Balls to the Wall, or, The Joy of Metal

I've never been a big fan of heavy metal. Oh, I've never minded it; I even like some songs, especially when I'm in the gym or feeling angry. I know the names of the more famous songs and artists. But I've never considered myself a real fan. Still, when I was invited to go to an Accept show, I didn't see why not. Even though the only Accept song I knew was their biggest hit, "Balls to the Wall" - and I only knew that because it was on the "Wrestler" movie soundtrack.

So I went to the show last night. It was their first time playing New York in 15 years; it was their first show with a brand-new lead singer; and it was a "promo" gig, so they played the Gramercy Theater, which has a (sold-out) capacity of only 750. We ended up in the front row. (Well, I was in second, but the only one in front of me was a 12-year-old who came up to below my chin.)

The opening band totally stunned me. It's called JC Satellite and Accept's bassist's son is in the band; this much I'd heard. What I hadn't realized was that his son is about 17, and the rest of the band members (three brothers) are the same age or younger. The lead singer/guitarist is 13 (!!!) years old, small and slight, with a cherubic pink-cheeked face under a pale, halo-y mop of rock-and-roll hair . . . and, seriously, he has the charisma, stange presence and poise of any seasoned stage veteran I've seen. It was extremely impressive. (And a little disturbing, to tell the truth, but not in a bad way.)

After a respectably brief break - and an introduction by NYC radio DJ Eddie Trunk - the band finally came out. The crowd roared and strained forward. A hundred hands thrust out of the sea of bodies, holding cameras and camera-phones aloft. Scented ganja clouds shot into the air and spread like incense in the temple of rock-n-roll. And Accept launched into what turned out to be 2 hours and (about) 10 minutes of non-stop high-octane energy. One song after another. No breaks, no slowing down. Just a continuous stream of intense, room-shaking sound and primal, visceral animal joy.

And this is the part that got to me. Maybe it's because this was a promo show (they did a meet-and-greet with VIPs immediately after); maybe because it was their return to touring; maybe it was just a good night. But I have NEVER seen that kind of stage-generosity. And I tend to frequent Celtic and folk and alt-something shows, where the houses are small and the songs are personal and the artists give a LOT away to the audience.

Every time one of the band members saw a camera - whether in the teeming row of press photographers right by the stage or in the audience - he would pose. They smiled, they made devil faces, stuck their tongues out, completely hammed it up - and, every so often, a couple of them would exchange a look and laugh. Happily. Glowingly. I swear, I have never thought of metal as "happy" music before, but that is exactly what I got out of last night's concert. (Great Big Sea fans will understand this - it was like 5 Alan Doyles playing to a roomful of wannabe-Alan Doyles.

I'm glossing over a few details, I suppose. Like the crush of people in the front, made worse by the rude shovers (but that's certainly not the band's fault). And the music, of course, is a matter of taste. I did enjoy it, but I have to admit, every song sounds kind of the same to me (although non-fans would say the same about Celtic instrumentals) and I could make out only about 5% of the lyrics (although that doesn't stop me from listening to, say, Swedish hip-hop/swing). And the fact that I hadn't gotten enough water, but that's my own damn fault. (Next metal concert: sneakers, thinnest T-shirt possible and a GALLON of water for the show.)

But I've got to say, I kinda loved it. My ears are still not back to optimal performance today, but it was worth it. And it's always nice to be surprised - I never would have thought that I would end up enjoying a metal show this much. Certainly never expected to see so many open, friendly, joyful smiles up on that stage. (Also didn't expect to see men in their 50s looking quite that good. Wow. I love you, Wolf Hoffman.) Not to mention - and I suppose this wasn't so much a surprise as a delightful find - the sheer instrumental/technical prowess of the band. At one point, they played a metallic, electric medley of classical music. I actually started to squeal, it was so good.

I'd thought I understood the appeal of metal. The intensity, the violence, the animalism, the physicality. What I'd underestimated - and maybe it was just this show? - is the joy of it. The joy of the performers and the audience, who both participate fully in the experience. (Afterward, I spotted several instances of audience members congratulating each other on a "great show.")

I'd not gonna turn in my acoustic for an electric. And I'm not gonna stop cutting my hair. (Although I am on the look-out for studded leather wristbands.) But I've definitely come away from the show a little more metal-friendly than I'd been before.


yellow smile

Recently lost a notebook - again! - though, fortunately enough, this one contained very little and was not a Principal Notebook, just a scratch pad of sorts. As some sort of weird penance for my absentmindedness, thought maybe should keep promise to self to occasionally drop some older scribbles here.

