Monday, April 4, 2011

Lancing a Boil with Metallic "Deathiness"


     I guess it is fitting that my brief immersion in the world of death-metal music began on a dark and stormy morning, complete with lightning and thrashing trees.

     For a few weeks, shattering what I perceived to be my elegant, Swan Lakey jog through the predawn darkness, a scrawny, shaggy-haired kid on a skateboard had been tearing up behind me -- veering as close as possible without hitting me -- and then veering out of sight.
   I knew he was just messing around, but it shook me up every time.
   One day, a 90-year-old man I knew, who also did his jogging at 5 a.m., saw it happen, and he told me, "Don't mind Wyatt -- he's a good kid."
     So on that dark and stormy morning a few days later, I called out: "Yo, Wyatt!" as he roared past. The wind howled. The thunder chimed in.
    He flipped the board with that unmistakable teenage nonchalance, came back in my direction and said, "How the crap do you know my name?" He adjusted his pace to move along with me as I ran.
    "I have my ways," I said. "I'm an investigative reporter, and I've got sources all over the place."
    "That's awesome," he said, apparently a bit unsettled.
    From then on, he often slowed down as he passed me to exchange a few words. I learned that he was almost 14 years old, that his parents were divorced, that his mother wouldn't let him skateboard on the street except when there was no traffic, that he hated school, except for biology, and that he had put together a death-metal band. 
    The problem was, he and his "posse" didn't know how to write lyrics. They could jam and come up with some "smokin'" tunes, but they -- like most kids these days, I gather -- were quite illiterate. 
    "Couldn't you just put your own special 'spin' on other bands' songs?" I asked.
    "That would be like the lamest thing I ever heard of," he said. "If you don't have your own stuff, you are too pathetic to even be a band."
    I told him I'd written a few rock ballads for my nephew several years ago, to help get his band started. I said I thought it would be fun to try and write some lyrics for his band, "Kamikaze Nightmare," and if they didn't like them, that would be fine. He assured me that his mother was OK with this deliberately grotesque genre of music.
   "But I don't know if you'd be cool with it -- it's pretty extreme," Wyatt said. "A lot of people think it's sickening."

    "Maybe I can be so extreme and sickening that you'll run like hell and find someplace else to skateboard," I replied.
    "Oh, I think not, milady," he scoffed. Apparently he'd been forced to read some Shakespeare. 
    "We wouldn't have to tell people that you wrote them for us, would we? Because that would totally demolish our credibility," he said.
    He was so cute. I said, no -- they will belong to you.
Luna Ad Noctum - Sempiternal Consecration
    The moment he sped off, my brain began the process of getting its death-metal groove on. It was like transforming myself into a drag queen, except that it was, of course, entirely different.  Or actually not entirely different. But I assumed I'd have to play a role to write these lyrics, to dress up in metallic "deathiness." I'd have to inhabit a different and rather foreign persona. 
    Much to my surprise, I didn't need go to "a different place" at all. I just sat down with my cigarettes and coffee in the corner booth of my old-fashioned kitchen, and the shit poured right out. A place in my brain where rage and anguished hopelessness resided had been right there, waiting for an opportunity to scream its head off.  Alienated, bitter, ferocious, unrelentingly unforgiving lyrics stomped onto the page. I was shocked at myself -- and filled with exhilaration.
    I'd had a garish Megadeth T-shirt for years. I had worn it sort of as a joke, because it was so antithetical to my fairly straitlaced, irritatingly wholesome image. I had tried on and off for years to shatter this image by throwing the word "motherfucker" into my conversations, but I was never able to say it properly. I sounded like a spinster librarian trying to be cool.
    All day, the lyrics stormed out convulsively. I had to jump out of the shower a couple of times to jot some down. To me, this was poetry, not only in its rhymes but also in its vivid, vile imagery. It was diseased and profane, nihilistic and vengeful. It was music for primal screaming and for inconsolable  howling.
    I have realized for a long time that I  -- like most people, I guess -- have within me multiple ways of being, and that I could probably remake myself, to some extent, if I ever felt like it. 
    But it had never occurred to me that I had a wracked, bellowing adolescent boy in me. I was amused by this concept, and it made me feel strangely proud.
    I had been somewhat angry and defensive for years. I kept it bottled up pretty well most of the time -- in fact, I was often accused of being "serene" (are you kidding me?) -- but I knew that it was a good thing that I didn't own a gun. I realized that my simmering rage was bad for me, physically as well as psychologically.
    Writing these lyrics was quite cathartic. I felt purged. I was brutal, morbid, insane and stupid, lashing out at everything with blissful irrationality. It was like having a boil lanced. Out came the pus. The pressure was relieved. 
    As I would soon discover, the relief was temporary, as it is with any pain killer. But we still take those pain killers, don't we?
    Running to rough music helps, but writing the music helps more.
    I wrote six songs in two days and gave them to Wyatt as he sped past on his skateboard one morning. Several days later,  I was planting some delphinium and foxglove in my back yard. I could hear the sounds of music around the block. I knew that Wyatt lived somewhere on that street. So I walked over to Harrison and followed the noise -- and it really was pretty bad noise, at first -- but I reached the source halfway up the street and surreptitiously approached the garage, which had the door about halfway down. 
    They were singing one of my songs. They were screaming one of my songs. And they were harmonizing!
    I choked up immediately -- not so much because of what I had done, but because of what they were doing with what I had done, which was to use it as a foundation and build upon it with real feeling and creativity. They were, as Paula Abdul would say on "American Idol," "making the songs their own."
    It was one of the most creatively satisfying things I've ever done. Twice before, an artist illustrated short stories I had written, and in doing so, she interpreted what I had written through her own unique lens. To experience in that way the interplay between two minds was a thrill to me. Long ago, modern-dance students had choreographed and performed a piece using a poem I had written as their "music." When I saw them acting out my emotional, disillusioned words on stage, I was overwhelmed by what we had created together.
    Wyatt brought his three band mates over one afternoon to meet me. I shouldn't have been surprised that these sweet-faced sleepy-eyed, almost excessively polite kids were in love with death-and-destruction music. My nephew and his friends were the same way. It seemed incongruous.
    I was finally coming to understand why kids -- especially boys -- are so drawn to scary, gory, terrifying movies, explosive video games and gut-wrenching music. The images bother me as much as ever, but I think they provide a sort of safety valve, a way to vent, for boys who are trying to cope with the roaring rivers of testosterone that nature unleashes in them. And I think that all those axe murders and decapitations and disembowelments, which they claim to find funny, are probably an OK way to confront mortality. They provide a release, and maybe they help demystify the fear.
   When I went to hear the band play several months later, I stood in back by the door, in tears the whole time.       
    Collaboration is a beautiful thing.
    Rock on, Wyatt. (Actually, I guess he can't right now. He's on a Mormon mission).

I neglected to mention that I changed the names of the boys and the band to preserve their "street cred."  The band continues to perform during Wyatt's absence at local clubs and raves, using a very talented substitute guitarist.  As far as I know, they rarely if ever use my songs anymore, but that's the way it should be. I was just helping them to leap out of the nest.