It was a cold and rainy Halloween night as I traipsed across London to the Hammersmith Apollo for the Unholy Alliance III show. Getting anywhere in London these days is an exercise in frustration and delay, particularly as I received a text message from the promoter saying that the doors were now opening at 5.30 instead of 7.30 as originally planned. Luckily I'm allowed to leave work at 5 these days but I had to stop off at the Barbican to give Salette the stuff for my Halloween costume so she could take it to her place (she was waiting in line for stand-by tickets to see Antony and the Johnsons).
Metal gigs these days are a strange affair, not like when I was a lad. The metal chicks are all super hot and spend ages on their outfit, hair and makey. The dudes are all bald heads and stoopid beards and every one's trying to out obscure each other in the band t-shirt stakes. I'd anticipated this and had picked up a bitching metal t-shirt from threadless. It featured a naked barbarian chick riding a dragon which was spitting out a huge fiery skull which was about to eat a unicorn. It had nothing to do with any band at all...how obscure is that! It was hilarious watching everyone trying to manoeuvre to check my shirt out of the corner of their eye and failing to make out any kind of logo, subtly moving around behind me to see what was written on the back.
It was a night of highs and lows. The major disappointments were:
- Missing Mastodon 'cos I was stuck in the cloak room line for 45 mins;
The major highlights were:
- Hot skanky metal chicks;
- Trivium leaving the stage;
- All the Trivium fans leaving before Slayer came on;
- 'Raining Blood' and 'Disciple' live;
- 2 new Slayer songs;
- Blowing people's minds with my obscure t-shirt;
- Getting a kick arse new Mastodon t-shirt of a sasquatch eating a stag;
- Trivium dying in a horrible bus crash on the way to another gig.
Sadly, I made that last one up.
I can not overstate just how shit Trivium were. I do believe they've invented a new musical genre: Hairdresser Metal. How the hell those bozos even got on the bill is beyond me, let alone how they got billed above Mastodon. Those guys aren't even metal enough to cater Mastodon's parties. At one point, the lead dude shook his gorgeous mane of primped and permed curly locks and declared, "We thought the mother fucking fans in mother fucking America knew how to bang their mother fucking heads...so are you mother fuckers gonna prove us wrong?" Are you flipping kidding me? Who even says that any more? Just because you wear tight black jeans and basketball boots doesn't make you thrash, you try hard guido cock suckers! The nadir of the whole sonic abortion was when they covered 'Iron Maiden' by Iron Maiden. Dude! We're in Hammersmith, yeah? This is the Maiden heartland! People here name their children after their favourite Maiden song. Even Iron Maiden are reluctant to play their stuff in Hammersmith 'cos the fans are so super critical. Half the crowd turned their back on the stage, which I thought was a nice protest. There were myriad other examples of suckiness which, in the interests of minimising the collective nausea, I've summarised in the following dot-point essay entitled, "Why Trivium Suck":
- they just do...it's a universal constant...whenever scientists measure suckiness they do it in increments of triviums;
- wireless guitar feeds and an array of steel ramps allowed them to caper and run about on stage like excitable new-born fawns on a spring day;
- seven microphones so they could sing wherever they happened to be at;
- five smoke machines;
- saying things like, "Put your mother-fucking devil horns in the mother fucking air, mother fuckers";
- everybody sings...badly;
- matching guitars;
- smashing their matching guitars;
- they wear muscle shirts;
- they wear muscle shirts with their own band logo on them;
- they spend more time doing their pretty hair than writing songs.
Still, I guess such a monumental display of suckiness could only help to emphasise just how fucking metal Slayer are. It was ironic that Trivium chose to ape the look of mid-80's thrash (slightly less ironic than being run over by an ambulance, but slightly more ironic than fat people drinking diet coke), because it only helped emphasise how un-thrash they are. I thought back to '86 when the Big 4 of Thrash Metal reigned supreme: Slayer, Metallica, Anthrax and Megadeth. Individually, those bands were the pinnacle of speed and hardness and anger and evil. Collectively they were pioneers, they invented a genre and were so far out in front of everyone else it was like there was no other music. But where are they now? Megadeth and Anthrax both died long slow deaths, with frequent line-up changes and constantly re-interpreting themselves, but were never able to maintain the rage and calibre of their early years. Metallica, while arguably the most successful and well-known, are also the biggest sell-outs of the bunch and are now nothing more than the poster children for corporate whore pop bands everywhere. Slayer are the only one of the four who are still playing the way they always played, and with the original line-up to boot. The songs are still as fast and hard and angry and evil as they were back in '86. Reign in Blood is unarguably the quintessential metal album, and Raining Blood is arguably the most metal as fuck song ever written. They've been consistently slaying for over 20 years and in that time they never sold out and they never sucked. Let's put this into perspective: Tom Araya, bassist and lead singer, is 47. I used to listen to these guys when I was 15 and I'm still listening to them at 37 and they're still blowing my fucking head off.
The English seem to find some stoicism in living life as unpleasantly as possible. Ironically as if by deliberately and consciously experiencing the worst in life it somehow makes life better. Everything's an exercise in self-deception and self-delusion; constant references to "The Great British Something" as if by calling it great it must be so even when we all know it's complete crap. Much in the same way as Americans call hamburgers "sandwiches"...
