Sunday, September 25, 2011

About a boy...Oh well, whatever...Nevermind.

This post is also not about metal.

It's now been over twenty years since Nevermind was released, and understandably enough, a vast number of music magazines, blogs, and whatever falls in between have been running stories in the tune of Cobain. Some have done generic cut-and-paste writeups (heroin, Aberdeen, Pearl Jam, flannel, naked baby - check!) and others, like my homie Lars, have done really heartfelt, interesting pieces ( I've got an idea for a more in-depth piece that'll most likely surface on Invisible Oranges in the coming months, but for now, this is just my little tribute to the band that sold the world on raw power, angst, and unhappy endings.

Nirvana are one of my favorite bands. For awhile, they were my favorite, favorite band, one that I obsessed over to the degree of loving madness that only a fifteen-year-old girl with a lot on her mind can conjure. I had every t-shirt, every poster, every album, every bootleg, bought money orders at the post office so that I could order bootleg live DVDs off Ebay, absolutely devoured his Journals when the book was released, drew pictures of his wounded angel's face, wrote song lyrics and Kurt quotes on index cards and papered my walls with them...there is no love like a teenage girl's. Now that I'm a few years past teenage dreams, the love remains, but has matured a bit (I think), at least to the point where I can appreciate them as a purely musical entity as well as a cultural phenomenon, and can finally really relate to a thing or two that had Kurt hurting.
They still have a hold over me, though at this point I've locked away most of my considerable collection of Nirvana memorabilia in some heart-shaped box in my parents' basement. I will always love Nirvana, and that love has bled into some of the other bands from their era - Pearl Jam, Screaming Trees, Green River, Mudhoney. Grunge isn't dead, baby - it's just gone into hiding.

My best guy friend Jesse is still stuck in the nineties (despite our mutual January 1988 birthdays) and was the original impetus for my discovery of and appreciation for that little band from Aberdeen. Of course I'd heard Nirvana songs on the radio, but they never grabbed me really. "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was cool, but generally I just thought of them as "Mom music," because they always came on after "Enter Sandman" or "Back in Black" on the classic rock station she kept the dial on. When I got to high school and befriended Jesse, an adorable, loudmouthed kid with blue hair and the nicest smile I'd ever seen, his Nirvana shirts and burned CDs began to interest me a bit. Fittingly enough, given Kurt's perpetually heartbroken existence and penchant for penning aching, unsettling love songs, the initial adoration I developed for "the band" in reality was about a boy.

Our fledgling romance lasted about two months, and when he decided to call things off, I was devastated beyond belief. Kurt was there for me, though, and I'd spend hours listening to every shred of Nirvana I could hunt down, alone in my room of course, nursing my first broken heart. Nine years later, the relationship Jesse and I have is quite a lot stronger than those first few weeks of adolescent awkwardness, hand-holding, rounding bases and nightly phone calls could have predicted. Puppy love settled and evolved, life happened, we grew up, fell in love with other people and with each other and with other people again, and now we have ended up solidifying into comfortably best friends. We've discovered that, to each of us, the other is the kind of person you love far too deeply to ever risk dating but will always be around, and we still listen to Nirvana together.

Apart from that romantic interlude, though, my love affair with Nirvana runs a bit deeper than that story might intimate. The music is what really got me. Kurt's lyrics, those inscrutable, mangled poems that didn't make any sense really, but made all the sense in the world when picked apart and filtered through however I was feeling that day. Every album has its tone, its hallmarks, its messages, and I loved - and love! - them all. Nevermind has always been my favorite, though, as much as I secretly wanted to be more into the scratchy demos and outtakes on Outcesticide or primal screams of Bleach. That album got me through some trying times and provided a soundtrack for some terribly happy ones, and has held up through it all. I damn near wore out every CD of theirs I had, and treasured every bootleg or live version I could find. When my parents were being horrible (or reasonable, in retrospect) I'd cry along to Nirvana Unplugged, or fume to Bleach. My best girl friend at the time, Ashley, was another Nirvana freak, and we'd geek out over rare demos and swoon over Kurt and trade Nirvana shirts for most of sophomore year, until my newly forming obsession with death metal really began to take hold.

