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Longtime readers of this newsletter will know that if there’s one thing I like reading and writing (and tweeting manically between the hours of 5:30-9:00 EST about) as much as how fucked everything is it’s reading and writing (and tweeting manically between the hours of 5:30-9:00 EST about) 90s/2000s post-hardcore and post-grunge and nu-metal. As luck would have it when I was reading through the great forthcoming book of essays TACKY: Love Letters to the Worst Culture We Have to Offer by Rax King (available for pre-order here) one of them happened to appeal to the latter concussed part of my brain. Considering the reevaluation of the music of the turn of the millenium going on of late with the release of the Woodstock 99 documentary (which I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch for reasons unclear to me) it seemed like a natural fit. Like many of the essays in the book this one which I am excited to feature as an excerpt below is about taste and desire and how we formulate taste and desire as young people trying to figure out who we are.
Mostly it’s about the band Creed though.
In other music-related and more light-hearted Hell World news if you missed this one from the other day it was a lot of fun. There’s also some really sad shit in it too if you need that kind of thing to feel alive.
If you prefer to read about horrific suffering and unnecessary death and our idiotic leaders ushering us all into the wood chipper just as the state gets pummeled again you may also want to revisit this beautiful angering piece about life in Florida under Covid by Jeb Lund from earlier in the year.
God this is so good holy shit. This is a Touche Amore song now RIP to The Strokes.
While we’re on the general topic stick around after the essay to read the Discontents gang shooting the shit about nu-metal real quick.
Six Feet From the Edge
by Rax King
Try though I might to eliminate snobbery from myself, I worry that I have one secret where I should be drawing the line against candor. Entire relationships have passed without my partners sniffing this out about me. I used to worry that my parents would give me away someday (“remember when Rax was so into _____?”), but I needn’t have—as shameful a secret as this has always been for me, it was unremarkable to them. My father may have literally taken it to his grave, but not out of any loyalty to me. More because he didn’t realize he was protecting anything in particular.
My secret is that I like the band Creed. And I always have, and even now I’m tempted to hedge and say “I kinda like” or “used to like.” Well, it’s bullshit! I still like Creed! So there!
I’m emboldened to say this now because I think everybody feels this way, even if it’s not always Creed that they feel this way about. The world is rich with pieces of pop culture that are corny, tacky, and yet balls-to-the-wall popular. We enlightened coast dwellers may sneer at Creed, Puddle of Mudd, P.O.D., Insane Clown Posse, et al, but somebody is buying up all those concert tickets, and not just in the sorts of cities we think we’re better than because we no longer projectile vomit in them on spring break. Creed headlined two sold out shows at New York City’s august Beacon Theatre as recently as 2012, is what I’m trying to say. I’m merely making explicit what most of us prefer to keep under wraps, which is that I like many things in this world, not all of which have the approval of n+1 or Artforum.
Grandstanding aside, I’m sensitive about my love for Creed. It doesn’t feel like that long ago that I developed my first ever mega-crush, which, fine, happened to be on Creed’s lead singer Scott Stapp. And may I remind those of you who did spittakes upon reading that, how eminently crushable of a character Scott Stapp was in 2001. He had that bootleg Kurt Cobain thing going on that was so popular in the late ‘90s (2001 is still technically the late ‘90s, since the 2000s didn’t begin in earnest until Beyoncé and Jay-Z released “Crazy in Love”). But I always thought Scott Stapp did bootleg Cobain better than most. He was long and lean and had a chestnut shag haircut that swooped prettily off his face and pillowy lips that I wanted to kiss before I even knew for certain that I wanted to kiss boys at all.
It went like this: I heard “My Sacrifice” on the local alternative rock station, into whose tempting waters I’d just begun to dip my toes. (How alternative of a rock station could it have been if it was playing the latest Creed single? These were the sorts of philosophical questions that occupied local high school boys, creatures of the utmost sophistication as far as I was concerned, but such thoughts hadn’t entered into my ken yet.) I liked the song, and at ten years old, I was only just beginning to decide whether I liked songs on my own—before that, my parents had called the shots on what we listened to in the car, and I’d been along for the ride. When the song ended, the DJ announced that we’d just heard the latest from “testosterone rockers from Tallahassee, Creed.” I will never forget the lilting cadence of the phrase “testosterone rockers from Tallahassee.” It’s absolutely euphonious; my version of “cellar door.”
