SAMHAIN: Musings on Pain and Death–A Personal Journey

Disturbing junk artwork courtesy of Maryrose Runk. Photo: I.O. Kirkwood

This is the jaw of a cat and a fortune displayed on my altar this Samhain. It will make sense when all is said and done.

 

Calm as you please, my mother set an incisor and a canine on the Formica table top. The teeth were pearly white, perfectly shaped and free of decay. She pointed to the incisor.

“This came out at the doctor’s office while you were on the phone.” She pointed to the canine. “This came out last week. I started keeping them.”

I’ve never seen teeth pulled completely from a jaw, not even in Anatomy & Physiology class. I stared for a long moment trying to comprehend what lay before me on the table. I had just finished eating my first plate from the Chinese buffet. I felt grateful for small mercies.

“Look.”

I did as she asked. She hooked her forefinger into the corner of her mouth and pulled it into a rictus. She pointed at the exposed jaw. I could see the gaping sockets in the bone. Half the teeth on the bottom of her mouth were just—gone. So was the gum.

“You can see everything. How many more teeth do I have to lose? I can’t chew my food.”

My proud and beautiful mother looked at me as if I knew the answer. Meanwhile, I felt as if I hung by one foot over a chasm. I couldn’t see the bottom and all that kept me from falling was my hope, which slowly frayed with each incident.

To look away would be to admit defeat. To look away would deny her humanity. She was suffering and I couldn’t help her. I’d never looked into the depths of such misery before. Not even my own pain could match what rested on the table between us.

She gathered up the teeth and put them in her wallet. She seemed satisfied, as if she’d made her point. I wondered if my eyes reflected the horror of this moment. I wanted to cry, but I held my face still. Crying would make her uncomfortable. This moment wasn’t about me.

I went to the buffet table and grabbed a second plate. I stared at a tray of vegetable lo mein, something I would never eat, and prayed she didn’t watch me. I silently came apart inside. After a long moment of self-pity, I added rice noodles and peanut butter chicken to my plate.

I would enjoy her favorite foods for her. I would break the fortune cookie with her. I would eat the cookie for her because it was too hard for her to chew. I would ingest the cookie that had patiently housed the fortune. This, I knew, would make her happy.

If anything, she seems happiest now when I visit. This hadn’t been true before she realized she was dying. I don’t know how her mind works. Maybe she was happy when I visited before, but her proud nature wouldn’t permit her to show how much she enjoyed my company.

She has never been an affectionate or particularly interested mother. Life had dealt blows to her that I could only imagine. She had closed herself up in an ivory tower of contempt and dismissal that I thought I would never be able to climb. I’ve often wondered why I continued my efforts.

She was my mother. Before my childhood went to hell, she was my everything. I don’t think I ever let that memory go or I would have stopped trying to get through. She was angry at me for some imagined wrong, but then in her mind, everyone has betrayed her. Everyone.

There was a cat my mother owned named Blaze, a beautiful, feral creature that never allowed anyone to touch her, much less see her. She was a blur of tuxedo socks and silence. You could feel her yellow-green eyes watch you from some unknown hiding place. Several months before Blaze died, she discovered the joy of human touch. After that, she was insatiable.

She would swipe at the legs of any passing human just to feel the warm glide of a palm along her back and the indescribable pleasure of fingernails scratching behind her ears. For years, she had denied herself this heaven because of her fear of getting hurt. Perhaps she died happy, but how much longer would the cat have lived if she had sought loving company sooner?

My mother reminded me of Blaze. I didn’t know how much longer she’d be able to enjoy my company, but now she has it at least once a week. There have been—difficult—complicated discussions about our shared pasts. They have healed us both and yet have opened fresh wounds as she swipes at me in passing, demanding my attention. She forces me to look at her, to see her as something other than my mother, something other than a dying woman.

Her soul burns brightly inside the body that has betrayed her. She has learned that life is pain and that everything, and everyone, betrays eventually. Nothing can be trusted to meet expectations, but that’s not what counts anymore.

What counts is the warm glide of a palm against her back as she is hugged and hugs in return. I am still shocked when she reaches for me, when she asks for that life-affirming touch. What makes life worthwhile is the pleasure of shared laughter and sadness tickling her ears as old wounds are healed. I am still amazed by her desire to probe past misunderstandings when before we would go months without speaking at all. My mother astounds me.

When I returned to the table, I knew that her teeth still sat in her wallet. I may find them, a handful perhaps, still in the wallet after she dies. They will be a stark reminder of what has been lost and cannot be reclaimed.

Right now, all I want to show her is that though time is limited, love is limitless. When I get home, I can cry, but right now, no. There will be no tears to betray her.

