November 29, 2008

Shameless Revisionism: Soapblox Rants #3 (2008)

As promised earlier this week, the continuation of my Shameless Revisionism series, this time dedicated to more ridiculous spew from Election '08. There's a lot to cover, so for better descriptions of the five W's involved, check out my previous Soapblox Rant revisionism here and here. Okay, let's get to it then—click on an essay title link to see the whole post:

Brand America Goes for Broke...Sort Of (Aug. 28, 2008)
In which I try (and fail) to explain my preposterous "PermaGov Seeks Re-Branding" theory of Election '08. It capped off a week's worth of Democratic Convention/Barack Obrouhaha in Denver, so I'd been simultaneously titillated and repulsed by the supersaturation-level coverage from TV, radio, and the web, and therefore my intellectual capacity was too sapped to offer up a coherent distillation of said Theory for the education of all. Which was fine, of course, because a day later all thunder was stolen by the screeching, sneering Republican Veep nominee: Alaska governor Sarah Palin—but more on her later.

So...this was originally supposed to be something about how Brand America/Monied Interests/PermaGov/The Man is, in 2008, finally grudgingly acknowledging certain global sociopolitical realities by conceding the nomination of a major American political party to a black man. About how said black man and his crew had been following in the footsteps of great political marketers and ad men of the past—specifically, the past of 1960 and 1980—in creating an indelible brand with which to sell themselves to the American consumer population. About how, after all, this is the American Way, and that's just what we do here.
John McCain is Doomed, and it's Bono's Fault (Sep. 8, 2008)
This one was a happy confluence of two extremely nerdy, time-wasting obsessions of mine: American Presidential Politics and U2. Like the "PermaGov Seeks Re-Branding" Theory mentioned above, this essay also tackles a similar idea: the "U2 Election Year Album Release" theory—and in the interests of thorough, complete analysis I thought I should include relevant supporting data from U2's past 18 years of touring. So yes, I called the election for Obama in September based on shoddy, nebulous evidence—but hey, isn't that just as good as any shit you'd ever see on cable news? Yes. Yes it is.
Now, by the album theory, this year was all set to be locked up for Crash McCain, what with plenty of substantiated rumors about a new U2 album looming in the fall. However, it seems that someone in the U2 camp—be it the nefarious Edge, the sullen Mullen, the libertine Clayton, or the socio-capitalist manager McGuinness—has overruled Yer Man Bono, and forcibly delayed the new release to 2009. One could argue that Obama has already telegraphed this, what with his make-it-stop overuse of U2's recent single "City of Blinding Lights" during the eternal Democratic primary, but I don't think so. No, Barry's not as big of a U2-booster as the Big Dog, but he probably does realize that the universe is now aligning a bit more in his favor. Yeah, you only think he had a bad week. Whatever, man. We're ready for the laughing gas. We're ready for what's next.
How Many Barricades Have You Stormed Today? (Sep 21, 2008)
Like a good spoiled suburban jerk, I'm capriciously fickle when it comes to respecting or disrespecting the passionate beliefs and cynical snark of my fellow bloggers. In Left Blogistan, nowhere is the gulf between those poles wider than in the space between the ultracool, snide, overeducated "leftists" (who understand that the Democratic Party is merely the lesser of two viciously compromised evils), and the seemingly naive, idealistic, blindly loyal Party People who fall in behind the nominated candidate. In this essay I bitch and moan at both of them—and perversely, its cross-posted Daily Kos version was "rescued" from the dark depths of obscurity. Go figure.
You don't want to be uncool, do you? You don't want to, like, become exactly what the chickenhawks always said you were, do you? Just another dirty fucking left-liberal hippie armchair activist who doesn't have the balls to publicly state how much you hate Bush/the Iraq War/Republicans/whatever? Even after the massive (and massively ignored) anti-war protests of 2003? Even after the whitey-frightening brown-power marches of 2006? Because arm-chairing it is, like, so uncool, dude. For serious. I mean, even I know that, and I would never in my wildest nightmares do anything remotely politically active. Registration? Please. I couldn't sell candy bars door-to-door for Little League twenty-five years ago, and I sure as fuck ain't walking around some leafy green neighborhood full of Nice People Who Might Not Hate Me just for the sake of the fucking two-party system, man. And phone-banking? Don't even start. Some days I can't even call for a fucking pizza, okay? Forget it.
