“When you’re a black metalhead, sometimes you have to let your inner junglebunny out.” Growing up in South Carolina, there were times when words happened to me and, if I did not know them, I would look them up. This was not one of those times. I can honestly assume that, had I looked up junglebunny, I would have found a way to continue laughing with Daniel at the video. I was fifteen or so, swathed in black—a Korn hoodie I wouldn’t remove, construction boots, mock-bondage straps flailing like tentacles from my majority-pockets shorts—a regular walking Hot Topic ad of the early aughts, drunk for the first time, and dancing a hole into the floor. Daniel, my best high school friend, recorded the scene and then uploaded it to whichever social media platform most enthralled us at the time, along with the caption that I cannot forget.
This dance of my private primitive was the culmination of a party, and this party was, in a sense, an induction. On this night, I met Shawn, Joe, and Will. We chugged our way through more Coors Light than I ever cared to see again. We moshed to Slipknot, and I spat every word of “Disasterpiece.” I drank myself stupid. At some point, I was invited to join Shawn, Joe, Will, and Daniel as one of “the Demons.”
I had nothing better to do, so I ate from a bowl of Crunch Berries cereal floating in beer, threw up all over someone’s bathroom floor and my own clothes, was showered naked in cold water from the hose in the yard, snorted jalapeño hot sauce off of a styrofoam dinner plate, and was named a Demon. Clear of the crust of my own sick, I spun into sleep, curled inside the bracket of a loveseat in a bedroom. One of the Demons painted my face with a cherry popsicle. There is video of this, too.
No, induction isn’t quite right. The time I spent among them—mud-bogging at the bottom of man-made dunes at the ends of dirt roads, smoking out of soda-bottle bongs in trailers on the edges of old farmland, and shaving our heads in the dry after-buzz—now feels more voyeuristic than native. These became weekend interludes, at the end of which I’d be returned to my all-Black household. My mother and siblings and neighbors were accustomed to white kids picking me up, and to the frequent appearance in our driveway of Daniel’s red hair peeking through the windows of his shit-green sedan. We’d ride into the county to meet the others and pursue something closer to happiness. I considered them friends. I needed friends. I knew a kind of tenderness. I hurt abundantly and all the time, as they appeared to.
In 2017, my editor and I are wrapping up the copyedit stage ahead of publishing my first book of poems. Over a phone call, we discuss the necessity of endnotes for such oddities as my omission of an apostrophe from aint and my use of the word paranoir. The title of a track from Marilyn Manson’s 2003 album The Golden Age of Grotesque, “Para-Noir” is a word that Manson “manufactured . . . to represent excessive darkness and the paranoia of trust.” In a poem, I repurposed the term to “signify a specifically Black anxiety of omnipresent antagonisms, if not also the whole person of the Black anxious.” Between Manson’s redundancy and my need to name a constant interiority, I feel, for the moment, more familiar with a paranoir mood than any other texture of paranoia. I began to know it best during my time with the Demons. I glimpsed its raw center whenever I got too high with white boys.
Within that concrete vortex sensation of being stoned—perhaps symptomatic of the way that time in that vortex moves—how the gap between my thinking of opening a door and my opening the door spiraled into self-fulfilling prophecy—a cataract over my reality thinned, shedded—here were the apparent anachronisms of the dirt roads: the repressed emptiness of fields, a bonfire and its orange glow against the trunks at the edge of the woods, the Confederate flag stretched across a window of the RV—that it wasn’t my reality, that it belonged to something deeper, older, and until recently held at arm’s length, that my friends were not my friends—their faces have changed—their brief satisfaction with any form of entertainment—why is there a fire?—that any circumstance in this landscape was malleable in their favor—who knew where I was?—whose faces?—was I a form of entertainment?—I feel the heat of the fire—who are they?—fire—who knew?—a fire.
Is being haunted like that? The voice in me, megaphoning my discomfort, squatted behind my stomach. Is intuition like that? I argued with it, didn’t fully trust it while I mistrusted the people around me. I could never articulate this happening in a way that even I understood, so I frequently forced myself to sleep off the smoke. So many prescription medications interacted in me during that time that I was continually confused and induced to sleep. I preferred sleep. Waking was already grated with the problem of trust. Such was living with inarticulable queerness. But there was something in the thick of the high that I needed, and Daniel knew me well enough to not let folks fuck with me too much while I pursued it—unless it delighted him to do so himself, albeit gently.
