06 March 2009

More Exciting Fest News... No, This Is REALLY Exciting

Despite what I said yesterday about the Fest lineup having to stay secret for the time being, I have been authorized to tell you about one of the most exciting bands that definitely will be appearing. Appearing? No, a word like that that hardly encompasses the magnitude of an event like this.

How about manifesting? Yeah, that's the ticket: MANIFESTING on stage for the biggest event yet in their meteoric (actually, it's meteoric in the sense of being white hot and evanescent, but it's the opposite of meteoric if you consider that a meteor is actually a falling star whereas this band is constantly on the RISE).

Who could I be talking about? None other than *S*U*C*I*D*I*E*, the genius brainchild of MATT LAME, CARLA MONOXIDE, and PAUL SQUARE. The international hype machine has been running overtime on these guys, but only a very privileged few have heard their recorded work, fewer still have been lucky enough to see them in the flesh.

This summer that will change forever, as a thousand punk rock lovers will at last get the chance to witness that rarest of phenomena, a full-on, no holds barred *S*U*C*I*D*I*E* show. This makes it all the more likely that Fest tickets will sell out almost instantly, so keep your eyes peeled for the on-sale date.

But wait, there's more! Apparently they need a stand-in guitarist for this show, and after a rigorous vetting and audition process, they've chosen one. And, I'm flabbergasted to say, it's turned out to be ME. Yes, folks, it's true; after all these years in show business exile, I'll be back on stage again, playing awesome shredding punk rock guitar of the sort I haven't attempted since THE LOOKOUTS broke up back in 1990. I've even dragged the old Marshall out of the cupboard and cranked it up to get ready. It took a whole five minutes for the police to show up with complaints from 14 different neighbors, so I know I've still got it.

Wow. To be a part of *S*U*C*I*D*I*E*, even if just for one day. What an incredible honor. I'm all but speechless. But I can't say any more for now. I've got some cataclysmically cacophonous guitar riffs to learn!

05 March 2009

Mr. Fest

With the first hint of spring in the air (well, the temperature got above freezing today for the first time this week) comes news of this year's Insubordination Fest, better known as simply The Fest, now definitely set for June 25 through 28 in lovely downtown Baltimore.

I've been accused (or maybe I should regard it more as an honor than an accusation) of being "Mr. Fest" for my unabashed and unqualified boosting of this event, ever since its humble origins at a corner bar in the summer of 2006. That year it was essentially a get-together for a bunch of friends, at least half of whom were probably in one or more of the bands that was playing, but some sort of magic was in the air, and it's more or less doubled in size each year since.

I don't think it will double again this year, if only because there's not enough room in the venue for twice as many people as attended in 2008, but I've just had a look at the lineup and found myself coming down with Fest fever all over again. Many of the crowd favorites from past years will be there, of course, along with plenty of new names, some of the household variety, and some right out of left field. And there are still at least half a dozen more to be added!

Tickets aren't on sale yet, and probably won't be for a few weeks yet, but now might be a good time to set aside the last weekend in June and to start keeping your eyes peeled for an announcement. If you're a PPMB member, you'll know about the on-sale date in plenty of time. If not, well, I'll try to keep you posted about things here as well. The one thing I will not tell you is who is and who isn't playing, so don't bother asking. Just think how much more fun you'll have trying to guess!

I Lock The Door To My Own Cell

I was reading this New York Times article about the alleged malaise or "crisis of the mind" currently besetting Japan when I came across the term "hikikomori."

I'd seen the word before, possibly even heard an explanation of the phenomenon, but it hadn't stuck with me, so I looked it up and read a few articles about it, the whole time thinking, "Wow, that sounds a little bit like me."

Only a little, thankfully. As any regular readers will know, I not only leave the house, but also the city, state or country, on a pretty frequent basis. Age-wise, I'm pretty far removed from the hikikomori demographic, and I haven't been supported by my parents since I was 17 (for which I give them a great deal of credit; I'll never understand how parents rationalize allowing their adult children to hang around indefinitely without at least making a contribution to household expenses).

But like the hikikomori, I'm in a position where I don't have to leave the house if I don't want to, and too often I'm finding myself not wanting to. Part of this is because it's winter, of course, and also because I like my (still relatively) new apartment so much. But I've noticed this tendency for a while; even in my last apartment, which I hated, I sometimes found it hard to make it down the stairs and out into the streets of New York City, which I love.

I also catch myself lingering around the hotel room way too much of the time when I visit other cities or countries, and it's not just because I can't tear myself away from the internet, though that's a problem in itself. But if there's no internet, I'll watch television, or read, or try on different clothes until I've decided that I can't go out because I don't have anything to wear. Even when I fully intend to go out, whether at home or away, I often dilly-dally around so long that I end up being late or missing an event altogether.

