Notes From The Flip Side: 05.10.2004
Stay Where You Are. Do Something Great.
At an inspired Dillinger Four show some months ago in Iowa City, Paddy was calling out the world - the world being everyone from a smaller community who moved to the big city (the big city in this part of the world being Chicago) as soon as they could. I don't remember exactly how he expressed his sentiments, but I can summarize them loosely by noting that he told people to stay where they were and create something, not to do the same thing that everyone else does.
I'm not entirely sure why I'm finally beginning to develop something resembling an affection for this place; I simply know that the stands I've previously taken in theoretical ways are beginning to manifest themselves in practical applications and require sticking around to see them through. I'm beginning to understand that it is increasingly less likely that I will return to San Diego for any purposes other than visiting and getting some decent Mexican food.
I'm beginning to finally learn what I think I knew all along, based on the books I bought before I left my hometown - you can never go home again.
The Washington Post recently published a fascinating series of articles which analyzed the widening ideological split in this country. It's something I've been feeling for a while; it's something I've been losing friends over for about the past decade (when someone thinks that Rush is right and Newt's Contract With America is the only way forward, there isn't much middle ground). Out here, it seems even more pronounced. While there is a progressive movement, it's small. Two or three people will canvass neighborhoods to get signatures for Dennis Kucinich; one person will do a MoveOn.org bake sale. Most people seem to support Bush; he is a wartime president after all, and dissent during wartime is the moral equivalent of treason ... or so the reasoning seems to go. If you support Bush, you don't support the troops and that's unpatriotic. And let's not even discuss the idea of changing ships in mid-stream ... it's better to bury more troops than to do that.
And so it is that I disagree with most people - progressive or conservative - on most issues. Their beliefs fall along party and religious lines - to be Republican means to be socially conservative and religious. Being a Democrat means seems to mean less faith and more social tolerance. And frankly, both parties are so caught up in fighting each other that neither will draw the strings on the public purse and I can't really see how they manage to do anything for us as they snipe at each other.
Frankly, I'm pissed.
I disagree with most people on the role of religion in the public sphere (it has none) and the role of politics in the private (again, it has none). By this I simply mean that I don't want any faith's guidelines hanging in a courthouse, nor do I want the government telling someone what it can or cannot do in private. That is, in effect, the true conservative position in terms of social policy.
When I was in college, the people who I spent the most time with and had the most in common with were members of a group called the Young Americans for Freedom. Most people had pejorative names for them, but even at 19 or 20, I'd rather go bowling with them than play footbag with the hemp-wearing hippies because we could actually discuss public policy issues in detail ... and while it may sound odd, my anarchist philosophies were much closer to their vision of conservatism than they were apart.
We all agreed that the government's role was to provide fundamental services that people could not provide individually - interstate transportation, national security, that sort of thing - until such time as community involvement could supersede the government's role. We agreed the government had no business in someone's private life. We didn't split hairs about it by discussing whether that extended to doctor-patient relationships, legalizing drugs or sodomy laws - the principle, at that point, was enough.
But somewhere along the line, ideologues and pundits fucked all this shit up and the center fell apart. Holding a centrist position became a target and so people with fewer guts fell to one side or another, leaving very few people in the demilitarized zone of the middle.
But this is where I've always felt most comfortable. It's usually where you'll find me in a pit at a punk show. There's more chaos, more turmoil, more debate, more opportunity for movement and reflection. My back isn't against a wall and so I can bend instead of being crushed and breaking against an ideology. And if you know how to handle yourself, it's far more fun because the attacks are constant, providing an endless stream of chances to reevaluate beliefs.
To extend the metaphor of a slam pit, the middle is the hardest place to be - it's the target. Most people run in one direction and push each other - anyone who doesn't go with the flow gets checked, but not even having a flow is an affront to the prevailing culture ... which is typically small-minded and short-sighted, unable to imagine something other than what everyone else is doing. And at a recent Dillinger Four show in Chicago, my girlfriend and I stood shoulder to shoulder, tossing younger, bigger and arguably stronger motherfuckers who challenged us out of the way.
I won't presume to speak on her behalf, but neither of us likes Bush and I don't think Kerry is the answer. I think he's the flip side of a coin, but do we need currency or something else? Forget changing ships in mid-stream; we need to change metaphors and find one with more options, a metaphor that doesn't embody a binary system. We need a range of options, not another set of shitty choices. I hope that we are more representative of America, that our understanding of the complex issues posed by these systems is shared by most people, that most people recognize that it's called a political spectrum for a reason.
I hope that most people are like a friend of mine who served in the first Gulf War and opposes the second one, who doesn't like Bush or the alternatives.
Of course, dissatisfaction engenders apathy; why participate in something if the outcome is guaranteed to suck? And to me, election returns merely indicate that extremists on both sides are exceedingly motivated to bend people to their will and their way, and while they may be elected, that doesn't make it any less fascist. It's worth remembering a lesson from German history at this point in American political history - Hitler was elected.
And so I think about all of these things. I wonder why I can't have an intelligent, reasonable conversation with many people which doesn't end in people drawing a line or turning away because our points of view conflict. I wonder why perfectly reasonable centrist candidates seem to be in danger of extinction, why extremism - in both punk and politics - is all the rage.
I wonder when we drew these stupid fucking lines and decided that we couldn't actually talk anymore, that we are fundamentally incapable of seeing eye to eye and that we really are two Americas, one on the left and one on the right.
But maybe Mellie and I are a third America - people who are willing to stand in the center of the pit, regardless of how big the motherfucker coming right at us is.
A Wild Yard.
The yard outside is becoming increasingly wild. Forget about the squirrels, cardinals, blue jays, sparrows, mourning doves and other fauna for a moment; a rabbit just moved in. It's just getting silly outside. I honestly think the critters around here eat better than we do.
A New Addition To The House.
I think most people remember Dude. I know I always will. So say hello to Dante, a mutt that was about a week away from euthanasia when he got here. He's a toothsome little fucker; I'll give him that much. He's getting better ... and I think my wounds from his sharp little fangs are finally healing.
Off The Top Of My Head ...
- Bob Seger. Seriously. And fuck you for laughing. If Bruce Springsteen was the working man's Bob Dylan, then Seger is the poor man's Bruce Springsteen - Seger, probably more than any other classic rocker, got it in some very fundamental ways (see "Feel Like A Number"). I can't think of a time in recent memory when a Seger song has come on the radio and I haven't let it play through.
- I'm still enthralled with A Softer World. Philosophical, existential, challenging, funny ... it's simply great.
- Black Cross totally saved my ass today by bringing the rock. Raw, vicious punk rock. These guitars are simply unholy motherfuckers annihilating everything. They sound like malfunctioning bone saws; they sound like punk should. This album got me through the remainder of the afternoon and, while I may not have had a smile on my face, I walked off the proverbial field under my own power. After all ... you're only a victim if you don't get up.
The Mountain Goats. Antioch Arrow. Clikatat Ikatowi. Heroin. Mohinder. Hüsker Dü. Mindflayer. Ladybug Transistor. Lightning Bolt. Die Monitr Batss. Les Savy Fav. Chromatics. The Dragons. Black Cross.
Michael Azerrad, "Our Band Could Be Your Life"
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"