Born Again Korn: Guitarist Fieldy Does Book Soup, Plays a Little Bakersfield Country
Last Thursday night, some of the gnarly, tattooed, hard-rock world often associated with the western Sunset Strip invaded the higher-brow literary/intellectual world of Strip oddity Book Soup. Korn bassist Fieldy was there to promote and sign his just-released autobiographical work: Got The Life: My Journey of Addiction, Faith, Recovery and Korn -- and the two worlds actually co-existed quite nicely, the medium-sized Korn crowd politely listening to the rocker/author's brief lectern comments and then patiently, almost church-mouse quietly, inching forward in a line through book-aisles toward the signing counter in back.
Sitting behind the book-signing counter, the bearded, dreadlocked Bakersfield native gave off an aura of intensity, his facial features ever-so-vaguely capturing the feel of a darker John Malkovich. While the prickly sharp edges of the past have seemingly been softened by the personal and religious epiphanies elaborated upon in his book -- by his own admission, he used to act horribly toward fans who approached -- Fieldy strikes even the casual observer as an introspective, somewhat serious guy, perhaps with a visceral dislike for too much excited fawning or repetitive chit chat. Nonetheless, he was amiable enough overall in the face of some nervously enthusiastic fan accolades and genuinely engaged and invested with a select few, who's rap or music world connection seemed to especially connect.
Korn's music -- fairly unique, often melodic post-punk-art-nu-metal with dense, chunky, throbbing rhythms, intermittently shrieking, squealing guitars and shamanic wailing and lyrics -- seems to possess some supernatural Kryptonite-like power over those most exposed to it. For the band's adoring followers, Korn's music seems to promote a feeling of vaguely esoteric youthful rebellion, surgically penetrating self-examination, cathartic expulsion and a quirky armchair nihilism. But as for the band itself, in recent years 40 percent of the original lineup became born again Christian, causing one of those two members -- guitarist Brian "Head" Welch -- to quit the band due to his radical life change and now perceived clash of beliefs. If their songs are an audio-Kryptonite of sorts, the effects of this mysterious force seem to reverse depending upon which side of the amp you're standing.
After years of drugs, drinking, superficial sex with groupies, acting selfishly and abusively to others, including band mates, and general bad (but often fun) behavior -- at first as broke-ass, nothing-to-lose aspiring rocker, later as member of one of the world's most successful nu-metal bands -- the death of his musician father solidified a nagging feeling within Fieldy that he was living a physically and spiritually hollow, corrosive life, the negative consequences of which would be a lot more powerful than the momentary upsides.
Unlike Head, though, Fieldy did not quit the band, nor does he have any intentions of quitting or slowing down his musical output. In fact, in addition to gearing up for a new Korn record and tour, he recently made an album with his side project Stillwell, on which he plays guitar, and is gearing up to make an almost-solo bass record with some jazzy influences.
In the book, Fieldy included personal, direct apology letters to each his band mates. He told me that lead singer singer Jonathan Davis read his and cried. For the book writing process, he called upon old personal letters and journals and phoned up band mates to ask for elaboration of real-life stories that were incomplete in his mind. Despite the overt religious messages -- and even Bible quotes -- in the book, when asked if he thought that he and his book might be taken in by segments of the spiritual/religious community as spokesman and inspirational tomb of some sorts, he replied that as far as he's concerned everyone knows their own answer, which fit with his overall low-key, grounded demeanor. For a guy who's written quite publicly about his dramatic religious awakening and conversion, Fieldy's life seems more peachy than preachy.
The quirkiest moment in the book signing came when an eager guy brought his Fender-syle guitar up to the counter and asked Fieldy to sign it. The author/rocker not only gladly obliged, but pointed out the best places to write on the instrument so that the Sharpie ink would never rub off. After applying some inspirational words and his John Hancock to the quite-psyched dude's ax, Fieldy was asked to take the six string for spin. Huh?, he sort-of demured with a big smile. You want me to play it? C'mon, man, jam out, said the kid infectiously. Play something! So Fieldy took proper hold of the guitar and cranked out a twangy little Bakersfield-style-country dittie. Buck Owens/Merle Haggard stuff is about the furthest thing from Korn's music or any of the band members' personal influences, but for just a moment Fieldy was showing the assembled that even musically, an alt-rock nu-metal guy can occasionally lighten up.