Closer Issue 12
Five In Dog Years
Another night of being a geek, choosing to sit alone and write while the band plays. I've seen them before; I'm sure I'll see them another time. And my life is uncertain again, filled with questions and no clear answers. I only have choices in front of me - some easy, some more difficult. How much peace will I able to find? And when will this restlessness subside? When will I find what I'm looking for? And, closer to the point, when will I know what that is? I know I crave something but I can't define it and I'm not even sure I'd know what it was if it was in front of me. Despite this restlessness, I feel balanced these days, as if I had studied aikido as a response to life's harder punches and now find myself side-stepping blows, waiting for the perfect moment to seize an outstretched arm and throw my opponent to the mat. Nelson Algren once wrote words to the effect that writers and criminals are much the same; both need to get even. Neither ever will. I've accepted that, but I don't ever really want to feel as though I've squared things up with fate. I want to spit in fate's eye on my deathbed because I'm still not ready to go and there's still more work to be done. Yet isn't that the sign of a life well-lived? Doesn't that belief that I will leave things unfinished at death also mean that I attack life with all I have and dedicate every last reserve of strength that I have to everything I do? And won't that final bitter joke mean in turn that there is still more left to accomplish? Life is too short to be boring, all Sunday afternoons to the contrary, and moreover, won't those final kicks mean more than the self-satisfied smugness of someone who slips into death as though it were nothing more than a welcome relief? I don't know that I ever will be or even could be content. I simply want more than even life has to offer.
Radio Free Lausanne
Another boring band, all rock star posturing and no heart. How many songs about lovers can one person write? And when do those songs - simply due to their sheer masses and utter lack of new expression - lose all meaning? How long do I have to wait before that singer realizes that we need more, that pithy little pop songs about crushes barely mask our hurts? How long does it take a band to understand that the daily indignities of life - and refusing to take them - are more important? And how long will it be before we finally decide to strike back? How long until we rise up and seize the means of production for ourselves so that we can make the music that we need to hear, the music that will ease our hurts, inspire us and show us a new way to live? How soon is now? I have a bass and a guitar that I can't play, but I still have callouses on my fingers and blood on the strings from trying.
I've been listening to Paw for almost two days straight and I haven't slept much in that time. I kept waking up; the nightmares didn't seem to stop. I dreamed that my parents were still alive and when I woke up, I couldn't shake that feeling. I had a dream about an old flame taking explicit pictures in a mansion. And I listened to Mark Hennessey screaming about pretty girls doing ugly things and asking if she remembered how she lied to him. Davey and I shouted along with those songs, passing a bottle of Old Forester back and forth while we chainsmoked Lucky Strikes. I sometimes wonder if she remembers. I wonder if she still thinks about what happened between us and I wonder if she wishes things had turned out differently. She used to wear this floral print dress. It was made of flimsy cotton and it tied in the back; she usually didn't wear anything under it. I remember watching her hair cascade down her bare shoulders, flowing down her back. Now those memories are dust and all that's left is a single lingering question shouted into the night - do you remember how you lied to me? This has left me with an unsettling feeling which has followed me all day. I wonder if I'll be able to feel it watching me while I sleep.
And this time, for once, I don't have any tales of bitter behavior. It's all over; we skipped the shouting. I didn't get dumped; nothing precipitated it. I have no stories of abuse or infidelity. This time, things just withered and love failed to thrive. This time, we just realized that things weren't working. As she told me later, "You realize that you're acting exactly the same? The only thing you gave up was sex." And she's right. For once, I became involved with someone for the right reasons and our ability to remain good friends shows that we had a right to be involved in the first place. We still hang out constantly. And the only thing different is that we go home to separate apartments and sleep in separate beds. We don't spend the night together. And we don't make love anymore. This is the way a good relationship should end - no recriminations, just minor adjustments. And a lingering suspicion that I could have treated her better.
