Metal Battles and Traffic Jams

Hard Lines, Sunken Cheeks

One weekend a few months ago, I made plans to visit my Dad at his place in the outer suburbs of my city, about half an hour away from me. Being the procrastinator I try hard not to be (but unfortunately am on lazy Saturdays when no work needs doing and I just want to sit in the sunshine and write), I left at 11.45am in order to pick him up at midday. The main road from my house to the highway was moving slowly because of the abundant number of fellow Saturday drivers. This was compounded with the eighteen thousand sets of traffic lights that punctuate the relatively straight run towards the city’s west, like unnecessary semicolons; in an otherwise flowing sentence.

At around the quarter way mark, I was perched up in the fastest-moving right hand lane and I cranketh my iPod via the radio on my shitty twenty-year-old speaker system. Everything sounds harsh – simultaneously tinny and bassy – through these ancient Magna artefacts. There’s no point in listening to beautifully layered and complex compositions through them because the EQ is non-existent, and all nuances are lost in the crude translation of my speakers. Early hardcore with down-tuned guitars or filthy black metal or balls-to-the-wall thrash are adequate though. Sure, it’s not the ideal way to listen to anything, but through a five year process of trial and error I’ve surmised that the only shit that sounds halfway decent in my car is dirty, hard and heavy rock and roll. I proceeded at a slow crawl along this congested track thusly, skipping anything too complicated and letting loose all that was raw enough to take the narrow range of my speakers.

Early Mastodon was crackling through my car when I noticed him. He was in the car in front of me and it appeared as though he kept looking back at me through his rear and side mirrors. As a paranoid type, I dismissed the thought for a little while. However, I was soon certain that he was in fact looking at the blood red Slayer sticker dripping down my front windscreen. I observed him beginning to jerk his head and drum upon the steering wheel, throwing a sly cymbal crash out the window every now and then with his invisible stick. He then started headbanging in a form that my Brother in Hell and I have termed ‘old-school anger thrashing’.

My Brother and I are both fond of any old-school headbanging style, and oftentimes we have admired Metal Lords at gigs engaging with the musical assault with such direct, intense and no-frills approaches. My Brother is old-school himself, favouring dramatic power stances and a rotational direction of the neck for maximum windmilling of the hair, one fist usually held aloft unyieldingly to penetrate the air. I’m more of a mover and shaker, letting the energy take me where it will – sometimes front and centre of the pit to absorb the band’s stage presence from close quarters, or rarely up the back to take in the atmosphere of the gig holistically, but usually in and amongst Sisters and Brethren in the pit – thrashing, jumping and fist-pumping proudly, furiously banging the head on the end of my long and sinuous neck in triumph.

As I observed this fellow Metal Lord in front of me, he took his hair from out of his ponytail and shook it out brazenly (all the better to headbang with, my dears). I was amused no end, watching him lock into whatever song it was that he was cranking. I wondered what it was that was causing him to move so joyously. Whilst I understand the principals of ‘each to their own’ and other similar Crowley-type rhetoric, I must confess I am a fairly judgemental cunt when it comes to metal. Fortunately, I love most styles and can appreciate everything from the most serious of Opeth to the most ridiculous of Manowar. Yet I do draw lines, and respect has been lost by many an otherwise cool person simply by talking enthusiastically about music that I deem shit. Was this guy as legit as he was making out, or was he wasting valuable thrash energy on unworthy offerings?

To find out, I snuck into the left lane and crawled up beside him, turning my own music down. Luckily, his passenger side window was open and I could clearly discern Meshuggah’s Bleed blaring out of his far superior speakers. This was good; all was right with the world and this Metal Lord was okay in my book. His song finished just as Darkthrone’s Witch Ghetto clicked over on mine. I cranketh, and Fenriz’ dirty voice carried past me and to the ears of Metal Lord next door. He looked over and nodded his approval and we both sat, silently thrashing as we waited for the lights to change. I could see him fiddling with his console in preparation for his next turn. His selection was Pantera’s Cowboys From Hell – a classic and decently heavy song, even if a somewhat obvious and safe choice for a Metal Battle. Nonetheless, I nodded in appreciation and we listened to it the whole way to the next set of lights.

