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America vs. The World

The big trouble with dumb bastards is that they are too dumb to believe there is such a thing as being smart. — Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Metal now, metal forever

Thanks to my landlord's backup TV, I watched a pretty good heavy metal documentary over the weekend, Metal: A Headbangers Journey. Leave it to a Canadian metalhead anthropologist to produce a compelling study of the genre.

Though I more than enjoy my Dixie Chicks, Roxette and Björk, I've been a flashing the devil horns since my mom bought me ...And Justice For All back in 1990. One of my favorite parts of the movie was an intricate chart tracing the evolution of heavy metal through the years and listing the most prominent groups in each sub-genre.

I realized that I tend towards the the "happier" side of the tree (shock, pop, glam, power, industrial and thrash metal, among others). I've never even heard of a lot of bands on the opposite side (black, death and goth metal, hardcore, metalcore, grindcore), which tend to be rather...gross. Sample band names: Carcass, Exhumed, Cradle of Filth, Entombed, Dismember, Immolation and the legendary Dying Fetus.

Norwegian black metal bands (which have their own flourishing sub-genre) are actually rather crazy, in a not-at-all-amusing, rather-disturbing kind of way. Disturbing because there have been intra-band murders, a suicide where the remaining band members made jewelry out of the deceased's skull, various church burnings and some indications of actual Satanism. (Rather than, you know, just posing. As Alice Cooper says in the documentary, when you get up on stage with pentagrams, fake blood and black eye-shadow, it's not Satanism. It's Halloween.)

It seems like a lot of this Norwegian black metal sub-culture is less about music and more about rebellion against the state Church of Norway. Norway was originally converted to Catholicism by way of the sword about a thousand years ago, and the Norwegian king got rid of the Catholic part and integrated the church into the state in 1527. Since 1660, clergy have actually been civil servants.

Rock out.
Dee Snider visiting Congress.
Apparently, there's a lot of pent-up aggression towards the state religion, with some people wanting to return to their pre-Christian past. Although something like 85 percent of the Norwegian population belongs to the state church, only 10 percent attend services more than once a month. Which means you get young guys dressing like Vikings, professing allegiance to Satan and burning down churches in between barking out crazy Norwegian lyrics and laying down vaguely disquieting metal riffs.

A couple other observations from my docu-watching:

Dee Snider is awesome. As some of you older sorts may remember, the Twisted Sister frontman (along with Frank Zappa and John Denver) was called to testify by the Senate in 1985 to defend his music. This was during the Parents Music Resource Center's successful campaign to have music companies label records with the infamous "Parental Guidance: Explicit Lyric" label.

(And let's remember that it was Al Gore's wife Tipper who lead the crusade. No single party has a monopoly on censorship,)

As he relates in the movie, Snider completely sandbagged the committee. He walked into the hearing dressed in a cut-off jean jacket, with crazy hair and a little makeup. He smiled dumbly, pulled his crumpled-up statement from his pocket, and then proceeded to deliver a full-on rhetorical beat-down to the Senators on the committee. You can read the transcript here; it was awesome. Here's a snippet:
Parents can thank the PMRC for reminding them that there is no substitute for parental guidance. But that is where the PMRC's job ends.

The beauty of literature, poetry, and music is that they leave room for the audience to put its own imagination, experiences, and dreams into the words. The examples I cited earlier showed clear evidence of Twisted Sister's music being completely misinterpreted and unfairly judged by supposedly well-informed adults.

We cannot allow this to continue. There is no authority who has the right or the necessary insight to make these judgments, not myself, not the Federal Government, not some recording industry committee, not the PTA, not the RIAA, and certainly not the PMRC.

Did you know that the Cyndi Lauper song "She Bop" (also target by the PMRC) is about masturbation? I totally didn't. Here's the lyrics:
We-hell-I see them every night in tight blue jeans -
In the pages of a blue boy magazine
Hey I've been thinking of a new sensation
I'm picking up - good vibration -
Oop - she bop

Do I wanna go out with a lion's roar
Huh, yea, I wanna go south n get me some more
Hey, they say that a stitch in time saves nine
They say I better stop - or I'll go blind
Oop - she bop - she bop

She bop--he bop--a--we bop
I bop--you bop--a--they bop
Be bop--be bop--a--lu--she bop,
I hope He will understand
She bop--he bop--a--we bop
I bop--you bop--a--they bop
Be bop--be bop--a--lu--she bop,
Oo--oo--she--do--she bop--she bop

(whistle along here)...

Hey, hey - they say I better get a chaperone
Because I can't stop messin' with the danger zone
No, I won't worry, and I won't fret
Ain't no law against it yet
Oop - she bop - she bop

She bop - he bop - we bop...


Blogger Chance-86 said...

Actually sorry that I missed that documentary. In between Kenny Chesney and Brad Paisley concerts, I like to toss in a few sprinklings of other music. When I was growing up (remember, I'm a hick), I totally rebeled against country music and went headlong into hard rock and eventually into metal. I was never a big fan of the death-metal. I couldn't understand a word that they were singing, but they were obviously pissed off at the world about something. Ironically, most of them appear to be pissed off aabout being raised in middle-class america...?? Whatever. I settled (later in life) into the punky-numetal scene of Crossfade, Velvet Revolver, Damageplan and the like...BUT, if you dig into my CD's, you will find some KORN (of course), and even some Lamb of God. What I like...what I've always liked about the purity of the expression. I don't have to empathize or sympathize or even understand it, as long as it's communicated well.
As for the censorship, that is a whole different issue. I understand what the P-R-M-C M-O-U-S-E club was trying to do, to give parents a visible warning that they might want to listen to this before buying it for johnny. But the problem is exactly what Dee said: who decides what is acceptable and what is not? I'd be willing to bet that the Pope and Ozzy would disagree greatly about the issue. I liked Andy Rooney's comments on 60 minutes a couple of weeks ago RE: upbringing (the rest of the commentary will frost your cookies, buck. I freakin' LOVED it). Anyway. The problem with the whole issue is that it shouldn't have to be anybody's job to parent kids except for, say, their parents. Parents need to draw their own lines, no one else. But (playing devil's advocate) what about the kids whose parents really don't pay attention to them?? I personally don't find the labels all that helps me to weed thru the freakin carbon-copy boy-bands and find the real stuff. Reality in music is where it's at for me.
rock on.

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Jeff Goldstein is a wanker.