Twenty years after a trio of misfits let loose all their anger and alienation and creativity and hurt into a big wide world, nine years after a couple of young misfits a countrylength away soaked it all in, and one day since the anniversary of the date it all went down, I am sprawled out in my New York apartment, with a sleepy roommate and sleepy black cat curled up on the couch across from me and an Irishman wailing to the ancients from my laptop speakers, thinking about another Irishman with dark eyes and my heart in his grasp, wearing a Zoroaster shirt and nursing suspension wounds, a long, long way from the pines and light years away from fifteen...and I still love Nirvana.

Some things never change. The people and songs and places and flavors and books you loved when you were young, when you were just discovering who you were and starting to dream of what you could be - those things stick with you forever. Who you are when you're sixteen is a skeletal version of who you could be when you're 64.

Come as you are, as you were, as I want you to be...

Friday, September 23, 2011

Whatchu Lookin' At?

Tis post is not about metal.

Well. Not metal music, anyway.

Metal is a big, biiiig part of my life. It has yet to consume my entire existence, but it does a damn good job of trying, and I don't exactly fight it. However, I do have other interests, passions, and hobbies, some of which are fairly obvious and others I keep more private. One of these in particular is, for better or for worse, 100% impossible to hide (unless you happen to be blind, in which case just assume I look like a twenty-years-younger Doro and we'll go from there). I've made allusions to it on here before, usually by posting pictures that are pretty damn hard to misread. Body modification - the practice of altering one's physical form in order to achieve a desired result - has been around for far longer than the devil's music, and it forms one of the cornerstones of my life.
Depending on your experience/opinion, I am either moderately modded, heavily modded, or just plain weird-looking. I've posted photos of myself on here before, so scroll down a bit for a visual, but essentially, I am pierced, stretched, tattooed, implanted, and suspended. On top of it, I dress more or less the same every day - band shirt, boots, tight black pants. My hair is super long and kind of wild. Add my various visible mods into this particular equation, and we're looking at a lot of public scrutiny.

And it REALLY gets to me sometime. I know and have met people who are far, far more heavily modded than I am, and I can only imagine the shit they go through just because society isn't quite ready to accept those who purposefully deviate from whatever "normal" is. Yes, I am well aware that I look different. That's sort of the point (one of them, anyway). That still does not give other people the right to treat me as some sort of subhuman, alien, or sketchy character just because I've got a bit of metal shoved through the bridge of my nose or some tattoos on my neck. This isn't a unique problem - it's something the modified community deals with constantly. I'm just whining a bit because I had a string of negative experiences the other day, and bitching about it on Facebook et al just garners a chorus of "What do you expect?"

I expect to be treated like a human being, no matter how I've decided to portray myself. I'm not looking for attention - I'd look exactly the same way if all the world was blind. The way I look is an ever-evolving process, an experiment, and a very personal journey. Body mod isn't a fashion statement; hell, it can be for some, but for the majority of practitioners, and definitely for myself, it's a very spiritual, emotional act. A nose ring isn't always just a nose ring. Pain is a part of life, and learning to deal with it, accept it, and at times embrace it will only make you stronger. That massive smile on my face that shows through in the photos of my first suspension wasn't fake. Catharsis, release, adrenaline, endorphins, self-realization - a lot of positive energy can be found at the point of a needle.

The outsider status afforded those who choose to modify their bodies is similar in part with the way metal culture is regarded by the mainstream. Ostracized, held suspect, disrespected, condescended to, mistreated, mocked - both cultures have been through a lot, and it only gets easier with time. Both scenes are filled with passionate, intelligent, creative, unorthodox personalities, and it only makes sense that the twain should often meet. I've seen enough band tattoos by now to back that up, to say nothing of the legions of pierced, tattooed, dyed, or otherwise decorated metalheads I'e seen across the globe. I hang out on both side of that flimsy fence. Both body mod and metal have had a profound impact on me and my growth as a human being, and I know for a fact that I'm not alone in that.

It's just so fucking frustrating to be stared at, asked rude questions, see mothers pull their kids away from you on the subway, get dirty looks from older people, deal with your family's confusion and dislike for how you look, have strangers assume you're "kinky" or a "freak" and feel entitled to ask you about your sexual preferences, be greeted with derisive snorts or laughter when you try to explain why you are the way you are...

