Today I stumbled across a peculiar story on NME‘s site about a Swedish man who had a supposed “heavy metal addiction”, which required him to go on disability benefits. This is a story that admittedly I hadn’t heard before and I immediately started to write an article, however when I looked deeper into the subject and actually did research, tracing the article back from it’s original emanating source; a Swedish publication called The Local it became clear to me that this story is actually really fucking old. June 2007 to be precise, which makes NME’s claim of “First For Music News” particularly hilarious, considering that they’d just reported this story as being very, very recent. Still, it’s an interesting topic and one that I think warrants discussion. It’s been five years since the story broke, but in this author’s opinion, the subject matter of addiction is timeless. Let’s crack on shall we?
In Sweden a 42 year old man has won a battle spanning close to a decade, to allow him to consider his addiction to heavy metal a legitimate disability. This means that the Swedish government have him registered as disabled and he regularly receives welfare payments to supplement his life and habits. Sounds great, right? Initially when I read this story I laughed, shook my head and though “sign me up!”, but then I thought about it, as is often my downfall and I realized that this is not particularly good news at all. Let’s look at the facts.
Roger Tullgren is a man who has struggled to hold down a job for a long time – he’s a heavily tattooed metal head who claims that he needs to listen to Metal almost constantly, and that because of his addiction, last year (2006) he went to over 300 concerts, which if you think about it, is almost six a week. That’s a preposterous amount of shows, but it also raises questions as to what exactly qualifies as a concert – can seeing a bunch of greasy dudes in a late night grunge bar on a Tuesday night with seven other patrons be counted as a “concert”? Apparently one of the reasons why he needs the welfare payments is to allow him to attend all of these shows, which is just mind boggling. Before the welfare payments were cleared, how did he get the money for all of these shows? It’s understood from the story that he has always struggled to hold down a job because of his addiction to heavy metal, but how did he make the money to satisfy that addiction? He implies that one of the reasons he struggled to hold down a job was because of the sheer amount of concerts he would attend, insinuating that he would abandon his job to go and watch a band. While some of us may initially think that’s pretty fucking ballsy and to be admired, and trust me, I hate the corporate lifestyle as much as the rest of us, but it comes off as incredibly irresponsible. It begs the question, after he had been let go from his first job, how on earth did he manage to secure a second? A third? The article doesn’t really go into any detail, but we have no idea how many jobs this man has been through, or how he acquired them, in the ten years it took him to get his “condition” legitimized.
Tullgren now works as a dishwasher with welfare payments to supplement his income. His boss is very understanding towards his “condition” and allows him to play his music as loud as he wants, so long as it doesn’t disturb guests; and to allow him to take time off whenever he needs to attend a concert, so long as he makes it up again later. The fact that licensed psychologists have given him a note that essentially allows him carte blanche in most social and occupational situations is frankly baffling. He can now show up to a job interview in a Cannibal Corpse T-shirt, torn jeans, skull and crossbones jewellery and crazy tattoos – making no effort whatsoever to try and dress appropriately for work, and thanks to the psychologists he can present a note to his prospective employer (proudly, no doubt) that it’s a disability akin to being in a wheelchair, and if he won’t get the job because of it then that is plain as day discrimination.
Again, while in a jokey manner this sounds fucking awesome, I would hope that all of the other metalheads out there would agree with me in that this is utterly ridiculous? What sets him apart from me claiming the same benefits? Is “addiction” the right word to use? Is obsession more accurate?
Tullgren claims that he has been addicted to heavy metal since his older brother brought home a Black Sabbath album in 1971. I’m sure for a lot of us our own musical evolution started in a similar way, I’m not entirely sure we could ever medically classify it as a disabling addiction. Not to mention it begs the question; what was going through the psychologists mind when he ok’d this? Was he a metalhead helping “a brother out”? Or, does it imply a deep misunderstanding of our beloved music and a deep seeded idea that our musical preference makes us weird, undesirable, mutated in some way? Is there still that much of a stigma against metal? To a point, where submerging yourself in the culture, dress code, jewellery and music of metal makes you a dangerous and disabled addict?
There will be many of us out there, either from direct or indirect contact who know the horrors of addiction. That true addiction often transcends love, enjoyment and obsession to a point where it becomes pure carnal compulsion. It is not to be enjoyed, it is NEEDED. Now, I need music in my life, and I’m sure many of you share that feeling, and while I’m not here to debate whether anyone loves music or needs music in their life more than anyone else it seems in particular to do a disservice to everyone else, especially bands.
Consider the musicians who lovingly create the music that Tullgren needs so badly. These people often slave away, trying to balance their artistic craft with the pressures and struggles of “real life” i.e. family and work. Some of these people will be working full time jobs and crazy hours, to try and support a family, before slogging it out on tour, earning next to no money for all of their trouble. Tullgren, on the other hand, presumably because he doesn’t want to change out of his metal garb, cannot function on this level and instead gets to listen to the music whilst resting on welfare payments and washing dishes.
The other thing about this story that really befuddles me is the idea that because he is now seriously addicted to heavy metal, so much so that he has been diagnosed by professionals – surely the next step is treatment? So far, the actions administered by his psychologists and his employer are merely enabling his antics; signalling to him, and the world that it’s ok. It’s the worst kind of positive reinforcement. It’s like sending a gambling addict to a casino and giving him “pocket money”.
Saying all of this, it seems very unlikely that this is the whole story. Information is sparse, and personally I would love to interview Tullgren (if you’re reading this by any chance, drop us an email!) to find out more about this unusual story. It’s highly likely that there is a more important underlying condition that manifests itself as an addiction to heavy metal, or perhaps that metal is the coping mechanism. I once knew someone who had a chemical imbalance in his brain that caused extremely violent and depressive mood swings, who often used music to combat this condition. He would use music to control his emotions more effectively and regulate his moods. This could well be a form of that or something else entirely, but it would make far more sense why professionals would choose to grant him this “disability”. Of course, the mainstream media have latched onto the heavy metal part of it all because it’s a chance to make a counter-culture movement look terrible, full of people who aren’t as good as “the rest of us”.
If there is indeed a real reason to this turn of events then this story will be very tragic. I suppose “”Heavy Metal Addiciton” makes a better headline than “man with disability claims welfare”. You can already sense the publication flying off the shelves with that zinger!
One last thing; Tullgren, if you really go to that many shows you should look at getting some work writing for a website, or even start your own blog. With the amount that you’re clearly present in the scene you could work hard at building contacts and building your profile, getting to a point where you may not need to be taking money from taxpayers, either through advertising on your prospective blog or through not having to pay for shows (if you manage to build the audience). Essentially, I suppose this humble site is asking you to be a little more responsible. This is a landmark story to occur around the world, but that means the world are watching you, at least with some degree of confusion or apathy. Don’t make us look bad is all I’m saying I guess.
Also, if it really is bad enough to consider it an addiction… Perhaps you should try some post rock for a bit?