Ares Kingdom in Berlin, 2011 — photo by Anan Tan
I’m doing something I don’t think I’ve ever done before — re-posting on the site something we’ve previously published (with just a few word changes). There’s a reason why I’m doing this, which you’ll find in a postscript at the end.
I wrote this almost exactly five years ago, when this site was about six months old. I was a little inebriated when I wrote it; I tend to get emotional when I’ve had a few shots. But re-reading it last night, for the first time since I wrote it, I decided it still reflects what I believe. And I think there’s a decent chance that very few people who are visiting our site these days will have seen it five years ago anyway; we’ve grown a bit since then. So, here we go…
I suppose this topic is sappy, and sappy isn’t metal. But maybe it really is. You be the judge. And if you conclude this is just too much emotional tripe, chalk it up to an excess of tequila
What motivated me to write about parents (besides too much tequila) was my recent piece on an awesome KC band called Ares Kingdom and their album Incendiary, and some messages we received in response to it. In addition to praising the music, I praised the album art — the kind of thing that many bands do poorly, and that’s often lost in our download culture when it’s done well.
The album art on the Ares Kingdom release is truly inspired, though you’ll never see what I mean unless you fork over the dough to buy a CD. As I explained in my review, the 16-page booklet that comes with the CD is a montage of historical artwork by many artists (including the cover art, which was created by Joseph Pennell in the last year of World War I), and the lyrics are written over the top of the art in beautiful silver calligraphy.
I read the liner notes too quickly and wrote in my review that the calligraphy was done by this band’s awesome guitarist Chuck Keller. That appears to have been an error, as was pointed out by a comment on our post by Splash. According to the comment, it was done by Chuck’s father. And that (along with the fucking tequila) made me think about parents.
I don’t know Chuck Keller, or his dad Charlie. What I do know is this: We don’t deserve our parents. We don’t “earn” them. They are who they are, and we are who we are. If they love and support us (as appears to be true of Chuck Keller’s dad), that’s a gift, for which we should be fucking thankful. If they fail to understand us, or worse, if they undermine and damage us, it’s usually not our fault, though we so powerfully take our cues from them that we think it is.
Lots of metalheads followed a path to metal as a refuge — a refuge from rejection or abuse by peers, and by parents, a place where we could be become part of a community that we couldn’t find closer to home, a place where no one would judge us based on superficialities, a place where we could be ourselves, a place (maybe the only place) where we felt empowered.
Lots of metalheads followed a path to metal for entirely different reasons — because it made us feel free and wild, because it was just a fuckload of fun, because it presented a primal voice for what we were feeling, or because it gave us a vehicle for creative expression that just didn’t present itself in any other way that made the right connection to our spirits.
In some cases, it was part of an escape from a fucked-up home life completely lacking in empathy. In other cases, it was simply what we needed to be, and we were lucky enough to get the full (if occasionally mystified) support of our parents.
So that brings us back to Ares Kingdom. While begging the forgiveness of Chuck Keller and his dad for my presumptuous speculation, here’s what comes to mind: This is a band that plays pretty extreme music. They’ve been laboring in the vineyards for a long time. (And this really isn’t age discrimination, because I’m an older than average metalhead myself.) And yet here we find Chuck Keller’s dad contributing beautiful, meticulous calligraphy to the album art for his son’s album.
Maybe Chuck and his mates deserved that kind of love, maybe they earned it, but I still think it’s more a gift than something deserved. Many things in life are deserved, both good and bad, but in my opinion, the devotion of a parent isn’t earned or lost. It’s either there, or it isn’t, it either survives or it doesn’t, and it has very little to do with you, and very much to do with them.
We’re all victims and we’re all beneficiaries of those who raised us — in widely varying degrees. And more often than not, we don’t even see with clear eyes the full balance of the equation until it’s too late. We all fuck up, and we either surmount the fuck-ups or drown in them, based to an overwhelming extent on how our parents react. The same is true of our victories. We use them as platforms to greater things, or we waste them, based to a large extent on how our parents react to them. And in both cases, it’s much more a roll of the cosmic dice than anything we merit.
