The following is an account of what took place on the evening of Sunday March 14th, 1996 in New Paltz, New York. It was the most frightening night of my life…
I looked at the alarm clock. 3:14 AM. What on earth was that horrible noise?
BANG!!!!! BANG!!!!! BANG!!!!
Loud thumping from the front door. What on earth?!?!?
“AAAAARRRGHRGRHHRRAAAA!!!!! HELP ME!!!! AAAAAAAAARGHTHHTERGG!!”
BANG! BANG! BANG!
What could it be? I stared at cracked wood paneled ceiling above me. Eyes pinned open. Was someone banging on my door? Why would someone be banging on the door at 3:14 in the morning?
BANG!!! BANG!!! BANG!!!!!!
The bleariness of sleep quickly disappeared from my mind. Cobwebs melted away and were quickly replaced with horror. What on earth? ‘I should go downstairs’, I mumbled to myself.
BANG!!!! BANG!!!!! BANG!!!!!!! BANG!!!!!!!!!
I shot out of bed and grabbed the 36-ounce aluminum Easton bat from my closet. I threw a shirt on, took a deep breath and started to walk to the hallway that connected our living room to the front door. I lived in an apartment with two other people who were both out of town. It was just me. The hallway led to a creaky wooden door that probably couldn’t handle much more of the pounding that whatever was on the other side was inflicting on it.
It didn’t even sound human, whatever it was. Some filthy, snarling beast on my front porch. Why? Maybe it would go away if I…..
BANG! BANG!!!! BANG!!!!!!!
Pounding with two fists! Screeching! What was on the other side of the door?
Only feet away from the door handle. Now, the door handle in my hand. NOW!
I flung the door open and I’ll never forget what I saw.
No shirt, covered in some red substance that was either blood or strawberry syrup, dark bruises on his body, a deranged, confused expression on his face. Only feet away from me. I knew him right away from the moment my eyes met his. It was Bill Clinton.
He began looking at the sky and howling a sick, miserable shriek.
“Mr. President, are you alright?” I asked filled with astonishment and terror.
“I know…..I know……I know……I know…….FEAR!!!!!”
“Are you hurt?”
He stared blankly into my face. His body was no longer filled with electric, crazed energy. An empty vessel. Eyes filled with nothing as if he was listening to a song that only he could hear.
“I know pain,” he whispered to me in a voice that projected complete sadness and desolation.
“I KNOW PAIN!!!! ARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRAGHRGRHRGRGGG!!!!!!!!!” he screamed.
The next thing I knew he began running away…..howling. The way his body moved was not even human. Like some combination of an eel, a toad and a man. He disappeared into the woods on the side of the house. What had just happened? The howling faded into the distance and I was left alone in the oppressive darkness.
I tried to call the police. They told me I was crazy. I told my friends. They didn’t believe me. I tried to find news reports about the whereabouts of the President on that evening. The newspapers claimed he was in France on an official visit. I knew better.
I never have figured out what happened that night. I will probably never know. For a few moments, Clinton became a vulgar, demented beast. Maybe it was who he was all along or maybe he strayed from the light for just one evening. That night he was a monstrosity.
It’s not the screaming or the banging or the look in his eyes that I remember most. I remember his howl he let out as he disappeared as if I heard it yesterday. It was the noise an animal made when it sensed its own demise. It was the repugnant terror of existential emptiness and complete alienation all pressed together in one terrible, resonant sound. In that moment, he spoke from a horrific place that I hope I do not ever see. I never looked at him the same way again.
The second song on the record “Carnal Forge” is one of the more lyrically challenging songs I’ve encountered. When I first got a copy of the record, I sat there with a dictionary for an hour trying to figure out what on earth Carcass was talking about. Jeff Walker is known for having a remarkable vocabulary and this song proves it. Unless you scored in the top one percentile on your college boards, you are going to need help with a few of the words he uses. As a service to our readership with IQs below 160, I took the lyrics and clarified them a bit.
