Gram Parsons, who had a greater claim than Michael Nesmith to being the real pioneer of country-rock, once described his musical inheritors, the Eagles, as “bubblegum,” saying that their music had “too much sugar in it. Life is tougher than they make it out to be.” While the Eagles may have deserved his derision, his words could be taken to imply that great music should be difficult and harsh rather than sweet or consoling. Early country and folk music had in fact always mixed up tragedy with comedy, murder ballads with dancing songs and absurd entertainments. Music in hard times often plays the role of allowing mental escape and momentary joy as well as reflecting the people’s suffering. Gram Parsons clearly knew this — even the heartrending, brilliant Grievous Angel album is a bravura mixture of tragedy and wry comedy. What he was really objecting to in the Eagles, apart from their imitation of his own sound, was that they were too smooth and flawless to be genuine country. But in looking for the words to attack their music, he took the easy path of attacking them for not being serious enough, echoing the Lennonesque idea that being purely popular or entertaining was in some way dirty or wrong. Perhaps it is the luxury of a more affluent age to see suffering and misery as glamorous or authentic attributes. Whatever the reasons, from the 1960s onward the retrospective quest for authenticity tended to disregard the light and frothy aspects of earlier music, focusing only on the serious, tragic or intense.
But pop songs don’t exist only to change people’s lives or to change the world. They can also convey simple, banal emotion, and a stupid song like “Sugar Sugar” can sometimes light up the day like a moment of condensed happiness and light, without our needing to think any further about where this song comes from or why it makes us happy. There is no good reason to despise the song for making no attempt to do anything other than this.
- Circus of Power — Circles
- Wye Oak — The Alter
- The Beautiful — Together
- Parralox — Factory Friends
- The Golden Filter — Look Me In the Eye
- Rob Crow — Chucked
- Helen Marnie — We Are the Sea
- Nobody — Our Last Dance
- Diary of Dreams — Traumtänzer
- Goon Moon — Apartment 31
- Systems Officer — Oui
- Cinderella — Coming Home
- The Fratellis — Jesus Stole My Baby
- Eels — Jungle Telegraph
- Galactic Cowboys — About Mrs. Leslie
- KMFDM — Panzerfaust
- pre)Thing — Can’t Stop (22nd Century Lifestyle)
- Faith No More — She Loves Me Not
- Marsheaux — Radial Emotion
- Elbow — Every Bit the Little Girl
You might think that a band letting 17 years elapse between their third and fourth albums was unusual. You might therefore assume that there was an interesting reason for such a hiatus. You might even, recklessly, suppose that they could be pleased to be back. All these thoughts seem reasonable, until you try speaking to Mazzy Star about their new record, Seasons of Your Day.
…There is, I suppose, something impressive about the duo’s unwavering purist militancy – their apathy, bordering on revulsion, towards everything to do with music beyond the act of making it. After a miserable hour for all three of us, I’m no longer surprised that they took 17 years to release Seasons of Your Day; I’m amazed they released it at all. Do they even care if anybody beyond their close friends hears their music?
“Maybe, for musicians, it’s common to release things more frequently than we do,” says Roback. “[We’re] like other types of artist. They make their sculpture or painting, they write books or poems, and whether they have an exhibition is almost irrelevant.”
Is this a difficult line of work for such reticent people? Pause. “Only when shyness is misinterpreted as arrogance,” says Roback. Does that happen in their case? Pause. “I don’t really know.” Of course not.
I love me some Mazzy Star in any event, but in this social media fishbowl, where needy oversharing is like the water you swim in, I’m particularly delighted by such passive resistance. Reminds me of another favorite artist, Mark Sandman.
But that’s the funny thing: In my experience, metal isn’t for angry people. It’s bigger than anger. Better, even. I’ve found most metal musicians and heavy music aficionados aren’t nearly as pissed off and angry as people assume.
