[dropcap]I[/dropcap]’m not sure if I have ever listened to a Five Finger Death Punch song.
I think I have. Probably, I have? If so, I don’t remember what they sound like, and for the purposes of writing this post, it is probably better that way. I’ll never know whether Five Finger Death Punch truly sucks, or if preconceived notions have nullied my ability to objectively judge whatever passes for their art. And I can live with that, because it’s their drummer’s fault those preconceived notions exist in the first place.
When Death Punch’d: Surviving Five Finger Death Punch’s Metal Mayhem appeared on my kitchen table alongside various other unsolicited items some publicist mailed to my apartment, presumably in order to free up storage space and/or fill a quota, I recognized the name “Five Finger Death Punch.” I understood that this is the name of a band who does things like open for Godsmack, Puddle of Mudd, and similar punchlines to jokes about knuckledragger early ‘aughts nu-metal. Not coincidentally, Five Finger Death Punch share a bill with Papa Roach tonight at the Tsongas Center in Lowell.
Why did I read Death Punch’d, an autobiography by drummer Jeremy Spencer, a guy whose band I knew nothing about, and had no reason to believe I’d enjoy? Mostly because irony. And after scanning the following word dump in the prologue, I could not resist:
“I mean, if there was any coke left, I had to do it. Need a visual? Try this: If there was a Close Encounters of the Third Kind mashed potatoes pile of cocaine left, I had to do it… all. In case you’ve never seen the movie, what I’m saying is… it was a fucking huge pile of blow.”
That sort of thing — periodically interrupted by flashbacks to Spencer’s mostly-kinda-average childhood and pre-FFDP years — goes on for almost 300 pages. Death Punch’d might be the worst book I’ve ever read, and that is an achievement, because I read a lot of shit. Chuck Palahniuk and Bret Easton Ellis are two of my all-time favorite novelists. My literary standards are not high.
Naturally, it’s stilted and loaded with platitudes, but seeing as how its purported author professionally plays drums in a dumb band, exceptional wordsmithery was never expected. Besides, the shitty writing isn’t really the problem.
Ostensibly, the author and his ghostwriter (Spencer’s father, novelist Austin Gary) intended to render Spencer’s life story as an afterschool special. Spencer describes himself as on the cusp of O.D.ing in a shitty motel room during the aforementioned prologue. In the flashbacks, he describes his teenage affinity for getting totally fucked up, his time in rehab, and relapsing years later when his band got big. He proclaims himself two years sober in the final chapter. It’s the same rise ‘n fall rock ‘n roll debauchery yarn Aerosmith spun in the ‘80s, that we’ve all long since heard repeated in countless Behind the Music episodes.
It’s possible Spencer and Gary tried to offset the intrinsically cliché and/or bland nature of their source material by packing Death Punch’d with tour stories, i.e., Spencer recounting a laundry list of chemical episodes and groupie encounters. Even if we set aside the rigorously douchey Tucker Max-esque tone of said anecdotes, Spencer demonstrates a powerful capacity for cognitive disconnection by humblebragging about the amount of laid he was getting while drunk and on drugs, supposedly in an effort to convince the reader of the dangers of addiction and the subsequent triumph of his recovery.
In Death Punch’d, Spencer glorifies his excesses, then glorifies his sobriety. Self-deprecation doesn’t work if you follow it up by congratulating yourself for being so humble and self-deprecating. While attempting to paint himself as relatable and likable, Spencer wrote himself as a supremely unrelatable, unlikable doucheass narcissist.
And his book depressed the shit out of me, because Death Punch’d’s doucheass narcissist, endlessly self-congratulating version of Spencer reminds me, albeit to wildly varying degrees, of pretty much every musician I’ve ever met. Even the half-talented, unsuccessful, shitty ones, including me.
Of course, anybody who sets about on any creative endeavor is declaring themselves worth listening to on a mass scale, and cannot do this without an inflated sense of self-importance. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Plenty of creative people are worth listening to. But because of how entirely pop culture has deified certain musicians, their ilk are susceptible a unique sort of egomania. Actors, at least, have a perpetual cycle of audition and rejection to keep them a little humble. Meanwhile, most audiences would rather applaud a bad song than come across as impolite.
Spencer’s egomania is the rot at the core of music across the board, and no one is completely immune. The preppie kid who busts out an acoustic guitar and plays “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” at the party when no one asked him to is Jeremy Spencer. The panhandler doing likewise with Beatles covers on street corners is less obviously Jeremy Spencer. Your buddy trying to convince you to go see his band Tuesday night at Otto’s Tiki Bar is partly Jeremy Spencer. So are teenagers posting inept 5 Seconds Of Summer covers on YouTube. Tori Amos, somewhere deep down, is a little bit Jeremy Spencer.
But in a more direct and complete way, Jeremy Spencer is Jeremy Spencer. His book sucks. Even if his band doesn’t, they’re probably not worth a trip to Lowell.
FIVE FINGER DEATH PUNCH + IN THIS MOMENT + PAPA ROACH :: Tuesday, October 6 at the Paul E. Tsongas Center at U-Mass Lowell, 300 Martin Luther King Jr. Way in Lowell, MA :: More information