Headbangers from the new and old schools congregated on a sun-scorched acre of earth, spurning the demands of the hoarsest announcer in metaldom: "Ten years of [bleeping] Ozzfest, give a [bleeping] applause. Say '[Bleep] you!' " (And the crowd halfheartedly responds: Bleep you.) "You [people are] sleepin'. I can't hear you. . . . "
Forgive the cool response. It is late Sunday morning at the Ozzfest second stage at Nissan Pavilion, and of the 20 bands that are billed to rawwwk, the one with the most hate mail is coming up next: Wicked Wisdom, a funk-rock group that has now turned heavy metal and is fronted by none other than actress Jada Pinkett Smith -- the wife of movie star Will Smith.
When metal fans learned that Pinkett Smith's band was on this summer's tour, they quickly rained unholy fire on Ozzfest's Web site, decrying this crime against hardcore. They've lambasted Sharon Osbourne, Mrs. Prince of Darkness and the tour's founder, for sinking so low.
But here comes Jada now, all five feet of her, gripping the mike with both tiny hands and thrashing her beautiful head, screaming profanities into song. All one can see is a flurry of hair.
Observing the spectacle from nearly 30 yards away is Terry Saddler, 40, a truck driver from Beaverdam, Va. He is leaning on a wooden cane, wearing a biker cap, reflective wraparound shades and brown leather flip-flops. He pulls a pack of Doral Ultra Lights from the left pocket of his shorts. Lights one. Calls himself a "wussy smoker," even though he had throat surgery two days earlier. ("You can admit me today," Saddler told his doctor, "but Sunday I'm going to Ozzfest.")
He also hasn't slept since the previous evening, but this is his ninth fest in 10 years, and he doesn't want to miss Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath, metal headliner gods. Back in the day, Saddler says, he was frontman of his own mediocre mid-'80s metal band (he won't name the name; the shame lingers), as well as "a garbage can junkie."
Now, after the cigarette, he pops an orange-flavored throat soother. And never having heard of Wicked Wisdom or the big fuss, he bobs his head and pounds his cane on the rocks and dirt, trying to keep in step with a "nu-metal" rhythm that reminds him of Rage Against the Machine. Jada particularly catches his eye.
"Do you know if that's a guy or girl?" Saddler shouts.
Singing? That's a girl.
"I thought so. . . . That girl got fire! I like her." And several onstage vociferations later: "Why is Will Smith here?" Because that's his wife. (Now Jada is thrusting her mike toward the non-moshing mosh pit, forcing crowd acknowledgment.) "Oh really? That must make for an interesting household," says Saddler.
The same curiosity might be applied to each of the several thousand metalheads and festival-fiends who attended Sunday's Ozzfest, braving hearing loss and sunburn for 13 hours. "It gives people a chance to be someone else they wouldn't normally be during the week," says Saddler. Like the plump, cornrowed white woman sporting a tribute to Ozzy Osbourne on the seat of her microshorts. (It would not be the biggest waste of money to buy a ticket to Ozzfest just to people-watch, or fashion-police.)
Ozzfest has its generational splits (old metal, new metal) but there's always the exception: Saddler should, by demographic, be strictly old-school, but he supports up-and-comers like the Haunted and Bury Your Dead, whose almost indecipherable, screeching rants and rapid-fire guitar riffs thunder off the second stage. Even though Saddler thinks all these bands "sound the same" -- the common criticism of newer metal -- many people, after all, had the same impression of metal from the early '80s. Saddler mimics his mother: "Turn that crap off! Turn it off!"
So what's the big difference between the old- and new-school metal?
"Talent," says a shirtless Tommy Brick, 18, of Newport News, Va., sitting about 300 yards from the newbies headbanging on the second stage. Like a lot of teen fans, he also defies the age gap, here to see Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden.
Later in the afternoon, before the start of Rob Zombie's set, a quiet man with long eyeliner tears running down his face is standing by himself. He gives his name only as Kinx and says he is 18. He is wearing a black Nine Inch Nails T-shirt over fishnet stockings that cover his arms, and black baggy pants over Converse sneakers.
Kinx's band, based in Sterling, is called Tears of Acid, and yes it is new-school, and yes he hears the naysayers who say newer metal is heavy for the sake of being heavy, and its lyrics gripy for the sake of being disgruntled whereas classic metal is simultaneously dark and uplifting. But for soft-spoken Kinx, those critics have it all wrong: old-school is about the "sex, drugs and rock-and-roll lifestyle," and new-school is about expressing emotions, personal ones.
And Ozzfest, after a while, is about the $6 funnel cake stand, the Trojan rep handing out sample "Mint Tingle" condoms and the "Drown the Clown" dunking booth where a soaking-wet nightmare clown taunts passersby all day with "La-la-la-Luke, I am your father."
Kinx wanders by again. Darkness approacheth, beers continue to be pounded down, and he is not listening to Iron Maiden rocking on the main stage.
"I'm new school, remember?" he says, smiling, revealing braces. Then he asks if we want to know the meaning behind Tears of Acid. During one of his most depressing times, Kinx says, he tried thinking of a band name that expressed pain and sadness. He knew acid would leave a scar, and "scars would be a reminder of the pain."
Thanks for sharing that.
"No, thank you for listening," he says.