I’m back from work. It’s been a long day but what day at work isn’t, even when it isn’t? I make more than enough money for the bare essentials, I deliver what is expected of me on the job, but as a matter of simple moral principle, no more, no less. There is no greater emotional engagement at my end. I do because I have to, because it supports my hobbies, but ultimately, because a man just ought to earn his own food, you know?
I’m no minority, but you know what scares me the most? When people ask, what I’d rather be doing, why I don’t just up and leave if I’m so bored? People always seem to have contingency plans, at least the ones that aren’t wholesale sheep do. They’d rather be doing this, or they’d rather be doing that, but they always have a backup locked away.
Me, I’ve never had a ready answer to ‘what I’d rather be doing?’ Sure, as a kid I wanted to be some stupid thing or the other, and sure, I have interests now, but if you were to ask me even today? No fucking clue. A friend says life is little more than getting from one point to another anyway, living up the best you can to whatever arbitrary standard you or society has deigned to design for you. You fill it up with clutter along the way, some useful, other rubbish. People come, people go, shit happens in a kaleidoscopic explosion of flavour and odour, but really now, how can all of it not be some super-cosmic deity’s idea of a super-cosmic joke? Hilarious.
This city grows suffocatingly hot. The sun above its head is a demon orb burning its angry eyes into my skin. My apartment is nice but it faces the east; it eats up the sun during the day and then regurgitates it out at night like some prematurely-sated big snake. I enter and find mosquitoes, unholy summertime supplicants of the demon sun, buzzing around; I must have left the storm-door open in the morning. I close the door and light up one of the noxious mosquito coils that knock them dead in their flight. I get into a pair of shorts, discard the rest of my nine-to-five attire, and walk over to the computer.
I’ve been meaning to assemble a decent audio setup for a while now; I’ve never been too savvy in that department, but it’s never stopped me from enjoying music either. I couldn’t care less about enjoying frequencies and all the other things that audiophiles say lend such new dimensions to the music; maybe they do for all I know, but the only reason I’d want to put together a proper music system is to put my CD collection to regular use. I’ve worn out far too many CD-ROM drives on my computer to bother installing a new one. Youtube’s good for now.
There is a tune that has been playing in my head since I moved my motorcycle out of the parking lot an hour ago. It has been playing for much of last week, actually, and sure enough, it’s Accept‘s ‘Balls To The Wall‘. I’ve been putting off hearing the record because there’s been other fish to fry, so to say, but humming it on the way home hasn’t quite cured the itch, if anything, has enraged it even more. I look up the full album on Youtube and let the homoerotic cover fill up my computer’s screen as the first song starts. There is a very real, coming-home feeling as the first notes of that crunching riff fill my ears, a feeling that I know will only become stronger over the next thirty minutes.
I go to the kitchen and look around for vegetables and meat for the night. The kitchen has a large, exposed facade before which is an immense tower-style residential building complex. To be here after dark is to feel naked, like a fish in a lit-up bowl. But there’s a lilt in my step as Udo Dirkschneider nasally ministers his troops to this classic song of revolution. ‘Balls to the wall‘, the song, has always been associated with one of those MTV heavy metal documentaries that you know are shit but you can’t help watching anyway because you hope something cool will come on eventually (like Trey in the swamps and The God Of Emptiness, hah!). You know, the kind where they sneak in Twisted Sister, Quiet Riot, and Motley Crue as examples of early heavy metal breaking through into public consciousness, and Dee Snyder and some fat radio host give us gyaan on the rebellious ethos of the genre. Then Darren Aronofsky went and made The Wrestler and for a while ‘Balls To The Wall‘ became the soundtrack to Mickey Rourke’s last hurrah.
But when you push past pop-culture references and really inspect and feel the song on its own terms…well, it’s a bonafide classic, isn’t it?
