Fallow Heart: Approaching Metal From an ‘Armchair-Buddhist’ Perspective

Thus Spake the Aight Spirit

For the bulk of my life, I’ve been a recovering fundamentalist Christian, professional shit-bag, relationship-ruiner and dyed-in-the-wool banger. Life was generally a fucking bloody mess and I appreciated, nay, demanded, that that chaos was reflected in the music I parceled my day-to-day within. And the music always loyally, even eloquently, obliged like the moon hollering back from the rim of your third double whisky.

When you come-to in the parking lot of a fucking What-a-Burger bloodied up with all your pockets turned out, Carnivore just makes a whole lot of sense. They speak a rickshaw kind of truth. When you’re filing down a broken tooth because a dentist’s out of the question—feeling those nerves tuning up and fucking tasting that acrid, powdered bone in your mouth, wondering if your son might have to resort to a similar remedy one day—Fixation on a Coworker‘s a viable-enough painkiller. When you’re ripped off by the people that you trusted the most and then when you turn around and do the exact same thing to someone who looked up to you… when you catch that look in their eyes after they realize who you really are, it’s Completely Dehumanized O’clock, baby!

Yeah, boo-fucking-hoo, right? What’s the point? Alright, then, let’s skip to the feature.

After I went through a divorce that happened to unfurl with the all of the agonizing pace and head-fake finales of a Peter Jackson flick—losing my kid and ultimately my house for good measure in the process—I was desperate to find something to blunt the sheer keenness of my suffering. I knew the rejoinder couldn’t simply be more pulls from a bottle of Benchmark, more hydrocodone, more of my trademark de-motivational speeches delivered to the vanity mirror or, sadly, more spins of Morbid Angel. I required something radically different and I required whatever that shit was on the fly.

Almost every girlfriend I’ve ever had has relentlessly proselytized about my need for meditation and, oh my stars and garters, how the word itself used to make my skin crawl! Barreling down the highway blind drunk, blasting Blessed are the Sick was my meditation and how the fuck was this woman so damned arrogant anyway? “Ask yourself: who pays the bills in this house, honey? Why don’t you meditate on that little stumper?” (Yeah, I wonder why I’m single too; but let’s not forget that the word ‘alone’ is derived from the words ‘all whole’ or ‘all together,’ so I’ll be fine, champ.) But now I was whole-body lashed to desperation; I’d try nearly anything; even… oh, sweet Jesus… f-ing… mindfulness. Obviously my expectations were as meager as were my liquid assets—the words ‘card declined’ had become my own grim mantra. Then again, Emily Dickinson once said, “To make a prairie… it takes (just) one clover and one bee.” Besides, it’s not as if I’d ever have to admit to anyone that I gave this total horse shit a twirl.

(warning: religious shite incoming)

I’ll spare you the gory details regarding my investiture and ultimate embrace of flat-out ‘spiritualism,’ yet another word that used to give me the fucking dry heaves. Suffice it to say that all those Cynic lyrics began to make a whole lot more sense to me; I was sleeping better, trusting a little more easily, all around coming into focus (pun intended, chief.) I began, at first quite gingerly but ultimately rather aggressively, to prune away old, destructive friendships and habits and to almost unconsciously skirt negativism in terms of the entertainment I was consuming. Carnivore themselves repeated the maxim: you are what you eat. Surely this applies not only to our meals but also to the diet of media we glut ourselves upon.

So, how then to engage with metal—one of my few enduring loves, albeit a romance lousy with ferocious vice—from the airy reaches of a granola-studded belief structure? Supposing that each day’s a wickerwork of toxic corporate sigils and one intangible, but unfathomably vital, message? What if the pith of that message is that we’re nothing more than energy and that the crux of that energy is love? That in fact, we are spokes within the wickerwork, that we along with everything in our ken are the veritable body of that message? Maniac once said, “I penetrate the mind of God.” This is even easier done than said when one realizes that they are an exercise of that singular mind. To paraphrase Alan Watts, we’re each an outlet through which the Universe labors to explore itself.

Let’s circle back. If one accepts the aforementioned premise, can that motherfucker then continue to embrace Autopsy as they once did? Can she or he have their Shitfun and eat it, too? Should I cut it all loose or is the answer to simply condescend to the genre and reframe its spoils as mere harmless play-pretend? And for sure, much of it is that… Still, the bulk of the music I’ve been drawn to over my life’s been because of the very real “virtue” of despair that it radiated; those tidings of unalloyed ill will that it broadcast. No way, Fay Wray. I can’t patronize what I consider to be great art in that manner and I choose not to cut it loose.

Which leads us to the simple solution of mindfulness. Just where does it come in? Let me tell you, champ, mindfulness settles in a low voice but quite ubiquitously if you’re able to sit still enough to give it some goddamned elbow room. It emerges fully formed when you’re determined to appreciate each experience—including those that you’ve encountered time and time before—as brand-new ones.

Through the lens of intention, each spin of Shitfun or Blessed are the Sick or what-have-you become revelatory, and its potency and menace is very real, dependent upon where your heart and your head reside on the given day. The aim’s not to bend the subject matter to your will, i.e. to pretend that you’re blissfully skipping ‘round Altars of Gladness. Your aim is awareness. Your listening sessions become encounters, as opposed to diversions, teeming with all of the potential perils and epiphanies associated with intimate, unchaperoned and uncharted exchanges (and if you’re wondering: yes, with practice, intention’s way more powerful than ganja, though that’s a fine-enough reference point to its most basic effects.) Mindfulness jogs the relationship between the transmission and the receiver to life. Nothing is passive and everything—up to and including death—is real.

Frankly, there are days when I’m not sure I should or else I’m sure that I can’t allow for these sorts of rendezvous. I recognize that at times within my heart, I’m unarmored and am liable to allow certain unwonted themes to dig in too deeply. All well and good; my listening sessions are accented with a certain deep respect that they never could have had before. I’m now in a position to observe my emotions rather than being led around by the nose by them or to allow some external medium to disrupt their balance.

A great visual reference for this frame of mind is the central character depicted on the Cathedral debut. They travel alternately through frames of bleakness and lushness, altered by neither: merely observing.

The music of my choice is alive to me at this point, rife with its own hungers and objectives. It ain’t an ID badge that I use to define myself with; it ain’t a tool wielded to evade personal growth and introspection. Our relationship’s moved past that now. Now if you’ll excuse me, heavy metal and I are in the midst of our second honeymoon. After all these years, we still fuckin’ got it.

“I’d rather be a child and keep my self respect if being an ‘adult’ means being like you.”
– “Life Sentence,” Dead Kennedys

“…for I possess the wings of faith
Though heavy on my shoulders
(No measurement can prove their weight)
…a burden are they not to me
I am the challenger of gravity.”

– “An Elegy for Icarus,” Emperor