Saturday Night Laundromat Fight Club
Sam Cooke understood the Saturday night blues. Boredom, a fair amount of solitude, trying to find something to occupy the hours until Monday morning and the new work week. And I suppose this is what life is like for those of us who aren't working for the weekend. For those of us who don't find solace in tired pickup lines and exhausted come-ons, another weekend can be a lonely prospect because we have two full days of our own company. It may be the case that we try to share the burden of ourselves, that we seek the company of others to help us carry our load but if that's true, isn't it equally true that those people who consent to spend time with us must have the same desire? Of course, the only solution is becoming comfortable with ourselves in these hours of solitude, treating them as a refuge from the world at large. The only real solution lies in realizing that we are sufficient company for ourselves - and the only company we need - and that we can be islands, albeit ones with bridges to the mainland. And when this epiphany occurs, we find that our own loads are lighter, that we don't bear as much weight on our weary shoulders - and that we can easily shoulder part of someone else's load to help them move along.
Quiz Kid Donnie Smith
I was at a local all-ages club a few weeks ago when a girl came up to me and started talking. I only go there to see shows - it is, after all, a teen center - but she began making a not-too-subtle pass at me. And she was only 17 years old. She said she was in AA and NA, but apparently she wasn't working too hard at recovery. She said she was tricking at 15 and wanted to know why I didn't have any porn in my zine. She called herself a horny bitch and said she had a bet with her friend that she could get five numbers and go home with someone that night - because fucking strangers made her feel wanted and appreciated. I asked her a lot of questions, fairly pointed ones - why are you doing this? Why does that make you feel wanted? Why are you doing this? She didn't have any clear answers. She did claim to have a boyfriend and two girlfriends, none of whom knew about the others. And she asked me for my number even after I told her that she was entirely too young for me. I'm not sure how much of the story was true and how much wasn't, but she seemed strung out. And regardless of how much was true, it was depressing. I didn't see any way I could help her because she didn't seem to think anything was wrong with abusing drugs, with fucking random people to alleviate boredom and make her feel wanted. And maybe that's what our culture has yielded - kids who are more jaded and world-weary in their teens than you and I are as we approach middle age. Maybe our culture has produced a generation of kids who are so disenfranchised and alienated that random casual sex and drugs are the only things that nullify the pain of being human ... and even then, their effects don't last long enough to offer any significant respite. Maybe we've finally reached a point where we require so much medication - whether legal or illicit - to continue tolerating the indignities and constant commercial messages (because none of us look like someone else thinks we should) that the only solution is recklessness because at least that - at least that fear and momentary high from taking our lives into our own hands - is an emotion that hasn't been presented to us as part of a movie plot, that hasn't been so carefully scripted that it seems as though we're actors on an invisible stage who are simply reciting lines that we heard somewhere else. And that makes me worry.
A few years ago. I had been in a really bad relationship with someone girl who only liked techno. I didn't go to shows or movies, I didn't read and I didn't really listen to music anymore. It's not that I consciously changed for her; things just fell by the wayside. It ended very badly and I started trying to remember what I liked and wanted. I spent about a year trying to remember who I was, trying things to see if it fit me, to see if it was part of me ... or if I wanted it to be. I'll never forget the first time I saw the Dragons after that long stretch of unhappiness, of feeling cut off from life. I was in front of the stage - my usual spot at the Casbah - and as they were tuning up, I realized that I felt right, I felt like I was where I belonged. I actually talked out loud to myself and said, "I feel like I'm home." Jarrod looked up at me from setting up his drum set and said, "You are home buddy." Moments like that mean more to me than I can ever explain.
Graveyards Are For Quitters
I think most intelligent people have contemplated suicide. I thought about it a lot in high school. Oddly enough, I still support physician-assisted suicide for terminal cases (cancer patients, etc.). I think that quality of life is more important than quantity. What good is a day if you can barely see through the pain, there's no hope for recovery and the only end in sight is death? With that said, I still can't stand otherwise healthy people who choose it as an easy way out of their problems. I'd rather stand and fight, even if it gets me killed. Call me crazy, but I'd rather fight until I'm face down in the ring, a total bloody mess, than quit. Throwing in the towel simply isn't an option, not when there are so many people who represent every small-minded bitter quality that I hate and there are so many of them left to challenge and piss off. Life is painful and life is suffering. So is working out. The point of both is to systematically rebuild the self and make it stronger and more able to withstand internal and external challenges. I finally got around to forgiving my mom for what she did, but I won't forget it and I'll never agree with it. It really surprises me that at the end, she turned out to be a quitter. I thought she was stronger than that. I'm enough of an asshole and I've seen enough people who killed themselves and buried enough of them to go ahead and flip the bird to the Seven Sages who said not to speak ill of the dead; I'll take my stand with the guy who said that we owe nothing to the dead but the truth - suicide is a coward's bet; it's folding in the face of a maximum raise. I'd rather see the raise and raise back, even if it's a bluff. Call me crazy.
