Leah Furman Korn: Life in the Pit

ISBN 13: 9780312253967

Korn: Life in the Pit

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9780312253967: Korn: Life in the Pit
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In the past eight-years, the face of popular culture has changed radically and with it, the music that will define the decade. Gone are the pop saturated songs of the 70's and 80's. Today's sound is a fusion of grunge, hip-hop, metal, hardcore and funk. Disparate sounds that together create something thoroughly modern and unlike anything we've heard before. No band embodies this musical melting pot more than Korn. With their frantic, no-holds-barred image and sound, Korn has jumped musical boundaries to be both Billboard chart toppers and a band with a loyal, obsessive following.

--Their debut album, "Korn" went platinum and has sold millions
--"Life is Peachy" debuted at number three on the Billboard charts
--Korn's latest album, "Follow the Leader" has sold over two million copies and remained on the Billboard charts for over twenty-eight weeks.

Elina Furman's in-depth look at the band's meager beginings to their breakthrough success with "Follow the Leader," their current multi-platinum album is a fan's ultimate guide.

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About the Author:

Leah Furman is the author of numerous biographies. She lives and writes in New York City.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Korn
1here sprout the seeds of diskord"They see me coming through the [grocery] line and think, 'What's this guy do for a living?' Since my checks are out of L.A., they run these triple checks on me. They wonder if I have been to jail," Videodrone frontman Ty Elam once observed, of the home town he shares with the members of Korn. "Bakersfield's a growing metropolis, but there's still that small-town sense at times."Pillars of small-town U.S.A. have always been adamant about keeping out the bad element, but Bakersfield, or B-town, as the natives affectionately refer to it, is no sleepy hollow of a hamlet. With a population fast approaching the 300,000 mark, a roster of schools that numbers in the hundreds, enough local radio stations to keep you fiddling with the tuner for hours on end, and not one blue law in the bunch, the city has every right to the designation of metropolis. But the town's many movie theaters, live-music venues, and watering holes prove only that while you can take the city into the country, you can't take the country out of a city--not out of this one anyway.For all its modern amenities Bakersfield is an agrarian mining community. Located at the nethermost point of California's bounteous San Joaquin Valley, the outskirtsof town are ripe with vineyards, almond blossoms, cotton fields, citrus groves, and dairy cows put out to pasture. Nearly a third of the city's breadwinners make their living off the land. A two-hour drive is all that separates the town from Los Angeles, but coupled with the area's entrenched rusticity, that hundred or so miles is more than enough to infuse B-town inhabitants with a sense of secluded isolation.Comforting at its best, smothering at worst, the town lays claim to two equal and opposite types of denizen. Suffice it to say that for every "born, raised, and proud of it" Bakersfielder, there's one who's equally enamored of the "dying to get out alive" school of thought. Guess which of the two philosophies counted the future men of Korn as adherents?"You can't make anything of yourself in Bakersfield, it's the armpit of the world and I hate it," Jonathan once railed. Another time, he got personal, referring to Bakersfield's narrow-minded townsfolk as "a lot of hicks. Crazy, white-trash people." The rest of the band was of the same opinion. As David explained, "In Bakersfield, there was not much to do. We had only two choices, making music or [going] completely crazy."Still, Jonathan's boyhood plight was considerably more dire than that of his fellow kernels. While Munky, Brain, Fieldy, and David had somehow managed to coalesce into a garage band, and were left with a few fond memories of partying in the city's notorious "dirt-fields," Jonathan stood alone--and, true to David's assessment, went a little crazy in so doing. 
As many Korn fans already know, the band's testosterone-fueled anthems of ear-splitting wrath are inspired by the early life experiences of one Jonathan Davis. The product of a broken home, an asthmatic, a victim of child abuse,and a perennial outsider, Jonathan is the force of darkness that gave the nascent Korn their razor-sharp edge."The normal hell-childhood" is how Jonathan sums up his wonder years. Born of an actress/dancer mother and a musician father on January 18, 1971, he was stripped of the stability afforded most three-year-olds when his parents divorced. Jonathan's mother, it seems, had taken up with a local actor who was portraying Judas in a Bakersfield production of Jesus Christ Superstar. "He was such an asshole to me," Jonathan recalled, "but it still made me cry to watch him hang by his neck." To Jonathan's chagrin, the two married shortly after the Davis divorce had been finalized.Rick Davis, Jonathan's keyboard-player father, was too busy chasing his dream of rock stardom to spend more than the rare three days with his son. "He did fuck me over," said an older and wiser Jonathan, in reference to his dad, "but I can understand why. When he left to go on the road, he needed to put food on the table. He needed to pay hospital bills: I was asthmatic, I was in the hospital every month from the age of three to the age of ten."Still, as Jonathan went on to say, "When you're