This was 2001, meaning that further investigation wasn’t as immediate as pulling out my phone and launching myself down a Google rabbit hole. Instead, I wrote “Creed” on the front of my notebook, to remind myself to check them out. Then, later, I asked my dad if he’d take me to Barnes & Noble that week, where I hoped to buy a CD.
“A CD, huh?” my father asked over dinner, his face spattered with spaghetti sauce. “Is there a new Backstreet Boys or something?”
“It’s this alternative band called Creed,” I said incorrectly. As a matter of fact, there was a new Backstreet Boys, but my parents teased me so ruthlessly over my mild attraction to Nick Carter that it felt unwise to say as much. I thought that phrases like alternative band would finally get me some respect around here, proving as they incontrovertibly did that I was a cool teenager who was developing good taste of her own.
“Well, sure,” he said. He wiped some red sauce off his mouth with the back of his hand and looked in his calendar. “I’ll take you tomorrow. We can make a date of it.”
Make a date of it we did, and after hamburgers and milkshakes at our favorite place, we adjourned to Barnes & Noble, him for a book, me for my Creed. I loved to browse the music section by myself, believing that I resembled a teenager who legitimately belonged there. I was incurably shy, but in the music section, I was as close to brassy as I ever got, meaning I nodded to strangers as I passed them rather than looking at the floor.
I found the album with “My Sacrifice” on it, Weathered. Regrettably, the album cover depicts a tree with the band members’ faces superimposed onto it, with a pair of hands about to hammer a nail between two of their faces. Behind the tree, light shines in such a way as to heavily suggest the presence of godliness, while a man’s figure engages in some sort of generalized toil to the tree’s side. The whole tableau is composed as if by a fifth grader with a collage assignment that was supposed to be handed into his art class four days ago, and maybe the theme of the assignment was Sadness, or What Jesus Means to Me.
I saw none of that, though, at the time. What I saw then was a particularly pretty face at the base of the tree with the band’s faces trapped in it. Hangdog eyes, a sweep of dark hair. The other faces loomed off to either side whereas his was central, which I recognized even then as the placement of a frontman. I looked at the list of band members on the back of the CD. “Scott Stapp,” I whispered.
My father returned to pay for my CD, a book in hand. “You ready?”
I hid the CD’s front, believing that he’d sense something improper in the way I looked at it. “Yep.”
“No parental advisory sticker,” he said, taking the CD from me. “How alternative could it be?”
Creed’s music was, as far as I was concerned, very good, but Scott Stapp’s face was better. My attraction to him demonstrated for the first time that I was a little animal who would one day have erotic needs, and as with all things happening for the first time, it felt too big and too much. At ten, I was functionally still the child I’d always been. I wore glasses and braces with rubber bands that made a spit circus out of my speech and I still played with Barbies sometimes and punched the neighbor boy in the face for asking to kiss me. (Navid, if you’re reading this, I am truly sorry about that.) I wasn’t crush-proof, and in fact had my eye on a boyish young teacher in my school who had a sweet smile, not to mention my aforementioned vague interest in Nick Carter. But I wept over my obsession with Scott Stapp, yearned to meet him, to smell his hair. Bite his face. Anything. None of my other incomplete attractions had ever obsessed me like that before.
I believe that the mega-crush is a formative experience in a kid’s life, quite separate from the low-intensity testing the waters that constitutes most early crushes. Our earliest crushes, if they exist, are typically shy and half-assed. We’ve received the message that we’re supposed to find each other attractive, and are just beginning to give it a shot, even if our hearts aren’t in it. When Navid the neighbor boy asked me for a kiss, my sense wasn’t that he actually wanted one. After all, he didn’t like me—his favorite activity until that point had been to whiz past me on his bike so close that the breeze his passing generated whipped me hard in the face, laughing at my startled cries. My mother’s explanation was that boys who liked me would always tease and bully me like that, but in retrospect, I think he was acting out of duty rather than feeling when he proposed that we kiss. Tasked with the eventual kissing of girls, he figured he might as well practice and found a low-risk partner for his venture.