Notes On A Fascist Show
To me, punk as a lifestyle is about rejecting received values and morals and determining what is right and wrong for yourself. It's about thinking independently of others and being emotionally and intellectually strong enough to withstand the ostracism and abuse that other people will heap upon you for doing so. It's about gradually finding others of like minds and realizing that community amongst the outcasts exists and that it's real and heartfelt. Most importantly, punk rock and being a punk is a way of waking up, a form of enlightenment. It's the realization that you have been lied to in every way - that the government does not look out for your welfare, that the police are not your friends, that authority figures (including parents, teachers and employers) only want to control you so that you become what they think you should be instead of what you want and need to be and that corporations think of you as little more than a slave. Being a punk is a revolution of the mind - it's the refusal to lie back and take it anymore. It's a constant middle finger in response, the last gesture of defiance and - if you learn its lessons - one of the very few ways left to be truly free. I understand that some punk bands will be popular. It's my sincere hope that the good bands will make enough off of touring and their albums and t-shirts to keep doing it and support themselves. It's also my sincere hope that we don't see any incursions from the world at large into our culture again. It's not that I want punk to be exclusive; I simply want people to have a place where they feel welcomed and safe, where they don't have to worry about being attacked by jocks who are only there to beat people up and pick up chicks. With that said, punk is not a form. It's a function and a state of mind. Some of the most punk people I know haven't heard the Clash; some of the least punk people I know listen to Aus Rotten. Punk is simply a refusal to accept the status quo, to refuse to go along to get along. It isn't a style of music or a fashion - it's an approach to the world. The approach is neither sexist nor racist; it is neither classist nor elitist. If you find that people are approaching it as such, then they aren't punk. Punk rock, in its most idealized form, is a wealth of opinions, ideas and people, none of whom are likely to be the same. The funny thing to me is that I keep running into kids now who think that movies like "SLC Punk" are fake because they show riots at punk shows. It's been a long time since punks rioted at a show in San Diego which may explain why the outsider history that most older punks have is lost on the newer generation - punk has essentially been co-opted as a form by the media and been represented to us in the form of various pop-punk bands - a sanitized, cleaned up version of something that never really existed. It's somewhat scary to me that I'm old school now; that I've seen the bands that are now listed as seminal influences and frequently know them. And what worries me most is that, in many ways, punk rock has become just like the stadium rock that it sought to destroy. Kids get nervous about talking to people in bands simply because they're in bands. They're scared to congratulate a band on a good show or ask how to play a certain song on guitar. And that really bothers me. They approach punk much as the mainstream media does - as a form rather than a function - which means that fashion matters and the superficial trappings of punk supersede the content and the reason for its existence. The surface thus becomes more important than the substance, and then punk, in its true form, no longer exists. Real punks realize that the only rule is doing what you want to do. People who aren't used to living without rules, who aren't used to living beyond the confines of a strictly controlled society make the remaining rules, thus transforming culture into a scene and yet those people seem to consider themselves to be the arbiters of all things punk, despite their transience in the culture that I call home. If they are punk, then I'm siding with an old band from here that made an astute observation: "Punks are as bad as motherfucking Nazis."
My Day Only Comes In Leap Years
I think we all tried to fit in. I tried to fit in when I started high school. I just got it kicked out of me quickly and gave up on it. It's only been in the past few years that I've started feeling really comfortable with myself - since a really painful relationship ended and I saw a therapist for about a year. I think the two are related - trauma and healing process. I've been comfortable for a while now, but I'm radically different than I have been in the past. Tragedy and triumph; it's a great drink if you can get the first part down. Yet I've come to realize that life will usually give me everything I need. I have to work for the stuff I want and sometimes, I have to work insanely hard for it. That's the way life is though. Life is pretty kind usually. I just have to be open to accepting its gifts. Right now, I think I just don't want to commit to anything that involves another person. I want to be by myself and do the things I love. Other people usually seem to slow me down and hold me back and I really don't like that. I want to rock and roll. My life is a marathon with a field of one and the only pace I'm trying to better is my own.