three years old you don't think about that shit." Shuttled from his stepfather's to his grandparents' to his godparents', he felt abandoned, unwanted and cast aside. Despite the parental neglect, or perhaps as its direct consequence, the apple wanted to be just like the tree. No sooner had his parents split than Jonathan took up the drums--a Christmas present from his grandmother.Flattered by the emulation of his young son, Rick Davis encouraged these efforts, going so far as to let the little tyke play with the grown-ups. "I started playing music when I was three, and I never lost the love of music, ever," Jonathan recalled. "My dad got me into music. He was in a band--a bunch of cover bands--disco, Top 40stuff. I wanted to play drums. By the time I was five, I [had] played a couple of gigs with him--like two or three songs of the set. They'd let me in the bar and I'd get to play."While his father's support of such musical enterprises would soon wane, Jonathan's passion for the art would persevere, seeing him through the bitter years that were still to come. A belief in guardian angels--fostered by his own paranormal encounters with his deceased great-grandmother and great-uncle, and reinforced by the theories of his astrologer aunt--also sustained the future nihilist. He grew up seeing ghosts ("They were like translucent white flashes of energy"), nearly becoming one himself when he was felled by a critical asthma attack at five years of age. "I died when I was a little kid, because I had asthma really bad. My heart stopped, and I didn't see no damn light or hear any music," he groused, " ... maybe it wasn't my time."The threat of physical death, however, would come to seem less ominous after Jonathan was thrown to the lions of grammar school, where he would die a million social deaths before clawing and fighting his way to freedom. From the outset of his schooling, it was apparent that Jonathan was not destined to win any schoolyard popularity contests.Whether his alienation was due to his precarious family situation or to the introverted bent of his own personality, Jonathan found a convenient scapegoat in the form of the admittedly creepy, but decidedly innocuous Fred Rogers, of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood fame. "When I was a little kid, Mr. Rogers is all, 'You've got to be nice and be honest and be a good person.' Being that way as a kid, I got fucking picked on and I was a nerd. I never got anywhere. I always got shit on! So fuck you!"The abuse heaped upon young Jonathan's fragile frameby the local youth was, no doubt, the source of countless hours of loneliness and despair. This all-consuming melancholia was punctuated only by the snippets of time he could spend immersed in the workings of instruments at his father's music store. Walking the aisles and watching as the music teachers gave their lessons, Jonathan was in his element.Spotting an instructor between classes, Jonathan would immediately shift into action mode. "Would you show me how to play?" he'd ask. Not ones to turn down a request from the proprietor's progeny, the teachers would often oblige. "I would learn the basics for each instrument and then would teach myself the rest." In this manner Jonathan had become proficient in a number of instruments, including the piano, upright bass, violin, and the clarinet, by the age of twelve. If life wasn't perfect, it was, at the very least, bearable.Then, as if to show that life would get substantially worse before taking a turn for the better, Mr. Davis remarried. The new woman in Jonathan's life was, in his opinion, the alpha and omega of wicked stepmothers, the type of woman who would yell at the boy just for coming home from school. With her arrival, picking the lesser of two evils--school life or home life--became a toss-up. "I fucking hate that bitch," Jonathan has since said. "She's the most evil, fucked-up person I've met in my whole life. She hated my guts. She did everything she could to make my life hell. Like, when I was sick she'd feed me tea with Tabasco, which is really hot pepper oil. She'd make me drink it by saying, 'You have to burn that cold out, boy.' Fucked-up shit like that."Lying in his bed late at night, Jonathan would fixate on gruesome scenarios--picturing what he'd do if only the tables were turned--which invariably ended in his odious stepmother's drawn-out and painful demise. "In some sickway I had a sexual fantasy about her, and I don't know what that stems from or why, but I always dreamt about fucking her and killing her." 
Long before Jonathan's warped visions of sex and death made Korn a household name, he was already less than two degrees of separation away from his future consorts. Despite its soaring population figure, Bakersfield was a small world where paths never failed to cross. In his days as an itinerant music man, the elder Davis had counted Reggie "Fieldy" Arvizu's dad among his bandmates. The fathers' camaraderie was not, however, to be visited upon their sons until the cruel politics of high school had turned to just so much water under the proverbial bridge. Aside from Fieldy, Jonathan was also acquainted with Brian "Head" Welch. "I knew Brian from junior high," he explained, "but I hadn't met Munky yet."Although Jonathan had yet to meet both James "Munky" Shaffer and David Silveria, the two were well aware of the former's existence. They had both, oddly enough, dated his sister. While Jonathan eked out an existence on the fringes of the Bakersfield social scene, the four boys who would one day welcome him into their exclusive fold were already on close terms and jamming en masse.Steeped in the tradition of Nashville