Friday, April 22, 2011

Metal Musings

I was reading the autobiography of Dave Mustaine the other day (a bit of lighter reading instead of the verbose intellectual wankery I usually spend my time with). If you are into heavy metal, you certainly already know who Dave Mustaine is, and if you are not, then you probably don't care. So I'll keep it short: Mustaine is one of the founding fathers of thrash / speed metal, a very influential guitarist and songwriter in that genre. He was one of the original members of Metallica, but they kicked him out because of his drug use, his volatile behaviour and simmering band leadership issues. He then built his own "perfect beast", the band Megadeth, and has been very successful with them ever since. Although the fact that he was never quite as successful as Metallica caused him to go through extended periods of drug use and self-destruction, until he finally cleaned up and became a committed Christian (thankfully, he is not nearly as annoying with the "I found religion!" thing as one might fear).

I listened to a lot of metal as a teenager, and it is still a genre of music I like (I listen to a lot of stuff, from classical music to Nine Inch Nails). I am also one of the people who prefer Megadeth over Metallica, because I find their guitar work more interesting. So Mustaine's autobiography was a book I had been looking forward to, my first pure "leisure" read in a while. And it turns out to be a pretty good book. Many rockstar autobiographies are third-rate hack jobs, but this one is decently written (with a journalist named Joe Layden), suspenseful, and provides quite an in-depth look at Mustaine as a personality.

Here is an anecdote I want to share with you, because it raises an interesting point which, in a way, concerns our kinky community as well. In 1998, Megadeth were in the process of breaking up with their then-drummer Nick Menza. He had been part of their most successful line-up, the one which recorded their two favourite albums of mine, Rust in Peace and Countdown to Extinction. But by the late 90s, things just weren't working out anymore. They did not get along on a personal level anymore. Mustaine claimed that Menza was no longer focused on his job, that his drumming suffered. There were issues about money. All the usual non-sense.

Part of the problem seems to have been that Menza also operated an online porn site at the time. Mustaine writes:

"He should have abandoned all the side projects after we told him to narrow his focus and start taking his job more seriously. God only knows what Nick was thinking when he said he started an Internet business called NiXXXpix, featuring exactly the sort of content you might imagine. The World Wide Web was still the Wild West at this time, and I'm sure Nick saw dollar signs with this venture. I'm not averse to making money. I'm not even necessarily opposed to musicians banging strippers and porn stars on the road. But I do know one thing: I don't want to be associated with porno. Toss morality out the window for a moment, and consider it purely from a business and professional standpoint. Porn is the ultimate dead end for an artist. The public is more forgiving of drug addicts and criminals than it is of those in the sex trade. Career-wise, you just don't come back from it. When you go down that road, you don't ever go mainstream again. End of story."

The sad thing is, I think Mustaine is exactly right about the public being more forgiving of drug addicts and criminals than of those in the sex trade. If you are a rockstar, it is accepted, even expected of you to party hard, drink excessively, sleep with lots of groupies and smash hotel rooms. But if you have a business share in porn, that is crossing the line. If you are a celebrity going into rehab for the fifteenth time, or driving under the influence, or beating up your spouse and screaming at your kids, the mainstream media will eagerly follow your every move as if it was the most important news of the month. The Paris Hiltons, Charlie Sheens and Mel Gibsons have become the court jesters of our age, their antics looked on with sympathy and morbid curiosity rather than genuine outrage. But if you make BDSM videos, it means that you promote immoral debauchery and violence towards women, so you are an Evil Person! Even if you happen to be someone like Kaelah or me, living in a very loving, stable relationship, never taking any drugs and never recklessly endangering the lives of others with drunk driving.

Society has a strange set of priorities. Or, as the immortal George Carlin used to say: "People are fucking dumb!"

I guess one thing which made Nick Menza's situation even worse is the fact that he not only owned a porn site, he owned a gay porn site. This really is a no-no in the notoriously homophobic metal community (here's an addendum for our recent homophobia discussion). I guess there are also cultural differences, the divide between mainstream and porn being bigger in the US than it is in Europe. In Germany, an actress like Sibel Kekilli is still taken seriously as an artist and even receives prestigious film prizes after it was revealed that she once acted in pornographic films under the name "Dilara". This would be considerably more difficult in the US, I think. Former pornstars can be mainstream celebrities there, like Jenna Jameson, but they can't be serious artists. (On that note, if you are in the mood for a good foreign film, watch Gegen die Wand with Sibel Kekilli, English title Head-On.)

Personally, I have never subscribed to the dogma that there is an irreconcilable contradiction between pornography and art. I do not believe that a picture or film could not possibly have any artistic merits simply because it is designed to arouse. I think it is entirely possible to mix the two, and to balance them in different ways. There is artful porn, and there is trite porn. Most porn being produced is trite and only designed to make easy money. But this doesn't mean that it always has to be that way.

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