Social roles are the law of psychology, the rules of belonging.
Thus why an indie rocker must maintain his hipness, a pop princess must upkeep her bubbliciousness and a punk must uphold her personal rebellion.
Metalheads don't get off easy, either-they've got their own heavy burden to bear. And High on Fire drummer Des Kensel's metal integrity is currently dissipating by the minute.
He tells me that he is a bike messenger. He is at home past 8 p.m. He is over 30. And best of all, he learned to play drums in his upstate New York elementary school band.
"The first song I learned was Michael Jackson's "Beat It,'" Kensel laughs. "Just on a snare drum, with the whole school band on like flutes and trumpets. After that it was Judas Priest and Ozzy Osbourne and Metallica."
When Kensel moved to Oakland and met up with bassist George Rice and former Sleep guitarist Matt Pike in 1999, thrashing metal outfit High on Fire was born. With Pike's notoriety still seething from Sleep, High on Fire quickly shot to critical and public success-a viewpoint most metal bands never see.
"I didn't really know that much of Sleep before I met Matt," Kensel admits. "I grew up in New York, about an hour outside of the city, so by the time I made it out here I got into less punk and more metal. When I was growing up, a lot of the punks and hardcore kids and skinheads totally hated metal and the other way around.
"Now it's kind of all fusing together."
High on Fire's popularity has a base in that fusion. Pike growls and lurches through the band's 2-year-old record, Surrounded by Thieves, with angry crunch and stoner panache. Rice's bass outlines the form of each tune, pacing the boundaries of Kensel's pounding until Pike reaches in with Osbourne lungs.
"We had a show before we even had a name," Kensel remembers. "The [venue was] like, "Listen, we need a name by tomorrow for the flier or else we're just gonna put whatever the fuck we want on there.'"
So they tossed around a couple names, including Fire on High, the name of a song by '70s rock geezers E.L.O. Kensel and Rice weren't keen on it. A few minutes later, under deadline pressure, Pike suggested High on Fire. Despite a widespread feeling that it was a cheesy weed reference, the band threw it on the flier and it stuck.
Kensel remembers the beginning of High on Fire as a love affair with the genre. On tour, the three men made it through tour after tour in a tiny van just for another dose of the same medicine 24 hours later. Metal, Kensel contends, doesn't get attention for its musicality because it usually intimidates people. Try finding more than a single-digit count of women at a metal show at any given time.
"The intensity and the sound of [metal] is amazing to me," he says. "It's nice to turn away from pop music and say "fuck you' and do something totally different. Ten- or 12-year-old kids wear those rock shirts and cut-up jeans and beat-up sneakers to school and they're the metal kids. No one fucked with the metal kids. They were just burnouts that go off at recess into the trees to smoke pot.
"Metal is about how the person interprets it. Of course it's aggressive, but you don't necessarily have to be angry to like our music. During the day I have to do things like be a bike messenger, so you can probably guess why I look so angry on stage."High on Fire play with Turantula Hawk and Dysrhythmia, 8:30 p.m. at The Casbah. $10. 619-232-HELL.