24 November 2008

A Real New Yorker

Last night I was supposed to meet a bunch of PPMB-ers at BARCADE to give a proper send off to our Canadian friend M.W., who'd been in town for last weekend's ERGS-travaganza. Barcade is located all of three blocks from my house, but I guess I've lived here long enough to fall under the pernicious influence of Brooklyn (Sub)Standard Time, which is the zone in which appointments, shows, whatever, start, well, whenever. Result: I turned up a full three hours late (hey, that's one hour per block; not SO bad, is it), which was still better than most of the PPMB, who didn't turn up at all.

The four who did, including M.W. himself, had already fled back to Queens and Manhattan by the time I came strolling in, which was a disappointment (to me, anyway; I don't recall any of them complaining). But while I may have acquired some bad Brooklyn habits (hey, at least no drugs yet), I'm not, and apparently never will be - in the minds of some, anyway - a Brooklynite. Let alone a real New Yorker.

I can live with that. I've called a lot of places home over the years without giving too much concern over whether the people who'd been living there longer than I had felt similarly. I've had the occasional snooty Londoner, and quite a few snooty San Franciscans, waylay me with some version of "But you're not really from here, are you?" But I've never thought of New Yorkers as being that provincial; in fact, the general rule seems to be the smaller the town, the more obsessed the locals are with whether or not you're "from" there.

Thus I was mightily surprised when a near-violent row broke out between JONNIE WHOA OH, the feisty CEO of WHOA OH RECORDS and JOHNNY B-BAGS, an aspiring lawyer who moved here from DC by way of Ohio a year or two ago, over whether B-Bags had the right to refer to himself as a "New Yorker."

Now even I've been here longer than B-Bags (and if we're going to be pedantic, I was here decades before Whoa Oh and his fellow traveler CHRIS GRIVET ever laid eyes on this city), and I'll admit it can be a bit off-putting when someone who moved in last week starts talking about "our" neighborhood and "our" community in a too-knowing and familiar way (not that I've ever done this myself, but actually, yes I have). But the longer I live somewhere and the more I feel at home there, the less bothered I am by newcomers, and the happier I am to see them feeling like they belong there too.

Not so with Messrs. Whoa Oh and Grivet. In their book (and a ponderous, well-thumbed volume of rules and regulations it is), you can not be a New Yorker unless you were born here. The Bronx's BILL FLORIO is a bit less stringent: he reckons you need to have been here "since junior high" to make the cut.

Whoa Oh gets pretty irate if you point out that while he qualifies under the "born here" rule, he fails abysmally under the "since junior high" addendum, since he actually spent most of his teenage years out on Long Island. He'll protest that this temporary dislocation doesn't count, since as a minor he had no choice but to follow his mother when she moved there, but using this logic, being born in the city limits should count for even less, since as far as I'm aware, most infants exert no choice whatsoever in where they are born and spend their mewling and puking years.

It would seem, in fact, that one's "home town" is really the place one chooses to live beginning when a person is old enough to have some choice in the matter. I've known New Yorkers who grew up here, didn't like it that much, and split for California or Europe or the Midwest as soon as they were old enough to leave home, and conversely there are kids all over America and the world to whom New York represents their spiritual destiny and can barely wait (in some cases don't even bother waiting) till they're 18 and can move there. So which represents a truer New Yorker? The one who was born here through no choice of his or her own and couldn't wait to leave, or the one to whom living in New York represents a dream come true and is willing to put with any sort of hardship or privation to make it happen?

Well, as I say, it's not a super-important issue to me, or, in my experience, to most New Yorkers. This has always been a city of immigrants, both domestic and foreign, and without the constant stream of newcomers, we'd be, well, Boston or something. But it has given me a good song idea for my hypothetical new band, and though I'm still missing a drummer and a bassist and maybe a guitarist, I'm already off to a good start with this half-rock/half-rap ditty about the blood feud between Queens chauvinists Grivet and Whoa Oh and Brooklyn-based B-Bags. In fact it starts out, "Blood in the streets of Brooklyn and Queens..." and I'm thinking of calling it "Gs On The G Train" in homage to the crosstown line that connects the two boroughs.

In fact, since the only other song I've written in recent years was also about the G train, I may just make this an all-G train-themed band, but that remains under consideration. True, neither Whoa Oh or Grivet would be caught dead on the G; provincial Astorians that they are, they don't consider a subway ride to be a "real" subway ride unless the train passes through Manhattan at some point, even if it requires going miles out of their way to do so.

I'm hoping that my song will, by highlighting the tragic futility of this dispute, forestall a potential blood feud, or at least turn it into an all-singing, all-dancing affair à la an outer-boroughs West Side Story. In the longer run, of course, B-Bags will finish law school and successfully sue for the right to be called a New Yorker while Whoa Oh and Grivet might conceivably move to Santa Monica and get their own sitcom which in addition to its obvious Odd Couple overtones, will revolve largely around the two of them trying to maintain their native New York-ness in the face of rampant, overwhelming Californication. Okay, not the most original premise (I think I Love Lucy pulled a somewhat similar stunt), but with this kind of show it's about 90% character and 10% plot, and these guys... well, they're a couple characters, all right. New Yorkers through and through, and we love them for it. Stay tuned, and in the meantime, let's hope no one gets shot.

23 November 2008


Another weekend, another secret THORNS OF LIFE show. This time the in-the-know scenesters and hipsters went flocking to Soho while the less well connected exchanged frantic text messages à la the protagonists of NICK AND NORAH'S INFINITE PLAYLIST in search of the elusive WHERE'S FLUFFY? gig.

Being in receipt of a couple such text messages myself, I briefly considered a dash across the Williamsburg Bridge, but ultimately decided to attend a punk rock show on the more prosaic side of the East River. Actually, it was only partly a punk rock show, the punkest part of all coming right at the beginning in the form of the debut performance by the HOMEWRECKERS, featuring the multi-talented CRISTY ROAD (everyone's seen her artwork, and last night she was also reading from some of her written work) on guitar and vocals, FRANK UNLOVABLE on guitar, JACKIE O. on bass and backing vocals, and CRYSTAL (I tried to get a surname, but all Frank could tell me was that "She's Crystal Homewrecker now") on drums.

They got a really enthusiastic reception and a very good-sized crowed (especially considering that it was the most miserably wintry night of the not-even-arrived-yet New York winter so far. The sound was very raw and old-school punk, almost-but-not-quite to the point of retro, with Cristy's vocals (Jackie's backups helped too!) setting the Homewreckers distinctly apart from the pack. Check them out first chance you get.

This being South Williamsburg, they had to let the hipsters in, too, and remember, these are the lower-tier hipsters, the ones who didn't get their Thorns Of Life text messages in time, so naturally there was a DJ and some other bands playing some sort of music that may have been perfectly valid but didn't do much for me, so after the Homewreckers I retreated to the back room, where numerous PPMB representatives were holding forth.

There were tales to be told of the previous night's birthday festivities for MIKEY ERG and Jackie O. that took place at Jackie's Bushwick loft and which apparently got a little rowdy. The best evidence I have of this, having not attended personally because it was too cold or I was too depressed or something - no, actually because I was a doofus - was the story of Jackie O.'s bedroom door being torn off its hinges, always a good sign of lively goings-on at a party, wouldn't you say?

There was also some speculation about when or if the Thorns Of Life are going to start playing shows that normal people can attend. With at least one and possibly two members about to be out of town for an extended period, prospects don't look good. If there were big money and a major record label behind TTOL, you'd almost think this was part of a brilliant viral marketing campaign, sort of what like RCA did with THE STROKES a few years back, the main differences being that there's no money and no record label behind TTOL and that they're actually really good.

