This is my personal recipe for success. Step 1: Kids under 18: stay in school and don’t do drugs. Really. You have better things to be doing like playing Dungeons & Dragons and video games with your friends. I say that with no sarcasm or irony.
The writings that follow come from the perspective of an older man. What I am picturing is the advice I would give a wet-behind-the-ears kid just setting off for college. A road map for life, so to say, and some tips on how to milk your emotional capacity in order to derive the finest aesthetic experiences.
Don’t get sanctimonious about my references to drug use. Few wise voices will ring with greater certitude than his who knows stress, induced by massive life changes, works much more drastic and unpleasant alterations to human brain chemistry than the use of drugs ever could, whether said drug use is sustained or not. Compared to the stress of say– having your life turned upside down when you leave for college, or adjusting to the mindless grind of life in the full-time workforce, or going through a divorce, or experiencing the death of a loved one– drug use is child’s play, and should be treated as such by our legal system.
My dad used to ask, rhetorically, about what a person is more likely to regret when one lays on his death bed. Are you going to regret all the times you spent getting high and having fun? Or all the days you spent in an office?
For those who are ready, I strongly recommend that you start your weed-smoking career with the best rock & roll on the planet, and only when you run out of that, turn to more extreme sounds. The reason is twofold. On the one hand, your first 1-3 years of smoking is likely to yield your best results. And the best rock can actually transport you to planes of existence even more distant than those made accessible via metal. Part of rock’s power to move is owing to the synergistic combination of alcohol and weed. The first heightens your emotional sensitivity, and the latter opens your third eye, amplifies the power of your conceptual thought, and may endow you with musical synesthesia. While metal takes you to another plane, it doesn’t generally activate the emotions. Rock does, so for a while it can take you even farther.
Over the course of your first year or two of smoking, you are likely to experience a change in the way the drug effects you.
At the same time, you are going to burn through most of Earth’s good rock.
The good news is that a new world of music will then be waiting for you, just when the emotional payoff of the weed/beer/innocence synergy is wearing off!
The ever more extreme sounds of metal will also begin to sound better than rock, and pretty soon you will be desensitized to hard music. Chances are you will begin to crave more and more extreme sounds, which is a path you DO NOT want to start down prematurely.
For best results, indulge in one or more of these advanced techniques: a spiritual awakening / suicidal love affair / travelling the world / becoming an artist. For me, the feeling of love inspires me, it fills me up until it feels my heart will burst and tears flow- these are the things that make me demand God, a higher order. Insist that there be justice, that the Universe embed all the subtle details of this world in the Akashic Field or an Afterlife where these beautiful things that inspire you so much will be honored and preserved for Eternity. When you open your heart fully, that is when your third eye can also open– to synchronicity and other forms of magick and heightened perception.
The problem with being overly skeptical from the get go, is that skepticism itself can never prove anything. In the event there is a mystical secret to the Universe, you will never find it unless you experiment with actually living the idea. A bias in favor of crude Physicalism is exactly that– a bias, unbecoming to the researcher. You have to be open minded. It’s just how it works.
Let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that the primary constituent of the universe IS consciousness itself (no spoiler), it would not be surprising that good phenomenological technique (i.e. open-mindedness) is critical to coming to an ultimate understanding of reality. While I absolutely believe in the importance of empirical evidence, empirical evidence can take the form of phenomenological experiences. And you have to be a little bit open minded in order to become sensitive to the higher-order patterns that constitute phenomenological empirical data (mainly Synchronicity).
Of course being “open minded” can come from desperation or a personal meltdown. For me it was coming face to face with the unbearable philosophical concept of Determinism. Being unable to solve the problem with my rational brain, and then obsessing over it (perhaps as a strawman for other more “real” problems in my life) led me to a state of great angst. But the conflict and failure of my rational brain was the catalyst for a subsequent spiritual awakening.
The true experience of love in all its forms– familial love, brotherly love, passionate love, even religious love– these feelings give shape to ontological as well as teleological beliefs– namely that only in a world so good that it is ruled by God could these beautiful things come into existence in the first place– they would never flourish in an ugly, dead universe. If you hold these beliefs deep in your heart– and then it happens to turn out that the Universe is ruled by a higher Order, there is a chance the Universe will gift you with actual knowledge of that Order. On the other hand, the skeptic will remain incapable of seeing it. The skeptic will call it selective perception or wish fulfilment. Proving them wrong is beyond the scope of this post. My point here is in line with William James’ thought: “believe that life is worth living and your belief will help create the fact.” In subsequent posts I will provide “empirical” evidence.
But woe is nigh, for while you were busy working on your soul, your head in the clouds, things were likely falling apart in your physical universe. But even things coming to a head in your socioeconomic existence (i.e. end of college, etc etc) can be a good thing. It’s going to suck balls and knock you down a few notches, but the stress can catalyze additional change and yet new beginnings.
You will likely enter a period of artistic and creative stagnation as you are forced to spend your mid-20s sitting in an office or some other aesthetically-squalid environment, sorting out what you “want to do with your life” and learning to survive in a cold, heartless world. It won’t be easy, but there is good news. I can honestly say that the best is quite likely yet to come!