Compiling A New Kernel
People like to think that technology is nice and neat, that market demands dictate that we get the best technology available. In reality, technology is just as political, if not more so, than any other industry. Billions of dollars are at stake and technological initiatives are typically propelled by egos and hubris more than any form of demonstrable technological superiority. The technology that results is not always the best - frequently, it has been designed by committees with profit, as opposed to real world user considerations, in mind. As a result arguments about technological initiatives, even in civilized circumstances, can get rough. I was in Napa several months ago to speak at a small networking conference and mentioned that standards boards were subject to more corporate influence than anyone would really like to admit, especially considering that their members were usually employed by corporations that had a vested interest in the technology in question. One of the other panel members started foaming at the mouth and zealously defended the integrity and independence of standards and the impartiality of people who serve on the boards - and then threatened to strangle me. And with that, I felt as though I had accomplished everything that I needed to.
Poised To Break
I'm beginning to wonder why it is that everyone I know seems to be medicating with Zoloft, Prozac, Paxil, Wellbutrin, some other prescription anti-depressant or something else to treat conditions that didn't exist only a few decades ago. I'm beginning to suspect that depression is just the medical establishment's diagnosis for the condition that describes our dissatisfaction with what this brave new world has brought us and that these drugs are just a way of further dulling our senses to it. We take pills because we've managed to convince ourselves that our environment - all advertisements and consumption - isn't the problem. We are. We further dull our senses with alcohol; we amuse ourselves to death with programs that deaden the soul, Novocain for our emotions. We mute our instincts, every last one of which is screaming at us to get out. We hate our bodies because we don't look like models, yet almost no one does. Maybe it's magnified because I live in a larger city where I see these messages constantly. All I know is that my body is mine and I refuse to dislike it because a mail-order catalog that tries to sell me a lifestyle implies that I should be something different. I've been raised on a diet of media images that left me with unrealistic expectations because real women don't look like models. We have subsisted on a steady diet of lies that corrupted our dreams and ideals and leave us feeling empty and wondering why. I used to feel as though I should look different, as though I should have broad shoulders and heavily muscled arms. And then I realized that my frame simply can't handle that - my body is not physically capable of meeting mediated expectations of male beauty. It never will be. And maybe it's the case for all of us that our bodies are much the same - that no matter how much women work out, they will have hips and thighs and that guys - no matter how many hours we spend in the gym - will find it difficult to have perfectly defined biceps and pectoral muscles. There is nothing wrong with that but there is something terribly wrong with loathing ourselves because we've been infected with a perverse sense of beauty that does not reflect most people and that most of us will never be able to attain. And what this does is oppress us all. All of us are subjected to it and it's a subtle form of psychological oppression that sternly instills the false belief that, since we do not look like models, we will never be what we could be. And that's just bullshit. Revolution doesn't begin out there as a movement. Revolution begins in the mirror when we realize that we are what we are and that we are what we should be. It is only when we have successfully liberated ourselves that we can begin to make others free.
Still Refusing To Be A Man
It's pretty simple, really - every guy is sexist. We may struggle against it, but every guy is inherently sexist. I realized this on Monday night when I got in and I was talking with a friend about something - I used a masculine pronoun to describe something of indeterminate gender. I did it automatically, without even thinking about it until after the fact. That's the result of culturally enforced and pervasive sexism. Regardless of whether we want to be sexist or not, we are. I am. Every male is. We may struggle against it, but we're fighting thousands of years of culture and our lives are comparatively short, so our struggle, although not futile, isn't likely to show significant results. That sexism manifests itself in different ways - it can be something comparatively harmless (such as linguistic slips, assuming the gender of an indeterminate object is male) or something oppressive (ranging from discounting women's ideas and feelings to outright violence). My point is that it's something every guy has to deal with. It is not a function of intent - whether we like it or not, it's a simple social reality that we have to fight. The worse part of this is most of us don't even think about it - we haven't been socialized to be aware of how our behavior manifests sexism or how our language reveals the social reality that exists while also serving to reinforce its oppression of women; therefore, we don't see a problem. And the only reason I do, is because I've spent a significant amount of time with people who have called my attention to my own behavior that results in these effects. And I don't think I could ever thank them enough for doing it.