But the level of excitement about this band is already such that people are asking why exactly they're choosing to play only secret shows that no more than a relative handful of fans can attend. Of course there's nothing that unusual about wanting to play a few small, low-key shows when a band is just starting out, much the way Broadway shows have out-of-town tryouts, but for most bands, that happens naturally anyway, since unless somebody famous is in the band, it's hard to get more than 10 or 15 friends to show up to your first showcase at some Lower East Side dive where you're supposed to go on at midnight and end up playing at a quarter to three on a Tuesday night.

But with TTOL you've got three famous people in the band, and it's probably no exaggeration to say they could probably go straight to playing club or festival shows for hundreds or even thousands of fans. Of course just because they could isn't to say they should, and it's to their credit that they're taking things slow. But what, people are already asking, if they have no intention of ever taking things to the larger venues that they could easily fill? Does a band have an obligation to make its shows available to everyone who wants to see them? No would seem to be the obvious answer to that, but when does a laudable desire to keep things low-key and unfettered by commercial considerations turn into something elitist and exclusive? Hey, don't look at me; I sure don't know. Just sayin' what people are sayin'...

One last TTOL item: JONNY RALLY, of pop-punk label RALLY RECORDS, started this, but the trend seems to be catching on: responding to any of life's travails and vicissitudes with, "I guess it's just the thorns of life." Subway shut its doors in your face when you were already late for work this morning? Thorns of life, dude. Stepped in dogshit just before going into an important meeting with your boss? Ditto. And sure enough, one frustrated fan who didn't get his text message in time responded with, "Man, I'm all up in the thorns of life this week."

In other somewhat unexpected news, the RIVERDALES are said to be getting ready to record a new album and possibly/probably play some shows. Not a conventional tour in the usual sense of the word, more like a series of one-offs in various cities. Hopes are high that one such appearance will be at Baltimore's INSUBORDINATION FEST next June; one of the more memorable highlights of the first (2006) Fest came when DAN VAPID's MOPES covered the Riverdales classic "Back To You."

Also showing signs of moving out of musical hibernation: JESSE MICHAELS, of OPERATION IVY and COMMON RIDER fame. He's got at least a couple shows scheduled next month; I'm under the impression that he'll be playing solo acoustic, but no confirmation on that so far. I hope to be seeing at least one of them, and will certainly report back on that.

What else? In this post-ERGS WEEKEND, everything seems relatively slack and slow, sort of like the first week back to normal after the holidays or something. Oh, speaking of which, you want a real rumor? Before the Riverdales resurrection can go into full effect, they need a new drummer, and among the potential candidates are the drummers from not one, but two East Coast powerhouse bands. Any other drummers wanting to get in on this action are advised to send their résumés in forthwith!

Last but very least: as if I didn't have enough ways to while away (waste) my potentially productive time, I've now been prevailed upon to join FACEBOOK. In the past I've already made the mistakes of joining first FRIENDSTER and then MYSPACE, and quickly came to hate both of them. Any bets on how long before I make it three for three? In the meantime feel free to friend me and while you're at it, send me gossip. I can't make all of it up myself!

16 November 2008

Music Can Make ME Stupid


I have to start out by saying I'm sorry to everyone who was bummed or stressed out by my mentioning rumors of a THORNS OF LIFE show here, especially the band and the people at the house who were putting on the show.

After seeing the details (time, place, address etc.) posted a couple places, the PPMB included, on the wide wide interwebs, I figured it wouldn't make any difference if I mentioned rumors about the gig as long as I didn't mention a specific house, but I figured wrong. By Friday afternoon, word had spread pretty much around the world and people were emailing and calling me as well as posting on every message board in sight trying to find out more info. Some people jumped into cars or buses hundreds of miles away.

At that point, someone understandably freaked out (what would you do if you suddenly heard that 500 people would be arriving at your house in a matter of hours?) and posted that there while there was a show planned, the Thorns Of Life had never been part of it. That threw enough confusion into the mix to deter maybe half the people who might have come.

People who put on house shows are the unsung heroes of the New York scene. Those of you who don't live around here might think there's no end of places for bands to play, and technically that's true, but what you wouldn't probably know is that about 98% of them completely and utterly suck unless you're a big, successful band with a fierce booking agent (if you're in that position maybe only 60% of them suck).

But if you haven't sold enough records and generated enough income to write your own ticket, house shows are often your only alternative if you want your friends to see you without getting reamed for cash, bossed and bullied around by obnoxious bouncers and sound men, and generally demoralized. So if/when I do anything to jeopardize New York's thriving house show scene, I deserve a good kick in the pants, though I hasten to inform any of you lining up to take on that task that I've already administered said kick myself, so you needn't bother.

So what ended up happening? Well, the Thorns Of Life played after all, to a living room crammed full of more people than should ever be crammed into a living room, but it wasn't unduly uncomfortable or unsafe, and what do you know? They're a good band! Surprised? No, seriously, a VERY good band. More than one person was heard to be opining that they're the best band Blake's been in, which for a second show is probably more than slightly over the top praise, but people were feeling pretty excitable about the whole business. Given my indiscretion from earlier on, I was halfway afraid to set foot in the place for fear of being tarred and feathered, but the worst indignity I suffered was getting my foot stepped on.

It'll be interesting to see where this band goes. As fun as it is playing low-key house shows, they may be fooling themselves if they think they can carry on that way for long without generating insane levels of interest that will overwhelm any attempts to keep things on the DL. Unless, perhaps, they can find some friends with a very large house. MAYOR BLOOMBERG and GRACIE MANSION come to mind.


JIM TESTA, editor-publisher of JERSEY BEAT and dean of the Jersey scene since practically before there was one, came sidling over as the lights went up on the wreckage and detritus of the last-ever Ergs set.

"Have you ever seen a band breakup like that?" he asked, with the air of a man who doesn't expect to be contradicted, and looked crestfallen when I said yes, I had. So much so that I wanted to run after him and shout, "But only once, Jim, only once!"

The breakup/last show I had in mind was OPERATION IVY in 1989, and even though you can no doubt find as many differences as similarities between the two bands, I'm sticking with it. Both bands represented the culmination of a scene that had grown up organically and - to everyone except a couple thousand true believers in the punk rock underground - almost invisibly. Although the last Op Ivy show was the biggest thing that had happened in the history of GILMAN STREET and was swamped with fans to the point where the warehouse held three to four times its legal capacity, it didn't even rate a passing mention in the local press.

Five, six, seven years later, those same newspapers would be falling all over themselves to write knowing portraits of the scene that was "the birthplace of GREEN DAY," and Operation Ivy finally began to get the recognition they deserved from the mainstream (they already had plenty from the underground, with record sales doubling or tripling every year for the first seven years after they broke up. A band that had sold all of 2,000 7"s at the time they played that last show went on to sell something like a million albums.

Everything is different today, I keep being told, and it's true that the odds are considerably more stacked against the Ergs ever selling that many records. Very few bands do these days. But the fanatical devotion, the ever-growing interest that eventually vaulted Operation Ivy into one of that handful of bands that go down in history because they encapsulated, illuminated and inspired an entire scene is something that the Ergs can also look forward to. Ten years, twenty years from now, they'll be far more famous and far more loved than they are today. I got laughed at and ridiculed - including by members of the band - when I made that prediction about Operation Ivy. No doubt I'll get a similar reaction when I predict something similar for the Ergs. come back and laugh at me in ten or twenty years if I'm wrong, but I don't think I will be.

I say this while not being nearly as familiar with the music of the Ergs as I was with that of Op Ivy, which put me at a big disadvantage yesterday when a packed house at the legendary ASBURY LANES (legendary can mean a lot of different things, but trust me, this place qualifies) went wild for and sang along with every single song. I didn't even know the names of many of the songs, and often only recognized them with, "Oh, that's the one with that great little bit of 60s-style backing harmony," or "That's the one where MIKEY comes up front and sings about Miles Davis." Okay, I'm exaggerating a little; I've been seeing quite a bit of the Ergs lately and by the time of their last show I'd at least heard most of the songs.