(A massacre that takes many different forms)
(A vulgar, disgusting display of death)
Sublime enmangling steelbath
(A glorious, destructive bath)
Of escheated atrocities
(Of things lost to the State through terrible acts)
Enigmatic longanimity of ruminent mass graves
(Quiet graves that show a mysterious ability to suffer without sound)
Meritorious victory, into body-bags now scraped…
(A great win worthy of recognition that is shown by a high body count)
(The authority and power of piles of dead bodies)
The dead regorged
(The dead shot out of their graves)
Osculatory majestic wrath
(A union of beautiful anger)
This carnal forge
(Human forms beaten and molded like a blacksmith working with metal)
Desensitized – to perspicuous horror
(No longer able to feel the awfulness of horror)
Dehumanized – fresh cannon fodder…
(Humans reduced to objects and killed on the battlefield)
(Something awful being praised for its greatness)
(An obvious massacre)
Dehumanized – cannon fodder
(Murder in a way that is clean and neat)
(Murder made holy)
Desensitized – to genocide
(No longer capable of feeling what is wrong with mass murder)
(Piles of dead bodies ruling over the land)
(Death shot upwards)
(Being drenched with blood)
(Bloodshed and death turned into something else)
In the cold, callous dignity of the mass grave…
(Respectful mass graves without feeling)
(Violence taking different forms and leading to a massacre)
Cruel, mendacious creed
(Evil, lying system of belief)
Sublime, murderous bloodbath
Of fiscal atrocities
(A massacre having to do with money)
Inexorable mettle in redolent consommé
(Unstoppable courage blended into a pleasant smelling soup)
An opprobious crucible of molten human waste…
(A disgraceful furnace of melting bodies)
(Bodies piled up to the sky)
(Endlessly shot upwards)
The smelting butchery
(A process of separating metals, a process of slaughtering animals)
Of the carnal forge
Desensitized – to pragmatic murder
(No longer feeling the horror of murder which is committed for practical purposes)
Dehumanized – into cannon fodder…
(Turned into non-human form and destroyed without feeling)
“Carnal Forge” is a searing study of the horrific nature of war. The whole “war is bad” theme has been done to death in heavy metal, but through the use of clever language and Joycean puns, Carcass is able to breathe life into a hackneyed lyrical concept. The major motif in the song is the monstrous merger between mechanized and human form. The effect is that the listener has a difficult time distinguishing between the two. This melding of forms stresses the concept of dehumanization in an even more immediate way. When Walker sings of “inexorable mettle in redolent consommé” he is giving the image of a soup made from mettle (courage) but also a soup made from metal (the human form turned into scrap). “Fiscal atrocities” means the destruction of capital, but also is meant to imply physical atrocity (the destruction of the human form). In these puns, we see a world where the lines blur between the animate and inanimate. When this line is obliterated, so are we. Our willingness to see humans as objects makes it possible for us to murder those who share our likeness. It is in the Carnal Forge of war that our human characteristics are lost.
The ultimate irony of this destruction through desensitization is that it is so engrained in some circles that it is not greeted with horror. Instead, it is celebrated. Soldiers who return are feted with parades; those who do not are given dignified, stately memorials. The dead do not care about these things. They do not care about the flags that cover their caskets, they are not interested in the soldiers firing skyward in their honor, and they do not gaze proudly at their names etched into stone walls. They cease to feel anything in the name of country or God or safety or resources or land or whatever-reason-was-given-to-them as they take their final journey into endless night.
There is no honor in death. The dead only know coldness and silence. Yet through a stroke of pure madness, many believe that the great wrongs that have been committed can be righted through ceremony. The louder we shout our love for the soldiers, the easier it is to forget the great waste of life that has been sacrificed in our names. Even the veneration of the dead is an act of objectification that makes future suffering more possible and even more likely.
Remembrance of their anguish does not wipe the slate clean. It is not for them; it is for us. A genuine act of contrition would be to create a world where massacres are entirely unacceptable, no matter who commits them. We do not live in that world. Instead, we live in a world where idle actions and traditions absolve us of our responsibility to stop the madness of war.
(Special thanks to Metal Matt Longo for his brilliant edit of this. Thanks to his fine work this article is being simulcast by the good folks over at MindOverMetal.org. Stop on by. Tell’em Keith sent ya!)
Stage fright is a truly terrible feeling. Many people confront it, but usually they manifest their experience in different ways. Some people cry, some talk louder, some simply feel a vague sense of dread as they move through the speech. What I’ve noticed in talking to people about it over the years is that the experience of it changes dramatically from person to person, but it is always quite miserable if you feel it.
I have an awful fear of speaking on stage. As a teacher, I never feel nervous speaking to a roomful of high school students, but once a year in May I am asked to speak in front of a large audience on a stage with a microphone. The speech itself is something I’m honored to give, but the fear I feel starts around January and becomes nearly debilitating by the end of April. It is only a three-minute speech but my fear of it consumes months of my life.
