Holy shit. Nietzsche has this quote about the man that truly knows he is the alive is the sick man who has just become well. There are lots edible little genius bits within the Nietzsche aphorisms that are much better parsed into fun size, rather than read straight through like some kind of document that should be taking you to a place. A lot of Nietzsche’s writings are kind of labyrinths, and if you let yourself get drowsy, he’ll sneak out like a Teutonic Minotaur with syphilis, and then it’s goodnight Irene for all that learning you thought you were gettin’ on with.
So yeah–Looks like we’re back to being metal again. Now let’s get into some of these nuts and bolts I promised. Writing is a thing people do with tools, in rooms, in time. It’s not ephemeral and mysterious. Right now I’m sitting in Starbucks. I’m not a huge fan of Starbucks, but I tried to check out the new café that opened around the corner in the Art Deco building, and it’s one of those super tiny places with just like three tables and everything is all John Waters white from bleach and money. Not-gonna-do’it. THEN I walked down to this hipsters-on-opium place on La Brea that I sometimes use to avoid Starbucks, but it’s got a cardboard sign up about how they’re “temporarily” closed ‘til fall. Yeah, and I’m temporarily salty and long-winded.
So here I am in frigging Starbucks. I drink caffeine even though you’re not supposed to “use caffeine”, as a writer because you know what, it’s a lot better than “using” a fuck load of Jim Beam. Life’s a bitch and then you die. Here’s your fucking venti java chip.
The one benefit of Starbucks is that their internet is through this idiot pay service, and I refuse to pay for wifi at a Starbucks, so I can’t dither around asking people questions on aim, or opening facebook or going on BoingBoing. The bad news is then I write this in a word document, which really isn’t bad it’s just not what I’d prefer, and no Pandora, if that’s my jam at the moment. Instead I open iTunes on my very fancy macbook pro (thanks family!), type in “Judas Priest”, and click PAINKILLER to single song repeat. The fact that I live in a period of history that I’m not pounding this all out on a typewriter, and changing out the 8-track every half an hour is a miracle beyond speaking.
For me movies are music. If you’ve ever listened to “The Tarantino Connection”, an album of kind of some of the greatest hits, so to speak, of songs used in Tarantino’s movies, with a couple interview pieces of him and dialogue spots thrown in, you’ve heard the opening track about his process of getting started for a movie and how the movie itself burgeons out of choices around music. A song will spark an idea for a scene, etc. I glanced off of this before, but for me this is absolutely essential. Whenever I make a decision to embark on a writing project, I’m also committing to listen to a certain track or set of tracks hundreds and hundreds if not thousands of times. Projects have moods, and there is nothing that evokes mood like music.
Another German philosopher (I’m thinking Heidegger, but I’m probably full of shit) wrote about how music was the greatest art form, because it described the very will of man himself. I don’t even believe in will, but I agree with this general diagnosis. Whatever there is that makes man man, nothing puts a fire under it like music. Your cats don’t listen to Falco. But don’t you wish they did? Somebody write that movie. Anyway, music is essentially human, in the philosophic sense of essentialism. There is no function of music but to alter the human apparatus—fire us off in one direction or another whether it be the Dixie Chicks or Cradle of Filth.
When I was writing 17 DEAD ROMANS, a period horror, I listening to the songs of neo fire-and-brimstone folk-rock band Woven Hand over and over and over, specifically this six minute epic “Slota Prow-Full Armour”, that is kind of three seemingly unrelated songs in one, with lyrics in like Aramaic and English. The vision that this song evokes, of these Roman mariners rowing their trireme (boat) across the English Channel in the middle of this storm (contrary to popular film myth, Romans seldom used slaves to row their ships, because they are difficult to keep motivated), is so incredibly powerful and central to the movie. You can imagine it as that one big flat piece of LEGO “grass” that you sit down on the table and snap all the subsequent LEGO foundations onto. Everything depends on it being there, and it defines your shape, informs your style, and prescribes the scope of what you’re building.
And when it comes to music and scope, I tend to go up and big. Those of you that have had the interesting experience of traveling to big rock shows with me will attest, I often get kind of energy-drink-commercial at live events. Like triple cheese Dorito, crowd surfacing with a battle-ax, bloody nose and chugging a Code Red into it. I get Andrew W. K., to summarize it efficiently.
Why I’m like this is probably a topic for another time, but in any case, I’m not much of a fan of dinner theatre.
This project is a new animal for me, because it’s a long form project that features music as the center of the narrative. This is a movie about music, particularly Metal, and the way it integrates into the life of this Dude, and the other elements of media and technology, bla bla bla.
So in that I’m already very aware this movie is going to ask questions and give responses about what Metal is. What is it about? What is the point? Why is it not punk, how is it not goth, or rock, or trip hop. Also, I have to make choices about scope and reach out to people who are more knowledgeable than me on this subject (DCruz, Pretty Nick and Evil Jeremy, I’m looking at you). For anyone that thinks that Metal is a small subject, be learned this is actually a hydra with almost infinite heads. While I mostly listen to Power Metal (Judas Priest, Blind Guardian, Iron Maiden, etc), you can get started on Doom Metal, Thrash Metal, Death Metal, Speed Metal, Viking Metal, just as an opening course. To say metal is as wide open as to say hip-hop, it’s just that the central American culture isn’t bombarded with metal the way it is with Hip Hop now, so we don’t have the vocabulary. Moreover, what people call Hip Hop is more often than not actually some derivation of R&B, club music, dub step, hip hop influenced pop music, house or one of the ten-thousand permutations of rap that the hegemony similarly doesn’t bother learning.
