It’s just an old fashioned love song

I found myself listening to some of the guitar gods of my youth recently. Hendrix, Page, Beck, Clapton, SRV, Johnny Winter and Mark Knopfler. That last one got me to thinking. As I listened to him singing about a modern Romeo and Juliet relationship, I began reflecting on love songs. Not the shmaltzy hold you hand and love you for ever songs that seem to fill the local and satellite stations with disgusting fluff. I’m talking those heartfelt songs about late night tears and the willingness to crawl through burning broken glass to get to the one you want. I found myself looking at metal artists who have laid their emotions out there for the world to scorn.

Rob Halford managed to slip quite a few love songs into the Priest setlist over the years. Sure, they were generally mixed liberally with S&M imagery, but the emotion was no less vivid. When The Metal God screams,”You give me pain, but you bring me pleasure”, it’s not just a catchy hook. And “Before the Dawn” from HELLBENT FOR LEATHER continues to move me (and i have been listening to this song for over thirty years.

Hair metal was no stranger to the love song, though much more radio friendly. Broken hearts and longing for the arms of their best girl litter the song selections from Motley Crue, Ratt, Cinderella, Dokken, and many other hair metal acts. Yet, in all of these songs I was unable to find one that made me really believe the singer was addressing that one special person and not the thousands of female fans they hope will buy their album.

Love songs and Lemmy typically seem to go together like gasoline and fire, but Motorhead managed to produce two of my all time favorite love songs: “All for You” and “Lost in the Ozone”. When I first heard “All for You” back in 1988, it blew me away. Sure, the production sucks, but it’s the raw emotion of the lyrics and Lemmy’s gutter howl sounds like a ravenous beast suddenly mourning his loss. Taylor Swift and Katy Perry could only hope to one day be able to sound as believable.

As my thoughts meander about I think back to the days of mix tapes and playlists we would make for our girlfriends. My friends would load theirs with U2, The Cure, Richard Marx, Bryan Adams and other pop idols. I was filling mine with songs like “Entre Nous” by Rush, “All for You”, the ever present “Love Hurts” by Nazareth and “Thank You” by Led Zeppelin. And a lot of instrumentals (I would sneak in Metallica’s “Call of Ktulu” frequently and girlfriends would say,”I like that pretty song”).

In today’s world of bands striving to be heavier, faster and louder, maybe it’s time to remember a softness can make the rest of the album that much heavier and harder.

Turning the dial

I’ll be the first to admit I change my mind a lot. There are very few constants in my life beyond a handful of friends and family, the love of a good dog and Motorhead’s NO REMORSE. Jobs and hobbies are subject to change at a whim. I took an inventory of the hobbies that have come and gone through my adult life and it makes my head spin. Comic books came and went and came and went and came back. My passion for motorcycles has been strong for my adult life, but my current bike needs to be turned into something different. Guitars (when I actively played) were bought, sold and traded so frequently that I stopped naming them; why get attached to something that is going out the door the next time the wind changes direction?

Music has been a constant in my life, but it’s always up for a change. I’ve rotated Nu metal, doom metal, metalcore, thrash metal and classic heavy metal with regular frequency. Bands like Kyng, The Sword, Mastodon, Black Label Society, Gojira, Kvelertek, Red Fang, Scorpion Child, Avenged Sevenfold, and Crobot all had their turns as flavor of the month in my rotation. They never go completely away, but end up put away for a rainy day, when I need to relive a moment from my past.

Some bands never go away. Black Sabbath, Rush, The Ramones, Motorhead, Led Zeppelin, Kiss and The Who have been my companions through the hardest moments in life, as well as some of the greatest. All of these bands have been in my collection for thirty years. I bought The Who’s TOMMY on vinyl when my classmates were buying Motley Crue and Ratt on cassette. My sister bought THRILLER and the FOOTLOOSE Soundtrack in 1984. I bought three Rush albums: GRACE UNDER PRESSURE, PERMANENT WAVES and A FAREWELL TO KINGS. While my best friend was cranking up Helix and Quiet Riot, I was secretly learning that Judy was a punk and how to beat on the brat with the Ramones.

