Following the crowd (from my sofa)

 I typically am a fairly extroverted person. I enjoy hanging out with friends. My job requires me to be outgoing and to interact with new people constantly. I spend hours on the phone, meeting with patients and interviewing new nurses. Many of my hobbies require me to interact with others and I do enjoy it. To a point, that is. I’ll be the first to admit that after a long day at work, I much prefer cranking up some choice metal (I’m on an Opeth kick lately) and prefer to turn the phone off. I need some time to recharge my batteries. I need some time for my brain to rest, to not feel the need to entertain or problem solve. This need for space may be the biggest reason I shun mega-conventions. Yes, I’m an admitted sufferer of Con-phobia.

 DragonCon is going on right now, less than thirty miles from my home. I could be there in 45 minutes, with traffic. But, what then? I would be fighting crowds of Batmen, Wonder Women, Stormtroopers, Sith, and every version of Dr. Who. For what? What is the end result of the effort? To see sci-fi and fantasy TV and movie stars? With rare exception, I’m not that intrigued to leave my sofa and the immediate access via Amazon Prime gives me to movies and TV shows. And while, there are a handful I would like to meet while they are still around (the major issue with growing older is that my heroes are growing even older and are dying off), there’s not that many that I want to brave traffic, wait in line and pay through the nose to meet. (Exception would be the cast from the Buck Rogers tv series from the early 80’s. Yes, I know it’s not very metal.) What else would I do? Go gaming? I’m doing that this afternoon with some dear non Con attending friends…for free. Dress in costume? I actually debated this last year. I thought I would spend a year slaving to lose weight and would go as the Chris Eccleston era Dr. Who. Instead, I pocketed the Con fees, haven’t lost an ounce and am currently wearing shorts, a t-shirt and flip flops. But, I’m still willing to give you all air from my lungs.

 GenCon was just held a few weeks ago. For those who don’t know (I didn’t before), GenCon is the largest gaming oriented convention in the US. tens of thousands of gamers descended on the Con and many hours of sleep were lost by attendees. Several of my friends went and had a ball. I first looked at their Facebook posts and pictures with envy…and then noticed the amazing crowds. I can’t do it. It’s the same thing as DragonCon, for me. Too much expense, too much having to be in party mode. Not enough time to turn off the public persona.

 I realize as I get older, that vacations are important. If one truly loves the sci-fi/fantasy/gaming/comic book experience so much that they wish to spend precious time off dressing up as GI Joe (complete with kung fu grip) and to wait in line to meet the guy who played X-Wing pilot 6 in RETURN OF THE JEDI, more power to them. (Again, I would stab everyone of you to be able to meet and hug Erin Gray- Colonel Willma Deering from BUCK ROGERS) But, overall, it’s not my passion. Maybe that will change over the course of this next year. DragonCon2015 passes go on sale as soon as this year’s convention ends. I could go ahead and talk with Ms. Nerdy Metal Guy and see if she would like to spend a weekend at the hotel, enjoying room service and the occasional outing. I dunno.

 For today, I will go meet some friends, play some relaxing games and come home in time to watch some mind numbing television. I know that about a dozen of my friends are fighting the crowds and truly loving it at DragonCon, but I would prefer to fight the temptation for a softshell crab po boy and a Coke. (Again, just to make it clear, I would cattle prod all of you out of my way to get to meet Erin Gray. Looks like it’s time to break out the BUCK ROGERS box set.)


Have a wonderful Sunday!

“We play rock and roll” (with thanks to Lemmy Kilmister)

In today’s world of limited boundaries and maximum ability to tap into anything the world has to offer, arguments abound about what is metal and what is not. Right now on Facebook, there are seventeen year olds who have never been in a pit, yet they are experts. Just ask them: they will tell you. Adding to the confusion are an increasing number of genres. It’s no longer Rock, Hard rock and metal. Now there’s thrash, metalcore, death metal, black metal, progressive metal, power metal, symphonic metal, doom metal, blah, blah, blah. But, what’s funny is that most of these bands won’t say they play metal.

AC/DC is a band that is loved across the board, even if only for one song (but, you gotta admit, that one song will put a smile on your face). Angus Young reinvented Chuck Berry licks and made them his own, convincing three generations of aspiring rockers to strap on a Gibson SG and ride the highway to Hell. Many current metal acts look to AC/DC for guidance on how to make it and maintain longevity (basically do one thing, do it well and never change). But, the boys from Down Under aren’t quick to own the metal moniker. They are rock and rollers (fell free to ask them). They still crank Little Richard up in their Caddies as they cruise the strip.

Motorhead is another band that is metal royalty, but flies the rock and roll flag. Lemmy starts every concert with,”We are Motorhead. And we play rock and roll.” Motorhead (arguably) invented thrash metal (Lars Ulrich has no problem giving them credit for this). Their current incarnation with Phillip “The Beast” Campbell on guitar, Mikkey Dee on drums and the one and only Lemmy on bass and vocals, produces some of the heaviest music on the planet. Even heart problems and the devastating hand of old age can’t remove the thunder from the Warpig. Just don’t call it metal. It’s rock and roll.