Happily Chugging the Toxic Stew of Dumb (Oct. 3, 2008)
Over the course of the 2008 election campaign, I decided that I didn't like Sarah Palin, and I didn't much respect people who admitted they liked her, but thankfully, we know by now that a decisive majority of American voters apparently agrees with me. However, the night she squared off against notorious blowhard Joe Biden in the vice-presidential debate, things didn't seem as certain to me (though they did to certain others), so I was hoping to see Palin get mauled at the podium before changing the channel to watch the Dodgers get stomped by Chicago. Of course, it didn't exactly happen that way: Palin crashed and burned, sure, but so did the Cubs, so by the time I posted this thing it was more about the concept of political reincarnation than anything else.
Palin's arrival on the national stage is just as timely as that of George W. Bush, our jabbering dupe of a forty-third president. It's generally agreed upon by nearly all sentient presidential scholars that Bush is the farcial reincarnation, politically speaking, of Ronald Reagan. Both men were genial twits fronting a den of thieves and pimps who held the government hostage while stoking fear of foreigners and hatred of liberals. Reagan himself represented the political mutant hybrid of John Wayne and Barney Fife, and Bush is basically a diseased Morlock with the brain of Reagan and the heart of Richard Nixon. Nixon's spiritual successor is, of course, Bill Clinton (who also shows traces of Warren G. Harding), and if we really wanted to waste time, we could take this presidential if-they-mated bullshit a step further and note that Barack Obama is probably the farcial hybrid of Reagan and JFK, but I was supposed to be exclusively shitting on the Republicans tonight, so let's just get back to the point, which is that Sarah Palin is the logical next step from the notoriously stupid vice-presidential punchline known as Dan Quayle.
The Crippling Nostalgia of Naranjastan (Oct. 9, 2008)
Writing a book report may seem like an extremely silly and useless thing to do, but I needed a break from election stupidiity, so I chose to opine on something that I almost literally stumbled across one night at Borders in Oxnard: Gustavo Arellano's second tome entitled Orange County. It was a fun read for an OC native like me, and re-energized me in terms of writing my first novel (which is set there for half the plot), so naturally I thought I should share it with the wider world. "Naranjastan" is actually my own made-up name for OC, but it has also been used in creatively pejorative ways to reference the liberal mega-blog Daily Kos, so imagine my surprise when the damn thing became my second "rescued" diary there.
Thanks to Arrellano's book, I know that I'm not the only one in thrall to the slow creep of crippling nostalgia. His Orange County is full of strange rumblings in Aztlán; a deft combination of frank, poignant personal memoir and gloriously reviciousnist history, it explores his family's roots in both Zacatecas and Anaheim, against a backdrop of John-Wayne-Birch-Disney-Dornan-Saigon-Surf City-Citrus-Coto OC insanity. His family anecdotes and extended epics fit—obviously and perfectly—into the eternal continuum of American Borgification that has chewed up and spat out every immigrant group from the Pilgrims to the Irish to the Chinese to the far-flung scions of El Cargadero, Mexico. Arrellano pulled me in with his incessant localized appeals to my inner history-geography-culture nerdiness, and it worked like gangbusters.
Desperately Seeking the Holy Grail of Epic Fail (Oct. 26, 2008)
And the rescued DKos diaries just keep on comin'—and yes, this has been the last one of those to date, but it was aptly described there as something like "an exhaustive search for the definitive political face plant," which is basically true; picking on losers is one of the most American things anyone can ever do. Speaking of—I also got to beat George Will with a baseball bat, but even that wasn't enough, because I came back for more in two additional instances, the first outlining how the Phillies' World Series win would bookend the era of Reaganite government-emasculation, and the second bitching about how I can draw a better map of the U.S.A. than Al Franken. But back to flogging losers:
