Thursday, February 23, 2012

The neurosis of metal nerds (part 1 of 2)

Metalheads are simply an individual species of nerd. A nerd, most simply defined, is just a person with an intense fixation on a particular aspect of culture. Being a nerd isn't a bad thing in and of itself; it just means that you are more distinctly interested in something than a casual fan is. There's all kinds of nerds out there, with obsessions ranging from model trains to Star Trek and everything in between, and the vast majority of them are perfectly cool people who don't let their nerdy fixation overwhelm who they are as an individual. Unfortunately, there's a minority of bad nerds out there who ruin things for everyone due to their own personal hang-ups and arrested development. Since most nerds discover their particular passion in their teen years, they tend to form a fairly close emotional attachment to it that sticks with them throughout their lives, either through active participation in their hobby or through simple nostalgia should they hang it up. The negative side of this, though, is that those who don't quite make it out of high school unscathed end up using their hobby as some sort of metaphorical diary for their own misery, putting all their frustrations into it and fixating on it as a lone venue of control in an otherwise uncontrollable and unsatisfying life.

Most metalheads tend to be the good nerds, but there's plenty of bad ones out there who make heavy metal obnoxious for the rest of us and unappealing to most of the world. The bad metalhead is the one who ends up forming their identity around heavy metal, becoming overly protective and defensive about it due to an overgrown sense of their role in the metal scene. They obsessively bar outsiders from entry unless they go through some sort of hazing process, denigrate other genres of music reflexively, and desperately espouse the supremacy of their personal fixation at the cost of others. A lot of metalheads go through a phase of this (and I'm no exception) that usually leaves them when they gain a bit more perspective, but others become stuck in it, relating to the world through heavy metal alone and becoming progressively more obnoxious and vehement as the years wear on and frustration steadily mounts due to being perpetually 15 years old mentally. Do you know the grotesquely obese guys who play Magic: The Gathering primarily to mock new players and assert their own superiority? Well, the bad metalheads are those guys, just in a different form.

Bad nerds tend to arise from a lack of personal identity. The human brain is pretty good at protecting itself from uncomfortable criticism, so it tends to rearrange one's perceptions in a way that are more favorable to the individual. These particular odious metalheads, devoid of any accomplishments or personal qualities to define themselves by, desperately search for an external thing to define themselves by, confusing an interest in a particular subject as the equivalent to a real identity. Heavy metal is a great option for these types: it's big, complicated, has a ton of classification and compartmentalization, and most importantly, has a community built around it. The community's important because it's a social group with different standards than a more mainstream social group, who are more tolerant of social awkwardness and obnoxious behavior, and (like most nerd social groups) are much more resistant to ostracizing a member than well-adjusted people in everyday society are. Bad nerds flock to communities like this; having failed amongst their more well-adjusted peers, the lower bar set for decorum and a premium placed on general knowledge rather than the more ephemeral aspects of social interaction form a more comfortable environment.

Of course, the bad metalheads don't stop at seeing themselves as defined solely by their taste in music: that fixation becomes a worldview which gets projected on everyone else as well. The same thing happens in most intense musical subcultures: out of resentful narcissism (almost always there to mask self-loathing,) the bad nerd begins to promote his personal genre as being the greatest in music, requiring the greatest compositional skill, presenting the most high-minded of concepts, and featuring an audience of only the most discerning and intelligent listeners. Metal has a bonus of featuring a history of minor moral panic (which most of the nerds weren't even alive for) and misperception by the public which allows the nerd to soak up the delicious juices of manufactured victimhood and oppression. Suddenly, it all becomes clear: metal is the style of music for intelligent and strong people who are mocked and disregarded by the public out of stupidity and fear. Metal is a genre by and for the elite who perceive life as it REALLY is, devoid of the fictions and irrational notions of the herd. Metal is for geniuses, warriors, philosophers, and heroes, and by listening to it, I am all those things!

~

The best way to identify a bad nerd isn't by looking at what they love, but what they hate, which is usually the sort of thing which reminds them of their "oppressors": the likeable, socially capable, popular people who ostracized them in the past and began the cycle of self-loathing they were never able to escape. A great example of this is among people who play video games or tabletop games: if you want to immediately pick out a loathsome gamer, all you have to do is ask their opinion on the Call of Duty series. Some will enjoy it, some won't, but the bad nerds are the ones who venomously decry it as a horrible mockery of the fine art of video games. The more vociferous the reaction, the worse they are, but you're looking for one key element in particular which removes all doubt: whether or not they direct particular anger towards the people who DO play and enjoy the games. If they begin to express a torrent of irrational hatred for the series' fans, you've struck gold and have found the very definition of the bad nerd.

