A couple of weeks ago, I received a Facebook message from Sean Healy, one of the old crowd of "Bulldog Bogtrotters” from my days at the University of Georgia.
As you may have gathered, Healy and I go way, way back – almost thirty years’ worth of way, way back, to be precise. We ran into each other during the fall quarter of ’85, and discovered that we had much in common: gaming, Sci-Fi and Fantasy, collecting every obscure piece of Heavy Metal ever recorded (are Witchkiller, Brocas Helm, and Virgin Steele obscure enough for you?), and lousy taste in booze and women.
We’ve been very close friends ever since. (And on a positive note, our taste in booze has improved markedly.)
In his message, Sean mentioned that he was going to be in Atlanta on the 13th, and asked me if I wanted to catch a show at the Masquerade.
Although I’ve been working an incredibly early shift for the last few months, I hadn’t seen a live band in quite some time. And as Sean lives a couple of states away and has a real job, we don’t get to see each other as often as I’d like.
I said “What the hell?” and asked him which band or bands would be playing. In reply, he hit me with three names I’d never heard of.
“What kind of music do they play?” I asked.
“I suppose the best way to describe it is ‘power/progressive/symphonic Eurometal’.”
“Again, please? And in the King’s feckin’ English this time?”
That’s a slight exaggeration, but whereas I’ve been listening to metal since I was a kid, I’ve long since lost track of all the oddball subgenres. I understood simple concepts like hair metal, thrash metal, death metal, speed metal, and black metal – but then things went loony on me. Moreover, I don’t follow scenes, as such. I listen to bands I like, and I don’t give a rat’s ass for the way the rest of the world classifies them. To make matters worse, even some of the terminology with which I was familiar has changed over the years, to the extent that I have no fucking idea of what contemporary metal aficionados are talking about half the time.
When I was a kid, for example, there wasn’t much difference between Death Metal and Black Metal. Venom’s second album, after all, was entitled Black Metal, even though they sounded nothing like modern Black Metal bands. Kind of odd that the phrase they coined in the first place is no longer applied to them, isn’t it?
As I understand it, Black Metal is primarily played by Norwegians in corpse-paint, and features pompous, grandiose arrangements, and vocalists who sound like castrati. Death metal, on the other hand, is played primarily by Swedes who sound like Cookie Monster singing to his own accompaniment on a chainsaw. Or something like that.
I was also told many years ago (as if I gave a shit), that there’s considerable bad blood between Norwegian Black Metalers and Swedish Death Metalers, the magnitude of the conflict being comparable only to the justly notorious blood-feud between Kentish Buskers and Shropshire Skilffle-players. Whatver.
I still have no idea of what the other kinds of metal are. Besides, at my age (and in my nastier moods), there are only two kinds of metal: NWOBHM and everything else.
“But what they hey?” I asked myself. “This could be interesting.”
Healy pulled up a couple of hours after I’d finished my workout, and we spent the next few hours catching up, bewailing the sorry state of contemporary politics, and having a look at the photos he’d shot at the Wacken Open Air Festival in Germany. In time, I cast about for something to fix for dinner (“Hope you like Chinese, dude…”), and settled on a Fukien recipe: chicken braised with leeks. Maggie arrived home from work just as we were finishing up, but as the show began at seven, we didn’t’ have much time to chat.
When she declined our invitation to accompany us, I wasn’t surprised. I don’t think post-70s metal of any sort is her cup of tea, and at 57, she could hardly be expected to enjoy piling into a club with a horde of screaming, headbanging kids. Before we left, Sean mentioned, in passing, that the last time we’d been to the Masquerade together was when we attended a Hawkwind gig twenty years earlier. Her jaw bounced off the floor with each laugh as she said, “Oh my God! You guys have actually seen Hawkwind?”
Well indeed we have
Don’t ye’ know we have?
Well indeed we have…
Once we extricated ourselves from the 24-7 gridlock yclept “Roswell,” the drive to North Avenue went swiftly and smoothly said swiftness and smoothness greatly enhanced by the long-overdue removal of the toll-gates on GA 400.
“Dude, too bad we’re not going to Lenox Square.”
“Because we’d be there by now.”
“None whatsoever. Exit right there, take a left, and there you are. Remember how long it used to take to get to Sword of the Phoenix from Roswell?”
Never mind that Sword of the Phoenix vanished down the memory hole some time ago. As we merged onto 75/85 South, and exited onto North Avenue a few minutes later, it occurred to me that quite a bit had vanished down the memory hole. I couldn’t help noticing, as we made our way to the club, that the neighborhood had been gentrified beyond recognition. Not a wino or crackhead to be seen, and there were even white college girls jogging half an hour before sundown.