But that's not the point. Even though I met at least two it not all three of the Ergs way back around 2000, when the band was just getting underway, I was very slow to appreciate their greatness, and even today I don't "get" them on the level their rabidly devoted local fans do. But that's all right, because this is not about me. If I came late to the Ergs, I also came late to this scene, and it rightfully belongs to the people who kept it going and nurtured it back when it seemed like nobody really cared at all. (There was once actually going to be a zine about this kind of music called NOBODY CARES, but you can guess the punchline to that one.)

When Op Ivy played their last show, security at Gilman lost all control of the doors, so nobody will ever know for certain how many people were actually there. For the Ergs' last shows at Asbury Lanes, ticket sales and entry were far more tightly managed, meaning that hundreds of fans who would have liked to have been there couldn't be. The lucky ones who were got treated to between two and three hours (because of course most of them had to see both the afternoon and the late night show) of vintage and modern Ergs, finally wrapping up in a massive and marathon rendering of "Upstairs/Downstairs" that lasted about half an hour and involved first members of HUNCHBACK and then everybody from the audience who could fit on stage banging or pounding on something and chanting the chorus unto near-infinity.

"That was your version of Op Ivy's extended dub mix of "Hedgecore," I said to Mikey afterward, and he knew exactly what I was talking about. Outside a frigid wind had come sweeping across Asbury Park, turning what had been an unnaturally warm and rainy November day into the proverbial dark and stormy night. There were a couple points during the long ride back to New York (it actually flew by, but indulge me here) where I feared we might be blown off the road, and I didn't get home until 4:30 or so, but oh, what memories I carried with me. There couldn't have been more than a handful of people in that crowd who won't treasure this experience for the rest of their lives, and that was probably because they spent the evening comatose (yes, there were such, about which more later), but speaking on my and everyone else's behalf, thank you, Ergs, thank you for your devotion to the music and the love for your friends and fans, and for the eight and a half years of amazing-ness you gifted us with. I don't think there's a single band that matters in the immediate NY/NJ scene that doesn't owe something of its heart and soul to the fact that the Ergs existed. And for that reason alone, they'll live on forever.


Although I don't imbibe myself, I don't begrudge my fellow music lovers the occasional tipple, and in fact their drinking escapades often furnish me with as much (in some cases, more) entertainment than the bands themselves. Yesterday being such a momentous occasion, the tipples grew far more than occasional for quite a few attendees, so the hilarity that ensued grew exponentially as well.

In most cases, that is; intertwined with the revelry there were the quiet tragedies as well, for example that of the recently-turned-18 lad who drove 175 miles to bid goodbye to the Ergs, drank three quarters of a bottle of whiskey in anticipation of the excitement, and wound up spending the evening passed out in a friend's car and missed the entire show. Even here, though, the humorous aspect was not entirely absent: who else should materialize at the show but errant 18-year-old's dad, who spent an hour or so being given the runaround ("Oh, don't worry, ____'s fine, he's probably watching the show from over there. Or maybe over there. Oh, look, is that him by the snack bar?") before finally being led to his comatose (I know I already used that word once, but what else suffices?) son. Hopefully all has been resolved happily by now, but I am here to testify that in my own teenage drinking, puking and passing out days, my father is not one of the first people I would have preferred to encounter. And guess what? It happened anyway! One of those immutable laws of destiny, I suspect.

And then there were those two movie star lookalikes who rolled in from Ohio for the festivities; let's just call them, say, JONAH HILL and MARKY MARK. Well, it seems that Jonah walked into the room to discover another partier, a normally very sophisticated, well-spoken, sharp-dressing (well, he wears shirts with collars on a regular basis, and they're often plaid - I hope I haven't given too much away here) simultaneously puking and crying and somehow also declaiming, "Oh, my life, my life!" while Marky Mark pointed at him and laughed hysterically (in the original version I heard, PLAID MAN was saying, "This is the greatest moment of my life!" which would have been better, but this column has some regard for veracity. When it's convenient, er...).

Then there's the Incredible Case of the Disappearing Toe, involving (this has already made it on to the internet, so I don't think he'll mind being identified by name) DREW PEABOTTOM, Ph.D. (yes, folks, he's a genuine doctor of the engineering variety) who managed to engineer a hotel shower door onto his foot and remove a portion of one of his toes, necessitating a trip to the emergency room (one which, I note, didn't prevent him turning up midway through the following day's punk rock show up in New York). Despite the great hubbub made about his loss (including innumerable jokes that involved asking unanswerable questions and replying "I don't toe," urging people to kiss their girlfriends "under the missing toe," and comparing Dr. D. to a pizza chef that tossed his dough while Drew lost his toe), the scuttlebutt is that the actual missing portion of his anatomy amounted to little more than toenail. Oh, and lots of blood, witnesses avidly reported. Do you suppose there might have been alcohol involved in this incident? I don't toe!!!

It wouldn't be a drunken bacchanal without CHADD DERKINS putting in an appearance, and sure enough, there he was, wobbling unsteadily in the rain while he serenaded all and sundry with a charming little ditty called "Smell Yo Dick," which apparently has become quite a hit in certain circle (no, not the ones you're thinking) and is the poignant tale of a neglected young lady who is being left alone by her lover until 5 in the morning and apparently wishes to use her keenly developed sense of smell to try and ascertain where he might have been. And when Chadd trailed off, CHELSEA (one name is all she needs, but you auslanders might know her from her hitmaking combo SHORT ATTENTION) gave us a version of "So What - I'm A Rock Star" that was so good you could dance to it even a cappella (well, I could, and I wasn't even drinking, remember).

Who should turn up in the midst of this glamorous mise-en-scène the scène actually was a muddy field across from the Lanes, from whence we'd been unceremoniously booted after the first show) but PHRANK MARTIAN, straight out of Binghamton with his gym-toned new body and (not that there's any connection) the police. About half the crowd then retreated to GEORGIE'S, a neighborhood bar described on one website as "the gay Cheers," where apparently CHRIS A., sporting a lumberjack shirt and several days (weeks?) worth of beard growth, got hit upon in a way he wasn't anticipating.

I missed most of these hijinks, having opted for a half hour power nap in the car, which reminds me of things like sleep deficits: my wonderful new bed has now been in my apartment for three whole days, during which time I have slept in it a total of, if my calculations are correct, nine hours. I think it's time to make like OBAMA and remedy that deficit!


But not before I fill you in on today's CAKE SHOP show, put together and masterfully orchestrated by the inestimable CHRIS GRIVET, which provided a fitting coda to what just might have been the best weekend ever.

It was more than a little surreal to see bleary-eyed rock and rollers wandering tenuously into the Cake Shop's confines at the ungodly hour of 2 pm, barely 11 hours after the last notes of the Ergs' demise had been rung, and considerably fewer hours than that since most of them had gotten to bed. But there they were, perhaps not on top form, but that they were on any form at all should have been sufficiently miraculous.

But that wasn't all: quite a few of them then proceeded to jump up (well, it really isn't very high at all) stage and give us what was easily the best Cake Shop show of the year, featuring the UNLOVABLES (they cheated, though; HALLIE had actually had a normal night's sleep) (but who was on drums? who else but the indefatigable Mikey Erg!), the LOST LOCKER COMBO (who made a bigger mess than usual, but who almost everybody liked so much that for once they didn't mind), FULL OF FANCY, who were awesomely good, FOR SCIENCE, who were playing their last show with JEFF ERG on vocals (remember, original singer, LSD, freakout, Hawaii? you've got to pay attention, folks!), and rounding off the evening (yes, by now it was dark), an absolutely sterling set by THE STEINWAYS, which included one spectacle I'd never seen before and hadn't expected to: MICHELLE SHIRELLE interrupting the usual shenanigans to TUNE HER BASS. Not that she even needed to; I mean, sure, it could have stood tuning, but she was in such rare form tonight that nobody would have noticed if she hadn't.

