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Notes From The Flip Side: 05.02.2008

"I am 'uncompromising' in the most literal sense of the word. If Monster Cable proceeds with litigation against me I will pursue the same merits-driven approach; I do not compromise with bullies and I would rather spend fifty thousand dollars on defense than give you a dollar of unmerited settlement funds."

Kurt Denke

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A Broadside For Three-Chord Dilettantes.

Perhaps I haven't said this often enough, and I certainly haven't said this recently enough, but fuck you. Fuck all of you. Fuck every last shitbag who adopts the form and ignores the function to craft pop trifles about dysfunctional relationships. You're part of nothing more than a manufactured boy band with guitars and every other common criticism that has been levied against you over the past half-decade or so. There is no future for you but irrelevance and stacks of CDs in the $2 bin at used record stores, regardless of how popular you may be now because, quite frankly, no one will care about poppy punk or emo soon enough and this trend will mercifully pass, like so many others before it.

Or, in less hostile terms with greater elaboration ...

Dear Punk Rock; What Happened To You?!?!?

I'm looking at you now, strapped down to the hospital gurney, machines breathing for you while transplant recipients rush to hospitals, pissing your last into a cheap stainless steel bedpan, and I wonder how we came to this. Yes, I'm angry. Yes, I'm bitter. If I was medically capable of standing up and holding a bass guitar, I'd try to do something about it if I could find enough people who hadn't already given up on you to join me. But instead, I'm sitting here in resignation, hoping against hope for a miracle that seems increasingly unlikely as your pulse weakens.

The last time we had a political climate like this, we got hardcore. All of it. The eight years of the Reagan presidency birthed so many amazing, astonishing bands - some reacting to the politics, others reacting to the personal, some reacting to both - that we were drowning in an embarrassment of riches. Certainly, at least part of that was due to the horror that Reagan's administration visited upon other countries in the name of fighting communism because those efforts left no shortage of material to write songs about as women and children were slaughtered by right wing death squads paid for by U.S. tax dollars at places like El Mozote, as U.S. tax dollars funded dictatorial and fascist regimes and outsourced the Cold War to Afghani rebels (and I think most of the people reading this site already know that the Central Intelligence Agency's work during the Soviet-Afghani war trained Osama bin Laden and we know how well that turned out for us).

However, things weren't much better at home. It was a conservative time in America and being a punk meant fighting on a daily basis just to be who you were because anything different was suspect. I never really dressed the part, so to speak - i.e. I never went to stores that sold so-called punk clothes, etc. - but all it took to be a target where I lived was wearing a t-shirt that looked like it might be a punk band ... or, more to the point, something unfamiliar and therefore scary. It took commitment to be a punk then because you were, sooner or later, going to get your ass kicked for not dressing like everyone else - for not wearing acid washed jeans, Bon Jovi shirts and a jean jacket.

I think for most of us though, those beatings didn't make us want to change - quite the contrary, they beat punk into us. They solidified our defiance and strengthed our sense of marginalization because it was clear that society had no place for us, didn't want us, had no use for us and so forth. So we created our own society, our own culture, our own world with its own rules. We took over the culverts and ditches and sewers and not only made them homes, we made them playgrounds where anything was possible and the only thing forbidden was victimizing someone else. We lived and played in places that society deemed unclean and we transformed them from negations into affirmations, reclaiming the ugliness as a place of our own.

And yet here we are, 20 years later, facing a nearly identical political, cultural and economic climate, and it feels like surrender. There are, for all intents and purposes, only two acceptable reactions to the way things are provided you disagree with them - rage or melancholy (which is not to say that you can't feel both, but the second Bush presidency demands that people who do not share his beliefs must feel one or the other since there is no way to be happy with what the U.S. has become if you disagree with his religious conservatism). There are plenty of recent musical examples of the latter, but very few recent examples of the former.

There are, however, endless amounts of trivial pop songs which offer all the comfort of a lone fiddle in Rome's fire - pop songs which, if they do not support Bush's version of America, do not oppose it and choose to dance away the days until it ends or grab as much money as they can. They are little more than anesthetic, lulling us to sleep while evil people plot in the darkness. And so somehow it has come to pass that Kanye West is more political than most punk bands, that a large number of hardcore bands are, at best, using musical forms like grindcore and screamo to express their discontent with how things are (but the last time I checked, aping a style doesn't translate to ideologies or convictions, although it can strengthen the expression of those ideologies and convictions).