What was I going to do next? Nothing cheesy. No fucking around. As I skipped through each iPod suggestion in anticipation of Dimebag’s last solo, I was getting worried that Anselmo’s final “oorgh!” was closing in. However, relief and pride filled me as Amon Amarth rode into battle to save the day, swords blazing With Oden On Our Side. I glanced next door and Metal Lord was clearly as pumped as I. We sat there in unity, headbanging appreciatively on that hot Autumn Saturday, separated by metal vehicles, yet united by a love for metal that is true and good.

Soon, a gap in the traffic appeared and I burned off down the road opportunistically. As I looked back in my rearview mirror, I saw that Metal Lord had thrown me the horns and I returned in kind, saluting a worthy metal brother with the triumphant sounds of Viking bloodlust and violence renting the air.

Defender Of The Faith  – 19.09.12

Dystopian Somniantes

Gaping Maw

Over there, a different way to change the path we tread
A system of the fake and numb: deus ex machina reviviscente

Enter now this smoky sphere – a twisted, broken maze
Forget the one you were before. Forget the younger days

The yellow sun is dirtied by the smoky lens of dawn
The amber mist at break of day turns grey when work is born

Horizon is irregular and light dies fast on land
Shorter days are measured with an artificial hand

Blocks of concrete all around – impervious (it seems) –
Divided into tiny cells hold even smaller dreams

The free, the young, the careless lives grow older day by day
Beneath their immortality is an an aura of decay

Empty vessels orbiting a false and fetid sun
Seeking; drawn to one same core, the armies merge as one

Light and noise and burning fuel raise a cone of power
Such strange abuse of Nature’s gifts returns a noxious shower

Where the tree? the bird? the beast? Expelled by bed of steel
With cover over Earth’s soft skin She cannot breathe or feel

Mine the Water, herd the fish – a new god rules them all
No Moon or tides shall govern them; the glass shall block Her call

The Water churns our offerings inside Her briny womb;
Sucking in our dirty waste and spitting back the fumes

(Thunder in the Ocean, rolling in the waves
Tumble round the foaming whorl in underwater graves)

Reused, return from drowning pool, break down with other lives
They live too long and then too poor by thieving, greedy knives

When dirty dreams and veiled intent present as what they’re not,
This squalid square of measured points boils in its own rot

(To live and breathe such false surrounds will surely kill your light.
Your soul will fester in the place where all life enters night.)

Barely living, blank of mind, crave the ways before
Remembering a different time when life meant so much more

Defender Of The Faith – 10.04.04

(When I was nineteen, I was viciously assaulted in my home town by a gutless prick and put into hospital with severe facial injuries. I escaped to the city the next week to spend time with family. I wrote this during my stay; it is a reflection of my internal state as well as my physical environment at that time. Eight years on, I now live in that city…and I often still feel this way.)

Writing About Art Is Like Talking About Music (which is apparently like dancing about architecture)

I have drawing on the brain

A few months ago, I enrolled in an art course called Acrylics for Beginners. I had really wanted to do an oil painting course because I have never used them before, but alas! the oils course wasn’t running that semester. I thought, “Fuck it; I’ll just start here.” I am no beginner of acrylics, having used them extensively throughout high school and sporadically beyond, and I have had my work exhibited – but it has been a while. For the last few years, I’ve been moving around a lot to different towns, different states and even different countries. If I wasn’t half-arsed about painting before I began my wanderings, my nomadic existence became the most convenient creative cop-out. Money-wise, it just wasn’t feasible to buy new materials wherever I hung up my hat, and it has always been highly impractical to bring it all with.

