Wednesday, August 5, 2009
"You guys are like family to me" (a.k.a. Chapter 1 in my verbose memoirs)
This post is the best example I can give our Human Resources department as to why we need a full-time editor. Just look at this damn thing, it's long. Also, if ever there was clear proof that I can suffer from severe verbal diarrhea, you are reading it right now. This whole post came out of me in a single push, simply as a result of having seen one short YouTube video. Please excuse it's length, and (perhaps) lack of quality.
Earlier this year, my wife and I decided to, for the first time in years, go see some bands play live. Back in the day, my calendar was filled with the likes of Deicide, Malevolent Creation, and other groundbreaking bands like Demolition Hammer and Paradise Lost. Not so these days, which probably comes as a huge surprise to our beloved readers. See, I know that all of you think of me, and the entire Metal Inquisition staff, as the guys who are the first to get to a show, and the first ones to take their shirts of in order to "rule the pit". In my case, at least, nothing could be further from the truth these days. Actually, even back in my metal prime, I would have never been spotted sans-shirt at any metal festivity. So if you're trying to figure out who I am by checking out pictures of the Entombed show in Fort Lauderdale from 1991 in someone's Flickr account, I'll give you a hint: I was the guy with a shirt on. There was only like two of us, and the other guy was in a wheelchair. That dude was such a scenester too.
Anyway...that was then, but little has changed. If anything, thing have gotten a bit worse. See, as I've stated before, my metal tank (if you will) is running on fumes. I largely write about metal in the past tense, and I'm largely interested (if at all) in bands that peaked nearly 20 years ago. As such, seeing live music is not a priority in my life these days. Most of the bands I liked as a kid completely suck now, and most new bands merely sound like third-rate versions of bands I liked earlier in my life. I know that this point of view is dead giveaway of someone who is aging, and thus completely out of it....but I'm telling you the truth. This is how I've always been, prematurely old from the time I was a little kid. Just ask my brother. One time, when I was little (he's four years older than me) he started to tickle me, to the point where I could hardly breathe. I told him to stop, that he HAD to stop. Why? I claimed to have a "heart condition", and I was only four years old...but already concerned about my ailing health. With this in mind, I should tell you that if and when I do see live music (this whole post started with me telling you that my wife and I decided to see some live music...remember?), I constantly find myself wishing the shows would go a little something like this:
- Take public transportation, or drive my car to a safe and walkable neighborhood.
- If driving, park car in a well lit, free and safe parking lot
- Before the show, eat at a reasonably priced restaurant (cloth napkins are a plus)
- Without waiting in line, I walk right in at 7:55pm.
- Band I'm there to see, starts playing at 8:00 pm promptly. No opening bands.
- Songs from the latest record are not played. Songs are played just as on the old records.
- In a smoke free, and climate controlled environment, I enjoy the music without being bothered by sweaty people, and without being touched by strangers who are gross and probably have fleas and bad breath.
- At 9:00 pm to 9:30 pm, I leave the venue and head back home.
- Before 10:00 pm, I get back home and call it a night as I read a fine periodical or book.
Now that I've told you all this, you probably get a sense for how un-fun of a human being I am, and how rare indeed it would be for me to go see a bunch of bands play in what the youngsters call a "fest", which is exactly what I did. The particular event that my wife and I chose to go to was more of "hardcore fest" variety, where bands that barely anyone cared about back then, got back together to play for a small-ish number of people, who still somehow manage to remember their badly-produced musical output. Was it a horrible idea for us to go? Perhaps, but see...we took it as a chance to travel for a weekend, and see friends in a different city for a couple of days. I wont go into details about the bands or this particular show in general, as it was (at best) a shrug-inducing affair. All of it, that is, except for one detail. This one detail I'm referring to is something I noticed that night, and something I also remember having seen within the world of metal and other horrible subcultures I have been affiliated with. From the stage, aging band members who were once as thin as the mic stands they used as stage props (but now were...well, more like the size of the drum risers), proclaimed that "Everyone in this room is like family to me. All of you. I never had anyone or anything." Over and over again, we heard this general sentiment throughout the night, each band's singer saying it in a more profound manner than the last. Often citing a lack of stability or family life at home, a musical scene had become a family environment for all these angry tattooed fellows on stage. Though metal bands had never actually voiced this feeling in such a straightforward manner, choosing instead to talk about weed, evil, evil weed, or skulls that were evil and smoking weed. Nevertheless, I had heard this from friends many times. Metal was their life, and held a deeper and higher meaning than anything. In absence of religion, many had taken up metal...or punk, or hardcore, or whatever.
