The Art of Shredding

By: Kailey Sherrick

 


 

Shred (verb): 1. tear or cut into shreds; 2. play a very fast, intricate style of rock lead guitar.

 

I. Metallica, “Enter Sandman”

                    Genre: Heavy Metal, Thrash Metal

Say your prayers, little one.
Don’t forget, my son
To include everyone.

Tuck you in, warm within,
Keep you free from sin,
Till the Sandman he comes.

Many daughters form bonds with their fathers through normalcy. Fishing, daddy-daughter dances, sports, etc. My father and I bonded over a love of Heavy Metal. From birth to present day, my father has raised me on a steady diet of metal in all its forms: hair, thrash, speed, heavy, death, melodic, operatic, Viking, black, and every sub-genre in between. A family that head bangs together, stays together, after all.

In my earliest of memories, my chubby toddler hands clasp the denim of my father’s shorts. I’m standing on his feet, and he’s helping me dance. I’m in my favorite footie pajamas, the fuzzy blue fabric is warm and comforting against my skin. I’m somewhere around the age of three, although it’s difficult to tell since I would continue to wear those blue footie pajamas until age nine.

His music system, so big and with so many buttons, blasts Metallica through the tower speakers. It’s the Black Album. It’s “Enter Sandman.” I know because it’s the song we always dance to before bed. My father, lithe and clean shaven, wearing the blue-jean cut-offs and pink tank top he favored so much in the early nineties, bangs his shaggy head to the heavy guitar riffs.  He quickens his pace. His steps elongate and exaggerate. He picks me up under my arms and swings me through the air. I giggle in his face as he growls We’re off to never-never land, and I try to sing it too although the words don’t form right. My tiny tongue still has trouble bridging the gap between sounds.

He puts me down and begins to play air guitar. He plants his feet in the carpet, widens his stance, and readies his imaginary instrument. His fingers mimic the plucking of strings, the formation of chords, the smashing of a whammy bar. He thrashes back and forth, imitating the exhilaration plastered on the faces of lead guitarists as they enter a solo, his mouth twisted an exaggerated grin as the air guitar screams. I’m laughing so hard I pee in my onesie, but I don’t say anything. I don’t want to ruin this moment. I don’t want him to stop playing. I never want him to stop shredding.

 

II. Carnivore, “Thermonuclear Warrior”

              Genre: Crossover Thrash, Thrash Metal, Speed Metal

The atom germ wars gone precipitate genetic mutation.
Social degeneration.
Creatures born of malignant science,
The children of technology.

Wind whipped through the cracked windows of the little Chevy S10, the only piece of my mother’s father that didn’t go to auction when he died, that and his dog, both of which my parents inherited.

The tiny truck, if it could even be called a truck, had two upsides – a bobble-head Chihuahua that sat idly on the dashboard, and a cassette player. The cassette player allowed my father to relive the days when his hair was less gray and when his face held fewer care lines. He dusted off the boxes that held row upon row of his youth, encased in little plastic rectangles with names such as Pantera, King Diamond, Jackyl, Iron Maiden, Metallica.

On Sundays he’d pick a tape at random, and we listened to it on our way to church. On this particular Sunday, he grabs one from a lesser known thrash metal band called Carnivore. The songs include titles like “Male Supremacy,” “Jesus Hitler,” “Race War,” and “Thermonuclear Warrior.” Of course, he’d bought the tape on a whim as a teenager, and as a thirty-something adult, he’d forgotten how much this band propagated racism, eugenics, misogyny, and violence.

He turned the volume down during the nastier parts of the songs with a side-eyed glance that read, “Don’t tell your mother,” as he tried to preserve my innocent ten-year-old ears. He bobbed his head, his still-shaggy-yet-receding hair blowing in the wind and a cigarette dangling from his goatee-encased lips as we cruise towards the church. I bobbed my head too, both to the music and in silent agreement that we had a pact, a secret bond forged by thrash metal in a tiny truck.

 

III. “Reign in Blood,” Slayer

             Genre: Thrash Metal

Awaiting the hour of reprisal,
Your time slips away.
 
Raining blood
From a lacerated sky.
Bleeding its horror,
Creating my structure.
Now I shall reign in blood.

Thrash metal is defined by a fast and aggressive tempo, with elements of punk folded into the fabric. Thrash musicians are known for wild and sometimes violent antics on stage and off stage. In short, it’s angry music. Two of my father’s all-time favorite thrash metal bands are Pantera and Slayer. Both are known for gritty, dirty, lightning-fast guitar riffs.

