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Notes From The Flip Side: 05.31.2004

"Have the fearless attitude of a hero and the loving heart of a child."

Soyen Shaku

Morning Meditations.

The dog woke me up early this morning; he usually wakes me up around 5 or 5:30 a.m. When I came back inside after walking him, I read Sun Tzu, Yamamoto Tsunetomo and Miyamoto Musashi. I read Zen koans in the cool grey pre-dawn light.

My life lately has been challenging. I've been pulled away from my center and, as a result, things have become somewhat difficult. And when one loses their balance, one is more likely to stumble ... and subsequently fall. Since I've had enough scraped knees and bruised hands for a while, this is one way that I'm steadying myself.

Dark Days.

For days, I've been feeling set upon by evil forces from all sides. The skies have been ugly and overcast. The political climate is humid and stifling, oppressive and murky. It's almost 10 p.m. as I write this and I'm sweating from the temperature. This year started long and doesn't show any signs of hurrying along. Instead, it lolls like some swollen, slothful beast, rolling about, indolent and rapacious.

And what do I have but a katana, one man to stand against it all? Tsunetomo noted that it is only through mastery of the body and willfully overcoming pain that victory can be achieved. In short, I can rest later. This is a time for steel.

Understanding Power Relations.

A friend of mine is in grad school; he's been joking that a requirement of finishing a dissertation is having at least one Foucault citation. I have fuck all use for Foucault and lumped him in with the rest of the unintelligible pomo bullshit (cf. Baudrillard, Derrida, Lyotard, Barthes, et. al.) that professors subjected me to while I was in college. However, while at this friend's desk the other day, I flipped through an anthology of Foucault's writings; as I've been doing lately, I let the book fall open where it wanted to and began reading Foucault's commentary on prisons.

For the most part, I could care less about Foucault's comments regarding observation. However, when combined with an email that Eric sent out recently about some well-known social observation experiments, it made me think about the recent events at Abu Ghraib prison. If you really want to understand what occurred, examine the two links which follow for some degree of clarification.

The Perils Of Obedience - Stanley Milgram
The Stanford Prison Experiment - Philip G. Zimbardo

I don't know about you, but I don't feel much better. And for those of you who are still wondering why they (whoever they are) hate us, look at the footage and photos from Abu Ghraib and ask yourselves that question again. If any country invaded the United States, imprisoned hundreds of people and treated them like that, can you imagine how we'd react? I don't have a clear answer for that, but it wouldn't be pretty and I think it would make what we've seen to date look like amateur night.

Whither America?

For a good while now, as I noted in the last update, it seems that two Americas have co-existed. Honestly, I don't feel like I fit in either. I feel as though I've been marginalized in my country, that my voice has been silenced and that - regardless of how loud I shout - that I will never be heard again. I hope I'm the only one who feels like this ... but I suspect, based on the number of people who don't vote, that I'm not.

A cursory review of history reveals that people tend to consolidate power; those who do so with benevolence and kind-heartedness may be loved. Those who do so for their own benefit are hated. While they may also be feared, more than anything else they are hated. Another lesson we may learn from history is that such leaders are invariably deposed, regardless of how long that process may take or how much blood is shed.

Soul Rebel Sounds

Playing a Clash song on the radio almost seems boring - until it's taken in the context of the utter absence of anything more challenging than Korn, Linkin Park or Limp Bizkit. I grew up with alternative radio and was used to hearing what I came to consider mainstream music - songs by bands like The Clash and the Ramones. It wasn't until I moved here that I realized how truly radical a statement it is to play something as well-known as "I'm So Bored With The U.S.A." or anything from the first four Ramones records. It wasn't until I got a call from a cabbie who was happy to be hearing the Ramones without having to request them that I realized what a song of that nature means in a place like this.

And it's really pretty simple.

Flying the leather jacket here means a lot more than it does in a major city because there are people here who consider that an affront to their Grand Funk fandom, who consider that an attack on their sensibilities, who identify even the most commonplace punk signifiers as threats, particularly when it's someone my age (I can only wonder what the regulars at the sports bar thought of Altaira and The Dukes Of Hillsborough when they had a few pitchers there not too long ago).

Radical culture here is listening to yo-metal and adopting the style - the soul patches, the piercings ... all the attendant bullshit. Punk culture consists of Hot Topic; there seems to be little understanding of punk as a phenomenon beyond Yellowcard. And in such an environment, in a town where Bush / Cheney 2004 bumper stickers outnumber library books by a 2 to 1 margin, is it really so difficult to believe that playing The Clash is a radical act which is as critical of existing power structures as throwing a brick through a Starbucks window in Seattle?