Work is going super well. This place is the exact polar opposite to the Salt Mine: people genuinely give a shit about you, they work reasonable hours, the bosses practice what they preach and leave at 5 and are the first ones down the pub on a Friday. Speaking of Fridays, every week the company buys pizza for all the staff for lunch and they put on a tab at the bar across the street to force everyone to leave at 5...awesome! I did something this week I haven't done for almost 2 years: sat in the park and read my book while I ate my lunch. I've not done that since summer 2 years ago when I worked across the road from Glebe Park, it was wonderful. Bunhill Fields cemetery is just down the street from here and has loads of benches scattered about. William Blake and his wife Catherine are buried somewhere in there (the gravestone simply says their remains lie nearby) and people regularly leave flowers and coins as tributes (Blake died a near pauper in relative obscurity, his final act on his deathbed was to sketch his beloved Catherine). It was a little chilly but the sun was shining and I was all rugged up and despite all the other people there with the same idea it was lovely and peaceful. It's so nice to be working somewhere where I have the opportunity to take a lunch break, sit in the park and read, and go home at a reasonable hour...I'd forgotten what that was like. There's two teams of consultants, or clans, with their own clan names: the other team's is lame but we're called Wu-Tang because, as we all know, Wu-Tang Clan ain't nuttin ta fuck wid.
I went to a Halloween party on Saturday night and my costume was kick-arse. The theme of the party was Movies and the sub theme was Death, so I bought this huge styrofoam ball and made a Death Star helmet. I spray-painted it grey and drew on some detailing and then stuck all these little tiny Star Wars fighters all over the outside. I bought a couple of slightly larger models of Darth Vader's tie-fighter and Luke's X-wing which I suspended on wires just to give it some movement and false perspective. I was both the coolest and the nerdiest guy at the party, which was evidenced by the fact that I won two, count 'em TWO gold medals for Best Costume and Most Awesome Costume. But awards don't mean anything when you get to go home with the most beautiful girl at the party...Salette went as Pris from Blade Runner and she looked so incredible it made my mouth water, gggrrr!
I had some sad news last week as my step-dad passed away after a long battle with cancer. I was really disappointed I couldn't make it back for the funeral but I wrote some words and my little sister read them out for me, bless her little cotton socks:
There’s a disclaimer at the start of most TV shows which warns of “Adult Themes”, which I never quite understood. What, exactly, IS an adult theme? Taxation? Mortgages? Hair loss? Life never stops teaching us lessons and sadly I’ve learned that the most adult of themes is the death of a parent; that’s when you know you’ve really become a grown up.
As a child growing up, you have this idea that your parents’ lives reach a plateau and stay the same, never changing: they’ve learned all they’ll ever learn, seen all they’ll ever see, done all they’ll ever do. But once I became a parent myself I realised that as time goes by, my parents’ lives have changed far more dramatically than even my own because they have to endure the highs and lows, the joy and the pain, of not only their own experience but that of their children as well. Like riding two roller coasters at once. How exciting and terrifying it is to see your kids making the same discoveries and mistakes you did, learning life’s hardest and most wonderful lessons, but as each day passes realising your ability to influence and protect them lessens.
I remember the first time I met Mal: I was 7 or 8 and my mum took me and my sisters to the West Belconnen Football Club for dinner where he was the Secretary Manager. There was this promotional event going on called “Bowling for Chooks”, which was an indoor bowls green with frozen chooks for prizes and not, as I excitedly imagined, a ten-pin bowling alley where they let you madly fling frozen chickens at the pins. Just one in a long series of childhood disappointments. Poor Mal already had his work cut out for him even before we met: not only did he have to overcome the stigma of not being good enough for my mum (I was the only one in that particular category), but he also had a moustache. Even at the tender age of 8 I had developed a healthy suspicion of dudes with mo’s.
But he seemed like a nice enough guy, and he let us gorge ourselves on free Coke and chips all night (there’s perks when your mother is sleeping with the boss). So before any of us knew what was happening, he and Mum were getting married. I still remember the day they packed Mal’s 4 boys, my sisters and me in the registry office in Civic for the ceremony. I also remember the look of embarrassment and rage on Mum’s face as she continually turned around to Ssshhh! us as we giggled uncontrollably through the whole thing, which, of course, only served to set us off even more. Mal was cool, though…he got the joke, and he laughed along with us.
Soon after our lives were turned even more upside down when we packed up and moved to the pub in Woodstock, pretty much the middle of nowhere. I never understood why Mum and Mal would choose such an awful place to start our new lives as a family, and I was very angry and resentful, which I now know was unfair. Grown up decisions are never as black and white as children would believe them to be, and I know only too well that often we are forced to choose between two unpalatable options, knowing that whatever we decide someone will be hurt, but hoping that one day those we love will understand that we can only do what we think is best at the time and that everyone deserves to be forgiven for their mistakes.
I regret that Mal and I were never close. Time and circumstance conspired to create an emotional gap between us that neither was able to bridge, due mainly to my reluctance to accept anyone as a replacement for my dad and my slow but inevitable withdrawal from my family into an introspective surly teenager. Life wasn’t always easy or pleasant for any of us living in the pub, and it was hardly a conducive environment for a new family to bond and grow. But for better or worse, I know that Mal always wanted the best for us and that he truly loved my mum and did everything he could to make her happy. And for that alone I will always admire, respect and love him.