FAILING AT METAL
Flashback to 1994. I was 21 and an English major at UNIVERSITY, splitting time between a (worthless) Film Studies degree (Robin Wood Represent) and English Lit classes, but I was also a Commuter. Which fucking sucks for a trillion fucking reasons and you really might as well not even go to a major college at that point, because all this “social life” and “political awakening” shit that people spin about college like it’s some perennial fucking Bertolucci movie where you’re stapling anarchist proletariat posters and engaging in ménage a trios in a nonstop opium haze is all out the fucking window when you’re taking the PUBLIC TRANSIT down to campus like a total part-timer, making no friends and rocking some idiotic SURPLAS JACKET hanging at the library like it ain’t no thang while you’re really dying inside that Fucking Flounder is up at frat row motorboating sorority tits while you’re tucked in safe and sound in your family bedroom each and every night.
Through most of these horrible college years, I maintained a depressing-as-fuck job at the local supermarket, alternately unloading trucks or working the produce detail. And pretty much everybody there was like 15, 16, 17 tops, baggers and stock and the occasional paisley-shirt wearing cashier douche. All the guys my age had gone off to college and were ensconced in apparent Eyes Wide Shut fucking orgies where behind every dorm room door on campus lay another bacchanalia, but no, I had to COMMUTE and front like The Fonz come the weekend, pathetically rolling with some posse of high school Yinzer wiggers dipping Skoal Mint Bandits and Zubaz.
This was, crucially, the Grunge Era, the Voice of My Generation, Nirvana and Pearl Jam and Soundgarden creating these amazing sonic landscapes of the era that encapsulated the full Gen X malaise and ambivalence that ought to have touched my very soul…. But because I was an ABSOLUTE poseur, I was still carrying the torch for METAL! Truth told, I was always a Johnny Come Lately fucking douche fucking poseur fucking part-timer about music anyway, getting on board with like GNR not during Appetite but wholesale during USE YOUR ILLUSION, never listening to any Metallica before “One” then becoming Captain Superfan during “Black Album,” loading up on CASSETTES of MOTLEY CRUE not in appropriate 1985 but on campus at National Record Mart in like 1991 WAY past their original, pre-nostalgia prime. And working with this slew of high school doofuses throughout this era had me getting into “heavier” shit when I was surely a notch too old for it and concurrent with when the alternative scene that might’ve actually, you know, spoken to a 20, 21 year old college snob was at its fucking height. REM and RHCP and Jane’s Addiction and Lollapalooza and Rollins and Tool and Rage, ALL that incendiary stuff blowing up right around this time, changing the landscape…
Meanwhile I’m chew dippin’ in a ’79 Malibu and cartin’ around the fucking Class of ’95 with zero dignity, feeling On Top of the World (TM GOD HAGAR) when some rod dubs me off a TAPE of ‘Hell Awaits,” meanwhile I’m some MIDDLE PART DANZA-HAIR ITALIA-FRO DORK in POWDER BLUE DOCKERS roosting come daytime in Russian Lit class, whipping up an essay on Karamazov before bussing it home to catch a Danzig show. Yeah, SO fucking metal. Hey, Professor, let me hurry up and whip up this essay on Lord Byron so I can get to the Cannibal Corpse 45-capacity club concert.
So for a year or two I’m CAPTAIN CONCERT, browbeating whatever posse or dumbass 11th graders I can summon up to go catch these meathead club shows and the occasional mellower power-ballad-ass already-over HAIR METAL SHIT (Firehouse/Tesla at the Palumbo, WHO’S IN MOTHERFUCKERS, might be chicks????), but by third year of college, this act is wearing noticeably thin, and even the guys a year or two behind me had gone off to THEIR colleges. Some jerkoff I formerly knew as a TOTAL LOSER came back that past summer of 1993 at a Van Halen show bragging about getting some road head from a hot chick from his school, and sent me into a stratosphere of depression that haunts me to this day. Dude had been some megadork I’d condescended to prior, younger than me, now completely usurping my station in life.
All those guys a year or so younger had outgrown this fucking shit, but One Man Stood Alone, spraying Produce Lettuce come day, hitting up World Cinema 101 by night, and come weekend like Manero at the fucking Odyssey I was Walkmanning my BIOHAZARD CASSETTES and seeing FUDGE TUNNEL AT THE CITY LIMITS, only 21 years young but easily 4 years older than ANYONE in the room not in the band.
