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The Father and Son Who Are Raising Awareness About Cerebral Palsy with Heavy Metal

‘Metal is like no other family’

Twenty-three-year-old Mason McDeid was born with a serious case of cerebral palsy, an oft-debilitating condition marked by impaired muscle coordination. The pain associated with his disorder caused Mason to cry constantly as a child, and nothing — not even classical music — seemed to soothe him.

Mason’s metalhead father, Richard, was hellbent on calming his anguished son no matter what, and so, one day, when Mason was notably restless, Richard decided to play something a little different from his own music collection: A Metallica Live Shit: Binge & Purge VHS tape. The wailing guitars and pounding drums almost immediately lulled Mason to sleep — the first time he’d fallen asleep without someone holding him.

You might be shocked to learn that deafening, rambunctious metal music can soothe a small child, especially one with such a painful ailment. But back in 2015, researchers at the University of Queensland in Australia actually confirmed that such extreme beats can have a calming effect on people. “When experiencing anger, extreme music fans liked to listen to music that could match their anger. The music helped them explore the full gamut of emotion they felt, but also left them feeling more active and inspired,” Leah Sharman, a psychology student at the university, explained at the time. “Results showed levels of hostility, irritability and stress decreased after music was introduced, and the most significant change reported was the level of inspiration they felt.”

These findings might also help explain why adorable videos of babies being pacified by metal music abound on the internet:

But back to Richard and Mason. In 2016, the duo embarked on an epic pilgrimage to see 500 rock bands — including Iron Maiden, Slipknot, and of course, Metallica — play live around the country. When the year came to an end, they’d seen a total of 450 bands, an incredible feat when you consider that Mason — who’s wheelchair-bound — has now undergone 132 surgeries by Richard’s count.

“From simple GJ feeding tube replacements, which I now do at home, to a 16-hour spinal surgery that put two titanium bars in his back — kids with cerebral palsy have very bad scoliosis, and Mason’s was so bad that it would stop him from breathing,” Richard explains. (Mason is unable to speak due to his condition.) “Mason’s trouble is spasticity constantly pulling his bones out of place, so a couple surgeries were pump replacements [the pumps provided a constant supply of drugs that treat muscle spasms]. Mason would also get Botox shots every three months to control that, but the problem was that he needed 32-plus shots each time, so we put him to sleep for all of them.”

Needless to say, the constant care that Mason (and anyone else with cerebral palsy) requires obviously makes musical road trips a serious challenge. While some venues and festivals are wheelchair accessible — Richard mentions that the organizers at Warped Tour provided wristbands for people with special needs, allowing them to bypass long lines — others are annoyingly unaccessible. For instance, Richard and Mason once waited four hours outside of a stadium in Chicago before finding a back entrance.

Making it inside the venue is only the first of many challenges, though — even simple things, like drinking water while sitting under the hot sun at an outdoor festival, require added effort. “He’ll stick out his tongue if he’s thirsty or wants more food,” Richard says. “Very small bites are allowed, and I use a syringe to give him water or Coke — that way, I can control the speed so he doesn’t choke. That’s important if you’re under the sun all day in front of 86,000 Slipknot fans with hundreds of people crowd surfing over your head. He needs to stay hydrated.”

That said, it’s all worth it in the end. “The smile that comes on his face is priceless,” Richard explains. “When I say the word ‘music,’ he smiles. That’s how I get most of the pictures with him smiling — there’s always some vocal or noise trigger. He knows and loves music and always wants more. He was on stage with Hex Vortices a while back, and I could hear people saying, ‘Look at him smile. He so loves music.’ If I say music and get no reaction, it’s a clue that something’s not right with him.”

Last year, Mason and Richard took their shared love for metal even further, launching a mini-festival called Mason Metalfest. Richard tells me that they were inspired to put the festival together after several local metal bands kindly offered to play for Mason when he was receiving treatment. “Mason was in the hospital due to a lung infection caused by pneumonia and a 107.9-degree temperature,” Richard explains. “While we were in the hospital, bands were reaching out, and for fun, we thought we’d give Mason a big birthday party in December. But the doctors wanted me to send him to a hospice — long story short, I brought him home with a kidney tube and we had to delay the party.”

Fortunately, Mason’s health stabilized, and in March — which is also Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month — Mason Metalfest officially went down. Round two is approaching later this month and will feature local Minnesota metal bands, like Semtex and Distal Descent — will be held at Lee’s Liquor Lounge. “At last year’s show, I was thanking people on stage at the end of the night, and we were asked if we would do it again,” Richard says.

Overall, Richard, who’s a single father, tells me that the metal community — both local and otherwise — have been more than accepting of Mason and his condition. “Metal is like no other family,” he says, adding that other metalheads generally treat Mason like a brother. “Out of 10,000 fans, I might meet one who doesn’t think Mason should be there; but the other 9,999 would correct him, so I never need to worry.”

As a metalhead myself, this compassion doesn’t surprise me — in fact, watching someone crowd surf while in a wheelchair is a regular occurrence at hard rock shows:

Jackson Souza, a metal-loving friend of mine with an encyclopedic knowledge of both current and less-than-current black metal bands, agrees that the metal community is an accepting one. “I’d say that even subgenres of metal with the most misanthropic themes are accepting of people of different abilities, races, sexualities and so on,” he says. “Metal fans are generally just happy that you might share an uncommon interest with them.”

Still, Richard is aware that, from an outsider’s perspective, cerebral-palsy awareness and metal music might seem like an odd pairing. “To think a heavy metal guy like me is striving to raise two children on my own… but I’m here and I’m metal.”

Not that he’d be deterred anyway. “I’ve spent my life turning negatives into positives,” he explains. “Life is all attitude. I learned that we can’t control what happens to us in life, but we can control how we react to life and what it brings. Our actions affect many people throughout the day, so be good to each other. I never thought that Mason should have to deal with any of his dad’s negative energy, so I changed that into positive energy.”