The negative, pessimistic side of me wondered what had become of the street people. I didn’t imagine that they’d all miraculously been rehabilitated and plunged headlong into the Wonderland of gainful employment. More likely they’d been swept under the rug, as had been the case during the ’96 Summer Olympics.
The positive, optimistic side, however, countered that perhaps they were working as TSA baggage-screeners at Hartsfield: “If you want to professionalize, you must federalize.”
“You know the same thing happened to Little Five Points,” I said to Sean – momentarily forgetting that he was from Chicago. “Sorry. Once upon a time, it was the ‘Bohemian’ quarter. These days, it’s nothing but BoBo yuppies and trust-fund babies. A real ‘starving artist’ couldn’t afford to live there.”
This led to a bit of grousing about the state of the world on my part.
“Boomers with ‘golden parachutes’ at the top, unemployable ‘Millennials’ coming into their own, and 40 or so million Gen-Xers holding up the entire fucking edifice. Perhaps we should show ‘em the true meaning of ‘Atlas Shrugged.’ Twenty years ago, the same people who looted the economy and drove the National Debt through the fucking roof were calling us ‘slackers.’ How did it go? You’d spend four or five years working at McDonalds, or a comic shop, or a record store to pay for college – and then when you graduated, you’d spend four or five more years working at McDonald’s, or a comic shop, or a record, store, because everything had been downsized, outsourced, and offshored. Now they’re asking us to make allowances for the feckin’ ‘Millennials.’”
I then explained to him that I’d seen a set of guidelines being circulated by a company I’ll charitably decline to name. The “white paper” was entitled: “Working with Millennials.” In summation, it declared we were to excuse their poor performance and utter lack of a work ethic because they thought differently.
In that respect, I had to agree. Using emotions as tools of cognition is ‘thinking differently’ – in that it doesn’t, strictly speaking, constitute thought at all. Neither does treating subjective, ephemeral preferences and opinions as causeless, irreducible primaries. Moreover, it seemed that the inability or refusal to think long-term, and to defer immediate gratification for the sake of greater gains in the future is also a “different” way of thinking.
Odd, that. In my day, we didn’t call it “different”; we called it “infantile.”
It wasn't lost on me that those of us who were born at the tail-end of the Baby Boom and during the beginning and middle of Generation X were not encouraged to lower our own levels of performance – only our expectations of the next generation’s. Apparently, the erstwhile ‘flower children’ were now seeing the logical and predictable consequences of raising their children on a steady diet of deconstructionism, postmodernism, and relativism, and were now counting upon the “No Future!”, “Die Yuppie Scum!” “slackers” of the ‘80s and ‘90s to take up the little darlings’ slack.
“Poor babies,” I sneered. “I suppose the threat of global warming is just too much to bear. We had it easy, don’t you know. All we had to worry about was being nuked off the face of the earth.”
Although I cheered up as we parked and made our way to the club, the generation gap was still on my mind. A cursory glance at the people in line around us revealed that we were the “senior citizens” that evening. We’d both turned 47 last month (our birthdays are so close, we used to celebrate them together when we were in college), and whereas we both still “let our ‘freak flags’ fly,” ours were streaked with silver, while mine was the only cowhide jacket in evidence. Even the content of our conversation differed from the young’uns’. Despite repeated assurances that the new generation was “cosmopolitan” and “multicultural,” we were the only ones discussing the countries we’d visited, and bemoaning the fact that we’d forgotten so much of our French, German, Latin, Cuneiform Hittite, or what-have-you.
The armchair anthropologist/sociologist in me also observed that the youngsters were even more clannish and clique-prone than we had been, the realization underscoring the horror of putting into practice Ornstein’s and Ehrlich’s dubious assertion that the past is no longer prologue.
I gathered that in the future, the various specialized organs of the body politic would enjoy even less congress than they do today – and it was not a pleasant thought.
When we finally entered the club, I was surprised at how little it had changed. Sean and I, as I’ve mentioned, hadn’t been there together since the Hawkwind show twenty years earlier. I myself hadn’t been there for ten years, but I still remembered my way around. The only difference was that the place seemed smaller.
Of the two of us, Sean is more given to attending concerts. I stopped going to shows at major venues during the late ‘90s, when the Omni was demolished, and the action shifted to Lakewood. Between ’03 and ’04, I even had to give up catching local bands at clubs (this is for another post, but it pains me to ponder the sheer volume of genuine musical talent forever denied the recognition it deserves, precisely because the truly gifted musicians eschew the “braid, braid ferlie” of commercialism in favor of the rocky and narrow trail blazed by their muses) when the hip-hop invasion destroyed the scene.
