Only Death is Real

Two guys sit on a long couch in an apartment. The TV is on and music plays. The place is clean, but there is a table covered with used plates, cups, and books in disarray. It is dark outside, but a faint light reveals about an inch of snow.  

“So I’ve been going back to some of the music I liked when I was about sixteen. I’m finding that a lot of the stuff I thought I outgrew still appeals to me. It even appeals to me on a deeper level, since some of the lyrics didn’t really relate to my life as a teenager.”

“What was age sixteen for you, like ten years ago?”

“Eight or nine, really. Feels like it just happened, but at the same time I’m remembering the past through someone else’s eyes.”

“Well you still like the same stuff apparently, so not too different. Jeez, I was sixteen like sixteen years ago, man. What music specifically?”

“Well I was browsing around and came across a video of a Dark Tranquility performance from 2009. I was a senior in high school then.”

“I remember them. Swedish band. Melodeath. They even released an album last year.”

“I stopped following their releases pretty soon after that. I still remember running through the woods and timing the sounds of my breathing to the rhythm of their songs. It let me treat the run like with all the seriousness in the music, dealing with themes I was sometimes too immature to relate to. But a teenager is old enough to identify with a sound. He’s past the point where, like the young Avatar in his village, he can point to those objects he loved in his previous life and assume the destiny needed for his time and place.”

“Yeah man, I still lift while listening to them, and other melodeath from around that time. A lot of Swedish bands with that melodic, but still dark sound. So much of the grandiosity in classical music and other genres went out into the void, after which it infiltrated heavy metal.”

“Yeah I see what you mean. It annoys me a bit when people use the term “metal” to refer to rock n’ roll. Rock is the music that appealed to the lower nature of the American youth. And as the ever-eccentric Till Lindemann once said; ‘We’re All Living in Amerika. Amerika ist wunderbar.’ Just as America is the place where people from all over the world go to pursue material self-interest, something of which literally anyone is capable, so American cultural exports are often merely those things which infect the world with a return to the lowest common denominator: those things we all have in common with the animals. Rock n’ roll is just sexual intercourse in a moving vehicle, and the pretense of rebellion against restrictive and outdated mores is nothing more than Lucifer’s rebellion against God.”

“Alright, hold up, I have to challenge you there. It sounds like you’re saying rock n’ roll is the devil’s music. But isn’t heavy metal extremely pro-Satan? Using Satanic symbols, promoting the image of devil-worship, dark and heavy music with anti-Christian themes? Plus Varg even burned down churches. If metal isn’t evil and Satanic, then what is?”

“It’s funny, among the young, devout Christians I’ve talked to, there are probably more metal-listeners than rock listeners. Rock is meant to divest you of your virtues, to make you let go of your inhibitions. Metal does the opposite; it is enthralling where rock is liberating. Rock wants you to laugh at those devoted to an idea outside themselves. It’s my life, and its now or never. What better mantra for a generation who place their parents in a nursing home, only to suck up tens of thousands of dollars in end-of-life care, and then leave a mortgage to their kids? It’s my life, and when I shut my eyes for the last time I will enter oblivion, so who cares?”

We were searching for Truth, for an authentic meaning really. When I go food shopping and hear some seventies rock anthem playing, I’m witnessing for the thousandth time the absorption of a once-rebellious sound into a global economic system that’s perpetually hungry for new markets. That music is dead, because instead of challenging the system, the system is that very beast brought to its conclusion: the satisfaction of desire. Whatever’s trying to keep you from having fun is the bad guy, right? Only when people actually live their lives that way you end up with people like us, whose only remaining form of rebellion is to pick up the pieces and reconstruct a living tradition.”

“Absolutely. And in such a tradition one sees the devil in oneself. One’s own shadow.  This is the superiority of metal to rock n’ roll in a nutshell. Rock n’ roll is this occasional escape from the dull realities of work that people consume when they want to be entertained. They work because they’re programmed to think that’s what people are supposed to do. They have fun in the time they have left because that’s just natural. For people who get into metal, the world itself is corrupted, and there is no ‘supposed to’ because there are no meaningful goals in a dead and insipid world. There can be no happy life, or any kind of life that operates according to rules, because only death is real.” Total nihilism. The point at which you see that there’s no point to anything. The rock listener doesn’t actually think life has no meaning, he or she just feels bombarded with all this restriction, and absorbs meaning passively. It’s assumed to be inherent to all people, all culture, because there’s an unconscious significance associated with organizations of people. Even taking God away, you’ve still got the state, you’ve got all kinds of groups that work for things. So there’s no reason to question meaning. But for the metal listener, that’s not enough to get out of bed in the morning. He begins to identify himself with evil, because he will never be celebrated by the people he sees around him. Metal reveals the dark nature of the rock n’ roll genre that gave birth to it, and has a lot more in common with hymns and meditation music than with what one hears on the radio.”

