Given the institutional importance of some heavy metal bands, it’s hard for many headbangers to imagine our favorite musicians as regular people who wake up every day and go to work.
The public personas of these larger-than-life figures are so ubiquitous that the thought of them doing anything other than shredding and kicking ass borders on the absurd.
The fact is, we’ve all gotta start somewhere and heavy metal is working-class music in and of itself. Remember that Black Sabbath’s legendary axeman Tony Iommi only developed his style of playing because his fingertips were cut off in an accident while working at a metal factory. If that doesn’t cement the genre with a built-in ethos, I don’t know what does.
In the case of California thrash gods Slayer, a big part of their early days was informed by the day jobs of the band members. While drummer Dave Lombardo famously met guitarist Kerry King while delivering pizza, it was bassist and singer Tom Araya who had the more serious and long-term-looking job of the bunch as a respiratory therapist.
Araya talked about getting into the profession in an interview with knac.com, saying:
“My older sister suggested it; she said she had friends who were respiratory therapists, and it was an easy course. And my dad was like, “You either do that or you work.” So I chose to go to school. I went to school for about 2 years on a technical course, and I learned a lot. I learned about air mixture ratios and all the stuff; I learned how to draw blood. I was learning how to intubate people, where you put tubes in their throats. I did that, and in the meantime, I was also jamming with the band.”
Fresh out of trade school, the frontman set about entering the workforce in earnest at the Brotman Medical Center:
”I’d get up in the morning and deal with traffic; and then leave at three and deal with traffic,” he said. “Some days were pretty hectic and some days were easy.”
It was Araya’s job and a loan from Kerry King’s dad that provided the seed money to finance Slayer’s debut album, Show No Mercy. As fate would have it, push came to shove between his more practical occupational responsibilities and dedication to his band.
“Our first tour in Europe they (the Brotman Medical Center) wouldn’t give me the time off from work,” said Araya.
“They said that if I was gone for a month or more they would fire me, even though I was on a need basis where they’d call me up and say:
‘We need you to come in today.’ They’d call me at 5:00 in the morning and wake my ass up, ‘Someone’s not coming in, we need you to come into work.’ When they said they’d fire me I was like, ‘Well, I guess I’m fired.’ Just got my stuff out of my locker and that was about it.”
While history has proved several times over that Araya made the correct decision on what to do with his life, that doesn’t mean a lack of respect on his part for his previous profession. “lf you like helping people, if you like saving lives, if you like knowing that you do something to better someone’s life then that’s a job that you should pursue.”