The pit, of course, was ruled by MATT LAME and myself, being among the handful of people there who hadn't had a drop to drink the night before and were ready to rage all over again. But Matt, usually in full command of his world and all he surveys, momentarily got GOT when Michelle used her microphone to refer to him as Matt No-Fame. Gotta hurt when the guy's in the middle of one of the most professionally managed and effective marketing schemes ever seen for his and CARLA MONOXIDE's combo, SUCIDIE. It's still a safe bet that when all the photos are in, Matt Lame will be in more of them than the combined total of all the members of the bands who were actually on stage. So what, he's a rock star. Once Carla helps him pick out those new tight jeans, there'll be no stopping that guy.

14 November 2008

Music Can Make You Stupid

That was the title of my old gossip column in Lookout magazine. Well, I call it a gossip column now, but at the time it was meant to be cutting edge music coverage, and to some extent it was, since the local bands I wrote about each issue were mostly from the Gilman Street scene that would soon be making big news all across the country.

But of course none of us knew that at the time, so what it really amounted to was rumors, gossip, and the occasional news item about a very tiny fish pond and the even tinier fish who swam there. Anyone who wasn't intimately familiar with Gilman and its habitués shouldn't have had a clue as to what I was banging on about.

And yet for some reason they read it anyway, and in many cases took it very seriously. Soon half the letters I got became variations on, "Why didn't you mention my band?" or "Why did you mention my band (if you haven't got anything to say about them?)".

During this same period Lookout's circulation grew from a few hundred xeroxed copies given away for free in the Bay Area and the Emerald Triangle to 10,000 printed copies, sold all over the country (but still given away for free in Northern California). I imagine this large leap in readership owed far more to the meteoric rise of Green Day than to my silly little gossip column, but now that Lookout and Gilman and the East Bay had become equated in the public mind with "next big thing" status, people combed through "Music Can Make You Stupid" all the more avidly, as if it were their own set of private tea leaves through which they could prognosticate the industry's (or, more to the point, their own band's) future.

I'm not sure I've ever written anything else that popular (apart from the Laurie L. "My Adventure With Green Day" parent-killing story in the liner notes of Kerplunk, of which there are more than a million copies in print), and the only explanation I have is the stylistic approach I took (because, let's be honest, it wasn't even a particularly accurate source of information; I was never all that big on fact-checking or objectivity).

But what I usually did with MCMYS was to write it as a version of the society columns I had always puzzled over as a kid. Why, I used to ask my parents, is it in the newspaper when Mr. So-and-so goes to a party or on vacation? I mean, there were never any stories about my family getting a new (used) car or when our cat had kittens, both of which seemed like far more important events to me.

"Oh, that's because they're part of high society, dear," my mother would explain, but it still never made sense. What was so high about their society? Their lives didn't sound any more interesting than mine, and that certainly wasn't saying much. Later on, when I heard my friend Flam's theory that we counterculturalists/mistfit/sociopaths/whatever were actually "aristocrats in exile," I decided that there was no difference, or if there was, it was merely that the denizens of so-called high society simply had a better press agent.

So I decided to become press agent for the obscure, downtrodden, overlooked, and alienated (i.e., myself and all my friends), and began reporting the most mundane development as though it were a breath-taking revelation: "CHUCK MONSULA (names always in bold face and caps) made an appearance at Gilman wearing a funny hat! LENNY ISOCRACY and PAUL POULTRY MAGIC thought it was hilarious!!!" (The sharp-eyed and/or long in tooth among you will note that this particular item is chronologically unlikely if not impossible; it's meant for illustrative purposes rather than historical ones.)

The formula proved to be a winning one, if having my stuff and nonsense taken seriously by my readers can be called winning. On the plus side, it definitely generated interest in the bands coming out of the East Bay and playing at Gilman; on the maybe not so plus side, it helped inflame egos and fan rivalries that, while often highly amusing, ran counter to what Gilman was supposed to be about.

It wasn't that different, I suppose, from what happens on internet message boards and Myspace pages nowadays, albeit not nearly so instantaneous. Before long I was getting letters (remember those?!) from kids in Connecticut or Croatia who'd never been within three thousand miles of Berkeley but who were as well versed as I was, if not more so, in the ways, wiles and tumultuous interactions of the various Gilman personalities. I began to feel like Charles Dickens might have when readers would besiege him with letters demanding to know whether their favorite character was going to prosper or die.

Ah well, that was then and this is now; here we are on another coast and in another century, and this time I promise you the unadulterated truth about the bands and people I'm about to mention. First off, the musical news overshadowing all other musical news locally this weekend will be of course the last shows by New Jersey's ERGS!, who for reasons incomprehensible to most of their fans, are breaking up.

MIKEY, JEFF and JOE are going out with a big four-show bang, the first being the "secret" one (in that nobody but the band's friends and about 3,000 subscribers to the PPMB knew about it) that came off tonight at The Parlor in New Brunswick. Friday night will be at the Khyber in Philadelphia, and Saturday will see two shows, an all-ages matinee at midday and a late-night blowout, both at Asbury Lanes on the Jersey Shore. Tickets to any of these are, to put it mildly, extremely difficult to come by, with the late night Saturday one being by far the most sought-after.

The PPMB crew, not surprisingly, is in a tizzy and an uproar - honestly, the last time I saw this kind of hubbub over a band breaking up was when OPERATION IVY called it quits - with a slightly-more-manic-than-usual CHADD DERKINS trying to organize a mass tattoo-in in which attendees at the matinee will use the down time before the late show to have the Ergs! exclamation point inked somewhere on their body (and Chadd himself will join in, he promises, if only somebody will pay for him). The STEINWAYS' GRATH McGRATH has been mocking the tattoo people, accusing them of succumbing to the same sort of hysteria which in his view accrued to PRESIDENT-ELECT OBAMA in the recent campaign. Perhaps he's merely upset that his recent trial balloons about bringing the Steinways to an end soon didn't result in a wave of penguin or zombie hamburger tattoos.

Speaking of which, the Steinways will be playing an early afternoon show this Sunday, along with THE UNLOVABLES, FOR SCIENCE, FULL OF FANCY and the LOST LOCKER COMBO, which should be almost as hot a ticket as the Ergs shows, not because as many people will turn up (though those who've flown in from other states and countries to see the Ergs will swell the numbers), but because the Cake Shop's basement is INFINITESIMAL, and also because For Science have just announced that this will be their last show, too. Something about a singer getting wacked out on acid and disappearing Peter Green-style to Hawaii, and when's the last time you heard about anyone getting wacked out on acid, let alone have it majorly impact on their lives? For Science have always had a serious 70s vibe to them, but this might be taking it just a little farther than necessary. Their live shows have, thanks to various forms of substance abuse, tended toward the shambolic, but their recorded output has won them lots of fans, many of whom will be lined up outside the Cake Shop come Sunday. No advance tickets, so getting there early is advisable.

So much going on in the New York/New Jersey (I'm nowhere near finished) may prove to be bad timing for BEN WEASEL, who along with Brooklyn's THE CHALLENGED is playing a couple of shows at Reggie's Rock Club in Chicago on Friday and Saturday. His last two appearances there were sold out months in advance, with people flying in from all over the country for the rare opportunity of seeing Ben perform live, but you might actually have a chance of getting a ticket should you be somewhere in the vicinity of the Midwest this weekend. Meanwhile, back in Brooklyn, we have a two-fer and/or a pick'em for Friday night: in Williamsburg, at Death By Audio on S. 2nd Street, there's a show featuring LEMURIA (who were absolutely sensational at THE FEST last week), CHEEKY, GORDON GANO'S ARMY (who also won Fest raves) and GET BENT. Sounds like a no-brainer, right? But wait... across town we also have what promises to be only the second appearance ever by THE THORNS OF LIFE. Who they, you ask? Just a little old Brooklyn house party band featuring some people you may or may not have heard of: BLAKE SCHWARZENBACH, AARON COMETBUS, and DANIELA SEA. I could list the previous affiliations of the first two, but it would probably be as pretentious as it would be superfluous. As for Daniela (formerly Danyella in some circles), she used to be in a Gilman band called the GR'UPS. Oh yeah, and a TV show called THE L WORD.