Individuals ... Just Like Everyone Else
I enjoy dancing, although I have no ability or discernible talent at it. If I'm dancing at a show and it embarrasses someone (and it has) and they tell me (and they have) and they criticize me for enjoying myself and having fun because they're concerned about other people's opinions of them and their social status (which is inevitably the case in such situations), then I do not need that person in my life. If they are so concerned about other people's opinions that they will criticize me, then they are also likely to search for warmer climes when my skies turn black with dark storm clouds. And I don't need that. I have a small circle of friends, but they're true friends - they like me for who I am and appreciate that I really don't give a shit what people think. They are some of the few. While I was in college, most of the women I dated wanted me to change how I dressed, how I cut my hair, what I read and where I went to drink. The sociolinguistic subtext of that behavior is that they don't like the way I life because it doesn't fit in with their ideal of what they life should be. I don't expect all of my friends to have all of the same interests - I respect different people for different reasons. Some of them are punks, some of them are engineers, some are artists. However, the common thread that holds all of us together is respect for each other and each other's quirks. That means that I know some friends have a penchant for breaking down in tears over lunch, some get really upset over trivial things, etc. However, if I expect them to have respect for my quirks (zines, not sleeping, jumping around at shows, etc.), then I must respect theirs and support them.
Sunday Night Airport Pick-up
Hard plastic chairs and cold architecture, all steel and slabs of stone. Elton John sings "Tiny Dancer" on the piped in music while I read a book about Tibor Kalman, a designer who tried to use his work for social change. You're coming back from Kentucky; I agreed to pick you up before we stopped seeing each other and I'm sitting here waiting because I genuinely appreciate you. Those months were some of the best of my life - I still smile when I think about sitting on your porch at 2 a.m., naked and smoking while you wrapped your arms around my neck. I've saved some of the notes you sent me; I'm amazed that I can still be that silly and romantic with anyone. I thought I had left all that behind. For months, you made me laugh and you still do. I won't forget waking up next to you, both of us tangled in each other, your face flushed from our accumulated body heat. I won't forget making breakfast for you while you showered, washing off quickly because you were usually running a little late for work - until you realized that I set all my clocks fast. I'm sitting here, quietly flipping through pages as I wait to see your smile shine across your radiant face. And for once, I don't regret anything at all.
shutdown -r now
There are times when I'm debating that I think I'm too confrontational. I was talking to the network administrator at work some months ago while he was upgrading someone's laptop. We started talking about travel, and the laptop's owner said something about finding iffy people on buses. I asked her what exactly she meant by that. She said iffy again so I asked her if she was referring to ethnicity, economic status, criminal record, sexual preferences ... what exactly does iffy mean? She never answered satisfactorily. She simply stammered her way through changing the subject. Since I was at work, I didn't finish the job that I had started - I let her go on about her day without further debate. I think my problem, if I can actually call it a problem, is that I want to grab people and shake them out of their stupidity - unfortunately, that usually doesn't work.
Last Chances And Final Dances
When I first brought STM back, it seemed like the final hurrah. I was more concerned with tying up loose ends than reviving it. One last issue, then ride off into the sunset with a bottle of bourbon, a beat-up guitar and my record collection (the girl would naturally dog me and shack up with the town playboy, settle down and start having kids, never looking back at the life she could have had). Zines seemed all but dead and all the people I used to know had moved on. It was like driving through a neighborhood where you used to live - it might seem like a nice place to live, but you won't even recognize your own house. Yet as I stared at this sterile alien landscape, I realized that I wasn't done. There was just too much left to do - too many shallow, mindless people who see punk rock as a fashion show and popularity contest; too many suburban kids who seem to think that the clothes make the punk and that dressing the part counts for more than where your head is at; too many people who were all surface and no feeling, people who scratched the facade of mainstream, co-opted and commodified punk and feasted on its bitter rind; too many people who played the game but were never true to it to begin with; too many people who would leave punk and its ethics behind as soon as someone offered them 30 pieces of silver to do something distasteful - in short, there were just too many people left to piss off. So fuck leaving. The old gunslingers may have put their six-shooters in a box under the bed and settled in as saloonkeepers and barbers, but as long as there's another bottle of rotgut behind the bar, I'll keep doing this. And it will be on my terms. STM has been, is and will always be free. If the day comes when I can't afford to do it and keep it free, it's over. I'll hang up my hat, saddle up the horse and ride off into the desert to die. My time here will be done.