In my experience, it’s best to define a short list of touchstones, elements that you define as essential references to the thing you’re creating, and to make that VIP area very exclusive. If we start with Painkiller and Judas Priest, we’re already inheriting a package of elements that are beginning to spring possibilities and avenues in theme.
The danger is, that whatever is in this little VIP room of inspiration holds tremendous influence. You can’t just take parts of it and ignore other huge elements. Let me explain. Here is a list of tags that I inherit with Painkiller by Judas Priest. Be aware this is not at all exhaustive:
Metal. Hypermasculine. Homosexual. England/United Kingdom. BDSM Culture. Armageddon. 1980s. Vinyl Culture. Hessian Culture. Heavy Metal Parking Lot. Guitar Anthems. Arena Rock. Queer Culture. Prophecy. Motorcycle Culture. The history of homosexual discrimination. Androgyny and genderbending. Band Politics. MTV. Nuclear War.
Does my movie have to be about all of these things? Of course not? Does it even need to include them or give them a nod? Still no. But the way I do things is empirical. It’s essential. The LEGOs all have to fit together, and if the dog’s head is a German Shepherd and the body is a Corgi, it’s just not going to catch Frisbees. Frisbees of delicious narrative. Ok, reel it in.
So which of these elements do I want, and which of them can I cast off? Looking at the list, I’ll tell you, about the only thing I’m even remotely considering dropping is Nuclear War. Because of the subjects of this movie, I can guarantee you there is going to be war, of an epic scale, but to make it modern eliminates the pomp and circumstance of it, the glory, and most importantly, the badass Mad Max outfits (Even Mad Max subjugated nuclear war by underwriting it as causing their apocalypse, but somehow not existing in it. You notice there is virtually no reference to radiation or fallout in the MMax series until Beyond Thunderdome, and then only marginally).
Things that are probably going to step more into the background though, I think you’re talking about MTV, the great short documentary Heavy Metal Parking Lot, and BDSM Culture, Queer Culture, and Band Politics could go either way. Already I see questions of homosexuality and masculinity being if not central, then playing as a large B-element. One of the many functions that subcultures provide are alternative definitions of gender roles. Some subculture hyper-emphasizes certain traditional gender performance, while others—particularly counterculture, tend to bend, juxtapose, or outright demolish normative performance. Think about the hot girl in the very very early London punk scene who everyone knew as just the hot chick in white makeup who drew on big cat eyes. She soon became Souxsie Soux of Sousxie and the Banshees, transforming into an icon of punk, goth, death rock with short, explosive black hair, and Cleopatra face paint. Is she less than feminine? Is she hyperfeminine? These aren’t answers that play easily into a spreadsheet.
In Metal, this is particularly stark, as evidenced no better than in Rob Halford. What constitutes “manly” and what constitutes “queer and decorative” is a question asked while standing on shifting sands. If you watch Heavy Metal Parking Lot, probably the most hilarious thing about it is seeing these redneck guys in Ohio, already hammered out of their minds on Budweiser, leaning on their Camaros, in FULL-PURPLE-TIGERPRINT-BODYSUITS!, pumping their fists, calling Halford “God”, and turning around to slap their acid-wash girlfriends on the ass. Looking back, it’s really kind of stranger than fiction. Twenty-some years later, who are these guys? Are they all homophobic mill workers? Surely not. But did they support Halford when the other three members of the band kicked him out for being gay, replaced him with a voice substitute, and went on tour? Did they support his next band, with the then-drummer, FIGHT? Did they buy his produced-by-Trent-Reznor band 2’s album about alienation and sexual deviance? Unlikely? Did they buy his solo comeback album when he was just “HALFORD”? Who knows.
Now Halford is back on a major final World Tour with Priest. How do you think those green room chats go down?
Now that I’ve devoted a large part of a post about this subject, does that make it the subject of my script? Not necessarily at all. Because I’m addressing it so heavily and so early, it’s obviously weighing on my mind as significant. I see my hero Dude as late 20s, straight, maybe not the brightest guy in the world. This guy is kind of Garth, in the real world, in 2012. What does it mean to be that guy? Where culture is now, it’s kind of a particular thing to be a metal dude in the broken open new millennium. Being white is getting marginalized, the middle class is shrinking, and metal is inherently a working class music (as the best music always is). The Little Depression we’re in is a great landscape for this guy’s story. How many opportunities are there for this guy? Is getting baked and playing WoW really his best option right now? Should escaping this paradigm be the lesson we’re teaching with this story? Does that even make sense? Is fighting on against adversity the story you have to tell, or is there a negotiated version that is better for him? Is there a nihilistic option worth exploring, or using as the antagonist?
The ice hasn’t hardened in my mind on all these issues. But listing them and asking them is itself the proper process for finding out and coming out with a powerful story in the end. Because we’re referring to Neverending Story, I feel close enough to that narrative that ending in triumph, in one form or another, is essential.
What triumph means and looks like, is a more manifold question.