and dubbed "Nashville West" in the 1960s, Bakersfield has had a country flavor ever since it gave rise to two of country music's most beloved figures. Back in the day, and even through the 1980s, Buck Owens and Merle Haggard had recorded simple, honest music for the salt-of-the-earth folk who tilled the soil from dawn to dusk, and wanted little more than a ditty to which they could have themselves a hoedown and skip to the loo come sundown. Itwas not a style that appealed to most Bakersfield teens, Munky, Brian, Fieldy, and Dave included.In their neck of the San Joaquin, the kids wanted to groove with the latest Monsters of Rock. Heavy metal, workingman's music--that there was the thing. Anything resembling AOR or bearing the progressives' seal of approval was suspect in the land of the Korn. As the line of demarcation separating the real men from the circle-jerk instigators, rock 'n' roll was not to be trifled with.The burgeoning musicians who were to become Korn couldn't quite reconcile themselves to this black-and-white vision of music, but understood the life-and-death import of keeping up appearances. "I listened to AC/DC, Mötley Crüe, and shit like that," recounted Brian, "but I liked everything. I'd watch MTV and want to learn a Tom Petty solo or a Cars riff. All those videos my friends hated, I'd dig, 'cause I wanted to do the solos. I never bought the record because I'd get laughed at, but I'd learn the solos."Brian had begun on his path to musical glory by following in Tommy Lee's footsteps. His infatuation with the drum kit, much like that of Jonathan, would not withstand the test of time--thanks mostly to Mr. Welch's words of wisdom. Seeing his ten-year-old son's growing love for the drums, the elder Welch shook his head in parental concern. "Well, you can play drums, but would you rather haul around a huge-ass drum set or a guitar and an amp?" he reasoned with the lad. "Why don't you try the guitar and see if you like it?"As chance would have it, Brian was already gaining an appreciation for guitar. He'd been listening to Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust" and getting off on the powerful chord arrangements. His father didn't have to ask twice. Within a month, Brian was playing the guitar and loving every flat-picking minute of it.In a few years' time, Brian would gladly part company with his inaugural guitar, making a black-marketer's profit on the gullibility of aspiring axman, and first-class pigeon, James "Munky" Shaffer. "Actually, he sold me my first guitar--and he ripped me off! It was a Peavey Mystic, which looked like a big tooth," recalled Munky. "He sold it to me for three hundred dollars."Knowing nothing about guitars or the fair-market values thereof, Munky thought he'd scored a bargain. Truth was, his main interest in the instrument lay in its restorative properties. A few months prior, he'd been told of an after-hours party, and naturally made it his mission to attend. But, being only fourteen at the time, getting from point home to point kegger took some doing. Under the cover of night, Munky mounted his rickety old three-wheeler bicycle and prepared to ride like the wind. Alas, just as he was about to slip out undetected, he heard the rat-tat-tat of a bike chain slipping off its sprocket. Shit.To silence the infernal racket, bound to alert his parents and foil his plans for the evening, Munky acted on instinct. Without stopping to think, he clamped his left hand down on the chain."Aaarrrggghhh!" Next thing he knew, he was howling in pain. In his race for fun and adventure, Munky had lost the use of a crucial appendage--his finger. Caught between the chain and the teeth of the sprocket, his left index finger was a severed, mangled mess.After being driven to the emergency room and undergoing a series of shots, stitches, and bandages, Munky, along with his perplexed parents, conferred with the physician. The prognosis was promising: The boy would be okay with the aid of painkillers and a little musical therapy. According to the M.D. on duty, the sensation in the injured digit would return faster if Munky took up an instrument for physical therapy.Taking the prescription to heart, Munky waited only for the bandages to come off before going in search of a good deal on a used piece of equipment. The pursuit led him straight to Brian's locker. There, the high-school freshmen talked shop, with Head extolling the virtues of his Peavey Mystic, trying to fleece the novice for all he was worth. Years later, Brian is still gloating over the victory. "I played it for a few years and then I made my money back, and then some, on Munky."Just as Brian's double-cross didn't escalate into any crisis of conscience, it didn't cause any bad blood between him and Munky, either. On the contrary, the latter quickly took to the guitar, becoming one of Brian's closest friends and his most arch of rivals. Soon Munky had even hatched a scheme to recoup some of the funds he'd lost on that Peavey Mystic. "Brian pretty much inspired me to start playing. I used to go over to his house and eat his mom and dad's food so I could save my lunch money and then buy an amp."With some help from his new pal and his generous parents, Munky was well on his way to mastering the guitar. In time, it was Brian who was coming over to Munky's and getting blown away by his progress. Rushing home to brush up on his licks, he'd wait for his opportunity to turn the tables and impress Munky. "It wasn't competition," explained Brian, "but he'd see me as I was getting good and that would pump him up; then I'd see him a month later and he'd pump me up. We m...

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