I could go on for years about the ins and outs of my bizarre upbringing, but this blog is not the time or place for such. The important thing you need to know is that both of my parents served in the Marine Corps, and on top of that, my dad is also a pastor. Needless to say, the universe dealt me two of the weirdest, most extreme cards it possibly could.
I would argue that the military and religion don’t have much in common, except for the strong desire to control other people. Naturally, power and control were the major themes of my parents’ philosophy of childbearing. A child of the 90s’, the media and new technology became synonymous with pop culture in new and dangerous ways. MTV, VH1, the birth of the internet – all this gave me access to secular culture, which was forbidden. As the Pastor’s Daughter™, I represented my father, my church, my religion (or rather the religion I was forced upon). To preserve this image of purity and holiness, I was segregated from the mainstream world. The music I listened to, the TV shows I watched, the friends I hung out with, the websites I visited – all were heavily monitored and censored. In short, I was a very sheltered child, which furthered a sense of loneliness and isolation that would follow me up until my early twenties.
With that being said, as you can imagine, heavy metal was strictly forbidden. Along with most other genres for that matter. Pop, R&B, rap, dance, basically anything that wasn’t Christian music was not acceptable in my household. Somehow, in this environment where music was nearly cut off, my parents cultivated a musician. I sang in choirs and taught myself how to play piano. During my junior year of high school, I saw my first opera, Madam Butterfly by Puccini. I was mesmerized to say the least, and at that point I decided that I wanted to pursue a career in classical music. I would later go on to study opera and classical music in college, but that is another story. . .
Also during my junior year, a friend of mine began to introduce me to metal. In chemistry, we were allowed to listen to our iPods during downtime, so my friend let me listen to his music. Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Lamb of God, Avenged Sevenfold. All these were names that I’ve heard of, but I didn’t know any of their songs. If someone had a gun to my head and asked me to sing a few words of any Iron Maiden song, I would have said “Well you’re just going to have to shoot me then”. I never had a reference point for metal, although I did like some of the mainstream songs I’d hear at sporting events or TV commercials. After all, rock n roll was the Devil’s Music and even before my parents became religious, rock music was never a part of their music vocabulary.
My friend was in awe that I was musically ignorant and immediately set out on a mission to educate me. He asked me if I knew any grunge music, like Alice in Chains, to which I replied:
“Alice in Chains? Is that some goth fetish shit?”
He instantly facepalmed and told me he would bring me a few CDs next class for me to listen to. And to my surprise, he delivered on his promise and handed me The Wall by Pink Floyd and Jar of Flies by Alice in Chains. Little did he know, this is where it would all begin. I remember locking myself in my room and turning up my CD player loud enough for me to enjoy the music, but quiet enough to quell the possibility of my parents overhearing. The thrill of rebellion only added to the musical experience and I instantly fell in love.
The Wall was an amazing album, obviously, but I was much more enthralled by Alice in Chains. Their music was nothing like I imagined. Jar of Flies was this acoustic, sensitive masterpiece, nothing like the “goth fetish shit” that I imagined it to be. Throughout my high school career I suffered from depression and suicidal thoughts, but during my junior year I was at the height of my ailment. I felt alone, misunderstood, and hopeless. The pain in Layne Staley’s voice sounded similar to the pain I endured. Jerry Cantrell’s lyrics resembled the thoughts scribbled in my personal journal. For once, I felt that I was no longer alone; there was someone else feeling this way. One could argue that Alice in Chains serving as the soundtrack for my depression only worsened it, but for me, it made me search within myself to discover who I truly was.
I once was the Pastor’s Daughter, with no true sense of identity. I once was the Classical Musician, who followed orders on a page, but never truly wrote music of my own. The truth is I was angsty, I was rebellious, I was cantankerous, I was a weirdo, I was an outsider. I am now at peace with that.
Jar of Flies started it all. I later explored other Alice records, which made me explore Soundgarden and Nirvana, which made me explore the artists who inspired them, and the artists who inspired those artists and so on. In short, Jar of Flies made me discover a whole new world of music that resonates with me in innumerable ways. Yes, I am a black woman, the daughter of a pastor, a classically trained musician – and I fucking love metal. I no longer allow anyone to define me or my tastes. What I should or what I shouldn’t like. I refuse to be boxed in.
If I can’t be my own, I’d feel better dead.
Check out Jar of Flies on: