The Ultimate Sacrifice: Parting with The Collection
Band Photo: Pentagram (?)
To the diehard music fan, there is hardly an act more inconceivable than parting with The Collection. Most metal heads, those of us who still buy CDs, records, and even tapes, anyway, will pawn everything of value when times get tough, move back in with our parents, beg, borrow, steal, and take just about any form of mind numbing and depraved work imaginable to keep The Collection in our grubby, greasy little hands. Sadly, even this isn’t always enough, and in these economically turbulent and uncertain times, the hour inevitably comes when hard decisions must be made, and priorities must be put in order.
Take Arif Rot, vocalist of Singaporean grinders Wormrot, for example. Ever since the band was rightfully picked up by Earache, Asia hasn’t had a harder touring band and, as any touring metal musician will tell you, going on tour is a great way to go broke in a hurry. And when you come back home from a two-month tour, and only have a few weeks before you’re back out on the road again, who’s going to hire you on? It’s an endless cycle of temp jobs, friends’ couches, and, if a musician is hardworking enough to have created his or her own niche with a secondary skill set, irregularly paying freelance work.
Arif, it just so happens, is also a talented graphic artist who has been drawing up covers and t-shirt designs for some big names in the grind and death metal underground. But when more and more touring opportunities come up, opportunities that no band in their right mind would pass on, such as a European tour at the height of the summer festival season, one might have to do some serious soul searching to figure out exactly where The Collection fits into Maslow’s Metal Hierarchy of Needs.
This is exactly the conundrum Arif and his Wormrot comrades have come up against recently. A Euro tour, featuring the band’s return to the venerated grounds of Obscene Extreme 2012 in the Czech Republic, is on the horizon, but the band’s flight tickets to the olde country will have to be floated by the band itself. And so, with finances running light, Arif has done the unthinkable and yet completely necessary—he has taken to the online realm to part with the majority of his Collection to raise the money he needs to let his band do what it does best—grind the living hell out of writhing crowds of affable freaks.
This is both tragic and admirable. Tragic, in that a Collection takes a lifetime to complete. It’s a never ending process, and no two collections in the world have come together in exactly the same way, or hold exactly the same meaning to their owners. But it’s admirable in that Arif isn’t asking for a handout or donations. He’s just doing what he needs to do to get that money, without a word of complaint or self pity. I can’t say I’d handle it quite so well.
Another train of thought, brought to you by the digital age, is that losing the physical product is no longer a big deal. With USB turntables and cassette players, it’s possible to convert just about every medium this side of the 8-track to easily stored ones and zeroes on an external hard drive. So when the wolves do come snarling and gnashing at your door, at least you’ve still got the music itself, provided those lupine felons and repo men don’t make off with your laptop, too. But as any true fan will tell you, they want the whole package. The CD/LP/7 inch/cassette, the liner notes, the lyrics, the artwork. Double gate fold and limited edition digipack, gleaming as brightly as the day they were liberated from the shelf or dog eared and decayed, it doesn’t matter. All or nothing. Lose the package, lose the soul. The music is just as vital to the artwork as the artwork is to the music, and never the two shall separate in our eyes. This is the enduring power of The Collection.
For those of you who still might not be convinced, consider the case of Pentagram frontman Bobby Liebling. This is a man who has drank and drugged his way through much of his inexplicably long life, and only recently, by some accounts gotten his act together, relatively speaking. This likely has a lot to do with the fact that he now has a young wife he continually expresses his undying affection for and a baby girl to consider—a child he gushes over in interviews, and rightly so. The man now has another life to consider, other than his own. But there could be a bit more to it than this. The importance of family aside, what could have sent him on the path to sobriety—he, a man who had to have the degraded flesh of his own needle ridden arm surgically removed following decades of shooting smack, and whose sunken eyes belie a lifetime of god like crack cocaine abuse?
For this, we only need to view the short trailer for the new documentary, Last Days Here, which focuses on Liebling’s unsteady rise from the depths of addiction. In the preview, we see an emaciated Liebling signing an agreement, by which he puts in writing a deal which states that, should he relapse during his next attempt to kick the junk, a close friend will take permanent possession of Liebling’s own substantial Collection.
The mere fact that he would use this as a motivating factor to bury his mountainous, decades old habit is another testament to the power our alphabetized, randomized, and overanalyzed Collections can have over not just our idle hours, but our lives. In a lot of ways, metal heads and musicians in general are defined by what we listen to, for better or for worse. It becomes a deeply ingrained aspect of our personal identity, and to lose the Collection can equate to a loss of the self. That’s why giving up the Collection is, at least in my eyes, the Ultimate Sacrifice.
Joe Henley is a freelance music journalist and editor currently living in Taipei, Taiwan. In addition to pulling vocal duty in a death metal band, he maintains a website on the Taiwanese metal scene and writes regular features on the touring bands that come through Taipei for a local monthly music magazine.
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