Music is My Oxygen: Apocalyptica

“No. It’s not ladylike. You have to sit with your knees apart.”

That was my mother’s response when I asked if I could learn to play the cello. I was really young at the time, but even I could see the flaw in her logic. I mean, yes, one’s knees were apart, but there was a great big honkin’ cello between them, so it’s not like anybody’s going to see anything.

Not that I was old enough to understand why seeing between my legs was such a bad thing. Honestly, Mom’s reaction could launch a whole conversation about the sexualization of little girls.

But the main reason I was so floored by her answer was that music was the only thing both my parents supported their kids in. We had a piano at home, and a couple of guitars, and a recorder. All of my brothers were in school music programs, and once it had been decided which instruments each of them was going to play, my parents had bought them their own – brand new – so they didn’t have to depend on being able to borrow them from the school. For a few years, the word ‘cacophany’ perfectly describes the house where I grew up, with each of my brothers in a separate bedroom, practising music for their various classes while I banged away on the piano in my mother’s sewing room.

Because my brothers each had their own instruments, and Big Brother got driven to the city once a week for guitar lessons to boot, I thought that meant that I got to choose an instrument, as well. This was not the case. My mother’s concern with girls staying in their place meant that, not only could I not play an unladylike instrument, I also started the school music program several years later than any of my brothers had. And when it came time to join, I was told I had to choose one of the instruments my brothers had played, because it ‘wasn’t worth’ buying me something new.

Looking back on it, it’s all a bit disheartening. I guess it’s no surprise that I forgot about the cello.

Until I heard this.

I had satellite radio for a little while, and I mostly listened to a metal/alternative station called Squizz. I’m Not Jesus was heavy in their rotation at the time, and I absolutely loved it. I was drawn to the subject matter, and thought Slipknot‘s Corey Taylor perfectly captured the voice of a man confronting the priest who sexually abused him as a child.

I didn’t know anything about Apocalyptica itself. I had no idea they were a heavy metal cello band. But I can remember when I found out.

I’d bought the World’s Collide CD, and was listening to it for the first time while driving to work. The first song was instrumental. It’s pretty common for heavy metal bands to start their albums off with an instrumental track, so while this one seemed a bit longer than average, I didn’t think anything of it. But then the second track was instrumental as well, which struck me as odd. When the third track was I’m Not Jesus, I started to question the nature of the band, as I couldn’t see a normal lead singer being all right with a guest vocalist appearing on the album before they did. Then after track four, another instrumental, Helden began.

I remember I blurted out loud, “That’s Till!” (Meaning Till Lindemann, Rammstein‘s lead vocalist, and a huge favourite of mine.) That’s when I realized that Apocalyptica obviously didn’t have a lead singer. When I did some research and learned they’re cellists, it reawakened my old love of the instrument, that I’d forgotten so many years before, and I began to devour the band’s catalogue.

Six years later, I was standing in the infield at Wacken Open Air, absolutely losing my mind because Apocalyptica was about to take the stage. With an orchestra. Performing a show they’d resurrected as a one-off for the festival, and that I’d thought I’d never get to see. I’d managed to sneak in my good camera with a zoom lens, and was trying to balance hiding it from security and getting good shots.

I guess my enthusiasm was noticeable. Partway through the show, I felt a tap on my arm, and looked to see a small, wiry fellow with an unlit cigarette hanging out of his mouth. He pointed at me and then at his shoulders in a clear invitation to hoist me up. I shook my head. I’m not the world’s lightest person, and he was so small I kind of questioned whether or not he’d be able to lift me. But then he pointed at me and at his shoulders again, this time with a firm nod of his head, and I thought, “Fuck it,” and nodded back.

He crouched to the ground and I straddled his shoulders. He stood up underneath me, and several people around us grabbed hold of my arms and waist to help lift me into the air and steady me until the guy got settled. Part of me was elated to have a clear view of the stage, something that never happens to my short ass. Most of me was thinking I’d been right to refuse, as I could feel buddy shaking and locking his knees as he tried to hold me up.

Maybe a minute later, he pitched forward, barely recovering before falling, and I decided that was enough. I tapped him on the shoulder and pointed to the ground, and he crouched back down, the metalheads surrounding us once again grabbing hold of me to take some of the weight off of him. When I was safely deposited back on the ground, he stood up, nodded his head one last time, and sauntered away, unlit cigarette still dangling from his lips.

So I guess maybe my mother was right. Cellos are unladylike. Because not only did they cause me to sit with my knees apart, but I wrapped my legs around a complete stranger’s neck in the process.

To read more posts in the “Music Is My Oxygen” series, click here.

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