Category Archives: Politics

Being a Black Metal Fan is Hard

I’ve been going through a serious ALCEST phase right now, listening to Neige’s records all the way through a couple of times in the last few days. Alcest is (primarily) a one-man French project by Neige, who’s been active in the underground European metal scene for almost two decades now.
There’s something about his music that speaks to me. Even though he sings in French, I empathize with it so much. His guttural and clean vocals build an atmosphere of conflicting extremes and the Shoegazey wall of sound and ringing clean arpeggios sit on top of Black Metal influences between long stretches of staid rhythms. The hints about the content of the songs and his intent come from his tone, his melody, the mood of the music, and the covers of albums like Les voyages de l’âme and Écailles de lune. There is something old-fashioned about this music, the obscure lyrics, the indecipherable music, the underground nature of it all.
But for me, Alcest is more than the sum of its musical components. It’s like Neige is translating my thoughts and feelings into music, there are moments of clarity, dramatic shifts of tone, evocative mood and texture, and he obviously cares about every measure of music that makes the cut. It’s the kind of care and love that speaks volumes about the empathy of the person building the piece.
It’s the kind of music that I adore – made without any considerations made to the listener, a pure expression of the artist’s feelings. And the feelings are a combination of wonder and loss, a melancholy tribute to lost dreams or a simple exploration of beauty through a haze of wispy fog sitting on Alsatian hills in a French spring. It’s music intending to portray something positive, a love-letter to something better than the here and now, despite the layers of sadness hovering underneath.
Anyway, I spent some time reading about Neige recently and noticed he’d played on some early PESTE NOIRE albums. While a lot of ink has been spilled on it, essentially, PN at least has a national socialist bent and Famine, the man behind the band, seems like a pro-fascist right-wing person who recorded a track called “Aryan Supremacy.” Neige has a drums credit on that track.
It’s not easy to track down responses to this. Black Metal fans like to cultivate a real “Tru Kult” feeling of outsiderness to it, with the National Socialist Black Metal being an active genre within the scope. Some people ignore the Nationalist elements to embrace bands that keep the scene feeling far more extreme and underground when political stances make up for what can’t be attained through musical extremism alone when a reasonably mainstream band like Deafhaven can release a Depressive Black Metal album in America and get lauded for it.
I get it. Maybe they really believe this shit, maybe they don’t and are just using it as a way to make themselves more shocking or underground. But I have to deal with musicians I adore who played with these guys, and there’s no way to talk to people online about it, it’s either “Burn all your Alcest records immediately,” or, “Go back to your mom’s basement, SJW!”
Happily, I was able to find an interview in a German magazine which had an English quote wherein Neige says he was 15, and playing for the band as a session musician and he certainly isn’t a racist and didn’t consider the implications of playing on the record as a teenager. The very short article itself is worth a Google translate, as it wrestles with the exact same issue I’m faced with – what do you do when you find out that musicians you love have a spotted past?
 
And I mean, that makes sense. Alcest has an Indian bassist, their last album was inspired by Japanese spiritualism which they encountered playing live dates in Buddhist temples on a tour of Japan… it seems like Neige is a multicultural and modern person with modern sensibilities who made a mistake as a kid. And also, what am I going to do, criticize a 15-year-old kid for playing in a Black Metal band? I was scared of feminism at 21 and worried about my own rights as a man. What did I know?
I suppose I’m glad that Alcest doesn’t fall into one of these bands that I just can’t listen to anymore, like Burzum or Emperor, who’ve committed actual hate crimes or hold ideologies that I just can’t condone, no matter how good the music is. While Alcest holds a niche spot in Black Metal, and the band transcends genre, it’s where Neige came from.
It’d be easy to just throw out all my Black Metal and tar it all with one brush, but I can’t. There is some truly wonderful and beautiful and important art here, but it comes with baggage. There are conflicting, important, complicated stories here. Whether it’s the silent homosexuality of Gaahl who remained in the closet while playing in the controversial Gorgoroth or the property crimes against churches by second wave bands in the nineties, the suicides and deaths of prominent members of Mayhem, the Nationalist scene active across Europe and in the UK – Black Metal isn’t a safe scene, it never has been. Even going to see a band like Opeth or Enslaved can cause run-ins with people wearing Nazi symbols, and those bands have never had anything to do with Nationalism.
A casual fan like me has to step carefully. I need to do my research, and it isn’t easy trying to find primary sources or quotes when most of the press coverage is in Europe and the community is polar extremes. The scene barely exists in America, and most American sources don’t seem to cover the controversy, gushing fanboyishly at bands that that do come over.
Coming back to Alcest, I’m glad I was able to find that quote. Neige’s music is very important to me, and I don’t want to lose it.

