The Soundtrack of My Life After Hate

by Arno Michaelis

My first memories of music involve a turntable and Beatles records at the neighbor kids' house. We listened to “Hard Days Night”, along with “Don't Bring Me Down” by Electric Light Orchestra, and “T.N.T” by AC/DC. Stuff that would rarely be found playing on the same radio station—at least in the early 70s before all of the above were considered “classic”.

In 6th grade the needle dropped on FEAR The Record, The Clash Give 'Em Enough Rope, and The Dead Kennedys Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables. An indelible memory of hearing the word “fuck” in a song for the first time was created. That day a voice was given to inherent rebellion in the soundtrack to the movie of my life. FEAR was pure electric audio rage looking to escape via the first opportunity to blow a hole in something. The liner notes of the Dead Kennedys record hipped me to the curious horror of Jim Jones and 900 people lying dead together, along with a critical examination of the sick society that set the stage for such things to happen. The Clash went a step further to decry injustice, melding British punk with Jamaican reggae for the first time to illustrate the humanity left behind the wake of imperial wealth.

“Hip-Hoppers and Punk Rockers.” —a theme illuminated by Joe Strummer that segued into my b-boy phase. Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five, along with RUN-D.M.C. and Afrika Bambatta were the seismic force that produced a wave of suburban white kids enamored with the idea of being black, while conveniently ignorant of the realities of inner city struggle—despite the clear lyrical depiction of said struggle. We taught ourselves to breakdance watching Beat Street and stole away to ghetto roller-rinks at every opportunity to battle in the hip-hop tradition.

As venue after venue closed due to gang violence, and the trend I was once at the forefront of became mainstream, my musical and cultural tastes continued to wander. There was a brief stoner classic-rock revisitation that claimed my Aunt Geri's vintage vinyl copies of Led Zepplin II and Who's Next, before I returned to what was to become a true calling: punk.

While I never had the coordination to skateboard, I loved the California skate-punk sounds of Agent Orange and The Faction. Youth Brigade, Social Distortion, and 7 Seconds were in the mix as well, but the wounded aspiring alcoholic in me craved something darker. An interview with Glen Danzig in Thrasher Magazine captured where I was at with something to the effect of, “...violence is a fact of life: you either celebrate it or get consumed by it.” This was shortly after Danzig folded the legendary Misfits and gave unholy birth to Samhain. Both bands were my life, and one of my finest moments of the era was getting shoved off the stage by Danzig himself during a Samhain gig.

As my 20-year fucked-up marriage with booze was full-swing in the honeymoon stage, I began my “singing” career doing lead vocals for a straightedge band called Stolen Youth, upon to compromised condition that I wouldn’t drink on stage during our shows A sizable local following paid tribute to my talent for bellowing and creating an on-stage spectacle, but ultimately my quest for fuckedupedness drove me to flee my hometown where Stolen Youth was based and descend into the depths of the underground.

After promoting DIY punk shows, I “managed” a band from West Bend called Nuclear Overdose, who had the misfortune to embark on an ill-fated midwest tour I had arranged. Returning to Wisconsin, I ended up in Racine, where much time was spent wallowing in the deliciously drug and alcohol-riddled dysfunction of the Kenocore (Kenosha) scene. Bands like Charming Deviants and 10-96 (the police call for a mental patient on the loose) lived the angst and hellbent self-destruction that fueled their music, and I gleefully leapt in to join them.

Per my lifelong adrenaline addiction, I needed the music to always be harder, faster, louder. A kid I had met at Camp Minikani years earlier had introduced me to Slayer and Venom, and I turned him on to Agnostic Front and the Cro-Mags. We were both stoked about the transaction.

Styling myself in the skinhead-influenced look of the New York Hardcore scene, I began to dabble in nationalism just for the kick of irritating the drastically-leftist peace punks. The idea of might making right was becoming more and more concrete when I was introduced to Skrewdriver.

