I had an awesome time at the Carnival of Madness. I thought the show was awesome, but my favorite part was seeing how many metal/hard rock fans there are around here. The cool thing to see what how many different walks of life seemed, from appearances anyway, to be represented. Young and old, cool and dorky, big and little, ripped and flabby, dressed up and (ahem) dressed down. And there we all were pumping our fists and our devil horns in the air.
At this point, hang with me...
The other day one of my best friends called to tell me that I need to practice how I make my devil horns. He'd seen a picture of me with Leigh Kakaty from Pop Evil that I posted on Facebook (look up my page, Road Signs Radio). It is not a great picture of me. I don't look super cool like Leigh; I look more like, as my friend put it, somebody who needs to stand in front of a mirror practicing my devil horn face and posture. Of course, my friend pointed out that I might not want to make devil horns again for a picture until I can practice it a bit. So then at the Carnival of Madness, we were all--geeks and dorks, cool folks and pretty folks, inked and pierced, rockers and renegades--flashing the devil horns without much practice.
Ever since Ronnie James Dio first made them cool (though he said before he died that he was no more responsible for flashing the horns than he was for inventing the wheel), the devil horns have been a symbol that rock fans were totally into what they were experiencing. Now, maybe some folks think that the horns were a symbol of devil worship (as those same folks perhaps interpret rock in general). But those are the same sort of folks who thought that the Eagles' "Hotel California" was about devil worship, somehow overlookin the possibility that the whole album could be (as it truly was) a statement about the excess of living life subservient to excess and crass materialism. The origin of the devil horns seems to be an ancient Mediteranean way of WARDING OFF evil and harmful spirits. The cool thing about that is that instead of inviting evil or harmful spirits, maybe we are collectively shunning them. The oolest part of rock, for me, is that the bombastic sounds are an honest statement (rather than a denial) of all of the anger, hurt, and frustration that is true to life. Flashing the devil horns may just be a bigger, more subliminal way of saying that we don't care if anybody else understands it or not, we are going to deal with our crap whether it's pretty or not.
During Shinedown's set during the Carnival, Brent Smith and Zach Myers performed a short acoustic set that included the rock hymn, "Simple Man." The crowd raised their hands in the air, fists and devil horns, singing in full voice. It hit me that our country is on the verge of military action in Syria, still trying to extract ourselves from the war in Afghanistan, and all of us there were dealing with God knows what. What if that was a different kind of church, an unwashed congregation that knows it's unwashed?
If that's the case, maybe I don't need to practice my horns. One of the reasons I'm friends with that guy is because I can tell him to bite me; I'm busy warding off evil spirits the best way I know how.
This week on Road Signs I'll be interviewing Zach Myers of Shinedown. Now, I've liked Shinedown for a long time because I think they do some interesting things, some really compelling stuff. When I first heard "Second Chance" a few years ago, I was sort of caught off guard because it could have been about so many things and could have meant so many things, but something about the sound of the song hit me funny--my heart was strangely warmed. Brent Smith, the Shinedown frontman, said the song was maybe the most personal song, for him, that the band had done. He said it was all about knowing what you want and going for it despite all of the risks. It turns out that leaving Knoxville, for him, was the second chance at relationships that he left behind...kind of weird way to look at it, but I think I get it. Sometimes the only way to improve a relationship is to leave it behind.
For Brent, leaving his hometown gave him a chance to pursue his ambitions, but the truth is that all of us have to figure out what keeps us from being what we want to become. Sometimes our ambitions are misguided for sure, but getting past our hangups and hesitations is, a lot of times, the hardest thing in the world to do. Noticing what we locate as being our home and figuring out our relationship to it is the tricky part--what do we take away with us and what do we leave behind...and lots of times what we have to leave behind are things that we don't want to let go of, but have to. So much of our personal evolution requires choices, even choices that mean giving up things that we do value. How do you leave home, and, particularly, how do you leave home without anger but because it's what you have to do.
If you are the kind of person who even thinks about such things (and everyone doesn't, which is totally legit), knowing yourself involves knowing your hangups and history--but it doesn't involve dwelling on it. One reason why an awesome song is awesome (and might end being only for a minute or two) is that it gets to you before you have a chance to talk yourself out of feeling something emotional or even spiritual. "Second Chance" was the song that a friend gave me before I moved to Charlotte. I left friends and complicated relationships behind. It hurt, but if I hadn't left I never would have even imagined Road Signs.
If you get the time, send me some stories about your favorite songs and why they matter so much to you. Send them to my email or respond here.
Guitars make noise because of tension. Strings are pulled tight and when a pick or finger hits them, they vibrate. Without that tension, there is no sound, no music, no head splitting riffs, emotional melodies, or gut wrenching harmonics. The tension makes it happen.
Every song, whether it's fluff or intense, owes its creation to tension. Our best creativity comes out of tensions that either get teased into music or distortion, then released into clarity--art. Our lives have natural tensions all over the place; it's not even a question about whether or not our lives will have tension and conflict, but whether or not we can transform the conflict/tension into something creative and useful.
Sadly, we spend huge portions of our lives trying to avoid conflict. Sometimes we compromise what we really want out of something and sometimes we bully in order to get our way--both equally seek to avoid conflict, though in opposite ways.
We do the best when we see our lives kind of like a guitar, which is a community of elements that have to work together to make music vibrate off of a tight string. Our tensions with others are not necessarily bad if we can leverage that tension to create something. The trick is in not pulling the string so tight that it breaks...