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Heavy Metal Polka
I don't get out much. That is not a complaint. It is just a fact. When my wife and I were newly married and without child, we went out all the time. I never drank much--and stopped drinking completely after I was diagnosed with Type I diabetes at the age of 23--but I love music, good conversation, movies and other adult-type ways of wasting time. I love concerts, and, being a child of the eighties and divorce, my favorite concerts when I was a kid were heavy metal concerts--fast, loud, aggressive, whiplash-inducing festivals of mindless, exuberant, playful violence that rarely became real violence, but remained close to that edge. Heavy metal is a testosterone fueled genre. Even the girls who were into heavy metal, and I mean the music not the high-haired sex icons of the magazines and propaganda machines, were tough, brash, and ready to fight over bullshit. Or commit suicide. It was a flip the coin kind of fashion--the homicidal/suicidal razor's edge of adolescence.
I confess I can't listen to most of that music now. It just didn't last. It really wasn't very good. It captured the emotion and angst of the moment, of my sixteen year old self, but it has very little resonance for my forty year old present. I laugh at how simple the world seemed back then, and how simple it will appear to my son when he is sixteen. It is unavoidable. I can't listen to most of that music now because I grew up and it, being trapped on vinyl and now in digital libraries across the internet, didn't. But the energy of it, the joy of it, that is still there, even though the songs are dumb and in the dustbin.
Anyway, I don't get out much, but Sunday I did go out with my wife and a pal. We went to see Metalachi, the self-declared first and only heavy metal mariachi band. I want this to be clear--we went on purpose, and not one of us is Mexican American. We are all aging white folks living in West Texas, in daily contact with Mexican American culture on the border. Why did we go? My pal and wife found out the band would be playing at a race track in Sunland Park, New Mexico, and they looked them up on youtube. My wife was impressed with the trumpeter, and they made my pal laugh. Between the two, they pressed me to go for a laugh, and so we went.
My wife and friend were right to pressure me. It was a really good show. It was no stadium shaker. You don't get those as post-race entertainment at your run of the mill horse track. But it was fun. Metalachi gave a good show of both heavy metal favorites mariachi-ed, and more traditional mariachi fare, with a fine version of Miserloo thrown in for giggles.
The heavy metal parody that we all know, and either love or hate, is Spinal Tap. Spinal Tap did not have to have talent. The point was that they were not talented at all. They were exaggeratedly stupid resulting in surreal, absurdist episodes--like miniature Stonehenge and amps that go to 11. Metalachi, however, while parodying the fashion of heavy metal--the over the top hair, make-up and hyper-masculine posing of the genre--do not parody the music. Instead, they change it into something else, something new, and something completely their own. In order to do this, to take the drum-heavy, bass-driven aggression of heavy metal and transform it into melodies capable of expression on a violin, trumpet, and twelve-string, they must be talented musicians. And they are very talented.
I will never hear "Final Countdown" again in the same way. And that is a good thing. These guys gave same life to that twaddle, and it has never sounded better than it did Sunday night with trumpet and violin leading the way. Nothing could save Poison's "Every Rose Has Its Thorn", not even Metalachi, and I still had my own version--"Every cliche is in this song"--running through my head when they sang it., but Bon Jovi's "Living on a Prayer" was improved by the mariachi treatment and Motorhead's "Ace of Spades" was not too bad. As their name would suggest, Metallica covers were included in the set, and they did a good job with those. Iron Maiden's "Run to the HIlls" was a stand-out number, and the trumpeter showed his virtuosity on Ozzy's "Crazy Train".
Before the show, I told my wife this was either going to be epically good or soul-wrenchingly bad. So bad that we would not even be able to laugh about it, but only have a sick feeling in the pit of our stomach that would not go away. It was epically good. To the sheer joy of having some of the soundtrack of my youth made fun again was added my appreciation for the talent of these musicians. If they could not play, or played only adequately, the whole thing would have gone wrong.
Find them on youtube or Facebook. Catch them live, especially if you live on the border or somewhere else where the melding of metal and mariachi might occur in your CD collection or your musical downloads. They seem to be having a good time doing what they do, and I had a damn good time watching them do it.