I’d awake in the hot, aluminum-cannish RV surrounded by posters for Twiztid and Insane Clown Posse. Joe would be slack-draped like a deflated windbreaker jacket next to me, watching hentai, pretending our feet were not touching. I’d awake on a couch in the empty trailer in the same yard. Shawn’s mom lived in a similar one in the lot, closer to the highway. I never saw her. I’d awake on the edge of a bed in which Shawn and Maggie were fucking, fully clothed and as quietly as possible. I’d pretend to wake up twenty minutes later. We would all plot to get some food from a nearby gas station, or we’d luckily uncover a couple of cans of ravioli and eat the goop cold because there were no cooking appliances in the trailer, or I’d be hungry until I got home wearing yesterday’s clothes and the clay dust that our roguishness had lifted from the roads.
Once, in late summer, my mother dropped me off in another mobile home park past the east end of town. The Demons were gathering at Shawn’s older sister’s place. There was a small fire, and we drank beer while sitting in lawn chairs arranged in a circle around it. When anyone shifted, the chairs’ metal legs in their plastic brackets pushed dark divots into the bare gray dirt.
Shawn’s dad arrived with a mild air of superstardom. He was good-looking, I thought. He wore a sleeveless tee, and beneath a cowboy hat his bald head was shaped like Shawn’s shaven one except that the father’s ears fit. A cigarette’s cherry glowed between his knuckles as the night darkened. He sang Poison’s “Every Rose Has Its Thorn,” strumming an acoustic guitar. Of course it had to be this song. He played it many times, or he played it once and the song seemed to last for hours. That not two hours previously Shawna’s boyfriend, Lane, had introduced himself to me as the “Dutch Master” and tried to teach me how to roll a blunt in the trap-music-misted bedroom of their trailer had nearly slipped my mind.
I hardly knew who Bret Michaels was then—and so didn’t recognize how thoroughly Shawn’s dad mimicked him, probably down to the buckle—but this cover saddened me. Everyone who heard it appeared mournful—exposed, as though they had been in mourning all along—except for the man singing and strumming the chords. It was almost as if there had been a dream in which Shawn’s dad was someone else, someone famous, like Bret Michaels but his own brand of heartbreaking, and his family could see that dream—I could see it, maybe, where the flames illuminated their faces: They were elsewhere, transported by the beer and the dope and the song, dreaming American. I rolled my tongue around in my cottonmouth, feeling unnecessarily intrusive. Ants toiled nonchalantly beneath us, accompanied by shadows triple their size.
Overhead towered old trees, shawled in vines, and through their branches sailed the sounds of the nearby overpass. It was a highway that would, by one side-road or another, take one to the Columns Plantation—a Civil War reenactment site that we visited as a field trip in the second grade. It occurred to me recently that Momma had to sign a permission slip for that. In my home, I heard the mantra “the South will rise again” in what I thought was the tone of joking, a way for my family to laugh off the ubiquity of the Confederacy’s legacy. This was before I understood satire. Until I was three years old, we had lived in a trailer park not far from this one, Momma and Daddy and me. Then Momma was pregnant and we moved into a two-bedroom house on the south side. We wore hand-me-downs and ate packaged goods for a long time. Aunties and play-cousins babysat. Momma moonlighted until she didn’t need to. I don’t know how it all looked from the outside. Ascent was meant to be exclusively in our future, not in our memory.
Smells Like Children, Marilyn Manson’s 1995 remix EP that featured the soiled and enduring cover of Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” also featured a cover of Patti Smith’s “Rock N Roll Nigger.” Recorded in the late 1970s, Smith’s song, co-written with bandmate Lenny Kaye, may best summarize itself in these lyrics:
Jimi Hendrix was a nigger. Jesus Christ and Grandma, too. Jackson Pollock was a nigger. Nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger. Outside of society, they’re waitin’ for me. Outside of society, if you’re looking, That’s where you'll find me.
For Smith and Kaye, Hendrix and Pollock (and Jesus and Grandma) were equally niggers in that they were, by this definition, social exiles—and admirably so, such that Smith in culmination takes up the mantle of the nigger, growling finally “That’s where you’ll find me.” Nigger, it would seem, is a place one can go and, by the same token, leave again. In Maureen Mahon’s 2004 critical volume Right to Rock: The Black Rock Coalition and the Cultural Politics of Race, Mahon locates “Rock N Roll Nigger” alongside Lou Reed’s “I Wanna Be Black” and others within the long continuum of white people unsubtly romanticizing the marginality of Black Americans—and the cultures and artworks created and thriving therein—as an exotic escape from the norms of whiteness.