In the end, you are what you make of yourself. But there’s no denying that life is so much easier when you have a parent who has your back, and so much harder when you don’t. And the most important lesson you can take from the dice-roll of your own circumstance is to remember that fact if and when you become a parent.
Chuck Keller’s dad cares enough about his son’s art to give his own art to the enterprise. I don’t know anything else about him but that — but that much is a gift.
Here endeth the lesson. Hope you have a good Saturday. Tomorrow, we’ll shelve our philsophizing (along with the tequila) and get back to some seriously awesome metal.
Almost exactly two years after I wrote the post I’ve now re-published, I lost my mother. My father, whom I barely knew, died many years before that. Last Thursday — April 30, 2015 — Chuck Keller lost his dad Charlie. He was 77.
According to his obituary (here), Charlie Keller was born and raised in Kansas City. He joined the Army National Guard after high school and retired with the rank of Major after 20 years. He joined the police department in Kansas City, Missouri, and spent 30 years on the police force, working as as an accident investigator, district patrolman, dispatcher, traffic enforcement officer, hit-and-run detective, and coroner’s investigator.
After retiring from the KCPD in 1989, he joined the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department, working in the Community Relations Unit. He was an active member of Leawood Baptist Church, where he was a deacon, and he was an active member of the Gideons.
And I think it’s pretty clear that Charlie Keller also loved and supported his son Chuck, even if death/thrash metal might not seem the most natural affinity for a man of his background. And it still seems to me, that was a gift.
I’m being just as presumptuous writing about Charlie Keller today as I was five years ago. I never knew him, and I’ve never met his son, but I felt the need to do this — and I thank Splash for making me aware of Charlie Keller’s passing.
Our heartfelt condolences go out to the family and friends of Charles R. Keller. R.I.P.
Beautifully written, Islander.
I appreciate your kind words.
Ditto, I can’t really add anything more than that.
Cheer’s mate. I’ll tell Charlie about the article at the visitation today. I’m sure he’s still listening.
Thank you man.
I hadn’t read this before, but I’m glad you re-posted it with the postscript. This is one of the reasons I like this site; articles like these. It’s great to hear new music, read reviews, see videos, and read other fans’ rants. But these deeper, introspective op-eds are fascinating and engaging on a personal level. It’s one of the things that makes this site unique.
I think the most touching part of it was when you mentioned that Charlie did the album art. It reminded me of my own Dad. Last year, I wanted to hire a professional editor to help me edit my novel. After putting bugs in a few ears, I found one. He charged me substantially less than most editors, but it was still more than I could afford. My Dad paid the editor. After he edited my manuscript, he became a friend, confidant, and mentor. Had it not been for my Dad, none of that would have happened. He has always believed in my writing, even if what I write isn’t exactly what he reads. He reads every single thing I write for this site (even though I know for a fact most of the music itself isn’t his preference).
Superb article, delighted to have read it.
Thanks for those great comments Grant.
Islander, you are a beautiful mother fucker, even if you don’t have a head. And I say this as a staunch heterosexual.
Aw shit, thank you. (And as always, I’m glad to see your creepy icon showing up here — I hope life has been treating you well.)
I do a hit and run on NCS every day but my business has been leaving me so short on time I haven’t been able to jump in on some the great discussions that go on around here. This post got me to slow down a bit. My son is starting to pack up to move out on his own in a few weeks and I’ve been emotionally affected a little more than expected. Life has been good though. Thank you for being above and beyond a metal blog.
an excellent post, rest in peace, Charles.
Beautiful writing and very true. A parents love is a very binary thing, it’s either there or not. As a parent myself I can’t imagine how not to love your child, while at the same time I’ve been on the receiving end of just that. In short, I agree with every word you wrote, and my condolences to the Keller family.
This was beautiful and I just want to say how sorry I am for your loss. You write the absolute truth about the delicate and infinitely woven connection we have to our parent(s), and how much it shapes who we are and who we become. I’ve only been a parent for 10 months now, but i love hearing the perspective of adult children about the way their parents shaped them–it makes me reflect on my own childhood and makes me feel anticipation for the future. A glimmer of thanks in an often thankless job. Again, my deepest condolences to you, and thanks for a really lovely post.
Many thanks for your kind words, and congratulations on your parenthood!