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Saturday, October 24, 2015

What Makes Us So Metal?

Although my taste in music hasn't changed much, I have to admit that it really has. It has been honed in to black metal for quite a while, which is a stark change in pace from the folk metal I am usually drawn to. I don't know what I am going to say today, so if you have nothing better to do today, read on with me and let's see where we end up.

My ipod bit the dust some 3 months ago and I have done a lot since then. I've gone on a 2 week road trip down to LA, over to Colorado, and back to Seattle. This included a huge extended family reunion in the Rocky Mountains that has helped me ground myself as who I am related to my family members. I've had a procedure done on my right elbow to alleviate pain from "tennis elbow" (btw 5 weeks in and still no relief of pain). I've brainstormed a general outline for the next year or two of my life to shape my career and what I want to be doing eventually.

In the meantime I've been listening to other people's music. Since my ipod died, my computer cable also disappeared somehow as well. My only lifeline to my music and my documents has not been charged and accessed until today. At this moment I am not listening to anything. Three months ago I would have something metal playing, maybe something on the TV, and I'd be writing this in hopes that someone would enjoy it somehow. I think that by being forced to be apart from my music for a while I have broadened my horizons.

Some solid examples are (as embarrassing as it is to admit to it): Alice Cooper. Black Sabbath. Blue Oyster Cult. Thin Lizzy. Even more embarrassing is my rank at the last Rock'n Roll Trivia night which was hosted at The Mix in Seattle (but I still won a Tom Waits album so I feel pretty good about that). Anyways, there are many more examples but here's a few. I am embarrassed to admit that besides Black Sabbath, I could only name one or two hits from these people before being brought up to date on them. These guys are amazing, period. They aren't only stepping stones between the genres of acid rock and heavy metal, they are the mountainous foundation of the range of metal as we know it. How could I have discounted them so during my lifetime? Oh maybe it's because I'm fortunate enough to have a pretty metal dad who always played those guys growing up. Up until recently those were "dad bands". Oh, how I have so much to learn!

One of the best things I've done recently is open an account at Scarecrow Video. I can't believe how many documentaries on rock, metal, and heavy music there are. My boyfriend and I made a declaration that we are going to watch every one of them. The first one we watched was Super Duper Alice Cooper, an amazing first hand account of how Alice Cooper came to be. I won't give a summary, but I have to say that Vincent Furnier (Alice Cooper) is one of the most persevering, ingenious, creative, and personable celebrity musician performers that I have ever had the pleasure to learn about. He had the odds largely against him and his starting bands, and when I think about my own life and how I've given up after a couple tries at something, it makes me sick about myself. But, feeling sick can be a huge motivator for making change happen.

 photo credit

That is what metal has always done for me anyways, more than any other type of music, metal always helps me think critically about my life and my surroundings. An article on Invisible Oranges called "7 Reasons it Feels Like Every Metal Band Is From Scandinavia" explores statistics on what conditions are responsible for producing so many metal bands in the regions they come from. Some factors considered include Catholic population, former Catholic population, Protestant and former Protestant populations, Marxism, proximity to the Equator, music venues per capita, etc. Many scientific factors and extensive numbers were taken into consideration for explaining why "it feels like every metal band is from Scandinavia." Long story short, it seems that locations with the least amount of political corruption spawn the most metal bands, and the article offers the conclusion that maybe the places that tolerate corruption the LEAST produce the most metal bands, or rather, Metalheads don't tolerate corruption. Several other correlations are brought to light and interesting to ponder over so read the article for yourself:
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This brings me to think about my own conditions for liking metal. I was born and raised in Anchorage, Alaska, USA. Well away from the equator, pretty mellow (white) politics in the area I was in, raised Catholic but since age 15 an ex-Catholic. I've been off and on interested in political and environmental policy. Just an armchair philosopher, I try to financially support the companies and products I want to see succeed, and organizations verbally when I cannot contribute finances. Perhaps my political mindedness and exposure to such a cold, dark, boring (for me) place sparked my love for dark, cynical and critical music. I never even paid attention to music at all until I was 13. I know realistically I listened to a lot of David Bowie, 80s Hits, Van Halen, Ozzy Osbourne, and other radio rock. At 14 I started liking the darker pop culture like grunge. Particularly Nirvana, that pained and honest I-don't-give-a-shit-WAIT-BUT-I-DO-wait-but-I-don't voice of Kurt Cobain's brought new perspective for me. I didn't have to listen to what's on the radio, even though Nirvana, Mudvayne, Metallica, and Van Halen were. Some of what I was raised with was on the radio, but looking at my dad's extensive vinyl and tape collection I was realizing much of it wasn't.

Back to the topic of "dad bands". One might look at this and say "well there you go, it's what you're raised with". But no, it's not! I didn't start liking heavy music on the radio (or "Music Choice" on digital cable, remember those channels?!) until I was 15 or 16. I discovered Tool when they came to play an Anchorage arena in 2002 and my dad offered to pay for me and two of my friends to go (so we could sit in the dry section alone and he and his buddies could sit in the wet section). Win-win for everyone, my dad gets to take his daughter to an amazing show that would change her life forever, his daughter would not feel awkward or embarrassed for having to pal around with dad all night, AND daughter gets to take two of her best friends for free?! (Did I mention my dad is the best?).

I discovered prog rock/prog metal the day I saw Tool live. Not the Tool I heard on the radio and always thought afterwards, "who was that again? I kinda liked it". Tool put on a full fledged light and sound experience that got me hooked. I remember seeing some long haired people headbanging to the sludgy slow beats. I thought headbanging was only for fast music? So many assumptions in my straight A+ student, gymnastics filled, 1+1=2 aligned mind shattered in a matter of hours through flashing lights, stacked amps, and a guy singing in adult tighty whities in the back of the stage. I felt a passion I'd never known, one connected through thousands of strangers piled into a concrete dome to watch 4 guys play music.

No pop, electronic, country, jazz, or other genre fanbase will ever do for me now. I love the music and lyrics for what it is, I love the connectedness I feel with other metalheads. Not all share in the impulse, but there's something to be said for metalheads in that regard. I find fans of metal to be the most independent, badass, creative, and adventurous people I've met (did I mention enthusiastic?). Of course certain subgenres produce some of the most grim, hard to get to, elusive people you have ever seen, but even when I have been fortunate enough to really talk with these people, they are incredible people and just a little bit shy about opening up to strangers in their presence.

Or maybe I like metal because it's in my blood, my genes. Like the molecule in the human brain that gets passed down through generations of past cannibalistic traditions to their unsuspecting offspring. Maybe we can all be traced back to a particular colony of particularly intense heavily dark and gloomy tribesmen somewhere in Antarctica. Maybe the premise behind GWAR isn't so fictional after all. Look at mushrooms, spores, they can survive in the endless vacuum of space! Maybe we metalheads have too.

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