As my wife and I left the venue, we both realized that we had enjoyed ourselves, but that we were also greatly at odds (even this many years later) with the people who surrounded us in that venue. I suddenly understood why. Never in my life, had I ever considered members of a certain musical scene or subculture my family. Not once in my life, had I ever thought of everyone who was simply aware of a certain kind of music as my best friend...only because they happened to own the same records as me. Metal, as much as it was a part of my life, and as much as I was involved in it, had never encompassed my entire life. Look, I still have a stack of letters from Richard C of Wild Rags to prove it....I was down. How else would I have yet another stack of letters to me from video trader-extraordinaire Pat (from Hellwitch) dating back to 1990? Wait, are these things I'm telling you to prove I was cool? Hmm, perhaps it will get the reverse effect, so...never mind that. Anyay, I as down...but somehow managed to keep things in check. I don't say this to show I'm somehow superior (if you saw the child-like torso that god granted me, I think you'd quickly see how inferior I am)..I merely bring this up because it strikes me as odd. Why didn't I think of metal as my life, my family, my everything?
The broken homes and awful family circumstances that were talked about endlessly on stage by these performers were foreign to me. Yes, like so many others, during my teenage years I dressed and acted in a manner that made me feel at odds with my parents' views of my future. I unknowingly relished being different, whether that meant wearing an Iron Maiden t-shirt at 11 years old, or going to see Deicide at 14 years old while dressing like an extra in a Cypress Hill video. For whatever reason, we all enjoyed this sort of thing (perhaps the friction it created within our tiny universes was satisfying)...but what I never felt was the kind of bond that others speak about when referencing their allegiance to any kind of subculture. I was not above that sort of thing, I just never knew how to make it happen. I loved metal, but somehow the passion others had was always kept at arm's length. Some of those passionate feelings were usually expressed in foolish ways by those around me. One kid in my school took a small eraser and rubbed the Slayer pentagram on his forearm until it was raw. He did this for months, until heavy shoestring-like scar tissue built up around it. He had branded himself for life, and he was merely 15 years old. Another kid around me, after having heard a rumor that Phil Anselmo had died (circa 1991), wore a black armband to school for a solid week. At the time, I'm almost ashamed to admit, I rather liked Pantera. I was even one of those kids that thought Phil Anselmo looked buff and cool in his shirtless pictures (homoerotic, I know..and to top it off, Phil had the muscle definition of a melted bag of marshmellows.) Still, I couldn't bring myself to care all THAT much about the guy having supposedly died. Similarly, many years later I met a woman who told me she had cried uncontrollably for hours upon finding out that the singer Elliot Smith had died. I was amazed. While I completely understand someone's music, or creative output of any kind touching in a profound manner, I can't think of a single person who I don't know personally whose death would make me "cry uncontrolably for hours." These, I thought, were the wackos who cry outside Neverland ranch, the ones who sat outside Kurt Cobain's house after he killed himself. Wacky, half-undone people who are okay to be around for short periods of time...but the type that you would never, ever want to be close to. Why? If that's the reaction they have to someone like Cliff Burton dying, can you imagine what will happen with their uncle or their goldfish die? These are the people who will set themselves on fire (Buddhist monk style) over their second cousin in Iowa getting a cold. Okay, I mean..I get it. They only do it for people who touched them deeply...so they'll only do it for their uncle Earl who touched them in a funny place as kids. I kid, I kid. But seriously folks, what drives people to feel so insanely connected to music? Am I not in touch with my feelings? I don't think I am, not that I'd be a good judge. I've been moved by music and art, architecture and many other stupid things that human beings have created. Music in particular has the ability to change my mood, just like anyone else. To this day, listening to Bloodlet makes me want to physically harm others...just like Agnostic Front used to make me want to lift weights when I was 14. Silly, yes...but this is the human mind we're talking about. Still, I guess I never felt the type of elation that others have experienced. Am I missing out?
We were all teenagers once
Did I perhaps have those strong feelings when I was younger? Why didn't I hate my family, and think of the audience at a Malevolent Creation show as my family? This is where the blog turns into a self-help book, so hold on to your balls and your vajay-jays.
