‘Every time I’m on the street
People laugh and point at me
They talk about my length of hair
And the out of date clothes I wear…….
….I know I don’t belong
And there’s nothing I can do
I was born too late
And I’ll never be like you’
Saint Vitus – Born Too Late (1986)
Do you feel like you don’t fit in? Like no-one truly understands you? Do you feel judged by whoever you come across? Well join the club.
The world can feel like a cruel and cold place and as a teenager I felt isolated. You see, I was a desperately shy, introverted kid. I reverted to the world of books, computer games and music for safety, yep I was a full-on geek. Music especially was something I could get lost in, a way to escape a banal and painful existence. As pointed out in a previous article I loathed the seeming hedonism celebrated in Britpop and dance music, because despite a lot of people’s assertions that it brought people together, it drove me away. I didn’t do drugs, drink or go clubbing and partying. In fact in many of my contemporaries’ eyes I was boring and weird; in my own mind I was just being myself and striving to be an individual. Unfortunately for me my apparent ‘aloofness’ and awkwardness only pushed me away from my peers and further into the little world I had concocted for myself and that world was music. As soon as it became apparent that Britpop wasn’t cutting it for me, I launched into the world of alternative music in the form of Grunge, Doom. Hardcore Punk, Thrash and more besides, basically if it was heavy then I was down with it. My first proper gig was Soundgarden in 1996, they were my first love and have continued to be so to this day. I struggled to relate to Nirvana but with Soundgarden there was crushing heaviness as well as some intelligent lyrics and an enigmatic persona. Around the time I started at The Henley College to do my GCSE’s and A-Levels and although it was a pretty good college academically, I was having a fairly hard time, but the flip side to this was discovering Black Sabbath and 2 years later I went to the Ozzfest in Milton Keynes (1998) to see the reformed original line-up perform a crushing set and I was there singing along to Iron Man, Children of The Grave, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath and countless other classics. With The Sabs I felt like this was music made by outsiders for outsiders. Believe me I stood out with my long hair, jeans and Sabbath T-Shirt.
Sabbath helped me through a dark time by helping to make me feel that I wasn’t alone, that I should feel no shame in being myself, that I shouldn’t really care what my others thought of me, if they thought of me at all. In others words it was empowering. Later on at The University of St Andrews I went through a traumatic breakup, and around that time I started listening to Black Flag, a band whose name I’d seen bandied around by various groups in the pages of Kerrang, (When it was still half-decent and not some glorified ‘Emo’ rag) and Metal Hammer. I bought the albums ‘The First Four Years’ which was a collection of pre-Henry Rollins era material. I had never hitherto heard music like that before and the only Punk Rock I’d encountered was The Clash and Stiff Little Fingers, who were both great but I needed something a little harder and relatable. Flag fulfilled that role perfectly and pretty soon I was hooked by their songs of alienation, rejection and despair. So much so that I went out and purchased copies of ‘Damaged’ and ‘My War’. The latter has been particularly influential on my life especially the B-side which featured the songs ‘Nothing Left Inside’, ‘Three Nights’ and ‘Scream’. These songs are somewhat infamous for their slow pace and as we know a lot of Punk/Hardcore fans aren’t known for their open-mindedness when it comes to their precious bands experimenting. These songs particularly ‘Nothing Left Inside’ resonated with me with lyrics like ‘Pain in my heart, pain hurts my heart, nothing left inside’. I was a shell of my former self and totally broken and this song whilst not exactly ‘curing’ me of these ailments nonetheless helped me through the grieving process. This is one of the reasons why Henry Rollins a role model and an influence, he has been through similar stuff and suffers from the same pitiful bad luck and inadequacies with women that I do (sorry Hank if this isn’t the case).
In my own rather convoluted fashion I am trying to say that different music means different things to different people. As I have hopefully explained with some degree of clarity, Black Sabbath and Black Flag mean a lot to me not only because they make kickass and brilliant music, but also because I relate to the outsider status of those groups who helped me through some hard times. Music of that nature may not appeal to everyone because it may be too rough sounding, too harsh or nihilistic, all of which are incidentally reasons why I like them! For some people maybe The Smiths and Kate Bush have had similar therapeutic benefits, or maybe it just evokes good memories. Music like most art-forms is purely subjective and people like to listen to what they listen to because of a combination of factors ranging from personal experience, background as well as peer influences. Or maybe they just like the sound of it and aren’t really that bothered about actually experiencing it on a deeper level?; which may go a long way to explain why there are so many Coldplay fans in the world. Who knows what the answer is, like the eternal question ‘why are we here’ its’ a question that will never be fully answered, but one that’s fascinating for discussion nonetheless.