The Shire’s Underground Metal Scene

Recently, I collaborated with fellow metalhead and badass illustrator Matt Smith on something that we attempted to publish at McSweeney’s. Suffice it to say that the norns wove a highly unfavorable fate over this humble effort because McSweeney’s flat-out rejected it due to a perceived lack in interest in heavy metal and hobbits among its readers, which is probably apt since the site tracks its pieces’ popularity and in 2017 rarely publishes anything that doesn’t have to do with Trump, women’s issues, or child-rearing (thank Odin my gimmick of Mark Wahlberg riffing on Norse history was accepted way back during the site’s glory days when eccentric and topically irrelevant humor was dominant). Anyway, Matt and I watched from the sidelines as our piece got stabbed, speared, and decapitated like an inferior warrior on an ancient northern battlefield, but lo! A smile did creep across our faces when the valkyries chose to bring it to this digital Valhalla where the brave shall live forever.

THE EPICNESS OF OUR LIVE SHOW

GOES ALL THE WAY TO ELEVENTY

Like a piping-hot pork pie pulled fresh from the oven, the uncertainty of Middle-Earth’s survival hangs thick in the sweaty, night air. The hors d’oeuvres are gone, the pre-show music has started its slow descent towards nothingness, and only the occasional whistle or jeer for faster service can be heard. The stage is set, the kettle is rumbling, and finally, the curtain is drawn and the backdrop revealed. A lavishly well-stocked larder looms high overhead, its countless jars of herbs and jams, pastries and fruit pies sending tingles down the spine of every famished guest gathered before us.

A cry of excitement rises up from that host of starving souls just as the guitar, bass, and drums explode into existence like a badly shaken bottle of the Southfarthing’s finest vintage and I let loose my fiercest hunger-panged war-cry. The lights flash in unison to the bombastic sonic waves as I churn out the first verse with all the vigor of my old gaffer whipping up the butter of his younger years:

“Pain and suffering
Darkness all around
The world is coming to an end
And all I want is—“

I pause, and as I pump my fist into the air with the ferocity of a hundred Baggins’ running and screaming through a dozen subterranean tunnels from an unstoppable horde of uninvited guests, I reach down into the innermost depths of my ever-growling gut and roar: “MY SECOND BREAKFAST!!!”

The moshpit erupts like an overheated pot of boiling taters before soon settling down to a steady roil. With everyone’s appetites whetted, we clear out the first course and prepare for the second. The lights go dim as Hansi steps forward and launches into a guitar riff so fast that no coney could ever outrun it, and before long the burrow stands depleted, its bunnies all captured and flayed. Salivating from the divine aroma, I break my silence, adding my own softly spoken and deeply baritone, Shire-approved seasoning to the mix:

“Laurus nobilisss…”

I let the s linger on my tongue as I conjure up this arcane wisdom.

“Thymus vulgarisss…”

Again, I let the s linger on my tongue, letting the recipe slowly work its mystical magic.

“Salvia officinalisss…”

For a third time I let the s linger on my tongue and see clearly now that the guests have become fully transfixed by the spell.

“These things will do,
Because the time has come for…
CONEY STEW!!!”

And just then—neither early nor late but at that precise magical moment when the pyrotechnic wizard meant for them to—the fireworks go off and every individual, furry-footed at heart, forgets all about the encroaching evil from the east, bangs their head and cries out for more metal, more firecrackers, and more delicious, tender rabbit meat.

But with any savory, acoustic triumph there also often comes a period of gastric misfortune when a dire series of trials and tribulations will test the fellowship of mouth, belly, and colon. And for those we must now loosen our belts while the fog machines start to froth like a frosty mug filled with the Prancy Pony’s best beer. We, the bards, the gardeners, the culinary artisans, now raise our pints and salute those about to digest the grossly undercooked sorrow of the coming ballad.

Hansi hangs his head, gently kneading the dough of his six-stringed drumstick and the torches begin to flicker up and down the length of this now gloomy dining hall. Then he layers up the chords like the flaky crust of Buckleberry’s best blackberry pie and I raise my voice in anguish to meet the dyspeptic plight of our forlorn rhythm section:

“Confusion surrounds me
I’m lost in a foreign land
My soul is wearing thin
And I don’t know where I am—“

I stare out across the front lines and see tears of anguish trickling down the cheeks of our most trusted allies. Together, in this hall, we have shared joy and we have broken bread, and together we must now endure pain and suffering in this indigestive War of the Ring if ever we are to see the light of another warm supper again.

“This place looks strangely familiar
The water is flowing in circles
I’ve seen that ceramic fixture before
And I’ve lost my appetite…”

And then the lights go dim and together we stand in darkness and in silence. Our collective sense of despair rises like the leavening of a fresh loaf left to go stale out in the darkest depths of Mordor, but before Gollum and the evil one can creep up and scrub the floor clean, an old magic begins to fill the air and we spot the soothing sight of the elven army’s silhouette on the horizon. In all their fast-acting splendor and glory they have come to honor the old alliance and with them the tide is turned, our dyspepsia defeated. We ride out through the gates at full speed bellowing an anthem of gustative rebellion:

“Give me hot soup
Give me slabs of butter
Give me half a ripe cheese—“

I glance over at Hansi who meets my eyes with his own and nods from where he perches astride his magnificent sound-amplifying steed. And then without further hesitation we charge into the fray side-by-side, taking it all the way to eleventy:

“—BUT JUST DON’T GIVE ME ANYMORE LEMBAS BREAD!!!”

The stage quakes and the battle rages on but by dawn the battle for Middle-Earth has been won; all of Hobbiton’s lavish larders and gorgeously green gardens saved. A new age has begun, surely to be full of many bountiful harvests of the Shire’s own plump mushrooms, carrots, and onions, and every other delectable crop grown by the good folk back home. But as soon as we begin to clear the tables and head back into the kitchen, we feel our own bellies growl just as we hear our guests clamor for dessert. So we gather some of our most favorite dishes and go back out to greet them as only true and proper hosts should.

A cheer rises up when they see that we have returned, and that we have not come empty-handed. I turn to face them once more and I see in their eyes the twinkle of hope that only the dawn of a new era of peace, prosperity, and fresh, locally-grown produce can bring. I reach out and grab my silver-speckled ladle, and in a deep, husky voice I offer them merriment in the time-honored tradition of hospitality: “Do you all like strawberries and cream…?”

And with that the victorious diners go wild.

Heraldry

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