The Dark Side of Living La Vita Local

I love going to live metal shows, especially when there is a mix of local and national acts. I love it best when the venue is intimate and I could, if I was so inclined, reach out and touch whoever is onstage or bump into one of the musicians trying to get to the bar. There is nothing like turning as you’re ordering a drink to find Shannon Lucas waiting for a water and saying to him, “Hey, great show tonight.”

cory and lucas

Cory met his extreme drumming role model, Shannon Lucas. He is a very good example of graciousness.

What chaps my thighs is those bands who feel they are above their fans and the local musicians that made their headliner show possible. They hide out in their vans or cheap hotel rooms, avoiding the people who bought their records, who sold or outright bought the tickets because they couldn’t sell them, and who buy their merchandise so that the tour machinery can keep moving to the next city.

I’ve talked to a number of local bands in my area and the consensus is this: they feel taken advantage of by the national acts, specifically the ones who behave as if they are “too good to walk amongst the rabble.” Let me explain how I understand the tour machinery to work.

1. A promoter secures a headliner band that has a reasonably large and devoted following. A fee is negotiated that will be paid to the headliner.

2. The promoter then lines up a number of local bands, and dependent on the cost of the headliner’s fee and the number of local bands, divvies up a set amount of tickets that will cover the expenses of the show.

3. The local bands have to sell their number of tickets or buy them if they can’t sell them. Usual excuses from potential customers is “It’s too expensive,” or “Can’t you get me in for free?” or “I’m too tired.”

4. All tickets sales above and beyond the expense tickets are then divvied up between the local bands (in theory). Sometimes the local bands get paid but usually not.

Of course the cost of playing with the headliner can pinch a few purses, especially if the local band is still building a following or their fan base does not align with the headliner’s subgenre. I’ve been at proggy metal shows where I’ve spoken of thrash metal and my audience has looked at me like I pooped in my hand and threw it at someone.

This is how the system works. Everyone knows it. I’m not telling anyone something new. I’m not inciting a revolution here.

henry rollins

Rollins knows it’s just common courtesy. We’re all people on this big blue ball hurtling through space.

If you’re the headliner, don’t act like you’re above everyone else even though you have certainly earned your place at the top of the totem pole. Don’t hide away from the bands that are making your livelihood possible. They accepted the yoke of playing with you not just to showcase their talents in front of your fans but to meet you as well. Shake some hands. Let them buy you a drink, even if you prefer soda pop.

Graciousness wins you loyalty even though there may be nothing you can do to help the bands supporting you other than say “good show” or offering some technical advice. Face to face time is important, especially in heavy metal, because it is a minority genre in the music industry. You’re fighting for every single fan you have. Pissing people off with indifference earns you bad word-of-mouth. Even if it’s not true, bad mouthing has a ripple effect.

I offer words of warning to established and struggling metal bands. Don’t get above yourself. That entitled attitude, that superiority complex, is exactly what heavy metal and punk rock have raged against since their inception. Once you cross that line, you’ve gone to the Dark Side.

Do you have a differing point of view? Are you a national act that would like to shed light on your perspective? Hit me up in the comments.

©2014 iokirkwood.com “The Dark Side of Living LaVita Local”  All Rights Reserved.

In between bouts of writing for metaldescent.com, blogging, and banging her head, I.O. Kirkwood is the author of “Subatomic Revolt” in Mike Lynch’s No Revolution Is Too Big series and the short story “The White Carpet,” a finalist in the Scribes Valley Publishing Fiction Contest in 2013.

Tempting Fate’s Illusions: A Beastly Frolic

Tempting Fate’s new eight-song offering, Illusions, made my Beast frolic. Though there were two songs that caused the apple-headed, shark- toothed and besuited bad boy of my subconscious to pause in confusion, overall the album was a deathy Metalcore M&M with an Electronicore coating (or what the band has called Dub-Metal).

Tempting Fate demonstrates a solid compositional formula. They use tempo to great effect and their songs have that deep groove I so enjoy in my metal. Things I liked included modulation on the screamed vocals, clean vocal choruses, heavy double-bass and low-tuned guitar, moderately applied synth/sampling, and melodic cut times with harmonized guitar riffs. I enjoy giving my head a sonic pummeling on a regular and recurring basis and these guys delivered with a few surprises along the way.

My favorite song currently is “Mutilation Line,” while “Get Up” and “This Is A Warning” are running close behind. All three are heavy and the lyrics are eponymous to their respective compositions. They will take their places in my Extreme Metal playlist and “Filthy,” “Run,” and “State of Unrest” will follow.

“Questions,” the first song, was my Beast’s least favorite. The lyrics are polluted by the rallying cry of “Oh my god” which personifies the whining snarkiness of the poppier end of Metalcore. “Oh my god,” should never go into a song unless it’s “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites” by Skrillex. ”Questions” is still solid, still heavy, but the chorus ruins the vibe for me.