Why is this? Well, for those of you who don't play video games (which probably isn't a whole lot these days,) it's because the Call of Duty series is currently the most popular video game series in the world. More importantly than that, playing Call of Duty is seen as a perfectly normal activity; while playing an obscure Japanese RPG will undoubtedly raise some eyebrows from non-gamers, enjoying a few rounds of Call of Duty with friends is common for just about every young male in the country. Most importantly of all, and the linchpin of this particular breed of nerd's anger, though, is this: Call of Duty is not seen as "nerdy," and has a following among mainstream social groups who don't typically get engrossed in video games. Call of Duty is played by jocks and frat boys who wouldn't be caught dead with a copy of Eternal Sonata, and even though they're both video games, the jocks and frat boys blowing each other away with MP5s on Xbox Live would STILL laugh at the nerd despite the general resemblance in activity. The people who ostracized the nerd and humiliated him have now followed him into what he thought was a protected community and are slowly but surely changing its social standards to match those of the mainstream world. The nerd is left feeling enraged, confused, and powerless- just like he was in high school.

Feeling some annoyance at sudden interlopers in one's community is understandable to a degree, particularly if they're attempting to impose their own cultural values on a community that already has its own standards, but was distinguishes a good or bad nerd is in their response. The good nerd will roll their eyes, mock it a bit, and then just ignore it, understanding that in all likelihood it's not a genuine threat. The bad nerd, however, goes from zero to sixty without pausing for breath; it becomes a matter of life and death rather than annoyance, because for him, it IS a matter of life or death. If the interlopers succeed in changing the culture, the nerd will have to adapt or be ostracized yet again and have to find another community which will accept him. Because of this, the nerd isn't really just fighting to preserve a community he loves: he's fighting to preserve himself, terrified by the idea of losing the identity he's spent so much time and effort in creating. This is the source of the really crazy, overblown stuff you see from any kind of nerd who has a complete breakdown: they literally can't handle the idea of change, as they were unable to handle it before.

Bad metalheads work the same way: when they feel threatened, they freak out, and much like gamers, freak out a little bit extra due to the infatuation with victimhood they've embraced. The most obvious place that this can be seen is in the absurdly overblown hatred they have for whatever pseudo-metal genre happens to be popular at the moment. There was glam, grunge, nu-metal, metalcore, deathcore, and probably something else coming around the bend right now. It's readily apparent that the nearly psychotic rage many expressed towards these ultimately harmless offshoots is hardly indicative of a well-adjusted personality. Not only are these displays dumb, embarrassing, and incredibly inappropriate, but they have the side effect of making metalheads appear to be either crazy or mentally retarded. How heavy metal is perceived by the public at large should hardly be a substantial cause for concern by the scene, but if those bizarre outliers (who rarely contribute in a real way to the community anyway) could be ejected from the scene simply so others don't have to be afflicted with their presence, the added bonus of appearing less like petty men-children can be safely considered a net plus.

~

It's interesting to take a look at some of the metal artists out there who provoke the most ire and the syntax used to complain about them. There's no such thing as a synonym, really; there's a specific reason behind the words that we use to express ideas, whether conscious or not, and looking at the phrasing of statements can often elucidate their meaning better than the content of the statement itself. Take, for instance, Pantera, a metal band that's widely listened to by casual metal fans who often don't consider themselves "metalheads"- what sort of complaints to we typically see leveled at them? From my experience, it tends to involve phrases like "redneck music," "tough guy," "meatheaded," "jock metal," or references to Phil Anselmo's profanity-filled lyrical style and sometimes aggressive or offensive attitude in interviews or onstage. In fact, Phil Anselmo in particular is the target of the most ire of any member of the band, oftentimes treated like an idiot or someone who's not a genuine metalhead. But Phil's proven himself very intelligent in interviews, and his discography outside of Pantera, while spotty in quality, features black and death metal records made without receiving nearly the attention of Pantera. So what's the real issue?

