Friday, April 29, 2016

the development of doctrine seen through 80s hair metal

No, seriously.

source;  Facebook--with slight edits by yours truly.

Three years ago, in this blog's infancy, I threatened an extensive post on "hair metal" bands of the 1980s.  Folks, that day has arrived.

Advice:  Turn up the volume--then continue reading.

Prologomena:  "Metal" is both an adjective and noun, and no, I don't mean the chemical form.  Metal means heavy metal music: loud, abrasively rhythmic, searing guitar riffs and solos, usually piercingly high (male) vocals, and often dark, gothic lyrics.  Metal sings both of human depravity and resistance.  Metal songs can celebrate the crass debasement of sexuality...or it can illuminate the downtrodden nobody else knows about. It does so retaining some sort of melody, too.  Metal is not punk, at least not in its origins.  Crafted and spawned in American, British, and Canadian working classes, metal has defended "the rock and roll lifestyle" long after other genres sold out for better sales, better haircuts, and more exposure.  Hence the adjective:  "metal."  Something metal means it's tougher, harder, unfiltered...and transcendent. 

Metal  resurrects because in its frequent celebrations of death it also looks to life beyond death. If it's metal, it might be dangerous, occasionally unholy, and a stark threat to your entire personal being...and afterward you'll want another shot.  Metal is not a drug;  in fact, most illicit drugs offer only ersatz metal experiences.  Metal overwhelms, pulverizes, and remakes your previous self.  Metal is simultaneously cathartic and converting.  Overkill's 1989 classic "Elimination" includes the defiant line "Fatal?  You're sh*****g me!  A second opinion's what I need!"  Metal resists, even when it might seem all resistance is futile.  Metal certainly disdains--and, let's face it, often seeks to destroy--Victorian tact and prim morals.  Nevertheless, metal certainly understands Christian martrydom and the question of (apparently) unredeemed suffering.

Prologomena, part II:  Thus, despite stereotypes rooted mostly in the shallowness of white, evangelical Protestantism, metal and Christianity are not mutually exclusive.  Roman Catholics especially enjoy theological, spiritual, and even historical connections to metal.  Born-again Christians are stuck eschewing Led Zeppelin's classic Stairway to Heaven, concerned that nobody goes to the Father except through Christ (John 14:6).  They are, of course, correct on one level, but, really, who can listen to that song and not see Tolkien's Lady Galadriel pondering Frodo's free offer of the One Ring?  (H/T to Hillsdale's Dr. Bradley Birzer for that hermeneutic.)  The song itself balances acoustic grace with, well, leaden guitar chords, just like a Gothic cathedral's own chiaroscurro.  Led Zep recalls Tolkien--whose Catholic credentials need no defense here--in several other songs:  "Misty Mountain Hop," "Ramble On," etc.  Sometimes metal recognizes with frank clarity how the Christian faith's struggles amid the world's turmoils, needing God's grace and intervention to make it through.   Skid Row's 1991 Quicksand Jesus (written by guitarist David Sabo, whose lyrics exude Catholic sensibility) offers an eloquent example.

Recently my Google+ conversations have included Lisa OFS, a secular Franciscan who, after the Church, St. Francis, and her husband, loves cats and Black Sabbath. Don't just take my word for it.  Here's Lisa OFS the FrancisCat's reflections on her own metal love.

 Another cosmic British band from the late 60s and early 70s, I hadn't thought much of Sabbath beyond the old battleaxe "Paranoid."  Credit Lisa with the much more careful hearing.  Sabbath routinely resonates several Gospel passages including the unjust suffering of the innocent, righteous punishment of the violent, and the Parousia of a new age wherein life and love reign supreme.  Even Ozzy Osbourne's solo hit "Crazy Train" brings up these themes, but only with Lisa's guidance I have been able to appreciate what has been there all along.  That in itself is a conversion story familiar to the biblically literate. Hence,

