Friday, August 31, 2007

Heavy Metal Week on NPR.

Now that I have resumed my long daily commutes, I'm back in touch with the news of the world. NPR is my staple station, mostly due to the lack of any decent alternatives. Even so I still lose reception on a few stretches of the road. There's a two-mile segment where a Christian radio station tries to interlope over the specific frequency. It's frustrating that there's just no getting away from that particular form of agenda-based media- at least not while you are in the car listening for free.

Anyway a regular part of my routine is listening to Fresh Air with Terry Gross. I've mentioned that fact quite often on this blog. This week they are running a series of rebroadcasts that deal with a specific theme- "Heavy Metal and Hard Rock". I'm a bit disappointed to return to this after my time away. One of the main reasons I tune in to NPR is to listen to substantial commentary about serious subjects. I am not always interested in the guests Gross invites onto her show, but I usually learn something despite my low expectations. It's a bit like Charlie Rose... Fresh Air gets politicians, corporate hacks, authors, musicians and a wide variety of entertainers. Even if I dislike the particular subject, Terry Gross often elicits some quality conversation that the typical educated layman can benefit from.

But Jesus... really? Heavy metal?? Why? Is this truly a subject with any kind of significant weight? Within any genre I am bound to find something I like, but Metal seems so juvenile to me now. I'll admit that when I was in the 13-16 age bracket, I listened to my share of bad hair bands. I remember loving Quiet Riot, and I can't deny once owning a Twisted Sister record. I dug those middle school girls with teased hair, feather earrings and jean-jackets. If I had to pretend to like Motley Crue, Def Leppard, Poison, Cinderella or Ratt... that was OK as long as a cute girl was sitting next to me. I was certainly no sophisticate. Everyone my age was listening to that stuff in the early 80's. I feel no need to have my puerile tastes justified by retrospective academic analysis. It wasn't that deep then, and it isn't that deep now. Like any other teenager I wanted to rebel- smoking cigarettes, dreaming about sex with hot chicks, and listening to metal were part of the equation.

The thing is that I have absolutely no nostalgia for those awkward days. If I did, I'd be tuning into VH-1 for a regular dose of it. Yet this week I heard from Rob Halford, the guys from Spinal Tap, Metallica, and Gene Simmons. What did I gain from that? Now I know that the lead singer of Judas Priest WAS gay. If "Hell Bent for Leather" wasn't the ultimate tip-off, then I'm not sure what to tell you. The guy from Metallica had a shitty attitude. No way, dude?! Christopher Guest IS a genius. Duh! And Gene Simmons is an asshole without even a hint of irony.

Actually the Simmons interview is illustrative. When Gross interviewed this iconic KISS member (by the way... the band sucked!), good old Gene dominated the conversation by making lewd come-ons to her, and trying his best to discredit public radio. One highlight of the segment is when Simmons suggests that the host should welcome him with "open legs". He kept making asides about how the listeners needed to "get out and live(!)" That's right folks- quit wasting time with books and intellectual discussion and get some ass! It's telling that this very interview got the biggest listener response of all-time. Instead of writing this clown off, people were actually offended by his antics. The guy is the perfect caricature of a man-boy, and the audience took him seriously.

Why do NPR and Terry Gross feel compelled to pander to this type of idiocy? I'm not completely humorless... once in awhile they could devote 20 minutes to some goof-ball with perceived pop-culture import. But an entire week devoted to Heavy Metal? I can tune into virtually any media outlet and experience this kind of typically American anti-intellectualism. There's no reason for NPR to reinforce the prevailing attitude.

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5 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to agree with your comments, but I think the reason gene simmons comments were taken "seriously" by listeners is because we're all accustomed to hearing guests speak seriously on NPR. It's where we go when we're tired of the endless glitz, fronting, and dis-embodiment of every other station. So when an interviewee pretends to understand the format, then launches into a ego-maniacal, chauvinistic tirade we take it as an honest representation of the way the person feels. To be honest, I initially came away very offended, and did a search to see how other listeners felt. I'm still not sure if he's really smart or really pathetic. If he's really smart, his whole reason for being on the show was to stage a confrontation and stoke the embers of a long since extinguished fire, which he seems to have been doing for years (this guy is the donald trump of rock, always sleezing around media to push some lousy project or merch). Unfortunately he might just be pathetic in which case Terry's typically direct queries probably tempted the guy to really think about his life which set off his bells to "protect from the sad truth," in the usual way which is to fantasize about being a rock god, and build yourself up by knocking women down. I do think the guy was probably threatened by NPR. He talked on the show about how drug addicts, and alcoholics anethetize themselves to the world as if he was so much better, but he's obviously anethetized himself with fantasies, and self-talk about who he is which isn't that much different.

(Sorry for writing so much, but I'm so tired of men with a stage speaking so poorly about/to women.
I am a man, the image he displayed disgusts me to my core.)

11:50 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

anon,

I think you are probably right about listeners' expectations of NPR. But has the tone actually changes in the Bush years? I've only started really listening in the last seven years or so.

Whether or not Simmons is smart (and I came away with the impression that he is), he is certainly insecure about how others view him. Sure he offended people, but it seemed like mainly the result of his own psychological projection. The level of defensiveness he displayed on the show was staggering.

Perhaps he is just a Republican and didn't want to admit it. I'm just waiting for the Ted Nugent interview.

3:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know your post is pretty old, but I actually thought the heavy metal focus was interesting.

You can't ignore pop culture.

I think that people have ignored heavy metal for being childish (with good reason) for a long time, but that it is not an arena that is entirely unworthy of critical analysis. And Fresh Air is the perfect kind of program to bring that analysis to the table.

A lot of the interviews were older too, so it is not as though they have not covered the topic before.

7:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, old post, but it came up on a random late-night search and I felt compelled to respond:

It's unfortunate that there are many people like yourself who likely believe that a person's taste in music deeply defines them in some way. I am a longtime heavy metal fan as well as a longtime NPR listener, and to hear my two passions blended that week was fantastic. I applaud Terry Gross and NPR's producers for recognizing that the scope of culture is enormous and does not apply merely to pretentious art galleries and snobbish indie rock.

That being said, Gene Simmons did make a complete tool out of himself that day. Thankfully, most sane metal fans (and hopefully most people in general) expect their musicians to be musicians and not role models.

Look past the black T-shirt and the long hair--studies show metal fans are akin to classical fans in intelligence and personality.

10:59 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

"I applaud Terry Gross and NPR's producers for recognizing that the scope of culture is enormous and does not apply merely to pretentious art galleries and snobbish indie rock."

Actually I'm still waiting for Terry to interview some pretentious artists or an Indie Rock snob, but to each their own.

Jeez guys... it was a slow news day. What was even happening last August? What can I say? I'm not going to apologize for thinking the subject was inane.

Anyway, you wrote...

"studies show metal fans are akin to classical fans in intelligence and personality."

It might actually be interesting if you provided your sources.

11:45 PM  

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