Elephant Ears and Metal

I lived my motto last Thursday. In case you didn’t notice, my motto is up at the top of the page: Be who you are, like what you like, and do cool stuff. I understand having a motto is a bit pretentious, but so is having a blog and writing books. I appreciate your complicity.

On Thursday, being who I am included being a runner. Running is part of my daily routine as I run every day during the workweek. Spending 30 to 45 minutes of my lunch hour running away from work makes it much easier to go back and face an afternoon filled with email and meetings. The difference on this Thursday was that I was running around Capitol Lake in downtown Olympia. The lake is nowhere near my office, so I had to drive to get there. I also had to change into my running clothes in my truck. I don’t have a big truck, so it took some effort to get changed without drawing too much attention to myself as I contorted semi-nude in the cab.

Once I was appropriately dressed in shorts, shoes, and a sleeveless t-shirt, I stepped out of the truck into the warm air and ran towards the park on the other side of the lake where Lakefair, Olympia’s annual summer festival, was underway. It’s like a state fair without the animals. There are rides, fried food, and lots of vendors offering their wares from little white-tented booths. There is also a stage upon which local musicians perform for the crowd. The stage was the real reason I was there. A local band called Esoteria that I have written about before was scheduled to perform at 1 p.m. I took the afternoon off work to watch them play. Seeing a metal band perform was another facet of being who I am: a metal head.

When I arrived, another band was performing, and my friends from Esoteria were behind the stage waiting their turn to set up. I said hello and told them I was going to run around the lake until they were ready to play. About fifteen minutes later, I had circled the lake and was back in front of the stage as Esoteria was getting ready to begin. I scanned the crowd and noted, as usual at Esoteria shows, they were all about eighteen years old. Since I have a daughter who is eighteen, I was keenly aware of how much older I was than the rest of the fans in attendance. But it didn’t matter. I am a metal head and I’m going to be who I am.

Esoteria Band

The set started with Sean, the guitar player, playing a shreddy version of “The Star Spangled Banner” before the band launched into a cover of “Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel” by the blackened death metal band Behemoth. From there, they alternated original songs and covers for the remainder of the set. They played well and the small crowd was enthusiastic, moshing and headbanging throughout.

For the first three songs, I stayed out of the moshing. In case you don’t know, moshing is heavy metal’s version of dancing that looks like – and, in fact, is – people smashing into each other while moving in a circle. It appears as if they are all caught up in a tornado. While I didn’t mosh, I did bang my head and sing along. Headbanging is the act of shaking the head and upper body up and down in time with the music. It’s the only form of dancing I know of that can lead to whiplash. My antics were enough to draw the attention of two kids standing next to me. I didn’t make eye contact, but I saw them gesturing to one another, clearly fascinated by the gray-haired father figure who was into metal.

When the band played the intro to their song “Imprisoned,” I found myself on one side of a Wall of Death. A Wall of Death is a particular moshing configuration in which the crowd parts down the middle, Moses and the Red Sea style. , When the signal is given, the two sides run toward each other to recreate the destruction of the Egyptians. Then the crashing and smashing devolves into a more conventional circular mosh pit. At this show, the size of the crowd suggested this Wall of Death would more properly be called a Wall of Minor Injury. Normally I don’t participate in the Wall of Death maneuver, but I decided the risk to my well-being was minimal and I joined in the fun when Merritt, the vocalist, gave the signal. Twelve teenage boys, two teenage girls, a ten year old boy, and one 45-year old collided and proceeded to banged and crash into each other with glee.

During the band’s final song, a cover of Iron Maiden’s classic “The Trooper,” the entire crowd – not including me – joined the band on stage to bang their heads shoulder to shoulder. I stayed on the ground in front of the stage and enjoyed the spectacle. As I later said to the two kids who told me they thought I was pretty cool, I’ve been going to metal shows for a long time. I was thrilled to see a whole new generation playing and loving heavy metal music, from Iron Maiden to Behemoth to brand new anthems like Esoteria’s “Brothers” and “Imprisoned.” I was more than happy to let them have their time. I just hope they keep being who they are, liking what they like, and doing cool stuff.

By the way, another thing I really like is elephant ears. As I made my way back around the lake, I stopped at one of the many fried food vendor booths and ordered up a cinnamon sugar elephant ear. The perfect post-run snack, don’t you think?

I encourage you to check out Esoteria for yourself. Here’s a link to the show. If you’d like to witness the Wall of Death, it begins at about 19:30. I’m the tall, gray-haired guy.

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