In the early 1980s, lead singer Ian Stuart took an originally apolitical punk band and transformed it into what would become one of the most potent recruiting tools ever known to racist organizations: white power music. Interestingly, Stuart was at one time vehement in his apolitical nature, but was eventually seduced by the small-minded lure of hate. His reactionary response to extreme leftist groups was to join-up with extreme right groups and make records like Hail the New Dawn, the title track being the first Skrewdriver song I heard:

“...The streets are still, the final battle has ended

Flushed with the fight, we proudly hail the dawn

See over the streets, the White man's emblem is waving

Triumphant standards of a race reborn”

I'll never forget the chill down my spine as I heard that chorus. Simple chugging bar chords accompanied by chants of “HAIL! HAIL!”...fading in, leading up to Stuart's gravelly voice. Willfully clueless as to the consequences of National Socialism, I was swept away with romantic violence just as teenaged German kids were a half-century earlier.

Skrewdriver was in constant rotation as my descent into the white power movement continued, along with a host of other white power bands they inspired. One Way was my first contribution to the effort. I wrote songs about how Jews took my hard-earned money and gave it to blacks and bellowed them to the crowd as we opened for punk bands like The Exploited. Receptive audience members were moved to attack those that weren't, and our crew swelled with a local band to rally around until we lost our rhythm section.

With a new drummer and bass player, One Way became the short-lived Hammerhead, which folded when lead guitarist and fellow driving force Pat O'Malley went to prison. A couple of years later Centurion happened.

“Coward! Grovel before us!

Today you pay for betraying our trust

Centurion laughs as you whimper and cry

You turned tail and ran now it’s your turn to die!

Nigger! Prepare to burn!

You attacked our people and now it’s your turn

You act so bold, but we’ll slap you down

The legions of hate will put you underground!

Crush your enemies

With racial loyalty

It’s racial holy war!

Centurion! Blood, soil and honor

Legions attack, foes skulls crack

We’ll drown the mud in an ocean of blood!

Race traitor! Don’t cross our path!

You’ll feel the steel of the White man’s wrath

You’ve made your choice, you’ve chosen your side

You’ll be caught in the middle when the races collide!

Jewboy! Tremble in fear!

Your days are numbered: Centurion’s here

We’ll leave your kind to whither on the vine

We’ve made up our minds to be rid of jew swine!”'

I wrote that.

To acknowledge such shame turns my stomach. But it is truth.

Are truth and honesty the same thing?

It is true that I wrote those lyrics and roared them into the universe. At the time, I had myself convinced that I was honestly expressing a rage induced by perceived injustice. But was “The White Race” truly facing genocide at the hands of a shadowy Jewish conspiracy? Hardly. The truth is that I had fallen for lies. Because I honestly believed my own bullshit, while devoid of the faintest understanding of true honesty.

A pattern revealed itself in the hypocrisy of “white power” in general and “white power music” in particular. Ian Stuart once said, “One must be honest to people about one's beliefs and especially when the survival of our very race is at stake.” This coming from a man who covered “Tomorrow Belongs To Me”, a song written for the musical Cabaret by Jewish composers John Kander and Frank Ebb.

Did Ian Stuart know he was covering a satirical song written by Jewish people? Or did he have himself convinced that it was an actual Hitler Youth anthem, as I had believed myself back in the day? In any case, Skrewdriver, Centurion, and every other white power band played music derived from the blues scale that wouldn't have existed had it not been for African slaves creatively expressing their suffering, on instruments that were invented by pretty much everyone but white people.

We simply ignored any truth that was inconvenient. All of us were huge Slayer fans, never mind that lead singer and core of the band Tom Araya was Chilean, and thus considered a “mud-race”. Dishonesty ran amok and we were all too aware of it. We knew damn well (hell my mom knew back in '82 the second she looked at the sleeve of my wax copy of Screaming for Vengeance) that Rob Halford of Judas Priest was gay, but there were white power bands who covered Breakin' the Law in the same set with songs about “...killing faggots”. Perhaps most curious of all was our outright love for This is Spinal Tap. We literally watched this movie after every single band practice to the point where each of us could recite it line for line. On the sleeve of Centurion's 14 Words you will find, “This one goes to 11”—an homage to a movie that couldn't have existed without the creative genius of Rob Reiner and many other Jewish people. This is the very same sleeve with the lyrics you see above on it. We did a cover of Tonight We're Gonna Rock You for vicious crowds of violent racists, who loved it every time. We talked all about killing Jews as we were delighted and inspired by the work of Jewish people.

