“chaos is deprived of much of its imagery and rhetoric become occasions for play…hell becomes the site of a wild, enjoyable party. it symbolizes a refusal to conform to rules of respectability that repress vitality or to submit to those who wish their domination over others”
Deena Weinstein – Heavy Metal the Beast that Refuses to Die
It’s been a while since we sat down and did one of these rants and I’ve got to say I can’t quit imagine what the world would be without them. I’m a lawyer and I tend to disagree with everything not taking things at face value. Also I take great offence at not taking risks and being confined to just one corner. I hate mainstream fundamentalists that argue for a meter rule measure of everything from musical taste, to sexuality, indulgence and the color of shoes. I’m a big fan (especially recently) of expressive thought unhindered by what shapes dominant cultural ideas want us to settle into. But it really pisses me off when I see that people from my own ilk, people that should know better start playing to the tune of these one dimensional and square headed pipers that is mainstream society.
Two things sparked the fire to my seasonal rant, one is a piece on a column that I regularly (or to be honest religiously) read i.e. the rocker now penned by Lust of a Dying Breed Guitarist Issa Khalid. The other is a piece on the thoughts of Slash on how everyone including metal bands are trying so hard to write material that makes the Top 40 list. Reading Issa’s work recently everything seems serialized towards softening rock music for the palates of those unable to comprehend its aggressiveness. It has been an effort to portray and even at times glorify the decent, sweet and even pro-establishment themes of heavy metal. And to some degree he is right that there are corners of metal that are in fact primarily acoustic. There is no shortage of great ballads even locally that are the quintessential examples of how soothing (in a squeamish way I mean) metal and even rock music can be. There are times when bands strip off the garb of rebellion and tap into their more silky sides.
I understand, and I may try to speculate what his angle is with what he does on that column. Perhaps it’s a smart way of softening up audiences to enjoy the taste of heavy metal and the larger rock culture. Perhaps he doesn’t have as much creative control; and media houses being the controlling leviathans that they have proven to be that may well be the case. Or perhaps like many guys that play for metal bands he’s just the type that doesn’t enjoy metal as much or has evolved to prefer a softer touch. Whatever the case he still has the constitutional right to embrace his own identity and express himself however he sees fit. There is diversity and a politics of difference even within the metal community.
Nevertheless I couldn’t help but feel completely taken aback by that kind of thinking. And I felt that it was some kind of hairline betrayal. The understanding that rock music isn’t as corruptive as it has been put out to be is something that can be a hard sell to its critics (most of whom can’t see beyond the prejudice of their own noses forgive me for saying). But going on and selling out your own identity to prove otherwise, changing or discarding my own identity to please people is something that I can never do. In fact it just goes to entrench mainstream culture’s own prejudices.
Heavy metal has been described as embracing or playing with all those elements that people ignore but are part of everyday life. The tools of abhorrence such as the indulgences of the flesh, violence, madness, death and evil. Those are its mantra. And I have found it particularly therapeutic and refreshing giving me the strength to carry on, become tolerant and even less fearful. Id say its even made me a better person. Im no longer afraid of the dark, I understand that there is no such thing as being queer and instead that everyone is different in every shade of the word. But more essentially the case for accepting and not hiding the darker and aggressive character of rock culture is that it does serve a purpose. Oh and also its fundamentally wrong to lie to people that that this stuff is pure and churchy and colourful leaving them with the impression that that is all there is to it.
Furthermore that line of thought will not make people respect you and you just come across as someone trying so hard to fit in and seek attention. If rock bands start doing the sort of soapy thing that characterises music that is easy on the ear then it’ll be betrayal to creativity and liberty. Everyone will try so hard to please the X FMs of today. There will be no platform to share and let out negative energy and what you have on your hands eventually is a generation of institutionalised automatons just waiting in line either to be checked into the psych ward at Mathare or pull of a ‘Columbine’ on a few hundred unfortunate souls.
Instead of selling out, what can be done instead is being pro-active and finally taking our own advice for once. Improving on our sound, taking risks and producing new material, inculcating better management models in bands and focussing on growing the scene through more live and time appropriate gigs. Out there amongst the mass of ostriches with their heads in the sand are vast majority of shackled souls crying out for help. Schools everywhere are dotted with droves of kids gladly looking for safe ways to let out frustration and embrace the expansive ideologies beyond their books, parents and even church compounds. So instead of playing it safe, wear your badge of difference proudly and change the world. Burn the world, don’t burn with it.