You know what record totally rules? Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid.” That record has been with me for a really long time; I’ve listened to it on long, cold van rides across Europe, journeys across the desert and pretty much every corner of this country. The first Sabbath record I heard was “Heaven and Hell” and though it is a killer metal record, it wasn’t until I heard “We Sold Our Souls for Rock and Roll” that I truly understood what kind of trip Sabbath was on. As I got deeper into the record, which was actually a Memorex 90 minute tape at that time, it was the tracks “Iron Man” and “Paranoid” that got burned into my consciousness. I learned the “We Sold Our Souls…” was actually a greatest hits record, and those songs were actually on the album titled “Paranoid.”
I remember getting “Paranoid” on cassette and the first thing that hit me was the confusing album cover; a weird photo of a guy wearing a yellow suit with what looked like a motorcycle helmet on his head, brandishing a sword and shield. It was a difficult image to reconcile with the intensity of the music; what was the band trying to communicate to me with this borderline absurd album cover? Was I missing something? The opening track “War Pigs” completely obliterated any confusion that I may have felt. The album was a relentless study in sublime depression, loneliness and intensity. No other records from that era could come close to the heaviness of “Paranoid”; sure there was Zeppelin and Deep Purple, but they operated within the frame work of what rock music sounded like at the time. Sabbath sounded pushed extremity harder than any of their contemporaries; the only word I can use to describe Iommi’s guitar tone is “intimidating.” Listening to Sabbath, during that era, was like being encased in lead.
“Paranoid” is a Fall / Winter album; It will always make me think of the road; it reminds me of rocking out, eating at Denny’s, driving from Sioux Falls, SD to Seattle, WA with a day off between and playing shows in front of 5 people. Sabbath has often times been the soundtrack for overnight drives, helping to keep me awake as the miles dissolve under my wheels.
Maybe it’s because of the inherently depressing vibe that “Paranoid” has, but it also reminds me of those nights that I often refer to as “rowing the boat.” Even the Viking had to take a break from raping and pillaging to row the boat sometimes; Monday nights in the middle of nowhere, knowing that there is no chance that anyone will be at your show except for maybe the local bands and their friends. I’ve played more shows like this than I care to remember. You battle exhaustion, despair, hunger and geography just to play the set in front of a handful or disinterested kids. A few nights like this in a row will bring you down, it’s demoralizing. The song “Hand of Doom” always reminds me of nights like that; loading in, knowing deep down that the room will be more or less empty when you play; venturing out into the usually grim neighborhood in search of a cup of coffee to help cross the ocean of time before you get to play. It’s a Dunkin’ Donuts colored, black coffee night with “Hand of Doom” into “Rat Salad” into “Fairies Wear Boots” running together in the headphones, sitting in a room filled with the faces of strangers where we all fight the war against boredom together.
The three or so kids that have shown up to see you play are lined up in the front and finally you get to play. It’s the only thing that makes the whole day worthwhile. The endless miles, crushing boredom and loneliness get obliterated and you fill the room with your sound. Did anyone enjoy themselves? Does it matter? The only important thing is that the music was played with maximum intensity, that you tore it out of yourself so you can pack up, drive away and do all over again the next night. It’s just another town on a long list of towns. You can let it get to you or you can let it make you into something better than you were.
Nights like that add to your currency; you can either pack it up and go home or learn from it. If it was easy, it wouldn’t mean so much to us. At this point, I can run laps of nights like that, I can do rounds of nights like that and not even sweat. It’s all part of the number that separate those who love the game and those who are just fooling themselves.