I don't know when I realized what I had learned the other night after Morbid Saint, a band that should crush a small backroom at a bar, had an awful sounding performance and the opening band, Infiltrator, totally destroyed all that came early to show support for what should have been an awesome billing. The opening band even impressed a friend of mine whose ambivalence for modern metal would be written and cited and analogized by Homer if the Greek had been alive to know the guy. The turnout at the show was surprising - roughly half the attendees were about fifteen or sixteen years old and the rest were the usual crowd of band members and their girlfriends. For a bar show in the heart of one of Philadelphia's less pleasant areas, that such youngsters were even allowed out was amazing to see. Highlighting this fact was the altercation at the Chinese take-out restaurant around the block where a few friends and myself ran to fuel up during Casket's set. After a handful of somewhat awkward looking kids left, one of the locals brandished a nightstick, touted his prison credentials and hit on what must have been another local underage girl buying pot stickers; an environment completely safe for youthful upbringing.
I've been dwelling on a particular thought for a while - trying to pinpoint the notoriously elusive concept of "Elitism" and "Elitists" and their place within the global and, more importantly, local metal scene which I've been engaged with for years now. It's been hard to really solidify anything really which, for myself, could properly define either concept. On the internet, I've come to realize, the idea of being an elitist really has no concreteness. It's like looking at clouds at believing you could place a heavy weight on them without worrying about it falling down and crushing your skull back on earth. There are no grounds to stand on when it comes to being an elitist on the internet but we've still made attempts to label particularly diaphanous groups, people and users using equally translucent definitions. In most cases, the "Elite" have come to represent ultra-knowledgeable iconic purveyors of underground metal imagery who take square pegs and turn them into round cylinders so that they will fit into the holes in their own philosophies and, therefore, the acknowledged thoughts of a vast majority of the heavy metal electorate.
How many people are there that believe that only the bands listed on Metal Archives are truly metal bands? How many people are there that are afraid to formulate their own opinions on Metallica's Death Magnetic or Megadeth's Risk because they are afraid of the backlash by those within their circle who hold differing opinions? How many, looking for alternate opinions to those commonly held, have turned to Anus.com and Ray Spinoza to try and out-maneuver the extremeness of friends so that they may be deemed an original thinker? How many people have we met that are willing to agree just to be deemed acceptable in the eyes of someone else? The list goes on and on and unfortunately, I'm sure that those that want to argue against these concepts are the very same that employ the actions behind them. I think it was later on in the night driving home under a particularly weird fog/low cloud ceiling at three in the morning when a lot of this clicked.
I was thinking back to some of the conversations earlier in the night amongst not only myself and my friends but conversations overheard of others - admittedly one of which I was purposely paying attention to. I was able to break the conversations down ultimately into a relatively few categories. One was the category effectively labelled as "bullshit" conversations as Harry Frankfurt would describe them in his 2005 coffee table reader On Bullshit. These were conversations which were sincere, serious and yet jovial amongst friends. Such as myself talking with the guys behind Stench about excrement, aliens and general personal quandaries about how they were doing, what was going on with their music, etc. The second type of conversation was observational in nature and involved almost always the actions of the younger kids at the show such as a conversation about the patches on their jackets, their frumpiness and blissful ignorance. The last set of conversations were something different entirely. It also was a response to the youngsters at the show but it was not observational but rather confrontational and, for lack of a better term, assholish. I overheard some older guy quizzing one of the younger concert-goers on his tastes, his knowledge and his experiences.
It all started to get put together, piece by piece as I was driving home, once again applying some of the experiences to the larger question I had been stuck on - elitism and it's role. Just to clarify before I go on, everything I am about to say happened exactly as I describe it and I'm particularly interested in whether I piss people off by criticizing their actions but I'm going to use random names anyway. Those that read this and recognize themselves anecdotally can bitch but I'm not pointing fingers or throwing punches and my opinions on those individuals isn't for the better or worse and I'm sure I've made some pretty arrogant statements as well so I'm also not saying that I'm some angelic Metalhead. I'm not touting my own horn - those that know me personally know I am not a person to do that.