More curious to me than Patti Smith’s maladapting nigger into a hipster power anthem or, just now, how Manson’s cover was complicated by his later artistry, is where my friends fell inside the echo of that same sentiment. They were between the ages of nine and twelve when Eric Harris and Dylan Kiebold killed twelve schoolmates, one teacher, and themselves at Columbine High School. They were in the disorienting vicinity of puberty and various panicked masculine postures in the jingoist aftermath of September 11, 2001. They were attempting to graduate high school at the dawn of the Great Recession. Shawn dropped out at least twice. Daniel had been keeping an after-school job for as long as I’d known him. The universal affects of that time were anger and melancholy as our illusions of physical safety and social mobility unhinged and sagged toward the foundation. 
I mean this generally and specifically. I would eventually count three expulsions to my name. The first folks to get me high were a white couple I met in alternative school; they seemed more certain than most that being there was a hiatus. I had emailed the lyrics to Korn’s “Thoughtless” to a white teacher who monitored my high school’s halls in the mornings and always favored me in her blanket disdain; my future was a cloudy question but quickly becoming less so. I mostly patronized bands that, on one hand, appropriated the braggadocio of rap and laced it with horror and the aggression of thrash, such that each band seemed in competition to disturb with the most swagger. On the other hand, while their unacuminous lyrics left their specific ills and anathemas behind frosted glass, these bands could musically reconstitute the terrain of pariahdom with such familiarity that the question, yes, often was how I could find comfort in the architected abandon.
This music was a single boat moving over the blues. It was an inverted pop-art print of Black Power militancy. It raised a carnival tent over my real, Black, queer, depressive, American coming-of-age, but where did that find Shawn and Joe and Daniel and Will? They were restless. They were offered seemingly unmitigated rage and the cadence of revolution. It all rang of disenchantment, but from what, exactly? They were Demons. They perhaps felt themselves in the limen of an underworld. Their distance from grace: probably the distance between what they were and what, in the legends of whiteness and manhood, they heard they should be. Nigger-ish, almost, maybe—who am I to disagree? Mainly, they were monstrous because they were yet undistorted where distortion is set as the standard. Demons, in that if they were going to resemble the shadows of their not-rockstar fathers, they would—what, have gruesome agency in this failure? The question of whose failure amplifying the shrill and voluminous cacophony of heavy metal music as we knew it but rarely focusing the music’s attention-deficit anger in the direction of a legitimate, sustained inquiry.
What happens to that momentum? Could the men of Richmond-based quintet Lamb of God have, in their multi-album critique of the War on Terror, divested enough from themselves to charge an organized protest of US foreign policy? Could they have mobilized more than their infamous “Wall of Death” mosh pits? Maybe I’m naïve. Maybe they were. Predictable—in the way that the aging of all of my once “radical” “anti-establishment” “freak” friends into conservative, family-sanctifying, pay-no-minds has become predictable—that the Lamb of God who offered:
Your trust has been misplaced, believed the lies told to your face, Became another casualty and now it’s too late. You finally made it home, draped in the flag that you fell for.
and the unmistakable howl of:
Now you’ve got something to die for, Infidel, Imperial.
eventually succumbed to the bootstrap-tugging:
And now is the moment where everything can change. You are completely responsible for your own life And no one is coming to save you from yourself. So stop blaming your problems On any and everything else. It does not matter one tiny fucking bit How unfair you think the world is. It's only what you do.
And yet, this is everywhere I’ve looked the narrative of sons of the American South—landscape that is, to me, the clearest cautionary tale against forgetting that white people in this nation are not self-made by merit of hard work or integrity, or forgetting that whiteness is a project that dehumanizes even, and especially, themselves.
But they must forget it. Imagine: admitting that even your audacity to scream that nothing is right is based on your investment in the delusion that who you are is the one right thing—then admitting that that one thing is a myth—beneath which blows the debris of what you’ve mutilated for the sake of your not-self—and knowing this bodily, holding in your veins the hell of it—and needing to put that knowledge somewhere. From here, I can see how much they would risk in digging, and yet I am being hunted. In denial, they put their nothinghell in me.
This past Sunday, in Las Vegas, a sixty-four-year-old white man aimed semi-automatic rifles from his hotel room window and fired—at a recorded rate of nine rounds per second—into a concert festival crowd below, killing at least fifty-nine people and leaving 527 injured. On the night before, at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York, in the fourth concert of the US leg of his Heaven Upside Down tour, Marilyn Manson performed the forthcoming album’s first single, “We Know Where You Fucking Live”:
sang Let’s make something clear: we’re all recording this as it happens,
sang Those diamond bullets, storefront bloodbank, splinters, and stained glass,
sang Don’t need to move a single prayer bone,
chanted So what’s a nice place like this doing round people like us?
chanted I love the sound of shells hitting the ground. Man, I love the sound of shells hitting the ground. I love it.
