Friday, August 06, 2010

The Comforts of

What a strange dude I am.

On some level - the public level - I'm all for social responsibility in the arts. It's a shtick I've plied many times as a music journalist, for instance probing Lemmy's fascination for war and his collection of Nazi memorabilia (some of the best stuff I got from him only ran in Germany, by the way - like the stuff about how Lemmy owns some of Hitler's cutlery...). When talking with Bison BC, I've made a point of delving into the social subtexts of their songs, with the band obligingly helping me show how socially responsible they are - talking about the Wendigo as a model for addiction and powerlessness in the face of inward compulsion, for instance. I've decried albums by Fear, the Bad Brains, and the Descendents for their homophobia, called Antiseen on their racism, and on this blog, I've publicly criticized films like 28 Weeks Later or the recent remake of King Kong for their unacceptable, politically backwards aspects (constructing an argument in defense of collateral damage, in the first case, and toying with a very strange kind of racism in the second). I even found myself at least partially convinced by Robin Wood's rather famous attack on the films of David Cronenberg, in the OOP The Shape Of Rage, in which he argued that many of Cronenberg's films must be cited as sexist, homophobic, and reactionary. I am generally happy to wrap myself, as a writer, in the flag of liberal righteousness and condemn that which offends me...

...yet at no time do I do justice to the fact that I *love* Lemmy's war songs, that I positively revel in Bison BC's tales of backwoods Canadian cannibalism and possession, that I still sometimes listen to Fear, the Descendents, the Bad Brains, and even Antiseen... or indeed that I still own DVDs of 28 Weeks Later and King Kong (and several films by David Cronenberg, including Shivers, high on Wood's hit list). I do have limits, but I have to confess - I'm attracted to violent art. I crave the strong stimulation it affords and the provocative questions it raises (like, "geez, I enjoy this, but... is it okay?" Or perhaps, "Is this morally acceptable, and where can I get more of it?").

Liberal hypocrite that I am, then, now that I've returned to listening to metal, it makes sense that I would eventually find my way to the music of Cannibal Corpse.

Before we proceed, if you're unfamiliar with Cannibal Corpse, you really do need to check out a few of their lyrics. Take, for instance, "Necropedophile" ("Violated after death/ Virgin hole I infest/ Anal pore spewing cess/ The sacred juice I injest/ Your dead child I defile/ Necropedophile"). Kind of clever how lyricist Chris Barnes "softens" any objection to his writing about pedophilia by emphasizing that the kids were dead to begin with - because fucking dead children is a whole different matter if you didn't kill them first; but he goes there, too, for instance in "Gutted," off their very popular second album, Butchered At Birth, with its references to a "little torso ready to be cooked... just another gutted infant/ To satisfy his hunger." "His" hunger? Not "my" hunger? Well...

...But if children just aren't your thing, though, how about some violence against women? Try "Fucked With A Knife" or "Stripped, Raped and Strangled," say - or maybe "She Was Asking For It," all three songs off the same album, The Bleeding - their last with original vocalist and primary lyricist Chris Barnes. After Barnes left/ was ejected, we entered the marginally less revolting George "Corpsegrinder" Fisher period, where I don't think any children get killed; but there are still all sorts of extreme and politically unacceptable images in their songs - check out the video for "Decency Defied," say, about a serial killer with a fetish for skinning tattooed women. Still, violence against women in Cannibal Corpse 2.0 is tempered with more songs about men being mutilated and killed, and sometimes the band even gets cute about it all (as in "Headless," where a man who plans to decapitate a woman ends up finding himself "ironically" decapitated instead). They even start to have a few arguably politically progressive moments, as with "Rotted Body Landslide," a close-up depiction of the horrors of genocide, and write some songs that are actually kinda funny - as with "Dismembered and Molested," which almost has a singsong quality to it that makes it hard to take the band quite so seriously ("Sever the limbs/ Decapitate/ Yank out the teeth/ Then masturbate/ Pounding the face/ Ejaculate/ My darkest needs/ I satiate..."). Most of the lyrics are sung in a buffalo-throated, "death vomit" voice, as goes with the territory of death metal, so you can only pick out the odd word - less so when Barnes was the singer - but it doesn't matter, really: there's not really any point in asking whether the words to Cannibal Corpse songs are "okay," from a liberal point of view. If they were, the band would be doing something wrong.

Anyhow, if I'm going to hold bands like Cannibal Corpse accountable from a liberal standpoint, surely *I* also should be held accountable for owning eight of their albums (because since I stumbled onto Gallery Of Suicide in a used CD shop last month, I've acquired more and more of them, picking up Butchered At Birth, Tomb Of The Mutilated, Vile, Gore Obsessed, Worm Infested, The Wretched Spawn, and Evisceration Plague. It's about all I want to listen to, these days, actually. I even grabbed the dizzyingly complex Alex Webster math-rock side project, Blotted Science, and the Cannibal Corpse 3-DVD history, Centuries Of Torment, watching all the interview footage the first two nights of my owning it). Nothing cheers me up on my long commutes like listening to their grunted, bellowed vocals about mutilation and death. I can't flinch from it - I really, really enjoy Cannibal Corpse, even at their most repulsive. Can I possibly defend my fondness for this band?