The Worst Fear

I don’t know how to function with the anxiety I’ve got bottled up inside me. It has been growing ever since the election but this week it has reached a new height (or maybe depth) that I hadn’t known before.

Perhaps I should preface by saying that I was born in India to a Muslim family, emigrated to the US in 1996 and was naturalized in 2001 a few months before 9/11. My family is quite religious, as is most of my extended family. Both my brother and I drifted away from faith, and no longer strictly identify as Muslim. It’s something I still yearn for, I miss the community that comes with faith, and though Judaism underwent a reform movement that gave rise to secularism within the faith, no such alternative exists for Muslims that I’m aware of. Yet, I’d still classify myself as a secular Muslim, if such a thing can be said to exist.

My wife in a American-born citizen, though she did change her last name to mine, and my children – both born here – have Muslim names.

I bring all this up, because I’m afraid of what the current administration is proposing – and I admit that my fear is irrational. As of 1/26/2017, INS and ICE are planning to go after undocumented immigrants for eviction and deportation, regardless of their family situation. That’s not me – I am an American citizen, I have an American passport, I have a Social Security number, I have been married to a citizen for 12 years – but I’m afraid, that after the undocumented immigrants, the next target will be registered Muslims.

When I picture my worst fear, I see myself forced to leave my home and family, whether it’s due to deportation or internment of some sort. I imagine having to say goodbye to my kids, one of whom is too young to even remember me. I can picture him saying “Bye bye Dada” as he does whenever I leave, not realizing that I don’t know when or if I’ll be back.

Of course these fears are irrational, I know that, I live in New York City which is putting up a great deal of resistance to the administration’s efforts to deport even the undocumented let alone naturalized immigrants; but I think irrational fear is the kind that keeps you awake at night, staring at a dark spot in the ceiling, without any certainty for what will come next.

There are documents in Washington with my name and picture from 20 years ago, my fingerprints, that list my country of origin as India and my religion as Muslim. Today, those documents are in the hands of people who seem to be hellbent on making America Christian and White again. I don’t know what sort of actions they’ll take.

Irrational and absurd thoughts enter my mind, like what if I’m deported – what happens to my holdings and properties? Should I see a lawyer about having my name taken off the house deed so that it’s in my wife’s name alone? Should I transfer my 401k and IRA into her name as well, just in case? Put them in trust for the kids? Should I change their name to John and Henry? How can I secure my family from the uncertainty of a future I can’t fathom?

This government has made me afraid, irrationally afraid. And I resent this fear – I don’t want to have to live with uncertainty because of a xenophobic policy. And yet, there’s nothing for me to do but continue on like everything is fine, afraid that any moment will break this normality, so I keep waiting for it to happen, constantly walking with hunched shoulders, ready for the other shoe to drop.

I can’t undo this knot in my stomach, I can’t swallow this lead ball in my throat choking me, and the terror of being separated from my family hangs on me like a burning coat sewn into my skin. And I don’t know what to do about any of it.

