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black metal


Blabbermouth, that instant source of edification and general rock’n’roll snark fests, hauled off another one of my goats today to the slaughter, straight to the UK newspaper The Daily Telegraph, where I read that a small town in Russia has plans to ban heavy metal music on the grounds that it is “satanic” and “ideologically destructive”.

Small town or no, the morally upright citizens of Belgorod have been newsworthy before, instituting fines for public swearing, dancing and trying to ban the celebration of Valentine’s Day.

Oooooh, baby. From Valentine’s Day to forbidding local music venues to play “satanic” music – these latter-day Calvinist killjoys are on a roll. As if living in Russia isn’t bad enough, now they have to take away metal?

The mayor of Belgorod admitted he didn’t know anything about that type of music, but. “If children are exposed to satanic influences, the parents would never forgive us.” He also cited an infamous Soviet-era psychiatric hospital study stating that heavy metal music was “ideologically destructive”.

Ahem. And?

Satanic. Which means what, precisely? If you wanted to play hardball with me, I could tell you that “satanic” music is nothing new. Over two hundred and fifty years ago, the celebrated violinist Giuseppe Tartini dreamt one night that he taught the Devil to play violin, and immediately, the Devil grabbed the violin and played a tune of such fiendish complexity and hellish beauty, Tartini couldn’t wake up fast enough to write it down, and even then, he felt that what he wrote down was nowhere so good as what he heard in his dream. This piece is so difficult to play, rumors were quickly circulating that Tartini had not five, but six fingers on one hand – how could he play it, otherwise?

Carl Orff claimed likewise that the Devil came in a dream and gave him a little something to remember him by. It wasn’t what he heard, but he tried to recreate it anyway – “Carmina Burana”.

Down in the Mississippi Delta a few years later, Papa Legba lay lurking at the crossroads at midnight, waiting to tune the guitars of itinerant musicians. One dreamy-eyed youth – shy, retiring, musically inclined – took up his offer and came back, so the story goes, as the original ur-God of the blues and rock guitar. They all whispered it behind his back. “Sold his soul to the Devil, he did!”

It made for a much better story than simply saying that the mild-mannered young man who sang with such a fury and played with such a passion practiced – in a graveyard.

You didn’t mess with Robert Johnson. The Devil came to claim him for his own soon enough.

These days, nothing is shocking any more. Rock music has been flirting with all manner of devilry – good, bad, benign and not – ever since poor Bobby Johnson drank that bottle of free and fatal whisky.

Of course, things have gotten, well, hairier since then.

For one thing, evil is no longer an abstract principle, a control device put in place by religious dogma to keep us all on the straight and very narrow. It’s all around us, every day. Turn on the news – there’s your Devil in all the thousand and one details of a thousand and two international horror stories, brought to you live by CNN.

For another, much as I hate to burst anyone’s bubble, far too many avatars of Good and Noble, whether they’re televangelists with supposedly God-like powers and all-too human failings or the Pontiff of the Catholic Church – surely the most evil and evilly long-lived institution ever created on Planet Earth – denying a massive abuse of both children and implicit trust –can no longer be considered good by even the most Pollyanna imagination. Good…just don’t cut the mustard any more.

We degenerate, cynical, long-haired, non-conforming, loudmouthed metalheads worldwide know better. There’s no such thing as good. Virtue is an ideal as opposed to a reality, because it’s a lie.

Vice, on the other hand, is…nice. At least it’s honest. It’s certainly real. It’s – fun. Your thing might be vintage Alice Cooper, who always held his tongue firmly planted in his cheek. It might be the further reaches of black metal, if that’s your thing, and you might be surprised to learn that it’s actually far more heathen in its sensibilities than outright satanic.

The Prince of Fucking Darkness is not, in fact, evil, but he’s smart enough to know that if you connect with the darkness in your audience, they will love you for it, love you for articulating and saying what they can’t.

Some of us have a need, near biological in its impetuosity, to look around in the dark of our souls and first of all, accept it. Second, to celebrate it. It keeps us sane, to acknowledge what the rest of the world refuses to see. It keeps us rebelling, in all the best senses of the word, against conformity, against dogma, against a world that prefers to categorize humanity into neatly ordered segments, easily defined and easily contained.

We know it’s dark and hairy and ugly in there. We know. We know no matter where our Devils come from, whether it’s a suburb of Birmingham or Lodi, New Jersey.

And those club owners in Belgorod?

One club owner said that any official who tried to interfere would get punched in the face.

Rock’n’roll, yes. Satanic?

You be the judge!

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If someone ever took a gun to my head (perish the thought) and asked me to name my two favorite possessions, I’d blush a bright shade of pink to admit that they’re both manufactured by a company named after a very common fruit. If my apartment building caught fire and I had five seconds to leave, I’d grab the kid and those two things before I’d grab the cats. Seriously.

It’s that bad.