Since then, I’d contented myself with catching the odd rock band at Dragon Con (I’ve seen some good ones there, mind you: Michael Bruce, Iced Earth, GWAR, the reconstituted Misfits, and quite a few others), ass-kickin’, shit-kickin’ bluegrass outfits at fairs and festivals, and purveyors of traditional Irish and Scottish musical fare at various and sundry watering holes.
Aside from a Motorhead show at the Fillmore in Charlotte, back in ’09, I hadn’t been to a real concert in quite a while. This would be a change of pace.
The house lights went down, and the stage lights came up. After a recorded prologue (which I thought right cheesy), the first band hit the stage.
To reiterate, the outfits we’d come to see played power/progressive/symphonic Euro-metal. Although I was still grappling with the first three modifiers, the third was spot-on. The acts on the bill were Xandria (German), Delain (Dutch), and Sonata Arctica (Finnish).
I don’t mean to get ahead of myself, but the show conformed to what, for me, has become a familiar pattern: the opening acts fuckin’ totally smoked the headliner, dude! My assiduously cultivated refusal to harbor expectations – whether positive or negative – yielded fruit when I found myself enjoying the hell out of Xandria. Their music was indeed progressive, in the classic sense of the word. It was symphonic, in that the band paid close attention to dynamics, composition (no three-chord wonders, these), and melodicism; and powerful in that the guitarists were serving up nice, chunky, crunchy riffs.
The egotistical old fart in me noticed that they weren’t doing anything I couldn’t have done at their age, but the musician in me appreciated the fact that they’d built upon what had gone before, and done new and exciting things with it. Unlike some “progressive” bands, they kept the chords simple – barre and power chords, no exotic voicings – but steered clear of the I-IV-V formula. In this respect, I was very favorably reminded of classic Iron Maiden, Praying Mantis, and Fates Warning. Better still, the singer had a beautiful, powerful voice – and spoke impeccable, cultured English. This being America – and the Southeast, to boot – I’m only being half-facetious when I say that her English was probably better than most of ours.
It was a far cry from the old days of Udo Dirkschneider shrieking away, sounding like nothing so much as Peter Lorre after zipping his dick up by accident, or Klaus Meine und ze poyss in ze Schkorpionsss asking if ve vere retty to rrrrrrock und rrrrrroll.
And yes, my Celtic-American, I-was-a-bachelor-until-I-was-forty-and-old-habits-die-hard dirty old man did put in an appearance that night. The male/female ratio was far more balanced than in my day, and there were some very attractive young ladies in attendance. Being a married man, though, I wisely adopted a look-but-don’t-touch attitude, and left my arsenal of NLP techniques and other “Jedi mind tricks” sheathed and holstered.
Even so, I was glad that I’d overdressed. The Mulciberian heat inside the venue soon had me sweating like a whore in church, and afforded me a plausible excuse to feed my ego-demon by removing my jacket – thereby displaying the beneficial effects of pumping iron upon the traps, delts, and lats. It also afforded me an excuse to traipse off to the bar and order the first of several ridiculously overpriced beers ($4.50 for a pint of Pabst Blue Ribbon is beyond highway robbery – it’s thievery on the Bernie Madoff/Lloyd Blankfein scale).
When I made my way back to Sean, I marked that the singer’s face was as lovely as her voice. Upon closer examination, I marked that the singer’s face was also rather young. I made the same observation when Delain hit the stage. Both of the singers looked very young.
Young enough to be my daughters, as a matter of fact.
I’m getting ahead of myself again, but when I returned home and looked up the bands online, I discovered (to my horror and residual Catholic guilt) that this was literally the case. The singer for Xandria was born in 1985, the year I graduated high school, while the singer for Delain was born in 1987 -- my junior year of college. The self-loathing begotten by this most uncomfortable of mindfucks was enough to send me rummaging through the basement in search of my leper’s bell.
I became even more acutely aware of my impending dotage when Sonata Arctica began their set. They weren’t bad in any sense of the word, but their performance lacked the tightness and energy of the preceding acts. In their defense, they’re some years older, and the Atlanta gig was one of the last dates on the tour. Ergo it’s entirely possible that they were just road-weary, but I got the distinct impression that they were a bit full of themselves, and were resting on their laurels. The impression deepened when they played not one but three encores, despite the fact that the crowd began thinning like my hair after the first. I did give them points for having a “synthtar” on stage, though; I hadn’t seen one since Devo became yesterday’s news.
