|Life in the Age of Metal
||[Oct. 10th, 2009|03:20 pm]
In my last year up in Yonkers, NY (pronounced with a nasally - "Yawnk-ers" by the locals), the Brotherhood of the D20 I belonged to began to break apart. Along with the mood altering hormone surges that accompanied puberty we each found ourselves shifting from our lovable loser geek persona's into ones that would fit into the musical culture tropes that appealed to us on one level or another. Where most of my friends began to drift towards a lifestyle of long hair, studded bracelets, pentagrams on notebooks and the 'metal', I found myself increasingly enchanted with the then nascent Hardcore scene being defined out of neighboring CBGBs by the Cro-Mags, Agnostic Front and DC's Minor Threat. Looking back on that period of time I can see what we were doing was really just 'rolling up characters' that we would 'play' in real life rather than when we assembled around our parents dining room tables for our weekly D&D fix. We were creating a new breed of Fighters, Thieves and in my case, Magic Users suitable for a John Carpenter inspired future, believing the approaching 1997 of Escape From New York to be an impending prophecy rather than cheesey sci-fi entertainment. I began studying my Mom's tarot cards in earnest to a Corrosion of Conformity soundtrack, all between bouts of push-ups and a steady diet of Grim Jack comic books.
I have no idea what the fuck I was thinking then. Would I do tarot readings for the punks and skins before wadding into the pit, tribal skanking around to 'Hard Times' as I was good naturedly (and not so good naturedly) battered around by sweaty, half naked savages? Would I bed amazonian skin-chicks with their chelsea bangs and spend my post-coital bliss living vicariously through the X-Men's Wolverine? Would I be a two-eyed Snake Plisken with a shaved head navigating the no-go areas of Times Square and the Bronx with perfect post-apocalyptic cynicism?
Sadly yes, that was exactly the plan.
Why not? It sounded better than the college I didn't have the grades for or toiling away at the approaching minimum wage jobs that would soon consume my free time.
Or at least it was the plan until my folks decided we were leaving the Apple for the Orange and my ass was on a plane for sunny Fort Liqourdale for a new chapter in my life that came whether I wanted it to or not.
Meanwhile my D20 friends who stayed behind became, for lack of a better term, Guido-Headbangers. Think early Anthrax with a mullet and gaudy gold chains. Think Iron Maiden t-shirts and immaculately white puffy designer sneakers. Think involuntary virginity until their mid twenties. To be fair they saw my 'scene' as consisting of a rough alliance of Hare Krishna Jock Punks and graying hipster junkies still thinking they were living in the New York of the Ramones and Richard Hell. If my goal was to become a Mad Max who rode the F-Train theirs was to become Conan the Barbarian with a fashion make-over from Run DMC.
At the end there I was down to hanging with only one of the old gang from the Game. My best friend, Tom. I was a busing student then, being shipped out of Yonkers to attend school as one of the few white kids in a Bronx public school that was an hour's ride each way. Ass beatings went down on a daily basis and I learned not so much how to win fights but to deal enough damage in return to make the locals go after easier targets. I would get home after school, blow off my homework and bike over to Tom's house. Occasionally we would sit up in his room and he'd try to get me into his growing collection of vinyl metal. For the most part I would listen politely along and daydream about his older sister Sheryl who was my first crush.
What I always enjoyed about Tom's record collection then was the cover art. They all had this Boris Vallejo machismo to them, depicting chisel chested warriors battling rejects from our old Monster Manuals. To this day I often joke around that 'Metal Head' should be a D&D class with bonus saves and damage rolls that would go into effect whenever they busted out their + 2 Air Guitar. Of course 'Metal Head' is a derogatory term these days and I understand they prefer the more dignified - 'People of Metal' or 'Metal Americans'. I can only imagine Tom's delight years after my absence when he would discover the whole Norwegian Death Metal scene, with their KISS inspired Kabuki make up and vows of Satanic mayhem. I picture Tom as 'Metalocalypse' twenty years before there was a 'Metalocalyspe'.
Of course nothings that simple or black and white. For one thing, I had a fondness for the raw brutality of Slayer and couldn't help thrashing my head to Bruce Dickinson soprano ballads about the injustices dealt to Native Americans or the number of the Beast. In fact it was Iron Maiden's The Prisoner that got me interested in the cult BBC classic the song was based on. For another Tom did indeed take pleasure in the nihilistic screaming of the burdgeoning Hardcore scene, not so much head-banging but chin bobbing to 'my music'. We both had an unspoken respect for each others scenes... though we would both be loathe to admit as such.
Life in Liqourdale didn't go the way I planned. Instead of becoming Harley-lite from the Cro-Mags I found myself aiming my teen angst down the barrel of Black Flag, Circle Jerks and the Exploited before discovering the 'Industrial Revolution' of Ministry and Skinny Puppy. The anger rhythm was there in this then new genre... but it lacked the homophobic preaching and straight edge proselytizing that seemed so rampant in the NYHC scene. Meanwhile Tom mellowed out with age, at least from what I hear, digging Red Alert, Rob Bass and Jam Pony block party riffs that were kicking out of the late 80's Apple.
Twenty years or so later those old Metal albums of our mutually misspent youth have taken on a sort of kitsch charm both endearing and embarrassing. I still get a kick out of browsing online through old record collection pages. In the age of Guitar Hero and Rock Band, the theatric excess of Frank Frazetta inspired cover art seems to harken to a naive age that seems one part He-Man and the Masters of the Universe homoerotica and one part pre-pubescent RPG inspired revenge fantasy rebellion.
Some nights, stoned and silly, I like to imagine that there's a parallel universe out there where 1997 went the way of Escape from New York. Tom became a 12th level Metal Head and I became a Skinhead Fighter-Magic User. A harsh and unforgiving eigenstate to be sure... but one filled with all the adventure and death defying antics we spent our early teens preparing for. Who knows? Maybe in that universe I frequently daydream about being an unpublished author eeking out a living in the distant south. That is when I'm not fighting off the sewer mutants and radioactive zombie punks.
Okay, now some theme related jpegs for those who enjoy the visual side of my online journal -
In the 80's metal wasn't just about rocking out and the occasional worshipping of Lucifer. Oh no, there was plenty of dragon slaying as well, a musical theme as timeless as the bands that sung about them. However you'd have to have six string skills on par with Yngwie Malmsteen to contend with a fire breathing, three headed Ghidra wannabe.
Also note that riding a unicorn when going into battle with a dragon was what we in the 21st century would call - 'TEH WIN' or define as being 'Made of Awesome'. Its closest equivalent now would be an online oil painting of a naked Barack Obama riding a unicorn. This is why some people say the internet was the final nail in the cultural coffin of Western Civilisation.
What seperates an old metal album cover from a Forgotten Realms paperback cover? Replacing the letter 'C' with a 'K' or adding an 'A' to a word to give it a faux Latin credibility. For example if I told you about Camelot's 'Epic', you'd think a day at the Ren Fest. Eye rolls and pregnant sighs abounding. However if I told you it was Kamelot's 'Epica' you would be seized with visions of steriod pumped Man-Harpies hovering ominously over scantily clad witch women.
Few credit Pantera with the creation of the first LOL Cat. I mean just look at this bad mother fucker of a cat man... it not only watches you masturbate and makes demands for 'cheezburgers'... but it has a big ass scimatar knife as well! How tough is this early Pantera mascot? Tough enough to wear a belt and nothing else!