Winter and The Long Road Ahead

Winter and The Long Road Ahead

The following is the fifth in a series of editorials that tackle topics more personal in nature than MetalSucks’ usual fare. These journals bridge my personal experiences with the world of metal while offering a behind-the-scenes look at forces within the industry and a peek behind the curtain of how this website operates. Previous entries:

On the Natural Bias of Friendship, Metal Bands, and Access Journalism
Does Your Age Define Your Taste in Metal?
The Endless Spring
Grinding Through the Nonexistent Summer


When was the last time you thought about going to concerts?

Not “Wow, I sure do miss concerts, I hope we can see live music again soon!” We’ve all thought that, obviously. But thinking about them in real-life terms, like buying tickets for a show or festival next year — more than just a general idea of “concerts” in the abstract.

I don’t know about you all, but I’ve completely stopped. I see tour announcements for 2021 and they barely register, just faint ideas of something that may or may not happen, like when a flakey friend or old acquaintance offers, “Yeah, totally, let’s get together soon!” without any real intent of it ever happening. I’ve given up for now. Wake me up when there is a clear path forward and then I’ll allow concerts to creep their way back into my headspace. I have enough other shit to think about right now, and so do you.

What’s more, it’s almost winter. The time we’ve been actively dreading since we figured out the whole “hanging out outdoors is safe” thing back in the spring. A time of not only deep cold and minimal sunlight, like always, but now too of increased social isolation. No more outdoor dining. No more patio or sidewalk hangs. And, of course, there’s the election, bitter partisan divide and all the associated BS that’ll hang over us for months or years to come. It’s all coming to a head at once.

Winter comes hard and fast in the Northeast. That has never been more true than this year, both literally and metaphorically.

I’ve written at length in this series about how quarantine has affected my relationship with the seasons, and how my move from Brooklyn to Woodstock — coupled with the pandemic-fueled isolation — has made me hyper-aware of seasonal changes.

Two hours north and plus 1,000 feet of elevation makes a huge difference, way more than you’d think. Winter is king here, the default state of affairs, summer simply a futile, if valiant effort to hold back the darkness and cold for a short while, like Sisyphus pushing that boulder up the hill for eternity. I never felt that way in my 35 years living in New York City, where it truly seemed as if each of the four seasons got their full due. But the balance is tilted up here. Back in spring — the longest spring ever — it felt as if the warmth had to stage an epic fight for weeks just to break through, and now the opposite has happened, the warm weather giving up and folding instantaneously the minute the pending cold made it tough. It was dropping into the 20s at night before Halloween even hit. The trees have been completely bare for weeks. It’s already fucking WINTER, man. That’s SIX ENTIRE MONTHS of unshakeable, impenetrable winter I’m facing down. I’m not used to that.

The practical implications of a short summer are obvious: you’ve got to make it count!! And this year, without concerts to set the rhythm or travels to serve as an anchor — while living on an isolated, rural mountainside rather than the bustling streets of NYC — my summer took a different tone than usual. Gone were weekend trips to the beach, bike rides, playgrounds, baseball (both as a spectator and player), late nights out and endless days in the sun. I hardly know what I did this summer, honestly, other than working and parenting, which together are a full-time endeavor (it bears repeating: the pandemic experience is completely different for those with children and those without). During the in-between moments I was able to establish a robust vegetable garden, do a little hiking, and take a couple of day trips to mountain stream swimming holes. But still, every day was pretty much the same. Once we came out of the spring corona haze and accepted this as our new reality, it became much easier to live in the moment and take things day by day. What’s more, I became incapable of thinking more than one day in advance, relegated to that Groundhog Day-like fate, just trying to get by. Thankfully I’m fortunate that I didn’t have to worry about where my next meal would come from, and it’s certainly not lost on me that so many people are faring way worse through no fault of their own.

Pour one out for the booking agents, concert promoters and independent venue owners. They’re so fucked right now. I feel for them. It doesn’t seem to be a great time for metal labels, either, with most bands in a “should we or should we not?” limbo with regards to releasing new music before touring is an option. Many are waiting, and that’s understandable.

