The Ballad of Metal Tony [Memoir]

By (Staff Post)
The Ballad of Metal Tony
Jacob Mazer is the lead provocateur, artist & author of the underground comic anthology Animal Kingdom.  Read his annotatations to the Heavy Metal Mixtape appearing below by clicking here.

 

Tony was a fixture in the D.C.-Baltimore punk & metal scene. Picture him thus: blond, ruddy, buzz-cutt, affable demeanor, Viking berserker stature. Ballpark his age (at the time of this story) in the early thirties.

This seemed like downright ancient old-head years to a teenaged yours truly, & thus my coevals & I referred to Tony for much knowledge:

  1. He worked at a musical equipment store out in the suburban badlands & was the go-to guy if you needed a guitar or an amp.
  2. He could tell you how to jerry-rig your band’s decrepit van into touring condition.
  3. He could also tip you to some vital, but yet-unheard listening material. (Film-clip from the memory-feed: Standing over by the merch at a Hidden Hand show, Baltimore circa 2002, Tony leans across the table with a giddy grin, & yelled at low-volume, a shout that sounded conspiratorial against the wall of fuzzed-out noise. “Wait…you mean you haven’t heard Dopesmoker?”)

hiddenhand

The story, though.  It starts like this:

It’s very late at night. Tony’s driving his pickup back to his house, way out in the burbs. He’s sober, for what it’s worth. [1] There’s a deer lying in the road. Tony pulls over onto the shoulder, gets out to investigate the scene. Hit & run, apparently. The deer ain’t mauled, but it ain’t living either.

Tony’s alone. No other cars on the road. A thought occurs to him. Might be a cool fucking thing to have a deerskin. He hauls the deer out of the traffic lane & throws it in the flatbed of his truck. Remember, he’s a big guy.

Back at his spot, Tony begins work, never mind the hour.

Let me note here that at this point in human history, procedures for efficient animal skinning are pretty well developed. In this department, Tony is completely ignorant. He brings the carcass into the clearing behind his house & sets upon it with a large pocketknife.

Problems arise. First off, the deer is unwieldy. He can’t get a good enough handle on it to make any consistent cuts. He tries straddling the animal, steadying the body with his knees, then using his free hand to stretch the target area taut, but it’s not much help. He needs another set of hands, or a new approach. Second, all the fumbling around with the blade is getting to be, shall we say, messy.

After a bit of brainstorming, Tony comes upon this solution: retrieving the necessary implements from inside the house, he drags the animal over to a tree & drives a few long nails through its head, & some more though select points of the extremities, more or less anchoring the deer against the trunk.

The gore issue is easier to resolve. Tony strips off his blue jeans & shirt & recommences work in only his boxers & sneakers. The splatter itself may not be mitigated, but at least he’s keeping the entrails off his Bolt Thrower shirt.[2]

bolt-thrower

Indeed, these modifications aid the process, although Tony’s procedural inexpertise is still a major factor. Progress is being made, just taking much longer than expected. Tony is inexorable. He will have his skin. The deer by now is no longer distinguishable as of its species, & is beginning to look more like some Francis Bacon-esque protean meat tangle.

Tony works. Time passes. The new day breaks. The sun is coming up & cars are appearing on the road that runs by his yard. People on their way to work. The intrusion of other folks back into the world prompts a spark of self-consciousness in Tony, which has, to this point, not been a factor.

He turns away from the tree to assess his visibility from the road. Yes, he is right out in the open, & concurrent to this realization, a school bus rolls up along the stretch in question. Through the windows of the bus– Tony observes this as if in slow motion– one child, his forehead pressed to the glass sleepily, jolts to attention. The kid’s eyes bulge, his jaw drops, he straightens, his face contorts to a scream. Now the whole horde of children are gaping out of the bus back at Tony, knife in hand, near-naked, drenched in gore, standing beside an unrecognizable bloody lump pinned to a tree. Perhaps the endeavor has gotten a bit out of hand, Tony thinks. Time to call it a night. He pulls the deer off the tree, drags it to the side of the road, and goes to bed [3].