There was a moment during the night when I began to take more notice of some of the more minor things I normally wouldn't take note of. Maybe I realized that there was some deeper meaning evolving that night but who knows. Once again it goes back to that Chinese restaurant and while we were waiting for them to make our food behind the bulletproof glass the aforementioned group of youngsters were still in the small waiting area. They were all really young, they couldn't have been older than sixteen years old. They looked like awkward middle-schoolers. Two of the four of them had denim kuttes with a whole mess of patches, all ironed on to my eyes - not that that matters - and with no real order either. One of the other kids was wearing a slayer shirt or something and one just had on some striped shirt and was anorexically skinny. I could have fit his whole body inside a CD-r case and still have room for the booklet.
I was paying attention to their conversation because they were talking about Megadeth. They were totally oblivious to my friends and me. The statement that really caught my ears originally was one of the talking about how Endgame was his favorite Megadeth album and that Symphony of Destruction and Sweating Bullets were such awesome songs. It was one of those things where you listen to see if you heard right because to my knowledge I've never met anyone who had thoughts like that. I also don't have any sixteen year old friends. The conversation continued:
"I think I've listened to all of Rust In Peace."
"I really like that song Poison Is The Cure"
"I've listened to most of it."
It's the kind of conversation which reminded me of how old I was. I haven't had a discussion about Megadeth and my favorite Megadeth songs in at least seven years. I've had discussions on more subtle issues in regards to Megadeth such as Dave's refusal to play The Conjuring and his new found religious beliefs, the contemplation that maybe Endgame is a throwback to Rust and Peace because Dave's out of ideas and that the remaster of So Far... So Good... So What! Is better than the original pressing. These little kids made me feel like an elderly man in a wheel chair with a breathing tube wearing diapers and crapping myself. Out of curiosity I cut in, "I think Risk is an underrated album. Same with Youthanasia." The swarm began:
"Yeah! I like Risk!"
"Youthanasia? Which one is that?"
"Risk is probably their best album."
It was a strange development. To their conversation because they all basically outright agreed with me about an album which the vast majority of humankind loathes and hates with the same force and passion as albums like St. Anger or Dance of Death. One of my friends joined in with something to the effect of "Fucking Cryptic Writings man!," - an attempt to foster more laughs for us at them. I found it amusing as well, even if my original comment on Risk wasn't meant to be a condemnation or "troll." While we waited for the food, one of the kids came up to me and asked me specifically about one of my patches:
"Where did you get that Morgoth patch? I've never seen that patch before!" He was hunched over looking at the patch like a doctor would examine a skin deformity.
I told the truth, "I bought it in Germany."
He backed off, staring with an amazed look, probably the same look he'll have when he sees tits for the first time. "Germany!? You went to Germany?"
"I played Keep it True 7 with one of my past bands. I bought it from a vendor there. It's an official patch from around the time Odium was released."
He wasn't even interested in the patch anymore. "You played Keep it True!?" All his friends by this time were equally as awed.
"Yeah. Back in 2007."
"What was your band called?"
"At the time I was in a band called Arctic Flame."
The kid thought for a moment. "I think I heard of that band."
My friends chimed in jest with their usual comments about how the band was awful, that the songs I had written for the band were crap etc. Some back story since I generally don't use Contaminated Tones as a journal or anything and I really don't give out chunks of my own personal feelings I'll clear up some stuff. I played in Arctic Flame from about 2007 until 2011 when I left after the recording of Guardians of the Flame but before the release. I had known during the writing sessions for the band that I would leave after the album was finished since I was unhappy with most of the material on the album. I had hoped that the band would move more in a direction towards something like Omen or Jag Panzer but it was obvious that wouldn't happen. I had other priorities at the time as well - school, finding a job, internships and such - which did factor in heavily but I was dissatisfied with the rotating list of members, the lack of focus and attention to detail in the recordings... But even with all that, I did enjoy my time with Arctic Flame. I still am friends with all the members and I wouldn't want that to change since they are all great guys. I'm really looking forward to their January show with Attacker who is now fronted by a good friend of mine - Bobby Lucas. I had a lot of great experiences with the band and although I do know that the band is considered somewhat comedically by many, I know that the band did not look at it's existence that way and I didn't look at my involvement that way. I'm not ashamed of my involvement with the band at all and with the exception of one track I really liked my material on both albums. Anyway...