But no kid needs to be wheedled into kissing a mega-crush. For some of us, myself included, it’s a celebrity; others are fortunate enough to find mega-crushes at school or the mall, where they can be seen regularly and even touched. The circumstances change, but what doesn’t change is the absolute gut-plummeting desire. It’s an adult’s desire, compacted into a child’s body; it gnashes its teeth and howls at the moon. To see one’s mega-crush is an experience of such pungent bliss that an auxiliary glow will follow the crush-haver for hours; to experience the mega-crush with some closer sense, hearing or smell or (can you imagine?) taste, is to plunge into the divine. Because this was 2001, Scott Stapp appeared occasionally in celebrity media, all of which I consumed with a hunger I hadn’t known I possessed. I didn’t read interviews with him, exactly. What I did was scan them for words that were relevant to my young obsession, words like girls, women, touch, sex, kiss, hunger, love, flesh. I tore out pictures of him for my wall, including once, memorably, from a magazine that I had not actually purchased from the grocery store. Thus did I love Scott Stapp: with a fervent, angry desperation to kiss him, scream at him, swallow him whole.
While my obsession was mostly with the face (and the body, Jesus Christ; 2001’s Scott Stapp was still relatively fresh from his tenure as a college athlete and had abs you could shred a brick of Parmesan on), I never could forget the music. Every Creed song seemed to me like it was made to be heard on repeat. As gorgeous as Scott Stapp was to me, I don’t think I would have become obsessed with the same face on a man who wasn’t singing about abject pain. My nascent sexual urges had already tethered themselves to my fascination with emotional agony: I wanted a sensitive man to be sensitive with me. At ten, the edges of my personality were beginning to crisp up into certainty, and Stapp’s anguish filled me to those edges as much as his beauty did. I was becoming the sort of lover that I was maybe always cursed to become. Earnest, gentle, despicable.
There was something peculiarly masculine about the way in which Stapp expressed all that pain, too—not just male but adult, manly. He didn’t cry or shrink into himself the way I did when I was unhappy. He didn’t stamp and bully like a little boy. He didn’t keep placid over a vast ocean of agony like an adult woman. As a girl, I knew plenty of men in a neutered sort of capacity. My father expressed unhappiness when he felt it, but couldn’t do so with true candor while I was still so young and innocent to the problems of adult life. My male teachers would send us to the principal or give us detention if we pissed them off, but if they wailed about it in the teacher’s lounge later, I certainly never knew about it. Until I began listening to Creed, I had no point of reference for what men’s pain sounded like straight from the tap, before being filtered for my childish consumption.
Of course, popular entertainment has always put a high premium on men’s expressions of male pain. I may not have seen it in pure form in the men I knew, but men’s pain was all over the TV, in books, everywhere. Stapp’s pain, though, was different. It was unadorned. He never took pains to transmute his sorrow into the more acceptable rage before letting audiences experience it; as such, his pain couldn’t be cool. His project was never to interpret his pain for listeners, but to express it, diary-like. He was honest in a disquieting way. When his voice lacerates through the lyrics “hold me now/I’m six feet from the edge and I’m thinking/maybe six feet ain’t so far down” on “One Last Breath,” there’s no question of how to understand what he’s saying.
Creed is despised now, but the evidence doesn’t bear out people’s assertions that they hated Creed from the start. For one thing, Creed’s first three albums all went multi-platinum. Somehow, despite Creed’s success, which was quantifiable and proven many times over, nobody I know admits to having owned their albums. Who, then, was buying all those copies of Weathered and Human Clay? Ask people to explain that, and prepare to hear some ugly, telling answers: the slobbering masses! Dads in garage bands! Spring break cokeheads! In other words, flyover people, country idiots, anybody too buffoonish to know better.
I had a version of this argument with my friend Mike once, though I was still an undercover fan when we had it, a double agent. “Why do you think everyone who likes this music is stupid?” I asked him, after he’d mercilessly roasted the Creed song that had just played on the radio.
“You’re right,” he said. “People who like to hear the same three power chords and the same constipated yelling guy over and over are really smart, actually.”
“These guys are singing about the same stuff as anybody else. Loneliness, heartbreak, suffering. Why is it so awful when they do it and so great when Lou Reed does it?”
I’d meant it as a sincere question, but Mike rolled his eyes, sick of my shit.
“Because Lou Reed is a genius,” he said. “And Scott Stapp is cock-rocking bullshit.”
I couldn’t fight that battle further without giving myself away as a Creed enthusiast. I’d ventured too far into enemy territory as it was. But my point was that, while people say they hate Creed, it’s never primarily about the music. At the forefront of that hate is the band’s aesthetic: its white bread Florida machismo, its dad-friendliness. As Mike might say, its cock-rocking bullshit.