Source:  Instagram and Lisa OFS

Roman Catholicism's metal connotations should overwhelm connections with other popular genres.  (Although here I must admit in 2013 one evangelical student blurted out in class:  "If they made the Book of Revelation into a horror movie, it'd be the most metal movie EVER!") Country often casts Roman Catholicism in one of two odd stereotypes:  either staid institution obstructing genuine spiritual growth (as in this Tim McGraw song) or as seductive Other offering novel physical and spiritual experience (as in this Brooks & Dunn remake of B. T. Stephenson's "My Maria").  Madonna made Catholic symbolism cool...thirty years ago in the 1980s, and even then part of her allure was her ridicule and secularization thereof (e.g., wearing a Rosary as necklace).  Yes, there's always Bruce Springsteen.  Parallels may and have been made easily between the spiritual searching of Catholics like Jack Kerouac and the Boss  (check out this blog and the books discussed therein).  His early and mid-career albums--ranging up through 1991's Human Touch--certainly offer the best celebrations of working-class East Coast white Americans.  At roughly the same time, Indiana's John Mellencamp covered the Midwest version of the same concerns.  So, whether it's "The River", "Jungleland," "Pink Houses," or "Rain on the Scarecrow," Springsteen and Mellencamp share the same topical page.  Stylistic differences, of course, remain. Two songs indissolubly associated with their singers but could be remade as metal:  Mellencamp's "Paper in Fire," and Springsteen's "Working on the Highway."  Again, not metal but the lyrics, with their different appreciations of human fallibility and ultimate confrontation with judgment, could be reappropriated through a metal lens.

Often in opposition to metal stands the once-thriving-now-snarked-to-death genre of "college music," i.e., underground punk/folk/rock music popular with college students during the 1980s. Nirvana, as will be seen shortly, effectively killed college music in 1991 with the smash success of Nevermind.  That and REM's "Shiny Happy People," a song whose popularity (also 1991) signaled to long-time fans that the band had made the Faustian bargain.  They had sacrificed integrity for sales. College music ethics dictates that you always choose integrity over profits--but metal, especially its darker, death-i-er subgenres, would agree.  

College music does have several catchy, perhaps punk-y, moments like this and this and of course this.  However, college music was also snarky music.  There was and remains a leering, snide "I wonder if you listeners are smart enough to get this joke" air of condescension within college music (e.g., this).  That, combined with particularly sharp theological elbows, leads to posts like this regarding the 2015 Synod of the Family.  Ultimately, though, punk and its college-music offspring are Protestant;  metal is thoroughly orthodox, Catholic, and "catholic", i.e., universal, too, as we'll soon find out...

Of course, sometimes metal means nothing more than a good, thrashing romp, hence songs ranging from Motorhead's "Ace of Spades," Anthrax's "Caught in a Mosh," or Metallica's "Hit the Lights."  And yes there's sex: Motley Crue's "Girls Girls Girls", Whitesnake's "Slide It In," and Judas Priest's "Living After Midnight." Quite often "metal" indicates a dive into life's deeper, darker places--without a safety net.  Iron Maiden's "Run to the Hills" and "The Number of the Beast" typify this. (Yes, that last link uses satanic imagery but read bassist Steve Harris's lyrics; he's clearly using that to describe mysterious experiences, not endorse Satanism itself.)  Slayer (e.g., Raining Blood) and Megadeth (e.g., Wake Up Dead) contributed significantly, too.  College music and many other genres exude a playfulness, a naivete, that insists that all this stuff that makes up life can be remade and redone if you don't like the outcomes.  Metal disagrees;  sometimes things really just suck.  As a student once told me:

"Next semester I'm taking your course and a Psych class on social deviance."

Me:  "What's that cover?"

Response:  "I don't know, but it sounds pretty metal."


