Friday, April 25, 2008

OD&D and Rock

Fellow Groggy Blogger James Maliszewski made some observations in this post and linked an interesting article concerning the relationship between D&D and Metal, specifically relating the two in regard to old school attitude, and the modern versions of each.

The article speaks about how Dragonlance heralded this change from pulp action style D&D to a more episodic approach. James agrees, and I too concur with this mindset that Dragonlance forever changed the way modern players think about D&D.

The interesting notion of D&D and Metal being somehow linked has caused me to reflect back upon my own memory of the mid to late 70’s, and early 80’s.

Metal, or Heavy Metal, wasn’t really even called such during it’s developmental years in the late 60’s and early 70’s. As a matter of fact, those early Metal bands are sometimes now not even considered ‘Heavy Metal’ at all, as the term has evolved through the decades. Originally, the term was often used in a derogatory manner by critics of the rock scene. The term itself is traced back to Lester Bangs of Rolling Stone, and further to counterculture author William S. Burroughs.

When I think back to the 70’s, we certainly weren’t using the term Metal, or even Heavy Metal, it was all ‘Hard Rock’. Hard Rock bands back in the day, and pretty much all through the 70’s, had a much broader spectrum of styles and sounds. Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, The Who, Blue Oyster Cult, Kiss.

It wasn’t until 1979 that a critic in the New York Times actually defined the term Heavy Metal Rock as "brutally aggressive music played mostly for minds clouded by drugs,” and as "a crude exaggeration of rock basics that appeals to white teenagers.”

By this time, heavily influenced by the ‘Do It Yourself’ approach of the mid to late 70’s Punk Rock revolution, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal was being unleashed upon the world. For whatever reason, this style of music took the USA by storm, and soon a Metal generation was born. Bands like Iron Maiden and Def Leppard were taking cues from more specific influences, like Black Sabbath and Judas Priest and the whole Punk ethos, and removing the blues element from Hard Rock, ‘toughening up’ the sound, and emphasizing increasingly faster tempos.

Now, when people talk about Metal, I think the roots go back to these bands, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, etc.

Was there a true ‘Dragonlance’ turning point in Metal? Or, more specifically, in popular Metal? Perhaps the 80’s Hair Metal Bands aka Glam Metal would be the best analogy. Metal by this time had become formulaic, it was a defined sound now, a true rock genre. Bands were actually able to cash in on the Metal phenomenon.

My preference for all things Metal are those earlier, raw sound days of bands like Black Sabbath and Judas Priest. I hated the Hair Metal of the 80’s. Perhaps this is why I relate to OD&D so well, it’s raw, unrefined and visceral, much like those early Metal bands.

I think the primary reason that people associate Metal and D&D is that both peaked at roughly the same time in American culture.

But there’s more. D&D and early Hard Rock were both influenced by Fantasy and Sci-Fi authors. There’s no doubt that the sudden popularity of Tolkien in those days opened up many new creative avenues in pop culture. Fantasy books were hip all of a sudden in the 70’s. A new generation of youngsters was being brought up on Fantasy and Sci-Fi. Pulp fiction, from Tarzan to Flash Gordon, etc was the Fantasy and Sci-Fi of our Fathers and Grandfathers…no this was a different type of escapism, no longer limited to serials, pulp magazines and comic books.

I don’t think D&D and Metal are truly joined at the hip, as some might. They do make for excellent analogies.

If anything, I look back at OD&D and think of the Punk Rock ethos of the mid 70’s. It was a DIY mentality, there were no rules, and anyone could do it. It was not formulaic, it was not backed by the record companies, it shattered the commonly held misconceptions and rules in place at the time. It actually flew in the face of the over bloated, fat on the land, ‘Hard Rock’ bands of the day. This was not arena rock, this was not Pink Floyd or Yes, this was something new that forever changed the genre as we know it today. It’s influences are EVERYWHERE now, but still, for the most part, it is not given proper credit.

It’s much easier to associate the Metal ‘sound’ with D&D, sure, but in attitude and approach, the analogy between OD&D and Punk is quite clear. Punk doesn’t ‘sound’ like D&D, this much I will concede, while Metal, at least the raw, unrefined earlier stuff, does. Early Punk bands didn’t cavort around in faux armor, or associate themselves with swords and sorcery like many Metal bands might, but as far as what it meant to popular culture, D&D was the Punk Rock revolution of gaming.

These analogies do fall apart on many levels, but in terms of actual cultural impact, the analogy between D&D and Punk is indisputable. Both D&D and Punk turned into something else, as did Metal, and as all things that become mainstream are bound to do.

This analogy has really shed some light on my own personal preferences in both gaming and in music. It’s time I faced the music and realized that I just prefer the raw, unrefined, DIY stuff, whether it’s Pulp Fantasy, D&D, Metal, or Music in general, as opposed to the more popular, over-produced rubbish foisted upon us by the industry, like modern D&D and modern Rock.

~Sham, Delinquent DM


Jeff Rients said...

Excellent post. I totally agree that the punk DIY ethos is reminiscent of what some of us are trying to do with D&D. But when it comes to background music I'll take some metal.

Anonymous said...

I almost always listen to metal when I'm working on D&D material. The Conan soundtracks or a prog album provides an occasional change of pace, but mostly its Priest, Maiden, Sabbath, et al. :)

Sham aka Dave said...

Yeah, Metal is the better D&D mood music, without a doubt. Black Sabbath's Paranoid is one of my favorite albums, ever.

James Maliszewski said...

Some really great insights here, Sham. I was never a hard rock/metal fan when I got into D&D in the late 70s (I'm still not), but I've always felt a powerful connection between the two nonetheless. Certainly, some of it is purely because they both came into their own at roughly similar times and because of my own encounters with metalheads (though we didn't call them that at the time) who also played D&D, like my friend's older brother and his high school pals. I think there's more to it than that, though, as your post discusses.

Very fascinating stuff.

evildm said...

My memories come in three stages. earliest was when I first picked up a copy of the 1st edition players handbook. the background music was Rush, Yes, Zep, etc. "art rock" was a term we used in Northern California.
during the Big 80's in my army barracks we played AD&D, Twighlight 200,Traveller and MERP to the strains of Iron Maiden, Ozzie, Judas Priest, Etc.
Bachelor days in the 90's we gamed to red hot chilipeppers, GWAR, Janes addiction, Stone temple pilots and Nirvana.

Then I got married...

Sham aka Dave said...

Music can bring back so many memories. I hear ya on the marriage thing, Evil DM! Love your blog by the way, and I was glad to read about your recent commitment to the written word. Good Luck and keep us posted.

Tetramorph said...

I found this late but I googled od&d vs. ad&d punk vs. metal and found it.

Thanks for the post. I think it is right on.

I don't really like metal, although I can appreciate why others do.

I don't like metal style, AD&D style play.

I am attracted to OD&D because I am more punk.

And by punk I mean minimalist, DIY, less is more, don't mechanic when you can role play.

So thanks for the post, I may link to it from my own blog!