We don't celebrate Halloween and Día de los Muertos at this time for nothing, folks, and baseball is not the only Haunted Game in our nation's twisted history. No, politics has that market cornered for the conceivable future. Oh sure, epic political failure has always been a lurking menace in American politics, but recent history has thrown up more examples of massive electoral defeat than you can shake a hanging chad at. Landslide losses at the presidential level by Barry Goldwater, George McGovern, and Walter Mondale are just the tip of the iceberg, of course, but since I don't have relevant data at my command right now, let's just make my thesis skate on some ice thinner than the 2000 election results and ignore hard facts, because like, everyone's been doing that for so long now that it's just routine, right? Aimless speculation's all the rage, right?
Everything Was Fine Until I Looked Down (Nov. 4, 2008)
In which I argued, somewhat lamely, that with the election of the uber-serious Barack Obama to the U.S. Presidency, petty, sarcastic bullshit would quickly be going out of style, what with the legions of humorless liberals swamping Washington D.C. with their commendably earnest do-gooder insticts. Snark jumping the shark, as it were—which is indeed a pretty dumb idea, since it's not likely to ever happen, but whatever. I sensed it turning on me as I wrote the thing, so I slipped in a fun email I wrote to Bryn that was sort of a how-to Lesson in Gonzo:
Brother of mine, verily I say unto thee that this is Good. In fact, it's better than 90% of the Daily Kos diaries out there. You are a worthy student of Thompson and Taibbi. However, for this piece to truly cross into the realm of Gonzo, you must shamelessly embrace your inner hyperbole. Throw "objectivity" to the feral hyenas, man—that shit is for do-gooder wimps. You know the Truth. You're not just right. You're righter than the most miserably wise guru who's ever been stuck up on K-2 without a decent porno for all eternity. You've ruminated on these evil aphorisms of our sick age for so long that they simply must be vomited up like...well, you get the picture. Compound those similies, and never be squeamish with the nastiest metaphors, for Gonzo is a caricature based on a grain of truth, where fiction and reality collide violently, and the Author is irreversibly self-injected into The Work.
Projection Now, Projection Tomorrow, Projection Forever (Nov. 13, 2008)
For many progressive political junkies, the Obama win on Election Day was tempered soberingly with the passage of the odious, queer-hating Proposition 8, and it led many activists to, somewhat justifiably, freak out with the same sort of cornered-animal behavior that the McCain/Palin crowd showed in the campaign's waning weeks. It was an enduring lesson to me that, as Dusty says, "they don't make it easy," and that changeovers always trample some good underfoot. I threw in one of my pet co-opted phrases as a title to boot, but so far it's been the last piece of political gonzo I've been moved to barf out this year, which may prove to be a Good Thing.
Changeovers can be brutally destructive things. Many re-inventions happen in the wild and chaotic aftermath of massive, revolutionary change, but many more take place during the subtler transitions. Inevitably, though, naked avarice, cognitive dissonance and crude denial reign supreme. The winners scramble for as many spoils they can get, and the fleeing losers become scattered refugees, wailing in wide-eyed, desperate panic. Once-apt definitions no longer apply, as all forms of communication are pulverized into malleable blobs of Play-Doh, ready to be built back into whatever lingua franca the victors see fit to impose. They also, of course, get to write history, which can be fun—believe me, I've met more than a few contortionist historians, and they were always winners—but for the most part, writing history is sloggy, boring transcription work, and that's where the projectionists make their real money
Okay, so it's only been a short spasm of relapse, but I think today's helping of Shameless Revisionism may be the last one for a while, until I work up some more substantial work worth anthologizing. Until then, stay tuned to the DV for more random gonzo, including my new series Requiem for a Music Geek, which will be showing up a little more frequently, I hope. Thanks for enduring.

November 26, 2008

Shameless Revisionism: Election Rants, 2004 Edition

Oh, so you thought that Shameless Revisionism was gone forever, didn't you? Well...so did I, but the final months of 2008 proved extremely fertile in the Gonzo Political Rant department, so those would have to be anthologized eventually, right? However, that day is not today (though it will be soon). No, today we delve back into the past once again, back before Democrats were winners again, when Republican crazies claimed infinite power, and American liberals despaired of any future electoral victories. Remember, that was before the Dem congressional gains in 2006, let alone Barack Obama's coronation as the Great Re-Branding of America this year. Now, I'm as happy about his November victory as the next squishy liberal, but lest we all get too cocky, we should remember what it was like back in the dark days of not so long ago, of 2004, when we lost—lost narrowly, and lost badly.

Yes, folks, 2004—when Massachusetts senator John Kerry teamed up with North Carolina senator John Edwards to wrest the Democratic Party nomination from Howard Dean, governor of Vermont, only to be sliced and diced by the evil Bush/Cheney ticket on Election Day. As I might have said before, that particular day was my 28th birthday, so it wasn't a happy day in many ways, but it did herald a great return to form in terms of me writing for fun and amusement, and sharpened my skills enough to begin spewing out my protracted, long-suffering Great Suburban Novel. I held back on anthologizing this stuff in the original Dubious Ventures compilation, but what with my continued output in 2008, I figured I should throw in some of the other stuff to see if any evolution happened.

So let's get to my four-year-old posts, which all show me shaking off the dust of illiteracy and, once again, crudely apeing the style of Hunter S. Thompson in a desperate effort to find my own twisted linguistic voice. Click on a post's title to read the whole thing.

The Ghost of Muskie Haunts Iowa (Jan. 20, 2004)
When I began this silly thing called Dubious Ventures in late 2003, I'd promised to never make it a "political blog," but then I broke that vow pretty quick once the presidential campaign began kicking into high gear and Howard Dean was stomping on the terra. It was all too easy to get caught up in the quasi-excitement and bookie-enthusiasm of like-minded political junkies, but for some strange reason my ego failed me and I still didn't have the guts to post this stuff on the various liberal political blogs that I read so much of back then. Anyway my first one dealt with the Iowa caucuses:

The freak finish, Kerry-Edwards-Dean-Gephardt, certainly looks strange at first glance, considering the amount of Dean-frenzy in the past year, but the inside-baseball talk is already calling the nomination for Big John. Oh sure, Kerry will now have to face General Clark, who abandoned Iowa, and who's been hiding out in the New Hampshire snows for weeks now, and the two old soldiers may indeed maul each other to death yet, because if Kerry's victory speech was any indicator, El Lurcho is still tired and listless despite regaining his precious frontrunner status. His main line of assertion at this point, that of "electability," is eerily similar to that of another glowering golem from primaries past: Ed Muskie of Maine, who crashed and burned at the feet of George McGovern way back in 1972, despite wide acclaim for Muskie as the only man who could beat Nixon.
Watching C-SPAN so You Don't Have To (Jan. 28, 2004)
As the campaign staggered into New Hampshire and began to shake itself out, I realized that I wasn't writing anything that professional pundits and goofy bloggers across America weren't saying already, never mind the Thompson re-treadings. That didn't stop me from continuing down the same well-worn path of insanity, of course—it merely made me a willing tool down in the minor-minor-minor-leagues of opinionated self-importance—and since I'd done the whole DIY thing with bands, why not make that excuse here, even if everything was hopelessly derivative? I even dragged a fictionalized version of Honey White's illustrious guitar player into things:
Brian and I argued briefly over the quantity of bullshit coursing through the bowels of "electability," and my genius guitarist observed that perception, in this case "perceived electability," holds a voodoo-like sway over so-called "Flyover Country." We sneered in unison at our own cleverness, and finished our conversation beating up on Joe Lieberman. "He's behaving like a crazy old lady," laughed Brian, phoning it in from San Francisco, "like some inverted, Faulknerian she-troll that keeps a decaying corpse of Scoop Jackson in her attic."

"Totally," I replied. "Only in the world of Lieberman-gothic would we ever hear a crime against English like the word 'Joementum." After we hung up I pondered some more confusing minutiae. For instance, throughout the week Kerry kept insisting that he was not the frontrunner and kept campaigning like he was fifteen points down, as if he could almost smell the inevitable media barbs that always aim for Number One. Kerry further insulated himself behind a phalanx of veterans, who manned the phone banks on his behalf, repeating to anyone within earshot that "outsider anger" was a losing formula that would drag the party back into the wilderness of defeat.
Enduring a Frigid Interlude in New Mexico (Feb. 10, 2004)
Bryn and I really did jet off to Santa Fe to spend some quality time in the snow with our aunt and uncle, but things weren't really as crazed as I tried to make it appear in this essay. We really did have big plans, but each and every one of them succumbed to a violent bout of sloth once we finally got settled. So not such a bad stab at travelogue, but still not great.
That's right, for the past week or so, I've been hunkered down in one of America's weirdest locales, shivering like a popsicle and unable to rouse myself into few activities more complicated than eating, excreting, and sleeping. Santa Fe has turned me into a hibernating animal, and all because my brother and I needed to get the hell away from Isla Vista for a week. We were long overdue for a visit—I'd last been in 1999, and it had been longer for Bryn, so with a break in Honey White rehearsals before a show later this month, we decided to fly up the mountain to endure the last lashings of winter. This being an election year, I thought maybe we'd observe the aftermath of the New Mexico Democratic caucuses, preferably in the company of our good college buddy Crazy Jon Neal, who had somehow elbowed his way into Wesley Clark's fizzling campaign. Ideally, we could do it all while taking in a Cracker show—the rootsy alterna-clowns would be rocking the Paramount on February 4th.
Super (Thanks for Asking!) Tuesday (Mar. 3, 2004)
I posted a slew of tiny rants leading up to Super Tuesday, when about 16 states held primaries—including here in California—because lots of other newsworthy things had been going on: the Dean campaign's implosion, a baseball exorcism in Chicago, and a Honey White gig at UCSB. Once again, I fictionalized a band member—Bryn this time, ranting about John Edwards—so clearly my priorities were running headlong-Gonzo away from normal journalism, but since I'd never really been a journalist in the first place, that was okay, I guess.
As for Johnny Sunshine, he put up a good fight against Kerry in WI but his wave had already crested in that state, and after coming close only in one other primary—Georgia, by 3.5%—Edwards closed his campaign early on Super Tuesday, peppering his concession speech with lots of praise for John Kerry. My brother was livid at this—the California polls hadn't even closed before Edwards threw in the towel. "That Crisco-headed bastard!" fumed Bryn. "I was still registered as a Green, so I had to write in his name on the goddamn ballot—probably at the same time he was verbally fellating John Kerry!"

I laughed at the time, but soon realized that Kerry would be in for some tough weeks courtesy of the Illiberal Media, and El Lurcho may not have the long-term stamina to survive such an onslaught. It would have been hard on Edwards, too—he surely would have crashed into negative numbers during the long wasteland between now and the August Democratic Convention in Boston. Edwards would have ended up at some low-rent exorcism of bad karma, like the one held in the Harry Caray Restaurant in Chicago a few weeks ago, where the infamous "Bartman Ball" from the Cubs' ill-fated 2003 playoff appearance would be ceremoniously destroyed for all to see.
Three More Weeks of Nail-Biting Insanity (Oct. 12, 2004)
I brought almost everyone in the band into this one, a semi-ficitonalized account of Honey White's 3rd long weekend in the San Francisco studio where we made our How Far is the Fall album. Unfortunately, we all sound like puppets of the same point of view, what with spouting off about polls and stuff. Perversely, only Billy was spared inclusion, since he wasn't actually there, but he is conveniently replaced in this piece by our engineer Jonathan Mayer. The whole thing was supposed to be a bent commentary from all of us on the circus that was the Bush-Kerry debates late in the campaign, but it turned into much more of a band thing:
2004’s campaign inevitably poked its hideous head into the studio several times. One bad joke about Bush from Jon and we were off—no dipshit Republican was safe from our passive-aggressive liberalized vitriol, and Joe Lieberman would have felt skittish in that company, too. The tipping point came and went earlier this month, though, when Brian joined up with DJ Monkey Mike and his crew of canvassers on a registration drive to Reno. Our genius guitarist had already skipped out on one session back in September (as it degenerated into simultaneous diva-tastic displays from Bryn and I) to go see the Pixies with Owen in Berkeley, so the rest of us were only mildly impressed when Brian sauntered into the studio at our most recent session, dispensing Kerry/Edwards buttons like they were shiny new silver dollars. “Oooh,” said Jon the engineer, “they’ll look great next to my vintage McGovern and Mondale buttons. All I need is a Dukakis, and I’ll have the complete set!” I smirked at him and turned to Brian. “Yeah, don’t get cocky, dude. You should know that by now; when Democrats get the hubris bug, they’re almost guaranteed to crash and burn.”
So all in all, nothing too earth-shattering in terms of writing quality—indeed, I would discover later that year that none other than Matt Taibbi had penned an awesome screed on the 2004 campaign, Spanking the Donkey, and he of course did it much better and funnier than I could ever hope to do. By the bitter end, of course, I turned into a jabbering puddle of weepy goo, but since I've included that in another Shameless Revisionism post I'll spare everyone the ugly flashback.