What does this have with doctrine?  More than you might first think.  Recall Cardinal Newman on doctrine's development:  "To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant."  Well-versed in both classics and Christian history, the Anglican Newman tackled a two-headed British monster: the Protestant criticism that Rome represented a doctrinal development away from the original gospel preached by Jesus, and the secular dismissal of the entire Christian edifice--as seen in Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire--because Christianity's emergence represented a development from the august foundations of classical Rome. It is, obviously, a sophisticated argument belonging to the broad and varied corpus of classic Christian literature.  The problem is that Newman can often be misquoted.  Note the last line in this:

It is indeed sometimes said that the stream is clearest near the spring. Whatever use may fairly be made of this image, it does not apply to the history of a philosophy or belief, which on the contrary is more equable, and purer, and stronger, when its bed has become deep, and broad, and full. It necessarily rises out of an existing state of things, and for a time savours of the soil. Its vital element needs disengaging from what is foreign and temporary, and is employed in efforts after freedom which become more vigorous and hopeful as its years increase. Its beginnings are no measure of its capabilities, nor of its scope. At first no one knows what it is, or what it is worth. It remains perhaps for a time quiescent; it tries, as it were, its limbs, and proves the ground under it, and feels its way. From time to time it makes essays which fail, and are in consequence abandoned. It seems in suspense which way to go; it wavers, and at length strikes out in one definite direction. In time it enters upon strange territory; points of controversy alter their bearing; parties rise and fall around it; dangers and hopes appear in new relations; and old principles reappear under new forms. It changes with them in order to remain the same. In a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.  [emphasis added]  (I.I.7)

Focus solely on that last line and you might be tempted to (mis)perceive Newman as a proto-process theologian.  Taken authentically in context, though, it's clear that Cardinal Newman here establishes a foundation for future consideration of Roman Catholic history.  The Church is the stream developing from spring into broad, flowing river.  Do we consider the Thames truly itself where it starts at Thames Head in Gloucestershire?  Is the Eleven Point only itself above Greer Spring?  Do we ignore the Hudson at Manhattan or Albany because the river has flowed beyond the Adirondacks?  Of course not.  Likewise, we can see here Newman imply "the Church clearly springs from the Gospel, but cannot literally be held there."

To unfairly simplify Newman's argument, doctrine developed as the Church emerged in the Roman world.  It necessarily moved out of its Jewish origins into the broader empire, and in so doing, found itself criticized both internally (by heretics) and externally (by the pagan elite and political authorities).  This Church also claimed the title "Catholic" because it, unlike its critics, enjoyed a 'universal' presence throughout the empire.  In fact, Newman notes: "In one point alone the heresies seem universally to have agreed,—in hatred to the Church." (IV.II.5-6)  This, of course, becomes one of the lynch-pins in Newman's turn away from Protestantism.  While thoroughly British, they are not "catholic" at all.  Meanwhile apparent 'innovations' like devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary actually represent the authentic development of the Catholic tradition.  Only heresies seek to remove what has grown naturally and organically.  "It is the general pretext of heretics that they are but serving and protecting Christianity by their innovations; and it is their charge against what by this time we may surely call the Catholic Church, that her successive definitions of doctrine have but overlaid and obscured it." (Chapter XI) All very well and good.  So what then is "hair metal"? 

Musically, glam metal uses traditional heavy metal songs, incorporating elements of hard rock and punk rock, while adding pop-influenced catchy hooks and guitar riffs. Like other heavy metal songs of the 1980s, they often feature shred guitar solos. They also include extensive use of harmonies, particularly in the characteristic power ballads — slow, emotional songs that gradually build to a strong finale. These were among the most commercially successful singles in the genre and opened it up to a wider audience that would not have been attracted to traditional heavy metal. Lyrical themes often deal with love and lust, concerns inherited from blues music, with songs often directed at a particular woman.
Aesthetically glam metal draws heavily on the glam rock or glitter rock of the 1970s, often with very long backcombed hair, use of make-up, gaudy clothing and accessories (chiefly consisting of tight denim or leather jeans,spandex, and headbands). The visual aspects of glam metal appealed to music television producers, particularly MTV, whose establishment coincided with the rise of the genre. Glam metal performers became infamous for their debauched lifestyles of drugs, strippers and late-night parties, which were widely covered in the tabloid press.

Now, to be honest, Cardinal Newman included:
A development, to be faithful, must retain both the doctrine and the principle with which it started. Doctrine without its correspondent principle remains barren, if not lifeless...