At age twelve, my father bought me my first real guitar for Christmas. It was a BC Rich Warlock, Kerry King Edition, who was the lead guitarist for Slayer. I’d been taking lessons at a local guitar shop, and the guitar I could now call my own was one I’d been eyeing for months. One day, it disappeared from the wall, and my heart sank, knowing someone else had purchased it. As it turned out, the “someone else” had been my parents.

The guitar itself was wicked – pitch black, with a jagged axe-shaped body and red, tribal flames. Designed by my favorite guitarist, it embodied the aggression and frustration that had begun to coil itself inside the pit of my stomach as hormones took control of my body and mind. I couldn’t punch a wall. I couldn’t scream into the void. Instead of shredding someone else, I could now shred my own guitar, and let it scream for me.

I took the brand new glistening instrument in my tentative hands and plugged it in. My father smiled at the electric crackle as it went live. His grin grew wider as my nervous fingers took the pick and plucked an opening chord.

“That’s my girl.”

 

IV. 10 Years, “Wasteland”

            Genre: Alternative Metal, Progressive Metal, Post-Grunge, Alternative Rock

Heave the silver hollow sliver,
Piercing through another victim.
Turn and tremble be judgmental,
Ignorant to all the symbols.
Blind the face with beauty paste.
Eventually, you’ll one day know.

At thirteen, I lost control of my emotions entirely. I also broadened my musical horizons. I explored other sub genres, and with the expansion in technology, it wasn’t long before I began “experimenting” with other types of metal. I found a band called 10 Years, an Alternative Metal group, whose lyrics captured the ever-present melancholy in which I found myself. Some songs were harder than others, but most included long instrumental breaks with orchestral segments. The lyrics were not driven by anger, but by metaphor. My father didn’t like them. He thought they were “too mellow.”

That was the band I listened to when I cut myself for the first time.

I’d stolen a box-cutter blade from my father’s toolbox and stashed it away in my room, because writing shitty poetry was no longer enough. I hid it inside the pages of my favorite book, Lord of the Flies by William Golding, on the first page of Chapter 13, “A Gift for the Darkness.”

Cutting one’s skin produces a sensation that’s similar to running a fingernail across the G-string of a guitar. The friction of the nail against the woven chord creates a steady metallic vibrato. It’s a sensation that’s both felt and heard. That night, as I lay in bed and listened to my music, I took the small, silver blade to the meaty flesh of my thigh for the first time. I could hear the skin giving way under the honed edge, could feel and hear it ripping apart and creating a chasm in my otherwise unmarred skin. The first cut was barely superficial. I hadn’t pressed hard, but as the first few droplets of blood formed along the incision and the endorphins rushed to mask the pain, I led myself to believe the shredding of my own flesh was the most beautiful thing I’d ever heard.

This was a ritual that was repeated every night, the same blade, the same music, the same rush until I’d riddled my arms and legs with open wounds for no other reason than to gain some semblance of control. When my dad confronted me months later about some poems he found stashed away in my notebook, he sat on the edge of my bed and asked, “Do you really feel this way, or are you just writing it to write?”

He fed me an excuse, but I still told him the truth. Perhaps, in some small way, he was hoping I’d lie to him, so we wouldn’t have to spend hours holding each other and sobbing as the too mellow music played on repeat in the background.

 

V. Metallica, “The Unforgiven”

                   Genre: Heavy Metal, Thrash Metal

New blood joins this earth,
And quickly he’s subdued.
Through constant, pained disgrace
The young boy learns their rules.

With time the child draws in.
This whipping boy done wrong.
Deprived of all his thoughts
The young man struggles on and on, he’s known
A vow unto his own,
That never from this day
His will they’ll take away.

My father would have been a lumberjack in another life. Each fall, the wooded valley that shelters my parent’s home is filled with the sound of splitting wood and the echo of an outdoor radio, which is always dialed to the rock station. My father dons his flannel and denim like battle armor then takes his axe to chunks of maple, ash, oak, elm, splitting whatever tree has recently fallen in order to provide fuel for the winter. The end result being stacks of wood twice my adult height.

Throughout my life, I’ve enjoyed watching him swing his axe with unrivaled precision, helping him stack the wood, sometimes splitting it myself, or simply enjoying the rhythm. There is a musical quality to splitting wood, a repetitive beat. A soft grunt as the axe is raised overhead, a swish as it slices through the air towards its target, a thwack as it makes contact, the ripping of grain as the log splits, and a thud when the pieces fall to the earth, cleaved in two. This music repeats itself with each new chunk placed upright before the glinting metal.

But this year, as I watch him chop, that familiar beat is broken with a hiss between clenched teeth, a groan as he clutches his lower back. The strong, corded arms that bury metal deep into even the most knotted trees begin to knot themselves. As he rubs his shoulders, he tells me he’s thinking about getting a splitter for next season.

