The 17-minute 1986 documentary Heavy Metal Parking Lot records fans waiting for the start of a Judas Priest concert. Amid the myriad of colorful characters partying in the parking lot before the concert, one person stands out from even that motley crew, loudly proclaiming his love of metal music and his vitriolic disdain for punk and pop: Zebraman, so-named in recognition of his zebra-striped unitard. Zebraman’s 50-second tirade is perhaps the highlight of the short film and his character is a favorite among fans of the cult classic.
You can watch the whole documentary on Youtube. It’s a fun glimpse into 80’s metal culture, good for at least a few laughs, and depending on your past, good for a few fond memories. If you can’t spare the whole 17 minutes, Zebraman’s claim to fame begins at minute 9:04. Warning, if you’re offended by vulgar language, you’re going to want to skip this. Metal culture and drunken teenagers do not make for family-friendly viewing!
But here’s where the story gets interesting: thirteen years later the original filmmakers tracked down the adult Zebraman and caught up with him. You can watch Heavy Metal Parking Lot Alumni: Where Are They Now? online — the all-grown-up Zebraman makes his appearance at 14:33 in the film. And the revelation of who that enthusiastic metal fan grew into sent a pang of sadness through the heart of every fan of the original movie. Gone are the bombastic declarations of fidelity to metal; in the adult Zebraman we find a mild-mannered fellow who is but a faint reflection of the past.
The amateur psychologist in me sees Zebraman in two ways:
- As the boy who’s desperately trying to fit in with the in-crowd, who’s full of alcohol-fueled bravado and who’s reveling in his attention-seeking antics. And from that ignoble moment, youth inevitably gave way to maturity, revealing a well-adjusted adult who’s awkwardly embarrassed about the improprieties of childhood. Don’t we all have moments from our past that we’d rather put behind us?
- Or as the young man full of unbridled enthusiasm, exuding pure and unabashed love of music and life. And that undiluted passion eventually gave way to the doldrums of maturity. The naive excitement of youth faded into the sober realities of adulthood. Fun and excitement were exchanged for the tedium of the American Dream: a house in the suburbs, a BMW and a job in middle management.
Of course neither of these two scenarios is exactly the truth; the reality probably lies somewhere in between. Zebraman went to a concert as a kid, got drunk and yelled for the camera, and then grew up into a pretty normal-seeming adult. No big deal, right?
But the question remains: why was there such disappointment among his admirers when they found out what had become of him? Is it simply that he no longer espoused the unrestrained love of metal that had come to define him? Or is it that we’re saddened by the loss of something more intangible? The loss of youth, the loss of idealism, the loss of love for life — losses that we all relate to, that we all feel?
The reminder here is perhaps this: let us not forget the enthusiasm and joy that are essential to life. But let’s also seek to be real, to be authentic, to not pose for others but to find that joy and enthusiasm in who we really are, whether that person is the Zebraman of 1986 or the Zebraman of 1999. For, whether we realize it or not, we are each a version of the indefatigable icon that is Zebraman: I am Zebraman; you are Zebraman; we are all Zebraman.