Anyway, like I promised, we'll get to the crazier crap from 2008 next time. Hopefully that can be as early as this weekend, since it's a holiday.

November 24, 2008

Requiem for a Music Geek: Slouching Towards Sonic Domesticity

For nearly fifty years now, "domesticity" has always meant the opposite of "rock." The mellow sounds of '70s singer-songwriters soothed the transatlantic sonic savagery of the '60s; the album-oriented radio and slick Philly soul of the Carter-Thatcher-Reagan era blunted the triple threat of reggae/ska, punk and hip-hop; and the fiendishly wretched "Adult Album Alternative" radio format of the mid-'90s cut off the spasms of alt-rock right as it hit the mainstream. By the turn of the 21st century, rock had become the new jazz—a niche genre of music meant for listening, not dancing; a squalid vacuum of insular sniping and revisionist desperation.

Of course, that's a pretty generalized, and harsh, paragraph to slide in right under a photo of Elbow, the genial British proglodytes who roam the vast chasm between Coldplay's lyrical mega-idiocy and Radiohead's willful, semi-arch obtuseness. Whether they like it or not, though, the fivesome from moody Manchester has been one of two twin poles of my own gradual slide into musical middle age—that terrible time of early adulthood when your job owns your day, you don't get out as much, you move into cohabitational bliss, and your social radius shrinks like Chris Martin's credibility. Besides, in my last music geek screed, I mercilessly slashed away at the horror that was Sting in late-career suckitude, so I guess it's only fair to turn the tables on myself this time.

Well...sort of. I don't have to lose all of my self-respect in one shot, though, and I hope to Elvis that grasping frantically at the periodic lyrical excellence of Elbow frontman Guy Garvey will leave a few shreds of aesthetic dignity. Now, in some circles that's veering perilously close to Sting territory, but whatever—some humorless assholes will never be happy with anything, and on my good days I don't identify with them very much. Obviously, worrying about it is the definition of navel-gazing bullshit, but if I didn't do that there wouldn't be anything to write about anyway, right?

Maybe so, but that silliness can be dumped for now in favor of more Elbow—as I know them, that is. I'd picked up their first disc Asleep in the Back a bit late—sometime in early 2002, I think, long after it had been released to favorable bleatings from the UK music press. However, I was pretty caught up in jump-starting Honey White with Bryn, Brian, and Billy; with the exception of some Eels, B.R.M.C., and other stray random crap, most outside musical stimulus was pretty weak back then. "Red," "Powder Blue," and especially "Newborn" made some heavy dents in my aural consciousness, but harder hits would have to wait.

Despite my revitalized epic indie-rock hobby, though, I'd already settled into the deadly formula of domesticity—moving in with my girlfriend, slaving away at dull office jobs, and teetering on the edge of that awful concept of "finding myself." Twenty-six is pretty late to be fucking around career-wise, or so I thought—I never had the itch to strap on a backpack and busk my way through Europe like my brother did in 2003, and so that fall, before I stumbled into night school and Em advanced to grad school, Elbow's second album Cast of Thousands was well on its way to ruling my endless hours of semi-employed solitude. I'd picked it up as an import, and the tour-de-force ballads immediately grabbed my windpipe; "Fugitive Motel" and "Switching Off" ground the record in tarnished beauty, but the rest of it doesn't exactly slouch either, from the burbling intensity of "Ribcage" to the massive celebration of "Grace Under Pressure."

So for me and Elbow, it's been all uphill from there; sure, on 2005's Leaders of the Free World (which I bought in Boston while visiting my sister) and this year's Seldom Seen Kid, the Potter brothers may have simplified the tunes a bit, but Garvey has become a masterful lyricist and, as I saw at two shows in L.A.'s fabled Avalon ballroom, an epic singer. The whole band just works, and if getting sucked into their agreeable sound means I've settled for the gradually rounding edges of "maturity," then I can deal with that. If well-made pop-rock is the mushy center of the musical spectrum, well, I don't mind checking in when Elbow's topping the bill. We are all, by now, professionals, are we not?