“Maybe the metal listener just needs to get up, go to the gym, go meet some girls and get some sunshine. Maybe if he only stopped being such a self-pitying social loser he would chill out and adjust his musical tastes. Who cares if what he likes isn’t played on the radio? Does that make him special? He’s lonely, keeping his music tastes to himself, reassuring himself that no one else is internally intense enough to appreciate black metal or something, as if when played before an audience of ordinary people all the people would react by exploding, becoming ghosts and entering some ethereal realm of burning buildings, cemeteries, dragons, castles, and guitar solos. He just secretly wants to be like everybody else, but can’t. So he pretends he’s special when he’s just socially inept.”

“I actually think that’s half true, even though I know you’re memeing. It’s true that if you’re different, and you know you can’t fit in, then you seek ways of protecting your self-respect by ‘losing gracefully’ so to speak. You find ways of expressing yourself that let you say; I’m choosing to act this way because its’ a preference, not because I’m not good enough to be like you. How many blue, green, or pink-haired girls can we see by just walking outside? How many piercings and tattoos? The body itself is a ground for rebellion by those cursed to physical imperfectness. But tattoos, piercings, and dyed hair are arbitrary. So is gaining massive amounts of weight, or making this-or-that purchase. I would argue that musical preference, the more particular one gets, the more physiologically predetermined it is within the individual’s mind. Just as someone cannot choose to be depressed, so one cannot choose to have the kind of soul necessary to prefer Swedish metal bands over country music. It’s biological. Seeking out the music may be a deliberate action, but I can’t choose not to prefer Dark Tranquility. It chooses me.

“Yeah, it’s rebelling against the rebellion. Looking for a real culture, and not knowing there’s something outside of a brand that sells T-shirts on the internet. The thing is, metal fans are listening to a kind of music that is on the one hand anti-anti-religious, because rock n’ roll mostly disregards religious tradition. But at the same time, metal is hyper-anti religious because it’s anti-conformist. It’s inherently anti-anarcho-communist and anti-feminist for the same reasons, because all those ideas involve some kind of tolerance. They’re all the platitudes we’ve ever heard about peace, love, cooperation, understanding, equality, care, and on and on. The sound itself rends through that superficial mask and blasts wordlessly; chaos, carnage, destruction, hate. It’s the reactionary force that counterbalances the liberal one. The masculine energy on the other end of the see saw. It’s night, which we need as much as we need day.”

“And why we need Satan as much as we need God. And I think in a way, rock n’ roll does represent God. It’s the garden of Eden; it’s the world we get when all the wars are over. It’s when all the bloodshed of previous centuries is behind us, and before us is a Jerusalem of milk and honey. Tolerance, peace, free love. What is the industrialized world if not heaven, compared to the barbarous existence to which all the generations of our ancestors were relegated? This in a way is the genius of the Christian myth, because Satan has to exist for God to exist. I’ve even heard some people say they believe in God but not Satan! These very pseudo-religious people will say they love that John Lennon song, despite all those lines about ‘no Heaven’ and ‘no religion!’ Everything is the balance of opposite natures. Metal wouldn’t need to exist if nature hadn’t seen fit to produce the particular content of our brains. It is anger that drives us in a way, just as Angra Maynu, the Zoroastrian conservative or repressive force, is the counter balance to the principle of progress and wisdom. There is no progress and wisdom without the constraining force. There is no sunlight without cold and empty space. There are no women without men. There is no life without death.”

“And when everyone around you denies the need for such a force; saying that we only need more love in the world to solve all our problems, then the correct response must match the claim with equal force. They say, tolerance, love, peace, eternal life…I say, only death is real.”

From Hualien to Taitung

Also from late January 2017, a few photos from the middle part of the trip. The first is from outside the hostel in Hualien (花蓮). It’s a far greener city than Taichung where I live.


In between Hualien and Taitung (台東) was a rest stop with a nice view. I bought a couple of postcards which are still sitting on my desk. There were images of different species of bird above the gift shop. It reminded me of my second week in Taiwan, when an older foreigner from the UK said that this island had relatively few birds but is first-rate for bird watching. I pick up on the sounds of birds more acutely after spending so many nights falling asleep in the center of an urban area (where the sounds of Savana Nightjars and window-crawling geckos are the norm).


Taroko Gorge

Photos from a trip through Taroko Gorge (太魯閣) in early January.


I’m not sure why the photos are a bit grainy again. Regardless, if ever there was a place to say that pictures don’t portray the impressiveness of an environment it’s here.