However, I was never willing to break up with art completely. So instead of painting, I started drawing. It is much easier to create art with whatever is at hand – scrap paper, pens and pencils – than to set up paints and canvas, brushes, water and drop sheets whenever one gets motivated, because there is no time for the inspiration to be diluted. Drawing is truly a portable art form. I have drawn at the beach, in the bush, in the mountains and in cities; antisocially at peoples’ houses and at cafes; in buses, cars and trains, on trams, ferries and planes; on my way to and fro gigs; in work breaks; when I had nothing better to do and especially when I had ‘more important’ things to do. It’s even been a cheeky little icebreaker at times.

In the beginning, I never thought of myself as a good drawer (whatever that means). In fact, I had the idea that I could be a decent painter, but because I never had the time/space/money to get stuck into it I would never fulfil my potential. This is because it is practise, and not proclivity, that makes perfect. In hindsight, I would say that I’ve always had wonderful – wondrous! – ideas, but travelling was the perfect excuse to not even try to execute them. Drawing, however, became my foil. The ideas that I have can be quickly and basically outlined by pen or by pencil, and it is far less heartbreaking to screw up on scrap paper than it is to fuck up a pristine canvas. Yes, canvases can be painted over, but not without a prequel of guilty hesitation. Paper can be ripped up and recycle-binned without remorse.

And, may I say? That while I was apparently wasting my ideas on pissy little doodles, I accidently got pretty good at it. And by good, I don’t mean that I can draw objects realistically from memory or even by looking at the object and copying every detail. I can’t. Anyway, that’s what photography is for (which is what I started telling myself as a balm for my frustrated ego with such failed lofty goals). By good, I mean that I became proficient in manifesting on paper the pictures that swim around blindly in the deep dark grottos of my mind. Quite by accident, I discovered how much I love lines and shapes, negative space and suggestion, patterns and repetition, anomalies and deviations. Each drawing is an artistic fugue, with every line adding a more interesting layer and building the picture up, variation by miniscule adaptation. Straight up drawing, without worrying about materials and the ritual of setting up and planning and packing up and cleaning, for me, is true psychedelic art. Etymologically, the word psychedelic means “mind-manifesting” and so it goes with me – the pictures in my psyche are quickly projected onto paper. Whilst my drawings are a long way from photorealism, they do turn out exactly the way I want them to. There’s a giddy kind of freedom in that for perfectionist cunts like me.

I still surprise myself. I will start off with an idea; something that I’ve previously glimpsed and then gestated in my verdant imagination, that suddenly expresses itself in a dream or a vision or some other altered state. I’ll feverishly put down the lines and the shapes that suggest the image that I hold in my head, and I just keep at it until I’m smug and satisfied. Sometimes it turns out approximately the way I’ve visualised it, but more often than not it grows into a better version that I never could have imagined. I’m always amazed with the product:

I did that? Fuck off!” The astonishment is not with the level of shit that swarms my headspace; more so the fact that the execution always fits. It’s a fucking grand old feeling.

And while I’ve grown to love my drawings, I’ve felt for some time that some important thing has been missing. I’ve secretly been yearning for something to bring this up to some next-level shit. I live and breathe beautiful colours and textures; anybody who has seen even a tenth of my dressups can attest to this. Coloured pencils just don’t cut it. They’re too soft or too streaky or too unpredictable in their texture. And while texta is pretty decent compared with pencils, there’s no subtle blending allowed. It’s all solid blocks or nothing, which is comparable to art fascism. That’s fine sometimes, but the shit that comes out of my imagination is too intensely layered to be represented in colours that are just this or only that. In-betweens and fade-outs and subtleties and fierce vibrant rainbows are more fitting embellishments for my style.  My forays into colour thus far have been tentative and cowardly at best. Some things I am happy enough with, but most I feel could have been achieved more beautifully in a richer, more pliable medium…such as oils! And here, in my roundabout way, I have come full circle.