Sure, those simple guitar riffs and Scott Stapp’s yowl could have all come from the Prefab Dad Rock Band Supply Store. But the same was true of Journey, and as writer Jonah Weiner put it in his defense of Creed, “‘Higher’ might turn out to be the nu-grunge ‘Don’t Stop Believing’: dismissed by cognoscenti on arrival as bludgeoning and gauche but destined for rehabilitation down the road as a triumphant slab of ersatz inspirationalism.” And even that ‘ersatz’ strikes me as a little unfair. If it’s genuinely inspirational to somebody, is it ersatz inspirationalism, or is it just simple? Simply packaged, easy on the way down? And if it’s just simple, must we dislike it for its accessibility to people who don’t have the time or, hell, the inclination to study music and develop their taste for it on more “legitimate” grounds? Three chords served the Ramones just fine, didn’t they?
An interesting thing about anti-Creed critical writing is that critics are in agreement about the fact that Creed’s music is bad, but struggle to identify its badness more intelligibly than that. Forced to pinpoint that badness beyond the point of tautology (“Creed is bad because the lyrics are bad and the guitar riffs are bad”), critics flounder. Part of this is no doubt a result of how difficult it is to relate to a reader what music sounds like in one’s writing, a difficulty that’s always plagued writing about music. Still, truly invested music critics have always found a way to capture readers’ imaginations beyond the point of telling them whether to buy a certain album or not.
Most writing about Creed is not careful like this. It’s negative, but it doesn’t inspire hate so much as it confirms hate. It’s repetitive. It convinces the reader that the writer was bored more than anything, and what could be more boring than reading about a time when someone else was bored? Adjectives, even the positive-ish ones, convey that the people who wrote these songs must have been powerfully stupid: “straightforward,” “without pretension,” “turgid, lumbering,” “heavy” (this last one’s used often, even multiple times in a single review). Some people who were tasked with writing about these albums loathed them, and others thought they could have been worse. Good luck finding any raves. But even negative reviews all point to Creed’s massive popularity, with a mystified shoulder-shrugging: whatever we say, you’re still going to throw your panties at them onstage when they roll into town, dummy.
What strikes me about these reviews isn’t that critics disliked Creed. That would have been fine—criticism should be allowed to be critical, and I don’t love Creed so much that I can’t imagine feeling any other way. It’s that critics found Creed’s music so singularly dull and without merit that it wasn’t even worth tearing to shreds. It’s as if they all knew that no matter what they said, the sniveling masses were going to buy this stuff, and so why bother offering in-depth criticism instead of simple sneering? Squint at it from a certain angle, and the era’s critics become the embattled soldiers at Thermopylae huddled together against Creed’s unstoppable Persian army. Except, you know, less noble, less strategic, more nihilistic by half, much heavier on the despair, etc. I think about John Updike’s rules for writing constructive criticism—assess what the creator meant to do and not what you want him to do; if the creator has failed, try to understand where the failure happened rather than just point fingers—and then I read reviews of Creed that ignore all those rules. This is not constructive criticism.
You’d better believe that the lack of critical approval chafed Scott Stapp like crazy. At the peak of Creed’s popularity, Stapp didn’t like reading anything about his band, even when it was written with sympathy. According to Gavin Edwards’ 2000 Spin profile of Stapp, he found the sympathy condescending, the harshness of the criticism invalidating, and the whole project of being scrutinized demoralizing. He wrote a whole song, “What If,” about confronting his haters, maybe physically—the lyrics are just vague enough to keep Stapp on this side of a restraining order.
Critics may have refused to take Creed seriously because Scott Stapp obviously took Creed so seriously. As popular as Creed has always been, that self-seriousness was their downfall: critics hesitated to confirm Stapp’s God complex by hating his music with critical rigor. A rigorous treatment of Creed would have legitimized Creed too much. Gavin Edwards’ profile of Stapp was kinder to him than similar profiles from the same era, but Stapp still managed to pistol-whip that kindness regularly with his heavy-handed philosophizing. Even I, a confirmed Creed stan, am tempted to roll my eyes when Stapp said of his son Jagger, “I just don’t want him to have the same demons that I have. I don’t want him always thinking about the grand scheme of things—life and death and heaven and hell and good and bad. That’s the cross I bear daily.”