And as a result of all that, punk seems ... shackled. It feels like the punks who are reacting to our political environment are the last partisans left, like every single meaningful new punk album is the musical equivalent of a terrorist act simply because - in comparison to everything else that is being created - of how shocking it is to hear those riffs, those words, those ideas. And honestly, a good punk album these days seems to have a similar psychological effect as a car bomb because of how severely it disrupts the musical status quo, because it reminds everyone around and everyone who hears about it that there is a larger existential conflict that still exists, a battle to determine who we are as citizens of a time and a place (and perhaps a country) and who we are as individuals, to decide what is right and what is wrong, what our ethics and morals are, what we believe and hold true, what we will not tolerate in the name of freedom regardless of what it costs.

I usually write from a very American perspective; for better or worse, I live in America and believe in the ideals that this country was founded on, even though the people who articulated those ideals often owned slaves, didn't regard women as equals and thought, for the most part, that only people who owned property should have a say in how things were run. Their actions were inconsistent with their words, but I believe in their words anyway. I believe in the passion that Thomas Jefferson had for freedom and individual liberty, despite his personal flaws. I believe in self-determination, in actualization, in the innate ability that everyone possesses to recognize the flaws in the world around them and resolve to improve them. I believe that revolution (I think it's called inspiration) begins in the mirror.

And I also believe that the music has the ability to transform the person listening to it, that the songs we hear and the music that provides a foundation for words that inspire us can shake us out of our lethargy, our apathy, our indifference and open our perception to a new reality where love and justice shine.

And even though I'm not physically capable of picking up my bass and starting it myself, I still believe that it can all start today, that it can start right now with three chords, a guitar and someone who feels as left out and alienated by all of this as I did when I was a kid ... and still do.

Cautiously Optimistic; Or, Holy Shit, Guns 'N' Roses Delivered "Chinese Democracy" Before China Did.

Apparently, "Chinese Democracy," an album that has been over 14 years and U.S. $13 million in the making (which makes that £250,000 that My Bloody Valentine supposedly spent on "Loveless" total chump change), has finally been turned over to the record label which, astonishingly enough, still exists. Perhaps understandably, this has brought about some hand-wringing amongst certain circles, namely (but not to point fingers) snobby indie fans who are all of 20 years old and weren't even born when "Appetite For Destruction" came out, so let's briefly address some common misconceptions.

First and foremost, GNR was anything but a hair metal band. Most hair metal bands cribbed anyway from a significant amount to nearly all of their material from glam rock bands and wrote songs about parties, girls, parties, drinking, parties, loud music, parties and parties. When GNR dropped "Appetite," it was clearly something completely different. That riff that kicked it off sounded like an air raid siren. Axl wailed and screamed like a banshee. Everything on it was a downer; instead of sounding anthemic, it just sounded fucking mean.

And amazingly enough, it was. GNR was the flip side of the L.A. party bands. While everyone else was trying to get drunk, get laid and get high, GNR was hungry for something else. Maybe it was revenge of some sort, but it felt like one of my favorite Nelson Algren lines - to paraphrase, the criminal and the writer both need and try to get even ... perhaps against some known and clearly defined wrong or entity, but usually just everything that made them feel like an outsider, and that's what "Appetite" embodied.

The album name wasn't just for show either - the drinking, the drugs, the riots, the shows that started three hours late ... it was as if GNR was intentionally trying to monkeywrench the mechanism of stardom that had surrounded them and set about its task. Sure, it was a nihilistic form of self-sabotage that wasn't aimed at anything or anyone in particular - to the contrary, it was aimed at everything and everyone. It was as if GNR showed up on The Love Boat, announced their attention to sink the ship, drank everything, screwed all the guest stars and then blew a hole open in the hull below the waterline.

It was amazing and I think every burnout, fuck-up, outcase, idiot, geek, dork, spazz and nerd got it because the guys in GNR weren't that much different than us when they started. They were written off, beaten up, kicked out, fucked up and pissed off. Their hostility was born from being bullied, physically and emotionally, by everything around them. And instead of following the road that teachers, parents, administrators and everyone else tried to pave for them that led to a dead-end job as the night janitor at the high school they went to (and might have dropped out of), they became the biggest rock band in the world. Every song dripped with venom, every word infused with malice.