One of those nights when the darkness comes to hover low, slow and sweet as an addict's next last draw. Nowhere to go - the lights of tattoo shops bright-white stablike, customers slabbed like patients etherized upon tables, drunkards stumbling through streets, talking to their own universe, their invisible gods. One of those New York nights when the city is a swelling hologram of an ocean, overwhelming and untouchable; a slurred feast of life where I am an uninvited guest, an unnoticed gatecrasher.

Late hours of a winter Wednesday night, the lower east side still breathes its fumes of tobacco and cheap liquor through uneven yellow teeth, mumbling minute myths from beneath a tightly drawn black hood. Music spurts from the doors of bars like streams of brown juice onto the sidewalk; the doors belch forth the sated staggering and yawn wider to admit the thirsty determined. The girls are Sunday morning's carnations, broken-stemmed and limp-edged, a few more petals lost to "he-loves-me-he-loves-me-not." The boys swagger, loud and thick in winter coats; they've grown teeth on their fingers and eyes on their knuckles and they inflate with every emptied glass.

This is the feast and none of us have been invited to the king's table, so we snatch and snatch and grab and pinch and filch and scrabble. Every mouse will find his crumb, but why settle for only one crumb when you can cram in two, three, more, more, more. Bigger, better, more - what if the one behind you gets to carry away what you dropped?

They spill into the streets like fruit fallen off the cart, rolling bright, bouncing brown into the gutter, spilling sticky everywhere. Bugger the cold - the skirts are short, the sleeves rolled up, jackets gaping like a leer. Get it, get it, get it all before you are too old, before it catches up with you, before you no longer look good in those jeans, before you can no longer tell yourself they look good on you.

We spill like wine spills on a tablecloth, greedily eating up the white. We drink to find courage enough to do something memorable and then, we drink the memories away. The streets are full of tomorrow's vomiting headaches. The bars are crammed with tomorrow's regrets. And underneath, the trains grind along almost unwillingly, shaking exhausted homeward.

The Big Apple. No matter how soft and rotten parts of it can get, it's big enough that you'll always find a shiny chunk worth sinking your teeth into. No recession, no depression, no crime rate, no filth, nothing short of total nuclear annihilation will turn New York into anything other than what it is - a mecca, a temple, a thief's wide-eyed promise. It hums a ditty out of one corner of its cracked, painted mouth and spits bones out the other. It cracks its knuckles and polishes its fingernails. It snaps on a garter belt and slips out its dentures. It keeps one hand in your pants and the other in your pocket. It whispers red words of love and serves you with a printed invoice afterward.

This is New York; a syphilitic whore who will fuck you for free and charge you extra for the penicillin afterward. And you'll pay - you'll pay because you want to survive till the next go. You'll pay for the privilege of believing in that next go, the mere possibility of another crumb being flung.



pee-yew, eh?

So I recently read this article called The New Dating Game (caution: it's LONG), which was, in part, about the PUA (pick-up artist) culture, and I'd read the PUA bible (or one of 'em, anyway) a couple years ago. (The Game, by Neil Strauss. It's actually a damn good book.) So, reading the above article kinda got me to go poking around online a little to look at the PUA pages and read some message boards - real people typing real thoughts, not some gifted writer packaging the whole thing in a salable narrative.

I'm going to lay aside the fact that reading the unvarnished thoughts of self-styled unabashed assholes and their loyal acolytes is not the most pleasant thing in the world; it's not, but I've always found reality and truth to generally be a desirable thing. So I chose not to take offense to any of the very offensive things posted - but I definitely came away from the reading feeling just a little more worried about the state of the world.

Whether I read the accounts of men or women (yes, there is also a small community of aspiring female pick-up artists, "alpha females," etc.) it really seemed like the biggest factor in whether you were going to get together with someone was what other people would think. That and the whole "vanquishing" factor. The "power" complex that was behind all those ridiculous games played with phone calls and texts and whatever.

If only men stopped hating and fearing female power. If only women stopped resenting male power. How much happier we all would be if people could fuck without calculating the impact it has on our actual or perceived "social value." If we didn't feel we had to fuck on or above our "level"; if there WERE no levels. How much happier and less brain-fucked we'd be if every romantic/sexual interaction wasn't also a transaction.

I am not discounting the intrinsic, primal allure of an objectively beautiful man or women in his or her physical prime. But, from what I've read (and seen in life), a surprisingly large number of people aren't actually seeking to find a sexually satisfying experience with a person they are deeply attracted to. It's way more left-brained than that.