On the other hand, principle without its corresponding doctrine may be considered as the state of religious minds in the heathen world, viewed relatively to Revelation; that is, of the "children of God who are scattered abroad."
Protestantism, viewed in its more Catholic aspect, is doctrine without active principle; viewed in its heretical, it is active principle without doctrine. Many of its speakers, for instance, use eloquent and glowing language about the Church and its characteristics: some of them do not realize what they say, but use high words and general statements about "the faith," and "primitive truth," and "schism," and "heresy," to which they attach no definite meaning; while others speak of "unity," "universality," and "Catholicity," and use the words in their own sense and for their own ideas.
(Book II, Chapter 5, Section II.3)

The theologically-astute hair-metal-hater might thus sweep all that follows as "heretical Protestantism:"  principle without doctrine--lots of showy words and music without deep connection to the foundational ideas.  Metalheads might claim something similar; hair metal lacks authenticity because it wasn't brutal, dark enough.

Speaking from within the targeted demographic (disenfranchised white teenage males in the 1980s), I can assert that part of hair metal's appeal lay in its obvious artificiality and over-the-top appearances and lifestyles.  Everybody wanted to get out of the small town, and until we did, listening to a bunch of guys wearing more make-up and hairspray than our girlfriends actually made sense.  Hair metal's obvious glam differences proved.  So when Bon Jovi famously sang "Oooh, we're halfway there, Oooh, livin' on a prayer..." we connected with both the lyrics and the different reality the band depicted and embodied.  Hey, he made it out of New Jersey, maybe we can make it out of ... <<fill in the blank>>.  As a high school senior that year (1986-87) I can't emphasize this point enough, even though at the time I didn't really get it.  (Don't judge--how many 18-year-olds do?)  The girlfriend, the football team--surely we were all livin' on a prayer, too.

The Wikipedia entry includes the crucial turning-point, too.  The excesses became so excessive that the inevitable backlash came surely and swiftly.  To borrow Tillich for a second (surely one of the few times that will happen on this blog!), the "kairotic moment" of change came in late summer 1991 when Nirvana's Smells like Teen Spirit debuted.  Suddenly glam had become grunge.  No more glitz, no more excessive parties, no more trashy outfits;  now the early 1990s offered mostly angry, punk-infused grit, an odd sobriety and chastity.

The problem:  that's not how it seemed at the time. Sure, by 1992 glam metal seemed tired and flaccid.  But just months before there wasn't "change" afoot;  Nirvana seemed like an extension of what had come before it.  Therein lies a connection to the development of Catholic doctrine, i.e., Cardinal Newman.

Take, for example, Kiss' 1983 hit Lick It Up--famous for being the band's first hit without makeup.  Lots of hair, scantily-clad women, unironic innuendo--what's not to like? A little Van Halen (1984) can't hurt:

Then there's Motley Crue's 1987 hit Wild Side:

And yes, I know there's a line "Our Father...who ain't in Heaven."  Can't excuse or explain that away...but that's also not exactly the point; really Satanic metal looks more like this or this.  Look at the Crue's style and presentation:  glam, glitzy, catchy riffs.  From that same year, Cinderella's Shake Me:

Hey, hair metal is gender-inclusive, too.  Here's a 1988 song from the all-woman band Vixen:

Even Christians could get into the hair metal scene, too. Also from 1988 here's Stryper:

Notice the similar hairstyles and sounds.  Obviously the lyrical content differs, but cross-genre-sharing clearly exists.  The sacred and the secular meld together, at least a little, in this little slice of the late 80s.  (Why "Stryper"?  Well, Isaiah 53:5...)  

The next year (1989) hair metal reached it apogee and in so doing began to mutate.  First, here's The Bullet Boys' Smooth Up In Ya'

Oh, the hair--and the catchy guitar licks--and the choreographed moves--and the headbanging.  This is hair metal at its best--or maybe this is.  Why stop there?  

Then that summer Trixter, a band from New Jersey, enjoyed some success with Give It To Me Good.