And that got me thinking: Is it possible that listening to angry music could make people happier? Do hours and years of loud riffs and screeching vocals pummeling your ear drums actually mellow you out? It’s a theory backed up in a recent study conducted by Maya Tamir and Brett Ford, researchers from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
A theory, a study! Hell, I thought that was conventional wisdom if not outright cliché. I lost count a couple decades ago of how many musicians credited punk and metal with keeping them alive and out of jail. Just to take one example of many off the top of my head, here’s Pepper Keenan of Corrosion of Conformity/Down in an interview with RIP from early 1992:
“I couldn’t find a better outlet,” Cajun guitarist Pepper Keenan swears. “At the time I was in high school. You had all these rich kids who went to therapists to get their heads together. I just went to a Black Flag show and beat the shit out of people for a half an hour, just sweated like a maniac, and everything was cool Monday morning when the first bell rang. It totally got me through high school!”
Nietzsche thinks that music allows us to face the tragedy of human existence, not so much in the sense of a diversion but as a means of “speaking” about life. There are things that can be “said” musically — or perhaps sung — that cannot be said philosophically.
…Since language is always metaphorical — and so never delivers to us the “thing itself” — music is all the more significant. For Nietzsche (like the German Romantics) thinks it has a directness that is unlike language. When Nietzsche contrasts the value to the words of a lyrical poem (and thus the images it conjures up) to the music to which it is set, he makes it clear that music has a revelatory power that language and its images simply cannot have: “Confronted with the supreme revelations of music, we feel, willy-nilly, the crudeness of all imagery and of every emotion that might be adduced by way of an analogy. Thus Beethoven’s last quartets put to shame everything visual and the whole realm of empirical reality.” So music has a significant edge over words. Of course, whatever it is that music conveys cannot be conveyed by words. So, at a certain point, we are — by definition — unable to “describe” exactly what it is that music says. If it could be put into words, we wouldn’t need music.
…Nietzsche is convinced —as were the ancient Greeks — that words sung in rhythm had a special effect upon one that simply was not matched by the bare spoken word.
Lady, people aren’t chocolates. D’you know what they are mostly? Bastards. Bastard-coated bastards with bastard filling.
Falling in love with a book is a unique and sometimes strange experience; it’s not hard to make the leap from adoring a novel to adoring its creator. The writer Justin Cronin compares it to a celebrity crush: “When you read a book, you spend hours in intimate contact with the mind of another person — it’s an intense, but one-sided relationship. If any reader knew who we really were, it’s guaranteed they’d find us disappointing. The experience of a book is so much better than the experience of a person.” The author Elizabeth Gilbert agreed. “When I meet readers, I feel a responsibility not to disappoint them. But how do you not disappoint someone who’s invented you?”
…But some writers enjoy discovering the darker sides of their favorite authors. “I’m always comforted when writers and artists I admire have terrible problems in their lives, as I did,” the novelist Kate Christensen told me. “I like reading about their struggles and misbehavior.” The poet and memoirist Mary Karr is also forgiving of flaws. “Tolstoy I’m sure was an incredible jackass, but I still love him. I still love Stevens, I still love Pound. If we didn’t read people who were bastards, we’d never read anything. Even the best of us are at least part-time bastards.”
If I had to credit any particular text with being a formative influence on my intellectual and psychological development, well — I’m afraid I’ll have to reveal my utterly mainstream, lowbrow roots and name RIP magazine. For those who don’t know, it was a hard rock/heavy metal magazine, produced by Larry Flynt’s media empire, that existed for about a decade in the ’80s and ’90s. The first issue I got had Lars Ulrich on the cover with a long interview inside, and with that bait, I was soon hooked on what I thought was the best rock journalism around (there may have been better for all I know, but this was pre-Internet, and I was limited to what I could find in the mall bookstores). Lonn Friend, the editor during the magazine’s heyday, has, on a couple occasions that I’ve seen, summarized a large part of RIP’s guiding philosophy:
Because one of the edicts was that we weren’t going to prostitute these artists over their bad behavior. If it fell into the story, we would discuss the party and then whatever else. But if it was to damage or hurt the image of an artist rather than the heroic image of the artist because that’s what RIP was all about — heroes — then I chose not to.