The list goes on. Some bands still cry out for the metal label, only to be derided as hard rock (there is nothing wrong with hard rock, nothing at all). Hair metal bands from the late 1980’s continue to scream out for respect. Bands like Ratt, Motley Crue, Cinderella and my personal fave, Twisted Sister, all beg to be taken seriously as metal artists. The reality is that they haven’t been metal for over twenty years (and in some cases, never were metal). I’m willing to fight for Dee Snider and the boys, and while I want to call them metal, they stopped being metal after STAY HUNGRY sold several million copies. Quiet Riot and Motley Crue kicked open the door with metal boots, but quickly turned it down a notch (selling ten million more copies as a result). Hard rock wins girls and sells records.

The argument will thunder on. After you finish perusing this blog, click over to G+ or Facebook and check out some of the metal pages. Wedged between kids screaming,”Slayer rules!” and old men still bowing to the altar of Dio, you will find arguments about which metal band is best. That’s all good and fun. Just remember: It’s all still rock and roll.

Twelve things not to do in traffic

 As I was driving home today, traffic was a bit more brutal than the average Atlanta afternoon. As I found myself at a complete standstill, my mind turned to music, as it often does. I thought about bands I hadn’t listened to for a while and began my musical journey (since I was going nowhere in my car). 

 First up was Mastodon. I’m a sucker for hometown bands. I’m a bigger sucker for delightfully heavy heavy metal. The two combined make an irresistible combination. I selected ONCE MORE ‘ROUND THE SUN and let the sonic assault begin. I made it three songs (to the semi-hit “The High Ground”) and realized this was NOT the right album for a traffic jam. Between headbanging, steering wheel drum-playing and a complete disregard for life, I hit the button to search for another band. 

 Gojira’s L’ENFANT SAUVAGE was next. An absolutely brutal and fantastic album, I made to “The Axe” (again, the third song on the album) before realizing I had made the wrong choice. I was centimeters from the vehicle in front of me, my adrenaline was pumping and I was close to frothing at the mouth. Gojira, like Mastodon, is  band for driving high speeds on an open road, not for crawling through a rain storm in a steel deathtrap. It was time to select another album.

 Slayer, Exodus, Testament, Metallica, Megadeth, Crowbar, Prong…all were seen as bad ideas. Red Fang and The Sword fell to self preservation. I sat in silence, watching the traffic  slowly roll forward through the rain. I thought about the music loaded on my iphone. Black Sabbath, Black Label Society, Alice In Chains, Dio, Disturbed…bands with crushing guitars, piercing vocals and the ability to make me crash my car. I tried opting for a more melodic band, choosing Avenged Sevenfold’s sefl titled album. I made it to the first chorus of “Critical Acclaim” and hit the stop button. It was not to be a metal day. My favorite music was doing nothing but increasing my excitement and decreasing my ability to concentrate on the army of idiots surrounding me. 

 I finally went back into the vault and pulled out Van Halen’s 1984 album. It turned out to be the perfect choice for a rainy drive home. Sunny beach music from southern California guides a metalhead through rainy Atlanta traffic. Strange days are these…

Reflections of heresy

 I preach a lot against supporting over-played millionaires. I hate the idea of paying inflated ticket prices to see washed up has-beens. I have refused to buy tickets for bands such as Motley Crue, Kiss, Aerosmith and others, because I feel they need to go away and paying them to play only encourages them to stick around. So many bands that were good at one time, but are offering nothing new to music lovers and really just need to go and relax out of the spotlight. However, I have to confess to violating my own advice.

 August 8th I went with my wife and some friends to see Soundgarden and Nine Inch Nails with opening act The Dillinger Escape Plan. I had initially decided against the show due to ticket price and my “anti-aging millionaire support” stance. Then a friend offered to sell me tickets at a reduced price if i would drive us to the show. I spoke to my bride and bought the tickets. I felt no guilt of hypocrisy. I simply saw it as transaction in favor of music. 

 The show was great. The Dillinger Escape Plan seemed a bit out of place on the ticket. They are a fine metalcore band who seem to be branching out and changing their sound lately. They delivered a solid thirty minute set that increased my desire to hear more of this band.

 Soundgarden was the most mainstream band of the night, but also the band I was most familiar with. Kim Thayil has long been a guitarist I can associate with, from his love of classic Guild guitars to his embracing of alternate tunings. He didn’t disappoint. He blistered the night with hot guitar on “Spoonman”, “Outshined”, “Rusty Cage” and on and on. Chis Cornell continues to appeal to the women the crowd, an audible sigh coming from women as he posed before the microphone. I have to admit: he still has the pipes. Not my favorite singer, but not bad. In fact, the band was burning hot for much of the night…until Cornell felt the need to turn political. Nothing like being told not to let corporations and wealthy people make your decisions for you by a multi-millionaire. And to make matters worse, they ended with the worst song of the night. I don’t know it’s name: it just sucked ass. 