Still stylish and fun (hair metal rarely delved into the heart of darkness as Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, or Metallica did), but a certain rawness, a more natural flair, shows itself.  Cinderella pitched in Coming Home which combined similar elements of acoustic vibrancy and bluesy rock...and the hair appeared wasn't quite so big.  Motley Crue tipped their hand, too.  Perhaps best known for the album's title cut, Dr. Feelgood also featured "Same Ol' Situation."

So--summarizing briefly--hair metal appears in the mid-1980s;  it's loud, obnoxious, sex-driven, partying hard, intellectually shallow...and, unlike other metal genres, flamboyantly stylish.  Notice the hair--frizzed and poofed to ridiculous heights, the tight pants, and...the make-up!  Not Kiss, not the New York Dolls, but something else.

Teenagers loved it.  

But notice also as the years progressed--and it's clear now that this evolution took only a few years, although at the time it seemed like forever--a grittier, rougher, often more acoustic (and thus spawned the power ballad), and more "garage" style seemed to take hold.  Still the tight pants, long hair, and catchy riffs, but less posed, less conscientiously outlandish.  To recall Cardinal Newman, the water, having flowed from the spring, had traversed one land but the terrain was changing.  "It changes with them to remain the same."

For example, Cinderella kept the catchy, bluesy rock riffs but took a more natural look with 1991's Shelter Me:

This song often appears in my religion class lectures due to the lyric: "For some it's the bottle, for some it's a pill, some people wave the Bible 'cuz it's giving them a thrill..."  What an apt, catchy description of religious functionalism.  Who needs the actual religion when a drug, pill, or hey, let's not kid ourselves, a sports team, give you the same emotional high?  Tom Kiefer, Cinderella's lyricist, also illuminates human fallibility with this and this.

So that year, 1991, especially from April through autumn (when, let's face it, after the Gulf War some other big events occupied our attention) the style ran like this and this  but then Nirvana blew up the scene with this:

When all these songs appeared, including Nirvana, the progression seemed one of continuity, not contrast.  Only later--in this case a couple months and ever since--did somebody finger Nirvana as the death of 80s hair metal. (Warning: lots of bleeped NSFW language.) After all, any metal head worth his or her salt in 1991 was already familiar with Seattle.  Great metal bands like Queensryche came from there.  Nirvana's grungier style and sound made sense.  The music was already going there.  Guns & Roses demonstrated this as early as 1987

Not all of it, of course.  1991-92 still saw hair metal greatness like:


That makes sense, because this isn't Protestant conversion we're discussing.  If it were, Nirvana would appear and there'd be no more hair metal. We would move--or be moved--from sin to grace, totally and irresistibly.  Instead, it took a while.  In fact, after even just a few years a certain hair-band nostalgia had already surfaced.

Still, for Catholic theologians, this story is not new;  it is the same story of interpreting Vatican II.  So, yes, any Catholic who listens to metal should at least be able to grasp Pope Benedict XVI's discussion of the hermeneutic of continuity versus that of radical break.  John O'Malley SJ has made a good point that at the time of the Council, the conservatives saw the Council as radical break and the progressives saw the Council instead as flowing from the (heretofore overlooked) sources of Catholic tradition.  In the decades since, effectively the sides have exchanged their views:  the liberals see the Council as break while the conservatives (Wojtyla and Ratzinger) insist on the Council's continuity with what came before (see O'Malley, p. 114).

It is perhaps telling that the Catholic theologians, bloggers, etc., who prefer Massimo Faggioli's interpretation of the Council likewise prefer the college-music vibe (see link to 2015 Synod of the family post linked above).  In other words, a more punk-rock/Protestant sensibility--one of break and immediate, anachronistic (literally, "against time") appreciation of the Council.  Nirvana killed glam metal, or so we've been told.  Those preferring instead the John Paul/Benedict "hermeneutic of continuity" exhibit instead a more Catholic view, one that notices and attends to micronarrative alterations that, over time, constitute the tradition.  Pope Benedict:

Well, it all depends on the correct interpretation of the Council or - as we would say today - on its proper hermeneutics, the correct key to its interpretation and application. The problems in its implementation arose from the fact that two contrary hermeneutics came face to face and quarrelled with each other. One caused confusion, the other, silently but more and more visibly, bore and is bearing fruit.
On the one hand, there is an interpretation that I would call "a hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture"; it has frequently availed itself of the sympathies of the mass media, and also one trend of modern theology. On the other, there is the "hermeneutic of reform", of renewal in the continuity of the one subject-Church which the Lord has given to us. She is a subject which increases in time and develops, yet always remaining the same, the one subject of the journeying People of God.