As he speaks, I think that the music of a splitter is not nearly so beautiful, but at least there will still be music. I try not to think of how empty the valley will be when the sound of splitting wood falls to silence.

 

VI. Heartland, “I Loved Her First”

           Genre: Country

I loved her first
I held her first
And a place in my heart will always be hers
From the first breath she breathed
When she first smiled at me
I knew the love of a father runs deep

My mother called me two days before my wedding.

Your dad really likes this song. He’s been listening to it nonstop for the past few days. You should play it before he walks you down the aisle.

The song is “I Loved Her First” by a country band called Heartland, a favorite at weddings for the Daddy-Daughter dance. It’s a drastic change from his usual repertoire. I was skeptical, but I added it to the playlist, placing it right before the wedding march.

The day of my wedding, as I exited my dressing room, my father was already standing in his rented tuxedo, waiting for me. I saw the graying beard twitch into a smile.

You look beautiful, Sprout.

I took his arm and we stood together outside the closed sanctuary doors. It was just him and me. There was no wedding party. The wedding itself was only one step up from a shotgun, planned in two weeks, because I was pregnant and needed my soon-to-be-husband’s insurance. But at least it was in a church, and I was wearing an actual wedding dress because I hadn’t started to show.

As we waited, his guilty pleasure song poured through the church speakers, and I saw his eyes well up. He took my hand and spun me around, and we swayed back and forth in the empty hallway. There wouldn’t be a reception. There would be no Daddy-Daughter dance later. This was the only moment he had left with me as his little girl. The only difference is that I no longer needed to stand on his feet.

This hadn’t been the way I’d envisioned my wedding. I’d always imagined us rocking out down the aisle, our favorite metal songs blaring as he gave me away. I’d imagined that my future husband would also share my music interests, but he doesn’t. I’d also imagined that the person I planned to marry would be madly in love with me, but he wasn’t. I think my father knew this, and maybe this song was his way of reminding me that, as long as he’s around, I always have one person in my corner.

We didn’t speak as we danced. We didn’t need to. Instead, I place my head on his shoulder and listened to his heart.

 

VII. Pantera, “The Art of Shredding”

             Genre: Groove Metal, Heavy Metal, Thrash Metal

So now, this is the art to shred.
It’s only emotion.

Small Bluetooth speakers have replaced my father’s towering sound system. His boxes full of tapes, CD’s and records have been banished into storage.

He now has an iPod.

I watch him dance with my four-year-old son. They’re bouncing around the living room, my son giggling madly at my father’s exaggerations. They’re not listening to heavy metal. The atrocity pouring through the speakers is some hip-hop song that my niece won’t stop playing, but it has a nice beat, and they can’t help but bust a move.

When the song ends, they fall to the floor, both of them red-faced and trying to catch their breath. My son crawls over to my father and places his head on his shoulder, curling up into his lap as they rest. They share a look, my father glancing down at the small child using him as a pillow, while my son stares up at my father’s smile-lined eyes. This glance is one that’s familiar to me. There’s a connection there, a bond that only silly dancing and exhaustive head banging can form, and I know that they share a music between them, like I shared a music with my father, but their songs will be different.

Metal has evolved. Like anything else, it has changed with each new decade and become more progressive and inclusive. The anger that defines the genre, that will always define the genre, has become more focused on society, and the oppressive structures that bind us. Perhaps that’s why my father and I are both drawn to it. We’ve come to understand the innate rage of life, the need to push back and resist, and we use metal as both a bulwark and a compass, a way to protect ourselves from the awful parts of existence and navigate what’s left.

I no longer play my guitar. I no longer cut myself. The guitar sits in the closet, gathering dust, while my husband urges me to sell it. My razor blade is still tucked away inside a book, but I don’t feel the need to use it. Knowing it’s there is comfort enough. As for the guitar, I have a reason to keep it. I’ll pass it down to my son, letting him know it was a gift to me from his grandfather, and maybe he’ll keep it for his children. Maybe he’ll play it with much better skill than I ever managed. Maybe it’ll serve as a way for him to cope if it ever comes to that point.

I take the iPod away from my niece and choose the next song. I pick Metallica. I pick “Enter Sandman.” I watch my father play air guitar. My son plays the air drums. They sing together. I sit back and watch their moment. There is an inevitability here, that time will eventually cut this connection, and when it does, all that will remain will be songs and echoes. But for now I don’t want them to stop. I never want them to stop.

 


 

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Kailey Sherrick is a recent graduate of Cleveland State University and the  NEOMFA (Northeast Ohio Masters of Fine Arts), where she received her MFA in Creative Nonfiction. Apart from her professional and academic life, Kailey spends her time being involved in her community, reading, gardening, listening to metal, and ruining dinner parties by talking about sex, politics, and religion.

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