But I don’t roll my eyes, and I don’t stop reading, and I don’t go out and call Scott Stapp a tool and make fun of his gravelly singing voice and all the rest. Unlike the people who snicker about Stapp’s cross-bearing ways, I suppose I believe that this is a perfectly legitimate way for him to relate to the world. Look—why not? Why is it inherently funny to be serious, to be afraid, to borrow the language of the Bible (a language in which I’m sure Stapp is fluent, as the son of terrifyingly devout Pentecostal parents) when putting that anxiety into words? How is Stapp less intelligent for speaking about the struggle of staying alive as if it’s really, really important? A person who looks at every earthly trauma and recognizes them as traumas, and wants to write in earnest about the fact that trauma is harmful and causes pain . . . that’s not an idiot, that’s a fucking philosopher.
Now, is this the position I would have taken at ten years old, my veins bubbling over with the heat of Scott Stapp’s physical beauty? Absolutely not. But—and this is a crucial but—it’s not because I didn’t believe in the severity and grimness of Creed’s mien. It’s because I believed in them more deeply than I’m capable of now, so deeply that I didn’t even think it was worth identifying as a stand that I was taking. Of course the world is dogshit and should be sung about as such. What ten-year-old doesn’t feel that way? Actually, what thirty-year-old doesn’t feel that way? Just because we’ve built protective insulation over the rawness of those baby nerves, doesn’t mean they’re not still there. It’s saddening to me, that if I’m going to feel earnest and sincere rage at the state of the world, I have to either wink and sneer at myself preemptively, or I have to be comfortable mounting a soapbox and opening myself to mockery. Honest, pointed sincerity lacks style. It isn’t chic.
Would I have spent twenty years consumed by shame over an obsession with Justin Timberlake, or Nick Lachey, or poor jilted Nick Carter? These were, after all, the era’s most eligible teen bachelors. Perhaps the primary issue with my fixation on Scott Stapp was the strangeness of it. People listened to Creed, sure. You may hate Creed now (that is, if you do hate Creed), but you couldn’t not listen to Creed in 2001, whether you liked them or not. But Scott Stapp wasn’t a sex symbol, at least not for young girls. He was too adult, somehow. If he’d, say, married a Mickey Mouse Club alum or a Disney Channel star, it would have been appalling in its incongruousness. But when a sex tape was released that showed him and Kid Rock receiving blowjobs from a couple unnamed women, nobody was surprised, even if they were supremely bummed out by the trashiness of the whole scene. (To my mind, trashiness is distinct from tackiness; it’s closed off and uninviting. It’s unpleasant. If tackiness is about joyfully becoming, trashiness has already become, and there’s not one joyful thing about the thing it has become.)
Anti-Creed-ists rightly point out Scott Stapp’s troubling tendency to behave like a drunk teenager on spring break at Daytona Beach. As far as we were concerned, Scott Stapp hadn’t earned the right to cut loose and misbehave. He wasn’t a visionary. He was just some guy from Florida, shithoused and slurring for stadium audiences despite the fact that he wasn’t good enough at his chosen craft for that shit. Scott Stapp chose to burn himself alive rather than fizzle out or fade away, unable to achieve either the dignity of martyrdom or the steady lifestyle of the popular working musician.
After Creed’s wild success, Stapp sank into one of the most dismal low periods in the recent collective memory. In 2014, he posted an exceptionally creepy Facebook video that was rife with conspiracy theories. He claims in this video to be clean and sober, appearing to be anything but, and also says that “they” were stealing money from him, resulting in the IRS putting repeated freezes on his bank accounts. The video has since been cleared from the Internet, but was posted within the same month that Stapp’s wife Jaclyn called the cops on him because he wouldn’t stop claiming to be a CIA operative sent to kill then-President Obama. Ultimately, Stapp’s psychiatrist determined that he was in the middle of a psychotic break, likely related to undiagnosed bipolar disorder. Diagnosis in hand, Stapp really did get clean and sober, and his psychiatrist fixed his medication, and now “whatever happened to Scott Stapp” is one of the top auto-suggested results when one Googles his name.
Now, I repeat: I didn’t see any of that as a kid. You don’t, when you have a mega-crush. All I saw were miles of muscular arms, hundreds of trillions of chestnut hairs, a cubic ton of collagen bound by acres of soft pink lips. But then, I heard that voice, too, like so many other voices but not, shot through with lacerating pain that turned out to be so much more real than any of us recognized. It’s easy to laugh at such a voice and call it dilettante, poser, dollar store Eddie Vedder. It’s not so easy to laugh at the pain itself. Not when it’s destructive like that. And as a kid, riddled with phantom pains that I didn’t understand, the pain of a crush, the pain of an adult’s brain and body forcing their way to the surface, I was drawn to him. I appreciated how un-subtle he was. It was what I needed.