“Get Weird” didn’t excite my Beast either. It was the least cohesive of the songs, though the guitar solo and catchy tempo changes in the middle might be redeeming factors for some. I recommend a few listens to make sure.

This is the first time I have heard Tempting Fate’s music. Illusions isn’t the groundbreaking album that the band may have hoped for, but they did generate a high-quality, professional production relying only on their collective talents. There are fresh elements that could evolve into something definitive as the 4-piece band matures.

With an official 2010 birth year and three self-produced albums under their belt, Tempting Fate may benefit from more time on the road (maybe come out to the East coast, hmmm?). Old-school my view may be, but nothing rounds out a band’s chops like touring the U.S.A. in a cramped, stinky van for months on end, loading into and loading out of B-list venues, and playing night after night to crowds who came to see the headliner only to steal the show.

I have not seen Tempting Fate live, and anyone who has should comment below on their energy and delivery. I believe that a band should be viewed as a whole in production and in live performance.  I’ve heard rumors that they are kick-ass and would definitely like to see for myself-in person.

If Metalcore is your cuppa, keep an eye on Tempting Fate. Having made six out of eight songs onto my Beast’s Extreme Metal playlist, I expect them to get that groundbreaking formula dead to rights next album.

\m/(^^)\m/

To buy the album:

Amazon or iTunes

 

To learn more about the band:

Website: http://temptingfatemusic.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/WeAreTemptingFate
Twitter: https://twitter.com/TemptingFateBnd
ReverbNation: http://www.reverbnation.com/artist_897482/bio
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/TemptingFateBand
SoundCloud: https://soundcloud.com/TemptingFate

Copyright © 2014 iokirkwood.com. “Tempting Fate’s Illusions: A Beastly Frolic” by I.O. Kirkwood. All rights reserved.

Metal Grrrl: I Am A Subject Not An Object

I move in male-dominated circles. I’m a metal junkie and yes, I’m learning the ropes, but I’m not some vapid groupie who is only on the scene for the 5:1 male-female ratio that stacks the odds in my favor. I’m going to shows, buying albums, buying merchandise, and writing about metal. Of all the genres of music, it is the most diverse, fascinating, and intellectually challenging.

I am an attractive female, a rarity on the scene relatively speaking, but the way I look is an accident of birth. First and foremost, I am a mind and a heart and a set of unique predispositions that are infinitely complex and interesting. I have thoughts and feelings like any other person and I want to be treated as a person, a subject.

Too often, I find myself the object of other people’s projections, male and female, and it frustrates me. Few of the people who project their assumptions on me mean any harm. Those that do are dealt with quickly.

Metal is a divine gift...

Metal is a divine gift…

Here are the assumptions in the order of their irritation factor:

Assumption #1: I have to like the kind of metal you like because I don’t have the capacity to know what I like about metal.

Assumption #2: I pretend to like metal because the metal scene is the male-female ratio equivalent of Alaska.

Assumption #3: I can’t appreciate the raw energy of metal because I’m a helpless, passive female.

Those are my top three pet-peeves. I do understand that these assumptions are based on partial fact, but usually the model of choice is the girlfriends or wives of musicians in the genre. I’m not knocking these women either. Just because my ex-husband liked baseball and played in a league didn’t mean I had to do the same.

Assumptions are like spiders. I HATE spiders.

Assumptions are like spiders. I HATE spiders.

I will address each assumption, so if I’ve handed you my card at a metal show and you thought you knew what I’m about, you can read this post and get the skinny on what I’m REALLY about.

Assumption Buster #1: I studied music. I’m a vocalist. I was raised in a musical family and I’ve raised an extreme metal drummer. Thrash metal is one of my favorite subgenres, but I also like Djent, Groove, Melodic Death, Progressive, Power, and the list goes on. I think my least favorite genre is Black Metal though I do enjoy black metal elements in other subgenres.  WARNING: A band can’t tell me their music is Mathcore and then have none of the Mathcore elements in their compositions. I will call that and I will bust balls.

Assumption Buster #2: I don’t pretend anything. I won’t pretend to like a band that sucks. I won’t spend my money on a band that sucks. I won’t pretend to like you and I don’t care what band you’re in if you’re a douche-bag. I won’t deny that I prefer guys who prefer metal. I won’t deny that I like the odds. I don’t pretend.

Assumption Buster #3: I got knocked down at the last show I attended. I wasn’t even in the mosh pit. I was singled out and dragged from the sidelines against my will by a guy twice my size. Needless to say, when I got back up, my inner Beast was growling and I was about a hair’s breadth away from an old-fashioned Irish war spasm a la Cu Chulainn.  I busted chops as I waded back to the sidelines and my Beast approved. Don’t tell me I can’t appreciate raw energy because I’ve been familiar with metal and mosh pits longer than you’ve been out of diapers.

