Friday, March 23, 2007

Dating Advice No One Gave Me: Leave the Death Metal off the Résumé

Blogfan Benjie will most likely appreciate this more than anyone, but here goes anyway.

The first and foremost thrash metal band Slayer changed my life. Actually, I have always classified Slayer as "black" metal, due to their Satanic approach to metal. They are also classified as "death metal".

Oh, I can see I'm going to be proud of this post!

Let me first begin by saying this was dredged from the recesses of my mind by a post over at the music blog Jefitoblog,

who will occasionally drop a dissertation called "The Complete Idiot's Guide to (insert band name here)". These posts are among my faves of his, which help secure his spot on my sidebar as a top music blog.

I often listen/download some of the sample tracks he hosts, songs I may have never heard, or realized existed, as was the case with his guide to ZZ Top.

This week, he surprised me, as well as many of his readers, with a lengthy analysis of the band Slayer. Before one scoffs, Slayer just won the Grammy for Best Metal Performance, and are considered as one of the cornerstones of American Heavy Metal. (See guitarist Kerry King discussing the Grammy win here).

Let us rewind to the early 1980s. I was a pimply little dork who started digging metal with the purchase of Mötley Crüe's Too Fast for Love, the Scorpions' Blackout, Judas Priest's Screaming for Vengeance.

Metallica, Iron Maiden, and Anthrax soon followed.

I hung out with my pal Chris at his dad's metal record store "The Cavern" which was behind a Jack in the Box kitty-corner to the Blaisdell Arena in Honolulu.

We were exposed to all sorts of metal there. I still remember being in the Cavern when someone handed me Megadeth's Killing is My Business ... And Business is Good! and said "This is the hottest shit since sliced bread." It was the first time I ever heard that expression, and I will always associate it with the sound of Dave Mustaine's guitar.

Chris, liked the harder, darker stuff. He loved Slayer and insisted that the speed of their guitar work was unparallelled. I tried to get into Slayer, and could tolerate them on a basic level, but once I tried to grasp their lyrics, I hit a wall. I was a slightly bigger fan of the band Venom,
Slayer's just-as-satanic but less serious (at least to me) and less successful counterparts.

When I left for California in June of 1984, I had my music with me, cassettes and LPs, and I had the address of a girl I had met at a school dance in May. And I think I had her picture too.

Her name was Alicia and she was the daughter of a judge in Hawaii. And she seemed to like me, which, at the age of 16, turning 17, was quite unusual for me.

We exchanged several letters, pictures, that sort of innocent early '80s stuff dorky guys like me thought were the standard things to do. I thought I had a girlfriend and I looked forward to coming home each day from my job scooping ice cream at Thrifty Drug Store, seeing if there was a letter for me, in those barbarian pre-e-mail dark ages.

And I listened to my metal. It undoubtedly drove my father and step-mother crazy. I taught my little sister (age 3) to sing the chorus to Great White's "On Your Knees". And then there was Slayer and Venom. I was conflicted. My letters to Alicia were therapeutic. I rambled about the intricacies of metal, and the difficulty I had reconciling liking the music with my distaste for the lyrics (see Slayer's "Necrophiliac" or listen, if you dare: (mp3) via Jefitoblog). I vented. I spewed angst. I was clueless.

And somewhere, mid-summer, Alicia's letters stopped coming. Memory fails me, and I don't remember any phone conversations. It seems incomprehensible that I wouldn't have had her phone number, and that we wouldn't have spoken occasionally from across the Pacific. I don't recall any of it, if we did.

August rolled around and there were distractions enough. I was in Rancho Palos Verdes, a suburb of L.A., and there were 16 days of excitement as the world converged on the City of Angels for the Summer Olympics. I'll just gloss over the embarrassing crush I had on Mary Lou Retton.

I remember an epiphany as I mulled over the silence drifting east from the Hawaiian Islands. Maybe I shouldn't have expounded on the intricacies of satanic bands like Slayer and Venom to a girl who most likely considered "heavy metal" to be bands like Ratt and Night Ranger.