Eventually, the honesty of the value I found in This is Spinal Tap and other culture supposedly forbidden to white racists helped dissolve the lies that blinded me. Once my guard was relaxed, the walls I had built between me and the rest of my human family crumbled with increasing pace and relief. Music continued to be integral to my life as old friends helped lead me to a better place.

The music of The Beastie Boys relieved my heart of the weight of hatred, and set an example of just how lovely life could be when diversity was embraced instead of shunned. Three bad brothers who happened to have Jewish heritage playing funk-dripping hip-hop with brilliant Asian keyboardist Money Mark, a black DJ-Hurricane, and keeping it all clean (of course) was Brazilian engineer extraordinaire Mario Caldato, Jr. The pure, honest quality of this music left me no choice but to cherish the variety of people that came together to make it happen.

Ancient digital rhythms guided me further along the path to peace as I immersed myself in rave culture.

I spent yet another childhood in the rave scene. Plenty of self-destruction in this one still, but much easier on the world around me. Well, relatively easier at least. Yet even as I immersed in self-medication, I was progressing, and healing. And all along there was music.

I quit drinking in 2004. Without a steady stream of alcohol to numb a lifetime of hate and violence that had directed itself inward, I found myself in a state of suicidal depression that lasted over a year. Writing with music as my guide led me to a much better place.

As I was reliving a period of drastic hate and violence to produce My Life After Hate, I found refuge in the music of a Brazilian singer named Céu. The gentle magnificence of her voice and the sheer craft and diversity of the music brought me back from the brink of oblivion that I had to peer over in the process of exhuming a past that was never properly laid to rest.

This wonderful music carries the basic human goodness of the earliest humans—the most primal beats—to a unique moment where all virtue is felt. Infused in ancient percussion, the open honesty of our existence radiates the courage of compassion via the cutting edge of digital soul. Each member of the band brings a unique and crucial contribution. The collective sound transcends language to convey a curious and lighthearted understanding of the indomitable goodness of existence. All arising from the epic and pervasive diversity of Brazil. A land still reeling from the inhumanity of slavery and genocide, yet emanating the purest joy and goodness of people and planet amidst the suffering.

People often tell me that I do good work, and hearing this makes me appreciate the amazing people around me who enable it. Nothing happens in a vacuum. There would be no book to write if it wasn't for every single person in it and every single person who knew them and so on and so forth. There would be no song to sing without the web of interdependence that captured it.

I've been meditating regularly since Fall of 2009. The music of Céu is infused with truths revealed via this practice. Impermanence demonstrated by the flow of creativity, making the same song brand new each time it is performed. Interdependence gloriously woven throughout time to produce a moment where neither hate nor violence can exist. Shining like the rising Great Eastern Sun. Boundless. Unconditional. Indiscriminate. Warmth for everyone. Once the song begins, feeling before thought as clear and expansive as a cloudless blue sky.

Yes, clouds will continue to come and go. There will be storms and suffering. Greed and aggression will hound us into doing harm. Ignorance will dull our ability to care for each other. It is up to us whether we let these companions come and go as they will, learning and smiling as they pass, or letting them lead us by the nose. Decide whether to return focus to love or to remain attached to hate. What greater gift could be asked for than this ability to respond with compassion?

There is no denying the power of music, and no denying the destructive power of hate music. The rage is all too real, despite, or perhaps because of, the hollow dearth of consciousness it stems from. I have run with the thrill of seeing people injured by the sheer violence of a Centurion set. Anyone who has ever actually poured gas on a fire can relate to the adrenaline rush of danger and carelessness. But when the wounds are bandaged and victims forgotten, where can honesty be found? Human beings cannot honestly enjoy seeing other human beings suffer. Only through the practice of dehumanization can we be shamed into finding pleasure in harm.

Let's be honest with our human selves as we choose the soundtrack of our lives. I still love all of the music I ever have, and I still listen to it all, aside from the overtly racist stuff. But for my daily music—the kind that I make a practice of listening to—I choose music that is genuine, gentle, and powerful. I choose music that celebrates the human capacity for love and set about realizing its boundless nature.

You can too.

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