This band has been in the works for a few months now, something I knew but was sworn to secrecy about, which became rather annoying when everybody else started telling me the latest gossip, and even more annoying when I missed their first show last weekend. Perhaps they thought that by excluding me they'd be able to stay out of the MCMYS column, but no chance of that, boys (and girl). Anyway, sometime before tomorrow night I'll have to make up my mind which of these I'm attending, unless of course I end up sleeping all through the evening because I stayed up so late to write this column, which is a real possibility. Especially since I'm getting a new bed tomorrow, my very first bed, in fact, since I left England. Yes, it's true, for over a year now I've been sleeping, and not very well, I must say, on a futon on the floor. So if this bed turns out to be as good as I'm hoping, I may sleep right through the entire weekend and someone else - probably RAZORCAKE columnist JOEIII will have to fill you in on all the amazing developments, which in Joe's case will consist largely of a JUNK FOOD JUNKET to all the worst eating places in New Jersey. Some men see themselves atop Everest or K2, but not for Joe the safe and easy challenges.

Is there more stuff and gossip happening in NYC this week? Absolutely, but you're going to have to wait for the next edition of MCMYS to find out, or better yet, if you're worried that I might miss something or put an insufficient spin on just how great your band your scene is, better write to me and tell me about it. Or don't, because I'll probably find out anyway! Okay, unless it's a secret Thorns Of Life show. You got me there.

12 November 2008

Seems Like Old Times

One of the many delights of the in utero Obama presidency is hearing the right wing radio commentators waxing apoplectic over the horrors that await America now that it's been taken over by the Marxists and the terrorists. If one of these clowns doesn't give him or herself a heart attack while ranting away, it will not be for want of trying.

Actually, I'd be more concerned for the well-being of the listeners, many of whom seem to take the paranoid flapdoodle of Limbaugh, Hannity, O'Reilly, Savage et al. far more seriously than the hosts themselves do. These past few days I've heard quavery-voiced callers ask Rush in all earnestness whether they should be stockpiling ammunition or preparing to flee the country. Whereas I've always harbored a sneaking suspicion that for all the expressions of alarm delivered in those mellifluously measured foghorn tones, Limbaugh could just as easily be preaching the socialist gospel if market research showed that demographic to be potentially more profitable.

The first time I regularly listened to Limbaugh was during the summer of 1990, when I was living deep behind the Redwood Curtain in Arcata, California, where few radio signals penetrated from the outside world. The only AM station that came in loud and clear during the daytime was one almost toxically right wing operation over in Eureka, and while at first I found it objectionable that there was nothing else to listen to in the way of news talk (on the FM dial there was the insufferably smug NPR/college radio programming of KHSU, but apart from the couple hours a week when they played punk rock, it was even more unlistenable), Rush's flamethrower invective gradually drew me in with its almost scatological vehemence.

Being quite a bit further left of center at the time than I am today, I began by being outraged at the blatant distortions and hatemongering, but eventually I saw the humor in it, and his ability to so viciously skewer the sacred cows of the PC and identity politics left felt naughtily exuberant in the cloistered, intellectually constipated realms of Northern California radicals and libsymps.

It was sometime that summer that Rush pulled what I still think was one of his cleverest stunts ever (presuming you don't count the ability to turn an outraged-loudmouth-at-the-corner-bar act into hundreds of millions of dollars): pretending to have "seen the light" and undergone a conversion to liberalism. For about a week he turned everything he had been saying on its head as he preached - very convincingly - the standard left wing gospel as his listeners called in, sometimes literally in tears, begging him to return to the fold.

When Rush finally fessed up to having been funning us all along, I was less impressed with his rationale for the hoax (something about demonstrating how easy it was to fall into believing cockamamie notions) than with his ability to pronounce diametrically opposed viewpoints and make each of them sound equally sincere. Ever since then I've never been fully convinced that he believed anything at all.

Sincere or not, Rush's views carried the day, and with the Republican hard right in the ascendancy, entered into what had begun to pass for the mainstream. Ironically, his seemingly all-pervading success proved to be his own worst enemy; as the 90s gave way to the Bush II years, Limbaugh was increasingly consigned to the last place a controversial radio host wants to be, that of boring irrelevance. With little to complain about, and with more fiery and, it must be said, more intelligent or at least more clever right wingers having stolen his thunder, Rush retreated into drug addiction and cranky grumbling.

So if he's a religious man, Limbaugh should be on his knees thanking the Almighty for the Democratic renaissance and the coming of Obama, which should provide him with sufficient cod-outrage to propel him into an extremely lucrative old age. Ditto (so to speak) for his fellow travelers, most of whom have already turned with a vengeance on McCain (or are claiming to have never really believed in him in the first place) and are plumping for Sarah Palin in 2012, which, unless Obama screws up massively in his first term, can only be a blessing for satirists in general, Saturday Night Live in particular, the Democratic Party, and all those who would like to see the rabid religious right wing of the once-respectable (albeit still mostly wrong) Republican Party wither into extinction.

09 November 2008

In Praise Of The New Prez

What a thrill it was to tune into President-elect Obama's first press conference and see someone who actually looked and sounded like a President. In the course of struggling manfully to give George Bush the benefit of the doubt for far longer than he probably deserved it, I must have conditioned myself to accept the sub-normal and the sub-literate as "just the way he is," and often chastised people when they got on their high horses to the effect that "Oh, man, Bush is so dumb."

"Just because someone doesn't have perfect mastery of the English language doesn't necessarily make him dumb," I'd say, and go on to point out that whatever his failings, intellectual or otherwise, Bush had been clever enough to snag the most powerful job in the world whereas his critics as often as not were holding forth from a barstool or the equivalent thereof (bringing to mind George Burns' old dictum about it being a shame that the people who really knew how to run the country were all too busy driving cabs and cutting hair).

But the minute Barack Obama took the stage it became clear that affirmative action for the perpetually befuddled was no longer necessary or appropriate. The contrast just made it all the more clear that it wasn't just Bush's policies or means of executing them that were deficient; the man himself had been painfully unequal to the task. Those who tend to view the American Empire as being in terminal decline would compare Bush to one of the dreary succession of buffoons and pretenders who held the imperial throne at Rome during that Empire's last days, the difference being that Roman emperors found wanting (i.e., just about all of them during the last century or so) were rather more quickly dispatched - often in a matter of weeks or months - once their weaknesses revealed themselves.

Those not ready to write America off might see Obama's accession as a case of normal service being resumed except that with the partial exceptions of Reagan and Clinton, America hasn't seen much in the way of either strong or competent leadership for most of the last half century, while the sky-is-falling crowd could just as easily maintain that even should Obama prove successful, he might represent only a brief lacuna in an overall cycle of decline.

No matter how you look at it, Obama comes into office with greater expectations thrust upon him than any President since FDR or possibly Lincoln, and yet the guy seems to exude, in fact, to radiate confidence. And he'll need it; it will probably be no more than a few months, if that, before commentators are either measuring him for a spot on Mt. Rushmore or damning him as a bad Jimmy Carter retread.

Personally I want to believe in him, not just because he's so darn likable and inspiring, but also, and more importantly, that we'll all be in very deep shit if he doesn't succeed. With all the problems we face, it's kind of maddening to have to wait two and a half months for Bush to finally vacate the White House and let Obama get started, but in the meantime, there hasn't been a day so far where I haven't at least once or twice thought about how great it feels to have a President - even one in waiting - who looks, sounds and acts like a President. I might be singing a different tune come January or February when the cold hard facts of Realpolitik kick in, but for right now I can't think of a single person I'd rather see getting ready to lead this country out of the mess it's in.

