A Return to the Fold

A few minutes ago I was sitting on the metro, coming home. Across from me sat a big tattooed man, pierced and clad in black. I assume that he would be of the “alternative music” fraternity. Like me.

I currently follow a number of different “Metalhead Memes” groups on the internet: they witter so relentlessly about the victimisation of people of alternative tastes that I really wanted to talk to this guy; I wanted to explain to him that, even though I was not wearing black, that I was just like him, and that I wasn’t judging him. I very much doubt, in reality, that he thought he was being judged.

I wanted to tell him of my love of doom, of power metal, of Alestorm; I wanted to hear about his love of NWOBHM, of technical death metal, of Opeth; I wanted to share a geek-out about prog metal, about the differences between Göteborg and Stockholm Death Metal guitar sounds, about the shininess of Devin Townsend’s head. All of this happened in my head, and has no basis in reality.

Rather, the journey unfolded without discussion; I came home and started writing what you see here. This mental conversation comes up frequently when I see people with whom I identify like that.

It’s been quite a long time since I’ve had a really deep conversations with people about heavy music, and it feels like an odd gap. There are always gaps. I think seeking out “Metalhead Memes” and such like is part of that: What I was looking for was goofy, geeky silliness from likeminded fools. I ended up with Pepe the Frog pictures from American teenagers. Not quite the same thing. Not even close.

They whine about how they can’t “get” a girlfriend, what their “crush” looks like, how any band other than the ones they like aren’t “real” metal. The gap was not filled; instead a fresh void opened up.

A return to some imagined fold has always been an odd fantasy of mine. The idea is that I have gone off and done my own thing, learned my own lessons, created my own successes, for a decade or two before returning to a warm welcome from a group of friends or colleagues who thought I was lost.

It’s a comforting notion, a heartening scenario, but a fantasy all the same. I want to imagine that people have been talking about me, wondering where I am, what I am doing: some mythical man, spoken of in hushed tones when the night draws in. In fact, I chose to divest myself of company.

There are times when I feel like I have written myself out of history: deleted out of my own life story.

I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it; I did it deliberately, after all. Is my intention to descend in to that of the dark, lonely recluse? If so, I have failed spectacularly on all counts. Do I want to slough off the past and live in a future of my (our) own making, free of the shackles of the past? That would only amount to hiding from myself; brushing mistakes under the carpet. Not a healthy way to live.

Is it just a vain effort to ride the cavalry charge in to the lives of people who forgot my very existence many years ago? I’m the guy none of my friends / extended group really liked: I would, at best, be a consolation prize. I can imagine the disappointed look on their faces now. “Richard? Really? Oh, OK.”

I have always been the guy in the group photo that everyone else assumes is photo-bombing. I was never really there at the time, so I’m not really there now. A great deal of this is my own doing; a great deal of this is that the people around me liked each other more than they liked me. Personal preference is a fine decision maker, and should never be overcome by the self pity of a fool.

I sometimes find myself looking up the names of old friends, colleagues, housemates on Facebook, finger hovering over the “Add Friend” button, but never pressing. Is this failure, or just something I need to do from time to time? When an old friend tried to contact me recently, I never got round to responding to him. Do I have room in my life for friendships? I’m not sure a young family offers that.

Other people manage to maintain friendships, a family life, a career, a range of sociable hobbies. I can’t imagine I would want to do that; that I would be able to tolerate the struggle. Are the women running themselves in to the ground? Are the men placing the whole burden of family life on the old, misogynist gender certainties? I couldn’t do that. I love that I am an equal partner in the life I live.

There’s another guy I have never met, but that I know of by happenstance. It came down to mixed up parcels (birthday presents) and an odd voicemail. Part of me has always conjured up the notion of this guy as a good drinking buddy. He lives just around the corner, and there is a pub on the way between our houses. It seems ideal, but it also seems a lot like stalking some poor innocent guy.

I am not some mythical man, long lost to the people I used to spend time with. There are no bets taken on the path I’ve chosen, no speculations made on my hairline, or my earnings. I am, in fact, forgotten. If I am remembered at all it is as a beardy bloke people half remember, scowling in the corner, not washing very often. That’s what happens when you actively choose not to keep in touch.

What I am looking for is like-minded discourse, so that I don’t have to bore my partner with my dull facts about guitar sounds and vocal styles. I don’t need it often, so it’s hardly something I need an entire person for. So friendship is out. Internet groups are just full of whiny brats, posturing and assuming that the whole world is going through the same thought processes as them. We are not.

Maybe I just want to be friends with the musicians I listen to. Music, like food and travel, makes up a large part of my capacity for interest: maybe, like publishing my writing, music is something I should take an active part in. Forgetting for one moment that musicians tend to be egomaniacal attention addicts with relentless schedules and rapacious appetites.

I think I’d better just stick to the imaginary conversations.

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