I suppose this brings us to the crowd itself.
For all that I don’t understand the younger generation, and don’t approve of their personal and mental habits, I was favorably impressed by their behavior. Despite the close quarters, they had genuine respect for each other’s “personal space.” There was no shoving, no brawling, and no dick-waving. Even three hours into the show, the vast majority of them appeared to be sober, and unless appearances well and rightly deceived the shit out of me, they were just there to enjoy the music and have a good time.
I don’t know that they’re typical of the current crop of metallers, though. All three bands were musically and conceptually sophisticated, and it could very well be that their fans are cut from the same cloth.
Sean and I both noticed that the audience was much smaller than Hawkwind crowd of which we’d been a part twenty years earlier – at the same venue, though – and it occurred to us that perhaps these bands attracted a different kind of listener. It wouldn’t have surprised me, come to think of it. Our own overlapping musical tastes don’t change the fact that even Sean and I have rather different personalities. It would be pointless to deny that I’ve always been the rowdier of us, but even “back in the day,” he did his share of slamming, moshing, and pogoing right there with me.
The Masquerade that night was the polar opposite of a mosh pit, a fact which served to remind me of the generation gap yet again.
Let’s not jerk ourselves off: during the 1980s, a triple-bill metal show would have degenerated into a bloodbath halfway through the second act’s set. I noted as much in a post-gig notification I posted on Facebook, and added the tongue-in-cheek remark: “And you call this metal?”
But I was kidding on the square. There were no fights, no overdoses, no stage-divers, and most tellingly, no cops. Apparently, house security was enough – and that’s a good thing. At the Motorhead show in Charlotte, by comparison, there were five squad cars and two paddy wagons (and probably an APC carrying a SWAT team) in the parking lot. Several of us –myself included – were wanded and frisked before we entered the building, and it seemed perfectly normal to us.
Here, in stark contraposition, I only had to go on “yellow alert” once in the course of the evening. During the first and second acts, it came to my attention that some bozo was trying to eyeball-fuck me. Although I was certain I’d never met the guy before, he looked familiar enough to put my guard up and keep it up. Once again, I’m not sure where I’d seen him before – perhaps on the Post Office wall, but that didn’t matter. And if you’ll pardon another digression, the sheer speed with which one can assess a situation is breathtaking. Taller. A little younger. Reach and weight advantage. No tats – let alone jailhouse tats. If he’s packed, he isn’t printing. If he’s looking for a fight this evening, he doesn’t do it often. Keeps his weight, his shoulders, and his chin too high. Balance isn’t very good, and I’ll bet I’m a little faster. Doesn’t have the sense to take his glasses off. If I go under and in, I can nullify the reach advantage in short order, and lock this guy up like Fort fucking Knox. No threat, no sweat.
Nothing came of it, needless to say. The only “Jedi mind trick” I played that night was keeping him my peripheral vision, which allowed me to return his gaze – with a Mona Lisa smile – whenever he turned to look at me. Strictly kindergarten stuff.
He apparently left the building before Delain left the stage (Who knows? Perhaps he had a plane to catch…), and I was able to enjoy the rest of the show in peace.
I still had the age bit in mind as Sean and I drove back to Roswell.
“You know,” I said, “the last time we were here, we were their age.”
“True – but Hawkwind was the same age we are now – and Brock was even older.”
“Yeah, those were the days, huh? Remember the chick who jumped onstage? ‘Sure and that ain’t Stacia!’”
The observation served to underscore another difference between eras. At the Hawkwind show two decades earlier, a couple of girls had doffed their tops, jumped onstage, and begun dancing as the band cranked one of the long, improvisational jams for which they were renowned. The only mind Brock, Davey, and Chadwick paid them was moving closer to center stage and giving them room to do their thing. I didn’t suppose we’d ever see the likes of that again, and whereas neither of the gals’ endowments could hold a candle to Stacia’s boner-inducing, fertility goddess physique during the Golden Age, it was cute tip of the hat (or bra, if you prefer) to what had once been a Hawkwind institution.
I wondered if any of the acts we’d seen would match HW’s longevity, and if any of their fans would match ours.
I went to bed that night, and took my three hours’ rest before the beginning of my shift, contenting myself with the thought that if nothing else, a new crop of progressive metallers had taken the torch passed to them by the bands we enjoyed during high school, and carried the music in a new, but still thoroughly enjoyable direction.
“I am the Master of the Universe,” I half hummed, half mumbled through an imbecilic, nostalgic half-smile as I drifted off to sleep. “The wind of time is blowing through me..."