Guys want to fuck lots of "hot chicks." Girls want to feel they are chosen by guys who can fuck lots of "hot chicks." Guys seem to be driven by a wish to impress other guys; girls want to impress other girls. How utterly pointless. How . . . well, how gay. (Not that there's anything wrong with that . . . unless you purport to be straight.)

It's true what Leonard Cohen sang - "the naked man and woman are just a shining artifact of the past." How lovely it would be if we could attain some sort of nirvana, where we just follow the irrational tingle without thinking of what our friends will think of our chosen partner. If there wasn't so much "sport-fucking" and more pure, naked communion, based in the clean joy of unconnotated flesh-pleasures. Without thinking about who paid for the drinks or how tall he is or how many other guys are looking down her cleavage.

Perhaps a drop of LSD in the water supply really wouldn't go amiss, eh?

Or maybe I'm just a hopeless romantic.



Been fiddling around with a new design for my photo site, currently hosted here. The new one would look like this. Still dithering over how much sparkly faux-Flash animation stuff I should use, and wondering what psychological insights can be gleaned from the fact that I can never pick just ONE photo for the splash page . . . or, for that matter, two. Or three. Or eight.

Been sorta delving into the graphic side of my brain - retouching some of the recent shots I've taken and meant to retouch; revisiting the old photos too, and trying to figure out how I can make them better. Or, if not better, how I can bring them closer to my artistic vision. Which is a tough question to answer when a) one's vision shifts periodically and b) when the very notion of ascribing an "artistic vision" to oneself makes one's inner cynical asshole bust a gut.

Over and over, I come back to the look of "magical realism." Years ago, when I first discovered photography - and Photoshop - I'd kind of abused that concept, drenching every shot in copious amounts of soft-focus blur and hyper-saturation. Finally, an older photographer not-very-gently informed me it made my work look amateurish. I eased up on the blur, but I still do love vivid colors and have never been beholden to the idea of making my digital images look as close to film as possible. To me, the camera and the software are just tools - same as paints and brushes. If I SEE a red sky, if I want a red sky in my image, why not put one there?

But I do wonder sometimes, if I am going too far. If my work does look amateurish. Then again, the inside of my mind probably does too.



So, once again, I find myself returning here, feeling slightly penitent, slightly prodigal, wondering whether I should attempt to write into some sort of theme ('cept there ain't one), or just blurt something to break the silence.

To be honest, I'd had this Very Special Entry planned - in fact, I was going to simply copy it out of my paper journal. A little while back, I'd written a long and truthful account of the aughties in my journal - so truthful, in fact, that it's pretty much hopeless to edit out the parts I'd rather keep private. So, I'm not going to try.

In that entry, I dwelled intensely on how the aughts were "my decade." And they were. I turned 18 in the fall of 1999 - came of age, you might say. Everything major that happened to me (so far) happened in the last 10 years. I have to admit, I was unusually nostalgic as 2009 came to a close. Kept thinking how I'd never write xx/xx/0x in a date field again. Kept thumbing the pages of the journals I've kept faithfully for the past 3 years.

But, as it always happens, the new year was rung in, the kisses were exchanged, the champagne was quaffed, the car staggered groggily to my curb in the wee hours of January 1, and I woke up some hours later, the last sins of 2009 echoing deeply into 2010. Unchanged.

I gave up making resolutions a while ago. For that matter, I've given up artificial deadlines. And the only wish I ever make on stars or wishing wells or at 11:11 is "Just let everything be all right." Because, really, that's the only constant, isn't it? No sooner is one specialized wish granted than another one appears, seeming so much more urgent than the last. And what is a resolution but a wish, a prayer sent to the better angels of your own nature?

This year, I resolve to do just one thing. The same thing I've been doing for the last ten years, or twenty. I resolve to continue slouching toward my Bethlehem, skipping to my loo, and following my bliss. I resolve to trip over my own feet and fall flat on my face, to sit down in puddles along the way and refuse to go another step, to whine and complain and bitch and moan, and then get up and keep going, in whichever direction seems best at that particular moment.

Yes, of course, I have certain goals I'd like to achieve, certain ideas of what I'd like my future to look like. But those are the details, the ephemeral wishes that will either come true or not, and then recede into history like individual dots in a pointillist painting. All I resolve to do is . . . paint more dots.

Happy new year :)


All content ©ChiaraScura Productions/Renata B, unless otherwise stated. All rights reserved. Violation of federal copyright laws may result in serious legal repercussions such as fines, criminal charges and a shitstorm of biblical proportions. Let's play nice.