That opening riff, yes, every bit as simple and indelible as ‘Smoke On The Water‘ or early Black Sabbath. It plays out of one channel for the first bar, strategic strikes to the tom drum join it during the second, before the odd pitter-patter of cowbell-and-windchime implements leads it out into the open in full commanding glory. I think of a vaguely remembered video, of wrecking balls and mulleted degenerates banging their heads against a wall (aah, the literal 80s…), and who could blame them? I’m air-guitaring myself, it is one of metal-listening’s great pleasures after all, the ability to give the finger to pretense every once in a while and to latch on to that one moment that truly connects. Yes, jocks may have liked this once, giving irony an extra wide berth as they did. Yes, it is somewhat moronic when I think of it in dispassionate terms, and yes, the guileless lyrics are a source of equal parts reaffirmation and mortification, but you know what? I’m not a big fan of being dispassionate or self-possessed, not when I’m listening to metal. I try to be but it makes me feel too much like a politician and that’s a slimy feeling.
I like spirit and ‘Balls to The Wall‘ is nothing if not hugely spirited. Diced onions, tomatoes, and capsicum sizzle on the frying pan, a chicken breast boils in a pot on the burner next door, the exhaust fan whirs, and Wolf Hoffmann segues the song into near-transcendent territory. The telltale sign of a great guitar solo to me remains its melodic and lyrical character. It’s like this: you don’t have to be a grammatist to look at a run of words, a particular sentence in a particular context, and sense it quite literally dripping with meaning, poise, and beauty. You don’t have to be a painter with knowledge of color and gradient to look on the sun bleeding out for the day, to see the night riddled with stars beyond count, to know that these things were made by a far greater artist, nature or God. And who’s to say who made who out of those two?
(Obviously, you can’t be a complete idiot and hope to see any of this either. An idiot savant maybe, but how much do they really know?)
A great metal guitar solo is something like that, be it this Hoffman piece or Glenn Tipton’s turn on ‘Beyond The Realms Of Death‘. It is driven out of primal inspiration, wherever that comes from. It is of a whole, fully homogeneous with no additives; it is pure. It stays with you for life, makes you sing along to its whims; indeed, you come to believe it could just as easily be a vocal melody. I mean, how effortless is it to “aaaah” and “hmmmm” and “oooooh” to it, complete with bend and vibrato and other such?
But no, it is a guitar solo, and Hoffmann’s baby catapults ‘Balls To The Wall‘ into rarefied poetic heights. We talk Manowar, we talk Manilla Road, we talk Bathory and Enslaved, in relation to that Viking-fallen hero thing, I mean, but I’ve always thought of this solo as a worthy early contender. It sounds like a folk melody from cold climes, touched with a sentiment of the epic; maybe the austere chants have something to do with it, sung as if in tribute to some forgotten warrior. Notice how they follow the solo? Was the solo formed around them? What came first? A vine drapes itself over the monument, becoming one with it to the point where there’s no monument without the vine; and still, overall composition dynamics tell me that the solo would have to be written first. Hoffmann planned it to perfection, and gave us one of the finest expositions on what a guitar solo in heavy metal should be: self-contained as a dramatic narrative device with classic grasp of tension and release, but also something that in the greater reckoning elaborates and enlivens the song it calls home.
I can hear thunder brewing in the skies. It usually gets like this in this town; a week’s spell of brutal heat microwaves clouds into condensation. Or is it submission? I do so hope it rains tonight, if only for temporary respite, because the earth could use it, my almost-dead plants could use it, I sure could use it. My sleep has been royally shafted this past month. I’ve taken to hitting the gym at five in the mornings because that is the only time when the damned place has room enough to breathe. I work out, come back home for breakfast and a shower, and then begins the rest of the day. Doing this on three hours of fitful sleep is no fun thing. It makes me think of that Creepy Pasta story, the one where a bunch of folks are thrown into a containment facility and deprived of sleep for days on end. They end up gouging out their organs but before they die they record an ominous message from the other side. They crossed over, you see…they lifted the veil of sleep and looked at what lay beyond. And what they saw drove them mad.
Fuck, I hope it rains tonight.