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Middle-aged metal mania

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When it comes to music, age really has no bar! Metal too has no restrictions, and we’re here to prove it with an article that was written to us by a middle aged metalhead! Read on…I am a 52 year-old woman with a grandchild of 2, and I love heavy metal. Am I a freak? Perhaps. But when Iron Maiden came to Bangalore on Feb 15th, and earlier on March 17th 2007, I was among the first to buy the tickets and stand zapped as I watched Dave Murray and Adrian Smith do their guitar riffs, and Bruce Dickenson belt out my old favourites with such energy. And no, I don’t headbang…I draw a line at that, because I value my sanity, and I need to watch them perform. But of course, I sing along, much to the amusement of my metal head daughter who accompanies me to these gigs.
With 30 odd years of being in the music industry, these guys are definitely my contemporaries. But no one raises their eyebrows at them. But when I evince an interest in metal, or hum some of their tunes in the presence of anyone, people look askance at me. Why?

Yes, I love Iron Maiden, Metallica, Children of Bodom, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Mark Knopfler, Pink Floyd, Sting, Cradle of Filth, Lacuna Coil, Jethro Tull, Pantera, Incubus…the list is endless…along with M.S.Subbalakshmi, M.D.Ramanathan, D.K.Pattammal, M.L.Vasantha Kumari, Pandit Ravi Shankar, Pithukuli Murugadas..to name a few. I love them all because I love the kind of music each one of the above creates. It is in music that the east and west meet, as also the north and south.

Heavy metal is the explosive expression of anger and frustration, whether personal or societal. Of course, adolescent angst is ubiquitous, and we too have felt it in our time. But as far as I can remember, this anger and frustration were carefully kept under wraps, largely owing to the reverence and healthy fear we held our elders in. Public expression of personal emotions was a strict no-no. Today, this angst has garnered peer support, gained momentum and has come out of hiding, to celebrate boldly at large concerts.

When we look beyond the first impression of loud noises, we are struck by the depth of thought in the lyrics, and the skill and dexterity of the instrumentalists.  Most of the metal guitarists are classical guitar players. Without the sweat and toil of classical instruction, it would be impossible to do the brilliant riffs where the hands move at lightning speed, evoking all kinds of sounds from the instruments.

As a teacher of English at the high school level, I have had occasion to use some of Pink Floyd’s songs in my poetry sessions. When the teacher mentions music that is in the area of interest of any youngster, she or he can be assured of their undivided attention. What better way to get kids to read Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner than to play the Iron Maiden version in class? With Bruce emoting the killing of the albatross and the misery of the mariner, and the lead guitars creating a frenzy of sound akin to the turbulence of the sea, the teacher can erase herself as a superfluity. Coleridge will endure in those young minds, for sure!

I guess I must be grateful to my family for making it possible for Carnatic classical music to co-exist happily with rock and metal. We were taught to see beauty in all forms of art. As an essential part of the middle class culture, we as children were given Carnatic vocal music lessons, while the boys were taught the Mridangam.
Then, western music entered our lives in the form of The Beatles and The Sound of Music. There was no looking back after that. As true-blue music lovers, my family of parents, grandparents, various uncles and aunts saw beauty in the new sound that invaded our house.

The sound of the guitar was what ignited a passion in me that burns bright to this day. Friends, those were the days of the Radio, and I hadn’t even the slightest notion of what a guitar looked like. But I was determined to have one, and play it. “Appa, I want a guitar”, I said to my father. That very evening, he took me to the only place for guitars on Mount Road in the erstwhile Madras city. Walking amidst a host of instruments hung up on the walls, my father asked to see a guitar. The salesman looked oddly at us, and then pointed to the various samples on the walls. We went in for a piece that cost Rs. 95/- and had a sound that, by default, was truly classy.

Guitar teachers were an extremely rare commodity, so I had to content myself with constant listening and experimentation. Hey kids of today, when you want the lyrics and chords of a song, all you do is click on your mouse, and the internet provides you with words, chords, tabs…what have you. In our days, long playing records were very expensive (they cost Rs. 45 and more!!!), so we would request for the song of our choice on a weekly programme called Listeners’ Choice. Three long weeks of waiting later, if we were lucky, the song would be played. At our end, we would sit with our huge Grundig spool tape recorder, ready to depress the record button at the right time. And to learn the chords (believe me, I didn’t even know they were called “chords”!) we would rewind, play, rewind, play on high RPM for clarity, and feel our way throughout the fret board till we got the right sounds.

I remember my grandmother sitting one morning on the swing in the hall, chanting the Vishnu Sahasranamam. My sister, brother and I were trying to learn Smokie’s number called Stranger, You’re in Danger. As we introduced the song with the peppy bass riff, my grandmother stopped her chanting, listened and said, “That is in the raga Shuddha Dhanyasi”, and she sang a few lines of an M.S.Subbalakshmi song, Bhavamulona  bhahyamunandunu. Sure enough, both sounded exactly the same. It was then I learnt that music is the same. Like love, music has no barriers, and cannot be contained by anyone, anywhere. Most definitely, music is the food of not only love, but life itself.

Vasantha Latha

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