RIP definitely erred on the side of generosity in its articles. A lot of magazines — especially British ones, I noticed — specialized in reporting the seediest gossip and exulted in sneering mean-spiritedness toward their subjects, but RIP, even though half its lifespan was spent covering the most decadent, trashy Sunset Strip glam-metal, never went that route. Bands were always presented in the best possible light, and the music was always described in terms of its highest potential, rather than its (frequently) humdrum reality. Even the most generic hair bands were treated as capable of moments of transcendent artistry.
It was largely through years of reading RIP while dreaming of a career as a musician that I formed my weltanschauung (there, perhaps that ten-dollar word will redeem my intellectual pretensions!), my ideal of a life lived in accordance with low-key, bohemian foolosophy values. I had an idealized image of the rock/metal world as being something like an itinerant tribe of minstrels, poets and plainspoken philosophers who devoted their lives to pondering the meaning of it all in between ritual musical performances. An insight here, a perspective there — I clothed my burgeoning sense of self in a patchwork quilt painstakingly stitched together from the scraps of interviews with creative people. I assembled an idealized personality that would take years to fully grow into. And of course, the flawed mortals behind those pull quotes and aperçus were bound to disappoint upon closer examination, as they often did. But the ideal they all contributed to is no less powerful for all that.
- Marsheaux — Hanging On
- Gil Scott-Heron — Me and the Devil
- Tony Joe White — As the Crow Flies
- Wrathchild America — Time
- Richard Thompson — Stony Ground
- Fun Lovin’ Criminals — The View Belongs to Everyone
- Alabama Shakes — Hold On
- Metric — Blindness
- The Morning After Girls — Chasing Us Under
- Eddy Grant — Electric Avenue
- American Head Charge — Take What I’ve Taken
- Midfield General — Reach Out
- Killing Joke — Requiem
- Primal Scream — Autobahn 66
- Sepultura — Bottomed Out
- Philip Boa and the Voodooclub — Rome In the Rain
- Ween — The Rift
- Black Grape — A Big Day In the North
- Chumbawamba — Timebomb
- Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse feat. Suzanne Vega — The Man Who Played God
American guitarist Jeff Hanneman, a co-founder of the heavy metal band Slayer, died in southern California on Thursday, the band said in a statement posted on their website. He was 49.
South of Heaven was one of the very first thrash metal records I ever got. A metalhead friend and I skipped our afternoon class one beautiful September day and spent a couple hours sitting in his old diesel rattletrap Mercedes listening to his collection of cassettes. I went immediately out and bought my own copy of that record, along with Exodus’s Impact is Imminent and Sacred Reich’s The American Way (the latter two didn’t hold up quite so well once the novelty faded, but I can still enjoy listening to Slayer un-ironically). A few weeks after that, as it happened, Seasons in the Abyss came out, and the slightly less-aggressive atmosphere of eerie dread pervading those two records still make them my favorites. Less than a year later, the Clash of the Titans, with Alice in Chains, Anthrax, Megadeth and Slayer, was my first concert.
One of the trade-offs of increasing maturity and sophistication is the tendency to experience things from a distance, via critical perspective. Seeing how this or that event fits into a larger narrative takes away some of the spontaneous enjoyment, the direct immersion in the experience. Late-eighties thrash is a strange little subculture: influenced but not accepted by punk rock, not really related to the hairspray glitz and glamour of their mainstream lite-metal peers, and not culturally significant enough to merit wider sociological notice the way grunge did a few years later. And a lot of the music is nowhere near being timeless. What I’m getting at is, it’s hard to look back nostalgically now without being fully aware of what a relatively small cultural space thrash metal occupied and feeling somewhat old and self-conscious about it. And yet, that knowledge exists in tandem with the strong perception, perfectly preserved, still just as intensely vivid after more than two decades, of a vast new world opening up in front of me as I sat there in that old car listening to those twin guitar lines, that manic, chaotic drumming, and those trademark Tom Araya shrieks. That moment, at least, is timeless.