Peel back the layers on the weird, personal-sounding criticisms of Phil and Pantera and you'll find a pretty simple core to a lot of them: the words used to describe them are the same used by outcast teenagers simmering with resentment towards "those asshole jocks" who make fun of them for being socially awkward. Phil has a shaved head, a gruff, hardcore-style vocal presence, and writes lyrics that express simple, straightforward, blue collar aggression without the Satanic metaphors, established symbolism, or intense hyperbole that defines a lot of metal lyricism. The band's aesthetic is that of hard-drinking, hard-fighting, hard-living Southern outlaws, and their music is immediately comparable to an intensified and stripped down version of stuff like Van Halen- all elements which are more immediately appreciable to a mainstream audience than the more overwrought elements of most extreme metal. This isn't at all to say that disliking Pantera is an inherent sign of social failure and insecurity, but citing social or aesthetic reasons which on inspection have almost nothing to do with the music itself certainly is. If you're angry at a band for social reasons, it's time for self-examination: more often than not, it's because you're afraid or resentful of the fans for reasons that have nothing to do with the music.

Ironically, given metal's overall aesthetic and thematic nature, a lot of the shots taken at bands like Pantera or styles like nu metal tend to run along the lines of them being "tough guy music," "thuggish," or "blunt"- the words used are those which suggest an intense, straightforward display of masculine aggression. A great deal of metal involves a hypertrophied display of stereotypical masculinity, with stories about war, honor, violence, and extremity taking up a large chunk of common lyrical themes. The difference between this and the way bands like Pantera express intensely masculine themes is that most metal bands convey them in an intensely exaggerated fashion: war is catastrophic and inescapable, violence is unbelievably brutal and elaborate, and distaste for Christianity takes the form of church burning and literal Satan worship. Pantera and other "tough guy" bands, on the other hand, express these masculine themes in an immediate and real fashion: instead of threatening torture and murder, they just offer the ass-kicking of a lifetime. For the insecure nerd, this is much more immediately threatening than the obvious fantasy of most lyrics: the members of Pantera most likely could beat the living shit out of the average metalhead (myself absolutely included,) and the fact that they indirectly laugh off the inherent absurdism of metal's aesthetic tropes means that they aren't afraid of the nerd's protective symbols. Angry nerds love to study martial arts, convinced that the elegance and skill needed for the form will allow them to overcome a much more physically imposing opponent, when in reality, their first attempt to use their Jiu-Jitsu techniques on one of their football player tormentors more often than not will result in them being face-down on the pavement within seconds.

In short, these bands and styles of metal (or metal-influenced music) tend to capitalize off the intensity and aggression expressed by metal, but couch it in terms more immediately applicable to the average individual. The neurotic metal nerd needs these tropes and stylistic ideas to direct his aggression, but he also needs them to be couched in fantasy to make him feel safe. The "jock" interlopers threaten and taunt him with a confident and practiced masculinity which reminds him of the social groups he was unable to be a part of and the qualities he was unable to embody. He cries and gnashes his teeth at these bands and styles and their constituent audience because they're often the authentic realization of the fiction he's built for himself. The normal, well-adjusted metalhead sees the drama of extreme metal for what it is: a fantastic interpretation of real thoughts and feelings which, divorced from a true persona with a genuine force of will, is completely meaningless. The nerd, though, thinks that he's granted that persona and will through the music itself, and is time and time again denied the satisfaction of realizing his fantasies whenever they're confronted by reality.

Occasionally, they believe too greatly in their fiction, and this happens.

~

Part 2 coming soon.

39 comments:

  1. "Nerd" (and "geek") has become some chic marketing myth bullshit. More than ever, the term is meaningless.

    "... but citing social or aesthetic reasons which on inspection have almost nothing to do with the music itself certainly is."

    This is sorta bullshit. People do the same with nazi bands, or far-left bands, or far-right bands--and, to contrast your example, some people brush off any music that's too "nerdy" or swords & sorcery oriented.

    This is because metal is an evolution of rock music, which more than any popular genre before it, props up aesthetic as an equal player alongside composition. Is the average atheist gonna hate on Coltrane's music because of his spirituality? Probably not. Might the average atheist avoid a band like Trouble because the riffs, as good as they are, DIRECTLY spearhead the shitty Christian lyrics? I've met a few. (Religion isn't the point, but bear with me here.)

    Maybe you can see the "inner beauty" of rock music with idiotic lyrics, but I don't think most people ("nerds" or otherwise) are wired that way. This is some pretty basic in-group/out-group shit that doesn't have anything to do with nerds in particular.

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    1. To simplify:
      The average "meathead jock" (as meaningless as a stereotype as "nerd", but whatever) would hear The Smiths and go "haha, what is this gay whiny shit?"

      And...? What does that say about him? Nothing. It's just another person shrugging off something that doesn't jive with his way of thinking, just like lolnerds say Pantera is meatheaded shit.

      Both of these groups are entitled to do so because rock is simple, lyrically-oriented music. I think it says very little about their character either way.

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    2. "nerd" and "jock" are meaningless terms, but you sure know what they mean when someone says them, don't you. come on, you're just being deliberately obtuse now. there's a giant difference between simply thinking something's dumb and a pathological resentment for it; that's even expressed in the article multiple times. if you don't think there's something incredibly weird going on when someone exhibits an obsession with the social position they think a style of music represents, i don't really know what to tell you.

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  2. btw you're also doing a lot of fancy footwork around the fact that people really involved in a subculture tend to be way, way more socially awkward and less functional than people who aren't.

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  3. Obsession of any kind of social obsession is weird, I would agree! You're moving goalposts

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  4. *social position :V

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  5. lol, okay, so what's the right goalpost then? enlighten me and i'll help you out.

    btw why don't you just register a goddamn account, you comment like 5 times a day.

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    1. "lol, okay, so what's the right goalpost then? enlighten me and i'll help you out."

      Well, I'm saying it's more about rock music being really literal and identity-oriented than anything.

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    2. this depends on whether you consider metal to be a proper subgenre of rock music or not. i think that even if it taxonomically is, it's disengaged way too much culturally from the main body of rock music to be judged by the same standard. there's a whole host of weird social and cultural features surrounding metal and it's subgenres, and it's way too distinct and has too much established history and symbolism to it to be judged the same way. like rock music, metal has a weird relationship with identity being crucial yet completely unimportant at the same time (supposedly,) but metal has a really intense preoccupation with the idea of people invading it and corrupting it from within that even the most overzealous rock types don't exhibit.

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  6. Speaking of fancy footwork, I feel like past all the pseudo-sociological haughtiness, your point boils down to "it's uncool to have strong opinions and to be passionate. Don't."'

    It comes off like one of those people who lost 600 pounds (since you've obviously jumped from "metalhead" to "fair-weather metal-knowledgeable hipster" in terms of subcultural identity), and now they suddenly really fuckin' hate fat people.

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    1. i wrote a 12,000 word review about how a japanese goregrind album changed my life. you sure about that?

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    2. dude, i'm just saying, you can think that i'm pretentious as fuck and back that up pretty well, but trying to claim that i'm some really half-assed metalhead is pretty close to impossible with the sheer body of writing i've done and the record label i ran for a couple years. i've done way, way too much work for pure posturing to be a realistic hypothesis for what i say.

      anyway i gotta go to the gym so i'll be back later.

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    3. I'm not trying to prove squat about you, I liked the nu-metal post because there was nothing pretentious about it, but this one is sorta a crock IMO, no offense

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    4. lol, didn't you specifically accuse me of being pretentious because i got all bonerfied for nu-metal but trashed deathspell omega? fill me in here

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  7. I know these people and how they act so yeah, this is basically true. These guys would literally ruin anything for anyone so they could appear right. Since we're making links with gaming, i had a guy like this in a D&D group i DMed a few years ago, absolute fuckhead who flipped his shit when I let someone else who didn't conform to his ideals about who should apparently play dungeons and dragons. Constantly belittled the new player when he didn't know the rules and actually sabotaged his character sheets. He finally took it up with me and genuinely began frothing with rage about how i'd defiled d&d by letting "someone like that" come in and ruin the ggame (which ironically was all his fault anyway) Different context, same person, really.

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  8. When I was 15, I went to an Overkill show with my brother. My brother's interest in metal is basically only the Big 4, Iron Maiden, and Pantera. He was wearing a Pantera shirt, and some fat middle aged metalhead complimented him on having an old school shirt, and I was furious because the only reason my brother knew about Overkill was because of my vasty superior knowledge of metal. Mentioning this because it seems like it's basically the same thing with your jocks playing COD situation-Metal was my way of escaping from my actual life, and I was worried that somebody, in this case my brother, was encroaching on my territory. Grew out of that attitude luckily.

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  9. Hey Noktorn, don't you think it would be a good idea to check your email? Or check your thread on the trading board at metal-archives?

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    1. lol besides writing like an edgy 17 year old, he's a ripoff too?

      I feel for ya man, try to spot fakes before doing business from now on.