Sabbath has been an old friend since I was 14. “Iron Man”, “NIB”, “Paranoid”, “The Mob Rules” and “Country Girl” were all on a tape kept hidden from overbearing and overly religious parents and teachers. I have to confess, however, that I didn’t BUY my first Black Sabbath album until I was 27 years old, and i stressed over the religious implications that surrounded such a choice. I could hear my mother, pastor, military school chaplain and best friend’s mother all condemning me to Hell in my mind as I forked over $5 for used CD copy of WE SOLD OUR SOULS FOR ROCK AND ROLL. I half expected the Earth to open and the hand of Satan to drag me to Hell as I slid the shiny disc into the CD player of my truck. (No such luck, though I got a ticket for speeding while jamming to “Tomorrow’s Dream”)

Lately I’ve finally gotten around to discovering music everyone else embraced in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Cake, My Morning Jacket, Son Volt/Uncle Tupelo and similar alternative rock acts fill my playlists for my day and I am quick to check Amazon Prime’s suggestions for other bands. (To be fair, I am still on the search for metal acts that I haven’t heard before, though it’s hard to top Black Tusk, for my money)

As I turn the dial through my choices, I find myself coming back to those old friends at least once a week. Today it was Wilco, followed by Kiss’ “Almost Human”, which was followed by Black Sabbath’s “I”. It reminded me that no matter how far I may travel, I can always come back home to the waiting arms of metal.

Unplugging the blue monster

I abandoned most social media services recently. It’s not that I’m a pseudo-intellectual seeking to make my self better than others by denying myself enjoyable pursuits. It’s that I was spending around six hours a day playing with Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, Instagram and other time wasting devices. I had stopped investigating life and instead was reading about everyone else’s lives and feeling that old demon of jealousy creep up on me. I did an evaluation of what I could do to immediately reverse the trend I opted to withdraw from Facebook and it’s ilk. Oh, the humanity; life must surely be coming to an end.

As I have been going through my Facebook detox, I look at what I’m missing. Instead of feeling the need to photograph everything I see and share it with the world, I am taking time to just enjoy the view. Instead of wasting time moderating metal pages inhabited by yet another argument of which band is better (are we still arguing Metallica against Slayer?) and fighting the uphill battle against online trolls, I’m reading comic books I bought over a year ago that laid ignored and I’m listening to music instead of just arguing about it.

I miss some of the interactions online, but find the folks that are really my friends had my phone number and e-mail address and we talk regularly. I read the news without having to argue about it. And I don’t have to deal with the never ending “I’m more metal than you” trollfest.

It’s that last issue that has been spinning around in my mind. It was twenty time a day statement uttered by people that obviously had never dared to step out of their protected environments and into the chaos of a metal show. Keyboard warriors who would tell tall-tales about sitting front row (center) at a Dio show last night, even though the man died in 2010. Or how they spent their night flattening people in a mosh pit. Or some other obvious lie to prove how “metal” they are.

I’ve never quite grasped that idea. Both the pretending to be something you aren’t and the idea of being “metal”. I look at men like Lemmy, Geezer Butler, KK Downing and Bruce Dickinson. Heavy metal royalty, everyone of them. But, look beyond the records and the concerts. Lemmy enjoys quiet afternoons playing video poker and trivia games. Geezer is a vegan chef. KK gave up the life of touring with Judas Priest to play golf. Bruce Dickinson is a licensed commercial pilot. None of these men exude “metal” in their private lives. They love their rather mundane hobbies and spending time with their families, not bashing people at a concert.

Even looking at younger metal performers, you see a similar thread. Maylene and the Sons of Disaster’s Dallas Taylor is devoted father and spends much of his time updating his facebook page with photos of camping trips and playing with his son. Kyng’s Eddie Veliz is a vintage guitar nut and loves to talk about old Guild solid bodies. The guys from Crobot like to smile, laugh and tell jokes. None of these artists have room in their schedules for the brooding that the modern metal mythos seems to embrace.