Fact of the matter is that there is very little chance that kid had ever heard of the band since Arctic Flame hasn't played a whole lot of shows locally recently and they've been preoccupied writing another album. Ultimately later on, during a totally separate conversation I reflected on the whole idea of image. These kids had at least thirty to forty patches on their jackets. My jacket has five patches and all five of them have stories behind them with experiences I've had. My patches MEAN something to me. I expect that it will take me YEARS to finish patching my jacket because for me, I look at my jacket as something that is symbolic of my own journey through metal. I want my jacket to not only be patched with bands and albums that really mean something to me, but also be stitched with the experiences which I've been afforded by being a metalhead throughout my life.
My Morgoth patch reminds me of my time in Germany, playing the Keep It True 7 warm up gig with Wolf, Onslaught and Ross The Boss. It reminds me of having probably my first hangover and not being able to wake up the following morning. It reminds me of not only one of my first metal experiences abroad but also one of my first real life experiences. My Manowar Hail to England patch reminds me of seeing Manowar play Starland ballroom a year back and playing all of Battle Hymns - an album that for me is one of my absolute favorite albums ever - and just being witness to a band, expecting so much and being still blown away by the power of Heavy Metal. My Judas Priest patch reminds me of Germany when I played Sword Brothers. The Manilla Road back-patch is obvious. I bought it off a guy online who didn't want to sell it. I paid too much for it. I've restitched it a handful of times and my girlfriend of over nine years has stitched it for me as well. I will have it signed at MDF this year when I interview Mark...
The kids at the show were all really enjoying themselves all night. The crowning moment was obviously Morbid Saint though. It was immediately apparent to myself, my two friends and many of the other older people at the show that their sound was god-awful and that they looked bored and uninspired. The kids didn't care at all. They were running around like sheep in a pen, like kindergarteners before the bell, like untrained moviegoers during a fire. There were skinny ones, fat ones, slightly pudgy ones... all exuding the youthful innocence and naivety of captivated youth while the older seasoned individuals who saw Morbid Saint a year ago at the Barbary or seven months ago at Maryland Deathfest stared on intrigued but not impressed. While the children crowd surfed at created a game out of trying to leave footprints on the ceiling fan blades, the rest of us waited impatiently and unresponsively to hear failed recreations of Scars, Cry for Death and Assassin. But the children didn't care. I watched my friend break down in hysterical bouts of laughter as one of the kids, a sea-lion of a boy, in an attempt to join the circle pit wound up literally running in a circle around himself like a dog chasing his tail. Imagine that image, a boy that looks like a sea-lion and is shaped similarly running in a small tight orbit as quickly as possible.
Afterwards, we waited outside for a bit. My friend had to clear up some business with an ex band member so we were there to make sure that it didn't turn ugly. Everything wound up fine though we knew he was still somewhat irked. Whatever. We talked a bit and some of the kids decided to leave. My friend was going on about how the kids had no idea what a circle pit was. For some reason he was really stuck on the issue and, unfortunately for the kids that engaged in the circus that was this mosh, my friend happened to be in a pissy mood at this point. He engaged them, telling them that they had no idea what a circle pit was, and that it was supposed to be violent, not happy go lucky and yada-yada. My other friend and I just shook our heads. Later on I realized that I had uncovered the other half of the puzzle I was missing in regards to elitism.