Thanks for everything, Jeff.
Noted metal journalist Jeff Wagner to author biography of the late leader of Type O Negative, Peter Steele. Jeff Wagner (Mean Deviation book, former Metal Maniacs editor) is currently assembling his next book, Soul On Fire – The Life and Music of Peter Steele. The book will be, in Wagner’s words, “a thorough telling of Peter’s life, from his ‘diaper days’ to his death. It will not only include analysis of the music he created in Type O Negative and Carnivore — and the many triumphs and personal tribulations that came along with it — but also let fans in on the details of his early days. The book will also feature numerous images from throughout his life, on stage and off. Peter’s fans miss him, and as a follower of his music since 1986, I’m proud to put together this tribute for them. While warring factions within the story have already been heard, my mission is simple: cut through the crap and tell one of the most extraordinary stories in modern music, with great respect to the subject himself.”
Culled from a variety of sources, including recollections from band mates, family, close friends and record label reps, Soul On Fire is an accurate account of Steele’s creative genius and incredibly complex personality. Steele was a visionary and a provocateur; a generous friend and a self-deprecating hedonist; a band mate and a brother. His struggles with addiction and his acceptance of the Catholic faith he grew up with and then grew out of…all of this is surveyed and detailed within Soul On Fire.
I am bouncing up and down in my seat, grinning from ear to ear, and clapping my hands like a toy monkey with cymbals. Well, maybe not literally, but I was thinking about Steele last week on the anniversary of his death. As much as I’ve enjoyed the blog his sisters have kept in his honor, I’d always vaguely wished someone would write a definitive biography. In some strange way, Type O always felt like a best-kept musical secret to me as a fan, always just slightly in the shadows. Never belonging truly and completely to any specific musical genre or any cultural moment, partially hidden behind cryptic humor and the symphonic majesty of their music. Usually I’m content to just enjoy the results of an artist’s labors and pay no mind to the person behind the curtain, but I always have been curious to know a little more about the personal life of the man behind some of the greatest music I’ve ever heard.
What is our work on this earth? Is it a career, profession, busyness pursued for gain, idleness pursued for leisure? Is anyone obliged to pursue anything more than the work of the soul in discovering itself, in harmonizing itself (to God, to Nature, to the universe, to the planet)? Whatever form of work one has, that work must always be the work of enlightenment, or, to use a more modern diction, that of consciousness. What we do to buy food and pay rent is not work but social necessity. That which we do to enrich the soul is our work. Let us pursue it diligently.
Yes, let’s. This reminds me of Bruce Ellis Benson’s excellent book Pious Nietzsche, from which I’ll present one of many equally worthy paragraphs:
To affirm the music of life —to practice music — is to cultivate one’s creative vitality (which Nietzsche often calls the “will to power”). This rather broad conception of “practicing music” may seem strange to us (since we today define “music” in a relatively narrow sense), but it would have been perfectly sensible to Nietzsche, who would have had the ancient Greek sense of mousikê in mind. Practicing music for the ancient Greeks was much more than “playing” or “listening” to music. Indeed, as we will see, it also included any art that developed oneself or cultivated one’s soul.
Listening to music isn’t just entertainment for me; it’s a way of harmonizing myself, as mentioned above. It’s a way of tuning jangled thoughts and turbulent emotions, gaining inspiration, and facilitating restoration. Same goes for writing. What I do here is more like what Buddhists call their “practice”, or what Benson in his book calls askêsis, a spiritual discipline. I’m not persuading anybody or expressing anything important. The goal is merely to become incrementally better at turning vivid perception into clear expression, possibly becoming a mousikos one day.