I moved to this city six months ago with the intention of staying at least a year – an intention I have not had for a few years now. I moved out of my ghetto beach shack in early 2010, and I’ve moved residences a lot since then. I slothed on Mum’s couch for a bit, then I moved out bush, then back to the beach and on friends’ couches for a few weeks, then I lived in hostels in London, a huge share house in Brixton, back to the coast and on Mum’s couch again, then briefly at my Auntie’s house in the west, and here I am in [insert city name here] – a set of keys, suitcases unpacked, a real-enough bed, and a door that closes on my own room. The gypsy lifestyle was awesome while it lasted (and I must confess I still yearn for the open sky, where my roots are firmly planted) but it is nice to have a place that I know I’ll be at for longer than a few months. Here we go! Did I just accidently take you on another revolution? I hope you’re not too dizzy by now, and you have my utmost gratitude for staying with me on this literary merry-go-round.

I decided to start painting again – seriously this time. But a few weeks and then months went by and I hadn’t yet made room in my busy life to splash around in paints. One day I walked past my local art supplier and picked up a brochure for art classes, and the Oils for Beginners course caught my glittering eye. After enquiring within as the text requested, I learnt that the oils class would not be running that semester. So, I had two choices: I could wait nine weeks or start a different course straightaway. And so, I chose the acrylics course, knowing full well that I otherwise wouldn’t put brush to palette in that two-month interim. The class was on one evening per week for two and a half hours per session. At the time I started writing this, I had just finished my final class and although it wasn’t anything revelatory, I was actually painting again on a regular basis! The exercises were basic tasks: playing with tones, shades, lines and composition; mixing colours and using different mediums; and interpreting masterpieces, still life, landscapes and painting from photographs. It was a decent socialising date too. There were some lovely characters in my class and at the end of my solitary research days it’s nice to have a yarn and interact with flesh and blood for a while. Most importantly though, it was a time and space in which I had done what I had wanted to do for such a long time. I work well within the boundaries of vague routines; ‘a time for everything, and everything in its time’. And, regardless of the exercises that I would not have attempted if left to my own devices, it was fucking nice to just put some colour down again – to defile holy white canvii with maniacal brush strokes.

Now I have the background trout out of the way, I am going to get to the point of this. This is a story about wishful thinking and blessed synchronicity and good things coming to those who wait work and happily ever afters.

A few Sundays after my last art class, I was down at my local markets buying my weekly food the way it should be bought – direct from the farmer, fresh, organic, in the open air and with the lonesome sounds of a proficient blues slide guitarist soulfully licking my eardrums.

(Fuck supermarkets. Fuck fluorescent lighting; fuck crowds of unhealthy and stressed-out drones; fuck 90% of the ‘food’ being wrapped in plastic for ‘freshness’; fuck the other 10% of unwrapped food coming from interstate or overseas, grown from clones, watered with chemicals and sprayed with pesticides to preserve its already subpar colour, texture, flavour and nutritional value. Fuck government subsidies for farmers who pollute the earth, fuck the cheapness of this ill-gotten produce that shuts down small businesses and drives the price of real food up, and fuck the middle-men who profit at the expense of the farmers without doing any real work. Fuck the Coles-Woolworths duopoly. But I digress.)

I actually look forward to my food shopping; the whole experience soothes my soul and the feeling is refreshed momentarily throughout the week whenever I bite into a crunchy and juicy apple, and when I create gourmet feasts from my happily purchased and lovingly grown organic produce.

It was within this mellow high that I accidently wandered into the art gallery at the markets and was warmed to my very cockles to see an entire room adorned with the beauteous art of some Eastern Arrente women. What a fantastic surprise! May I advise the uninitiated that this art is magick, pure and sweet. Not only do the designs look gorgeous, they also tell the most important stories that only symbols can describe – those of eternal and creation and dissolution, breaking and healing, living and dying, ad infinitum, played out simultaneously in the past, the present and the future; known to many as Dreaming stories. It is almost impossible to describe, but the canvas shimmies and shimmers right before your eyes. Two-dimensional planes come alive and create depth in your perception, thus forming the holy trinity of our known three dimensions. I highly recommend appreciating such art for yourself in person. Try not to be enchanted in the physical presence of such art, I dare you. Small-scale images on the internet flatten and render the music silent, so the Divine Matrix just won’t cut it this time I’m afraid.