 Nine Inch Nails was a surprising act for me.  I had only heard “Closer” and “Hurt” prior to the night. I have to admit, they were freaking great. Trent Reznor is an amazing performer and surrounded himself with a group of virtuosos. They started the night with a sparse stage and minimal musical backing for his voice. By the end of the night, it was a mind-blowing visual treat accompanied by a full metal assault on your senses. “Head Like A Hole” literally blew me away. I won’t say I’m ready to wear NIN t-shirts and paint my nails black, but they won me over. 

 Which brings me to now. The feelings of hypocrisy. Couple the enjoyment of the show with my recent purchase of tickets to see Blue Oyster Cult in October, and there’s a conundrum. I have done exactly what I preach against…and I enjoy the heck out of it. I still have quite a few bands that I refuse to support in their attempts to revive their careers. I honestly wish Kiss, Def Leppard, Motley Crue and other washed up hair bands would go away. (Yes, I understand i have opened the door to tons of hate mail. Kiss would normally not be called a hair band, but they aren’t the same band that recorded DRESSED TO KILL. They suck now)

 So, I’ll be taking my hypocritical ass to see Blue Oyster Cult in October. I’ll sing along to “Godzilla”, “E.T.I” and all the other songs. I’ll air guitar to Buck Dharma. I’ll buy a BOC hoodie and I’ll love every second of it. And, I’ll continue to want a rather long list of bands to go away. 

Nowadays people sell millions of records that can’t sing.- Dee Snider

 Talent and luck are often exclusive of each other. How many fantastic bands are never “discovered” by the masses? How many virtuoso guitarists pay their rent by waiting tables or stocking shelves? On the opposite end of the spectrum, how many metal fans have ridiculed the crop of mega selling artists that rely on auto-tuned vocals, studio crafted songs that can’t be replicated live?

 I encourage music lovers to support real musicians. Let’s stop providing rewards to untalented turds.

Dirty, filthy hippies (and magic spells they weave)

Last night I did something decidedly non-metal and I attended the Phish concert in Alpharetta, GA. For those unfamiliar with the band, Phish are a ‘jam band’, a band that records rather jazzy/folky/bluesy songs, and then deconstructs and reconstructs them live. Jam bands are notorious for turning four minute songs into twenty minute epics. Born by the need for bands to fill the void left by the Grateful Dead, Phish is quite reminiscent of the Dead, both in song structure, guitar gymnastics and in the type of followers they attract. It was not the typical outing for That Nerdy Metal Guy.

The crowd was not what I used to, not by a long shot. To be fair, there was no shortage of long hair or beards, but Iron Maiden shirts were replaced with tie-dyed shirts, Doc Martens and Chuck Taylors were replaced with sandals and bare feet and flaming skulls were replaced with flowers. This crowd was smiling and happy and bouncing. To be honest, it annoyed me. I do better with my fellow metalheads. Denim clad, brooding and cynical. I couldn’t take three steps without someone telling me to “lighten up and be cool.” Ugh, nothing like a life motto of “peace, love dope” to make me question humanity’s future.

Something else I was not used to was the accepted practice of fans/pseudo-hippies/drug fueled frat boys arriving at the show and wandering about with their index finger pointing upward, indicating they need a ticket to the show. Metal shows (at least the ones around here) are much different. Delightfully sarcastic fans show up, ticket grasped in their scarred hands, ready for the fury and thunder the band of the night will unleash. In stark contrast, Phish fans seemed to see entrance to the concert to be only a part of the night. I had to wonder if those unable to gain access inside the amphitheater gates simply continued drinking and ingesting drugs in the parking lot, with the music provided by a car stereo.

The chaos of the parking lot was only slightly diminished inside. There were no shortage of sandal wearing guys and peasant skirt wearing girls to invite me to smile and,”get ready for the show, bro.” I imagined myself lowering them into a pool of sharks, Bond villain style. That Nerdy Metal Guy only smiles for the Missus, small children and fantastic metal. Dope smoking teenagers simply make we wish for a return of required military service.

I will take this moment to say that there was a bit of similarity between the crowds: there was a real sense of community. Had I dropped my shields, I would have been made one of them, draped in paisley and tie-dye and invited to twirl about the meadow. It was similar to the protective nature metalheads have when in the pit. We may knock each other down, but we pick each other up. Modern wannabe hippies have the same support for each other.

This leads into the next big difference, a delightful difference. Metal shows tend to be heavily male. While it’s true that there is an increasing number of women seen at metal shows, they are still heavily outnumbered. I would have to say it was evenly split last night, possibly even weighed in the favor of women. I was quite happily surrounded by pretty hippie chicks in peasant skirts, short shorts and mini skirts. As the heat, the music, the alcohol and the drugs wore on, they danced, swayed and twirled the night away. At risk of sounding like a creepy, lecherous old dog, I was quite pleased by this part of the night. I may be grumpy and sarcastic old bastard, but I am not blind. I could write reams in praise of the female form and the joy it provides when swaying rhythmically.

 I feel I could (and will) write more about last night’s events. I haven’t addressed the technical differences and similarities in the music, the battlefield appearance of the concert lawn at the end of the concert or the burrito offered to me. I’ll save those for later this week. Now, it’s time to relax. I believe THE BLESSED HELLRIDE by Black Label Society would make a fine start.