So the Show of Shows announces it’s coming to Pittsburgh, PANTERA/SEPULTURA/BIOHAZARD, this is some summer outdoor amphitheatre tour to celebrate Pantera’s FAR BEYOND DRIVEN album, which I had on a warped cassette and was air-guitaring mean-mugging in my bedroom mirror at roughly the age that Tom Cruise was shooting Risky Business and probably at that very same time Ben Affleck and Matt Damon were filming major Hollywood movies, but MR METAL had to be at THIS SHOW, THE MOST IMPORTANT EVENT OF HIS LIFETIME or so it seemed. The three greatest bands IN THE WORLD in 1994! To clarify, Pantera might be the awesomest shit in human history in retrospect, but for metal guys of a certain age it was a crucial cutoff dividing the ’80s old-school thrash guys who were age-appropriate to Metallica, Anthrax, Megadeth…. and the younger set of ‘90s roid-rage, shaved-head, meatball “kids.” And it’s never lost that ALL bands refer to their fans as “the kids,” because trust me, ain’t a lot of investment bankers and certified CPAs at a metal show. This was when classic thrash was splitting off into more hardcore new sound, and you either had the vintage stuff of four longhairs up their doing open E-chord speed riffs flinging their hair, or all this Pro-Pain, Biohazard, Madball stuff with shorter-hair mooks grunting and spitting and playing Drop-D in balls-stinking small rooms with your face unfortunately mashed into some asshole’s disgusting fucking back sweat. Pantera was like the new great hope to both bridge this gap AND keep metal going in the face of “alternative,” whatever the fuck that really meant. Now I could do a dissertation on grunge and alterna-rock with its detached lyrics and mopey tone and snide irony and shaggy-haired coffee-house dropouts in clunky glasses wailing with an earflap cap and nerd glasses and thrift-store cardigan, but to me it just seemed like a bunch of Sanka-stinking, rain-soaked assholes droning on about being a pussy, or something.
Whereas PANTERA BITCH and BIOHAZARD was about BEING A MAN, ranting about TRANSFORMING INTO A BADASS and OVERCOMING and BEING INDEPDENDENT, YOU CAN’T HOLD ME DOWN, ROWR, and other shit that should’ve at least seemed vaguely comical to an ENGLISH MAJOR and scholarly sort prone to wearing The Corporate Guy Collection to unload a fucking a watermelon truck. But, nah, I was somehow ALL about it in the face of absolute embarrassment, some HIDE UNDER THE UNIVERSE moment where I drew a HEMP LEAF on my hand in GREEN PEN and gleefully showed it off to some jailbait bagger chick at “work,” telling her I BELIEVE IN LEGALIZATION OF POT because Pantera had some ridiculous shit in their LINER NOTES about “joining the fan club being cheap so it doesn’t cut into your SMOKE POCKET” or some dumb shit like that. Just me being an ABSOLUTE POSEUR OF ALL POSEURS, hair all DORKED OUT with BOB-FROM-HALLOWEEN COKE BOTTLE EYEGLASSES fooling fucking NOOOOOBODY, having smoked pot like once, ever, when I was 19 with some rods who liked Rusted Root.
Anyway this JUGGERNAUT OF A TOUR is hitting The Burgh and I’m on the phone like fucking Shelley the Machine Levine, cold-calling absolute losers, high school kids, and even some prick in my EngLit courses at Pitt, trying to sell him on, “Hey do you like Brazilian death metal? This band Sepultura will be crazy!!!” (they’re not even death metal, btw) and the guy basically asking, “Uh, who are you again?” Anything or anybody to RALLY A POSSE to see this must-see event….for kids 8 years younger than me. Just absolutely NOBODY giving a fuck or anyone my age thinking this could possibly be up their alley, this NASCAR dude and future Republican I was boys with in high school, us out at the bar one night, both 21, him with his future wife and doing professional internships for his eventual lucrative career and me begging him to see METAL!, guy looking at me like Rob Cohen’s 1964 nerd posse must react to the news that Rob wants to hit the “dope-ass clubs” with the rice-rocket racers of 2002. Striking out across the board everywhere with everywhere, and got word that a younger cousin was going with his FULL CREW of other 16-year-olds. I couldn’t get USURPED on this matter by a COUSIN, I was MR. METAL. But I couldn’t quite tag along with them with any dignity, so I persisted, badgering EVERYONE who worked at my miserable grocery store job, finally CORRALING two of the least METAL! motherfuckers in the history of the globe.
Some Latter Day Saints-looking rodnozzle named TUPPERTY, glued-down middle part and Howdy Doody grin, rocking the SHORT-SLEEVE WHITE DRESS SHIRT-N-TIE look, and some big hillbilly fucking, chew-dipping oaf named BENEER, neither of whom had ever and I mean EVER heard of Pantera, or probably fucking Metallica or The Beatles or George Washington or even knew what fucking country we lived in. Just absolute Yinzed-out PA fucking hayseeds, just grinning like dumb fucks that some older kid asked them to roll to this concert where I promised there’d be girls, like ANY fucking chicks of any real discernment were at a fucking METAL SHOW in 1994; Guys were like high school seniors and had no clue about this scene or anything, but all I knew was I had two willing victims so I wouldn’t have to roll out solo to the OUTDOOR VENUE, some shitballs amphitheatre on the Ohio border called Star Lake. Where I’d seen such esteemed acts as Ozzy and Aerosmith and Vince Neil and Ugly Kid Joe not 12, 24 months before, but all those semi-likeminded “bros” had moved on to actual lives and, you know, GROWING THE FUCK UP.