In fact, thanks to a combination of dilly-dallying, dithering over what to wear, checking my email one or two last times, and a recalcitrant subway train, I came dangerously close to missing the New York premiere of my niece Gabrielle Bell's new film, Tokyo!. Well, perhaps I'm being guilty of nepotism (niece-ism?) in crediting it that way; you'll generally see it listed as being a film by Michel Gondry, Leos Carax and Bong Joon-ho, the three of whom did actually direct it. But the Gondry segment, "Interior Design," is based on "Cecil And Jordan In New York," a comic written and drawn by Gabrielle, and she also co-wrote the screenplay, so that's enough to make it her movie in this uncle's eyes.

At the after-party I got to hang out with Cecil (it's taken me a couple years to sort out whether she was Cecil or Jordan, but I've finally got it straight now), who in real life (such as it was) is Sadie Hales, from, of all places, lovely Laytonville, California, proving once again that we Northern California mountain hicks actually do get about in the world. Gabrielle also served her time in Laytonville, of course, as did Green Day drummer Tre Cool, and I'm still hoping to amount to something myself one of these days. In interviews like this one, Gabrielle assures us that Cecil isn't literally Sadie but in fact merely represents one aspect of her character, but that still leaves her only one or two removes from being a movie star, doesn't it?

Anyway, Gabrielle and Sadie were friends back in their Laytonville days, and I still remember seeing the two of them together in a high school version of A Midsummer Night's Dream directed by the indefatigable Paula Mulligan (she was also Tre Cool's music teacher), one of those rare and priceless individuals that small towns are occasionally blessed with, so in love with their particular field of the arts (in Paula's case, it was practically every field) that they inspire several generations to imagine themselves capable of something more than the quiet desperation of little town life.

But getting back to our boring old New York City movie premiere, I was taken aback by Bong Joon-ho's segment of the film, "Shaking Tokyo", which turned out to be centered around the precise phenomenon I had discovered and researched only that afternoon, the hikikomori. The synchronicity of it was a little too weird, but not unlike the sort of thing that seems to happen to me quite often.

I don't suppose there's anything all that mysterious about it. For one thing, I've most likely come across the term hikikomori and possibly even seen it defined while failing to register it in my conscious memory. And is it possible that I knew - if only subliminally, because I don't recall ever hearing anything about it previously - what Bong Joon-ho's subject matter was going to be?

Prosaic explanations like this, I've found, are most often behind "amazing" coincidences and "psychic" or "paranormal" phenomena, though of course I'd prefer to believe that God or one of his emissaries is sending me personal messages (though I wish that while he was at it, he would have passed along the message that I didn't need to get dressed up as much as I did; even the directors wore blue jeans, and about the only other people wearing suits were the catering help). Being over or underdressed for one of these affairs is the sort of thing that could make a guy want to go home, lock the door behind himself, and not come out again for a very long time.

Fortunately, I had a series of events and meetings today that led me all the way to the far-flung Upper West Side (Seinfeld country, really) and to the mysterious and brooding backstreets of Long Island City, so that's one more day I haven't become a full-fledged hikikomori. I think I may go outside again tomorrow, which will make four days running that I've left not only the house but the island. And ventured (far) above 23rd Street, no less. Maybe there's hope for me yet.

03 March 2009

Where The Money Is

"That's where the money is" was what Willie Sutton was famously supposed to have said when asked why he persisted in robbing banks. Now that banks apparently have little or no money left, one is left to wonder where, in fact the money is these days.

And this question becomes all the more vital now that the federal government is proposing to spend (and in fact already has spent) a few trillion dollars of nonexistent money in what looks like an increasingly frantic attempt to stave off complete economic collapse.

It all seems a bit touch and go at the moment as to whether they will succeed, but I don't really see a lot of alternatives. If invading armies were poised on our borders, I don't think there'd be too much anguished debate about whether we could afford the weapons necessary to repel them, and the current economic crisis is probably as much a threat to our survival as a nation as any of the wars we've waged in recent memory.

When I was at Berkeley, our Political Economy class had a guest speaker in the person of former Navy Secretary John Lehman, who lectured us on the microeconomics of military spending. This was at the time when there was much (understandable) outrage over the $200 hammers and gold-plated toilets the Pentagon was continually being caught wasting taxpayers' money on, and I didn't expect him to be able to provide any credible defense for this kind of waste.

