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Notes From The Flip Side: 11.14.2004

"Even if we can't know what it'll be like when the smoke clears, we do know that rage, for better or worse, generates a future."

Russell Banks

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The National Morning After Pill And Hangover Cure.

Last night, I went to bed. I knew then - hell, I knew weeks ago - that I wouldn't wake up to a decisively (or even convincingly) elected president this morning. Philip called me yesterday evening to say that Bush was gone; even traditionally Republican states were too close to call. I said I hoped he was right and watched Jon Stewart after reading a bit.

And here it is. Another Wednesday morning in November. Another contested election. Another year in which it all comes down to one state deciding the fate of the nation - and honestly, if that isn't enough of a wake-up call to spark electoral college reform, what is? Republicans should be just as nervous about this as Democrats - maybe this year is Ohio, last time was Florida. What happens if, for example, New York happens to swing the balance some year?

And this wasn't how it was all supposed to work. It wasn't supposed to boil down to 20 people making decisions for a nation of around 300 million about the economy, the war and so forth.

Right now, my concerns, apart from the electoral college, are these:

So was it Newt Gingrich who poisoned this country? Was it religious interference in the political process? Was it this creeping brand of neo-conservatism that is trying to transform America from a representative democracy into a totalitarian empire? And is there any question about politics which is more relevant than asking the last moderate in the country to turn out the lights when they leave?

As I'm getting ready to publish this update, Bill Frist is challenging Arlen Specter's right to chair the Senate Judiciary Committee because Specter mentioned that pro-life candidates might face a harder time being confirmed, never mind that the GOP imposed the term limits that are forcing Orrin Hatch to step down, that the chair is now determined by seniority, that Specter is the most senior member of the committee and that, like Frist, he is a Republican. Never mind that Ashcroft's as Attorney General likely replacement is current White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, who made a name for himself by suggesting that enemy combatants could be detained indefinitely and tortured, in violation of both U.S. and international law.

I sincerely hope that this will eventually splinter the Republican Party, that the GOP's actions with respect to Arlen Specter and the treatment of John McCain during the 2000 campaign when Karl Rove and company insinuated that he was mentally unstable will eventually split that party entirely, leaving moderate Republicans to form something new which will hopefully be more reasonable. And maybe, if we all get lucky, those extremists will move so far to the right that they'll all fall into the Atlantic and drown in the filthy seawaters that they failed to protect. Good luck, Republicans. History will judge you more harshly than I'll ever be able to.

Springs, Rings, New Technology - The K, The L, The F ... And The Ology.

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The Only Country I Have Is The People I Love.

Ken Knabb, probably best known for his translations and anthologies of Situationist literature, put things in perspective nicely with a book titled "The Joy Of Revolution." I'd like to call your attention to the section titled "Representative Democracy Versus Delegate Democracy."

On another note along similar lines, Project For The Old American Century has published a list of 14 characteristics common to fascist regimes which was originally developed by Dr. Lawrence Britt based on analyses of the Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Suharto and Pinochet regimes. Care to guess how many of those characteristics are demonstrated in contemporary America?

A Peel Session.

I forget which issue of STM featured an obituary for Wolfman Jack - as a kid, I had the chance to listen to the Wolfman on late night radio here and there before he started doing a series of abysmal infomercials to capitalize on his reputation as one of the greatest DJs ever. And frankly, I couldn't fault him for doing so. Back then, radio didn't pay much - that's why payola became so successful and such a scandal. Most DJs just played music because they loved the wild-eyed crazy sounds that were rushing down from the hills like Huns on horseback. It was a sea change and anything that couldn?t swim was going to be swept away.