I am the owner of a MacBook – the salvation of my life (and definitely my marriage), the savior of my sanity, the gateway to my independence and future hopes and dreams – and an iPod, a small 1 GB Shuffle with no bells and whistles except the ones I put on it. I don’t need umpteen gigs of songs, I don’t need my favorite TV shows or baby pictures of Damien. I just need something semi-discreet and portable – that makes noise. I can use it as a USB-stick (I have), I can plug it into my TV and hear what’s on it. I can put anything on it my li’l ol’ heart desires, or even a heart’s desire (or two). This tiny device has prepared me for work and prepared me for the onslaught that waited when I got home. It has provided a sound wall for when the Buttkicker indulged his passion for WWII movies and I wanted to write on the Effing Book, or this blog, or something else entirely you really, truly, don’t want to know about.

I got around as a single girl. As a writer, I still do!

The other thing, my little laptop, you already know about. The results are as seen.

In these uncertain times, anything that keeps mind, soul and body together can’t possible be bad. People are being laid off right and left. Creativity, that mainstay of food-for-thought, is getting scarce as the global economy is getting worse. So, instead of Busby Berkeley musical extravaganzas and Rogers&Astaire movies, some of us are taking highly radical steps into terra incognita to rid ourselves of an increasing sense of frustration and powerlessness. Feed that fatal pair long enough, and sooner or later, the Great Man-Eating monster known as Rage will emerge, and it won’t be pretty, either as poetry OR prose.

That monster, a close friend and associate of the Dood I introduced in another blog entry, merits his – or her, his deadlier, uglier sister – own blog entry.

Now, I’m interested in exploring how to manage him. Recently, as one of the things I do in order to avoid the Effing Book (something all writers do – clean their desk, do the laundry, wash the floor – anything to avoid actually writing), I completed a thoroughly stupid Facebook quiz along the lines of “What is your most repressed emotion?”. I was hugely surprised to find out that it came up as – anger.

Anyone who knows me will know that this is a laugh and a half. My fuse is notoriously short, loud and short-lived. I simply don’t have the attention span to carry a grudge for long. But anger is one thing, and rage is something else entirely.

If you’re not a sports fanatic and gifted with the ability to transfer your own rage to the opposing team, and since Roman circus games have been out of fashion for about 1700+ years, and there’s no reason an innocent four-year-old should bear the brunt of it, what do you do? You can work out until the cows come home. You can reorganize your kitchen cabinets and your closets, but then, you wouldn’t have any excuses not to write.

Your rage needs somewhere to go to get it out, or else the consequences will be dire.

One enterprising writer – and musician, as it happens – who was also laid off with ever-more increasing frequency – discovered entirely by accident that metal – the kind that gives your auricles calluses, the kind that drives many people mad, the kind, in other words, that incites and expresses murderous, poisonous emotions – did wonders for his flagging optimism. His gateway drug – if you can use that term – was Slayer.

Me, I can’t stand ’em. I was raised in a household with classical music, not a little of which I knew how to play myself. Opera, symphonies, sonatas and concertos – not to mention being able to read music – it all meant that I had certain standards that had to be fulfilled, or else – forget it. If it didn’t have melody, evolution and progression, if the musicians didn’t know how to play (which does nothing to explain my love of the Sex Pistols, but let’s call that one nostalgia!), if the lead singer did NOT know how to sing in fairly articulate English, if the lyrics were stereotyped “we’re EVIL and we know it” – forget it. Despite all my perverted Pisces best friend does to the contrary, Polish black metal doesn’t quite make the grade.

I’m picky about a lot of things. It’s my iPod and I can scream if I have to!

So when I went looking for a replacement for one particular musical obsession I’ve had for the last 15+ years (and man, does that make me feel OLD!), certain criteria had to be fulfilled. Brains. A certain healthy dose of brawn, just because I’m a gal who likes the guys who – you get the idea, right? – and above all else not staying in the same place for too long musically.

In other words, I went looking for musical redemption, the kind that carried a container for all the rage of 21st century life, the kind that made me think, the kind that challenged me and subscribed to the Chinese Box theory of great art – finding something new on the fifteenth runaround, as well as the Picasso theorem – “All great art, in order to be truly great, must have a certain Pelvic Pulse”. I wanted something to lift me out of my petty, pathetic limitations and carry me – up and out, as cool and calm as a refrigerated cucumber.

It took a few evenings trawling through YouTube, but I found what I was looking for. Now, I wait in line at the supermarket with Lee Hazlewood crooning his baritone croon in my ears. While Robert Johnson sells his soul to the devil, I collect Damien from kindergarten. On my way down, Danzig is teaching me how the Gods kill.

And in those dark, deep hours at night, where I wrestle with Scaring a Roman, I tap away on my keyboard while a black aria plays, spooked to the gills, transfixed by a terrible, eerie beauty, born up on a black angel’s wings.

Cool as a cucumber, cold as a crypt, happier than a warm day in May.

Whatever works and whatever it takes!

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Image: Michael William Kaluta, “Black Aria”, copyright Glenn Danzig, 1991

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