But to some extent he did: military spending, he argued, exists in a different context altogether, in that - at least or especially in times of war - it's the sort of spending where saving money is necessarily one of the lowest priorities. A lot of good it will do you, he pointed out, to have got those bullets at a knockdown price from an off-brand supplier if in the course of searching out bargains you have been overrun and conquered by the enemy.

In war, he claimed, there is one standard of success and one only: victory. Any other outcome and the cost, whether exorbitant or economical, becomes irrelevant. Hence the question: does our present predicament constitute the fiscal equivalent of war? If so, then the Obama administration is undoubtedly justified in throwing everything, kitchen sink included, at the problem. As enormous as the national debt we've run up already is, it still hasn't approached the levels - as a percentage of GDP - that it did in World War II, and yet rather than leaving us indebted and struggling for decades afterward, the war's end set off one of the longest and biggest economic expansions in history. Isn't it possible that a sufficiently large investment in infrastructure, no matter how heavily mortgaged, could do the same again?

It's been pointed out to me, however, that the difference between the post-WWII era and our present condition is that following the war, most other developed countries apart from the USA were in ruins, with their working-age population decimated, and that this in turn gave the USA an enormous advantage. And yet, many of the countries which suffered most - Germany and Japan in particular - not only recovered quickly, they soon came to rival the United States itself in economic terms.

Much of Europe and Asia's success following the war seems, then, to have gotten a kickstart from the USA's generous (or canny, depending how you look at it) aid (or investment), which not only helped those countries to rebuild their infrastructures, but produced a fast-growing market for US goods and services. Ultimately, everybody benefited, and it's not clear to me why a similar principle couldn't apply even if we don't blow everything up first.

So barring any other obvious possibilities, I'm very much in support of Obama's budget, and would in fact like to see even more spent on vast public works projects, with high speed rail and renewable (especially solar) energy sources being near the top of my own wish list. But where does the money come to pay for it?

Well, as a general rule, I'm not in favor of raising taxes, especially not in a time of straitened economic circumstances, but again it looks as though Obama has got it just about right. There are quite a few Americans who grew extremely prosperous during the recent boom years. Whether you feel they did so honestly - I think in most cases the answer is yes - or through bubble financing and corporate gouging - there's been a fair bit of that as well - doesn't so much matter: the grim fact is that that's where the money is.

You can't raise taxes on the middle or working classes, not just because it wouldn't be fair, but because they simply haven't got the money to pay them, but as for the upper and upper middle classes, well, they may not have nearly as much as they had a couple years ago, but they've still got plenty, enough so that a relatively minor tax increase isn't going to greatly inconvenience them, let alone impinge on their ability to enjoy life. If this was a war, everybody's taxes would be going up, and goods would be rationed as well.

For the poorer classes, rationing is already in effect by virtue of their inability to pay for many of life's necessities, let alone luxuries. The well-to-do can not only afford to pitch in, it's their duty - and should be considered a privilege and an honor - to do so. In fact, as Biden was unjustly maligned for saying during the campaign, it's downright patriotic. If Bush hadn't put his ill-conceived and ineptly waged war - not to mention his equally ill-conceived and ineptly applied tax cuts - on the national credit card, chances are we wouldn't be in this predicament today, but he did, we're broke, and somebody has to pay the bill.

02 March 2009

Let's Go To Fucking Hawaii

You'd have to be of a certain age, from Vancouver, or unnaturally well versed in the ancient history of regional punk scenes to remember the Young Canadians' greatest (only) hit, a snarling, sarcastic slam at the "fun in the sun" mentality. When I first heard "Hawaii" a few decades ago, I was right on board with the sentiment, believing there to be something clearly decadent if not vaguely obscene about lounging around on some sunny beach when one could be engaging in more substantial and significant activities like staying up all night on drugs and pogoing like a cracked-out jack-in-the-box at the local punk show.

Well, well, how times have changed: now I think I could quite happily while away the rest of my life on or near a beach, and sometimes it's only my hope that global warming will eventually turn New York City into the tropical paradise it was clearly meant to be that keeps me clinging to life on these East Coast islands.

But while I may have become a full-fledged beach bum in principle and theory, there's enough of the black-clad, night-loving, artificial-light-craving punk rocker in me to be a little embarrassed by the public image a sybaritic, sunseeking lifestyle might create for me. Which might be why I didn't post anything here about my trip to Hawaii either before or during. Or, more likely, I was just too lazy, but we can take that up on another occasion.

And then I also worried about the feelings of people who were stuck back in the ice and snow, or just simply couldn't afford to take off for a weekend in New Jersey, let alone a week in a tropical paradise. Well, if it's any consolation - and I'm sure it will be to many of you schadenfreudists - not only was the weather in New York pretty darn mild for February the whole time I was gone, the weather in Hawaii was not all that great, either.

