The first concert I ever went to was a Slayer show in Anaheim during my freshman year at USC. Concert-wise, I was a bit of a late bloomer. There had been plenty of shows I wanted to see during my earlier teenage years, but I often either chickened out, or circumstances beyond my control dictated that I couldn’t go. The missed opportunity I regret the most occurred in 1999; the Smashing Pumpkins, my favorite band, were coming through Pittsburgh (where I grew up), ostensibly on a small club tour to promote Adore, which was a pretty intimate record. Tickets sold out very quickly, and I didn’t help my chances by calling to purchase them (I had to call in; the internet was a more primitive beast in those days) a full half hour after they’d been released. I was disappointed, but I figured that I would have another opportunity, aware neither that the Pumpkins would break up at the end of 2000 (I would not end up catching them in concert until the reunion in 2008) nor that one of the reasons for the small club tour was to reintegrate previously fired—and hyper-talented—original drummer Jimmy Chamberlin back into the band. This was a huge fuck-up on my part. I am no slave to original line-ups (though being in attendance when James Iha joined the current Pumpkins—including Chamberlin!—onstage recently was, admittedly, a thrill), but the fact that I had a shot to catch the original four Pumpkins together and didn’t will always haunt me, even if Jeff Schroeder is a much better guitarist than Iha and D’Arcy wasn’t exactly an integral piece of the puzzle.
Anyway, in college I was experimenting with my musical taste, as you do when you’re a big, grown-up college student and your mind has begun to stretch beyond its youthful parameters, man. I had entered a year-long period of listening to little but thrash metal. Two guys on my dorm floor heard me listening to Slayer’s God Hates Us All. Enormous metal heads, they invited me to go to the Slayer show at the Grove in beautiful, sterile Anaheim, California. Both of them worked for KSCR—the college radio station—, the tickets were free, and they were going to interview a member of the band on the tour bus before the show. You simply don’t pass on that kind of opportunity.
So we get down to Anaheim, and we get on the tour bus, and I find myself in one of the most serene environments I’ve ever been in. Everyone was smiling, and calm, and there was a hint of weed smoke in the air, and Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” was playing. Guitarist Kerry King, whom I’d seen in Slayer videos thrashing like a madman, was playing a board game. My two new friends and I reached the back of the tour bus, where we met singer Tom Araya, a classic thrash metal screamer/wailer who sings about war, death, pestilence, and Satan, but who is also a devout Catholic. He was clearly pretty high, and he was having a good ol’ time.
I don’t remember much of the interview, but I do remember one of the radio guys asking Mr Araya: “What does ‘God Hates Us All’ mean to you?” Araya leaned forward, and he described the record—which is about all of those aforementioned atrocities and more—thus: “Man, sometimes the day just doesn’t go your way, and you’re just like, ‘man, God HATES me.’ Y’know? You stub your toe, you get a paper cut, you miss your bus… sometimes the world just seems like it’s out to get you.” Then he closed his eyes and started swaying and grooving to Louis Armstrong; God certainly didn’t seem to hate Tom Araya that day.
It was kind of surreal, and it reminded me of hearing about horror filmmakers being super nice guys; thrash metal was an outlet for the band’s aggressions, I suppose. I wonder sometimes if, as a result of their shows, Slayer is better able to, better prepared to, appreciate the essential serenity of life.
The show was pretty good. I ended up in the pit, and a girl in Doc Martens kicked me in the face.