I love metal music. I, however, am most decidedly NOT metal. I enjoy going to metal shows (I am looking forward to Slipknot/Lamb of God on July 26th). I will get in a pit, on occasion. I wear metal band t-shirts and I buy their albums. But, I have little to do with the lifestyle of chest thumping, attacking others for being different or fabricating a false life. Those behaviors have little to do with metal music or it’s enjoyment. No, those behaviors are rooted in unhappiness.

I don’t see myself running back to Facebook anytime soon. I prefer talking with my real life metal friends and planning the next outing. I enjoy discussing the latest albums over a cup of coffee. And I absolutely adore the idea of not having to hear someone say,”I’m more metal than you.”

Turn the page (with props to both Bob Seger and Metallica)

As I was enjoying a rare lunch break last week, I stopped by the local musical instrument store. It’s a national chain that some love and some hate. For me, they’re convenient, have a nice selection and are willing to let me play the same six songs over and over without throwing me out. I did my usual perusal of high end Gibson and Fender guitars. I played the typical litany of Les Pauls and Stratocasters and realized there several hundred other guitars I never bothered with. I turned off the Marshall Amp, placed the Les Paul gingerly on the rack and began to look at the brands I had ignored for thirty years. Musical snobbery had convinced me that it had to be a US made guitar and a tube amp (preferably all produced before 1985) in order for it to be worth listening to. An Ibanez hollow bodied electric caught my eye. It’s Tobacco burst finish and chrome hardware gleaming. I took it in my hands and walked over to new Vox amplifier. I plugged in and was thrilled at the tone variations the combination provided. I played songs I had not played in 20 years and got thumbs up from several customers in the shop. I felt invigorated. I looked at the price and NEW the rig was less than $800. I no longer felt plunging back into the musical world was out of reach.

On the same trip, I saw a hollow bodied Silvertone from the mid 1960’s. The price tag was $999.99. That’s right: one grand for a guitar that was original bought for around $25 as a starter guitar out of the Montgomery Ward or Sears catalog. I was shocked. I mentioned my dismay to a store clerk. He talked about the classic nature of the guitar, that it’s all American and it’s”cool”. I replied,”You want a grand for a piece of crap?” I explained how it’s old, but it wasn’t a well built or good sounding guitar when it was new. Fifty years of existence hasn’t improved it. I shrugged my shoulders and moved on, realizing I wasn’t going to win this one.

As I drove on to the office, I thought about the inflated value of the old Silvertone, an abysmal instrument, versus the new Ibanez, that was less than half the price of the Silvertone. As my iPhone shuffled through artists, The Sword’s “Cloak of Feathers” came on. I began thinking about how new bands are producing invigorating music for less than half the price of aging artists. I thought about how many older metal and classic rock artists are producing lackluster albums and live performances that leave much to be desired. Then I listed off the newer artists I have seen over the past few years that have brought wonderful energy back into metal. Bands like Red Fang, Kyng, Scorpion Child, The Sword, Gojira, Mastodon and Kvelertak, who have all taken up the mantle and are struggling to make their mark in the hearts of metalheads.

Maybe I’m being too hard on the old Silvertone. Some older guy (or lady) may walk in to the guitar shop and decide they have to have it. It may remind them of their first guitar. It may be their first guitar. They may take it home and cherish it. Or, it may hang on the wall as a reminder that not everything from the past is worth trying to keep in the present and take into the future. The same can be said for certain bands.


Thinking outside the box

We metalheads are constantly at risk of being caught in an endless loop. We all have our favorite genres, those bands that amp us up and make us smile. But, there are those moments where the previous energy is gone and confusion reigns. We go searching for something to invigorate us. Sometimes it’s a new (or new to us) metal band. Sometimes, though, we have to step outside the metal arena to find something re-ignites our love of metal.

For me, it’s been some of the least metal music out there. No, there’s no Bieber or NIkki Minaj on my stereo. I have standards to maintain. No, instead I found myself delving into artists like Paul Simon, Tom Waits, My Morning Jacket, The Alan Parsons Project, Cake, The Old 97’s and more Tom Waits. Lots of Tom Waits. At this point in life, Tom Waits has become my muse, my inner alcoholic slobbering genius all over the part of my brain that loves music. As I listened to him today, my brain connected his drunken chord changes to some of my favorite songs by The Sword, Orchid and Crowbar. The depressed movements slammed into my soul like a forearm in a Machine Head pit. I found my chakra aligned and the world seemed brighter.

