Sunday, August 7, 2011

Is Image Everything? Felipe's Music Manifesto


Felipe M.




I just finished reading David Konow's Bang Your Head: The Rise and Fall of Heavy Metal.  Admittedly a bit dated, it was published in 2002 right as Metallica were about ready to hit rock bottom in their careers.  Nevertheless, it was a very interesting read as every chapter reads more like mini-biographies of not only famous heavy metal acts, but hard rock acts as well such as Led Zeppelin and Kiss--think That Metal Show in book form.  


When reading non-fiction works about the genre, I can't help but to get very excited when the works starts memorializing the "Thrash Metal" movement--usually sandwiched between chapters that speak of bands that wear face paint and make up (i.e. Alice Cooper and the aforementioned Kiss), to bands that insist on wearing as much leather as possible on and off stage (i.e. Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, etc.), before them and bands that cared more about their hair than their own music (or their own well-being, such as Motley Crue, Poison, etc.) after them.  Clearly, I have not hidden the fact that my musical tastes are rooted in punk rock and all of its genres and sub-genres so I can appreciate the existence of bands that developed their imagery based on the ideal to do away with glamour, theatrics, and visible imagery in metal music.  In its place were bands that wore black t-shirts (more often with other bands' logos), black jeans, and black shoes/boots with Anthrax even paving the way to wear shorts on stage.  Also missing from this movement was well-groomed, overly cared for, and chemically enhanced hair as grizzled beards and frizzled and scuzzy hair took over.



I will not be here telling whoever is reading this that they should only listen to this band and not the other band.  You can make that decision for yourself.  Instead, I will share with you the music code that I follow when listening to new bands and I like to think that it is solely based on music and not any other crappy image or gimmick the artist is trying to sell to me.  So without further ado...



FELIPE'S SIMPLE RULES ON PUNK AND METAL
  • Rule #1: If you have to wear a mask, excessive make up, or face paint, I don't want anything to do with you or your band.  Kiss, Slipknot, Marilyn Manson--you might garner lot of fans and sell many records, but I want nothing to do with any of you!  Something about covering your face makes it seem to me that you're trying too hard on displaying an image or working too hard on theatrics to worry about your music.  Also makes me wonder what the hell it is you are hiding (not in a cool, mysterious way either).  You can tell me all the reasons why Manson is one of the most artistic people in the world and how Slipknot are uber-talented; I will continue to avoid them like the plague.  

  • Rule #2: Let me preface by saying that I'm a guy who refuses to shave on a daily basis and I only wash my clothes if their longstanding odor isn't too offensive to me.  I also don't care if my haircut is not "punk enough" or if I'm wearing enough black clothes from Hot Topic so the whole world knows I'm expressing myself by letting people know I listen to Punk Rock and Metal music.  Nor do I worry that my lack of tats and piercings make me any less punk or metal.  If I find that a band seems to go out of their way to work a bit too hard on their image, then i-Tuned them off.  Bands like Anti-Flag and AFI come to mind, especially when they signed their first major label deals.  Travis Barker is another guy who went from being a punk rock drummer to being a drummer who has a punk image to go with his "punk attitude."  So to summarize, even if your band is not wearing makeup or funny-looking masks, any attempt to "dress up" is also grounds for dismissal.



When I go to a concert, I don't want to have to wait for a band to come on stage because they don't look "punk or metal enough" to get on stage yet.  Or maybe their "guyliner" isn't quite dark and guy enough yet, but a few coats promises to do the trick.  Or if their Liberty Spikes looks too punk, but not faux enough.  Nope, that just won't do!  Don't get me wrong, I do tolerate and even enjoy music by Anti-Flag, AFI, Green Day, and Blink-182.  But when I see these bands work so hard for their "look" they just simply come off as clowns.   

Yes, the quality of music is always first, but there are plenty of bands out there who don't go out of their way to create that "punk" or "metal" image.  Basically bands who "look like me" always get preferential treatment on my music rotation.  I'm talking about bands like Bad Religion, A Wilhelm Scream, Darkest Hour, The Lawrence Arms, etc.  When I see Hatebreed on stage and you have Jamey Jasta wearing a baseball hat, another band's t-shirt, shorts, and regular boots, I can appreciate that--the dude has nothing to hide and doesn't need much to get on stage, but a mic and his voice.  When i see Darkest Hour lead singer John Henry refuse to take his glasses off for a band photo, I say to myself, "Hey, I wear glasses and this guy looks like a total nerd like I do and we both like our music loud, aggressive, but with substance."  Best of all, we don't go out of our way to look like some sort of circus freak show.  When I see Bad Religion's lead singer, Greg Graffin's clothes and I can't recognize the brand names that he's wearing, I can relate because I sometimes have a hard time figuring out what brand of clothing I'm wearing (that's why I have a girlfriend so I don't have to worry about trivial stuff like that).

Probably the best personification of my decree to decide which bands will be given my valuable attention is the band Against Me!  These guys simply go on stage wearing all black--no corporate sponsored t-shirts, not even band t-shirts.  It's the coolest thing ever to see a band just go on stage and it's just four guys against the world as they put it all on black.  Their "image" is the epitome of what punk rock should be and it's more in spirit of what the genre is all about than any other fashionably conscious, popular faux punk rawk band out there.  

I can't help but think that both the punk and metal scenes are not and should not be about creating an image to appease a mainstream audience who probably does not care about the music as much as they care about the image that is being sold to them.  It's like the band Against Me! sing in their song "Reinventing Axl Rose":

We want a band
That plays loud and hard every night


A simple way to judge a band.  Very hard to quantify such a quality in today's world where attention spans keep getting shorter and shorter and style constantly trumps substance.  Worse, originality in music is pushed to the side for the chance of success by transforming into one of many copy-cat molds.  Because of this brave new world we live in, a lot of these bands have to find themselves a niche in the scene just to get our attention and avoid being accused of being a copy-cat band.  Hell, Kiss have been triumphant since the 1970s with the simple maxim that having a gimmick was better than being good, but unknown musicians who were dirt poor.

I also understand that many of these bands want to make a living out of their passion and not live dirt poor for the rest of their lives.  But for every band that has a gimmick to survive the music business, there has to be a lot more bands that are surviving who--you know?--work really hard at honing their skills in order to make great, memorable music and are making a comfortable living doing so.  At any rate, I'll continue to root for bands who classify with the latter and hoping for nothing but the worst for the bands that can be classified in the former.  

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