The humanity of metal at the Warfield

30 years ago, before I entered recovery on a long-term basis, I saw Swervedriver, MonsterMagnet and Soundgarden at the Warfield in San Francisco. It was my first time seeing any of these bands, and I’d see Soundgarden a few more times.

Rock was seriously changing back then, with the so-called ‘Grunge’ scene which was pitched by rags like Rolling Stone, Spin, and other media who just had to pin a label on things to sell it. Not complaining, but it’s a reality we have to endure. Bands and labels only make money when they sell things, and even today that’s true. No money, no band.

Labels struggling gives me glee, but that’s another topic.

Anyway, as usual, I got pretty stoned before, during and after the show. I definitely have more fun now that I’m recovering. If nothing else I can stay awake and remember what happened. It’s a big plus.

But this, at least, I remember. There was this dude sitting next to me. Oh yeah, the Warfield has or at least had tables. They cost more, but it was totally worth it. We could sit, drink, watch the bands with pretty good sound. So, this dude was all decked out in costume: black leather pants, black shirt, spiked collar and mascara. He also looked a lot like Geoff Tate from Queensryche.

A very young Geoff Tate

Like any other metal head in his late 20’s, I was pretty judgmental. I immediately hated this guy, thought he was a poseur. I’m not going to argue that we’re open minded and totally tolerant, easy to get along with. Metal means opinions dammit, and I was still in my “death to false metal” phase. Which, by the way, made me a poseur.

I put up with this asshole next to me for the opening acts. Monster Magnet ruled, by the way. I think only Soundgarden could follow them without wilting in those days. Silly as it is, he really bugged me. However, there was this moment, in the middle of Soundgarden’s set, that our eyes met. The dude gave me the kind of smile that told me he was glad he could share the moment. He nodded his head at me, raised his fist and then turned away to watch the show. I dunno, it was a life-changing moment and a lesson I’ve never forgotten.

Metal doesn’t give a shit. No matter how you dress or look, no matter who you are, metal doesn’t care: it’s a very, very big tribe. I still have a problem with Nu Metal and the Hair Bands, but that’s a matter of taste. Overall, the heavy genre’s tend to be pretty inclusive, open-minded, and even encouraging of different viewpoints. But before I make a total fool of myself, it does have some violent, misogynistic elements, and I’m NOT referring to Black Metal. At all. Nothing I have to point out in this post is referencing Black Metal.

A proud, unapologetic fascist

There have been two incidents within the heavy community over the past few years that have given me hope, and are the basis of my idea here. The first was quite satisfying for me.

There is, and used to be, a dude by the name of Clint Beed. He ran (still runs, I guess) a Youtube channel called Stoned Meadow of Doom (SMOD). I admit, I followed. He was a decent resource for new music, and that’s all I cared about. But a little over two years ago, I started seeing signs that…well, maybe I didn’t want to support this guy. I joined his Facebook group, and there was this thing called Shitpost Saturday, which was a haven for the worst possible takes on…literally everything.

I’ve been a part of non-PC culture all my life. My favorite online group, all time, was the “Stoner/Doom Bassist” thread on Talkbass. It was fun, irreverent, and ultimately got heavily censored once someone reported it to the moderators. Lines got crossed, a lot, but the rest of the group would tone things down. But Shitpost Saturday was…vile for the sake of being vile, and while I appreciate and enjoy ‘edgy’ humor, there are lines that just shouldn’t be crossed.

A good synopsis of SMOD is here:

The Stoner/Doom community turned on him, brutally and efficiently. SMOD simply had too many things wrong with it, from exploiting bands to being a breeding (or beeding) ground for the worst racist, homophobic and misogynistic trash on the interweb. Within days, maybe hours, SMOD as we knew it was no more. Good riddance!

The second incident bothers me, breaks my heart a little. A reliable and respected member of the community participated in the January 6th idiocy. Jon Schaffer was a stalwart figure in heavy music, with Iced Earth going all the way back to 1984 and Demons and Wizards back to 1990. Full disclosure, neither band really did it for me, so it’s not like I was a fan. Also, Schaffer was never secretive about his political views, and forming the Sons of Liberty kinda gave anyone who was interested a glimpse into his ideology. But as I have stated, the heavy scene is generally quite tolerant, and that means tolerant of opposing views.

But again, a line got crossed, and this one was big:

I personally would have ‘cancelled’ Schaffer once I learned about the Oath Keepers bullshit, another group of idiots one-step removed from the Proud Boys. I also disagree, on a very deep level, with the majority of what he represents.

But not all of it, especially his points about the Democratic party and of some of their (in) actions, and his questioning of where the anti-war faction had disappeared to.

What I found troubling was the idea the heavy music itself had turned to the hard-right. Thankfully, that’s not the case. He was dropped from his label Century Media, and his partner in Demons and Wizards dropped him as well. And then the other troubling thought occurred: is heavy music going to flip to the politically correct camp?

I hope not. I want there to be a free expression of ideas. I want the Right to be as open and accepted as the Left. I’d totally dig an overtly pro-America album by a heavy-psych band, extolling the virtues of this free land of freedom: without it being labeled as ‘fascist.’ Because if loving this country is automatically fascist, then only fascists will be openly loving this country. Which is kind of happening already:

The danger of only fascists loving America…this is what we get.

I hope the heavy underground continues to be a fertile hotbed of disturbing and challenging thought and concepts. It was never meant to be ‘safe’. I hope it can continue to foster a free exchange of ideas, continues to expand globally, and represents every possible race, religion, political affiliation, gender identification and mode of dress and expression. Some of it I will hate: but I won’t necessarily hate the human being who made it. Even Nu Metal.

I also hope I never forget that night at the Warfield, and that moment when prejudice and judgment was overcome by a shared sense of humanity, sharing something so loud, powerful and beautiful.

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