I have a lot of faux conspiracy theories in music, and they seem to always involve late 90s hard rock. We’ve discussed in these pages the certainty that Dave Grohl and Dave Wyndorf are bizarro clones, and that Maynard James Keenan controls the weather. Unimpeachable facts, these are. I have, however, been totally behind on a very important conspiracy that I learned about over this weekend. Thankfully, nu-metal stalwarts Korn (or KoRn, if you’re wearing Jncos) have brought it to my attention. I’m telling you guys, if you’re not getting your facts straight from these sources, you’re living in the dark ages.
Jon Davis, best known as the fashion icon who made eyebrow rings, dreads and kilts a combo more powerful than the Roman Triumverates, seems to currently believe that Secret Muslim Communist Fascist Barack Obama is also using pop musicians to blind us from terrible, terrible things he is doing. Davis, an outspoken lover of Skrillex, the king of brain-meltingly dull dance-pulses, goes off on this tangent in a TMZ interview, which is appropriately where all the most important, factual info comes from. One might say we can’t see, we can’t see, we’re going blind. Davis is asking ARRRRREEEEE WEEEEEEE REAAAAADDDDDDYYYYYY for the truth. And oh, are we ever.
Now some of our younger readers might be asking, “Who’s Jon Davis? Didn’t he create Garfield?” Others may be trying to figure out why any band would name themselves after an omnipresent grain best known for being boiled and buttered. Don’t worry, we never quite understood this at the time either. It is interesting, of course, with all the shadowy dealings of companies like Monsanto when it comes to staple crops, this bombshell of truth should come from a source named after the most controversial… one more hint that we’re dealing with weighty matters. Still, it is important to explain Korn within context, so everyone understands from whence our new prophet came.
Korn appeared somewhere after the heyday of grunge, taking the disillusionment and anger of the genre and expanding on it. Korn seemed to be both more full of rage as well as more fragile than the average grunger… when Davis calls out the faux tough-guy in tracks such as “Clown,” it is with the anger of someone who knew his art was probably the strongest weapon he had available. By all accounts of his childhood, Davis had every right to mine both anger and insecurity. The man, who would later go on to name his child “Pirate,” was mercilessly tormented by other children, abused by his father, and has no love lost for some mother figure, either (to say nothing about his feelings on Mr. Rogers). His life was psychologically difficult, and if his stories played out as he plays them out in adulthood, it’s a wonder he wasn’t the poster child for an earlier anti-bullying movement. As such, Korn, as much as Nirvana would, became a vital touchstone for young people who needed some outlet for the mental torments they’d experienced. There was something visceral about the early albums, venting out emotions in the form of literal nonsense growls. In retrospect, the content feels immature and thin, much as early progressive films and texts feel outdated and oppressive in some ways, but at the time it filled a niche that didn’t have a mainstream presence. Korn’s popularization of this ethos led to a wave of imitators with less to say, which eventually made their own music feel comical and forced and ultimately irrelevant. Still, the kernel (no pun intended) of their meaning to a certain alienated society cannot be ignored, even as easy as it might be today.
When I got into Korn,it was through “No Place to Hide.” It’s hardly a groundbreaking song now, but at the time in my musical development, it represented “hard” music which could take a “soft” moment (the verses), while also carrying melody. It’s less specific, also: there’s a more universal fearfulness instead of a personal one. The spare guitar arrangement, used mostly as backdrop, makes it a bit cold and open and eerie. It was easy to explore this as a young teen, because it said a very simple thing that I was told I should not be able to say: I want to hide, and I cannot. I couldn’t really relate to other songs in the way others could, and certainly even then there was a discomfort with Davis’ frequent reliance on the childish and childlike, as someone who was in the process of maturation… I did not endure the sort of broken childhood Davis did. There was also just the basic rebellion of listening to something so incessantly vulgar as Korn albums were. That sort of thing doesn’t keep you warm through the years, but at the time it felt so covert, so secret. These things, however, are what “No Place to Hide” is not, and that’s why I think it makes a nice primer to go back and get a feel for the band that was.
Now, however, we have the small problem of a generation having grown up with Davis giving voice to their hidden fears and their buried aggression. The majority of us can see where an outrageous claim such as what Davis himself is making leads from: it’s little different from perennial crackpots Ted Nugent and Dave Mustaine, grasping at relevance through age. The difference, however, is that Nugent and Mustaine have fans, but Korn, in its time, had legions. They were a formative band for the sort of youth who would understand their message, and there are many adults who still hold them in that same esteem. Having people who have spoken for you now speak so frankly (and so wrongly) can be incredibly dangerous, especially when there is such a fragility to the connection between spokesman and believer. We can see the position of the band when it comes to authority: it’s waning, and they’re losing what tentative respect they gained early on. For the fans, however, there is no such diminishing. This is, unfortunately, how these conspiracies come to pass: someone with influence creates the story, and their fans buy into it. There will, without fail, be Korn fans who now subscribe to this story. It’s something we need to always be vigilant about: don’t believe everything you read, and always validate the source.
Unless I wrote it. Because Maynard definitely is the god of storms.
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