bITS 'N CHUNKS
I used to be a lot more active in the Skeptics blogosphere before I finally dropped them due to rampant white privilege, sexism & misogyny, low key racism just general fauxgressive passive aggressive behavior, but my early years there were pretty formative and educational. One of the names lobbed around was James Randi, who I knew as a friend of Penn & Teller and a magician himself, but at the time did not realize he was a skeptic. What a weird combo.
I ended up reading Flim-Flam! as part of my learning and though it's dated now, it's still a great and highly recommended read. Yes it debunks pretty much everything the Aether Book Club stands for but you should be exposed to as much critical and skeptic literature as possible. Criticism to me defines choice: this person disagrees with the path I'm taking and gives a good argument as to why, but I'm still going to go this way because I want to. Always take that in mind with you. As opposed to just having things delivered to you, which is where I break with religion. Of course.
The good thing about Flim-Flam! Is that it's written for a general audience so I never found it terribly condescending. It is certainly a lot more light-hearted than Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins. It exposes charlatans that take advantage of people (cough cough, cold reading), busts open pop culture myths of the time and debunks them with reasoning and hard cold facts, and explains some of the science of gullibility. Like Ghostland, it posits some answers to the question of why do people fall for things without stooping to "because people are stupid".
Also like Ghostland, it's a great look into how to research things properly. It will show you how to avoid schemes and abusive practices, which is so important when you think you want to get into mystical practices because there are so, so many people out there willing to take advantage of people not armed with knowledge. And some of it is so confusing and lofty (cough cough, Hermeticism) you could be falling into well laid traps and not even realize it.
I say dated but honestly some of these trends still live or have come back. Seriously, Ancient Aliens? Peoples of Africa or India couldn't have used technology before Europeans introduced it? Randi was debunking that thirty years ago but people just refuse to let go. Seeing how cyclical trends are demonstrates just how readily people will fall for anything without a bit of reason and research.
And now we get to the good stuff.
Hermeticism is very, very, very big. If you feel like you want to get into it or learn about its teachings, there are so many texts -- collectively referred to as Hermetica -- to go through, so many teachings, so many branches, just so much damn material!
Where do you start?
With the short version.
Most of the texts available on Hermeticism all do the same thing, and that is distill the original teachings of Hermes Trismegistus. Like so many figures in the esoteric path, Hermes Trismegistus likely isn't a real single person if he's a person at all; Hermeticism itself usually refers to him as a prophet and the messenger/son of a combination of old pagan gods. To that end, Hermeticism states that all religions are basically united and granted to mankind by a single god. So for example, pagan religions with multiple gods are a reflection of aspects of a single god.
You've probably heard this theory kicked around before, especially when discussing tension between Abrahamic religions ("they all worship the same god!"). This concept is actually very ancient and pre-dates the dates given for the general start of any Hermetic offshoots.
Hermeticism is fascinating but since it's intentionally very broad and encompasses quite a few spin offs it can be difficult to know where the hell to start with it. There's two texts to recommend: the Corpus Hermeticism which forms the base of Hermeticism, and the Kybalion which distills the principles of Hermetic thought.
I go to The Kybalion first because it's easily digestible, set up to be read more like Proverbs than Corpus Hermeticism, which is a much older text and greatly influenced by spiritual thought and the writings of Plato. What really separates them is brevity -- Corpus Hermeticism is exhaustive and The Kybalion is literally the Cliff Notes version.
The Kybalion feels very mystical as well. It is credited to "three initiates" who have never been satisfactorily identified so there is an air of mystery. The principles are fascinating and read as very contemporary, especially the gender shifting, almost nonbinary nature of the Principle of Gender. Most influential to me was the section Cause & Effect and Causation, which are as good a case against any evidence of Meritocracy as I've ever seen.
Ideally you would read both books side by side but I would reach for the Kybalion first to even figure out if you want to go any deeper into the gaping crater that is Hermetic thought.
