Swedish metal fan Roger Tullgren says his love of heavy metal is a disability. The government employment service agreed, paying part of his wages.
Forty-two-year-old Roger Tullgren is like many other heavy-metal fans his age. He discovered the genre at the tender age of 5, when his brother brought home a Black Sabbath album. He’s been hooked ever since, and continues to listen to the music daily and dress in the heavy-metal uniform: long hair, band t-shirts, silver and leather jewelry, piercings, and so on.
Unlike other fans, Tullgren says his love of heavy metal interferes with his day-to-day functioning and qualifies as a disability. He spent 10 years and visited three different psychologists before finally establishing his case. Recently, he filed paperwork with the government employment service near Hässleholm, Sweden, where he lives. They have agreed to pay a portion of his wages while he works part-time as a dishwasher in a restaurant.
Meanwhile, his boss says it’s OK for Tullgren to listen to music while he works — as long as it isn’t too loud and doesn’t interfere with customers’ enjoyment of their meals.
The ageing rocker claims to have attended almost three hundred shows last year, often skipping work in the process.
Eventually his last employer tired of his absences and Tullgren was left jobless and reliant on welfare handouts.
But his sessions with the occupational psychologists led to a solution of sorts: Tullgren signed a piece of paper on which his heavy metal lifestyle was classified as a disability, an assessment that entitles him to a wage supplement from the job centre.
“I signed a form saying: ‘Roger feels compelled to show his heavy metal style. This puts him in a difficult situation on the labour market. Therefore he needs extra financial help’. So now I can turn up at a job interview dressed in my normal clothes and just hand the interviewers this piece of paper,” he said.
“Some might say that I should grow up and learn to listen to other types of music but I can’t. Heavy metal is my lifestyle,” he said.
I’m not going to comment on whether I think Tullgren’s approach is legitimate. As far as I’m concerned, that’s between him, his therapist, the Swedish government, and his boss. But it does speak to a certain aspect of heavy-metal fandom. For many people, especially the most dedicated, this is more than a form of entertainment. It’s more, even, than a hobby. It’s a lifestyle, a tribe, even a religion.
Given those parameters, it’s easy enough to compare participation in heavy metal culture to participation in any other culture: the Amish, Hasidism, Islam. It would be discriminatory for an employer to force someone from one of these groups to change the way he or she dresses or appears while on the job. For example, Hani Khan is suing Abercrombie & Fitch after they asked her — a stockroom worker — to stop wearing her hijab. Meanwhile, the International Weightlifting Federation recently changed its dress code so Muslim women can compete. Likewise, businesses are required to provide allowances for religious practices. Would attending heavy-metal shows qualify?
So when is it a “lifestyle choice,” and when is it one’s culture and creed? That’s a fine line to draw. What isn’t clear to me is why Tullgren went after a disability clearance rather than look at it as a fight for workplace equality. What do you think Tullgren should do?