The hermeneutic of discontinuity risks ending in a split between the pre-conciliar Church and the post-conciliar Church. It asserts that the texts of the Council as such do not yet express the true spirit of the Council. It claims that they are the result of compromises in which, to reach unanimity, it was found necessary to keep and reconfirm many old things that are now pointless. However, the true spirit of the Council is not to be found in these compromises but instead in the impulses toward the new that are contained in the texts.

Read all that, as if you haven't already, here.  
Benedict makes that argument in part from Newman.  The blessed cardinal:  

It appears then that there has been a certain general type of Christianity in every age, by which it is known at first sight, differing from itself only as what is young differs from what is mature, or as found in Europe or in America, so that it is named at once and without hesitation, as forms of nature are recognized by experts in physical science; or as some work of literature or art is assigned to its right author by the critic, difficult as may be the analysis of that specific impression by which he is enabled to do so. And it appears that this type has remained entire from first to last, in spite of that process of development which seems to be attributed by all parties, for good or bad, to the doctrines, rites, and usages in which Christianity consists; or, in other words, that the changes which have taken place in Christianity have not been such as to destroy that type,—that is, that they are not corruptions, because they are consistent with that type. Here then, in the preservation of type, we have a first Note of the fidelity of the existing developments of Christianity. (Chapter VII, Continuity of Principles)

Benedict himself in that same address made a point that makes "metal-sense," so to speak.  That is, obviously he didn't mean it as "metal" as I discuss here, but the overall point resonates with some aspects of the genre.  Benedict, discussing the pontificate of St. John Paul II, addresses the mysterious of suffering:

What limits the force of evil, the power, in brief, which overcomes it - this is how he says it - is God's suffering, the suffering of the Son of God on the Cross:  "The suffering of the Crucified God is not just one form of suffering alongside others.... In sacrificing himself for us all, Christ gave a new meaning to suffering, opening up a new dimension, a new order:  the order of love.... The passion of Christ on the Cross gave a radically new meaning to suffering, transforming it from within.... It is this suffering which burns and consumes evil with the flame of love.... All human suffering, all pain, all infirmity contains within itself a promise of salvation;... evil is present in the world partly so as to awaken our love, our self-gift in generous and disinterested service to those visited by suffering.... Christ has redeemed the world:  "By his wounds we are healed' (Is 53: 5)" (p. 189, ff.).

All this is not merely learned theology, but the expression of a faith lived and matured through suffering. Of course, we must do all we can to alleviate suffering and prevent the injustice that causes the suffering of the innocent. However, we must also do the utmost to ensure that people can discover the meaning of suffering and are thus able to accept their own suffering and to unite it with the suffering of Christ.

Again, this isn't "metal" but clearly the meaning and redemption of suffering admittedly involves difficulty.  This clear-headed assessment surely finds an affirmation in many of the songs mentioned in this post.  And, in case you didn't notice, there's another reference of Isaiah 53:5.  

Finally, as St. Augustine wrote:  "Our hearts are restless, O Lord, until they rest in Thee."  Hair metal plays a similar riff. In 1990 Heart sang:  "I didn't want to need I need you now."  And like St. Augustine, we find God pulling us out of the darkness, because even the heavy metal darkness that seems so encompassing and fulfilling is itself yet another restless placebo for the divine reality.

ha ha..."Mom."  Get it?

source: Memes of Heavy Metal on Facebook

1 comment:

  1. Great post.

    One correction, maybe you meant the lyrics that Bruce Dickinson sang, but like most of Iron Maidens lyrics - they are written by Steve Harris.