Two songs later, while performing “Sweet Dreams,” rounding the serrated edge of the last “ abused,” he attempted to climb onto his stage props—two giant pistols backdropped by blazing pink neon—which immediately collapsed on top of him, sending him out of the venue on a stretcher and resulting in nine cancelled tour dates.
Manson’s magical proximity to massacres of gun violence is, we know, not magical. His practice is prismatic, his lyrics a sieve. The sole-stuck gum wad that snatched a bit of every passing secret in the dirt, Manson is a reactive satirist whose image has variously incorporated the sights and sounds of the Weimar Republic and its collapse while attracting the obsessive zeal of fanatic “family” groups across the nation; whose Grotesk Burlesk-era geometric blackface, likened to the head of a gimp suit and crowned by Mickey Mouse ears, evokes the ilk of such R&B-sexualized child pop stars as Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake; whose “Cake and Sodomy” (and its remix “White Trash”)—backdropped by his Canton, Ohio-based Episcopalian upbringing and later education in South Florida—foreboded a portfolio of attempts to witness white depravity and to such degree that I think of poet Frank Bidart’s “Herbert White,” of the bloody knowledge that poet Patricia Smith puts on in her dramatic monologue “Skinhead,” and of the foundational historical amnesia that Baldwin attributes to white Christians.
The traces of Manson’s body of work worm and settle into my writing—as did the smell of grease into jeans I wore to flip burgers seven years ago, as mercury does in the mackerel, as obsession when it begins. If there is a Great White Artist of my generation—an artist, I mean, who best interprets for us the crisis of the white condition while maintaining an entertaining, multifaceted, severally-indicting presentation; whose contributions one could justifiably magnify at the expense of other notable white artists of his era; an artistry possibly transcendental of whiteness; approaching, dare I say, the post-white—who better? And I may be well on my way to becoming—by way of its being my unconditional luggage—a connoisseur of the white condition, of which I think Manson has been curating a lyrical exhibition for the better part of twenty years:
We are the nobodies: wannabe somebodies. We’re white and oh so hetero, and our sex is missionary. I fuck you because you’re my nigger. Everybody’s someone else’s nigger. I know you are, so am I. You are what you beat. I’m not attached to your world. Yesterday, man, I was a nihilist. Now, today, I’m just a fuckin bore. You say you want a revolution, man, and I say that you’re full of shit. Nothing heals. Nothing grows. My afternoon’s remote control. Daydream milk and genocide. Slave never dreams to be free. Slave only dreams to be king. We’re killing strangers. We sing the death song, kids, because we’ve got no future, and we wanna be just like you. You were automatic and as hollow as the o in god . Do you love your guns? god? government? I wanna thank you, Mom—I wanna thank you, Dad—for bringing this fucking world to a bitter end. It’s a great big white world, and we are drained of our colors. We’re killing strangers so we don’t kill the ones that we love. We used to love ourselves. We used to love one another. In a world so white, what else could I say? 
What’s to say? I wonder, while watching the music video for Manson’s 2001 cover of Soft Cell’s ’80s hit, “Tainted Love.” Soft Cell’s version was itself a cover of a 1965 record by Gloria Jones, who wrote many songs for Motown groups including the Commodores, the Supremes, the Jackson 5, Gladys Knight and the Pips, and others. Manson’s music video was directed by Philip G. Atwell, whose CV largely boasts Eminem music videos between 1999 and 2005 and includes 50 Cent’s “In Da Club,” videos by Dre and Snoop, and—a personal favorite—Truth Hurts’ “Addictive,” featuring Rakim. As seems writ-large of most American cultural products, there spins a queer galaxy of Black art, and askew in its orbit is this video, which extends the conceit of the film it supports.
The soundtrack for Not Another Teen Movie (2001) comprised rock covers of new wave songs almost entirely, while the film amalgamated a parody of over a dozen popular films that centered the lives of white teenagers and their concise social compartments—a spoof of spoofs. To fold Manson into such a project is obvious. In the music video, Manson pulls up in a pimped ’61 Lincoln Continental vanity-plated “Goth Thug,” grinning a mouth full of fronts, to crash “not another high school party” with a posse of cable-ready goth-rockers. An extra’s maimed tank top reads ain’t nuthin’ but a goth thing. In his commentary on MTV’s Making the Video, Manson describes the concept as “a sort of vanilla crowd and a darker element coming and ruining the party.” Excessive darkness. Para-noir.
