Thursday, May 22, 2008

Trying to make sense of a senseless death

Two weeks ago, the eldest son of my friends hung himself with a towel in their bathroom. He seemed like a typical college student with a year to go before graduation. Even his family was taken by surprise by it as they were surprised last year to find him performing with a local amateur band.

After his burial, the parents found a cache of death metal cds and posters in his room. These were promptly burned in their backyard.

When I googled his name today, the search turned up 3 - 4 pages of his friends in myspace.com paying homage to the young man in this way: rest in gore: g_p_p_. All 3 - 4 friends have one thing in common: these young people are death metal music fans/performers.

Wikipedia defines death metal as:
Death metal is an extreme heavy metal subgenre. The genre is typically characterized by the use of heavily-distorted guitars, harsh vocals that are low-pitched and/or growled, morbid lyrics, exceptionally fast-paced rhythms and melodies, frequent blast beats on drums, and complex song structures with multiple tempo changes.

Death metal's lyrical themes typically invoke Z-grade slasher and splatter movie violence, but may also extend to contain themes of Satanism, Occultism, mysticism, and/or social commentary. Although violence may be explored in various other genres as well, death metal elaborates on the details of extreme acts, including mutilation, dissection, rape and necrophilia. Sociologist Keith Kahn-Harris (author of Extreme Metal: Music and Culture on the Edge) commented that this may be attributed to a "fascination" with the human body that all people share to some degree, a "primal desire", and that although the genre often glamorizes violence and obscurities, there is equally as much fear and disgust amid the exploration. Heavy metal author Gavin Baddeley also stated that there does seem to be a connection between "how acquainted one is with their own mortality" and "how much they crave images of death and violence" via the media. Additionally, contributing artists to the genre often defend death metal as little more than an extreme form of art and entertainment, similar to horror films in the motion picture industry. Needless to say, this has brought such musicians under fire from activists internationally, who claim that fact is often lost on a large number of adolescents, who are left with the glamorization of such violence without social context or awareness of why such imagery is stimulating.
At the risk of sounding like I'm making death metal a convenient scapegoat for this young man's death, I pose these questions -- Could this type of music really drive a young man to commit suicide? to prefer death over life? As the last sentence of the quoted material from Wikipedia suggests, are we allowing young people to play russian roulette with their lives by tolerating their "blind" embrace of this type of music? Is it enough for us to shrug off this type of music by saying: "it's just one of the various forms of art and entertainment"?


Dom Cimafranca said...

Creepy story there, Gilbert.

My guess is that death metal may be another form of anti-establishment rebellion. Oftentimes, nothing more.

But maybe parents should take that as a sign to take steps to get closer with their kids.


i believe that music affects our moods and emotions, if you listen to Death Metal stuffs, eventually your moods and emotions will alter to fit the message.

i'm not saying that death metal is the cause of this young man's death, but it definitely has something to do with his mood when he hanged himself.

Redmanthatcould said...

People don't really understand social commentary, but I like the way you looked at it.