First let me explain that I write a blog post about once a week, but then read it over, tell myself it’s stupid and then delete it. Here’s another attempt…
Over the holidays, I went out to my father’s house in the deep country to grab some records and baseball cards and connect with my roots. I also ate sugar until I got a migraine headache. During the day, lots of friends, neighbors and family members came and went. It made for great people watching and conversation over-hearing.
One visitor/family member that I either didn’t recognize or didn’t know had lots of satanic tattoos. I wanted to ask her about them but didn’t get the chance. But she did get me thinking. It brought me back to my old days, in the middle of nowhere and reminded me of the mindset I and a lot of my friends had when we were growing up (even if we never talked about it).
When you grow up in the country, the city becomes an intimidating place – it’s fast, it’s loud, it’s bright. You see it and feel overwhelmed by it when you visit. You’re bombarded by images of it on TV (used to be, lots of popular TV shows were set in the country, but you rarely see that anymore these days), which reminds you of how unsophisticated you and/or your hometown is. And when you’re confronted by it (when you meet people from the city), you usually end up feeling alienated and embarrassed.
No one likes to feel that way, so what often happens is that we reject it. We reject the things that make us feel bad about ourselves. We think to ourselves, “I’m not like people from the city and trying just makes me feel like shit, so screw it.”
When I was growing up, most of my friends began to come to these kinds of realizations in junior high school. The result was that people fell into one of three groups – let’s call them ‘the rejects’, ‘the try hards’ and ‘the nobodies’. ‘The rejects’ were the ones who turned their backs on the city and/or “proper” society at large and 99% of the time, this meant getting into heavy metal. ‘The try hards’ tried in vein to keep up with the city kids (and their music) and probably failed and suffered a lot of secret shame unless their family was super-rich (but where I grew up no one was super-rich). ‘The nobodies were the rarest breed. They were the ones who somehow never stopped to think about these things, were oblivious and probably lost themselves almost completely in their studies and hobbies. For the record, I was probably somewhere between a ‘reject’ and a ‘nobody': I had no interest in girls, I made good grades and only cared about baseball – but my friends were all total rejects.
The point of all this is: heavy metal. Heavy metal is a shield. It allows you to turn your alienation into your own kingdom. It makes you immune to the harsh judgments of the pseudo-sophisticated city crawler and further, can be used as a weapon to administer a little intimidation of your own, if need be. Becoming part of a culture that accepts you gives you strength and confidence. Ultimately, your embarrassment turns into pride.
This isn’t to say that heavy metal is just for kids from the country, of course. Metal is the shield of rejects everywhere. And I haven’t made country music and culture part of this discussion at all. But obviously, that’s where a lot of country folk find their identity. Remember, this whole thing started with the girl with the satanic tattoos and I think it’s a safe guess that metal is part of her lifestyle (I’d love it if I was wrong though). And where I grew up, very few of the kids I went to school with were into country music. A few, for sure. But lots and lots of them got into metal and that’s interesting to me.
So then, this got me thinking about the way culture works and how we all create worlds for ourselves when we’re young, and about the need we all have to fit in somewhere. Then this got me thinking about my career and those of some of my friends. What’s interesting is that I have a lot in common with many of my weirdo hip hop peers. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that many of the artists on SFR and Anticon don’t come from big cities. And those that do don’t come from major hip hop cities like New York or LA. We probably all suffered some kind of inferiority complex when we were younger.
I can’t speak for my friends. But I can tell you that when I started out, back in the early 90’s, all I wanted to do was make songs that wouldn’t be out of place next to songs by groups like Black Moon, Brand Nubian or Wu-Tang. For real! And before I found an audience outside of my hometown, everything was fine because the hip hop heads there were all as backwards as I was.
Starting around ’93 or ’94 or so, I started to find a bit of an audience in other parts of the world. But what I found in a greater number than fans, was haters. The music I was making was definitely being criticized and torn apart, but to an equal or even greater extent, I was being made fun of on a personal level. Where I was from, how I looked and how I spoke was a joke to a lot of people. All of a sudden, right when I thought those days were behind me, I was right back in junior high school. What a nightmare.
At that point I probably should have given up and started a metal band, but I didn’t know how to play guitar. So instead, something strange happened: I stayed in the world of hip hop, but retreated into the woods and explored my alienation through the music. I became a full-fledged reject. I rejected the mainstream and any attempt to fit in anywhere. But the hard part was, I couldn’t find other rejects with whom I could build a community.
In ’96, my ultimate alienated-weirdo statement, “Vertex” came out. This album became a lightning rod for hip hop hatred, but now I was beginning to relish it. It was also a lightning rod for rap rejects worldwide. It was through this distress signal that I began to find allies like Sage and Sole and assorted other drifters.
The thought I’m left with is that it’s interesting/perverse that – in a way – I was created by the people who have hated and continue to hate me. Know what I’m saying? If I was never rejected by the city kids in the first place, I’d probably be making shiny fake hip hop songs right now. I would never have found myself. Weirdos are created simply by calling a person a weirdo. And knowing what I know now, a little alienation is good for you. It forces you into an empty room with mirrored walls. I was ashamed of myself and where I came from when I started out, so I pretended to be a lost member of Black Moon. It was an act. I was a fake. Then, essentially, I was called out on it (thank goodness). I had to choose to either give up in defeat and shame or embrace who I was. Voila. I kept going.
Now, I’m not exactly the girl with the satanic tattoos, but at least I can relate to her.
Another typically stupid blog post from your friend and fellow outcast,