It is, as Mr. Einstein was constantly saying, all relative, of course. To someone scraping ice off his windshield, 60 or 70 (15 or 21C) degrees sounds mighty inviting. But to someone who has packed little more than a swimming suit, some shorts and a few t-shirts under the impression that Hawaii was one place you could count on it always being summer, not so much.

It's not as though I was in danger of imminent frostbite, true, and I actually did get to go swimming in the Pacific Ocean - incredibly clear, with exotic blue and green colors, just like on the postcards - one day and lie on the beach a couple others, but to be quite honest, if it were summer in New York, I would have waited for a nicer day.

It barely rained at all, but of the time I was there, it was cloudy about half the time, and windy most of the time, sometimes ridiculously so. 75 degrees (24C), which was about as warm as it ever got in the daytime, can be quite comfortable under normal circumstances, but not with a 25 mph (40kph) wind dragging the chill factor down by a dozen degrees or so. Put it this way: while tourists were schlepping around in tank tops and shorts (they kind of have to, if only to justify their vacation investment to themselves and to produce photos to make their friends back on the mainland jealous), the locals were bundled up in hoodies and jackets (I'll admit, I rather naively thought that people in Hawaii didn't even own jackets, but once again it looks as though I was wrong).

All that aside, however, it was still very nice to be able to visit our 50th state (and the 48th on my list of states visited; now only Alaska and Louisiana remain), and I could see where it would be a very nice place to live, albeit with a couple caveats, the first of which would be to have a nice hoodie and a second being to not live on the windward side of the islands.

Each island, as I learned, has a windward side and a leeward side (even some of the buses use this for their directional signs), with the windy side also being the rainy side, and while it's very pretty over there in all the overgrown jungle type vegetation, I can't imagine why somebody would want to live there year round. Honolulu is sheltered from the worst of the wind and rain by some rather spectacular mountains (not much higher than the California coastal mountains, actually, but looking more dramatic because they rise straight up from sea level), and generally has better and sunnier weather, but at times the trade winds manage to climb right over the mountains and swoop down upon the beaches of Waikiki.

Another factor that might render longterm life in Hawaii a bit onerous is that, well, there's not a whole lot going on there. Lots of outdoorsy things, true; if you're mainly about beaching it, or hiking, golfing, boating, fishing, paragliding, etc., etc., then you should be fine. But if you're at least partly a city person, well, be advised that the nearest city of any consequence is several thousand miles away.

That's not to diss Honolulu; it's a pleasant enough place, and offers at least some of the advantages of most modern cities: for example, if you want to shop for top-end designer goods, there will be no shortage of opportunities. But it's probably best suited for old people with lots of money and kids who are happy splashing in the water; teenagers and young adults seem to be quietly going crazy.

And not always so quietly, either, judging from the hot rods and the cars that go boom up and down Ala Moana Boulevard, but as one local told me, "A lot of these guys come down with rock fever," and when I queried about what "rock fever" might be, he said, "You know, going crazy from the feeling of clinging to a rock out in the middle of the ocean."

So a lot - maybe a majority - of ambitious young people end up leaving for the mainland, and those who remain can often be found passed out in one of the many parks, where it's apparently possible to live pretty much year round without much hassle. One notable difference, however, from some of the mainland cities with large homeless populations: most of the Hawaiian tramps seem remarkably non-aggressive and non-psycho, unlike those in, say, San Francisco. The whole time I was there, I only got spare-changed once, by some tweaked-out hippie on Kalakaua Avenue, and even he didn't seem particularly bothered by the whole business.

There is something distinctly feral about the place, though, which generally seems to be the case in tropical locations. You could easily picture - say if the financial meltdown continued to even more disastrous levels - Hawaii reverting to some sort of Heart Of Darkness-cum-Lord Of The Flies scenario, with the rich and previously well-fed providing sustenance to the younger, more vigorous residents, at least until the population had been reduced to more manageable levels, i.e., about 10% of what it is now.

Leave it to me, of course, to detect the rudiments of anarchy and cannibalism in one of the friendliest, most relaxed places I have ever visited. It's just how I roll, I guess. Will I go back again? Most likely, but at a warmer time of the year, which, from what I've been told, comes around the same time as it does in the rest of the country. That kind of defeats the purpose, though, doesn't it? If it's already hot and humid in New York, why would I need to go to Hawaii? Somebody should have thought this through a little more carefully. Perhaps me.

Meanwhile back home, it's 20 degrees outside (-6C), with half a foot or so of snow on the ground, and a cold draft permeating even my normally snug and warm apartment. Never mind, it'll be spring soon, and even if it wasn't, I still love New York the best.