I circled the room, drinking in the magic of these works. Each and every one mesmerised me, and it’s a memory that I will carry in my eyes forever. It was in this heightened state of stokedness that I mused to myself, “I would love for my art to decorate public spaces, and for people to stop and to get lost therein.” That desire sparkled within me for a while and then danced away into the ether, and I made my way home soon after.

Later that afternoon, I went to my favourite café in the universe for a late lunch. I noticed that they had painted the previously garish acid-pink walls a crisp and soothing white, and this pleased me. I felt less harried there, and I enjoyed my ramen at leisure. Whilst digesting, I took out my sketchbook and I got working on a design that I’d been fucking around with. Soon the bubbly manager approached me. We had a little yarn, then she asked to look at my work and I obliged. She asked if I was “an artist”. I said, “yes, in a way”, because I still find it supremely difficult to define what I am and describe it to others in minimal words (have you noticed?). She told me that they had painted the café white because they wanted a mural to decorate that space. They wanted a big cherry blossom tree painted upon those virginal walls. Then, she asked if I would be interested in making this happen. Oh!

I skipped home and sketched. Trees are my forte, and tree is the metaphorical meaning of two of my mother- and grandmother-given names. They are an absolute pleasure for me to draw. My Dharug ancestors grew and lived and died under the ancient darani (ghost gums) on the banks of the Deerubban (Hawkesbury River). My Lebanese ancestors grew and lived and died beneath the strong and fragrant cedars of Lebanon. They were tree people, all of them, and therefore I am too. I dream of them more often than not. They are spiritual guardians for me; the shapes and the colours and the textures and the scents make me feel balanced and whole. One day I will live in a tree house, and when I ride the lightning on my final trip out of this dimension, my body will be sung back into a tree where it belongs. But in the meantime, I drew some sketches and wrote a geeky little introduction letter to go with, and dropped it into the owner that week. He told me he was impressed and we discussed timeframes and materials and rates of pay and other unimportant niceties. And so, I was casually commissioned to create my interpretation of a thick and gnarled tree in cool dark browns that burst forth sprays of pale pink cherry blossoms from their fingertips in airy clouds like fairy floss. I started my sample paintings a few weeks ago. The first brush stroke was drawgasmic, and every day the tree grows in these preliminaries, branch by branch, as my psychedelic design comes more alive. There has not yet been any further talk about the whens and wherefores of the painting, but even if this mural doesn’t blossom on the wall of that café, the seeds of self-belief have germinated and taken root in my mind.

Make of this what you will, dear reader. Think of it as the law hypothesis conjecture of attraction if that is your proclivity. I personally cannot do the karma/fate/‘meant to be’ angle because in my understanding of my life there are no straight lines to just desserts; just baby steps in a marathon, monumental journey. All such fantastic coincidences have more layers of meaning than such a limited explanation will allow. But this is not a rant on spiritual lore (or is it?). If anything, it is just my writerly worship of things that are impossible to delineate in words, and an offering to you of one shining facet of my otherwise confined existence at the moment. And all that really matters is that I am fairly fucking pumped on life right now – the way it should be.

PS: to each and every one of my amazingly creative but devastatingly lazy friends, acquaintances and other passing readers – your apathy pisses me off. Have a go! Scare yourself. Pick up pen or paintbrush or musical instrument or whatever form your magic wand takes and create something new today. It will soothe you and make you feel human again. And if you die tomorrow, you can be at peace knowing that you have left something beautiful and tangible behind for us. Go forth and play. Solve et Coagula cunts!


Defender Of The Faith – 02.09.12