The story ends abruptly. I returned to Hawai'i with minimal expectations. Yet, I still attempted to reestablish some form of contact with what had once been a very promising candidate for Girlfriend.

Alas, I was a young, clueless lad, with a poetic streak, a passion for metal, and a bad haircut. If Alicia and I spoke upon my return to the Aloha State, the conversation has been filed away in deep memory storage, like the ark of the covenant at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

I will defer to reader Benjie, who recalled for me a conversation he had with Alicia's mother many years later. Amazingly, despite the fact that Alicia and I had never gone out, really, I had made quite an impression. I believe the consensus was that I was too "intense" for her. An allusion was made to the music. Ben, feel free to add your spin to this sad, pathetic tale.

I can picture in my mind, a young girl of 16 or 17, in what was surely a very nice home, reading the letter in her bedroom. There would be stuffed animals on her bed. My missive makes her frown. She goes to an Episcopalian private school. My candid discussion of Slayer's song lyrics makes her uncomfortable. That night, she goes to her mother and reads her my letter. Maternal advice is dispensed. That is all. Yet the judge remembers me.

As I write this, I am listening to "Kill Again" from Slayer's Hell Awaits.

(Listen: "Kill Again" (mp3) via Jefitoblog)

I remember this track as one of my favorites. Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman's guitars shred phenomenally. There was nothing like this in 1984. It makes early Metallica sound like Easy Listening.

In the music critic Chuck Klosterman's first book Fargo Rock City, he spends a little time discussing Slayer (check this blog post here for the passage I am remembering). He was point on, in my opinion. Despite the 6 Slayer tunes on the BilliPod, I am generally not a fan. A couple years back, I was told point-blank by Shannon, a friend of mine who was raised on metal in Boston, and has seen Slayer live, that it is indisputable that the song "Raining Blood" is one of the greatest metal songs ever. It's #8 on VH1's 40 Greatest Metal Songs. (Listen: "Raining Blood" (mp3) via Jefitoblog)

He is right, I have to agree. It is one of the fastest metal songs around and despite being gruesome, lyrically, to me the lines "Raining blood/from the lacerated sky"are visually amazing.

Listening to those six tracks, I am still impressed by the raw energy of the band's guitars. I recognize their complexity and underlying melodies. I just can't get past the lyrics, although I listen to them with a different perspective now than I had when I was 17.

And say what you will about band longevity, aside from the cliche of multiple drummers, the lead singer and two guitarists, the core of the band, are still together after 26 years of redefining the metal genre.


Benjie516 said...

Saturday Nite, waiting for Peyton Manning on SNL. I think I'll check in on my pal Billy before I turn on the tube ...

As a practicing attorney here in Honolulu, I know Alicia's judge mom and lawyer dad quite well now. Let's just say that both her parents remember Billy (circa 1984) quite well, especially Mr. Alicia's-Dad.

Live From New York ... !!!

mat g. said...

i landed on your blog via technorati (you linked to my Klosterman post) and that little metal expose made my night.

i enjoy metal to the fullest, and embrace everything that comes with the territory of years of metal...talking too loud, proclaiming that things deemed cool are "metal" or "so metal", craving Judas Priest and volume after only a few beers, and waking up every day thanking a higher power that Norway was put on earth.

you inspired me to make sure that my 2 year old has a stronger argument for his love of metal when faced with imminent dating issues :)

I'm going to link back to your blog...will you do the same?

Oxypoet said...

Mat's blog is linked on the sidebar, folks. It's in my music section entitled "This Blog Right Here". Chuck Klosterman would be proud.

mat g. said...

ha. i just came back and realized i was already linked there. i don't know if it's been there or you just did it, but thanks!

i could have answered that myself if i scrolled around for a moment, but keith olbermann has me distracted.


Anonymous said...

For those who do need dating and love advice check out Samantha Daniels live every Wednesday on Paltalk at 3;00pm EST. She has been advising the stars for years!