The Sea Will Cast it up Again

One endless frustration of mine has been looking at some of the content that other people put out onto the web, then comparing it to my own finished stuff to find that mine isn’t as sophisticated or substantive as I’d envisioned it in the process. A little under four years ago I  showed something I’d drawn haphazardly to a professor, who in the nicest way possible said the problem with is was that “the drawing isn’t very good.” I’d become obsessed with just churning out material to the point of disregarding quality.

As I dealt with recently regarding workouts, the real goal with these external projects of writing, sketching, taking photos or physical training is to change the mind. In exercise or in life, the work doesn’t get easier, you just get better (to paraphrase one of my coaches). With this in mind I think it will be useful to write about some of the books and essays that form a big part of my mental input. My education is after all far from over, and much of the text I’ve consumed over the past few years has failed to take hold of my thoughts and actions.

Being told I’m “too serious” is a sign I’m on the right path. “Does anyone ever tell you that you think too much?” someone asked me recently. Maybe such a comment was just resistance I needed to push against. Maybe it was subtle advice to be aware of the bombardment of images and sounds that follow me into my sleep and even into the forest. Being serious about the content of one’s thoughts isn’t a negative trait. Changing them takes will.

Last May my roommate and I read Nietzsche’s infamous posthumously-published book The Will to Power. The book is comprised of notes written by Nietzsche between 1883-1888, some of which are a single sentence, while others go on for several pages. I recently took this book out of the shelf again to reexamine his writing on the musicians of his day, as well as to revisit his observations on the nature of the artist. The translation I have is by Anthony Ludovici, who thankfully does not soften Nietzsche’s prose for us delicate Anglophone readers.

This propelled me to finally read The Antichrist, which is much shorter and probably would have been a good introduction to Nietzsche had I read it at age seventeen. The language in both books has a vitriolic tone. His observations come in the form of attacks. There are more than a few harsh words for the priests, pious men, women, patriots, and more. But he is not chastising these people for the sake of ‘correcting’ their behavior. He is drawing conclusions from observing the nature of reality. He demonstrates how power manifests itself in the “bungled and botched” people of his time.

Nietzsche Notes

[My notes from Will to Power]

The book is split into four parts. The first is generally about modern European nihilism, while the second focuses on Christianity and slave morality. The third gets into more esoteric epistemology. The fourth goes through various topics, notably the future need for the world to “cleave a gulf” between Great Men and the gregarious herd.

From the second part I wrote down beauties such as:

“Life on Earth is an exception with no consequence.” (note 303)

“Morality itself is a form of immorality.” (308)

“In every ‘thus it should be’ is the condemnation of the whole course of events.” (331)

The ego/I might be a life preserving instinct and still be false. (483)

“The object is not to know, but to schematize -to impose as much regularity and form upon chaos as our practical needs require.” (515)

The more I digest of Nietzsche’s writing, the more I see how my teenage mind was sculpted by people who almost certainly read his writing. The fact that I can think back to formative years during which I was working through the very ideas I find on the page means those ideas trickled into my mind somehow. Like expands into every area of an enclosed space, ideas either find suitable hosts or get forgotten. I also see just how little most people who claim to “love Nietzsche” really agree with much of his worldview. Listening to a high-pitched academic-sounding voice explain how Nietzsche paved the way for us “choosing our own morality” somehow doesn’t do the ideas justice.

Reading Nietzsche’s critique of all the philosophers also provoked me to reexamine philosophers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries who’s writing I’ve either skipped over or skimmed. It won’t be long before I will find myself forced to reduce my reading list to realistic levels, otherwise I’ll trap myself in a prison of books reading about history while people around me achieve fame, fortune, power, through action.

“Virtue is still the most expensive vice: let it remain so!” (325)

Nietzsche Book Cover

Thanks to the logical ordering of the notes, the tone of the end of the book culminates in a forceful ending (perhaps the subject of a future post). Below is what I found to be the most memorable note, dealing with death.

“A certain emperor always bore in mind the transitoriness of all things so as not to take them too seriously and to live at peace among them. To me, on the contrary, everything seems far too valuable to be so fleeting: I seek an eternity for everything: ought one to pour the most precious salves and wines into the sea?– My consolation is that everything that has been is eternal: the sea will cast it up again.” (1065) 

Driving Eastward

These photos are from right after HeHuanShan, and on the way toward Taroko Gorge. This is in between Taichung, which is near the West coast of Taiwan, and the East Coast.


At some point along the road there was construction going on. They permitted cars to pass every hour through according to a fixed schedule. As you can see, fog obscured much of the mountainside.


I don’t have pictures of the angry dogs that were guarding this area, so you’ll just have to believe me.



Much of what I saw was from the inside of the car. There really are mountains everywhere, and the landscape still feels quite alien and alluring to me.