Allow me to reminisce (insert harp sounds here). Like any other idiotic teenager, I had mood swings, and subsequently became a complete pain in the ass to be around for some time. I deeply regret my actions during that time, but have slowly come to terms with the fact that I was too stupid to know what I was really doing. Maybe that's just a coping mechanism, something to make me feel better about having hurt those around me...but so be it. Sure, things were tense at home from time to time, and like other families, there was stress for all kinds of reasons at home. I wanted to dress a certain way, for the last few years of the 80s, my wanting to have a mullet alone created huge friction between my mom and me. I mention this to let you know that my family life was perhaps not totally perfect, but how could a teenager (involved in metal or not) be completely at ease with everything in his/her life? As a teenager, you're not supposed to. Like all comming-of-age stories (the real ones, not like the first two seasons of Dawson's Creek or Felicity), that time is supposed to be filled with small bits of conflict, horrible fashion choices and bumps on the road. Being involved in a subculture like metal, however, complicates things a bit since you are expected to completely uphold every decision you made as a young child. People "sell out", "drop out of the scene" or magically become something else. Remember the metal kid who got into hip-hop? The goth kid who suddenly discovered the Grateful Dead? These things happen in life, but are greatly penalized among such subcultures.
So where was I? Oh yes...family stuff. (cue slow, pensive piano music)
So aside from the usual minor bits of conflict...I think I come from a generally stable and sane family. At least for a South American one. In retrospect, I now see that youth is defined by conflict, and in becoming involved within subcultures (musical or not) we were actually able to shape what those conflicts were. We were, in a sense, picking our own poison. What a rare treat, odd as it may sound, to get to partially control one big aspect of your life. Like babies, crying for attention, we all begged for conflict by wearing a certain shirt from a certain band home...or whatever it was that drove our parents crazy. It's for this reason that I feel a bit sad when I still see men in the late thirties or even forties, wearing those horrible bondage pants and Craddle Of Filth shirts. I see them standing there, grown toddlers asking the world to look their way. Sorry if that sounds extremely judgmental on my part, but that's what I see.
But back to make-shift teenage rebellion. In controlling the points where we would encounter friction, we had control over at least one thing, at a time when it felt like we controlled nothing (wah, wah, wah.) Perhaps as a result, some start to feel even more attachment to a certain type of music or artist. The world is against them, no one understands, so on and so forth. This is how it starts, and next thing you know, you're crying because Vinny Daze from Demolition Hammer died.
As kids, we often found ourselves testing new ground, and largely sniffing around trying to find our way through life. Such an adventure, at such a young age, is bound to have conflict and some light turmoil. In retrospect, most of that conflict and turmoil seems silly now...but at that age, they were some of the biggest issues we had dealt with in life. Still, although life wasn't perfect, I never hated my family...and I never felt such allegiance to a group (one largely made up of strangers) as a result. From a young age, I loved metal and went on to love and devote most of my life and energy into other musical "scenes" (typing that makes me dry-heave, as I'm still weary of "scenes" and "cultures"). Yes, I played in bands, booked shows, I put out horrible zines, did awful one-man side projects. Through all of that, however, I still knew that this was just something that I loved doing, but it was never my whole life. Music was never my family, nor was it my entire existence. Somehow, things were always in focus for me, a substantial accomplishment when you consider that so few things were ever in focus for me through those years. In a way, these groups of people became huge influences in my life, largely for the better. Through music, I began to shape my political views...hell, it even helped me shape ideas regarding what I eat and don't eat (which is downright insane). But through all this, somehow, in the back of my mind things were kept in check. My family and my close friends were just that...and those involved with music who I was not close to, were just people who were also into the same music I was into. No more, no less.
When I think about this general subject, a certain person from my past comes to mind, his name was Bob. Bob was an elderly and very kind man. Bob, although clearly not well-off monetarily, dressed in an impeccable manner for someone his age. His dark pants were always perfectly pressed, as were his white dress shirts, which he always covered partially with similarly well cared-for cardigan sweaters. Bob's hair was perfectly white, as were his large and orderly fake teeth. We both worked at a suburban telemarketing company in the mid 90s, and often spent our breaks talking in order to pass the time. Bob had never fully retired, and continued to work in order to help his pregnant grandaughter who was now living with him and wife. Everyday after work, a beat-up Impala would pull up while creating a large cloud of smoke. Behind the wheel was a tiny young girl, the grandaughter, who looked to be thirteen at most. The girl sported oversized doorknocker earrings, and constantly kept her lips puckered as a clear sign of anger. While tugging at the drawstrings of her San Jose Sharks jacket, the young girl would bark out, "Well, get in already!" Tough words for an elderly grandfather, who had just finished another seven hour shift for her benefit. Bob would kindly shrug as he looked at us, as to say "Kids these days... you know how they are". He would then head