Doc has an in-depth talk with Benny Horowitz, drummer of über successful rock band, The Gaslight Anthem, about coming up in the New Jersey hardcore scene, gush over local metalcore band For The Love Of…, discuss Benny’s struggle in the underground playing with bands like The Low End Theory and The Killing Gift, battling with the pressures of “real life”, and finally coping with having his dreams come true as a successful musician. Benny and Doc also engage in some NBA talk, and pore over the doldrums of being a Brooklyn Nets fan, and try to figure if anyone has a chance against the Golden State Warriors.
This episode features the songs “Crawl To Hide” by For The Love Of… from the 1998 album Feasting On The Will Of Humanity and “Stay Vicious” by The Gaslight Anthem from the 2014 album Get Hurt.
Last night I had the fortune to watch the highly anticipated documentary film, A Band Called Death. I don’t want to spoil it too much, but in short, it is the story of three black blood brothers from Detroit, MI who formed an energetic rock band in the mid 70’s called Death, that in hindsight is viewed as a predecessor to the punk rock movement.
This story really hit home with me because of the parallels to my own life and musical development. I know what it’s like to start a band in my seminal years with my brother, have an uncanny musical connection, and to later be estranged from that brother. I can identify with being in a predominantly black band trying to make a mark in a white world. It is the tale of truly being an outsider, and Death had it far worse than God Forbid in that they received tremendous blowback from the black community. They were trying to make their way in the capitol of traditional black music and the home of Motown Records. The story pinpoints how their morbid band name strangled the band’s progress like an albatross around their neck.
The element of Death’s story that struck the biggest chord with me was their dedication to the purity of rock n roll. They studied the greats, and put the hard work and time into becoming a first rate band with a high standard of excellence. They wanted to be a great rock band. Not just great for black guys. There was no handicap in being good in spite of their blackness as if it was a gimmick. They also didn’t feel the need to “black” up their music. Their standard was The Who, The Beatles, Alice Cooper, Queen, Jimi Hendrix. God Forbid was the same way. Our standard bearers were At The Gates, Morbid Angel, Candiria, Suffocation, For The Love Of, Pantera, Sepultura, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Machine Head, etc. We weren’t going to be legit until we were at their level from a technical standpoint. And that led to countless hours in the jam room, meticulous studying of our favorite bands, trying to decode the art of being the in the big leagues. Just being a nerd about your craft. Obsession. It never feels like work at the time. You just love it so much that you devour as much content as possible, and it becomes part of your DNA. It’s beyond culture. It’s purity.
A Band Called Death serves as a great contrasting companion piece to the previously lauded rockumentary Anvil: The Story of Anvil about 80’s Canadian glam-thrash, could-have-beens. For me, Anvil served as a cautionary tale as what not to become as an aging musician. They were desperate for stardom probably because of the colossal success of their peers. The 80’s set a standard that allowed for a swath of unreasonable expectations, as documented by The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years. This was a generation of people who were not living in reality, and everything that goes up must come down.
A Band called Death is about family. It’s about dedication to music. It’s about holding on to artistic virtue. It’s about doing it for the right reasons. They called the band Death, because death is real. I can back that.
We’ve all been there. Tensions are high in some packed, sweaty venue, sparked by feverish excitement and the potential for violence. These people paid good money to enjoy some type of cathartic release. The frontman for whatever hard-nu-death-crab-metal-core outfit is brazen and demanding. Can you believe this shit? You PAID to be entertained, and this guy is telling YOU what to do! The speech goes something like this: “I want everybody in this room moving! Front to back, side to side, NO ONE STANDS STILL! When this part kicks in, I want total [Insert destructive word here like “chaos,” “mayhem,” or “bedlam” if you’re witty]. If the person next to you isn’t moving, MAKE THEM MOVE!” Than, if the action is not adequate, this screamer/pep rally organizer calls YOU some variation of “pussy” or “faggot” or really anything to make you feel like a soft, womanly bitch of a man in order to get in that pit and kick another grown man in the face, all in the spirit of making this band look like they are awesome. But then something happens, as if the air is sucked out of the room at the moment of impact – when those glorious staccato chugs kick in, the crowd is almost always powerless to its charms regardless of the obvious lack of substance. Like junk food and reality TV, we have a love affair with breakdowns.