I Took My Mom to See Ghost B.C.
. . .
"Are you wearing heels?" I ask, and my mother nods. "I advise against that, we're going to be standing." Mom's amazed that there will be no seats at St. Andrew's Hall, and changes into some sensible flats. It's her first 'metal' show (to my mother's ears, Deep Purple once the epitomized heavy), and I need to lay out some practical guidelines. Either way, we're excited.
It's Friday, May 17, and I'm taking my mom, a devout Catholic, to see Ghost B.C. (she thinks the name change is ridiculous as well).
I don't try to talk her out of her second fashion foible: Mom wears a rosary necklace and a cross—for protection. My mother was born in Brazil, and raised Catholic. In my maternal country, Catholicism carries more cultural weight, even if Brazil has a comparatively liberal, sexualized society compared to the United States. Small shrines to the Virgin Mary line highways there, and even the most provacatively dressed women carry Catholic memorabilia on their afternoon strolls. After the election of Pope Francis, visiting members of my mom's side of the family quipped: "The Pope may be Argentinian, but god is Brazilian." Some of that totemic culture still affects her behavior. I am used to finding little silver crosses in my wallet, or my glove compartment, courtesy of Mom. Perhaps her familiarity with Catholic iconography makes Ghost B.C. more palatable to her.
On the drive up I-75, we debate the religion she raised me in—she is uninterested in the church's sometimes-violent history. "I am in it for the religion, not for the knowledge, I'm in it for the security and strength it gives my mind—you're more of a scholar." We laugh. The trip is comfortable but awkward. I find choosing music particularly difficult—by excluding anything growly, anything too violent or sexual, or too avant-garde, I reduce my iPod to near-nothing. We settle on listing to Ghost B.C.'s discography itself, so Mom can familiarize herself with it.
At this point I should say that my mother, in raising me, very much encouraged me to march to the beat of my own drum. She let me play violent video games and listen to whatever music I wanted. The stereotypical straightjacket repression of a Catholic upbringing was mercifully absent from my life. With one exception: my mother is terrified of the devil, and would not let me watch any Satanic horror films. The Exorcist was explicitly banned.
We headbang to the superior songs on Opus Eponymous. The irony is not lost on me.
"Satanism is such a buzz word, as a Catholic it just immediately riles me up." I say that I am unconvinced that Ghost B.C. are Satanists and promise that I will under no circumstances take her to a show put on my by actual Satanists—no Behemoth or Watain for my mother—though I am tempted to play The Devil's Blood as our concert warmup, but decide against it. My mother is one of the people metal media seldom discusses—people whom heavy metal actually intimidates in some way. In her case, the style of dress and lyrical content perturbs her.
At IO, we've covered getting family members to like, or at least tolerate, metal before. I daresay Doug had an easier time than I. My mother raised me on Fleetwood Mac, as well as The Eagles, and in particular the Jesus Christ Superstar soundtrack. I can't help but think that the guitar riff from "Heaven on their Minds" primed the pump for my love of metal. Mom's a musical theater person—she sang lead in a rock band for many years, and still performs musical theater. It's that theatricality, alongside the spectacular cover of "Here Comes the Sun," that made my mother casually interested in Ghost B.C.. Some metal culture has rubbed off on her. she's extremely fond of Metallica's S&M records, as well as Tool. She tolerates Opeth. And, somehow, even as a Republican, she will headbang with me to a little Rage Against the Machine now and then.
. . .
Murray Head – "Heaven on Their Minds (radio cut)"
At the venue, Ghost B.C. does not play "Here Comes the Sun". Rather, we are treated to almost all of Opus Eponymous and most of the songs I enjoy from Infestissumam—a little less "Idolatrine" and a little more "Zombie Queen", no rhyme intended, would have tickled my fancy. I wanted to hold her hand and raise it with mine and sing "Black light guides you / Ghouleh." Instead, she snags a candid iPhone clip of Papa Emeritus II taking the stage with his G-staff, and a bit of me headbanging to "Con Clavi Sin Dio". Days later the video goes viral amongst her tennis team.
The first thing my mother notices is the kick drum, mic'd so loudly that it literally shakes our chests. Around that time she worries about the physicality of the music, and I assure her there will be no moshing, and if there is, I will keep her out of it. As it happens there is one small pit, crewed by what look to be nipple-height teenage kids. Harmless. There is one fight, between two grown women. "Girl fights are the worst," Mom says between songs, and I agree.
We analyze the show and come to some similar conclusions. First, Papa Emeritus II did not match his band, vocally, that night. Likewise, Ghost B.C. live is more about spectacle than music. "I thought he was having some pitch problems. On the whole, a cool venue to highlight their theatrics and really it was all about their theatrics—I think the draw is the masquerade and the premise behind it," Mom says after.
More interesting to me was just how much the trio of Ghost B.C.'s drummer, keyboardist and bassist drive the music. In a live setting the band excels at rhythm and atmosphere. The guitarists and Papa Emeritus II function as focal points for the audience while the more serious musicians lock-in behind them. The stage right guitarist, with the white guitar played all of the guitar solos from Opus Eponymous, while the stage left guitarist, with the black guitar, played many of the solos on Infestissumamtracks. If a member of Ghost B.C. did change between records, I would suspect the black guitar, not Papa.
I enjoy myself with some restraint. Invisible oranges and horns are thrown. I choose not to sing along during great songs like "Year Zero", when it seems like literally every person but my mother and myself are yelling 'hail satan.' But she seems unfazed—I expected nervous fiddling with the rosary but it remains untouched.
The set proceeds for a brisk 45 minutes. Ghost B.C. plays "Ritual", and I suggest that we dip out before the encore and beat traffic—"Monstrance Clock", is not my favorite track and my mother looks tired, albeit pleased. On the ride home some of her misgivings about the people with whom I choose to associate vanish. "Everyone seemed really gentle and cordial—very passionate about the music! I saw so many people mouthing the lyrics… It's unfortunate that you guys get such a bad rep because of stereotyping. On the whole you guys are cool—but there was a little bit of B.O." I can't fight that point. Another reason to never take her to see Watain.
Mom asks how she did. I say it was a good and bad first concert choice—Ghost B.C.'s music is low-pressure and so is their audience, Satanic lyrics and all. Still, they could have played better. Mom asks, out of the blue, "So are Ghost B.C... bubblegum metal?"
I laugh. The car swerves. "Yes, absolutely." After a minute I ask if she can think of any other bubblegum metal acts.
"The Foo Fighters." We laugh, and I concede that, yes, The Foo Fighters are kind of like Def Leppard with more emotional lyrics. I cycle through the iPod again for our return trip and settle on something again in the sweet spot of easy listening, but still heavy and inoffensive: Deep Purple's Machine Head. We hum the riff of "Smoke on the Water" together and drive south on I-75. Mom says she'd like to try a second metal concert.