Our fellow metalheads seem to gain joy in publicly insulting those who stray from the metal path, acting as our personal Wicked Witches, happily tossing fireballs at us for stepping off the Yellow Brick Road. I say ignore these people and their narrow minded opinion. Tony Iommi draws inspiration from Blues and Jazz. Yngwie Malmsteen and Ritchie Blackmore brought classical into metal. Dave Mustaine has hailed influences from flamenco, country, bluegrass and punk.

I love metal, but it’s my exposure to other music that strengthens that bond I have with metal music. I challenge all of you to experiment the same way. You may be amazed at how your eyes are opened.

Habitual line steppers

It’s another Saturday morning and as I sit at my woefully under-powered laptop, I find myself once again deep in thought. It’s not really associated with metal music as it is the society that has developed around metal music. Loudwire published an article earlier this month stating that metal fans are the most loyal. In the same week, Spotify revealed that metal music has supplanted pop and country as the most popular music on their service. It looks like metal is getting some long overdue accolades. It makes me wonder why the metal community is still a fragile piece of glass, waiting to shatter at the slightest tap.

As long time readers will know, I am a moderator/administrator for several popular metal groups online and I see this daily. There is a large component to the online metal community that is more eager to attack other members than it is to promote the music that brings so much joy to people. As I attempt to keep the peace online, I find myself remembering what it was like to be a budding metal head in the mid 1980s.

There was no Internet back in those not so halcyon days. Radio hated metal. The best we had was the occasional classic rock station. We typically had to scrape up our allowance and buy albums at the local record store. More adventurous friends would order albums from ads in Hit Parader and Circus magazines. It was too much of a crap shoot for me. I had limited funds and would wait for them get their prize, so I could snag a listen for free.

There was no immediate way to buy into the metal culture nor was there a benefit to being a metalhead back then. Just as nerds have become the darlings of society with sexy women wanting to be nerdy and TV shows about how wonderful nerdlife is, metal society has changed. Back in those days it was a social deathknell to be labeled a metalhead. Girls (with rare exception) were more into pop music and chasing more clean cut guys. We metalheads spent our times walking around, listening to Priest, Dokken, Zebra, Maiden other metal bands. We tried to grow our hair, always in fear of the forced trip to the barbershop with Dad. We smoked cigarettes and hung out together, because we were always outnumbered.

Today metal is accessible with the click of a button. There are communities of several thousand people ready to accept people, all they have to do is ask. There’s no learning curve. It’s spoon-fed mind numbing repetition. Click the button, like the status, heap scorn on those who are different. You’ve come a long way baby, but are you really happy with the end result?

I find myself wondering if the Internet and it’s mass consumerism has helped as much as we think. We can readily obtain new albums without leaving our homes, but who do we share these finds with? If the Internet went away tomorrow, where is your metal community?

Instead of pushing personal boundaries with strangers on the other side of a computer, it’s time to get back to attending live shows, talking with real live metalheads at a local show and becoming part of a local scene. It’s much more rewarding than sitting in front of a computer and pretending to have a life.

In the presence of evil

This past Saturday (May 9th) I attended the Marilyn Manson show in Chattanooga, TN. It’s a decision that took little effort to agree to and one that I have to admit, I rather enjoyed. Manson has a long standing reputation for putting on a good show and I figured this was my best chance to see him in a small venue (Track 29 holds about 1800 bodies). The tickets were a bit more than I like to spend (more than double my usual price), but I figured I deserve a treat.

As is my usual behavior, I was more than happy to brag to friends and online folks about my ticket to the show and my excitement with the upcoming event. I was a bit shocked with responses I received. A friend from work said I was sponsoring a serial killer. Another friend from work said I was praising Satan by attending the show. Online, I received everything from homophobic accusations to questions regarding my legitimacy. I can say of all the bands I have seen, this one polarized friends against me more than any.

