Slayer: Learning to take Action
A few months before the release of Reign in Blood I’d been in a rather vicious and bloody fist fight with a boy named Shane. Like me, Shane was a small boy. In the grand monkey-house that is part and parcel to being a “teenager,” he needed to prove his mettle and show that he was stronger than someone else. He picked me.
He spread untrue rumors about me. Rumors that I was honor-bound to answer. In those days, in that town, in those schools: slander was settled in trial-by-combat. I lost the fight and because of that the rumors became “truth”. I would never, ever become one of the “cool kids”.
I was a loser. A sad-sack. Pathetic.
On the day Reign in Blood was released for sale, Jason, Jake, Aaron and I (we Mice) went to buy a copy immediately after the final school bell. We walked under the 8th street viaduct to the magical land of “Downtown.” Once there, we hooked a right on 4th avenue directly to Davidson’s Music and dropped our combined allowance on the counter. It was a Tuesday; I remember because Tuesdays were always when the new music came out.
Why launch day? Well, we had literally ruined our copies of their previous album, Hell Awaits. Obviously listening to the tapes but also trying to play them backwards to understand the “demon speech” that overlays the first track.
To my nascent, outcast self, Hell Awaits spoke of power. A power that wouldn’t push me out, one that would embrace me, would welcome me. Having access to this didn’t make me any different – I was still pathetic – but at least I could feel a little less so.
(Spoiler: the whole demonic “sine-YOJH, sine-YOJH, sine-YOJH … waaaKUUUMBAAACHH!” bit? It’s “Join us, join us, join us, Welcome back.”)
We bought the tape and then hurried back to Aaron’s house to slot it into his father’s stereo. Jason cranked up the volume and pressed “play.” We suddenly found ourselves thrown against the wall by the aggression of the album’s first track, Angel of Death.
This. . . this. This was a different sound altogether. This was a wall of clean, focused fury. It was a half-hour of Liquid Bad-Ass, poured into a shot glass and hammered back with a chaser of “Because FUCK YOU, that’s why.”
A half an hour later, when the stereo clicked dry, there was something new, something different in my brain. A pregnant thought that perhaps I wasn’t destined to always be a victim. That I was allowed to be angry. That sometimes the anger was justified.
That just because I felt like I was pathetic did not mean that I actually was.
I had to express this feeling.
Because FUCK YOU. That’s why.
I was compelled (by Satan, probably) to obtain a t-shirt. I tried three record stores before I struck gold at the mall. It was a glorious tabard with the “sword logo” on the front and a venue list on the back, splattered with a blood-red “Do you want to die?”.
The next day, wearing it to school, I felt like a bad-ass. All goddamned day.
Because FUCK YOU.
In the play of my life I had decided to become a writer instead of only an actor.
In years since, I have come to understand that my impression of who I was and the impression that my classmates had about me were radically different. I saw myself as an undesired outcast. Because of this (because FUCK YOU), I got deeper into art and music. Into writing, reading, and games. Most of the time I just wanted to be left alone and not randomly punched in the nuts by someone for a laugh.
About a month ago I was in West Virginia and went to my 20th high school reunion. This was a bit of an eye-opening moment for me because it turned out that my classmates hadn’t seen me as a loser or pathetic. Quite the opposite: I was told a couple times that I had been admired for just doing what I wanted (because FUCK YOU) regardless of what anyone thought.
I had become the rebel because I thought I would never be allowed into the mainstream.
Strange how our perception of reality shapes the objective reality.
Some days I get lost in the existential questions surrounding this. Questions about nature and nurture. They mix my brain up. I lose focus and understanding of my identity.
Then I listen to Slayer and the doors in my brain get kicked down with the hard reality that it doesn’t fucking matter because FUCK YOU, that’s why.
Here’s what I learned from Reign in Blood:
The most perfect enemy of the pathetic is action.
When you don’t know which door to take, say “fuck it” and kick one of them – any of them – open.
Kick these doors with purpose and fury.
Be the writer.
Twenty-five years later, when I find myself feeling closest to my nostalgic roots, I still wear a “Reign in Blood” tour t-shirt.
I still feel like a bad-ass when doing so.