People are always very supportive and try to be compassionate but usually the advice I get doesn’t help all that much. If you mention you have this fear you will get a lot of guidance, but often I’m not sure if the people who give it really understand the parts of it that make it so terrifying. It is an irrational feeling and most rational suggestions fail to address it in a way that is practical. You get advice like “Try to imagine them all naked”. If everyone in the audience were naked I’m sure I’d be even more terrified! How could the thought of hundreds of naked humans staring at you be even remotely comforting? Other people ask you “What’s the worst that can happen?” They have no idea of the circus that your brain becomes for three minutes. The worst that can happen is that you’ll be on stage giving the speech. People simply can’t comprehend why a relatively simple act like this can cause such suffering. I don’t really understand it myself.
The following is an attempt to describe the experience in real time. Some of this will sound silly, but every single thought written down has gone through my mind on stage. The goal of this piece is to create a running record of what stage fright actually feels like for me.
Alright, here we go. Need another sip of water. If you act confident, the fear won’t come. Okay, time to stand up. They just called me. Fix my jacket. Three buttons…how many should I button? I need to keep it buttoned cause my tie is too short. I look like Oliver Hardy. Someone once told me leave the bottom unbuttoned. Okay. Here we go. Don’t look up. Don’t look up. Just read. You should make some arm gestures. Just hold the podium. Don’t fall. Hands sweating. The podium is see through. Are the spots around my hand fogging up? Do they see me sweating? Act confident. Here it comes. Here it comes. I should have left them all unbuttoned. I should have acted more confident. Now IT is HERE.
Hot. What if I pass out? Falling, hitting my head. Would someone catch me? I’m too big. Where am I? Did I just miss a line…no, no, I’m okay….page one is over. Don’t look up. They are all looking at you. They are all looking at you. Is my fly zipped? Don’t look up. Fast. Dizzy when I look up. Falling, hitting my head. IT IS HERE.
Does what I’m saying make any sense? Do they hear me? I didn’t practice enough. I practiced wrong. Fast. I practiced too much. What if I forget how to read? Sweating. Pain in the top of my head. Antler pain. I feel like antlers are going to sprout out of the top of my head. Stay focused. Where am I? I am reading, but I don’t know how. There is another me reading. I don’t even know what the other me is saying. Why are they laughing? Did I say something funny? Did I do something embarrassing? I didn’t write that to be funny…what’s happening???
FOCUS!!!! Antlers. Sharp, sharp pain in the top of my head. Halfway done. Sweating. What if I can’t breathe? Slow down your breathing. What if I can’t? I don’t control my breathing. Long way to go in this speech. Lots of words left. What if I start saying weird things? What if I start shouting random nonsense? NO CONTROL. What if I burp? What if I start cursing? What if I lose control of my body? Sharp pain in my head. Antlers are growing inside. Will they pop out?
One page left. Downhill, downhill, breathe, another minute…..breathe. If I can just get one more page. What am I talking about? Where am I? DON’T LOOK UP!!!! THEY are watching you….breathe….breathe….you are going to fast…..no one understands….breathe….one paragraph now…..look up once…try it…..try it….dizzy….FOCUS….DON’T LOOK UP…..clapping…no more words….handshake….get to the chair….don’t fall….don’t pass out…get to the chair…..sit down…..breathe….
My basketball team got beat by 31 points last night and I am still alive. It was a long, cold night, we got the bus back at nearly 10 o’clock and we committed 15 fouls in the first quarter, which must be a record in the state of Georgia. I have a vague fear that people watching might think that the team is losing because I am a bad coach and I have no clue what I am doing. I worry that there is something I am missing, some vital piece of information that could allow me to dramatically change our fortunes. Losing games has the painful side effect of bringing to the surface dormant feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. These are hard things to avoid. Yet, in spite of this, I really don’t feel that bad about the whole thing. Losing is not something I am proud of, but it is something that I have become less afraid of over the years. What I am about to say is heretical in the world of coaching and probably will elicit eye rolls from folks who worship at the altar of the “Church of the Winner”, but losing is really not all that bad. I’ll even go one step further into the nether reaches of coaching apostasy…I had a great time at the game last night and my players did as well! How is this possible?
A good deal of the culture of sport is built on the mistaken belief that winning actually means something beyond the basic fact that Team A scored more points that Team B. I have often been told that character wins basketball games. This is absurd. If a team has character and scores less points than the other team, they still lose. You could put together a team of sociopathic axe murderers and put them against a team of people who have run into burning buildings to save the lives of children and if the axe murderers put the ball in the basket more often they are going to win.
