Be it that a love of sound was subordinated to a love of books, some sort of social void carved out by a homeschool education (leaving that one for you Psych 100-types to chew on), or perhaps that my elder siblings—so often the source of one’s earliest musical allegiances—were lost in their own worlds of computer programming and mixed martial arts (again, for you types, go at it); I somehow missed music. As I made my way through the latter half of my education in the public school system, I noticed that no matter how varied the particulars, my peers were uniformly defined by some rabid devotion to music, and that I was somehow “off” by virtue of having mere preferences. Even now, there is a glassy look in the eyes of otherwise unemotional people when they recall how ________ got them through some rough times or they listened to the ________ album for a week straight or waited for hours in the snow in order to score tickets to _________. In retrospect, the music itself didn’t really matter, it was there to provide boundaries for slicing up the social landscape, litmus tests with which to judge the quality of relationships (I could never be with a guy who listens to _________ ), tools I wasn’t even aware I needed, given that I preferred the company of a fabulous shoe, or a book that I was too young to read, to the company of my peers.
That may have gone off the rails, but it helps explain at once the depth of my fascination with subcultures, and also my inability to read them very well, to tease out the rules. For me, fanaticism itself holds aesthetic value. Just perceiving the totality of devotion is enough.
Frank Marshall, Binki, 23.6 in. X 23.6 in., Archival Giclee Print, 2010. Courtesy the artist and Bekris Gallery.Frank Marshall’s heavy metal cowboys (and girls), posed heroically in dusty leathers against the backdrop of central Botswana are supposed to be revelatory in their assertion that black people do, in fact, like metal music, but it might not seem so strange to certain parties hanging around Ohio in the 80s. Their revelation stands in direct contrast to subculture portraits of someone like Peter Beste, who enjoys juxtaposing the histrionic trappings of subcultural dress with the pedestrian necessities of daily life. Picture a Norwegian youth preparing his Fruit Loops in corpse paint and a studded leather gauntlet. Marshall doesn’t seem interested in that sort of tension. You see his subjects as they see themselves; tough, cool, rad, someone you’d want to stay on the good side of. The appeal is somewhat ineffable for me but apropos to the heavy clack of my boots across the empty gallery, to the blood-red nails that I absentmindedly filed into sharp points while riding the bus. My associations were all on the surface, going from Mapplethorpe to Motörhead to Mad Max and back again, but luckily (and I’m not sure if I’m being sarcastic or not) I was accompanied by my partner, who happens to be absurdly versed in the nuances of heavy metal. He seemed intrigued by the preponderance of Iron Maiden t-shirts in the photographs, juxtaposed with the presence of a lone Cannibal Corpse shirt, a death metal interloper amid a sea of new wave British heavy metal. “Although you could contend with that label, seeing as Cannibal Corpse didn’t come directly out of the death metal scene in Florida. They sort of pioneered their own thing, some people even call it ‘gore metal’ in reference to their art and aesthetic but...it’s kind of nebulous. It’s easiest to just call it death metal.” Thank you my love, for the particulars. —Christina C. Martinez
Top Image: Frank Marshall, Dethgard, 23.6 in. X 23.6 in., Archival Giclee Print, 2010. Courtesy the artist and Bekris Gallery.