Leave it to the beginning of the school year to turn me into a blogging slacker....
I've wanted to write this post ever since I saw Helmet play a loud, intense freaking show at Reggie's about a week and a half ago. It was an odd time to see them, because it was only a few days before a new school year started.
I essentially got to leave a big part of my modern personality behind for a few hours and go back to a side of myself that was born sometime around sixth grade and lived until early college -- and if you really want to know the truth, a piece of it is still alive now. Why else would I be in my thirties and writing a post with the word "headbang" in it?
It was an intense show. It was blisteringly loud, and for the first time in over ten years I found myself inside a mosh pit that I graciously sidestepped, as I don't have enough faith in my bones anymore and it would have been weird to meet my new students with a black eye or broken arm. The backup band was different, and as much as I sorely missed John Stanier's drumming (now a part of Tomahawk and Battles, the latter of which you've heard if you've played the original Little Big Planet), the players on stage were all rock solid.
Helmet is a strange beast. They don't sound strange upon first listen, but there's an interesting combination of sounds behind them. Page Hamilton, other than being a genuinely nice and honest guy, is a trained jazz guitarist. If you've seen a jazz guitarist live, you know the skill they possess causes pathological insanity. You cannot play that many chords, that fast, without losing your mind. So why then does he end up making his name by starting a band that rips open drop-D power chords that make you want to smash things?
I'll give you an example. Listen to this:
After you're done putting your fist through your bedroom wall and waiting for your ears to stop ringing, listen to this:
Be honest -- if the YouTube clip hadn't been labeled, would you have any idea they were the same musicians? I don't think most people would.
Now go back to the first video, and tell me what those guys look like. Normal guys, right? Nothing wrong with that at all. In fact, I think it's excellent, especially considering that Nirvana and Pearl Jam were on a roll when that video first hit MTV's Headbanger's Ball. A lot of metal-heads' first reactions were "What's the tennis team doing with electric guitars?"
For the purposes of focusing this post, I will talk about the album Meantime. I bought it and listened to it on repeat, realizing that almost every song was about channeling anger and the poisonous nature of not being yourself. Young metal-head me needed to hear that. I needed some sort of reassurance that being angry and unhappy is okay sometimes, and there are ways to get it out other than punching the guy who asks why you don't button up your flannel.
I am now a nice, clean-cut teacher and childrens' author (when I go out in public, at least), but I grew up a long-haired drum and guitar fanatic. I suppose underneath the glasses and goofiness a part of me still is just that. And it's nice to let a little bit of that loose at the end of summer, when I need to expel all of my frustration and stock up on patience for the new kids heading my way, who deserve every ounce of effort I can give them.
Helmet is, in a way, a really excellent piece of how I grew up musically, and how I learned to deal with "darkness", whatever form it may take. I don't think what they accomplish is immediately apparent, and I think we rush too quickly to judge kids who are into darker or absurd stuff, not realizing that the art they cling to provides them with a lot of positivity, even if everyone else's eyes and ears don't see anything beautiful at all.