Still Cat Valente here. You must endure a few more days of me and my rambling yet! *cue evil laughter and some sort of machine lighting up ominously*
It’s funny how music terms get appropriated and become general terms–like punk or punk rock. Or like “metal.”
Most of my friends use this word about as often as they use the word “awesome,” which is to say constantly and with overweening enthusiasm. “That’s pretty metal,” Jack will say when he wins a game decisively. And he means it’s good on the level of bone-crunching, passionate, bombastic, anger-filled music that might or might not be from the devil, that has shredding virtuoso guitars and thumping drums you can feel in your pancreas. I dig that as an adjective, especially since, like writing, playing metal is way harder than it seems, and writing fantasy is just as likely to be written off as not real music/literature.
I wonder about the motivations involved in the invocation of punk in our wide and diverse genre. I’ve been thinking about this since yesterday’s post, more or less nonstop. It speaks to me of a deep longing for all that punk represents, and a deep anxiety that as a group, we ain’t got it. Maybe we feel there is something inherently not-very-punk about sitting at a keyboard for twelve hours and writing about ray guns and fairy socio-political constructs. It doesn’t look cool, like playing a guitar, there are no video games to simulate it, and despite the shine the idea of writing has, the reality is so boring that three generations of filmmakers have bent over backward trying to come up with a way to show it on-screen that doesn’t make the viewing public nose-dive into their popcorn and came up with, collectively, a fake nose and a montage. So we invoke people who are somehow ineffably cooler than us, hopeless dorks that most of us were and are. That’s ok–music is usually trying to get itself taken seriously in a literary way, so it’s fair game. But we must want it, god, we must want it so bad if we keep using the word like it’s an amulet against the world. (Secretly, though? Writing IS punk rock. It’s hard fucking core and we are kung-fu lycanthropic nuns with mean hangovers. But don’t tell anyone. There’s only so much depilatory cream to go around.)
But we have to earn it if we’re going to wear it, you know? No $200 ripped skirt with patches pre-sewn on. Even though it’s a vague and subjective thing, what is punk, what is metal, what is not–well, what is not is usually pretty obvious, but what is is often less clear. Insert pornography test here. I’m not sure myself if I know what the hell I’m talking about–someone said to me yesterday that fantasy was by definition not metal, and I
killed him with my pen sputtered indignantly for a long while, trying to explain the secret hardcore of fantasy. Though I think, given that musicians have been arguing their own terms since at least 1977, I can be forgiven for not having a Recipe for Metal.
But I have an idea of what the dish looks like when it’s done. It’s something bone-crunching, passionate, bombastic, something so honest it hurts, something hard, virtuoso, thumping, pounding. You feel it in your pancreas.
And somehow, it’s the key to something. Like a pile of mashed potatoes. Something awesome and terrible, something fantasy can be. Something we can be. And my challenge to myself as I work on my sixth novel is, at the end of every chapter, to ask myself:
“Is this metal?”
And move forward only if the big, antisocial, spike-booted, string-shredding, pen-stabbing imp with a steel bar through her face who lives somewhere to the left of my spleen says: Fuck yeah, it’s metal!
I challenge you to do the same.
And you don’t stop.