06 November 2008

Proud To Be An American

It's a great day, it's a beautiful morning, a new dawn, a new beginning - not just in America but the world over.
- Spike Lee
It was like Times Square at midnight... oh, wait, it was Times Square at midnight, only it wasn't New Year's Eve, it was something much, much better than that.

All day long there had been the feeling of something momentous in the air, beginning when I showed up at my polling place, a sleepy little senior city where poll workers usually outnumber potential voters, to discover lines of people spilling out the door. A mostly genial chaos reigned, even though those in charge were clearly overwhelmed by a turnout that dwarfed anything most of them remembered ever seeing. Nobody knew which line to stand in until some local artists waiting for their chance to vote took it upon themselves to make some colorful signs.

When I voted at the same location in the primary last spring, I was in and out in a minute or two; yesterday it took me nearly an hour, and apparently people who'd showed up earlier had to wait for up to an hour and a half. And yet I didn't see a single person give up and walk away, and this in a city where the outcome was never in the slightest bit in doubt (the networks called New York State for Obama before a single vote had been counted).

Normally I would have stayed home to watch the results, using my remote to flip back and forth between the channels and quietly cheer or grieve, but tonight I wanted to be in the midst of the excitement, so I headed up to Times Square, where various networks had screens set up on the sides of buildings and a sizable crowd had already gathered even before the first polls closed at 7 pm. For the first hour or so McCain was in the lead, both in electoral and popular votes, and people nervously cheered any sign of movement, no matter how minuscule, in the Obama totals.

Things started picking up, with a tranche of states moving Obama's way, and the crowd grew, spilling out into the streets. Drivers honked their horns in time with the "O-bam-a" and "Yes we can" chants. A handful of onlookers cheered when McCain carried showed some strength ("Must be tourists," someone near me said), but apart from that, the crowd was practically unanimous in its sympathies. People chatted back and forth about which states "we" needed to carry, as though there was never any question of who "we" were and what "we" wanted.

When Pennsylvania was declared for Obama a wild cheer went up and people began to show a little more confidence in the result. Still, there was the looming question of Ohio, of Virginia, of Florida... "They better not be trying to steal it from us again," said one feisty fellow behind me. "Don't you worry," his girlfriend assured him, "This time we got the people on our side."

Then the sound went out on the ABC broadcast, so I moved over to Rockefeller Plaza, where there was a choice of NBC and MSNBC, along with some hokey but cool props, like McCain and Obama elevators that moved up the side of the building toward the 270 mark as the electoral votes came in. I was there when Ohio went for Obama, and the sounds of people cheering drowned out the announcers for nearly five minutes. Someone did some math and declared that - assuming California, Oregon, Washington and Hawaii went Obama's way, about as safe an assumption as you could make - there was no possibility of McCain winning now.

It seemed logical, but too good - and too early - to be true. The vote count in Indiana, Virginia, North Carolina and Florida seemed to be taking forever, and it would be more than an hour before the polls closed on the West Coast, so I migrated back to Times Square to discover that while the election hadn't been called yet, it was looking more positive all the time.

Then came 11 o'clock - 8 pm California time - and almost instantly the Left Coast put Obama over the top. It was sheer bedlam. Half the people were screaming and banging on things, the other half standing there agog in the sheer wonder of it all. "Look at Jesse up there!" a girl shouted, pointing up at a closeup of Jesse Jackson on the big screen overhead, "He cryin' his eyes out!"

The crowd was more or less equally divided between black and white, and though everybody looked ecstatic, it was especially marvelous to see the looks on the black faces, a mixture, it seemed, of sheer ecstasy and darely-baring-to-believe wonder. Maybe it's a testimony to my own residual racism, but I have to admit that I was surprised to see how many of the celebrants were the sort of guys you'd more expect to see hanging around in front of the liquor store rather than taking an active - and often very knowledgeable - interest in the political process.

My preconceptions were shattered again and again, something I expect was happening all across the country. America will never be the same again, and I say thank God for that. Obama may never live up to the expectations we've placed on him - though at this point I remain hopeful, as I think most of us do, apart perhaps from the rabid right wing talk radio crowd (and even they can expect a giant uptick in their ratings as they can look forward to boundless amounts of material to bitch about).

All the way home, as I passed dozens of impromptu celebrations on subway platforms and random street corners, I reveled in a mixture of excitement and gratitude, finally daring to believe that America had turned a giant corner, that once more it would begin living up to the enormous promise and lofty ideals that we'd been so often told about but too seldom seen.

A great national realization has come about, one that lets us know beyond a doubt that love of country, true patriotism, can be about something more than bellicose chants and mawkish anthems, that it manifests itself in the most meaningful and historic way when millions of people find the confidence and strength to cast aside their disillusionment and cynicism and allow themselves, no matter how tenuously, to believe in a common purpose and a shared destiny.

No, of course I don't expect everything to change overnight, and it's entirely possible that things will get worse before they get better. Or not even get better at all, because there comes a time in every nation's life, just like an individual life, when an inevitable decline sets in. But after what I saw this Tuesday, I don't think that time has come for us yet. In fact I'm fully prepared to believe that some of America's greatest moments still lie ahead. Sorry if that sounds like a campaign speech; it's just a simple statement of how I feel right now: proud, happy and thrilled to be a part of one of the greatest social and political experiments in the history of humankind.

I don't want to slip into the mindless chauvinism that has unfortunately characterized this country in recent years, so I feel compelled to note that there are many wonderful countries and cultures around this planet, most if not all of which have something to teach us. But I don't think it's stretching things too far to say that what happened here in America in the autumn of 2008 probably couldn't have happened anywhere else.

The only time in my life that comes close to how I feel about my country right now is when at the age of 13 I heard President Kennedy's inaugural speech, and his words then sum up that feeling better than anything I could manage:

I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it -- and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.

Maybe it will all come to nothing, or worse, dissolve into the contention, violence, acrimony and social decay that the 60s came to embody in the wake of Kennedy's assassination. But despite the dark side of that era, then too a seed was planted, a torch was lit. The night before he died, Martin Luther King told us that there was no reason to fear the future, that he'd been allowed to go up the mountain and look out upon the promised land. "I may not get there with you," he declared, "but I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!"

Many, perhaps most of us, may never journey all the way to the promised land. It could be that "the promised land" will only ever exist just beyond the horizon, a beacon to light our way and spur us on. But as Dr. King said that night, it didn't matter anymore, because he'd been to the mountaintop. Now, as of Tuesday, November 4, 2008, we all have.

04 November 2008

Against Obama?

Alexander Cockburn, that silver-tongued rhetorician of the far, far left (so far left, in fact, that he occasionally goes full circle and finds common cause with the far, far right) has come out foursquare against Barack Obama. He urges instead a vote for Ralph Nader, Bob Barr, or, had she not recently revealed herself once again as a paranoid lunatic, Cynthia McKinney.

That, coupled with the recurring debates that spring up with my own readers over whether or not Ralph Nader and his mostly well-intentioned but also somewhat deluded followers are partly responsible for saddling us with eight years of Bushism, led me to revisit this classic George Orwell essay in which the author argues, convincingly, I think, that British pacifists at the time of World War II were, despite their claims to be struggling for a higher, nobler cause by refusing to support the war effort, were actually and substantively supporting Hitler.

"This is elementary common sense," writes Orwell. "If you hamper the war effort of one side you automatically help that of the other." He goes on to rubbish "the idea that you can somehow remain aloof from and superior to the struggle" as "a bourgeois illusion bred of money and security."