At the base of this condemnation of the kids moshing "incorrectly" was a belief that one person knew more about the thing - in this case moshing - than someone else. Sure, it was true in this case but what does that even mean? Knowledge really has no bearing anymore and is confused with such. Prior to the inundation of the internet, knowledge was a mark of elitism and expertise for metalheads. There was little chance that anyone could discover bands from overseas without knowledge of someone overseas to contact for trades. Knowledge was in high demand. Individuals across state lines with contacts through tape trading were one of the few ways of spreading new music. Individuals that actually spent money to buy records and tapes were how other people heard new music and got into new bands. Essentially, those "in the know" were the most important people in the hierarchy of elite within a scene. It took hours of scavenging through fanzines and liner notes just to hear about a band you've never heard of and then you had to know someone that had access to that. It was necessary to build rapport and know people and locations to find products and scenes which new material was commonly introduced
Today, there is no such thing as "in the know." The internet and rapid spread of information renders knowledge a common commodity. Anyone can download anything. Anyone can learn as much as they want with little effort other than time spent reading forums and asking for recommendations. There are thousands of blogs out there explaining things. There are hundreds of weekend-writers and armchair-filmakers creating youtube documentaries for easy absorption by anyone who wants to learn about US Power Metal or Japanese Thrash or whatever. Anyone can search for anything and check out every band from any place with a click of a button. Those that still believe that elitism is founded on the notion of knowledge are living under false pretenses. Perhaps there is still a small amount of clout to those original thinkers within the scene and world, that can still pull relevant and new thoughts out of their brains but I expect that those individuals will also soon be overshadowed by the sheer amount of new thoughts available for picking on the internet.
Earlier in the evening I had struck up a conversation with a guy I met at another show named Jim. He had readily admitted to only recently getting into Heavy Metal and we were talking for a bit. Nice guy. He saw me at this Morbid Saint show and we talked again - mostly bullshit again - about jobs, about girls and what we'd been up to for the past month or so. He seemed genuinely happy to have someone familiar at the show to talk to since he had come by himself. I know the feeling - I oftentimes go to shows alone. It's nice to see someone to talk to. Usually I know at least a few people but for him, with little connections built with those that are regulars to shows it could be daunting to decide to go to a show expecting to spend the night alone with your thoughts. Let's face it, even metalheads are emotional humans. We enjoy company. We aren't, as some may have the masses believe, solitary demons crouching in corners and spitting at all that pass by.
If Elitism isn't knowledge or being able to pack the most patches on your jacket or be able to troll the internet forums the hardest or have the rarest t-shirt or longest hair or being the toughest fucker in the pit, ready to bash in the weak pudgy youths at the slightest offense to mosh-law, where then do we find the elitists? Who are those that exemplify elitism in the purest sense? I think it can be found in those that truly allow metal to exist and occur. It resides in those willing to forgive some ignorant indiscretions at the hands of inexperience. Elitism is the method by which individuals provide support.
I look at the people that I respect the most in my local scene. Vinny from Signature Riff, Kieth from Fallout Zine, Ed from Wendigo Productions and all the people that allow their operations to operate. Those who provide constant coverage in times of need like Zach and Adam in Mortum who always are willing to play shows last minute. These are people who give more than the normal to make things happen. Whether it be money, or time or effort or equipment... metal doesn't live without individuals like this. I look at the bands that play shows and they set up, play then leave and I think of how sad that is. There is no support from individuals like that and these are individuals who will NEVER in my eyes be respected. People that pull out of shows last minute to play somewhere else, people that steal other bands equipment or won't let people use their stuff if something breaks. These arrogant individuals exemplify the elitist attitude as defined by so many but it's a definition that should not be applied to the scum that saturate the scene who expect so much from everyone and give so little back.
I'll also touch on something that also really bothers me which fits in this whole conversation. Eddie Trunk should be tarred and feathered by the Metal community. I don't understand how anyone can watch him, take him seriously or consider him an expert on metal at all. If there was an example of what elitism is viewed as he would be it. He is so full of himself as to have a section on his show where people quiz him on "Metal" and try and stump him. As if stumping him is so difficult. Everything he knows is anything anyone would know that grew up listening to hard rock and Metal in the 80's. He is a classic example of being there at the right time. He interviews the same has-beens every show. His lists and recommendations are awful. But the single most sad aspect of the guy is how people believe he is this big supporter of Heavy Metal and how he pretends to be. He has never once promoted any legitimate Metal concert other than the concerts which he himself serves as host - Overkill shows and Accept shows in the area. He has the opportunity to reach millions of people instantly and have them know about shows that are going on in the area through his show on VH1 Classic and instead, he elects to interview Ace Frehley and his wrinkles. He is a sham and I hope that when his book is released he uses one of the images of me being hoisted up by Amadaeusz at the last Accept show giving him the finger. Pure Elitist self-worshipping arrogance. I saw him at the Accept show and got physically angered. I started shaking, my teeth were clenched my fists balled... it took a lot to not walk up to him and call him out on his leechlike ways.
