Notes From The Flip Side: 09.07.2003
"Do American faces so often look so lost because they are most tragically trapped between a very real dread of coming alive to something more than merely existing, and an equal dread of going down to the grave without having done more than be merely comfortable?"
What We Talk About When We Talk About Punk.
Lately, I'm struck by how many people are concerned about punk, about the scene, about the culture, about incursions and border skirmishes by popular music.
I can certainly understand why - most of us think of punk as belonging to us. If we didn't, if we weren't so closely connected to it and didn't feel it so much, I don't think we'd be nearly as protective of it and wary of people we don't know. And, honestly, I have to say that such a reaction is natural - after all, most of us wound up here because we didn't fit in anywhere and something in this music of alienation let us know that we were not alone in these feelings, that a community of like-minded people existed and that we might share some sort of connection with others who also found a home in these songs.
Yet I think we overlook the obvious here - punk is also a reactionary music. While it acknowledges being apart from the larger culture, it also - in many ways - rages at being exiled and ostracized in one's own country whether due to religion, politics, sexuality or some other arbitrary notion which people use as a tool of division and exclusion. While the mainstream markets pop music as punk, the underground core plots resistance and develops something more extreme, less co-optable, something less able to be so easily absorbed and distilled.
When the incursions begin in earnest, punk rock begins writing in ciphers, in hieroglyphics for which no Rosetta Stone exists. It closes in on itself and encodes a new language, leaving no signs or clues for those who would follow. It cuts the ropes which suspend the bridge across the chasm, leaving no clear path for the faithless. In the early 1980s, in the wake of punk's mainstream success, hardcore and straight-edge were born. In the early 1990s, riot grrrl followed the mainstreaming of punk, presenting feminist ideology in a form that defied most easy pop categorization. And is it any wonder that some of the most compelling punk records of the late 1990s followed in the wake of Green Day and the massive success of other poppy punk bands? Is it any wonder that punk rock is becoming harsher today as bands such as Good Charlotte storm the Billboard charts?
Those who intend to step in punk's footsteps for commercial gain inherit only hollow tropes, devoid of meaning, unable to communicate. Their reengineering of these songs collapses into itself, the marginal and manufactured substance unable to support the weight of the theft. The songs they create become musical black holes, sucking in only the credibility of those who recorded them.
And I think we overlook something which is even more obvious - punk doesn't belong to us. It is not ours, nor do we own it. Most of us are fairly recent converts. Maybe it's been two years, maybe five, maybe 10 - the number doesn't matter. The point is that we were all once new to punk and most people who had been around when we found this music looked at us the same way that we now see people who are discovering the same sensibilities that we once recognized.
It's true that most of the kids getting into punk because it's popular won't stick around because they're only absorbing the pop fringe, but they will soon be gone and the mainstream will ignore punk again and this scene will again be secure through obscurity and punk will once again go back underground. In the meantime, punk will have been revitalized through these incursions and will have been exposed to new ideas - some of which will be accepted and some of which will be rejected.
However, the one thing that we cannot ignore is that there will be new fans brought in by the bands and songs that we presently despise, and these people will have used these bands who write, to borrow from Greil Marcus, family favorites songs about nothing as a port of entry into a land which they will recognize as a home they had never known.
And to all of them, I can only extend my hand in friendship and say welcome. It's about time you got here.
Q: What Do You Call A Former Priest Incarcerated For Raping Young Boys? A: Dead.
It's not that I take joy in suffering, misery or death, but I am surprised to see so many deserving people (see: Idi Amin) getting their just rewards. Take the case of John Geoghan, a defrocked priest incarcerated for pedophilia. Between his ordination in 1962 and being defrocked in 1998, Geoghan allegedly molested more than 130 parishoners - at least, that's the number of lawsuits which have either been settled or are pending. I don't care to think about the number of people who never said anything.
At any rate, if the god that Geoghan believed in exists, it's its turn to dish out some hard-earned and well-deserved punishment after an inmate strangled Geoghan after a last luncheon. And good riddance. Geoghan was in protective custody, but apparently both a will and a way existed and by the grace of divine providence, Geoghan was sufficiently exposed to the general population for someone to act as an instrument of god's will and end his miserable life.
And it's all the more amusing that I can couch this description of Geoghan's ignominious end in the same religious terms which he likely used. Amen! Hallelujah! And frankly, this incident is just about enough to restore some measure of my lapsed faith in any sort of higher power.
So let's take a moment and reflect on the grace and justice bestowed by something beyond our understanding (be it karma, Gaia, God, Allah, Buddha or whatever), whose righteous vengeance was not stayed by protective custody, upon whose deaf ears Geoghan's pleas for mercy and forgiveness fell. Let's toast that entity which effectively suggested that some people are simply too evil to continue existing in this world ... and opened a door to hell in order to remove that malicious, pederastic son of a bitch from it.
How Not To Make St. Peter's Guest List.
In the wake of my commentary on the deaths of Idi Amin and John Geoghan, I've been feeling like an awfully malicious son of a bitch lately, so - in light of Florida's recent execution - I'm once again reaffirming my opposition to the death penalty. I'm opposed to state-sponsored murder, regardless of the reason.