Since we deal in a lot of nostalgia here, I must say that I have loved AMVs since childhood.
Growing up, it was a real treat to even get to see a really well-made AMV or anime music video. You knew a lot of time and effort had gone into making them high quality and often I had to wait for my risky download to finish to watch a 3 minute clip.
Some of them even got broadcast on TV, which was so cool. Due to a lot of legal reasons, much like fanfiction, AMVs were and still are quite underground. Curiously, they don't get spread quite as much as fanfiction which makes me wonder if they're losing popularity? Or maybe it's just not worth it to anger the copyright gods for a really cool set of clips.
My old Youtube playlist of liked videos feels like a time capsule. There's so many AMVs from like ten years ago and most of them pre-date YouTube. Especially the AMV Hell compilations.
And like my love of songfics, I love AMVs so much because they thematically link an anime (or western cartoon if you're so inclined) to a song to capture a moment in the show, a feeling, to make something funny, or give fight scenes a really boss soundtrack.
Labels and the general culture of us vs poseurs taught me not to trust anyone that gives themselves an actual category. I know, that's stupid but it was a big thing back in The Day™.
Why? Because labels put you in a box and meant you were a puppet. If you voluntarily called yourself glam metal then we already knew what you were all about and there was no room for anything else. That's why to this day a lot of older goths still hiss at the "goth" label, because of what it is and what it has become. When you get tired of explaining things to people, it's easier to distance yourself.
The only people that I know of that lean head first into categorization is metal heads and punks and even that is not always a given. You can find generic headbangers anyway and most of them will definitely let you know, but there's a lot of us that hate subcategories for example. Punks are…well, punks. A lot of us don't care either.
Now, depending on how old you are you probably had to re-read that last part. Did you just refer to "us" as both punks and metalheads? Yes, there was a time when those two categories mixed like cesium and water. Labels suddenly matter a lot when you need to know what club to go to so you don't get your ass kicked.
That being said, with that kind of history it's weird to think at some point punks and metalheads would meet, agree, shake hands, and not murder each other. But it happens all the time. Goths and rockabilly stray cats met up for gothabilly or psychobilly and that's kind of weird. Apparently the meeting of minds of metal and hardcore punk was crossover.
Live video of "The Mob Goes Wild" courtesy of YouTube user HiDef ROCK, all I have for you are blurry pictures. On to the belated review.
Well then. I went to a concert and felt old.
A moment of forethought went into my purchasing tickets for this show. Clutch? Fine, saw them on the last Psychic Warfare run around through these parts. Back then, they brought Corrosion of Conformity in tow. This time was The Obsessed -- the pinnacle of old school doom metal -- and Devin Townsend, the peak of progressive operatic something-something metal that doesn't take itself terribly serious. Surely you've heard Ziltoid by now.
A moment of forethought, then things became strange. The Obsessed and Clutch seem like a similar fit to each other. Even if The Obsessed is the bigger band for me I definitely understand why Clutch is headlining. I'm glad they brought them along. But Devin stuck out to me -- what in the world was uppity prog rock doing at a stoner metal concert for us bottomfeeders? Devin has two speeds: melodic heavy and heavy fast. That seemed incongruent to the ceremony that we were about to witness. Then I thought, I could definitely see Clutch touring with Devin as both have a quirky sense of humor and penchant for sci-fi, but that leaves out dead ass serious The Obsessed. What…? Where…? When and how?
I don’t put together tour packages, I just buy the tickets. And so I sat on them for a clean month. I took my first vacation day in years, and I was off to the rare, coveted Saturday show at Marathon Music Works.
Ah, Marathon. My second home. I've hit this venue officially more than any of my other frequent haunts in the city. I'm trying to get back to the Exit/In one of these days and I'm starting to feel a little out of touch with The End. I save the big money for the War Memorial Auditorium and the Municipal. I'll never get into the Ascend Amphitheater. But Marathon is just right. There's almost always a little something there for me, it's accessible enough in terms of pricing, and it's close enough for a $10 Lyft ride from my house. So there.