Now perhaps you see it as a stretch too far to make an analogy between all-out war against imperial fascism and a quadrennial election campaign. But while nobody is claiming that the Bush-McCain axis represents a reincarnated Nazism (well, nobody, that is, except some of the same far leftists who see Obama as merely the flip side of the same totalitarian coin) or that we are in danger of having our democracy and freedom overthrown by invading armies, I think the principle holds just as true for the struggle we are currently engaged in.

What if you honestly, sincerely believe, as Nader claims to, that there is no real difference between the views represented - and the outcome of putting those views into practice - by John McCain and Barack Obama? Well, in the first place, you'd probably be somewhat deluded, or more likely, so taken with the vehemence of your own rhetoric that you have confounded it with reality. A 12-year-old - and I mean no disrespect to the 12-year-olds of the world - could examine the two candidates' platforms and voting histories and provide you with numerous examples of where they differ.

No, what you really mean is that Obama doesn't differ enough, that because he doesn't espouse the full range of leftist political doctrine, despite the fact that views such that extreme are not and never have been shared by more than a few percent of the American public, you are willing to declare a plague on both their houses and, by either voting for a doomed third party candidacy or withholding your vote altogether, help elect John McCain.

Very well; under the rules of our democracy, you have that right. But in exercising that right, I fear, you are exhibiting what Orwell called "a simple ignorance of the way in which things actually happen." Your "moral stance" does not exist in a vacuum. You can not, as the events of Florida in 2000 amply demonstrated, vote for Nader without simultaneously voting against Obama and for McCain. The only way in which such an action could have neutral consequences would be if you could guarantee that someone on the right would match your action by refusing to vote for McCain.

There is no such level playing field, as Orwell pointed out, just as there was no equivalent pacifist movement in the fascist countries to balance the efforts of British pacifists to undermine the war effort. "But we are not at war," you might argue, "nor are we about to be invaded by a neighboring empire." The latter may be true, but the former is not: we most certainly are at war, and while there's no guarantee that the same wouldn't be true had not Nader and his supporters helped put Bush into office in 2000, it's most likely that the disaster Iraq was to become would have unfolded very differently had some of Florida's 97,000 Nader voters been willing to swallow their pride and/or stubbornness long enough to put Al Gore into office instead of George Bush.

That alone should be enough to illustrate that protest votes, no matter how innocuous they may seem here in our cocoon of material and political security, can have grim and awful consequences for those not fortunate enough to live in a land where battles are largely limited to the symbolic. The mindless carnage - and I say that as someone who was at least partially open to the case for the war - visited upon the people of Iraq by Bush's incompetence was aided and abetted by Nader's claim that there was "no difference" between Bush and Gore, and by those who, for whatever their reasons, chose to believe him.

Is there ever a time, you understandably ask, when one can in good conscience support a minor party candidate, when one doesn't need to be hamstrung by the often unfair and inadequate two-party system? Yes, of course there is. And for all my anger at the disaster that was visited on the world by Nader helping Bush into office, it's only fair to say that 2000 might have legitimately seemed like such a time. After all, we had no way of knowing the kind of events that were going to unfold once Bush took office, nor did we have more than a hint of how extraordinarily unequal to them Bush would prove to be.

But no such uncertainty exists this time. Economically, militarily, even philosophically, the United States - and by extension, much of the world, since America's is a far-reaching shadow - faces greater challenges and dangers than at any point in my life. I grew up in a time when the memories and traumas of the Great Depression and the Second World War were still very fresh, to the point where they colored the thinking and actions of my parents' generation in every way imaginable. My own generation and the generations that followed it have never had to confront difficulties on that scale, but something tells me that we may be approaching just such a moment.

No, Obama isn't the messiah, nor is he anywhere near flawless on many of the issues that strike me as important. And as with all politicians, there is always the risk that he will turn out to be something quite different from what he presents himself as, or that he will be unable to govern with the same vigor and clarity with which he has campaigned, or that his prescriptions for America will turn out to have been wrong after all. But while we can agonize over such possibilities - and given the magnitude of the disaster visited upon us and democracy by the Bush presidency, we'd hardly be human if we didn't - what's at stake today is too vital. We can not afford the luxury of wallowing in nihilism or quixotic protest votes. John McCain may be a perfectly nice, decent man at heart, but in the course of his campaign has repeatedly shown himself to be befuddled, incompetent, and willing to say or do almost anything to gain an office which he clearly does not deserve, and the same is even truer of the vice-president he has attempted to saddle us with.

If you disagree with the above, if you feel that Bush/Cheney/McCain-Palin have served us well and will continue to do so, then by all means vote for them. I respect your opinion even if I disagree with it. But if you claim to be opposed to them but are not voting today for Barack Obama, then you are deluding yourself and risk performing a great disservice to our country and the world. He may not share your views on everything, you may dislike the guy for one or many reasons, but there is no evading the fact that there is one way and one way only to ensure that John McCain and Sarah Palin will not rule this country for the next four years, and the specter of George Bush and the havoc he has wreaked will be put into a grave with a stake through its misbegotten heart, and that is to elect Barack Obama president. You may wish you had a greater range of choices, but you do not. You may spend the next four years protesting that President Obama is too far to the left for you or not far enough, and it is both your right and duty to do so if that turns out to be the case.

But right now there is is one overriding purpose that should transcend all doubts and quibbles: we must restore dignity, decency, honor and respectability to the highest office in the land, and while no man or woman can ever be perfectly suited to that position or perfectly conform to our individual views of how that office should be conducted, not in decades - again, perhaps not in my lifetime - has the choice between two candidates been so clear and obvious. Please join me today in helping to elect Barack Obama president.

02 November 2008

More Festifying

I was mistaken; Florida apparently still allows smoking in bars, but whether or not it does, the punks are doing plenty of it. Apparently the first show I attended on Friday had a very low jerk quotient, because I didn't see (or smell) a single person smoking, but such was not the case today. In fact I ended up missing one of my favorite bands because the prospect of hanging out for a several hours in a truly vile atmosphere (lack thereof, actually, if we're taking "atmosphere" to imply "breathable air") was just too much to bear.

So why didn't I simply step outside and wait there until it was time for the band to go on? Well, it's not that simple. Some of the Fest venues were so crowded that you had to wait in line for an hour or more before enough people left and you could be allowed in. And in the case of the popular bands, nobody was leaving and you just weren't getting in. About a hundred of us listened to Dear Landlord from outside on the street, despite having waited nearly an hour to get in. I missed my friend Justin's band the Ringers because the line to get into Common Grounds was held up by painfully slow ID checks. And although we got into the Market Street Tavern in plenty of time to see the Copyrights, the prospect of three hours of not breathing prompted me to give up and leave, which I kind of regret, as I expect it was a completely awesome show. But my lungs are still thanking me.

I actually like both Gainesville and Florida, but there are a few backward aspects, the smoking policy being one of them, that are more than a bit maddening. So too is the way the town is laid out, in old-fashioned drive-everywhere-wasting-massive-amounts-of-gas fashion. Naturally traffic is a massive clusterfuck for several hours every morning and evening; despite Gainesville being a sleepy little college town of fewer than 100,000 inhabitants, I've seen gridlock to rival that of New York City.

Another exciting adventure: looking for a supermarket that sold actual food fit for human consumption. Okay, this wasn't the hardest thing in the world; it simply required joining the masses of carbound lemmings and driving several miles out from the city center (there's no supermarket within walking distance) into Walmart land. In fact, I visited an actual Walmart, under the mistaken impression that in addition to cheap TVs, tires, geegaws and doodads, that great American institution also sold food. In fact, I'd swear the one my cousin dragged me to in Northern Michigan had a large grocery department.

Not the one in Gainesville, however. Well, they did have something vaguely resembling a grocery department, but edible food? Of the non-packaged and processed, non-empty calories and non-carcinogenic variety? Absolutely zero. I was looking specifically for fresh produce, i.e., fruits and vegetables. Not too much to ask for in a grocery store, you'd think? In Walmart, it apparently is. They don't even have a produce section. It's a wonder the entire town hasn't come down with scurvy.