I'm going to attempt to.

1. Men, more than anyone, are filled with pent up energies that cannot be released or expressed in normal life, being expected to master themselves so that they can function responsibly in the workplace or as adults. I don't know about y'all ladies, but from the moment I leave my apartment, whatever my drives and urges might be, I'm constantly required to reign myself in and to express myself in a social responsible manner. I have to watch where I put my feet to not crowd anyone sitting in my compartment of the train. Lest I make anyone uncomfortable, I have to be sure my eyes don't wander too obviously to check out the female flesh around me (which can sometimes be difficult, if, say, someone sits across from me in a short skirt, her thighs showing; there are strong desires to NOT do the socially conscionable thing, which I must repress). I must keep an eye out for the elderly, for children, for the infirm or challenged or what-have-you, to offer my seat if need be or assist them. Some part of me feels I am expected to intervene in the problems of people around me, to be a responsible, socially-minded male, so I have to maintain a certain degree of vigilance at all time - in case someone needs a hand with heavy lefting, say (or at least someone female, elderly, youthful, infirm - anyone but another able-bodied man; fuck him, he's a guy, he doesn't need help!). Or maybe there's an altercation or failure to communicate that I feel I have to intervene in; sometimes, as a responsible male, if shit is going down - and there's no one else around in authority - you find yourself in that position, suddenly drafted to act as cop, soldier, authority figure, even if you're shit-scared and want no part of it...
Hell, I may even have to engage in polite chatter with people, if they catch me before I can get my headphones on and start the Cannibal Corpse playing; God knows I don't WANT to chat with most of my fellow commuters, but they sometimes want to chat with me, and I must treat them civilly in such cases. Between the train station and work, I have to dodge panhandlers - restraining my pity, guilt, rage and revulsion - and the varied stresses and insanities of city street life to make it on time to my workplace, where the expectations on me amp up even more: I have to spend hours of my day considering the feelings and needs of coworkers, managers, students, and so forth, until I get to commute back home. If someone, God help me, manages to piss me off during the course of my day, being an adult male means having to process my emotional responses and choose judiciously among them. I cannot afford to unleash myself, normally. Any irritations that I do encounter are often borne home at the end of the day, sometimes continuing to nag at me. And just as anger or any violent urges must be suppressed during the course of the day, so, generally speaking, must any sexual thoughts and/or "taboo" impulses should they flicker through my brain. (Hell, sometimes it's a challenge to even fart freely).

2. Unfortunately, once I'm home, responsibilities don't cease. Many men have to look out for their families, their wives, their children, what-have-you; I have to look out for my Mom - to make sure we have a plan for dinner, to make sure she has the groceries she needs, to keep her company, and occasionally do paperwork and read her mail to her. Once again, mastery of self is required; since she is a sensitive woman who, on some level, feels guilty that I am devoting so much time to her, I cannot even begin to allow myself to show signs of frustration or impatience when I'm with her. It's not really that difficult - somehow, since my father's death and the pain in its wake, I do a much better job of being a loving, caring son - but sometimes I do get irritated, for example, when she has ignored her doctors' advice and worn restrictive stockings, which are very bad for her circulation, or has "forgotten" her diabetes and stocked up on chocolate bars... I have to watch myself at those times. And sometimes I do still miss my life in the city, regretting the remove I am at from friends, shows, my job... To some extent, any such feelings I have are irrelevant, however, only interfering in my being who I must be, as dictated by my responsibilities; I might be allowed to indulge them freely on my own, but when I'm with my Mom, I have another role to play, and must devote myself to it.

