'N Sync's nightmare is Type O Negative's wet dream. Fans of each genre stare across the gulf with incredulity at how someone could possibly derive pleasure from what must surely be a malformed psyche.
This has always been a part of America's culture gap. Rock hates disco. Punk hates rock. And pop doesn't know what the fuss is about. MTV's "Total Request Live"/Top 40 set has never had much understanding for anyone who feeds their souls with companion soundtracks of disgust, pain and commiserating rage.
Heavy music fans have, in turn, never had any use for the casual music fan that changes his or her tastes with the same regularity as the local Baskin-Robbins. The indifference and ignorance at why metal is even a viable human outlet actually fuels the genre.
"We kind of thrive off of frustration and anger," says Tommy Decker of Spineshank, a particularly angry band whose latest CD, Height of Callousness, chronicles their struggles to overcome rejection on all fronts. "There's no shortage of dumb-ass people in the world to piss us off, so I'm pretty sure we'll always have material."
That doesn't mean everyone who doesn't dig metal is a dumb-ass. But chances are, if you don't dig it and deride it, you may be perceived as such. It's a 30-year-old response. Since Black Sabbath's dark abortion from the flower-power womb in 1969, heavy music has lived at the fringe of society. It's had to endure such critical barbs as "depressing," "depraved," "anti-social," "angry" and "moronic" music performed by drug and sex crazed idiots.
There is an element of truth in those criticisms, but there is a deeper reason why the corpses of trends continue to pile up and the core of metal lumbers on. That reason is dysfunction. "It was definitely the dysfunction that drew me to the music," says Kevin McNamara of Tidewater Grain, a band that struggled in Philadelphia for more than a decade before finally securing a record deal last year. "I was always the kid in school who was different. I was the only kid on the football team with an earring and a tattoo. I was always getting in fights."
We all have some strain of dysfunction, regardless of taste or walk of life. What flames metal performers and metal's moth-like fans is the burning need to wear this dysfunction on their collective sleeve. "A lot of the people in this style of music are very intelligent and very creative," says Chi Cheng, bassist for the Deftones, one of today's biggest and most influential heavy rock groups. "It's really cool. A lot of it comes from maybe some introspection and people going, 'You know what? This is what I'm feeling and this is the basest emotion that I have right now that I can put across musically.' And you know, it's heavy and it's dark sometimes. That's the purest form of art and honesty."
For example, Alice in Chains' darkest psychological hour, Dirt, is indeed its brightest to many who see it as showcasing how very human and uplifting it is to explore one's dark side. "It's kind of ironic," says Clint Lowery of Sevendust, Atlanta's best-known entry on the current heavy rock landscape. "It puts me in a better mood when I listen to the saddest, most depressing thing before we play. Cause, I'm like, it couldn't get any worse than this. Everything's all good with me after listening to these guys [Alice in Chains]."
Whether you subscribe to the notion that heavy music is a healthy outlet for stress or simply an excuse to wallow in misery, it's not going away soon and it probably never will. As long as the human condition continues to breed societal injustice, personal betrayal and families with disinterested or missing parents, metal will have fodder to lay bare.
How can you eliminate the need without eliminating the condition? This is a notion that seems to escape those who have blamed heavy music as the cause, rather than the symptom, of many of society's ills. Ozzy Osbourne's "Suicide Solution," for instance, has been tarred with guilt for a young man's suicide. Judas Priest faced similar accusations for one of its songs. In the mid-'80s, Tipper Gore's Parents Music Resource Center branded heavy metal as America's foulest bane to youth. And if you believe some of today's media, Marilyn Manson is responsible for the Columbine High School tragedy.
But an unhealthy living environment, mentally or physically, isn't the sole domain of heavy music fans. There are most certainly fans of Britney Spears and Sting out there who've experienced alcoholism, domestic violence and sexual abuse. The situation doesn't change with what's in a CD collection. It also isn't caused by it.
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