A good one.  It was a good story to have in your stable of yarns, if you were interested in accumulating one, which I was. My own relationship with Tony was not much more than an acquaintance, but my friends and I spent a lot of time telling Tony stories. There were a lot of good Tony stories to be told, & it was a time when telling stories held a major position in the social economy.

Most of these storytelling exchanges occurred during in-between times, prior to & post-shows, impromptu gatherings, sprawled around untidy living rooms with curb-picked furniture. Late nights at “Food For Thought” or “Amsterdam Falafel,” or sitting indian-style on the sidewalk of 7th St, or at the crest of the big hill on Mass Ave, in Tenleytown. These were pre-21 days, before bars, not before drugs or alcohol, but before the tedium of drugs & alcohol. The whole world seemed to burn at a higher temperature at a certain age. It’s tempting to look back on this time– both the ecstasy & the pathos– with a kind of romance, a halcyon age before The-Great-Grinding-Down had really begun. Days of What-Future?-attitude, zero fucks given, so much the lore of fledgeling thrasherdom.

But, truth told, this was just about the antithesis of my interiority back then. I was certain that one false turn was all it would take to plummet off the tracks & into a lifetime of pointlessness & mundanity, & I was afraid that I wouldn’t see the bend coming. I felt that not much of consequence had ever happened to me & I was eager to fill my life with adventures, even if they weren’t my own.

Thus, there was, for me, a sense of excitement when Tony turned up at a show or a potluck, the sense that something wild might happen, that I might be on hand for the creation of a new mythic episode [4]. In pursuit of such excitement, my friends & I dutifully attended shows played by Tony’s grind band [5]. These shows were notorious for the wanton scenes that ensued in the audience, inevitably culminating in a Wall of Death, a mosh-pit maneuver as destructive as its name suggests [6]. Tony was pleased to abet the mayhem, or at least be a prop to it [7]. His size compelled the kids to utilize him as a human pinball bumper. The rowdiest would try to climb onto his back as he played bass, & would invariably be sent hurtling back into the audience with a flick of his shoulder. Wild, wild, wild. Grand opportunities for Tony to exercise his sense of humor & steel-balls audacity.

One episode stands out in particular…I can still see it clearly…Charm City Art Space, Baltimore…Tony, drenched in sweat & panting like a dog, swings bass to the side, drops to hands & knees, & crawls through the audience to the coffin-sized bathroom. Laps water from filthy toilet bowl. Reveals later that he himself took a shit in said shitter prior to the show.

Gnarly? Yes, indeed. Metal? Oh yes. Tony being the first person I knew whose affiliation with metal was more than a matter of taste; he’d been a metalhead long enough for it to have lost its performative element & become an ontologically ingrained aspect of his being.

“Metal” as a existential condition: the notion that—in addition to the rugged, cool image—there was something valuable to be gained by making space for an inner savage. I liked the idea of cultivating this part (perhaps “the metal church inside you” cited by Metal Church in “Metal Church” from Metal Church) whose entire raison d’être is just être & this done with a damn-the-torpedoes attitude toward the opinion of the scene & the phantom threats of an unfriendly future. Born doomed…proceed from there. The idea, for me, when I could let it in, could mollify my inner-totalitarian’s injunctions: “Make The Right Choices” & “Be Right With The Bunch.” [8] For all its morbid fixations, metal grants permission to live.

As I said, I didn’t know Tony very well on a personal level. I had a sense of him, but it was all bound up with my own projections & desires, & my recollections today are subject to the distortions of nostalgia. Whether the figure I remember is a likeness or an icon, he remains a powerful figure for me. I saw (imagined, projected) in Tony an equilibrium that I admired & coveted. He was wildly alive & accumulated the material of legend without a second thought, but he was also kind & generous with his wisdom & friendly to much-younger kids whom he must have recognized were in awe of him. Quite a guy.

I haven’t told you yet about the pig incident. Another good one. Here goes:

Tony gets a call from his butcher friend. Said friend happens to have a spare severed pig’s head; does Tony want it? Tony wants it.

Tony gets it. Tony hasn’t decided what to do with it, but he determines that the first step, in any case, is to get its skull. The best way to go about doing this, he reasons, is to boil the fucker. He puts the skull in a big pot, fills it with water & places it on the stove.