Those days are all but gone now - the last of the remaining great DJs are regional at best, local at worst. DJs like Rodney Bingenheimer have stayed as current as they can, but other DJs like Richard Blade have turned to trading on nostalgia - in Blade's case, with a series of compilations of pop songs from the 1980s. I suppose there's good money in it and, frankly, I can't fault him, particularly not when Clear Channel is doing everything it can to rid the world of the last remaining DJs who play music by sticking some poor sod or another in a booth in Atlanta (or wherever) and forcing them to read weather reports for Cleveland, Amarillo and Albuquerque in the name of localizing content while attempting to establish a national musical culture (and effectively attempting to kill off any future regional musical style which might try to emerge, like Motown soul, the Philly sound, L.A. hardcore and so forth). In an era of playlist consultants who provide a buffer between labels and radio stations (effectively allowing payola to continue), the DJ is an endangered species.

Even college radio ain't what it used to be - when I started in college radio about 15 years ago, DJs actively sought out unknown, obscure or forgotten music. It wasn't a job or hobby, it was a calling for the zealous who were willing to champion underdogs, evangelize for their favorite bands and expose people to music they had never heard before. College radio is where I learned about Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Einstürzende Neubauten, Throbbing Gristle, Kraftwerk, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Clifford Brown, Max Roach, Art Blakey, Sonny Boy Williamson, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Boogie Down Productions, Bill Laswell and most of the music that currently lines my shelves. Major labels were attempting to make inroads and push albums by bands like Season To Risk, but the resistance was still strong.

It isn't like that any more. I remember an era when people with great musical taste had to be on a waiting list for shows or get up at 2 a.m. on a weekday when they had to work to go into the booth and spin for a few hours. It was a privilege and an honor. These days, college radio stations seem to be falling by the wayside at universities - student interest has declined; frequently, there's no way to tell the difference between a local pop, alternative or loud rock station and a college radio DJ. The sense of a mission that once existed, that most college radio DJs shared, seems to be gone now, unlikely to return. It has been replaced with people who resist exploration and experimentation, who only play what they know and have no interest in seeking out anything new. Thus, even college radio, the last bastion of musical freedom and inquiry, has fallen to pop-punk, mainstream yo-metal and generic bling-bling hip hop. Those of us who still think of ourselves as holdouts might as well be living in small huts in the forest, weapons held together with duct tape, setting tripwires to let us know when hostile forces are coming and biding our time while we wait for an opportunity.

We're witnessing the end of an era here and it's too soon to tell whether satellite radio will allow new voices to emerge and take their place alongside Alan Freed and all the other lunatics who championed rock 'n' roll in its early days, but one thing is certain - following the death of John Peel, music is forever diminished. John Peel was one of the last of the holdouts. Most of us in the U.S. never had a chance to listen to him, but we felt his impact - it was hard not to be a fan of music in the 1980s and 1990s and not know about John Peel because Peel Sessions records were everywhere for any band that mattered much at all. We couldn't listen to the show, but we could walk into Tower Records and find EPs by bands like ... and know that something was going on. We also knew it was something interesting.

After all, who else would champion bands as diverse as Napalm Death and Boards Of Canada, Bikini Kill and Psychick Warriors Ov Gaia? The only comparable outlet in the U.S. was college radio and that diversity that Peel displayed was usually absent in that environment or segmented into specialty show ghettos surrounded by the trend of the moment. Sure, you might hear a band like Godflesh ... but you were unlikely to hear it outside of an industrial or heavy metal hour. The rest of the time, you'd be listening to Godstar, The Swirlies, the Drop Nineteens, Ride, Slowdive, other records from Taang!, Sub Pop or Caroline. Punk rock was usually relegated to its own show. The rest of it was all pop music, all the time, with little if any effort to build a continuum which found a place for everything and somehow linked it all together.

Peel, by comparison, recorded bands. His Peel Sessions recordings were legendary, including releases from bands like Autechre, Billy Bragg, Bratmobile, Tim Buckley, the Buzzcocks, Can, The Cure, The Damned, Gang Of Four, The Jam, The Jesus & Mary Chain, Joy Division, New Order, The Orb, Siouxsie & The Banshees, The Smiths, The Specials, Stiff Little Fingers and Wire.