The lesson here is even though you’ve met me, assessed me, and dismissed me with one or all of the above assumptions doesn’t mean you know me. Any more than I would know you based on the metal head stereotypes that have cropped up over the years.

So check your assumptions at the door. I’m here to enjoy a metal show. Everything else is gravy as long as it’s based on the actuality of my being a subject: a thinking, feeling individual with an autonomous existence that transcends stereotypes and projections. I’ll return the favor. I promise.

Copyright © 2014 iokirkwood.com. “Metal Grrrl: I Am A Subject Not An Object” by I.O. Kirkwood. All rights reserved.

Rage With the Beast

I’ve been asking myself why metal music makes me shiver. Particular songs just make my skin prickle and bring such intense, all-over pleasure that it has caused me to question some fundamental understandings about myself.

I asked my son about this and he told me, “You’re getting in touch with your rage.” He should know. I think he inherited mine in utero.

angry

My son says his beast looks like a tall, roaring flame with a mouth full of teeth. Mine looks more like this. You can dress it up, but you can’t take it anywhere.

I agree that metal, especially extreme metal, can be comparable to shaving unhappy bears and setting them loose on an innocent population. But why do I love it so much? Before it had made me so uncomfortable that I ignored it.

All music is an expression of the human condition. Yes, even the vapid boy bands with their bubble gum pop riffs and saccharine lyrics express a human condition whether I agree with said condition or not. Based on this premise, I followed the threads backwards.

From an early age, I remember fear. I remember helplessness. I remember not having the power to say “no” though I screamed it in my mind. I remember pain. I remember rage. I remember crying so much that it seemed that all I tasted were tears.

I do not remember the actual events. My mind has suppressed them so successfully that only once in a blue moon will I have a complete recall. The recall is hellish.

dont pray for easy

See, I ran from my past like a tri-athlete There were years when I forgot what it was like to cry because I hated the taste and the sensation. I laughed at the most inappropriate times. Verbal arguments were fought with a desperation and viciousness that left my opponents stunned. I was ready to swing whenever I felt remotely threatened. Until I went to therapy. Until the first recall.

It’s never convenient to recall. The recall doesn’t happen while I’m sitting at home alone or with a trained therapist. The recall doesn’t care if I’m at work or if I’m at the grocery store. I am helpless in the face of it—frozen—as my awareness is transported to a  brutal moment of physical degradation in another place and time. Sometimes I am three years old. Sometimes I am in middle school. Always, I am young and I am helpless.

During a recall I receive a quantum packet of FML in about thirty seconds. No lube. No consideration for whether there are spectators or not. No “thank you” afterwards.

At first I thought it was because I was in therapy. But when I had reached a point where therapy had done what it could, including medication for an incapacitating anxiety disorder that rendered me agoraphobic for three months, I realized that I needed to take control of my past.

wired to suffer

I started by asking for tears. In 2009 I cried de Nile River. That was when my love for heavy metal truly blossomed. All the old standbys from my adolescence came into play: Sabbath, Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Metallica and some newer, angrier hard rock/heavy metal acts like Godsmack, Alice in Chains, Black Label Society, Chevelle, Mastodon and QOTSA got their time. Anything that talked about the rage and the helplessness, the establishment and the insanity.

I realized that the music was a natural release valve for all the pent up rage that boiled inside of me. What I didn’t realize until five months ago was that the above mentioned music only scraped the surface.

I have October 8, 2013 marked as a turning point. I went to my first all extreme metal show. Screams and growls mostly. Blast beats a requirement.

At this show were a number of thrash metal bands, three of which stood out for me. The first was my son’s band Xstrophy and I go to almost every show now because they have opened up a whole new world for me. The second was Exemptus just because they have a sheer energy that engages me on a visceral level. The third was Battlecross.

If you’re friends with me on FaceBook, you know that this band is my all time favorite thrash metal band. It isn’t because the music is phenomenal. It isn’t that they are just all around great guys who know how to put on an amazing show. Though the aforementioned certainly contributed, what made them special is that their music helped me communicate with my Beast.

worst day

I wish I had started that young…

For the first time, I could get in touch with my rage and it didn’t scare the crap out of me. Together, my Beast and I could thrash and wrestle and scream and growl, and let me tell you, it feels freakin’ incredible. No one gets hurt, least of all me, and I come out grinning like a fiend.

The happy side effect is that instead of getting bludgeoned by total recall, my rage is feeding me the feelings in small doses. Instead of going catatonic, I get to step back and examine the pain, the helplessness, and the fear from a place of empowerment. I never expected something as extreme as, well, extreme metal to be so therapeutic. From In Flames to Meshuggah to After the Burial to All Shall Perish, I am discovering a whole new world inside of me where the things that go “grrr” in the night are my allies. \m/

Copyright © 2014 iokirkwood.com. “Rage With the Beast” by I.O. Kirkwood. All rights reserved.