Look again at “One Last Breath.” Nobody likes it anymore, because this is 2020 and Creed has been a joke for a cool twenty years. But when it was released, it was a powerhouse, one of those songs you’d turn the radio dial to escape because you were sick of it only to run smack into it on the next radio station. One of their greatest hits, that song, and from start to finish it’s about the speaker’s desire to die violently and immediately.
We laughed—that is, if we did laugh. But it would have been so much kinder to listen.
The day I started high school, I learned I wasn’t allowed to like Creed anymore. I was developing my snob instincts at that point, but they hadn’t come for Creed yet. Mostly, I belittled the various preps and posers that ruled my class, believing (correctly) that they were a more imminent threat to my social standing than were the nuances of dueling alternative rock sects. I believed that my marching orders were to hate the Black Eyed Peas and my once-beloved Britney Spears, not Creed, and I was all too happy to obey them.
So Weathered was still in my portable CD player when I got onto the bus that day and sat beside a good-looking junior. But when I ejected it at the next bus stop, my handsome seatmate snickered. “Creed?” he said. “Really?”
I like to think that today, I’d respond with the piss and vinegar that such sneering deserves. Like, what difference did it make to him whether I was listening to Creed? But I was brittle then, and desperate for approval, and so I absorbed those two words and the entire cruel landscape of implication that stretched beneath them, and I learned the appropriate relationship for me to have with Creed, which was one of low-grade superiority over them. Not a superiority to be asserted or defended, but simply low-wattage smirking at the very fact of them, as dull and unchangeable as the turning of the earth. I stopped listening to them. I cleared my walls of Scott Stapp paraphernalia. By then, the sharpness of my attraction to him had begun to blunt, anyway. Boys at school had soft lips and well-defined arms, too, and they had the advantage of being in my orbit. Banishing Creed from my life was an early effort at padding my young feelings, dulling the severity and sincerity of them in an effort to make them more palatable. At ten, I fell in love with anguish for the first time; at fourteen, I realized that unblunted anguish was unattractive to the people that I very much wanted to attract.
It wasn’t until a chance re-listening of “Six Feet From the Edge” that I realized I’d allowed certain muscles to atrophy unnecessarily. Who cares whether the band was derivative? What isn’t derivative, in this day and age? Creed cribbed from their idols with hard-nosed, un-ornamental skill. Their music sounds so simple that it’s easy to lose sight of the songcraft in it. Plus, of course, to look back on Stapp’s lyrics is to engage with earnest empathy in its most unpolished form. He wrote from the perspectives of rape victims, fathers holding their newborns, the suicidal. And fine, what he wrote may never win any MacArthur Genius Grants, but name a single other songwriter who was as prominent in those days and working his empathy muscles even half as hard.
I realized, in other words, that I’d waved goodbye to sincerity too early. It’s a common evolution, I think, but it’s one that I’m ready to reverse. As a teenager, my peers’ approval could not have mattered to me more, to the point that I was willing to learn how to sneer, how to mock, how to experience emotions almost sarcastically; if I dared to cry about pain that I was experiencing, I needed to then laugh at myself, apologize for my embarrassing behavior. In retrospect, it was a shame that we learned to blunt ourselves before we learned to be kind, but I get why we had to do it in that order. The hugeness of adolescent emotions would have crushed us if we hadn’t learned to at least act like our feelings didn’t matter. Now that I’m older, and can recognize that not every pain is a death knell, I’d like to revisit that time in my life when I was equipped to give the hideousness of human emotion its respectful due. I’d like to groan, and wail, and squeeze my eyes shut when I sing a particularly meaningful chorus. And I’d like to do all those things without worrying that people are making fun of me for it, even though they will be.
So, in case the message was remotely unclear: I like Creed. I liked Creed seventeen years ago, I like Creed now, and I don’t think I’ll ever stop liking them. They lacked style. Fine. So what? I embrace Creed, in fact, with arms wide open. And I invite anybody else who’s sick of smirking behind the general public’s back to do the same. We have so little time to engage with the art that our fellow humans have created, and of course nobody is obligated to like all of it. But to decide that someone’s work has no merit because that person is drunk, or sick, or unhappy, that is a judgment call that none of us should feel qualified to make.
