By Mike McMahan, LPC
Let’s face it, a lot of rock guitar playing (and ESPECIALLY metal) is about effects. As this video posted on Metal Injection makes painfully clear, without some distortion, your riffs are pretty much gonna suck. Safe to say there would be no arenas full of people rocking out if all these riffs were played clean (although “Raining Blood” still sounds pretty darn sinister—that’s Slayer for ya).
I had an immediate reaction to this video as a therapist, which is that this immediately applies in two seemingly unrelated areas a lot of us wrestle with; so let’s free associate, shall we? While cutting out distortion ruins a lot of rock, it’s damn good for effective communication. Let’s look at a couple of examples.
The first is that a lot of what people are trying to tell us gets lost in a lot of bluster, or distortion. So many of us are overwhelmed by so much information all day, it’s hard to process it. People talking to us at work, at home and blasting us full of information, especially on social media. But how much of this is real and how much of it is, well, distorted? We live in an era of fakery more than ever. People can construct their own simple riff and then pile a lot of distortion on top of it. It used to be Keeping Up With The Joneses; not it’s keeping up with the Joneses’ Facebook. And much of what people post is a narrative about their life that is misleading at best and untrue at worst.
But you don’t have to listen. There’s always just stepping back. But you can also work the idea of narrative to your own advantage your own effect, if you will. We often make the mistake of thinking we are the only one with problems, when that is simply untrue. We’re just hearing our own unfiltered riffs and they’re sucking. Ask yourself, are people really hearing this? Or are they too busy wrapped up in their own problems and lives to even notice what you’re saying, let alone cut through the clutter. Most people’s lives are turbocharged in the way they present them. There’s nothing to keep up with because it’s distortion and underneath, they have the same simple wants, dreams, fears that you and I do.
The other thing this video made me think of is communicating in a relationship. When we fight with our significant other, there’s a LOT of distortion: shouting, emotion, etc. So what is the simple riff underneath all that noise? This is one reason that many marriage and family therapists recommend that when you are trying to help your partner understand where you’re coming from use what’s called an “I need” statement. “I need your support.” “I need you to help me take care of the kids at bedtime.” “I need you to respect that I need to work late.” Cutting out the distortion helps get the point across and may make the talk more effective. An “I need” is much different that “you never support me!” “You never take care of the kids at bedtime!” It’s much more direct and you might have a better chance of getting through to your partner without all that noise.
But metal, yeah. It is horrible without the distortion. So don’t change that.
Mike McMahan, LPC, is a psychotherapist based in San Antonio, Tx.
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Therapy Goes POP
Perspectives on therapy and mental health as viewed through the lens of popular culture