into the car, and the Impala would drive off in another cloud of smoke. It made me sad to see how a man his age, who was working to help this girl, was being treated. Bob wanted to retire, he often told me so. He didn't want to keep making calls to strangers, none of us did, but he had to. He would keep working in this nondescript suburban office park until the end of his days, and that made me sad to no end. During one of our break-room conversations, Bob once asked me if I had thought about getting my own headset for work. The headset being perhaps the most crucial and necessary accoutrement in a telemarketer's arsenal. Bob had noticed how fastidiously I cleaned the headset I was given by our shift manager each day, using any and all anti-bacterial substances I could get my hands on. "You should think about it" Bob said, "I got mine thirteen years ago, and I'm always happy I have it with me". Something suddenly occurred to me...I hadn't bought myself my very own Plantronics headset, as others had, simply because I was broke at the time, which I certainly was. There was another reason. I had not bought my own, because I knew that once I bought one, I would be there, doing that job for thirteen years...just as Bob had. This, I told myself, was a job...not a career. If you'll excuse the vapid and cheesy wording...the thin wire on that headset would surely serve as a noose, and would keep me tethered to that damn building for life. Soon, an angry teenager would be picking me up, as my fake teeth rattled in anger. So I realized, we were different, Bob and I, and not just because of our age. Whereas Bob bought small gifts for our shift managers around Christmas, and aimed to make his workstation feel a bit more like home, I tried as hard as possible to do the opposite. I needed that job, I needed the money...but I was not there for life. My relationship with musical scenes was a bit similar. I was getting my share of entertainment, friendships and fun out of it ...but at the same time, seeing old timers who would often crow about having seen Metallica "back in 83", and had no other accomplishments in their life since, scared me. I didn't want to be that guy, in the same way that I really didn't want to buy the headset. I didn't want the Slayer pentagram in my arm, I never wanted to invest too heavily...all in fear of that Impala and the angry teenage bitch behind the wheel.
As the years go by, and I no longer earn a living as a telemarketer, but I have come to realize that many of my close friends today are people I met (in one way or another) through music. So, there is no doubt that music, and the culture around it, has played a large role in my life. A huge one, actually. And yet, to look out at an audience of one or ten thousand people (as so many have) and proudly say "you are all my family", sounds like one of the most whacked out, unstable things anyone can say out loud to me. What I hear in those words are the feelings of unstable adults, adults with sizable issues that will probably make them a real chore to be around. I hear the words of an adult tantruming, unable to see which way is up. I say this, knowing that all of us have difficulties in life, from time to time. But voicing it in such a way, is simply astounding due to it's revelatory nature.
Remember in Decade Of Aggression, when Tom Araya says "if you see someone go down, help them back up. That's what we're here to do...help each other out...okay?" When I heard that, I just want to turn to the speaker and say, "Tom, you stupid idiot...have you met your fans? Do you really think the toothless meth head is helping anyone? It's a nice sentiment and all...but the only thing that unites us all is listening to Slayer...which is a pretty thin and pathetic unifying bond when you get down to it." Even as a young teenager, I had this mindset. Honestly. Look, I was not then, nor am I now, the most self-aware human being...and yet, I could smell that pile of nasty doo-doo from miles away. Metal, Slayer, Pantera, Kiss, Flotsam and Jetsam, Prong, Nocturnus....none of these things were ever and will never by "my whole life dude." My life, is my life...one that I try to live as happily as I can, devoid of "metal running through my veins."
So don't feel offended when I tell you that all of you are not my family (I'm sure you're all in tears as a result of that statement, since you're ALL such huge fans)...as a matter of fact I know I would dislike most of you in person...much like you'd dislike me as well. And that's cool. Perhaps we share some points of view, we both know about Forbidden's live EP and how stupid that Judas Priest cover was...these are very general commonalities. So, regardless of what Madball songs may say about how we're all "brothers." We're not. Sorry Roger Miret, but how can we be not only "united" but also "strong", when I can't stand 90% of the people who share my musical taste?
So why on earth did I write this long (unfunny) post about this subject? Why did I suddenly turn this blog into a self-help forum? Why am I willingly setting myself up to get made fun of and/or ridiculed by our readers? Really, it's all because of the video below...which I found to be pretty funny. I know that the "Heavy Metal Parking Lot" angle has now been done to death...but there are some funny gems within this one. The part that got my attention the most, is the first interview, which features two shirtless drunks. Aside from sounding a bit like wanna-be wrestlers, they begin to express the "this is my family", and "metal runs in my blood" sentiment I'm referring to. I know this is merely the mumblings of two drunks, but its the thing that got me thinking about all this. Oh, and note the bearded guy with the Morbid Angel shirt who may or may not be dead during the taping of this video. After having seen Weekend At Bernies, you can never be too sure. Is this video Exhibit C in the trial against white America? Perhaps. Enjoy.
Could this be the post that made the blog jump the shark? Hope not. But like one BSNYC wisely says "that shark is not going to jump itself".