If you put in a little effort, by the time you hit thirty or so, you will have achieved a certain level of professional or financial stability. If “stable” is a bit overly-optimistic, hey, that’s what credit cards are for!
The key is that a measure of success in the physical universe will bolster your self-confidence, which helps with your relations with the opposite/same sex, which in turn influences the music you want to listen to.
My brother and I were driving out to Burning Man for the second time and we were discussing girls. At that moment his position was that if you have a really good thing (i.e. a festival like Burning Man and the requisite substances), you don’t need to add other good things to it (i.e. a love affair while you are there). I argued the counterpoint.
With your newfound late 20s / early 30s confidence, you are likely to have some wild adventures and a wave of intoxicating love affairs on par with the best of your early 20s. What will you listen to?! Not death metal– not when you are on a roadtrip across the Rocky Mountains to meet up with some chick you met at Lightning in a Bottle or Coachella (or if you really know what is good and play your cards right, Burning Man). Hell no. Ultra-hardcore, stoned-friendly death-thrash, deathcore, and death metal is not emotional music. And you probably don’t want Nirvana either. When your emotions are engaged in the euphoric direction, you will less often indulge in music that speaks to your existential angst. For one thing you have less angst at this point (remember, you are more confident now). For another, you have already been there!! You have listened to so much Nirvana and AIC and Tool and Danzig and Smashing Pumpkins and Manson and Tori Amos and RATM when you were high as fuck. Eventually you will have had peak experiences with it and used it up. Remember? That is part of the reason why you started listening to heavy metal in the first place!!
So what? If you are a real rebel you aren’t going to be nerding out on indie rock (you will instead plunder its weak-kneed catalogue for a wealth of one-hit-wonders for your booty call playlists).
Lo, I have an answer for you. For your most high-on-life moments later in life, flying down the open road, you blast classic metal. See, you probably wore out the peak-era Megadeth and Metallica when you were on the highway during Glory Days I. Now in Glory Days II, what is the manic music you turn to? I’ll tell you. It’s Judas Priest, Sabbath, Dio, Rainbow, Motorhead, Manowar, AC/DC, and the modern version of that kind of manic metal– from Appetite for Destruction -era Guns & Roses to Pepper-era Corrosion of Conformity, Huntress, and Avenged Sevenfold.* Let me tell you, when you are madly in love and travelling the country, nothing sounds better than some Point of Entry or Overkill.
*I wish there was more modern stuff in that manic road-metal vein, but there isn’t– that I know of. Well, Agony & Opium by Christian Mistress could be one of the best accompaniments to a drive across the Salt Flats or Nevada desert that currently exists. If you are rolling around with a new lover in a sleeping bag in Yosemite, it would be hard to beat Valley of the Snake by Ruby the Hatchet. Audioslave is made for summer, but didn’t fit neatly into the “classic metal” list above. Municipal Waste is good times music. For heavier road music, High On Fire is tenable, though I actually think Pike & co.’s wall of noise is better digested when you are laying down or melting into a chair. And don’t get me started on sleazy industrial like Lords of Acid, My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult, KMFDM, MDFMK, SMP, and Hanzel und Gretyl. Only a fool would sleep on the masters of modern electro-bass, most notably Major Lazer (aka Diplo) and Bassnectar, but also Skrillex and a million other anonymous beatsmiths. And you have to learn about reggae, from Lee “Scratch” Perry to all the Marley songs the fratboys don’t know about because they aren’t on Legend. Of course, you may still have a few classic rock spins left if you didn’t totally wear out Zeppelin, CCR, Pink Floyd, and The Doors (et al.) the first time around (Glory Days I). In some ways, classic rock is the most versatile sort of music in your toolbox, functioning almost equally well as drinking, smoking, love, and road music. 90s rock became more specialized– surreal grunge like peak-era Nirvana and AIC is the antithesis of good driving music. Does that represent an inevitable movement towards specialization as time passes? I don’t know.
Now depending on the individual’s inclinations and tolerance for more poppy music, hair metal and Van Halen might fit in here; my list above is not meant to be exhaustive and clearly there is room for personal preference.
The band Muse has a certain poise and sophistication that reminds me of the way those 80s mainstream bands (or for that matter, the singer-songwriters like Van Morrison that my folks got into) sounded so “grown up”. But that is precisely why I can’t fit them into my definition of great rock: Grown up, subtle music is for grown ups and hipsters.
On the other hand, I think anything by Franz Ferdinand transcends the hipster/yuppie ghetto and rises to the level of great rock, not unlike great disco rock bands of the 90s like Pulp and the 80s like The Talking Heads. And don’t even get me started on punks like Iggy Pop and Joe Strummer, and great souls like Johnny Cash, Lou Reed, and Leonard Cohen.
Extreme metal, from Burzum to Slayer, is still good for your stonings from the latter-part of Glory Days I, through the end of Glory Days II, and on to what comes after Glory Days II: the mid-30s, marriage and the doldrums of middle age. Enjoy!