A word on accessibility before I go on, though: please be considerate of people with physical disabilities and don't close off pathways for them just so you can scurry up to your favorite band like ten feet away. Don't be that asshole. Thanks.
So I get to the show and I realize no one asked for my ID. Do I, the oldest twentysomething, finally look my age? No, it's an all-ages show! This is fantastic and a curse at the same time. On one hand, most of my scenes are dying and could use some fresh blood. If a ten year old is interested enough in The Obsessed to headbang and drone alone, I am all for it. I will buy you as many sodas as you want. But as the night went on and a few drunken participants got in their feelings, as Devin randomly and deliberately caressed his own nipples on stage and shot mucous, I thought to myself, "how on Earth do you explain this in your back to school essay?"
I'm no one's moral guardian. All told, the weirdness aside, I hope those kids have fun and come back. We need more all-ages events to be honest. Can't yell at the kids for listening to Justin Bieber or whoever is relevant now if you don't give them an alternative. After all, I've been listening to this music since I was their age, too.
The Obsessed was loud and menacing. I was so happy to be at the front to watch Scott do his thing and bellow hatred at me. There was so much smoke and red light I was pretty sure I was being ferried right into Hell. They played a short set, but long enough to make an impact and Devin and Clutch singer Neil Fallon were cool enough to stress supporting them with merch sales. Merch sales are important for touring bands, folks. Sometimes you just have to buy a hat so someone else can eat that night.
If Clutch is the more mainstream band here then Devin is the most pop. Yeah, I said it. DTP combines pop sensibilities with fine progressive craft, a touch of actual Industrial metal as Lord Al Jourgensen intended it, and just being entertaining as all get out. It ended up being a cathartic, bright experience and heavy on the more bombastic tracks from Addicted, Epicloud, and new album Transcendence.
Ah, Marathon was packed but so cold at this point thanks to the weather and being in a warehouse. Even bundled up I couldn't shake the mix of exhilarated goosepimples and "fuck I'm cold" chills. I rub my aching neck with my ice block hands; feels good, but helped one thing and not the other. I was now less sore and cold. I look around at the little headbangers and the people older than me running off adrenaline and I feel ancient. I shifted and shuffled around the audience a bit until I was at the very end of the audience for Clutch. A trick at the Marathon for fellow shorties is to stand at the very edge and angle yourself; you can see the whole stage unobstructed now. Even if they can't hear you, the sentiment of "excuse me" and "I'm sorry" still carry a long way when maneuvering around.
"We Need Some Money" by Chuck Brown signals the main event. Clutch finally takes the stage bathed in more red light and smoke, but they're far from the menacing doom that The Obsessed brought. Clutch is like a fine medium between DTP and The Obsessed: serious but a serious good time, somewhat foreboding but more tongue-in-cheek. They can do a little progressive jam. I'd dare put them closer to Voivod if they weren't such a boot-scooting, blues-y good time. Oh yes, I danced. I paid for it but damnit I danced. This set list wasn't as Psychic Warfare-heavy this time around but it's also the second (or maybe even third) leg of the tour, the album's been out since 2015 so hopefully you've caught it by now. If you haven't, well, enjoy this Clutch retrospective.
I snuck out of the show near the end of Clutch's set. I glimpsed a few drunken exclamations. But you know what, in the end it's alright. I had a good time and that's what it means to go out. I pulled my ear plugs out and soaked in the night air and the night cold, shivering with equal parts excitement and the effects of the below-20 weather outside. I'm so glad I got to see two bands off my bucket list and Clutch for a second time. My concert season is over for the year, but January and February are already looking up. Here's to another year of youth and the scene which refuses to die.
Ia! If you've come this far, you're either looking for weird or you know you've found it...