“The mentality of your generation just, it just boggles my mind.”
The speaker is largely unknown, but if you look carefully at the reflection in the amplifier, you will see her in part: She is a large, slovenly woman at a teenage boy’s door.
The boy’s face is reflected too: white and still. He is plain, small and thin, with longish, whippable hair.
He is Mike Flory, lead guitarist of the fledgling Bay Area grindcore group Logistic Slaughter and YouTube user dsl100stack, a metal guitar prodigy, being interrupted by his furious mother in the middle of one of his tutorials (others include “Diminished Tapping Arpeggios Every Metal Head Should Know” and “Technical Death Metal Solo.”)
The video, uploaded on July 12, 2011, stealthily gained an audience in the metal community ( Defeater’s Jay Maas published a lengthy, heated response to “Momzilla” or “Mothra-Fodder” in AltPress,) and is still gathering impetus. This week’s total is a half a million views.
The video goes as follows: Mike begins to lay out his lesson plan – his music tutorials are dazzling instances of him dismantling his own shredding – and his mother barges in and embarks on a loud, insistent screed about him and his “worthless” life (the word is repeated, and the absolute thesis of the argument).
Beginning in medias res, Mom asks her son to consider this philosophical question: “In what way does your life contribute to society as you sit here day after day after day in this dark room stringing along on that stupid guitar?”
So asked the comically exaggerated father in Twisted Sister’s 1984 video We’re Not Gonna Take It, created for the usual reasons (rock and parents have always been locked in mortal combat) and in the climate of Tipper Gore’s Parents’ Music Resource Center, a censorious, sticker-warning and outright banning group of right-wing lunatics.
In the Twisted Sister video, the father, who also played the laughably straight cadet in Animal House, on the verge of a cardiac infarction, screams at his teen son – who is playing guitar and practising stances – that he is “worthless and weak,” a lazy “disgusting” kid playing his “electric twanger” whereas he carried an M-16!
“What kind of man are you? ... What do you want to do with your life?” the father howls, to which the boy responds, “I wanna rock.”
Then he turns into Dee Snider, who starts charging around. He is a perfect vision of a tough, muscular woman or a badass who applies makeup with a spatula – 1980s nostalgia has a great deal to do with the way in which gender was treated as prêt-à-porter – and lets the kid do his thing, since “this is our life, this is our song.”
These lyrics underline the now-long struggle, comically re-presented, between loser parents or authority figures and teens who just want to “blast away the clouds,” in Alice Cooper’s words from Teenage Lament ’74. In the Cooper song, some buzzkill yells, “You gotta turn that damn thing down!”
The same scene plays out in Michael Jackson’s Black or White, in so much of KISS’s oeuvre and, in an emotionally pivotal scene in School of Rock. If videos pitting enemies of music against cool kids are, largely, a comic trope, the scene in this film – where a talented kid turns from classical guitar to rock, and is cruelly berated by his father in the school parking lot – has a more difficult meaning.
When I was a teenager, listening to Montreal’s CHOM, I heard a girl call in and whisper a song request. Her mother picked up the extension and laid into her so cruelly that the details are impossible to remember. Only the cruelty remains.
Mike’s pale face, as reflected in his ENGL Invader 100, drinks in the verbal abuse and becomes a lake of fire.
His mother’s tirade about contributing to society and the world, about leaving his room and going outside is understandable to so many parents of teenage sons, confused and angry about their ability to retreat to their darkened, often filthy rooms, and do a pretty good impersonation of a brooding, miserable death-row inmate.
But this woman’s cries of “worthless” – awful to say to any kid – are astonishing in context.
Her son is a little guitar god, meticulously building his online profile toward certain success. And, having lost his attention, she resorts to most parents’ favourite mirage, that shimmering, salubrious world “out there.” She is a mean, mean mother.
More and more (with Kony 2012 being the arch-example of the still unstable model of crime and celebrity), the Internet is being used to expose villainy and treachery.
May the pre-tech, largely isolated underaged victims take Mike’s lead, and merely, without comment, show us their lives. The painful-in-its-starkness name of his video is What Music Worth, According to My Mom.
Happily, it is open season on her worth: sic semper tyrannis!