I'm not much of one for nostalgia and I realize that late night radio can still offer that sense of wonder provided there's a station nearby that doesn't box DJs into the same boring corners, but I don't think I'm ever going to find myself staying up until the wee hours of the morning like I did in high school, waiting for that one DJ who I simply had to listen to because he'd play the Chemical People, Hüsker Dü, Motörhead, Stiff Little Fingers and other bands I loved. I don't think I'll ever hear another station crazy enough to put John Reis on the air and let him play old Saints and Naked Raygun songs. And about all I can do for my part is to do the kind of show that's consistently worth staying up for, the sort of show that just doesn't allow people to go to sleep because they just want to hear the end of the song that's playing ... until the next one starts and they realize they have to hear that one too.

But the days of the DJs we can all agree on? The DJs who are so renowned that they influence the course of popular music, that their approval or rejection can spell success or failure for a band? That their support and endorsement carries so much weight that a band which could reasonably expect only to release a limited edition 7" which would only be heard by a handful of people (mostly friends, family and neighbors) becomes a band headlining festivals? Well, those days are over.

Some years ago, Internet radio and streaming audio sites offered something unique, something new - they held out the promise that something interesting might result. Sites like Spinner were sources of new and interesting music and I simply couldn't get enough of it then, but that seems to have fallen by the wayside, leaving us with little more than the same boredom of the FM band that we've been enduring for a few decades now. While it is still in its infancy, maybe satellite radio will offer something different. For all of our sakes, I hope it will.

Rest in peace, John. You will be missed.

Off The Top Of My Head ...

  1. Apparently, it is now totally on with those motherfuckers. Totally. Totally. Totally. And just in case you think I'm kidding, it's totally fucking on.
  2. Jon Stewart totally schooled "Crossfire." Dude. You clowns were totally owned by a guy who has crank-calling puppets leading into his show and yet you still tried to bust his chops over asking Kerry what you thought were softball questions. Next thing you know, Peter Jennings will be telling us to turn to SNL's "Weekend Update" if we really want to know what the news is. When did commentators begin thinking that it is now the responsibility of comedians to keep politicians honest? While I can't necessarily disagree - particularly considering the piss-poor job that most commentators do of adding depth and insight to any given issue - that's a pretty substantial abdication of responsibility ... not that I really expected much from them anyway since nuance seems to have been left out of their abriged political dictionaries.
  3. Clay Shirky's writings on the Internet are brilliant, dense and highly informative. Want to understand what's going on? Read them.
  4. Howard Zinn recently published a piece on Zmag called "The Optimism Of Uncertainty."
  5. At least the Red Sox won the World Series. In the ALCS, they trounced the Yankees in what is just about the most humiliating defeat in sports history in order to make it to the show. Alex Rodriguez showed his true colors as he tried to interfere with a play at first, revealing himself to be little more than a ridiculously overpaid bush-league chump. The rest of the Yankees went all too meekly into that long, bad night with poor hitting, pitching and fielding. While I don't want to say that the World Series was anti-climactic, the Cardinals seemed to be tremendously out-classed in pretty much any way they could be out-classed - hitting, pitching, fielding. It's not that the Sox executed that well either, but the Cardinals seemed to be phoning it in. However, someone wiser than I once said words to the effect that it doesn't have to be pretty, it just has to be a win. So the drought is over - it seems like a completely new world, a Hollywood ending like the final moments of the first "Matrix" movie. Anything in baseball seems possible - even likely - now.
  6. Are you an American who can't stand four more years? Marry a Canadian! Luckily, 11 recent state initiatives proved that marriage isn't about love anymore, so go for it!

Now Playing:

Tusk. Ted Leo. Tom Waits. The Hidden Cameras. El-P. Elvis Costello. Children Of Bodom. Broken Social Scene. Drive-By Truckers. Steve Reich. Bettye Swann. Aloha. Tobin Sprout. Pimmon. Kronos Quartet. Arch Enemy. Philip Glass. Jackie Mittoo. Sigur Ros. Jesu. Ornette Coleman.

Now Watching:

"Grosse Pointe Blank," "The Magnificent Seven"

Just Finished:

Laurell K. Hamilton, "The Lunatic Cafe"; Simon Singh, "Fermat's Enigma"

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"; 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