I was once a little…um, okay, terribly obsessed with iTunes. I got my first iPod in 2004 and became immediately entranced by Apple’s seeming infinite lists of music for sale. Over the years, I spent way too much time on iTunes and spent way too much money on music, some of which was great, and some of which was not. In 2011, for the sake of my sanity and my bank account, I went cold turkey. I suspended my iTunes activities and completely stopped visiting site. With the iTunes Diaries, I take a look back, highlighting the good, the bad, and the ugly in music that I just had to have in the moment.
I’m not going to sit here and pretend like I’m some master of thrash metal music. Because I’m not. In fact, if Metallica’s “One” from their …And Justice for All album hadn’t made it into Top 40 radio, and if I hadn’t been such a fan of the weekly list in the first place, then I probably might have never discovered the genre. Actually, that’s probably not entirely true. I might have traveled a more circuitous route to hardcore through the mainstreamier sounds of hair metal of the 80s and early 90s, because there aren’t a million degrees of separation between Motley Crüe and Slayer (in fact at least, if not in spirit). Regardless, hearing “One” on the radio, amid a musical landscape that was ruled by boy bands and girl talk, marked a decided turn in my aural tastes. (Funny thing though, I don’t have many Metallica songs on my iPod, even though I think they’ve got an amazing catalog up to The Black Album. But more on that another time.) What “One” did was introduce me to the driving, needful, and intense sounds of thrash. In my head, those sounds, well…they just stuck with me, and the addiction grew from there. I borrowed …And Justice for All from a friend and made a copy, and I got The Black Album as soon as it was released. It wasn’t long before I started craving more and tried to figure out ways to sneak in viewings of MTV’s Headbangers Ball. You’d have never known it by looking at me the metal fire that raged in my veins. I was just a ordinary, dorky high schooler.
How in the hell is all this leading to my chosen song, “Alone” by Suicidal Tendencies? Well, I think I’ve established that non-classical music wasn’t much welcome in my house growing up, but my folks were okay with me playing whatever music I liked on my own radio in my bedroom at low volume. I abided. I quietly listened to our local rock station while working on homework, soaking in whatever mad guitars caught my attention; and I also began quietly amassing a small but eventually well-worn collection of heavy/thrash metal tapes. The two crown jewels in that collection didn’t appear until I hit college: Thrash Patrol and Thrash and Burn: The Metal Alternative. While the songs in these compilations weren’t new to old-time heshers, they were new, fresh, and utterly fascinating to me. I could easily go on about each and every song on these albums, but when I was creating an early iPod playlist, aptly titled “metal,” one song from these albums was a must. It was the one song that fully resonated with me then (and still does today).
The structure of the song is wholly brilliant, from the eerie, longing start to the perfectly thrashable interludes. But it’s the lyrics that make this song a classic and a masterpiece. Now, this is a song that has a blanket message about loneliness, anger, and depression – you can hear these shifts as the songs’ tone changes. But when I first heard this song, I wasn’t angry, lonely, or depressed, but I did have a very strong sense of self-dependence. I loved being in college and making new friends; but in the end, I knew that the only person I could really rely on was myself. For me, “Alone” was more anthem than soliloquy. Yeah, I felt alone in the room full of people, and yeah, sometimes I wanted someone to take my hand and pick me up when I was feeling down, but alone was the way I lived. Not lonely alone, but alone as refuge. I took immense joy in my moments of solitude, when I was alone and making my own choices, good or bad.
Now, my mindset has changed since those days. I’m no longer alone in life. I’m still not really lonely, angry, or depressed. Yet “Alone” still speaks volumes whenever it cycles round my iPod. (And that one song led me even further down the rabbit hole in to the philosophy and music of Suicidal Tendencies. They are an amazing and gifted band with as much to say about the world as anyone else.) I’m grateful that “Alone,” today, makes me cherish solitude as much as togetherness. I know it’s not the most prevalent interpretation of this song, but it’s the one that works for me.