As it turns out, boiling a pig’s head down to the skull is a rather time-consuming process. After some time in the boiling water, the head is looking considerably more grotesque, but a long way from finished. Tony decides to let it cook and take a nap in the meantime.

Tony takes his nap. It’s a long one. He awakens some significant time later to a number of unusual stimuli. Smoke is billowing through the house & all three smoke detectors on the ground floor are shrieking. On top of that, a human is bellowing at the top of her lungs. It’s coming from the kitchen.

Cue conveniently withheld exposition: one of Tony’s roommates is a vegan, & strict enough about it that she has her own set of pots & pans in which no meat is ever cooked. Earlier, when Tony selected a pot to boil the pig’s head, he had simply used the biggest one on hand without a second thought to the parameters of its use. One has to feel sorry for this poor woman, coming home from work to discover black smoke & meat-stench pluming out of her soup pot, & finding within it a half-melted swine’s head & a crust of scalded fat on the bottom.

That was where the story ended, as I heard it. I’m not sure how he got out of that one. That was how many Tony stories ended. Still he persevered.

 

 

 

[1] Tony was a habitual teetotaler, a rarity in the metal world, although perhaps less so around D.C., where Minor Threat started whole unfortunate Straight Edge thing. it wasn’t a matter of ideology for him, he just didn’t drink much. I heard him mention booze only once…related a story about drinking whiskey from a leather shoe with a wild Tennessean named Whiskey Bob. A When-In-Rome situation, I got the impression. Carpe noctum.

 

[2] Whether this should be considered good thinking or a metal-fail is subject to debate.

 

[3] In my imagining, he doesn’t bother to bathe or even remove the bloody boxers before he hits the hay.

 

[4] This, the primary overture of the writerly inner-schism, the development of a self that stands outside the self, that absents from the moment & plots the recounting of the present at a future date.

 

[5] I’ve revisited their recordings, & they hold up. Throat-ripper material. However, I’m withholding the name of the band. “Tony Bridges” too is a pseudonym, if you hadn’t guessed. Reasoning: I haven’t notified Tony that I’m writing this, which would have been the courteous thing to do. However, enough time has passed that I can’t separate the actual events from the mythical version that exists in my memory, & furthermore, I don’t want to blight that memory with any unwelcome incursions of the truth. So let me keep my memories & tell the story my way. If you’re terribly eager to match the character to the corporeal man, do the detective work yourself. Those who attended shows in the D.C.-B-more area in the mid-2000s will no doubt have recognized Tony already.

 

[6] If you don’t know, the Wall of Death generally occurs during a lengthy build up section in a song, & usually transpires toward the end of a band’s set, as the participants will feel somewhat spent after it occurs, not to mention the symbolic finality. The constituents of the pit (yes, mostly male) divide into two factions & line up on opposite sides of the room, facing one another. Each side forms a human wall, linked by arms slung over shoulders, & collectively lurches back & forth to the music, eyeing the other faction across the now evacuated floor. Those wishing to add a bit of flourish to the proceedings might swipe the ground with their shoes like a bull preparing to charge, or execute a clumsy Can-Can, or bicycle both legs in the air, using the adjacent shoulders as an anchor. When the band reaches the crescendo, both sides charge toward one another across the floor. The result as you would expect. As I am in my late 20’s, this now sounds like the worst thing, but it was good fun at the time.

 

[7] This held any time Tony was present at a show, whether he was playing or not. Around 2004, Baroness came through Baltimore & was received with great enthusiasm. The show was something of a Road to Damascus moment, with a load of screamo-steeped kids as Saul of Tarsus & Heavy Metal as the apparition of Jesus Christ. (Believe it or not, there was a time when Baroness was a credibly hesh & rather powerful act, as evidenced by their first two EPs. Their potential was instantly apparent & everybody knew that they were going places–apparently to the more lucrative realms of salad metal. The rest is history…oh well…) A kind of stampede ensued. Kids charged through the pit toward the band in a mad kamikaze bullrush. Tony, in the front lines, would grab them & toss them back into the center of the pit. This being the closest I’ve seen to a real world Catcher in the Rye.
[8] The latter, an unspoken, but vital edict of the punk community, sternly prosecuted by the thought-police that enough years of egg-shell walking in P.C.-D.C. will instill.