Eventually, after another hour or so of destroying the atmosphere and driving a few more species to extinction, I did find another supermarket with a fresh food section, and really, it's time I stopped complaining about Gainesville now, because for the most part I'm still happy to be here at the Fest, and even happier to have spent most of the day at the best venue by far, a bike co-op called the Kickstand, well away, but still walking distance from downtown, where there were no ID checks, smokers were exiled to the outdoors where they belonged, and nearly every band was good to great.

Some highlights: Delay, The Max Levine Ensemble, Tin Armor, Andrew Jackson Jihad, Brook Pridemore and Two Funerals, but seriously, there was almost nothing there that wasn't worth watching. And although the place was clearly crawling with vegans and bike punks, none of the didacticism and bombast sometimes associated with those groups was in evidence. Just a nice comfortable scene on a nice sunny day. Ryan Delay said, "There's really no reason to leave here," and I wish I hadn't.

There was meant to be a 2 am house show featuring Spoonboy, Andrew Jackson Jihad, and Wingnut Dishwasher Union (I met the alleged brains behind the latter operation, and he seemed pleasant enough, though I see from his Myspace that he believes "Any good punk is at least part hippie," and we might have had to have a little discussion about that idea), but when I arrived at the appointed reference there were three police cars with lights a-flashing, hundreds of punk rockers milling around in the residential backstreets, and little if any evidence of music going on. Perhaps I should have stuck around and possibly got arrested, something I haven't done in quite a while now, but seeing one other Fester being led off in handcuffs reminded me that I had never particularly enjoyed it back in the days when getting arrested was a fairly regular activity of mine. Might have made for a more interesting blog post, though.

Anyway, it's now nearly 4 am, and that's including the extra hour gained by the end of Daylight Savings Time. A busy day awaits tomorrow, including the Used Kids, the Monikers, the Unlovables, the Ergs, and a bunch of country punk bands, all of which will probably be subject to unpredictable revision. On the other hand, maybe I'll just stay in and watch 12 more hours of MSNBC, CNN and Fox coverage of the next-to-last day of the election campaign. Well, probably not, but I seem to have developed an unhealthy fascination with their round-the-clock natterings. I mean, it's not like I still need any help deciding who I'm going to vote for, and it's even less likely that any of the candidates will be calling on me for my expertise, so what exactly do I hope to learn by watching this stuff, other than that I really, really don't want to spend the next four or eight years listening to John McCain and Sarah Palin.

Oh, one last Festly tale: apparently my criticisms of Dillinger 4's unfunny comedy act have reached the ears of Paddy, who followed up his normal "I love cocaine" rant with some version of "Fuck Larry Livermore" which may or may not have enlivened proceedings; I don't know because of course I wasn't there, having several more interesting things to attend to. But having just been told about it by someone who was, I was standing in line outside another venue when Paddy himself came up and got into a long and mostly incoherent conversation with the guy standing in front of me.

I actually didn't know who it was, having mistaken him for a particularly unfortunate street tramp, and I have no idea if he recognized me. But some kid rolling a joint up the street did, after a fashion: "Yo, dude, you're Shawn Stern, aren't you? Don't lie, I know you are, you own BYO Records! I love that label, can I shake your hand?" And that, my friends (I told you I'd been seeing too much of Liar McCain!) was when I called a wrap on Day Two of The Fest.

01 November 2008

Maybe I Am Getting A Little Old For This

I deliberately stayed a few miles out of town from the Fest, far away from the Holiday Inn, the "official" Fest hotel, packed with four-to-a-room punk rockers, 75% (at least) of whom are mainly concerned with being as drunk and as loud as possible for 72 straight hours. One can only imagine the reaction of the hapless tourist or honeymooning couple who unknowingly booked into that hotel in expectation of a quiet weekend away.

I also can't imagine why the Holiday Inn subjects itself to what, while I'm sure it's fun for the Festers, must be an absolute nightmare for the staff and management. Last year saw a near-riot, when drunk punks rampaged through the hotel, setting off fire extinguishers, throwing furniture into the pool, and in general engaging in all the clichéd dinosaur rock star behavior that punks so like to rail against (Paddy from the Dillinger 4 unreeled a similar rant from the stage before declaring his fondness for that ultimate 70s rock star cliché, cocaine).

The money is obviously good, especially on what would normally be a dead weekend (half the town having migrated over to Jacksonville for the annual Florida-Georgia game), but between damage sustained and the cost of alienating normal travelers who might never set foot in a Holiday Inn again, would it really be worth it in the long run? Well, it's their worry, not mine; I'm quite happy in my very quiet and peaceful hotel, even if it does mean a bit of a commute to the Fest-ivities and an increased carbon footprint (at registration they had us fill out a survey explaining how we'd gotten to Gainesville, and I felt deeply ashamed at my profligate squandering of resources, which entailed traveling by both air and car, and, worse than that, alone; on the other hand, for about 350 days of the year I seldom if ever set foot in an internal combustion-powered vehicle apart from the occasional city bus).

So this morning I was enjoying the free breakfast in the lobby and eavesdropping on conversations at nearby tables. Nearly all of them were about the election, which I found rather heartwarming, especially the one emanating from my nearest neighbors, a middle class family where the father, with the aid of a laptop, was explaining the intricacies of the Electoral College. Then in strode some generic punk rockers of the baggy shorts, wallet chain, slightly to moderately obese variety. They weren't talking about the election, the only things on their minds appeared to be hangovers (apparently there is "nothing like a bowl of Rice Krispies" to cure them) and something one of them had done the previous night involving Sparks and (if I heard correctly) his ears.

From the looks of them - well-fed, many years' worth of tattoos, costumes so carefully stylized that they could have been created by a Fat Wreck Chords counterpart to Calvin Klein - and the fact that they were staying at a slightly more expensive hotel, I deduced that they must be members of one of the Fest's headlining bands, and this hunch was soon verified when I heard them talking about the way last night's show had gone. But the thing that really jumped out at me was the t-shirt one of them was wearing, the back of which was emblazoned with, in four-inch-high letters, the slogan, "SKATE. PUNK. FUCK."

So this is where the "maybe I'm getting too old for this" sentiment comes in. I was genuinely embarrassed for the sake of the family near me. Okay, I'm not naive enough to think that their 12 or 13 year old daughter has never seen or heard the word "fuck;" chances are when she's with her schoolmates she uses it herself. Nor am I claiming to be above employing the word myself on occasion. But I guess I'm just old-fashioned enough to believe that it's not good form to put it very bluntly in the faces of people who very possibly might still think it's a somewhat rude word. Hell, I still think it's a rude word, or at least one which might be appropriate in some environments but not in others.

Hypocritical? Maybe. After all, I used to write and sing songs with that very word in them, and might even do so again one day. But the difference is that if I do, they'll be sung in a setting where people expect to hear rude language, not a middle class hotel lobby on a quiet Saturday morning. And perhaps language is evolving, as it always has done. Expletives, like words in general, come into and go out of fashion, and it's very possible that a word like "fuck" will soon have lost all power to shock or offend, in much the way that the word "nigger" seems on course to do, at least within the black community, anyway.

Nevertheless, I don't mind admitting that all my sympathies were with the family quietly discussing the Electoral College and none with the rather oblivious punk rockers. Whereas if I were a teenager listening to my dad expound on politics and some self-proclaimed rebel against society wandered into the room with dirty words splashed across his back, I don't doubt who I'd be paying attention to.

Oh well, I'm sure we'll all survive, the sun is shining brightly, Florida seems to have finally banned smoking in public places, and in about 20 minutes I'll be off to the Fest to mingle with some more of those rude and ugly punk rockers. Maybe next year I'll be too old for these shenanigans, but at the moment I think I can swing it for another season.