysteria. I’ve studied the diagnosis of hysteria quite a bit, as someone who has chronic illness and PTSD,” she said. “And the album has pretty much nothing to do with the diagnosis, which was what made the comparison an interesting exercise.” 

And while some critiques of the Glam or Hair Metal genre are certainly warranted (pun intended) – the obvious sexism, homophobia, etc., Winegarner cautions against dismissing the entire genre outright as vapid and simply unimportant.

“There’s a lot in it that reflects the culture of the era – for better and worse – and a lot to explore, especially in terms of gender and gender presentation, attempts to address political issues of the time, as White Lion and some other bands did, and the way “real metal” bands and fans related to the popularity of glam-metal bands,” she said. “There was and is a lot of effort to figure out what “belongs” under the metal umbrella and what doesn’t, a lot of tribalism, again centered on masculinity and heteronormativity but with occasional pockets of inclusiveness.”

A Riff Of One’s Own is available in print for $5.99 and as an ebook for $1.99 at www.bethwinegarner.com/riff.  

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