So we’re in the PLYMOUTH RELIANT K-CAR and I think I’m trying to PRIME THEM for the MAGIC by blasting Pantera “Becoming” on the AUDIO VOX CASSETTE PLAYER, and Tupperty’s plugging his ears and Beneer’s just spitting Skoal dip into a Dr Pepper can in a daze, and my dignity’s flying out the fucking window faster than the Winston cherry that’s sparking out the driver window as I barrel down the highway, more excited than if I was gonna, you know, lose my virginity or something. Which I hadn’t done. But this was BIGGER THAN THAT.
We get there and I can LEGALLY BUY A BEER at this point in my life, and somehow I’m not even getting lit up for this experience, sober as a fucking judge and not even bothering to offer the BROS one on the sly, pretty fucking sure Mormon dude is ACTUALLY rocking the fucking TIE and white shirt at the Pantera show, the big lurch in a THREE-QUARTER LENGTHER softball jersey and mesh hat, we’re out on the LAWN part behind the seats, and I’m wondering where the ACTION is gonna break out, ie the PIT. I want FULL ON MOSHING for this shit, like real insanity moshing and KICKING ASS (ie jumping in long enough to duck the fuck out). These 2 dorks have never even heard this kind of music, and to be frank, other than some spazz-metal kids in the early 90s, NOBODY ON EARTH really knows, has ever known, ever will know who BIOHAZARD is, was, etc…. They come out dropping some URBAN DISCIPLINE and Tupperty’s contorting the same flummoxed mugging face John C Reilly pulls when Borat puts on the musette music in Talladega Nights, Beneer tries to nod along but looks horrified, and I’m WAVING MY HANDS like an absolute retard, yelling YAY BIOHAZARD in some reedy voice and reacting to this NYC club act like fucking Hendrix just came out of the ground from the dead Creepshow Father’s Day-style.
Somewhere around this point, my 16-yr-old cuz and his POSSE OF BADASSES roll through, each with a big-ass fucking beer and some CHICKS in tow, and I’m all MEAN MUGGING that stupid YEP METAL! FACE OF MANLY RESPECT at them as I pretend I’m totally not with the two fucking dorks from My Three Sons. Pretty soon the place gets more frenetic, probably when Sepultura came on, the pits inches over toward Tupperty and he recoils like he just caught a dick in his face, and my cuz and his boys hop the barrier into the seated section to bum-rush the front, where REAL PITS were breaking out RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE BAND. Like Beau Bridges getting Jeff Bridges’d, I’m seeing a family member SEIZE THE DAY and I won’t have this, will not be USURPED, so after some stewing I plan my escape. When the lights go down and Pantera’s about to come out, I’M HOPPING THE BARRIER TOO and leaving these two punching bags on the lawn.
These two fucking sorry fucking kids, at a show they didn’t care about, music they clearly hated, just trying to hang with MR COOL METAL MAN THE 21-YEAR-OLD, I leave them in the dust the split-second Pantera kicks in, rushing for the front but getting no further than the back row of SEATS, stopped by security (or probably some old fuck usher), ending up standing on a SEAT like it’s a Bon Jovi show the rest of the night, mooning from afar how the Real Action was up front, this huge pit breaking out before the stage, Phil from Pantera doing his crazy rants and bringing dudes up to smoke weed and browbeating some local Pittsburgh stripper into showing her tits (which seemed to take 45 minutes), and my cousin and crew are 7 feet from all this chaos, and I’m 20 yards back in THE SEATS, basically watching the show by myself for the next 2 hours, which I had gone to all these lengths to avoid. Even when it finally wrapped up for the night, I stood around like a douche waiting for AUTOGRAPHS – SCORE, I got the guitar player from Biohazard to sign a BUMPER STICKER! – still keeping those two rods I came with waiting….
Apparently they’d begged off to the parking lots HOURS ago, sitting there on the ground, arms folded, waiting in absolute boredom and misery, probably clutching their ears the whole time, one of them asking “Are you finally done?” My cousin’s crew popped by and one of them opined, ‘GREATEST NIGHT OF MY LIFE!” probably en route to fucking one of the chicks they came with, everyone there all boisterous and buzzed and drunk and happy and MY “posse” all depressed and hoaxed about it waiting for their ride home like I’m some suburban Griswold dad who just made his bored kids suffer some awful vacation they never wanted to take. Managing to get OWNED by “family” and push away “friend” alike, fucking embarrassing myself as always. And now 21 years on I still remember this shit as THE ONE TIME I SAW PANTERA!, this band that I was probably too old for, surrounded by a bunch of dorks I was too old to be hanging with, who couldn’t have fucking cared less, still managing to miss that precise mix of interest and likemindedness that it seems like everyone else but me can so skillfully navigate, me always the lone-wolf voyeur taking it in like the solo act I’m destined to always be.