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    2. I've been trading with Noktorn for four years and bought from his store countless times, he has a good reputation in the trading community. Silly little heckler, you sure spend an awful lot of time saying something retarded about every individual post. Are you a Drudkh fan? DSO fan? You're clearly butthurt over something.

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    3. And you have a good reputation in the "sucking noktorn's dick" community

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  10. Why don't you stop writing on your shitty blog to your retarded basement dwelling fanbase, and actually refund the money or send the albums from your "collection" to the people you scammed. Face the people you stole from you piece of shit.

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    1. http://www.metal-archives.com/board/viewtopic.php?f=6&p=2034416#p2034416

      Be silenced, ye whiny, impatient cunt.

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    2. i have an odd feeling that the situation actually getting resolved isn't going to make mr. anon like me any more than he already did

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  11. I'm afraid the fact it occurred to you to write such an article easily makes you the biggest metal-nerd I've ever encountered.

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    1. this is becoming an obsession...

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    2. lol the guy obviously has a huge hate-boner for this blog

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    3. This is a different guy. I should know, because I'm the other guy.

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    4. The point still stands. Only an utter neurotic would write something like this.

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  12. Pretty lengthy write-up. Not bad at all. I tend to shy away from pure black and white, good and bad style morality checks though personally. I think life is more complicated than that, and often find myself nitpicking in between the lines since I myself am often not included but often cast into one side or the other regardless of how accurate that assessment may be.


    I don't hate CoD, just don't like how its changed for what I view as the worst, and thus I decry its success and popularity. But then again I've been gaming since the Commodore & Atari. I don't bash what people like but I'd attest that to my parents and upbringing for which I am thankful. I don't insult others tastes, nor do I try to force any agenda or bring people into the metal fold. Its something they must discover and enjoy of their own accord which makes it all the more sweeter.

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  13. part 2's right around the corner, right? i can basically abridge this for anyone who doesn't have time to read it all:

    i havent grown out of angry teen music. other people have. waah.

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  14. Interesting article. I think the 'good nerd' versus 'bad nerd' qualifying leaves a lot to be desired and a question is begged as well. I think most people who exhibit the behaviour in question show 'good nerd' and 'bad nerd' tendencies, all at the same time, and what you identify as good (or at least passively benign) about them is fuelled by the psychodynamics of what you describe as bad. I mean, it's not easy to say 'this is how you should be a good nerd'. There is no ideal introvert with obsessions. What you seem to be describing (via antithesis, I mean, you're describing them by describing their opposite) is a social introvert with obsessive interests that is nonetheless very polite and not intrusive and not extremist. I do not think this is a brave position because that thing you're describing is a contradiction in terms, it doesn't exist.

    I think you're trying to make some headway in categorizing behaviours and identifying social patterns you've noticed in other people and yourself and that's always a noble thing to do. But I also think you need to dig deeper and to let the morality of it out - for now. Why are people - why are you - drawn to extremes? Why do small things seem big? What does it matter to categorize and classify? There are surely answers, and they do not have to do - just - with jocks.

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  15. I'd could totally take Pantera...

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  16. Nerds are people who spend their fucking whole day playing videogames also they think they're some kind of superhero with superpowers or whatever is, please don't mix being nerd with metalheads, you just want to make an excuse for your nerdy life.

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  17. I'm in a frat and I think the tough guy vocals in Pantera is stupid.

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  18. Thanks for explaining, man !!
    Btw, you either love metal, or you don't.
    Why give a fuck about other peoples opinions ? You are barfing up a whole lot of words, when in fact you are just dividing your metal world into posers vs non-posers,
    and again, who fucking cares... Grow up man !

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  19. Some valid points you have here, I have seen many examples of this in real life. Me and most people I know are a bit outside of your two simple categories while simultaneously occupying bits of both spaces, if that makes any sense. The extreme, and pathetic examples are always there and that is honestly a source of massive entertainment for me and some friends, even across states. There are some seriously insecure fucks out there and it's all on Facebook to see. Most people fall in some vague grey area, say myself as I like CoD online, Necrophagia, lifting weights, but honestly hate Pantera (because they are boring and suck) and the droves of people I'd label "hipster metalers" or whatever. Not by feeling threatened but more by an ingrained jock/bully mentality. People are a bit more complex than you make out to be but you have made a good start and I have so far enjoyed all of your writing.

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  20. pretty sure this guy offed himself a few years ago.

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  21. Is this guy still alive? If so, why hasn't he written anything in years?

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