Think about that kid in the Chinese take out place so amazed at my jacket and consider the larger picture. Something is pretty clear to me. There are a lot of kids out there that are getting into Metal and they have no one but themselves and the lawlessness of the internet (or misguidance of TV sham-artists like Eddie Trunk) to guide them these days. Where will that lead them? They will become products of an age which I believe many view with disgust. The ease of consumption without the ability to digest. These kids have everything at their fingertips instantly. They will have few experiences but a lot of supposed knowledge. They will become elitists in terms of what they read elitism to be but will fall incredibly hard when that accrued knowledge fails to live up to reality. The internet is a rough place usually for youth to grow up. It's a playground in which all the swing sets are coated in a slimy layer of acid, where the slides are fashions not of plastic but of coarse sandpaper, where the floor is not wood chips but bones of past youth crushed in places where the discouraged have trodden and the whole thing exists not under a starry night but in a glass dome of carcinogenic and asbestos particle riddled gas.
They will inevitably leave their dens, armed with knowledge they accrued from months spent surfing the forums that dot the landscape of their home world. Their superior intellect they know will guide them in all situations because they've listened to every album they could download and they've read every article on Swedish death metal they could find. They know that their camouflage is perfect because they've compared it to all the other images of camouflaged vests. They have all the right patches in all the right places so that those out on the front lines will know that they are capable soldiers.
And there they will stand, talking loudly and proud about their opinions and about all the stuff they know. And yet, as the night continues on, they won't realize that they are acting as drunkards act while not being old enough to buy alcohol. They won't realize that their patches don't mean anything because they never left their nest before to acquire a patch that DID mean something. All the knowledge in the world won't help them when the opening bands don't have any material online for them to prepare to. They will headbang out of time with the music and they will make fools of themselves in front of those they are trying to impress. They won't even notice that it is as clear they are amateurs as it is clear to veterans that Morbid Saint sound like shit tonight.
That's all well and good. No tradesman ever is considered a master without years and years of field experience. No tradesman is ever considered highly by co workers unless he is willing to hold the pipe or carry the cables into a job site.
In a sense I am proposing something through all this. We should aspire to teach these children and youth and all those around us what they can not learn without leaving their homes. Elitism is not only the support of the scene logistically. As individuals, we should aspire to create an environment for these youth and amateur Heavy Metal fans that will keep them coming back. The reason that the metal scene in the USA is so poor has a lot to do with the regulars being out of touch with those that revitalize the scene. We are jaded. The sense of excitement on going to shows has worn out for us in many respects. We've seen something louder, faster, more brutal. We've seen pits more violent. We've seen shows that leave us speechless and shows that are so awful that we leave before the show is over. These are all our experiences but yet we continue our support because Heavy Metal means something to us.
For these awkward, excited and rambunctious but ignorant and foolish children metal means something as well. We shouldn't do harm to that meaning through arrogance. Ostracizing them through unnecessary critique, overwhelming force or blatant too-good-for-you-ery does nothing for the scenes we try and hold together, often with duct tape and super glue. I'm not saying we pull our punches. I'm saying that we support the vitality of Heavy Metal by being inclusive to those that show they really want to be a part of Metal. I'm saying we support the people that go through the trouble to put shows together by making kids WANT to come out to shows. We will know those that don't want to be there and for those unlucky souls I say we make an example of them by ripping and tearing them to shreds so that they are too scared to come back but when some kid spent all his lunch money buying patches for his jacket instead of eating lunch, when some kid is out at a metal show on a Saturday night instead of trying to woo a pimple-faced prepubescent classmate, when some kid brings his friends to see Morbid Saint put on a performance of barely lackluster quality in a seedy bar, maybe we shouldn't be so quick to judge.
Nudge their frail bodies in the right direction, inspire them with experiences, show them that there is more to Metal than listening to Pleasure to Kill alone. Because there is more to it - at least I've always thought so. For some it's a life-long philosophical pursuit and for others it's a way to get away from serious stuff. "Elite" is the kind of characterization that should be associated with individuals of better qualities than being an internet troll or a selfish recluse. Honestly, there should be no confusion that elitism means something very very different than what we've come to believe it to mean.