I bring this up because the state of Florida recently executed Paul Hill, a defrocked Presbyterian minister who murdered Dr. John Britton and his bodyguard, James Barrett, at a women's health clinic. I'm not mourning that hateful, misguided piece of shit, nor do I regret that he was helped along in his quick shuffle off this mortal coil. I'm just pissed off that the state killed him when he should have been stabbed by a fellow inmate or shot by one of Dr. Britton's family members, that the vengeance of the lord he believed in was dispensed by the Florida State Prison in Starke. The last time I checked, the state doesn't fit the profile of divine retribution, although Florida's vote counting certainly works in mysterious ways.
And with that, enough religion for a while.
Our Friends Have No Place In The Graveyard.
September 8 - tomorrow - would have been my mom's 64th birthday. Kindly raise a glass to her memory.
Pissing Out The Poison.
Lately, I'm all about collecting compliments and forgetting the slights of the day. It's all about exchanging message board notes and emails with friends. It's about long distance calls to catch up and find out how everyone is doing. It's about driving hundreds of miles to have a beer and a conversation. It's about walking down an alley in a city hundreds of miles away from where I live and hearing shouted greetings rise up from the tour van.
It's about remembering friends. And remembering the gratitude we show each other because we all came a long way to get to wherever we may be. And somehow, knowing that we can make the thousands of miles between us disappear with long drives, truck stop coffee and lots of pushed buttons on car stereos makes it all the more meaningful. I suspect it's a gesture of mutual respect that we all go so far out of our way, just for a handful of moments together.
It's about knowing that home truly is where my heart is, that my heart is constantly with my friends and that my heart is thus in cities all around the world.
And I wouldn't trade these times or that knowledge for the world.
Off The Top Of My Head ...
- The Weakerthans. Still playing. Still awesome. Just bought a copy to make up for the lack of liner notes on the promo. I will be seeing them twice this month. I'm VERY happy.
- Bill Hicks was one of the most right-on dudes ever to put out an album found in the comedy section of a record store. Think about an angry, bitter, spiteful, bilious George Carlin who doesn't fuck around with wordplay and just goes straight for the throat in an effort to choke the absolute living shit out of every last shred of hypocrisy he smells and you have an idea of where Hicks started (and where Denis Leary stole a fair bit of material from). If it's true that only the good die young, then Hicks must have been one of the best. Bill, we hardly knew ye.
- Adbusters. There are very few magazines that are worth reading cover to cover, every issue. Adbusters is one of them. It is an astounding critique of our consumer culture ... and how it consumes us.
- Iannis Xenakis was a mathematician, engineer, architect, composer and a member of the Greek resistance who fought the Nazis and the British when they tried to suppress the rise of Greek Communism. As an architect, he worked with Le Corbusier. As a composer, he invented stochastic music and applied more math than most people will ever learn to his works. As a revolutionary, he left Greece and settled in France with a death warrant on his head. How are you spending your life?
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer's name has come up in the news a few times lately - I stumbled across his name while proofing an article for Clamor and Paul Hill (see above) used his ideas of liberation theology to justify murder. However, Bonhoeffer was hanged for opposing National Socialism, trying to save Jews from death camps ... and then there was that minor charge of participating in a conspiracy to assassinate Adolf Hitler. However, the reason that Bonhoeffer is the first theologian I've read about in ages who actually makes sense is because his ideas were and remain heretical because his view of Christianity - if I'm understanding him correctly - is a divinely inspired and morally relative resistance movement. Is it really any surprise that he was a Lutheran? In short, Bonhoeffer seemed to believe that killing Hitler was not only not murder, it would be divinely justified and rewarded (which is essentially the same logic that Hill used). The long and the short of it is that Bonhoeffer's ideas seem to run directly against the grain of past and present theology. To me, that suggests that his work bears further study and research.
The Give Up The Ghost interviews are done and online. Finally. They're both fairly long.
Some months ago, I received an email out of the blue from the editor of an anthology called "This Old Guitar" which is now available through Amazon and other book stores. The essay, re-titled Failure To Quit, is now online.
The Make Up. Erik Satie. Philip Glass. Arvo Part. Terry Riley. The International Noise Conspiracy. John Cage. Iannis Xenakis. Bill Hicks. Brian Eno. Herbie Hancock. Cocteau Twins. Maria Callas. Numbers. Sonny Clark. Bis. The Juliana Theory. Kid 606. John Adams. Savath And Savalas. Karlheinz Stockhausen. Steve Reich. Rancid. Small Brown Bike. Pacific UV. Nudge. The Replacements. Sage Francis. !!!. Lucinda Williams. Scene Creamers. Mozart. Cannibal Ox. The Explosion.
"The Royal Tenenbaums," "The Clash: Westway To The World," "Some Kind Of Wonderful," "Tombstone," "Mallrats," "Pretty In Pink," "La Femme Nikita"
Aaron Anstett, "Sustenance"
Paul Avrich, "Anarchist Portraits"; 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"; Andrew Feenberg, "Questioning Technology" and "Alternative Modernity"; Steven Heller, "Graphic Design History" (edited with Georgette Ballance); Gunnar Swanson, ed., "Graphic Design And Reading"; Daniel Guerin, "No Gods No Masters"