He smeared paint over his face, the contacts had already gone in and an aide was spiking his hair up. The character formed in the mirror, red eyed and of no human color. More paint is slapped onto his back. Like the Tin-Man from the Wizard of Oz, he is completely covered up by costume and paint. He rises, and waits for the show to begin.
I first learned about the band Limp Bizkit as a child when I found a heavily scratched up copy of their album “The Chocolate Starfish and the Hotdog Flavored Water” in a parking lot. My parents let me keep it, since it was the censored version, and it was the first CD I owned that wasn’t the Beatles or Classical music. The album was almost unintelligible lyrically, as the censoring and scratches removed so many of the words it was very hard to follow. Here’s a good example of some of the lyrics of one of the songs as censored”
“Its a ___ world in a ___ place/ everybody’s judged by their ___ face. ____ Dreams. ___ Lives. ____ Kids with some ____ Knives.” -Hot Dog, Limp bizkit.
Now subtract maybe 10% of the words out of that from CD scratches and you have the strange art album I listened to over and over. I had no idea what the missing words were-- what was the meaning of the songs? It was only later that I learned what they were, and was massively disappointed. The songs weren’t quite as deep as I’d hoped, or imagined. Even so, Limp Bizkit held a weirdly special place in my heart: despite the lyrics being inane, there was something brutally honest about them. Like reading the first draft of a poem where someone has left all the emotion and honesty on the page without bothering to cut out the badly worded bits yet. It was raw and honest in a ways that more polished and dare I venture “good” music wasn’t. I was fascinated.
Under all of that though was some sheer musical brilliance. The drummer, John Otto provided a solid core, and the mixer/sampler DJ Lethal gave the band a fresh electronic edge. The band’s guitarist, Wes Borland, created clever and creative melodies under the lyrics, and the band’s bassist Sam Rivers played hard running and catchy baselines that carried the music forward in perpetuity.
Sam Rivers seems a decent guy, I actually talked with him on the phone for a few minutes once (more on that later) but it was Wes Borland who really captured my imagination. He performed in costume, slathering body paint on himself, making his body look ethereal and strange. Where other metal bands focused on looking either mega-dark or casual-cool, Borland looked completely different from anyone, even his own band. He changed up his own look constantly, finding amazing new visuals and abandoning them as soon as he’d mastered them. He was cross-breed chameleon peacock, ever changing and ever shifting to new forms. I was mesmerized. And then he did something that changed my artistic vision.
He left the band.
It wasn’t just that he left Limp Bizkit, though getting out of it certainly changed things, but it was what he did outside the band that really shifted my gaze. Instead of making the same things, Borland’s projects veered creatively into whatever the heck he wanted to do. There was “Duke Lion Fights the Terror” a comedy music album that told a loose and ridiculous story about a knight going on a quest to defeat foes like “the Blood Red Head on Fire”, and there was “Black Light Burns” his industrial music project that produced two strong studio albums, an album of covers and instrumentals, and then an album that plays as an alternate soundtrack to an art film. He also painted, producing some amazing works (my favorite is “This Guy’s Going to Eat Me Cause I Just Chopped My Head off” which is both playful and dark, while being artistically beautiful.) The sheer variety was wondrous. There had been this block in my head up to that point that an artist does one thing for the most part, that they were blocked into a genre. You wrote sci-fi. You painted and sculpted realistic figures. You wrote popular fiction. You drew comic art. You played rock. You played classical.
“Why stay in one spot?” his art whispered to me, “Just do all of it.”
So I have. The urge to try new things, to veer wildly, has stuck inside me. After my first big success, “An Eloquence of Time and Space”, a Doctor Who poetry book, there was a lot of pressure to just become a poet who wrote books where I wrote poems about every episode of TV shows. Financially, I probably should have. I should have sucked it up and crapped out books that I didn’t care about and raked in the cash. But I created “Eloquence” because I had a deep urge to, and creatively pushed myself for a year to complete it. When it was done, I’d learned all I could from it. Every now and then I consider doing another one (a Star Trek one might still happen in a reduced form someday), but I needed to do something different. So I started trying to really refine my prose writing, and began work on the project which has become 10,000 Dawns.
I am restless, but I finish my work. I want to create. I want to try new things.
And that came from Wes Borland.
Most people I know would assume that love came from David Bowie, but I only really got into Bowie after I was already deep into Borland’s work. Bowie’s self-reinventions and recreations were a strong source of inspiration for me as well, and have continually pushed me forward, but it wasn’t where it started. It started with a guitarist in a band largly regarded to be terrible.
When Wes Borland left Limp Bizkit, the band carried on and made an album called “Results May Vary” with a new guitarist. The album is the most cohesive thing Limp Bizkit ever made: the songs have a consistent tone and flow throughout them, and the lead singer Fred Durst’s bare-faced poetry lyrics take center stage. But at the same time, the album pulls back too much, putting forth the worst sin of the band: their eye-rolling machismo.
