Music Appreciation

The following was originally prepared as a spoken piece for the Moth StorySLAM, an open-mic storytelling competition in which participants tell personal five-minute stories about a given topic. (Un)Fortunately, I was not one of the 10 out of 29 entrants selected to go onstage.

I went to my first real heavy-metal show last week, Symphony X at the Gramercy Theatre. This group will always have a special place in my heart, because fifteen years ago they were my gateway to the world of metal. I was a high school freshman sitting next to this badass-looking sophomore rocker chick in band class, and she pretty much introduced herself to me with, “Hey man, I’m Debbie. You ever listen to Symphony X?”

I went home that afternoon and downloaded “The Accolade” on Limewire—that’s one of the torrenting programs that succeeded Napster, for those who’ve always acquired their music lawfully—and I was hooked.

Before that, I had never really been “into” music, which was probably a little weird for somebody who’d been playing the piano since age five. I just listened to the radio when I was in the car, and to my mother’s CDs at home. She tried really hard, bless her heart, to help us assimilate into American culture with those CDs. The Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears… Now That’s What I Call Music! volumes 1 through 14… So when I heard “The Accolade,” this nine-and-a-half-minute piece with wacky, shifting time signatures and shredding guitar solos and lyrics about slaying dragons, my mind was blown. I didn’t know music could be like this. All I knew was classical, jazz, pop.

But even though I’d become a fan for life, I never went to any of their shows until last week. For the longest time, I was way too worried about not being metal enough. About being a fraud, a poser. I mean, look at me right now. Would you have thought, before I stepped up here to tell you, that I was going to talk about heavy metal? I didn’t have the torn jeans, studded leather belt, or grungy hair. I was worried I’d raise my hand to do the sign and the wrong fingers would go up. And the concept of mosh pits terrified me.

Over the years, I developed an appreciation for lots of different genres: indie rock, rap, hip-hop, electronic dance music, country, whatever. A beautiful thing about music is how people naturally cluster around a genre and form its own subculture. Yet still I worried about not being cool enough for any of them. I never quite managed to hear about indie bands before they hit the mainstream. I wasn’t street enough for rap or hip-hop. Being an ecstatic raver at an EDM show left me feeling hollow and strange the following morning. And country?—hello, I’m from a Jersey suburb.

I spent so much of my younger years worrying about whether I was anything enough. Metal enough to attend shows. Smart enough to make my parents proud of me. Funny and interesting and cool enough to my friends and peers. That last one was a big one.

Eventually, thankfully, I stopped caring so damn much. I think that’s the best and most important part of growing up. If you love hip-hop, K-pop, J-rock, whatever—then that’s legit enough. There’s no need to be so paranoid and afraid. Embrace the stuff you love, the things you want to experience.

So I finally went to that Symphony X show last week. If you’ve never been to the Gramercy Theatre—they’ve got an open area up front by the stage, where people would presumably mosh, and then tiered rows of seats like in a movie theater or arena. Before the show started, someone near the bar said to his friend, “You know all the losers are going to be sitting up in those seats.” Whatever, man. I sat up in those seats, and you know what? I had an amazing time.

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