Clearly, all that venom and vitriol was aimed at both people and structure more powerful than the voice in the song (which may or may not have been Axl) as well as, all too often, people less powerful than the narrator. And this is where I have a problem with GNR - the racism. The sexism. While I've been complaining lately about the fifth-rate feminist criticism present in "The Sex Revolts," I still have to acknowledge that there usually isn't much in GNR for women but a punch in the face and the opportunity to take out a restraining order.

Which brings me to another issue ...

Fuck You, Hakim Bey.

I mentioned Hakim Bey the other day in some conversation or another and Mellie finally got around to telling me something she had apparently heard some time ago - apparently, Bey has inclinations toward adult-child sex.

I didn't believe it. I couldn't believe it. I didn't want to believe it.

And yet after spending the last hour reading Wikipedia talk pages, searching for bibliographies and reading a slew of criticism (as well as hitting some unsavory parts of the 'Net via search engine links), it is clear that - at the very least - Hakim Bey (who may or may not be Peter Lamborn Wilson, although most people commonly think they are the same person) has written for NAMBLA's newsletter along with other publications that advocate adult-child sex of some form or another, and that Bey's contributions to those publications focuses on adult-child sex between a man and a boy.

I feel like throwing up. I have lost count of how many people I bought copies of TAZ, or loaned TAZ to. I have lost count of how many people I recommended it to, how many times I quoted something from TAZ and had someone else quote another passage, knowing that the two of us were likely the only people in the room who had read the book and, having once read it, recognized that it was impossible not to have our perception of the world around us transformed.

I feel sick. I feel like starting a bonfire in the parking lot. I feel betrayed, especially since this is the writer who argued that "The Surrealists disgraced themselves by selling amour fou to the ghost-machine of Abstraction--they sought in their unconsciousness only power over others, & in this they followed de Sade (who wanted "freedom" only for grown-up whitemen to eviscerate women & children)."

Apparently, Bey only wanted Temporary Autonomous Zones for grown-ups to prey upon and abuse children.

Disappointment doesn't even begin to cover what I'm feeling right now.

Honestly, I want to cry.

And I can't even begin to rationalize this shit the way that forum dwellers have apparently been rationalizing it for the past few years, arguing that the work and the author are separate.

So someone else whose ideas I respected falls apart in front of me in a morass of horrifying allegations, at least some of which are clearly true. Unlike people who are more intellectually accomplished than I am, I don't feel capable of separating the work from the person who wrote it, especially when, upon re-reading even a few pages of TAZ, I see references and allusions to adult-child sex EVERYWHERE. Knowing that his work was published in NAMBLA, that he wrote poetry about young boys taking baths, it's impossible not to see it.

And I feel like I just took a hard punch to the gut.

For anyone who's interested in further reading, here are some links. Enjoy the rhetorical gymnastics of people who try to justify his work while condemning or defending his ideas.

Hakim Bey / NAMBLA Google Search
Wikipedia Talk Page detailing stuff not allowed in the main entry due to legal concerns
Libcom article

Off The Top Of My Head ...

  1. Kurt Denke of Blue Jeans Cable is my new hero. Monster Cable recently sent him a cease and desist letter which claimed that his company infringed upon their intellectual property. He responded with a letter which is just about the biggest middle finger I've ever seen. If you get lost in the weeds as he documents what he needs to appropriately respond to Monster, just scroll to the bottom and read the last five or six paragraphs to see how awesome this guy is. I've never used any of Blue Jeans Cable's products, but I'm damn sure going to do so in the future.

Now Playing:

Lifetime. American Steel. Some Girls. Good Clean Fun. Cloak / Dagger. Fucked Up. Laura Cantrell.

Just Finished:

Julian Barnes, "Talking It Over" and "Love, Etc."; Kara Jesella and Marisa Meltzer, "How Sassy Changed My Life"; Michael Ondaatje, "The English Patient"; Nick Hornby, "Songbook"

Now Reading:

Julian Barnes, "The Porcupine"

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Last modified on Saturday, May 3, 2008