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Heavy Metal Compassion

February 28, 2011

First Noble Truth: Life is suffering.

It might seem odd to link the angry suffering of heavy metal and hard rock to a warm and fuzzy word like compassion, but the bond between the music and the feeling is ever present in my mind.  I’ve long enjoyed the song “Pain” by Three Days Grace, a band characterized at Pandora as one that enjoys “bashing punk chords…, carving a derivative yet energetic sound.”  At first, the lyrics seem dark, depressing, dysfunctional.

“Pain, without love / Pain, I can’t get enough / Pain, I like it rough / ‘Cause I’d rather feel pain than nothing at all,” half wailed, half screamed to an electronic guitar and strong beat, as the screen flashes between shots of the band in a dark room and various angry youth.  But it doesn’t end there.  “You’re sick of feeling numb / You’re not the only one / I’ll take you by the hand / And I’ll show you a world that you can understand.”

Throughout the video, the lead singer continues to be transposed with not one, but dozens of others, the similarity of their situations made clear through the mimicry of their movements.  I am them, it says.  They are me. Even though each individual is isolated in the scene (excepting the band), none are alone.

The song paints a dark picture, true.  “Anger and agony / Are better than misery / Trust me I’ve got a plan / When the lights go off you will understand.”  But it also provides room for hope, carried through a strong rythm and shouted at the top of their lungs.  “I know (I know I know I know I know) / That you’re wounded / You know (You know you know you know you know) / That I’m here to save you.”

Pema Chodrom said pain is the beginning of compassion.  She was right.  Even in anger and fear, we can find a basis for relating to others.

A lot of people are put off by the dark violence of heavy metal and its sister genres.  Some even blame songs and lyrics like these for the thousands of disenchanted and destructive youth our country puts out.  I’d wager it’s the opposite.  Songs like this exist because our youth were already disenchanted and feeling destructive.  That’s why the music exists, because we can relate.  Art is created to express one person’s emotions, but it survives because it communicates something recognizable from that person to another.  I’ve always found a particular source of comfort in songs like these, including a few far more graphic and violent.  The video for “Pain” makes the impetus behind such art particularly clear.  It communicates well.

Pain, otherwise known as suffering in Buddhist parlance, is something we all share, even if musical taste is not.

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