Listen to Metal on Metal and Everything Will Be Okay

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Just because you don’t succeed the way others define success, you’re not a failure. You just chose to take a different path. And who’s to say that’s wrong?

I just finished watching Anvil! The Story of Anvil.

The documentary is about two high school friends, Steve “Lips” Kudlow and Robb Reiner, and their band, Anvil. They are revered by many musicians as pioneers of the thrash/speed metal genre. Their fifteen minutes of fame, as portrayed in the documentary, came in the 1980s when they performed at the Super Rock Festival in Japan with the likes of Bon Jovi, Scorpion, and Whitesnake. They try to stay in the limelight and be just as successful as their peers, but the band falls into years of hardship due to poor management and bullshit recording contracts. The documentary centers on the band trying to make a comeback.

I’ve never been a huge fan of heavy metal music. When I was younger there were kids in school with long hair, tight jeans, and heavy metal band t-shirts who always smelled like cigarette smoke. We called them burn-outs. But I didn’t discriminate about who I smoked weed and dropped acid with. I had friends who were “burn-outs.” I enjoyed watching them play air guitar and headbang to Slayer in a basement when someone had money for drugs.

As I watched the documentary I couldn’t help but relate to Anvil’s passion for their art and the frustrations they continued to face while trying to build a name in the mainstream. Being a writer and working to become a successful novelist has never been easy. I don’t write books for a mainstream audience (from what I’ve been told) and I don’t have any representation to help build the attention I think my books deserve. I’m on my own, and like Anvil, I refuse to give up just because I can’t fulfill the dream of having a traditional writing career.

During the documentary, there’s a scene when the band gets an opportunity to record a new album with a big-name producer. The only problem is, they have to finance everything themselves. This is similar to what’s happened with my own work, which has been rejected as “not marketable,” which led me to publish it through a POD company.

After Anvil records their album, they make copies and begin a journey of sending demos to record companies, hoping to get a contract.

When Lick Me was published, I received positive reviews. I thought it was an opportunity to begin sending the book out to agents and publishers, hoping the praise I received might change minds. I was wrong. I returned empty-handed, much like Anvil.

The turning point for the band comes when they decide to sell the album themselves on their website — DIY style. They realized they had an obligation to please their fans. And just because they don’t get a huge record deal, that doesn’t stop them from being musicians. As Lips puts it: “I don’t care if I play for no one, I just enjoy rocking.”

After several more rejections for my novel Lick Me, I decided not to continue publishing with POD companies (they rape you in royalties). I saw there was an opportunity to start my own publishing company. Although I didn’t have nearly as many fans as Anvil, I still felt obligated to publish more work just for those few who purchased Lick Me.

Lick Me was reissued under my P’NK Books imprint. My next novel, White Belts, would follow a year later.

Just like Anvil, I decided not to wait for an opportunity. I don’t have the patience. I wanted to create my own opportunities, on my own terms, and follow my own rules — a freedom not everyone gets to enjoy.

One day I realized I wasn’t getting any younger. There would only be so many chances when I could risk it all and jump into the pool without checking the water temperature. This became one of those chances. I said “fuck it” and became a DIY publisher.

When I think about my decision today, I sometimes can’t help but feel like a minor failure because I never got to live that childhood dream of being a traditional writer with a publisher and agent. I will never have the pleasure of seeing my books in the bookstores. I will never be reviewed by major literary publications. No one is banging on my door for an interview. Hell, I can’t even get the literary community to return my emails.

Did I make the right decision?

Hell yes.

When I walk into a bookstore, I shop for everything but a book. Bookstores have become a place to buy coffee, board games, candy, DVDs, some bullshit membership card, and lip balm. The available new titles on the shelves don’t interest me. It’s like going to Blockbuster: they have a billion shitty new-release titles and a small selection of great films.

As for literary publications like journals and short story magazines, I don’t read them. None of my book recommendations come from big publications or from some media mogul. They all come from website forums, regular people posting their favorite books.

Another great thing about DIY publishing is, I never find myself hating what I write. I refuse to create fiction that’s calculated to appeal to a mass audience. I write because I have passion for what I do. Do I give a shit if it doesn’t meet a mainstream audience? No, no I don’t.

Although I may not have a readership like the top heavyweights of the literary world, I can say in all honesty that the few people who do read my work, I treat like friends. When I receive an email or a message on Facebook from someone who has read my books, I always reply and thank them. I write a personal message that isn’t some instant reply thanking them for sending me a message, like a Speak & Tell voice saying “I’ll get back to you when I have a moment.”

I know there was a time when there was no Internet, no Facebook, no Twitter. Writing was a lonely profession. Some liked it that way. But technology has changed everything. If someone writes to you through a website or a social networking page and you don’t reply, you are a douche. I mean, you have the opportunity to speak with a fan that just spent hard-earned money on your art, and although you can write a 300-page novel, you can’t write a sincere thank you note, or praise your fans in a blog post?

There was another great moment in the film, when Lips finishes performing and is talking with his fans. He tells them he plays music because he loves it, not for the money. He doesn’t make a living as a musician: he uses his vacation time to go on tour. He’s just like them: he’s a regular guy. When he returns home, he’ll go back to his day job.

Although he may not be as successful as he originally sought to be, he still has a purpose in his life. He is a success in his own right. I can’t say the same for most people.

Just because you don’t succeed the way others define success, you’re not a failure. You just chose to take a different path. And who’s to say that’s wrong?

Although I may not be a huge fan of heavy metal, after learning Anvil’s story, I can say for certain I am now a fan. I will listen to their music whenever I’m feeling like a failure. I can relate to them and their story. It feels good that I’m not alone.

Listen to Metal on Metal, and everything will be okay.

(This piece was originally published, in slightly different form, on the P’NK Books website.)


Deleon DeMicoli is the author of White Belts. When he isn't writing he's training in Krav Maga, boxing, and grappling. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook. More from this author →