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From Vol. 4, Issue 12, December 2022

Metal concert in the festival of life

Feature || Greg Sadler

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Full metal concert

Recently, I took my oldest child to their first real heavy metal show. We had seen a few classic metal acts previously here in Milwaukee at Summerfest, but this was the full metal concert experience, two bands big during my teenage years in the 1980s, Armored Saint and W.A.S.P. We had our seats way up in the balcony, off on the right side, and far back in the “box”. We got there about halfway between when the doors opened and the start of the show, so we had plenty of time to watch the other concertgoers streaming in, get some bottled water, and chat about these bands, their tour, and all sorts of other matters.

Enjoying the spectacle

You might be wondering at this point: What’s this got to do with Stoicism? Given the hedonistic history of at least one of these bands, the lyrics, the spectacle, the highly emotive music, is this even the sort of event someone studying and practicing Stoicism would even entertain attending? Maybe you went, but remained detached from it all, since not only everything about the concert but also the content of the songs are all indifferents? I bet you folded your arms and sat motionless to set a great example for your college-age kid about how one should deal with these sorts of things, right?

Quite the opposite! I let my long hair down, and me and Cat both headbanged our way through the songs, singing the lyrics like the rest of the crowd, enjoying the spectacle of the performance and the immersion in a collective experience with the audience. You can practice Stoicism and also have a good time. In fact, I’m rather suspicious of people who claim to be Stoics but not only don’t want to enjoy themselves but also look with a jaundiced eye at others’ enjoyment. For a Stoic, these sorts of things are all matters of rationality and proportion.

It’s fine to participate in the festival

Joy is one of the good emotional states (eupatheiai) they recognized, as is familial affection (philostorgia). I would go so far as to say that excitement about seeing bands one has been listening to for decades perform live – in my case – or going to one’s first metal show with majorly important bands – in Cat’s case – is an emotional state that can be not only compatible with or obedient to, but even well-integrated with reason. Perhaps it is for that reason that we see both Seneca and Epictetus telling their interlocutors that when there is a festival on, it is fine for the Stoic to participate in it. It’s just important to recognize it for what it is, not to make it out to be something more, and to realize the ephemerality of the event and its enjoyment.

In the case of these two bands, there is perhaps an additional set of life-lessons to draw and remark upon. The members of Armored Saint are approaching 60, and the bandleader and co-founder of W.A.S.P. will hit 70 in just a few years. Composing songs that pass the test of time and hold up after decades is quite an achievement. Persevering in the labours of touring, bringing joy to fans, playing their hearts out night after night, that’s serious work, and it is done with and through one’s engagement with externals dependent upon the vicissitudes of fortune. It can be inspiring to watch and listen to them still performing well, still delivering on their duties to their fans and audiences.

Just enjoy the festival in whatever way you can

One needn’t read in an awful lot to a metal show, I think. Like so many matters of entertainment, ceremony, or social life, a Stoic doesn’t need them to perfectly align with Stoic virtues, doctrines, practices, or values. Sometimes it is enough to enter into and reasonably enjoy the festival, especially in common with others who share in it with you.

Greg Sadler of ReasonIO is an educator and the editor of Stoicism Today (