If you are at all familiar with the history behind metal — particularly death metal — there’s one name you have heard time and again: Chuck Schuldiner. Lead guitarist, songwriter and vocalist of the band Death, Schuldiner is widely considered a founding father of the death metal genre.
This isn’t about how I met Chuck, who sadly passed away well before I was into metal. I was lucky to meet someone who collaborated with Chuck on the album Human, guitarist Paul Masvidal, influential in his own right.
As chief songwriter, guitarist and occasional vocalist of the band Cynic, Paul was one of the first musicians to take something as abrasive and hostile as traditional death metal and infuse it with the light, improvisational feeling of jazz-fusion. To say Cynic was one of my earliest musical obsessions would be an understatement.
I met Paul at a show in the dead-then-revived Magic Stick. This was just before August started in 2011, right before my senior year in high school. I was with my longtime childhood friend, Jake, who was equally obsessed with Cynic at the time. In that small venue, watching the other bands set up or play, I caught Paul casually chilling off to the side of the venue, chatting with some fans.
The giddy fanboy I am, I strolled right up and gawked there as he nonchalantly continued his conversation. When the other fans left, Paul looked to me, smiled, and asked how I was doing. We proceeded to talk about some really asinine things like his individually toed runner shoes (you know the ones I’m talking about) and about Toy Story 3.
Like I said, some pretty minimal stuff. But it was Paul’s calm smile and genuine interest in us that made me realize that he is not only a talented musician but a genuinely great guy as well. Even cooler, Paul, along with Cynic’s drummer Sean Reinert, came out as openly gay a few years back. While not a first in the metal genre (Rob Halford of Judas Priest was the first big star to openly come out in 1998) that small act pushed the metal community to address some long-standing stereotypes regarding masculinity and to recognize that you don’t have to be a ripped dude-bro to still bang your head.
So thank you Paul. Thanks for being cool with a couple of dorky fanboys, thanks for writing incredible music and thanks for being a solid role model for a marginalized community while also pushing the metal scene to be more open. We’re all the better for it.