The Suffering and Celebration of Life in America by Shane and Amy Bugbee

The Suffering and Celebration of Life in America
by Shane and Amy Bugbee
532 pages, $50 (direct: paperback $25 ebook $10)

the_suffering_and_celebration_of_life_in_america-shane_and_amy_bugbeeShane and Amy Bugbee are no strangers to controversy. Shane helped produce the original Milwaukee Metalfests, then ran several of his own Expo of the Extreme shows, while publishing classic Ragnar Redbeard texts with intros by Anton LaVey and running a radio show called Radio Free Satan with the blessing off the occult community.

In addition, the Bugbees put fingers into about every pie in the outsider art community, from banned comic book artist Mike Diana to — well, evil metal, now that you mention it. Their book The Suffering and Celebration of Life in America is a tour of the USA to discover its roots, but it’s also a series of interviews with some of metal’s greatest minds.

Originally, Shane and Amy Bugbee, a married pair of artists and entrepreneurs, planned an adventure called A Year at the Wheel where they would drive the length and breadth of the United States during an election year and record what they saw.

Luckily these artists are also metalheads and so decided to visit with a number of classic figures in the underground or related scenes. They interviewed Jeff Becerra (twice), Ian Mackaye (Minor Threat), Averse Sefira, the West Memphis 3, metal artist Jeff Gaither, and Gene Hoglan (Dark Angel).

These interviews tend to be in-dept explorations of the motivations behind metal artists, and include a number of statements that are crushing in their honesty and profundity. In many ways, they showcase the best of metal when all of the rock-star impositions are removed.

For example, take this selection from Averse Sefira:

Some people think the only real difference between black metal and other forms of metal is the fact that you wear corpse paint and that you scream instead of growl. That’s really, really short sighted. You look at a band like Emperor. You could not write a song like ‘I Am The Black Wizards’ in death metal or thrash or anything like that. You could not write a song like ‘Blashyrkh’ the song that Immortal did in any other genre but black metal. It wants to transcend and that is why we are involved in it. (307)

Interview questions become interesting as the Bugbees interrogate their subjects about historical mysteries, and in doing so, lay bare to some of the vital issues conflicting them. For example, Jeff Becerra (Possessed) on his Satanism and censorship:

We had to take the upside down cross off of the second and third records, well we didn’t, the record company did. We actually toned down the Satanism for the second and third because it was the bonfire of the vanities, the Christians were throwing books on the fire and burning shit up that might be important. People’s moms were making them switch to catholic school cause they were getting caught with shit, like it was drugs, people were afraid of Satan then, no one is scared of Satan now… It’s a trip because if people find spirituality without fear it’s gonna be okay. Life is
scary enough at this point in time, we don’t need to put metaphysical boogie men in our children’s heads. (445)

Not all of the interviews are metal per se, but it’s hard to deny the influence of Minor Threat on underground bands who came after them. Much as punk is different than metal however, the punk outlook as expressed by Ian Mackaye (Minor Threat) is less metaphysical and more political — in fact, this may be the most significant difference between metal and punk, now that I think about it:

In my mind, at least in our culture, the overriding emphasis is on profit and wealth. I think it’s actually the modern form of power. Before there were royalty and kings, or this guy has the biggest knife and cuts off more people’s heads. Now the warriors, the really powerful people are the rich people, and profit is so dominating in all business conversations. (514)

What makes these interviews interesting (outside of the content) is that they are not in a fanzine. This is a book about driving across America to figure out what it’s all about. The goal was to discover it, and themselves, for the authors. In doing so, by approaching many classic musicians from non-standard angles, they captured a lot of what motivated them.

In addition, the Bugbees are no strangers to the type of experience that a metalhead has in a society that, whether motivated by Jesus or money or something else, doesn’t like the disobedient and too smart to conform and get in line for the easy jobs and abundant shopping. In their case, it was a professed interest in Satanism, horror movies, metal and pornography that attracted negative attention.