3. And my responsibilities don't end with work and family - they continue into my sex life, too. I was raised under the umbrella of 1980's feminism, which, in its most extreme manifestations, seemed to hold that men are fundamentally all rapists or potential rapists, to be regarded with great mistrust, and on some level, I'm probably still compensating for the male-bashing sentiments I was exposed to, trying to be a "sensitive," socially responsible guy when I get together with a woman. Even if all I want is to fuck & run, I don't want to be like the sleazy, weak men I've seen who manipulate their way into women's beds, use them, and then slink away; and I certainly don't want to be some thuggish brute who abuses his lover and thinks only of his own pleasure. In particular, those latter stereotypes of male behaviour - aggressive, phallocentric, dominant, unconcerned for female pleasure - were pounded into me through my formative years, even though most men I know - exposed to the same stereotypes - try TOO hard to take care of women, do TOO much for them, are TOO devoted, TOO kind, TOO subordinate, TOO concerned with being "sensitive" and "caring," sometimes getting walked all over - or taken utterly for granted - as a result. I think its fair to say that in terms of sex and relationships, at the moment, culturally the balance of power is definitely with the women. The man generally has to do all the work to attract the attention of the female, is still often expected to pay for her and be chivalrous, is expected to take care of her emotions and be attentive to her needs while still seeming masculine and potentially attractive - not always an easy shtick to pull off. But while men are being encouraged culturally to be and do all these things, women are being encouraged to be ruthless, aggressive, "you-go-girl" pirhanas, told to assert themselves, to demand the best for themselves, to think primarily of themselves, their pleasure, their careers, and so forth, and to feel no guilt over treating men badly. I've been with more than one woman who ran over me with no concern at all for my feelings or needs, and there are lots of women I pass on the street these days who just seem like vain, cold, self-involved bitches. It's no easy thing to try to find someone I want to be with, given the options... It's not a great time to be a man...
4. ...And with exposure to a certain amount of identity politics, the need to be a responsible human being extends itself even into my consumption of art and entertainment - or into my very inner life. As I mention above, there is a lot of art that I do enjoy that I feel politically conflicted about - another case in point would be Gaspar Noe. I found both Irreversible and I Stand Alone fascinating, exciting film experiences, but the violence against women in both films, and the somewhat poorly buried homophobia in Irreversible, made them just too politically uncomfortable for me to want to experience them again. I feel compelled to police my viewing, my thoughts, my feelings: are they politically acceptable? Socially responsible? Mature? "Good for me?" This seems to be happening more and more, with identity politics and the requirement to speak and act responsibly all the time finding their way into the world of music, film, comedy, cartoons... Especially if you're a white male - the symbol of the oppression of non-whites and non-females, the face of the "master race" of yore, however disempowered you may personally feel yourself to be - you have to watch what you do, say, think, feel, and are, pretty much all the time...
...and frankly, all of this gets fucking exhausting. The end result of my manifold feelings of responsibility to basically everyone around me and for the political implications of everything I feel and want - even what you EAT is politicized, these days - is that at the end of every day, there's a swirling cesspool of tension in my mind, heart, and gut, stemming from whatever unpoliced desires that arose from my id during the day, whatever unsatisfied emotional needs, unidentified frustrations, and various stresses that I have not had the time or energy to process as I leap from one responsibility to the next... There's so much in me that I haven't been able to let out or even properly feel that I feel kind of numb, alien to myself, unalive, a beaten, emasculated function of the needs of others - a function of society. It's a hell of a way to be - self-mastery as self-castration, a would-be wolf held accountable to the standards and norms of sheep...
Cannibal Corpse is phenomenally useful as a remedy for this condition. They don't just stimulate and excite, with their fast, techincally complex, often aggressive music; with their art and their lyrics, they dig into the id, into the gut, into the taboo and the debased and the dangerous, and create a space where no desire, however horrifying, however violent, however socially repugnant, is inexpressible, where "responsibility" is a meaningless term and freedom of desire and expression reign supreme. Ripping out guts, smashing in faces, defiling corpses, revelling in gore - its the antithesis of my daily life, the absolute mirror image of the kind of adult I have become, and somehow, being allowed to embrace and express and even revel in the saturnalia, at least in my daily listening, is a profound relief, stimulating, liberating, relaxing and strangely healing. It allows me to maintain my inward sense of identity, to assert my difference, to voice a small roar of protest as I go about my day that no one else can hear or be troubled by: because otherwise, I would be just another blank-faced commuter, another soul-dead jobbo, a middleclass, middlebrow mediocrity taking care of everyone but himself. ...And who takes care of me? Cannibal Corpse. I think their music is, in fact, socially useful, making it easy for men in my position to lance this swollen boil of tension and let the pus out, the better to maintain our responsible social roles the next day, knowing that at the very least, in our souls we are free; intuitively - even as I try to hide the cover art and song titles from my fellow commuters as I read along with the song lyrics, lest I disturb someone - I think its very, very good medicine for me.

.... unless I end up going on a kill crazy rampage, crushing people's heads with a hammer and playing with their brains, say. Were I to end up there, I think it would be safe to say that Cannibal Corpse were a bad influence. I guess we'll have to wait and see...!


SolarFlares said...

Great read. Good to see you're still at it.

Black Flag, Pig Destroyer, Merzbow et al have fulfilled the same function for me over the years....extreme music is a pressure valve. If you're smart enough, that is.

It's kind of like video games: GTA IV is a ton of fun on a bad day: drive around armed to the teeth and fuck shit up, or games like Manhunt where its transgressive nature is part of the experience. That said, I wouldn't want my kids playing it. Hell, I wouldn't want some adults playing it.

Anyways, most death metal is harmless, but at the same time, you put that or video games or a tube of airplane glue or whatever into the wrong pair of angry hormonal hands, and who knows what they'll do in the garage and even post on the internet. But that's the case and not the rule. Fucked-up kids are fucked-up kids. They don't need extreme music's permission.

Linked you on my music blog along with my two cents btw.

Demut said...

Dude, since you don’t own it yet, you have to check out their album “Kill”, a monument of brutality. Speaking of that, why don't you check out Brutal Death Metal next? I’d recommend the band Cephalotripsy for starters :B