I have been told that winning is a product of hard work and determination. Another patently ridiculous statement. I have coached players who were extraordinarily committed to every aspect of the game but cannot keep up with disinterested natural athletes. Working hard may make you a better player but it can only close the gap so much. Hard work and determination are great character traits to have and will serve one well in life, but once the players step on the court it can only carry you so far. In order to get at the heart of how insane this idea is imagine for a second two basketball teams. One is a highly talented team who wins many of their games, some by embarrassingly high totals, and another is a minimally talented team who gets beat soundly on a regular basis. Which team really shows the most determination? The team that often loses has to deal with the hopelessness and sadness that losing can create. Sometimes people are angry with them because they have not performed well. Sometimes they feel embarrassed or ashamed because they lost. Yet they keep coming back game after game. During the 2007-08 season, the New Jersey Institute of Technology Highlanders men’s basketball team went 0-29. Can you imagine how much determination they must have shown to keep playing and working hard day after day?
The all time weakest sports cliché is the one where people think winning is a product of discipline. Bobby Bowden perfectly summed up the problem with this statement when he was asked if discipline was the key to winning. He responded by saying “if it was, Army and Navy would be playing for the National Championship every year.”
Maybe all of these positive attributes can be put together to create a culture of winning. They may help you, but when your team walks out of the tunnel and the other team has a significant advantage “height, speed, natural strength, etc.” there is only so much you can do. We don’t remember the story of David and Goliath because it is a regular occurrence; we remember it because it is the exception to the rule.
I once heard a football coach asked what he liked most about his star running back. He replied, “The kid makes me look like I know what I am doing.” I have stolen that quote and used it repeatedly over the years because I believe that it is instructive in understanding what I actually do for four months of the year. I try to teach skills and technique, but some players are able to get it and some are not. The great players often pick things up after a few repetitions and the ones with less ability may spend their entire time in high school working on one skill that another player could pick up in a half hour. Those with a set of attributes that gear them for success in the game will make them me seem as if I am a brilliant coach, those without the winning attributes will make me appear like I don’t have a clue about how to teach the game. If winning is the goal and my self worth as a coach is derived from it how on earth can I feel anything but anger towards those who don’t perform well and favor those who are successful?
Last night, while we were driving down to the game the girls on my team had a blast. They sang along to pop songs on the radio, they told hysterical jokes, wore funny hats and laughed uncontrollably. We showed up at the gym and were baffled by the bizarre conditions. The locker room looked vaguely like something out of the Saw films. The gym had no heat in it and it was a balmy 40 degrees at game time. We got on the court and the other team scored the first 17 points. None of the players put their head down and no one was angry. Our center hit a jump shot to get us on the board and the bench went crazy. My point guard picked up her third foul in the first quarter because of a bit of ill-advised gambling on my part. She came over to ask me to keep her in the game and I informed her that she had three fouls. She looked over at me and said “But I get five!” We laughed about that one the whole bus ride home. Another girl on the team asked me if she could coach the next game. I told her she couldn’t and she looked at me without a hint of irony and said, “Coach…let me shine!” Great line! We laughed about that for a while, too. We stopped for gas and snacks and two of the girls bought matching day-glow hats that made them look like a pack of tropical Skittles. Sitting on the bench with me was a young man who is the assistant coach of the boy’s team. He played for me when he was in high school and he loves the game so much he has decided to try coaching. He is a great person and is going to be a tremendous coach one day. I have been lucky enough to get a chance to coach with several athletes that played for me in high school and it is an unbelievably wonderful feeling.
I guess I should have been acting dejected after the game. Smiling while your team is losing seems like an act of betrayal, but it isn’t. It is an act of love for the game and your players and an act appreciation and reverence for how much fun a game can be. I have never been one for oft repeated bromides about how winning isn’t what’s important, but I have to wonder what type of person I would be to be surrounded by all that joy and life while sadly brooding about not winning a basketball game. Think of what I could have missed.
Vince Lombardi once said, “Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser.” Well Vince, I don’t want to teach my players to be good losers, I want them to be the best losers that ever stepped on the court. I want them to experience elation every time they play basketball. I want them to look back with an incurable fondness and veneration for every moment of the season. If I could choose one thing to teach every player who puts on a uniform it’s to love the game completely without reserve and to play like that everyday.