AIPT has the exclusive announcement of a new memoir called Heavy Metal Headbang that deals with identity, recovery, and writing. Written by Melissa Meszaros, the book is published by Oil on Water Press under their new imprint Headpress. Meszaros is a writer and comics industry publicist and with her memoir, she confronts the social challenges of recovering from a life-changing injury.
So what’s Heavy Metal Headbang about?
On her way to a Judas Priest concert, the accident happens. The traumatic brain injury Melissa Meszaros sustains changes everything; her life is turned upside down. Her steady job as Hollywood publicist and her trusted friends and colleagues are called into question. Even her own reflection staring back at her is a stranger. As she navigates the legal and medical battles, Melissa also begins to challenge her own fractured self.
For a publicist, identity is everything. What begins as a series of snapshot memories soon becomes an inspiring personal tale of recovery, as Melissa questions both her own identity—and her career. What does it mean to suddenly disappear from a rock’n’roll lifestyle when your whole professional life has been dedicated to making others famous?
Set for release on March 3, 2022, I asked Meszaros a few questions about this project, and her work as a publicist, and how the project got started. Below you’ll find her answers, which delve into what to expect from the book and how the comics industry saved her life.
Meszaros is the owner and lead at comics publicity house Don’t Hide PR who has worked with AIPT on multiple projects.
AIPT: Heavy Metal Headbang is a memoir about your recovery after suffering a traumatic brain injury, can you talk a little bit about when that injury took place and the road that led to the publication of this book?
Melissa Meszaros: I was supposed to see Judas Priest with a friend that evening in April 2018—and it was pizza week in Portland, OR—which IMO, is a pretty solid plan. Then bang!
Right outside the door at Oni Press HQ, I was hit by a car in the crosswalk.
My coworkers saw me lying in the road and thought I was dead because I was out cold. I woke and the ambulance arrived and was still really hell-bent on seeing Judas Priest. I was busted up and had no idea how potentially fatal my head wound was because it was an internal brain bleed, which resulted in my disassociating and losing much of my memory as a result. I had to reintegrate by jotting notes on my phone via Google Docs when something sparked, just to get a sense of grounding and an inkling as to who I was and getting through recovery.
I can honestly say I never anticipated it would’ve been anything more than a jumbled mess if not for my editor, J. Bryan Jones, and the potential that David Kerekes saw when I submitted the manuscript to Headpress. They were so kind to consider slotting it with the Oil on Water Press imprint.
AIPT: Your memoir is about putting the pieces of your life back together and reclaiming your identity and your career as a publicist, what support did you have in returning to a career as a publicist?
MM: At the risk of sounding trite, I really owe it all to the comics community.
As folks may know, Portland is the comics hub. When I woke up in the hospital, coworkers and colleagues from the industry surrounded me, from the waiting room to the ICU, and well into homestay recovery. Folks from Oni, Dark Horse, and Image would drop in or take me to doctor’s appointments; comics creators sent UberEats, grocery gift cards, emails and “get well soon” video messages—a few coworkers would even come over to my place and work alongside me because, the recovery, which took two full years (sans permanent damage), I was stuck working remote from my bed.
Despite all the emotional support, however, PR is not an easy job when you lose the ability to multitask. I couldn’t stare at a screen for more than 10 minutes at a time or do anything without having to take a nap immediately afterward. I couldn’t stand up, make coffee, nothing—it was healing that only time could concede—but in ways, working, whether it was “fight or flight” or simply so ingrained or having no other choice, PR was the one thing that I had to push myself to do. It meant working 12-15 hours a day with naps and multiple therapies retrofitted in between. There was no one else to do my job at the time and no one can be prepared for things like this happening.
Then I lost my job. I thought about all the times I spent busting my ass and sacrifices I made to do PR properly, always, especially at the beginning of my recovery. So I really had considered quitting PR and comics altogether. In the tattered state, I was in, I worried that I would never be fully capable of doing the work at full capacity again, if at all. With my job went my reason.
Then Mark Irwin (Insight Comics) and Mark London (Mad Cave Studios) approached me and made me realize that my skill set had value, and that my work and contributions to the industry were seen. I am eternally grateful and indebted to both of them.
It also made me think about what it would be like to help creators outside of a publisher, and that’s really what propelled me through recovery and brought my company, Don’t Hide PR, to its genesis.
AIPT: I’m no expert, but the life of a publicist isn’t something that’s well known to me, how deep do you go into this aspect of your life and what it’s like to be a publicist?
MM: My work-self and self-self are the same person, if not very much intertwined. The story itself has interwoven tales from my start in music, horror stories from the film days, anecdotes why you should never meet your heroes, and a bunch of 70s/80s/90s relatable pop-culture references, mainly in the vein of grunge.
There are cliffs notes and a general overview of the day to day tasks outlined in the Heavy Metal Headbang foreword (i.e. crafting pitches, press releases, maintaining industry relationships and building new ones, troubleshooting situations) but within the chapters, I was pretty surprised on how a mere childhood obsession with TV and music could convert into a career. I was so passionate for all creative mediums and at a very early age, became an inadvertent advocate for all the things I stumbled across. Like calling the radio stations when I’d pick up promo demos at the local record store (Backstreet Boys, you’re welcome) and promoting punk bands that played in small VFW halls.
AIPT: When did it become clear the notes you were taking to put your life back together may amount to a memoir like Heavy Metal Headbang?
MM: Crazy enough, it was when I found a copy of my thesis on nonlinear narrative during my time at Antioch University in Los Angeles. It held so many examples on how to make a mess of thoughts cohesive, like beat poetry, using italics, and relative page markers to create an outline or map of a story. I thought of it as good practice, just as I was conjuring up the memories. I dedicated the book to the late, great, Elizabeth Wurtzel (Prozac Nation), who I felt was the reason and drive for me to write in the first place.
AIPT: Crafting a memoir is no easy task, was there a starting point as far as pulling your notes together for this memoir?
MM: I was told to keep a journal by a number of my therapists. However, music—Melvins, L7, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, The Brian Jonestown Massacre—was the key that unlocked a lot of memories.
There was a long stint where I couldn’t hear that well because of the location of the injury, and when I started listening to music again and could follow it as a song without my brain selectively picking out just the vocals or just the guitars, memories started flooding in.
I also listened to a lot of audiobooks, mainly Patti Smith’s M Train, which taught me to vocalize thoughts as I jotted them down. It helped me form thoughts properly again and exercise my vocabulary.
AIPT: What was something you discovered about yourself after finishing this book?
MM: I had examined the dichotomy of myself and the concept of “self” as a whole. Because, when you don’t know who you are and have a head injury and have the responsibility of maintaining the identity of public figures and celebrities, it makes you question everything.
That’s exactly what Heavy Metal Headbang does—there are questions like, How did I get into PR? Why entertainment? Is that my reflection? Are these my real friends? Who am I if I’m not my job? Who are you? Who is anyone? It sounds quite Jungian, Ram Dass-ish, and questions ego death as part of the central theme of identity, and the concept of celebrity.
Literally having no concept of self but being self-aware, yet wary of others, is a pretty terrifying thing. I was a hologram for several months after the injury.
There’s a lot to be said about character, too, about being kind, about treating people the way you want to be treated without reservations. Writing made me take a step back and think about what it means to have patience and humility, to let the inevitable run its course when you are used to being the one who course-corrects at every step, because at the core, we’re all human.
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