Back then, in high school, before I “knew better,” I was attempting to know something. And what interests me about gaining this kind of knowledge while Black—what I earlier called voyeurism—is that I did not need to pursue it. Because I am colonized, my function is to learn the desires of white men if I am meant to learn anything at all, and so that education comes like sustenance to me, although I cannot, cannot eat it to live.
But also—and maybe I should not write this thing—there’s a strange (although brief and flighty) luxury of being gazed upon, covered in the myth that is the Black: They assume they know me; with the empathy by which they swear, they put their colorlessness beneath a black mask and blink out of it; and in this assumption, while having no historic allegiance to the power of secrecy, what they love and what they hate, what pretends to love but hates them truly, they tell it, tell it to my veil.
Of what any of the Demons had, I wanted nothing but their gall—which would seem misplaced, vestigial, considering that they had in them and between them so much shame. The way that Daniel’s face winked and shined like a boxing glove as he recounted to me how he and his girlfriend fucked atop the felt skin of a pool table, and the sound it made, and the fluid she left on his boxers; or how Shawn would speed his motorbike onto any land, repercussions be damned, because his dad knew some tenant or his grandma used to own a plot or why-the-fuck-not; or how easily, perhaps eagerly, Will drank himself toward dangerous belligerence; or how they made unquiet commerce of the same women; or how they called a boy we knew “the Faggot” as though that were his name, as though his actual name were insufficient, as though his having a name at all were a surprise—all reads like the story of freedom, is not freedom, is not disregard but rather a particular unconsciousness of limitation or of atonement, is skin-to-pit belief in where they stood in some unspoken hierarchy.
They believe it for their lives. Nothing is supposed to happen to them. They do not grow up. They live to replicate the world into which, slick and screaming, they arrived. Even their rebellion is always the legend of reclamation. They are entitled to a place in the world, to a tier or stable footing, to the right to take it back from whatever they imagine would invade and change the landscape; they terrify themselves into themselves. They do not move on. They do not attempt to repair what what they’ve done has done to them; they do not get over. Nothing heals. They aspire to forefatherhood. Nothing grows. They want the end of the world, and then they want kids. They return to core values. They do not grow up. We’ve got no future. What is this impulse, this motion, but death? They turn back. The salt of the earth. They turn like knives in the soil. Some of them would read this and recite, “Not me.” They are different, exceptional. Nothing is supposed to happen to them.
I haven’t spoken to Daniel in several years, although Momma occasionally asks about him and the “Branch Road boys.” From this side of his Facebook page, it looks like he still attends a lot of rock and metal concerts. He got married in a church; they wore their white and black. There’s a child, maybe one on the way. With a link illustrated by a photograph of young Black people jumping on a police car, he’s shared a Change.org petition to “make rioting a political hate crime.”
Someone could speak to Daniel, but that’s none of my business. It’s the spring of 2018. I have tickets to see Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie in July. I have fewer illusions about who’s monstrous. What I’ve loved hasn’t always served me. I’ll see the scatter of other Black people in the crowd and wonder only somewhat about what they’ve laughed off. I have a habit of pretending not to know a thing, but I’m unlearning that. When I permit myself to visit the South, some sensations rise across my body that you wouldn’t believe. Sometimes to be known is tender, abundant hurt. Secret joy. Momma, who feels the need to change her chemistry in order to manage under white supervisors until retirement—she pretends not to know a harm. My tenderest debt. America has happened to her and owes the most.
 With whom in mind Manson is alleged to have written “The Nobodies.”
 Lyrics here are collaged from, in order, the following Marilyn Manson tracks: “The Nobodies,” “I Don’t Like the Drugs (But the Drugs Like Me),” “Para-noir,” “Irresponsible Hate Anthem,” “Great Big White World,” “I Want To Disappear,” “Disposable Teens,” “Snake Eyes and Sissies,” “Slave Only Dreams To Be King” “Killing Strangers,” “The Death Song,” “Mechanical Animals,” and “The Love Song.” Certainly this is a reductive representation of a career spanning ten albums, complicated conceptual conceits, and a revolving door of collaborators, but in the spirit of race, I’m momentarily playing the role of gatekeeper; ergo, an obligatory abridgment and a sacrifice of nuance.