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High on The Ball

Bringing the marijuana message to the MTV masses.

Growing up, I often heard my age group referred to as the “MTV Generation” — a label I never identified with, considering that my family didn’t even get cable until the ’80s were over. Plus, I loathed pretty much everything aired on MTV, with one flagrant exception: “Headbanger’s Ball.”

In an era when the only time heavy metal was seen on TV was when it was being blamed for inciting violence, suicide and Satanism in America’s youth, the Ball was the one oasis where we could see our culture represented as the force majeure it truly was. The show first aired in 1987 –just as I was graduating junior high and solidifying my identity as a metalhead. And while my friends and I could’ve done without all the glam and Christian metal coverage (Death to false metal, you posers!), we were so stoked to see interviews and backstage footage of real metal bands that it didn’t much matter.

The show was abruptly cancelled in 1995 and remained off the air until 2003, when the network revived it on its MTV2 channel. After undergoing a series of format changes and guest hosts, the Ball was eventually relegated to the MTV website in 2011 and given a new permanent host: my buddy Jose Mangin from Sirius XM. Jose now carries a mini–HD camcorder to every concert he attends so he can interview the bands backstage — which is exactly what he was preparing to do when I arrived at the Gramercy Theater for the Metal Alliance Tour this past March to present DevilDriver with their Doobie Award for Best Metal Artist.

Initially, I’d had some trouble getting the trophy in: Security wasn’t in the habit of letting anything made of glass into the club, let alone a two-foot bong. But after a quick powwow with the management, I was escorted back to the dressing room, where I found Jose chillin’ with DevilDriver frontman Dez Fafara. As fellow pagan potheads, Dez and I had immediately hit it off when I interviewed him for our March 2010 issue, and we’d kept in touch ever since. I can think of few metal performers as worthy of the honor as he. I wasted no time unwrapping the Doobie and presenting it to Dez, then sparking up a few joints in commemoration. Unsurprisingly, this led to my second encounter with club security — apparently, our stinky celebratory smoke had wafted all the way out to the merch table.

“You gotta keep this closed!” bellowed an agitated guard before slamming shut the door. “It reeks out here!”

Having turned over the award and gotten everyone high, my job was done; now it was time for Jose to do his. I stared stonily as the master of metal media riffed effortlessly with Dez about the tour, the reunion of his old band Coal Chamber, and which label they planned to sign with next.

“I’m into passion,” Dez said regarding any future home for the band. “I want to find passion for DevilDriver’s music and what we do, for the hard touring that we do … when we find that, we’ll do something.”

Then, at the end of the interview, Jose did something I never expected — he invited me on camera. “Before we end this, I want to say ‘What’s up?’ to my boy Bobby Black. Get your ass in here! Bobby works at High Times, and we’ll end off the Ball here with a little trophy presentation on behalf of HT to Dez.”

Unfortunately, since MTV’s parent company Viacom is notorious for its anti-drug censorship, we couldn’t show the trophy on camera for fear they’d cut the whole segment. After growing up watching all of my headbanging heroes on the Ball, getting the chance to appear on an episode and represent HT alongside two righteous heads like Jose and Dez was more epic than any power ballad.

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