I’ve gotten way into modern country music. The kind you probably hate! It’s a new universe to explore, it’s fun, and the talent is exceptional despite the preconceptions you likely hold. I’m fully up to date on pop country radio, I now understand the whole landscape. You won’t find Ashley McBryde’s Never Will on my MetalSucks year-end list, but I don’t think there’s any album I’ve listened to more this year. Luke Bryan’s “One Margarita” was the unanimous song of the summer, a feel-good anthem with an unstoppable, sing-along refrain that’s a study in the scientific precision with which modern country songs are written, often by a team of professional writers. I find it endlessly fascinating how open and honest country artists are about the songwriting help they receive; it’s an accepted part of it, not even an “open secret” because it’s simply not a secret at all. Metal, which often employs guest or “ghost” writers but goes to great lengths to conceal that fact, could learn a thing or two from country artists’ candor.

But now the floating docks, margaritas and Jimmy Buffet songs are but a distant memory. Now that winter is here, it feels like real life has begun to creep in again. The Covid Vacation of summer — not having to think as much about it, at least here in the Northeast — is over, with cases rising everywhere, including here in Ulster County, NY. And with that, all the aforementioned issues of serious import come creeping back in, too; winter and the isolation it’ll bring, our mental health, the election, politics.

With all of that, I’ve also begun to think a lot about the future of MetalSucks. I’ve spoken about this on Twitter and in interviews, but I’m fucking burnt out, tired of writing articles 98% of which fall into one of two categories: 1) Metallica, Tool, Slipknot, because those pay the bills, and 2) having to somehow muster excitement and come up with new words for “heavy,” “brutal,” “punishing,” etc. when writing about new/younger bands. On the latter, it’s not that the bands aren’t good — they’re great — it’s just that writing the same post over and over and over with a few different adjectives swapped in has become tedious and boring 14 years in. (I plan on tackling the issue of press/publicists in much greater detail in this space in the near future). When not working on articles in those two categories, I have found satisfaction in some recent projects. I enjoyed covering the Fehn vs. Slipknot lawsuit because I was actually covering it in person, in a drab court room in downtown Manhattan; even when the pandemic put a stop to those in-person sessions, it was a new beat and I found it exciting. I am proud of the Finb*rg piece we published, as emotionally and physically exhausting as it was putting that all together over the course of an entire year (not to diminish the emotional and physical exhaustion of all the people whose stories we told). I’ve really had fun putting together our Heavy Metal Happy Hour livestream series! And I like writing personal articles like this one, even if they’re for a small audience that mostly consists of a cadre of longtime MS readers and people who know me personally. These are the things that have kept me going professionally over the past year. The rest, frankly, is a bore, but I’ve managed to keep myself entertained by turning the excessive Corey Taylor and Metallica coverage into its own self-deprecating punchline, at least. Where does all of that introspection and frustration lead this site in the future? Who knows.

As we look forward and stare into winter’s gaping jaws, at least there is this: Trump lost. And it doesn’t seem as if his attempts to overturn the election results will get very far. We’ve still got a shitstorm coming, and Biden, who comes with his own set of problematic issues, was never my guy — he’s already hiring people with spotty records to serve in his administration, as expected — but at least we don’t have a lying, sociopathic, egotistical, fascist-supporting megalomaniac at the top, and that will go a long way towards righting the ship both domestically and abroad. It makes it a little easier to be an American, even if so many of the problems our country is facing are unlikely to change significantly. Don’t tell me “it’s the same” and that a Biden presidency will be no different than a second term for Trump; you were glued to the TV all of election week pulling for Biden, I know you were!

I harvested most everything that was left in my garden in a late September panic when a frost threatened, all the remaining tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, pole beans and squash. As it turned out that frost didn’t quite come, it subsequently warmed up again, and I could’ve had an entire extra month of letting all that stuff ripen before the cold fully set in. Oh well! You live, you learn, and it was my first year doing it; many mistakes were made, but I had way more successes than failures. Last week we had our first REAL frost — actual snow on the ground — but my cabbages, broccoli, peas, spinach, swiss chard, pak choi, kale and lettuce, the heartier crops, toughed it out. I’ll need to bring them in soon, too, though.

And then it’ll truly be winter. Cold, miserable, long-ass Northeastern mountain winter. I’ll need new hobbies and new coping mechanisms to get through it. I reckon you will, too, without concerts or any significant social interaction on the table.

What’s your plan? How will you survive this winter?

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