My friend Matt and I left for the show three hours before doors were to open (Chattanooga is approximately an hour and a half drive for us), with the plan to be first in line. When we arrived to Track 29, we found we were not the only ones with this idea.We took our place in line and began engaging the folks around us in conversation. My own preconceived notions of Manson fans began to crumble. As conversations focused on jobs, families, bands we like and life in general, the stereotypes I had created for my fellow music fans dissolved. There was no army of trenchcoat wearing school shooters in training; instead it was relatively normal (at least by society’s standards) folks who were simply looking forward to blowing off some steam and enjoying the night.

Track 29 is basically a warehouse with a stage. Concrete floors and metal roof/walls greeted us. This generally doesn’t make for the best acoustics, but as the night progressed, it wasn’t bad. The biggest issue I had was the concrete floor after four and a half hours of standing on it, my back was screaming for relief.

The crowd started off compacted and cramped, with everyone trying to position themselves as close to the stage as they could. It was a tight fit, but everyone seemed genial and polite, overall. This would fade as alcohol permeated the brains of some attendees and the excitement of the music took hold, but at the beginning, it was ok.

The opener was Knee High Fox. Don’t feel bad if you have never heard of them; neither had I. They were not bad, a mix of The Pretty Reckless and In This Moment. The lead singer was a young attractive woman with a penchant for flashing her panties to crowd, but her voice was nice and I’m old, not dead. They played a decent hour long set (pretty amazing, considering most openers in Atlanta are lucky to get 45 minutes) that set the stage for Manson and left most folks fairly satisfied (at least based on the conversations I had with those around me).

Manson finally hit the stage and the crowd that had been fairly docile literally exploded with energy. As sweat soaked, drunken behemoth of a woman attempted to barrel over me. I was glad I have taken up lifting weights as a hobby, was that new found strength is the only thing that me from being beaten to death by her grotesquely large bosoms. As Manson played an electric version of “Deep Six”, the behemoth skank began rubbing herself against me. I pushed her off and thankfully a opening appeared in the crowd and absorbed her. I still feel so dirty…ugh.

With the smell and residual skank sweat gone, I was able to focus on the show. Manson truly delivered the goods, keeping the crowd engaged and delivering his biggest hits, as well as new material and old goodies. I do have to say, however, that I have never seen a crowd behave the way they did that night.

Long time readers will know I prefer to see concerts at Atlanta’s Masquerade, a venue with a loyal clientele and unwritten rules of decorum. Moshing is frequent, but fights are rare at my beloved Masquerade. Track 29 would do well to take note of this. There was plenty of attempted moshing, but no one was willing give up there spot in the crowd, which snuffed that idea. This unfortunately led to “crowd jumpers”, those people who feel it their right to dislodge you from your spot so they can stand with their friends, who have little interest in the show, other than to text each other pictures of themselves at the concert. These crowd jumpers led to tempers flaring and a rather nasty fight developed next to me.

I will say I am not a large man, a man skilled at fighting or a hero on any level. However, I have dedicated my life to helping others and I can’t abide violence, if I have the ability to stop it. So, I found myself alone in breaking up the fight. As Manson belted out a fantastic song and was backed by a world class band, I found myself standing between a 300lb mass of muscle and a drunken idiot who was provoking him. They finally calmed down and I said a silent prayer, thanking God for following through on the old saying (you know the one:”God protects fools and children.”).

The remainder of the night was relatively tame on the crowd front. Maybe it was my no BS attitude, but I think it had more to do with my desire to let Manson’s music carry me away. And he did that, very well. I didn’t know more than five of the songs he played, but he engaged me completely.

I have heard people badmouth Manson as lame, old, fat (all of which I relate to completely) and washed up. I saw none of that. Sure, he’s put on a few pounds, but so have I. He still has personal energy that commands respect. And, as he’s aged, he is less arrogant. One of the touching moments was when he acknowledged his father, who was off stage, and thanked him. This is not the same guy who did anything possible to shock and dismay the Christian Right. This is more of a guy I could see myself playing cards with and not minding when he cheats.

The night ended and the ride home was a true labor. I was exhausted from the night, but grateful for the music. And that’s the feeling I had been missing for quite some time. That’s the feeling that has us all going back for more.