Find more from Rax King here. From the book TACKY: Love Letters to the Worst Culture We Have to Offer by Rax King, to be published in the US on November 2, 2021 by Vintage, an imprint of The Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2021 by Rax King
Before we finish up here please do not fall for this type of blatantly see-through copaganda about cops keeling over all over the place by looking at fentanyl through binoculars. It’s not just goofy as shit it has harmful consequences.
Also is has been two years since we lost David Berman and since there was much ballyhoo about poetry on Twitter this weekend owing to one spectacularly ill-advised and horny viral poem (don’t worry about it if you didn’t see it) here is a poetic salve. More of my thoughts on Berman here.
The Discontents Gang Shoot the Shit About Nu-Metal Real Quick
Luke O’Neil: You guys fucked up by mentioning Staind in the DM because there’s no way I’m not going to jump on that opportunity to talk about my beloved boys from the proud city of Springfield, Massachusetts. No idea what Aaron Lewis is up to or thinks about politics these days by the way. Also not going to go look up what some of my favorite bands from that era have gotten into politics-wise lately. I’m assuming…to pull a few insane sounding things out of a hat, that the Deftones and System of a Down drummers weren’t Trump guys. And no way Steph out of Deftones is an anti-vaxxer Covid-denier.
But then Patrick went and said something smart about nu-metal so that sort of ruined it for me. I’m just here for the power-ballads. And by here I mean alive on Earth.
Patrick Wyman (Perspectives: Past, Present, and Future): I don’t know what it says about the world or my place in it at this specific moment, but I’ve actually been thinking a bunch about nu-metal lately. Bench-pressing alone in my garage, looking for something to listen to, I fired up a nu-metal playlist and came to the shocking realization that...it doesn’t actually suck?! Eighteen-year-old me was right to be stoked as hell at the 2003 Summer Sanitarium Tour! I’d just been fed lies for years! There were some fucking bangers in there! And if nu-metal isn’t (solely or primarily) a terrible relic of a cultural wasteland, then maybe there’s something deeper going on about our relationship to the long-ago days of, like, 20 years ago. Maybe not, alternatively, and I’m also open to being convinced that Staind and Korn actually were terrible and worthy of being forgotten.
Luke: Bench-pressing alone in your garage is one of the more nu-metal activities you can do. Something I’ve said before and we were talking about earlier is how much of the, sorry, stain, on nu-metal has elements of classism to it. Both at the time and retrospectively, even though I think contemporary cultural commentary is, largely, much more averse to that type of thing than it was in the early 2000s. Truly a cursed era in so many ways.
I do think there’s something to be said about where many of the more prominent nu-metal bands are from if we’re talking about class. Staind is from Springfield, like I said. Godsmack is From Lawrence, MA. (It was Godsmack Day in Boston this week by the way). Korn is from Bakersfield, CA.
Patrick: The Bakersfield connection is perfect. It’s like a larger version of my home town, same dynamics of class and race. Nu-metal was big in small metro Central Washington in the early 2000s.
Cultural commentary right now is dominated by highly educated people who live in major metros; even though Millennials are the most educated generation in American history, only about 34 percent of Millennials have a college degree, last time I checked. If you live in Bakersfield or Yakima (where I grew up) or Rockford or wherever, your tastes and experience of past culture probably aren’t being closely served by prestigious outlets of cultural criticism. I knew maybe five people who listened to Radiohead, but pretty much everybody was down with Linkin Park, you know?
Luke: The nature of fandom, broadly speaking, feels a bit different now. Stan culture in which fans feel somehow invested in the monetary success of their favorites. Only somewhat related, but I saw this a while back which is hilarious.
Kelsey D. Atherton (Wars of Future Past): Nu-metal is forever linked in [LINKIN’D?] in my mind to that 2000-2003 moment, which was also middle school and, oh, some geopolitics. But it was also like the first time I saw friends get into a genre and a scene as a whole. It was big among the skaters at the run-down middle school I went to, and it felt of a place with people carving space for themselves to be angry about how they expected their life to go no matter what they did.
I think there’s something to it that this was like half the soundtrack of the big peak of the Unipolar Moment. There’s this great tweet about Limp Bizkit blowing up a boat in the middle of their MTV Spring Break 2000 set as “the exact moment the American empire reached its zenith and began to decline.”
Shane Ferro (Cruel and Usual): Here’s where I, the music idiot, come in and say can someone tell me about nu-metal because I'm actually not sure I could find it on a map. Just kidding I have googled it. In the early 2000s I was listening to a lot of Top 40 and not much else. I was vaguely aware of nu-metal bands but I think they kind of scared me. (Let's be clear: I was a huge loser in middle/high school who had not yet developed any sort of distaste for authority).