I noted in the comments above that I feel disenfranchised from a process which seeks to exclude my voice; it occurs to me that with three chords and something to say, my voice may yet be amplified. When combined with a transmitter and a 10-mile broadcast radius, it occurs to me that even my record collection is a weapon.

When You Start From Nothing, Anything Is Something.

Appreciate the scene you have. Nurture it and do your damnedest to sustain it. It's been almost two months since I purchased a record; I'm trying not to do so until I can buy it from an independent store, preferably one in town. There are few signs of one opening any time soon. In the meantime, I keep a list of recent releases. I make notes of albums I need to order. And I wait until I can either walk into a store and put my money on the counter ... or I really have no choice other than driving to Chicago.

Creating a scene requires acting locally. And soon, I'll begin posting articles about how to facilitate a scene wherever you are - regardless of how much of a pain in the ass it may be.

Wait ... Even A Record Collection Is A Weapon?

Yes. Even a record collection can be a weapon if used in the right ways. If this update seems focused on the code of the warrior, on right action and on steel, it is with good reason. A key thought in Akira Kurosawa's "Sanjuro" is that sharp swords stay sheathed; if they don't, they quickly become dull. However, it is also necessary to note that someone who never draws their sword will also become dull and rusty with disuse.

There's A Thousand Things I Want To Say To You.

Today, even The Jam sounds like the blues; even "The Modern World" sounds more jaded than jubilant, more resigned than resistant. I'm tired of all the bitter, pinched faces that I see around me; I'm tired of these hunched and beaten people, of their millions of frustrations and defeats manifesting themselves in smiling, fanged masks of polite aggression. There is no joy here, only mindless consumption and fluourescent lights under which people plan out the meager remnants of their lives in acquisitions, time shares and boats.

These days are evil, dark things made of bone and decayed sinews, hidden from light and filled with unfocused vengeance for vague feelings of being wronged.

And, as such, these days require steel hammered paper thin and folded over itself until it is virtually unbreakable and so sharp that it cuts without causing pain. The daily defeats we endure are causing us to slowly lose a war that we don't even seem to acknowledge that we're fighting, a war that we will only know we were in when we begin to tally our losses and regrets and find them to be far more substantial than we ever feared. It is a war which cannot be named; we only know that the enemy exists and that it is as much our nature and impulses as it is external forces which are brought to bear on us like artillery.

And someday, we will realize these things; we will come to know that we have but one battle left and we must either win it or perish in the attempt because the alternative is simply too terrible to contemplate and I, for one, would sooner fall on my sword than acknowledge defeat. There are times when last gestures of defiance are the only form of resistance left, but better one last gesture of negation than subjugation.

And what all of this is boiling down to is whether you accept control of your own life; whether you choose agency or cede authority to someone - anyone - who claims to know what you need better than you do.

Without struggles such as these, the battles that shape and define our lives, we would never know who we truly are. And if I should lose my battles, I will go to my grave knowing that I have no regrets. I will sleep the sleep of the just, knowing that every last drop of blood that I shed in my quest for actualization and liberation was worth it.

Off The Top Of My Head ...

  1. I'm still enthralled with A Softer World. Philosophical, existential, challenging, funny ... it's simply great.
  2. Have you gotten your war on yet? David Rees is fucking brilliant. It's better than Pee-Chee folders talking shit about high school administrators.
  3. Chopping Block is one of the most grisly, macabre and hysterically funny comics I've ever read. Edward Gorey, eat your heart out. Preferably with utensils and a nice cream sauce.

Now Playing:

Three. At The Gates. The Haunted. Ryan Adams. The Explosion. face to face. Strike Anywhere. The Weakerthans. In Flames. Refused. Dntel. The Postal Service.

Now Watching:

"The Triplets Of Belleville," "The Hidden Fortress"

Just Finished:

Richard Matheson, "I Am Legend"; Yamamoto Tsunetomo, "Hagakure: The Book Of The Samurai"; Sun Tzu, "The Art Of War"; Paul Reps, "Zen Flesh, Zen Bones"; Inazo Nitobe, "Bushido: The Soul Of Japan"

Now Reading:

Paul Avrich, "Anarchist Portraits"; Bertrand Russell, "Why I Am Not A Christian"; Umberto Eco, "Island Of The Day Before"; Alan Lomax, "The Land Where The Blues Began"; Peter Guralnick, "Lost Highway" and "Sweet Soul Music"; Thomas Wolfe, "You Can't Go Home Again"; Steven Heller, "Graphic Design History" (edited with Georgette Ballance); Gunnar Swanson, ed., "Graphic Design And Reading"; Daniel Guerin, "No Gods No Masters"

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Last modified on Wednesday, March 26, 2008