Limp Bizkit’s lyrics are often notably sexist in that, “I’m a nice guy, women should like me, and I’d be nicer if it wasn’t for all those %$3@ing women” way that plagues a lot of music from the early 90’s. “Results May Vary” ends up taking this to a new level with a lead single about stalking a girl. Not that the albums before it were paragons. As time goes on, the lyrics have aged worse and worse. The songs bring back fond nostalgic memories, but also a there’s a cringe-worthy undertone I didn’t notice as a teenage boy. You can’t go home again. Or at least you can’t unsee sexism. Or at least I can’t.
The aesthetic lines their music videos throughout their history: scantily clad backing dancers wearing Durst’s trademark backwards baseball cap pop in and out, ornamentation gilding the dandelion.
Borland rejoined Limp Bizkit later on, and they produced music pretty similar to their old catalog on their last release “Gold Cobra”. The lead off video from the album has an older, grayer, Fred Durst dancing in front of a group of young women in sports bras, athletic shorts, backwards baseball caps, and ski-goggles. A man skateboards up some concrete. A woman in a bikini and boxing gloves jumps up and down, letting parts of her body jiggle in front of the camera. Durst points at a woman’s butt as she dances. My eyes roll far into my head. I see my synapses. They’re somehow managing to roll their own figurative eyes. These aren’t young men anymore, and its hard to watch as they replay the aesthetics of their youth with utter sincerity, even as they film the video in noticeably cheaper filming locals than the ones in the videos they’re trying to mimic. You have to wonder how much reflection there was on the past, on what was and what will be, or if they simply stepped out of a time capsule doe eyed and blinking into the harsh light of the 2010’s.
There are simply too many reasons to cringe.
They have been working on a new album together since 2012. It hasn’t been released yet, and there is no launch in sight.
Meanwhile, Wes Borland, after a birth and a divorce, left Los Angeles and moved to Detroit with his new girlfriend Queen Kwong, who is the lead singer of her own band. Together they record and tour, and restore the house they bought in that city. He seems happy. Good for him.
Not long ago, he put out a new album made by no one but himself. There are no lyrics, and none of his trademark guitars. Its purely instrumental, with the concept that its the soundtrack to a movie that doesn’t exist, and its wonderful. Playful, experimental, different. Unique. Its what I love about art, the new and the weird. Something unsafe that can fail massively and burn to the ground. Something new.
I hope to make art like that. I hope to lead a fulfilling and moral life. I’ve never done anything as popular as the music Limp Bizkit made. I doubt any of my books have sold as well as the least of Borland’s solo work (though well, “Eloquence,” maybe). When I talk about how influential Borland was on me, I think people misunderstand that it was simply an influence on me when I was an angry young man hopped up on hormones an unable to grasp my own sense of the world, listening to angry music to temper my internal rage. Its hard to explain in short passing how he was such an influence on me as a writer. But he was.
I’ve wondered what he’d think of my poetry, prose, or plays. He might think they’re shit, honestly. I have no idea if I met him if we’d get along at all. I’ve felt in his art a kindred spirit, but a spirit isn’t a personality. I have no pretensions he’d like me. I got to meet another writer with a big influence on me, Garrison Keilor, a few years ago and I was very annoying I’m sure. Still, if there’s any living artist I’d want to meet, it would be him. Even so, I have no idea what I would say.
When Borland rejoined the band, Limp Bizkit bought a pre-paid phone and let die-hard fans call it. Different members would pick up and talk to fans for a few minutes. It was a great little treat for people who had stuck with them through thick and thin. I talked to Sam Rivers, the band’s bassist. I told him I’d never seen one of their shows. He said I should, naturally. I still haven’t. Time ticks on by, and where we end up changes. I’ve moved to Indianapolis, Borland is in Detroit. There are passing phone calls, and dreams of meeting our idols someday. But time drags the memories of our past work out in front of us. Lines we regret writing, things we didn’t understand in the past that make us cringe and moan. Being an artist means being a living breathing person who changes and is reborn, while stepping though concrete and leaving a trail of your footprints that you’re unable to wipe away. The worst you can do is be a timecapusule, to stand in the footprints you left and let your shoes sink into them.
Time may judge us, our work may fail us, but if we keep making art, there is always the hope we’ll be judged by the future rather than the past. I had one big success with “Eloquence”, and I’ll work for another one. Even if what I make is awful, I’ll keep marching forward. Time is chasing us all, so like Wes Borland, I’ll throw new paint on my back and take up a new song. I’ll toil and work, and craft, and write. Something will come of it. Something new.
That’s what being an artist is all about.
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Poet, Playwright, Game Designer, Writer, Freelancer for hire.