Originally written by Ian Chainey
I want you to know the majority of this piece was written between bouts of staring out the train window, trying to look through my reflection, but always catching my eye. And, even though I couldn’t see my sea-sick spectral twin’s translucent pupils, the thought I found within his onyx wells was a familiar one:
“Ian. You’re one-hundred percent going to die.”
This crosses my mind, at least, twenty times a day. Brushing my teeth: You’re going to die. Waiting by the fax machine: You’re going to die. Slipping the bedsheets over my shoulder and exhaling one, possibly last, deep sigh: You’re going to die. I can’t escape the thought because I know I can’t escape the end.
I’m going to die.
It’s impossible to avoid. I can’t hit snooze. I can’t pretend I didn’t get the text message. I can’t wait until it announces a vacation on Facebook so I can, only then, send out a dinner invitation. At some point–if everything goes right, mind you–I’m going to feel a numbness creep over my body, my inky oculi obscuring my irises like miniature solar eclipses. The remaining energy in my being will be soaked up by my brain so I may volley blunt truths back at the burgeoning blackness one final time.
No no no no no no.
Scared. Scared. Scared.
I’m going to die. Every result is the same. One-hundred percent.
When I was going to business school, I knew a woman who was an organ harvester. You’re right to wonder why she was back in the classroom; no job seemed more secure, no customer base and crop more inexhaustible. Yet, she grew tired of the long hours, the travel, the strain on her family, and the banality of her duties. People expire, you get used to it after awhile. You don’t get used to waking up at 3AM, your phone buzzing against the nightstand like an electric chair.
Dying is easy. Being bad at it is good. Living is the pain.
Naturally, she wasn’t in class much, often excused so she could pluck eyeballs to pay the rent. When she was on the roll, though, I always wanted her to talk about the inevitable. How are you? Anything interesting going on? Homework, right? Please, tell me.
One day, she did. She opened up about people checking out by their own hand.
“Every single one I’ve worked on,” she said with the kind of no-bullshit look you give a customer before letting them in on a down-low deal, “looked like, Damn, this was a mistake.”
From that moment, I wanted her to teach me, to pass on some eternal, infallible philosophy. I wanted her to crack the code, to help me find a detour around the incredibly crappy way we move through time. I mean, we only learn the skills to excel in situations when the situation has long passed. This is why we stretch our daydream canvas to tinker with tropes torn from movies, so we too can wake up in the green peel of our teenage selves, conquering bygone breaks with brains full of tried-and-true blueprints. We want to know before we can learn. We want to be prepared without preparing. How do I handle it, whatever it may be, when the time comes?
“It’ll happen,” she’d say.
“It’ll happen?” I’d parrot with a wry smile, desperately trying to mine for a pun, anything to detach myself from the greater context.
“It’ll just happen.”
It was her standby. Her salve and her pressure valve. It’ll just happen.
Linking those words together frightens the hell out of me now. But, I’m new to the mortality game. If you haven’t already, you’ll start hearing the clock. Something will shake your small world like a snowglobe and mortality’s glittery debris will spin around you, obscuring everything you see. Forever. From that point forward, it’ll never settle. And, when you’re trying to look out a window, you’ll see yourself, some number of ticks since you last saw yourself. Older. Closer. Realizing you’re not going to be the one, out of the trillion who have walked before you, to upset the universal narrative and stay upright.
“Ian, you can’t avoid the final fall into the plastic, snowglobe drifts.”
You’re going to die. Oh god, it will happen. It’ll just happen.
I’ve always had a hard time explaining why I love metal. Sure, I can point towards certain musical elements, maybe root through my psyche to find a pressure point the power chord pushes, but it’s always over-intellectualizing something fairly simple to sum up:
Metal helps me cope, easing the common chaos, like aural caffeine.
Did you see me brewing a cup? Well, let me lay it all bare: How did you feel watching the videos above? Did it cleanse your palette like an orange wedge? I guess I’m asking, despite what immediately came before, did it do the heavy lifting for you?
If it did, did it just happen?
Yeah. Sorry for the marionette strings, but it’s the best way to explain it and the easiest way to ensure we don’t get disconnected. With metal, you need to feel it to get it.
And, before you start, yes, I have a strange affinity for the kind of fist-pumping fromage I’ve highlighted. I know my time here is fleeting and I should tackle the best of what my forefathers have prepared for me; their intricately constructed, tough to unlock time-capsules of human experience. I’m not free of the IMPORTANT THINGS FOR IMPORTANT TIMES guilt trip, I have stretches when I only bleed Bach while pouring over the dusty tomes of Dostoevsky. But, those things don’t do what a guy in a bullet belt and a sneer can. I don’t have to work to wring enjoyment from a straight ahead thrasher, I can just let it inject its endorphins straight into my nucleus accumbens via a psilocybin-dipped needle tip.
Yet, the ease of transport isn’t the best part. Not even close, because:
Metal is always there. It is always an answer. It always will be.
As an experience, listening to humans grab the reigns and gallop over our shared insecurities will last far longer than I. There’s comfort in that. There’s comfort in knowing it’ll outlive the ticks. Each four-minute cosmos of vibrating air can be ripped back from the clutches of an infinite end by a double click, a press of a thumb, the gentle tug on a record player’s arm. And, those parallel universes treat us to a fantasy timeshare set in worlds where we’ll always exist, unafraid of the consequences of our choices. Worlds where we can shred without needing to lock ourselves away from our lives, where blisters won’t bubble if our real-life baby hands brush a six string. Worlds where the suppressed rhythmic pulse of our lizard brain is brought to surface, allowed to gleefully slither. Worlds where we can yell out in true catharsis, safe from startled eyes or judgmental chuckles. It’s why I’m here. It’s why you’re here. It’s why our descendants will be here. We love it. It may not always hit, but when it does, when it just happens, it’ll dissolve everything else, allowing us for the briefest moment to stop thinking of the end and only of this band, this album, this song, this riff. It allows us to start living instead of dying.
And, once the ignition is fired, it’ll never stop running. As long as you live. As long as I live. Never.
That promise is why I’m a metalhead.
One-hundred fucking percent.