2016 Sucks

The level of anxiety and stress I’m experiencing over this election is unbelievable. It hasn’t been a good year for many reasons, mostly to do with health issues throughout the family (except for my older son, thankfully). The election has only added to the miserable cloud raining crap over everything.

In this bleak look back, there’s one bright moment of light, and that was our Irish vacation – it was a lovely country to explore, and I was very sorry to leave when we did. Dublin is a wonderful mixture of the modern and antique, while the countryside retains a primordial and elemental beauty that I haven’t seen since I visited Scotland an age ago.

But I returned to these shores, and plunged headlong into the most banal and mundane problems, each of which deserves its own essay, but age has also made me more private so I sequester those thoughts rather than letting them out to play on a blog, like I once did, many years ago. This privacy is also rather isolating, as I found that airing out gloom is a good way to banish the bats of depression. There’s no solution to this problem, I’m merely acknowledging its existence.

I’m naturally voting for Hillary – and I’m happy to do it. I think she’s liberal, pragmatic and no more or less stained politically than any politician with as much time in the public sector as she has. Reports claim that she’s rather more honest than the median politician, which is good, and the fact that she’s embraced socially progressive politics is hopeful to me. Yes, she’s got a hawkish demeanor, but I think that’s something I’m willing to compromise on, and I’m also able to accept that a country like America sometimes will need to intervene in international incidents. I’m not an isolationist.

All of that said – my biggest issue with this election (like all others) is that it diminishes the actual issues I want to see addressed.

  1. I want someone, anyone, to talk about Global Warming in detail, I want to hear what they want to do about it in concrete steps, I want to hear about carbon extraction from atmosphere, I want to hear about a plan to reduce ocean acidification. Tell me about a massive move to clean grids, scaling back private transport use at least in clustered American urban centers… something. Paying lip service to the existence of Global Warming doesn’t come close to what I need to hear about what I think is the most pressing concern of our time.
  2. Someone needs to step up and talk about minimum living income. Whether its a negative tax rate below a certain threshold or a check that goes out to every citizen – at some point, there needs to be a realization that we’ve moved from a manufacturing industry to a data industry, primarily because of automation. And we’re heading towards a second wave of automation that will put the majority of the world out of work. What’s their plan for when unemployment hits 50%? Clothing, feeding, sheltering and providing medical care for every human being on the planet is within our means. The fact that we don’t do it in the interest of corporate profits is a crime against humanity.
  3. Education needs to become more affordable because the vast majority of people who’re being left behind in this automation are people who have little to no education, people with no options to move on when their blue-collar job vanishes never to return. Part of the Trump wave are these people aggressively ignored by the Democrats or pandered to without any follow-up. Trump is lying to them about bringing back industry – we know that’s a dead end. They clearly want to work – what do you have to offer them?
  4. On a more modest note, adding single-payer to the ACA to cap insurance costs shouldn’t take more than a simple vote. It will force insurance companies to compete beneath the level set by the Federal government while VIP plans can cost whatever they want. If it leads insurance companies to scale back their employees, then so be it – but to allow industry to hold citizens healthcare hostage is disgusting. The boogeyman of “this hurts industry” is smaller than the wraith of extinction hanging over humanity.

Everything else is behind these issues for me. I guess I want a technocrat in power who’s capable of working with science and industry leaders to move aggressively on topical concerns. One of the things I don’t care about is security – I don’t understand the American mindset of fear. Maybe it’s because I lived in India through race-riots, political turmoil, street violence and so forth, but I kind of accept the uncertainty of life as a given – I’m not willing to sacrifice the multi-generational concerns over a guerrilla proxy-war with Russia half-way around the planet. The last two times that happened, it was Vietnam and Afghanistan, and we all know how those turned out.

I don’t hold out any hope of these concerns being answered at the debate tonight, or any point between now and the election, but I hope I can get some sleep once President Hillary Clinton is sworn in. And I’m already hoping for a better 2017 while it’s only mid-October.