Insane Or Indifferent: How Do We Define Our Relationship With Music?
If you are reading this, you are most likely a devoted fan of metal. I wouldn’t be writing this if I weren’t part of this crowd. This being the case, it’s safe to say we’ve had a conversation with somebody of totally different musical values. If this conversation took place at a concert, we might look down upon these people. Their insouciance is like a slap in the face. The term “poser” might even come up. This attitude definitely comes in the realm of elitism, but it doesn’t mean our experiences with music are better. Everybody has their own ways of interacting with music. Let’s look at a few of these ways.
Herd mentality is often a tool for survival. Since man is a social animal, love and acceptance are part of our hierarchy of basic needs. We seek community and strive to fit in, whether we’re true to ourselves or not. Looking like others you wish to impress becomes ideal. Fashion can be a driving motivator for the type of music someone likes. The music itself isn’t as important as finding acceptance.
Humanity may follow herd mentalities, but every person is an individual. We all have different DNA. Still, those with similar personalities and experiences (try banging to Slayer at age 85) may share listening habits. Some have a casual relationship with music. These individuals may only listen to music while conducting tasks such as cleaning house, driving or as background music at a party or concert.
If a song comes on the radio while driving, don’t expect a long conversation about discographies and band members. When asked what types of music or bands this person listens to, a typical response may include, “I like everything.” Often, this is a ploy to opt out of an unwanted conversation—ye ‘old fight or flight tactic.
Relationships do not hinge on sharing music, but can be difficult when they don’t, especially when a music fanatic pairs with a lukewarm listener. I remember a past girlfriend telling me that heavy metal doesn’t convey ideas pertinent to life. She obviously didn’t have the experiences necessary to make a connection. She made a judgment based on something she didn’t understand. Even though I grew up in a small town in Michigan where country is king, I still don’t understand or enjoy that form of music. I could have told her that country is a form of music for people without the intellect to grasp something below the surface, but I held my tongue and stayed respectful. However, this experience opened my eyes to our differences, differences that later proved irreconcilable.
Some people just don’t have the time to devote to music or just depend on visual stimuli to maintain their focus. I have a friend who loves music, but he can’t turn off the TV and listen. He needs visual stimuli, so videos are his passion. He loves taping VH1 Classic and owns a large library of DVDs and VHS tapes.
Somewhere between avid music lovers and ho-hum listeners are the people who like music for the beat. There is a basic primal rhythm to drum beats that urges people to move their bodies. Dancers find their movements fun, whether hardcore aerobic style or slow waltz, and again as a way to connect with others.
As you all know, even metal heads dance and seek to emulate what their community offers. Banging our heads, pumping our fists and running into people are ways metal fans “dance.” Our dance goes by many names—slam, mosh, pit, and encapsulates many styles. Metal dancing may be a way to project anger, to cause bodily harm and prove who the alpha male is. Depending on your personality type, you might want to avoid dancing with a skin head wielding cheek-gashing elbows. Pits also reveal good time moshers who steer fallen comrades out of harms way. It is a place to show off new dances (especially today’s younger crowd) and again gain acceptance.
The above examples are a small peek into the casual music listener. Now, let’s look at its counterpart, the music fanatic. The music fanatic can not get enough of music. Whether collecting or creating, these folks invest a good portion of their time and money into music. Sometimes this investment would prove better spent elsewhere, but the emotional investment is crucial.
What motivates someone to own thousands of records and CDs, especially when this person owns little else and has sparse storage space? Just the cost of buying furniture to house all of the media is costly in itself. With the onset of the digital age, a whole new discussion develops: What is the best hardware for listening to music? Again, lifestyle and personality come into the mix.
Metal heads who cherish having a physical product—cover and disc art and/or lyric sheet—will probably continue to buy, in lieu of space, CDs, tapes and vinyl. Part of this has to do with familiarity. Some of us grew up in a time before The Internet, and we cherish the products of our youth or just aren’t technology savvy.
In an interview I conducted with Max Cavalera, he recounted (off record) his experiences lugging CDs from airport to airport while on tour. He said airline staff looked at him funny and asked why he didn’t have an MP3 device. He revealed his reluctance to upgrade technology during a conversation about Cavalera Conspiracy’s Web site: He didn’t care about new technology. He said his son showed him how to turn on the computer. I’m not sure why he doesn’t like technology. I can speculate that he was comfortable buying or burning CDs and wasn’t ready to take the plunge into the digital age. This interview took place three-years ago, possibly Mr. Cavalera owns an I-pod by now.
Also, there is an issue of sound quality. A casual listener may not make the distinction between the sound quality of an MP3 and a compact disc. I have a friend who is a sound engineer and he prefers vinyl. Mobility also comes into play: One can’t strap on a record player and go down to the track. MP3 is ideal here, beating out the tape and CD in function over form.
Show Me the Money!
Money also factors into our relationship with music. The sound quality doesn’t seem as important to one who gets his/her music from the Internet for free or much cheaper than a record store. Money is a tricky motivator for musicians. On the one hand, the professional musician needs money to survive, but may struggle with creating art that is not true to his/her self. The rabid fan develops an emotional bond to a certain band or album, so when a musician changes his approach for money purposes, that fan may feel hurt. This person might call the band a sell out, even if the band is creating music from the heart, because that attachment has been severed.
Calgon, Take me Away!
Music is a means of escaping reality for some. The lack of acceptance of one’s community transfers into music. People engrossed in literature may use books for the same purpose. I will go out on a limb and say most of us who listen to extreme metal know the difference between reality and entertainment, but truly unstable minds might get their wires crossed. Music that elicits negative vibes can also act as a tool to project those negative energies into less destructive paths. Stephen King once stated he exacted revenge on those who did him wrong by killing them in print.
Just like casual listeners, avid fans seek approval from their peers. Music collections and wardrobes are all objects of affection. When musicians buy new instruments, they usually seek the approval of those in their social network (not just Facebook). Asking a question about musical preference can lead to a generic answer because the person may fear rejection. The person asking the question may use it as a measuring tool.
In no way can I possibly detail all the ways people react to music. I detailed a few examples from personal observation. Just because someone listens to metal doesn’t mean he or she has to fully embrace the culture. I have a friend with a collection of music several-thousand-albums deep. He has long hair, but never dresses in the typical metal fashions. He doesn’t want to be type casted. His skin reflects hundreds of hours of sitting in tattoo chairs, but these are all hidden under his clothes. He doesn’t want to be like the neck-tatted punk who has severely limited career options.
Come Together, Right Now
In the end, whether we like it or not, are relationship with music is usually mandated by the need to be wanted. A sullen teenager can sit in his room listening to music shunned by his community, but his existence will become much less painful when he finds someone with similar tastes. With the coming of the cyber age, the Internet has shrunk the world to the point where people can find others with the same musical values, even if this interaction is not physical. People (trolls) can also voice a harsh opinion about music they don’t like. They can do this without the threat of face-to-face confrontation.
I wrote this editorial without a specific lesson in mind. I’m not trying to preach to anyone. Overkillexposure wrote an editorial (“Metal Versus Society: A Vicious Cycle?”) about society’s perception of metal heads, which was a response to The West Memphis 3 gaining freedom. In the article, he mentions the attitudes and dress of metal lovers and how these things affect society’s perception. With this article, I sought to determine some of the factors that drove us into this lifestyle and why we sometimes condemn others outside of our circle and vice versa.
Darren Cowan owns and operates Louder Than Hell.net. He has written for several metal publications. An avid metal head for over twenty years, he has attended concerts throughout several regions of the U.S.
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