But, whatever. What doesn't kill you, makes you stronger.


It takes a lot for me to click on anything that's linked to my least-favorite "metal" "news" aggregator, Blabbermouth, but a headline like "Tori Amos Issues Challenge to Metal Bands" is hard to ignore. I went over to to read the original interview ( and this is what she had to say:

"Well, look, sometimes you don't know how music affects people. I embrace that because I don't think that just because I talk about emotional stuff that it's not mother---er stuff. I'll stand next to the hardest f---ing heavy metal band on any stage in the world and take them down, alone, by myself. Gauntlet laid down, see who steps up. See who steps up! I'll take them down at 48. And they know I will. Because emotion has power that the metal guys know is just you can't touch it. Insanity can't touch the soul. It's going to win every f---ing time."

Before we get too riled up, it'd be smart to remember that homegirl has a new album to promote, and will spout any number of ridiculous soundbites to sell some plastic. Also, the offending paragraph showed up at the end of the interview, and feels like an offhand remark. Metal news sites went apeshit over it, though, so here we are. I sincerely doubt that Ms. Amos really intends to stand onstage next to Iron Maiden (or Manowar!) and "blow them off the stage." Unless she's got about sixteen Orange amps to blast her whispery, piano-driven poem-songs through and 4/5 of Vader providing backup , she ain't gonna have much luck.

To take her slightly seriously for a minute, though, there is something worth gleaning from her inane rambling. The most glaring problem here is the implication that metal bands and emotions are two mutually exclusive entities. This (mangled) sentence - "Because emotion has power that the metal guys know is just you can't touch it. Insanity can't touch the soul" - is really quite ignorant, especially given than Ms. Amos has at least a working knowledge of metal (at least enough to know that covering "Raining Blood" will intrigue at least a few Slayer fans and bring 'em over to the, er, light side). To say that there is no emotion within the boundaries of heavy metal is beyond absurd, and is a sad reinforcement of just how little mainstream society "gets" it. Yes, death metal is predominantly a lyrical bloodbath - but not all of it. Black metal does spend most of its time worshipping black twilight and embracing anti-human, nihilistic hate - but not all of it. Look at Bathory. Look at Opeth, Katatonia, Mayhem, Type O Negative…look at Warning, Altar of Plagues, Worship, Corrupted, Revenge, Amebix…look at fucking NEUROSIS.

Hey, Tori. When I was an angry, pierced-up kid in high school, and my mother was lying in a hospital for months and months, drifting in and out of comas, with nothing but a lifetime of brain damage to look forward to - what do you think I was listening to? Was it your records - your artfully angsty, gentle, dreamy little songs? No. You know what cheered me up and made me feel strong, made me feel like I wasn't alone, and convinced me that there was a bigger world outside of my 600-odd person town in the middle of nowhere? A world worth living for, fighting for? It was not you, Tori. It was black metal. I couldn't talk to my friends about how I was feeling, about the howling void of bleakness, hopelessness, and sadness that threatened to consume me. The harshness, the raw, agonizing pain and aggression and sheer misanthropic ferocity that shone through Leviathan, Xasthur, Darkthrone, Cult of Daath, Kult ov Azazel - THAT made sense to me then. And I'd be willing to bet that I wasn't the only one. You've got a pretty voice, that's for sure, and i'm sure your lyrics resonate with and empower some people…but they do absolutely nothing for me. Nothing. Where are those all-powerful emotions? That soul? That fire? Your music is not universal, Tori. You are not all-knowing, or even particularly interesting. Turn down the ego, slow your roll, and back off.

This is why it genuinely bothers me when outsiders deride and scoff at metal as nothing but angry grunting and tuneless screaming. Metal saved my life. Metal has saved many lives. Listening, playing, writing, and being involved with this scene has given a lot of lonesome, angry, confused, fucked-up and otherwise "different" kids something to hold onto, to belong to, to count on. This shit MATTERS.

This "challenge" was a publicity stunt, one that will be forgotten by the end of the day and buried at the bottom of Twitter feeds where it belongs, but the ignorance and condescension it radiates are things that we have dealt with, and will continue dealing with, for a long time coming.

But hey, we can handle it.