In America’s heartland, they had to abandon a town and a successful business when a “poison pen letter” outed them as the authors of several atheistic and not-so-very-Jesus blogs that might have endorsed Satanism. Along their trip, they lost other jobs too, as well as non-profit opportunities. In a few cases, they almost lost friends or other contacts but were able to rescue the situation.

Wherever they went, these accusations seemed to follow them. It would make anyone paranoid. It explains what so many metalheads feel in this society, which is that the instant it identifies us as outsiders, it goes on the offensive. We are seen as a threat to its way of life, whether it be conservative and Christian or politically correct and urban.

For this and other interesting explorations of what it is to be an outsider, The Suffering and Celebration of Life in America is a great read for anyone who has stepped outside of the mainstream, and wants to find a reason not just to be outside, but to celebrate it.

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7 thoughts on “The Suffering and Celebration of Life in America by Shane and Amy Bugbee”

  1. christians Go Home says:

    People like what you are talking about get attacked because they can’t be pidgeonholed by society so they have no place in it. They are seen as “errors” that need to be deleted. What the herd doesn’t realize is that society is not real, it only excists because of intimidation, mass brainwashing and propaganda. And yeah you can argue that might makes right and the christers won out in that regard, but eventually nature will win out and the sheep know that if that happens they are fucked, because the way things really are have more might and are more right than anything else…..

    Only Death and Hessians are real.

    1. Society is an illusion. There’s a few people who keep it running, and the rest are basically chattel labor, but they don’t know it because they have shiny cars, booze and television.

      Seriously nothing has changed since we were monkeys. We just have car keys now.

  2. deadjew says:

    This review sparked my interest enough to take a look at the movie of the book.
    While anyone who isn’t a chimp in human skin would surely “get” why a middle-aged Christian feels apprehensive towards allowing someone with conflicting values to host a holiday meeting (although I admittedly don’t understand the specifics of the situation pictured), the fat metal dude apparently can’t stand the idea of admitting that his passive-aggressive behavior is downright appalling.
    The “hey, it’s not satanism, it’s the entertainment business” and “we’re in ‘Murica, right?” statements on his part made my day. The only thing I see is an asshole with unresolved teen issues lashing out at an old guy who honestly stated why he doesn’t want to have anything to do with him.

  3. shane says:

    deadjew, you must mean a chimp would act with out rational, right? or maybe you meant it takes a chimp to talk shit while not understanding the facts… to “get” the apprehension is one thing, to act reasonable, to maybe ask questions of, not only a fat metal head, but a successful business owner seems contrary to a small towns survival… to chase away tax dollars and job creators over fantasy is certainly chimp like.

    I lashed out at an old guy who did more than had a difference of opinion, he systematically helped to ruin our business and run us out of town… or, in a base way and as I stated in the video, he made my wife cry… the old man and the town folks in general are lucky all I did was lash out in a verbal way.

  4. deadjew says:

    I analyzed the video without any external context. Frankly, given that this is a promo snippet, you should probably publish something with more substance to it. I just saw a metal dude harassing a middle aged guy who grudgingly apologized for making a woman cry, and I didn’t exactly get the drama on part of the fat metal dude.
    To be honest, I’m not getting on you here – if you had some significant beef with the old guy, you should somehow show it in your trailers. As I mentioned, I had no idea as to the specifics of the whole situation, and neither do most viewers. You didn’t provide any concrete info in that specific trailer.
    All in all, while I still think that some of your comments about the entertainment business and “this being America” were quite idiosyncratic, I wish you all the best. Just make sure that your own promo content points out that you’re not the dick.

  5. shane says:

    fair enough.

    it’s a trailer, it serves as marketing. my point was to get comments and curiosity. I guess I assumed folks who viewed that clip might gain enough interest to want to know more. my style of marketing/advertising isn’t about giving the answers, it’s about getting folks to want answers.

    as far as the specific video, seeing as this is an on-line video with, a link to our very informative website, the rest of the story was literally a click or two away.

    my comments about this being america has zero to do with my philosophical thoughts, rather, I’m speaking the language of the old man and the small town.

    here’s a video clip that may or may not interest you… it’s the first 5min of our movie.

    this short film tells some of the story before the confrontation you think dick-ish:

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