Eoin Higgins (The Flashpoint): I was never a nu-metal fan (in the 00s I was big into the New England/New York rave scene) but I do remember going to see Linkin Park in July 2004 at The Meadows and they frankly rocked it. One of the best live shows I've ever seen.
Kim Kelly (Patreon): As a former nu-metal kid from the boonies who discovered Cannibal Corpse as a teen and then managed to turn liking riffs into some semblance of a career, I could talk about nu-metal all day! One of the great unifying myths of the metal world is that nu-metal is not cool, is embarrassing as a whole, and is generally best forgotten—but as Patrick mentioned above, once you start scratching at its surface, that view only bleeds so far into metal culture as a whole. Generally, your opinion on nu-metal comes down to age, geography, class, and your access to culture in general. Whereas some kids in my age group (I was born in 1988, so you do the math, I refuse) had access to cool record stores, cable TV, reasonably high-speed internet, and actual live shows, I was stealing Korn CDs from Walmart and recording Linkin Park songs off the radio and waiting approximately one hundred hours per second to download scratchy Papa Roach songs.
Luke: That’s a good point about nu-metal sort of coinciding with the dawn of “stealing” songs online. I bet someone who wasn’t too lazy to think about it at the moment could divine some sort of connective tissue there.
Kim: Did I sincerely love Limp Bizkit and Slipknot and Static-X? You bet! They were misunderstood and mad at their parents, and so was I. Was I probably missing out on better music? Sure! Did I realize that until I got to high school and started dating scummy older guys with multiple CD-changers in their cars? Nope! My preteen and young teen years were defined by nu-metal and its attendant deeply terrible aesthetic; my only saving grace there was that my family couldn’t afford to send me to Hot Topic every time I wanted another pair of baggy jeans or baby tee with like a goth cat or something on it, so I mostly looked normal until my blessedly short goth phase mellowed into my current and eternal casual heavy metal dirtbag vibe. Thank god I never got that Slipknot tattoo.
Kelsey: I did get Hybrid Theory when I was 13. It was a gift from a friend’s mom, after I’d had a falling out with my friend, her kid. In my extremely limited music vocabulary I’d hear “In The End” on the radio and it felt like 7th grade and said something about how that song felt like I felt. So I was in one of those extremely teen spaces of raw emotion, and I didn’t really have a sense that emo was even an available genre of music I could turn to here.
Beyond the albums my parents would put on, I think the only music I could even begin to call my own at that point was Eve 6, They Might Be Giants, and then Link Park’s Hybrid Theory. The latter didn’t stay in rotation much beyond 7th grade, but it was absolutely the sound I needed in that moment, before I went away to east coast summer camp and learned to process feelings with the simple guitars and the English 102 metaphors of The Shins. Soon enough, I’d gentrified out my CD wallet with everything broadly college rock, art school soft rockers replacing the thicker sonic sludge and plain language of Chester Bennington.
Felipe De La Hoz (Border/Lines): I almost feel like we’re better equipped for nu-metal now, like we’re better able to understand and appreciate it in our contemporary reality because it increasingly does feel like we’re proverbially circling the civilizational drain and there’s a kind of raw nihilism to that. Maybe the genre’s problem was that it simply came too early to be properly valued. Sure, things felt bleak in the post-9/11 world, but I’d say it’s much worse now.
Luke: Ah shit is that true? Well at the very least it does seem like Fred Durst turned out alright in the end though. America's goofy uncle Fred Durst and his band of elder statesman rockers Limp Bizkit.
Man, the march of time is absolutely fucked.
Thinking that I was too old for nu metal. I had NIN's The Fragile to listen to on repeat.
Woodstock '99 is worth a watch, if only for the nostalgia. It's pretty unclear what it's trying to say but there's enough presented that I feel like I came to my own informed conclusions about the questions they're raising. Also it caused me to respect Fred Durst for the first time ever.
And fine, what he wrote may never win any MacArthur Genius Grants, but name a single other songwriter who was as prominent in those days and working his empathy muscles even half as hard.
I feel like Bosstones and Everlast both put out albums that were primarily 'Hey here's some hard luck stories about regular people with no happy ending and no moral beyond, cut folks some fucking slack once in a while' songs and they also sold big and 'culture' also backlashed hard on them.