I am not a heavy metal fan. I rank it just above gangsta rap and country music in my mental list of “least favorite music genres.” I tend to dismiss the songs as so much noise, much as a connoisseur on the other side of the spectrum would be dismissive of an operatic aria.
Perversely, my 13yo son is now a huge Metallica fan.
It’d be too easy to slip into the role of doddering father, shaking my cane and muttering “turn that crap down” and “kids these days” and “back in my day”, even though technically I’m pretty sure Metallica was “back in my day.” I’ve been humoring his excited explanations of why he liked certain songs. I’ve marveled at his ability during drum practice to capture the patterns of some of his favorites. I’ve been perplexed at his recall of song names, albums, lyrics, band member names as they’ve come and gone… these are from the 80s. I guess it’s the equivalent of if I had been a teenage fan of alternative 50s music — not Elvis Presley, but perhaps Tony Bennett or Mitch Miller.
(Of course, play a symphonic piece and I can almost certainly name whether it’s from 100, 200, or 300 years ago, if not the composer and the piece itself, but I digress…)
Today he played me “Spit Out the Bone” on the way home from soccer practice. As I was adjusting to the percussive assault on my brain, he explained the lyrics and the post-apocalyptic man vs robot setting. He pointed out how Lars Ulrich is achieving those sounds from the drum set, and the different “fills” involved. He mentioned it’s from a recent album rather than something from the 80s. He noted the patterns and rhythm and how there’s actually some music and chord structure going on. That evening I read up more on the song. I learned about the philosophy of transhumanism which is, to some degree, advocated by the song’s narrator, implying criticism by the band given that said narrator is trying to convince humans to give themselves over to technology and essentially commit suicide. It’s commentary on our smart watches and faces buried in iPhones and desire to stay plugged in all the time. Given that context, the music makes sense, and I understand the emotion behind it. And suddenly I have a glimpse as to what a lot of heavy metal is about, and why it’s music, and why he likes it.
In short, I got a music lesson from my son. That was awesome.