Naturally, that goes double for Chicago's own Wilco. The myriad musical whims of Jeff Tweedy have finally landed him and his revolving cast of sidemen in a weird side-street of American rock commerciality, where tour-chasing concert-geeks and dazed VH1 refugees alike meet in a public-radio sponsored forum of rootsy, feel-good (or at least feel-better), semi-diluted art-rock. Some have called the phenomenon a throwback to the Grateful Dead, but to me, it's a little more yuppified and Eagles-y than that; there are less trustafarians and more suburbanites at any given Wilco show—or at least at the four SoCal shows I've seen from 2003-2007.

Yes, that's right—even though I missed all of Uncle Tupelo and A.M., really enjoyed Being There as a college sophomore, and Summerteeth was pretty much my favorite album of 1999, I completely failed to see Wilco live until the apostate Jay Bennett was expelled from Eden, which means the Wilco that I've seen supporting A Ghost is Born and Sky Blue Sky, for all their collectively manic brilliance, is pretty much the Jeff Tweedy Show at this point. Now, that's fine—I've seen Tweedy once solo, too, so obviously there is a difference—like Elbow's Garvey, Tweedy has grown into a lyricist that, though not as tight over the course of a whole song, has nevertheless become comfortable with himself and what it is he does.

That's all you really have to ask for from an artist—that they be themselves—and of course Tweedy is just as susceptible as any of them when it comes to vacationing up his own ass (his father-of-boys streak of childishness can be a weird mix of Paul McCartney and Henry Miller), but thankfully I don't usually have to consider any of that ridiculous shit when listening to his albums or attending his shows. See, by the time of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot's belated release in 2002, I had of course ended up living in the comfort of connubial sin, larded with a steady paycheck to sustain any remaining youth-rock pretentiousness—and I won't apologize for any of it. Why? Well, you know how some couples have "their song?" For me and Emily, Wilco is "our band." There's no real need to elaborate on that, and if people think that's cheesy, then fuck them.

Yeah, because John Stirratt is one of the steadiest bassists in rock, Glenn Kotche will never be simply a time-keeping drummer, and guitarist Nels Cline is a fucking six-string monster in ways guys like Satriani or Van Halen will never ever come close to touching. Cline is a fiend, a classy genius wielding a '59 Fender Jazzmaster, and both his humongous tornadoes of sound and his razor-sharp leads have injected new life into the entire Wilco back catalog on stage. Like I said, I've seen them four times now—one opening for REM (2003), once on a double-bill with the Roots (2005), and twice headlining (the Wiltern in 2004, the S.B. Bowl in 2007), and if that means I'm nothing more than a sucker for the New Eagles, well, I'm okay with that too. If Elbow and Wilco are the best mainstreamy examples of how Adult Men Bring The Rock, then the Rock will be in good hands until some other gang of gangly yahoos decides to stop milking their youth and instead learn to Write Songs.

And yeah, so what if I'm projecting a bit—or even a little more than that? I know that the best artists only really get going in their thirties—where Garvey is now, and where Tweedy was not too long ago—so color me unconcerned about the supposed terrible ramifications of emotional, circumstantial, and yes, "domestic" stability. Many men (and women) have mapped out this territory before, and hopefully I'll get to play in it for a good long while.

November 18, 2008

When Living in Paradise Totally Blows

As a lifelong Southern California resident, I should be used to it by now: autumn, my favorite SoCal "season" of the year, is gradually losing its luster to hysterical rages from Mother Nature. Yes, hellish firestorms, torrential downpours, and paralyzing mudslides have all played deadly parts in the recent history of our semi-arid Gomorrah-by-the-Sea, of course—but the real culprit, in my mind, is one of the all-time demonic Grendels of California climatology: the ferocious Santa Ana winds. More and more, it seems, my home has become the wretched center of a whirling blast-furnace, a hideous vortex of meteorological angst—and those are the good days, mind you.

And yes, folks, I'm gonna be one of those people who whines and bitches too much about the fucking weather—the weather that we Southern Californians are somehow not supposed to understand or experience. Indeed, many of us go all to pieces after the first rains of the season trickle in, forgetting how to drive in inclement conditions and devolving into idiot teenage speed-demons on the slick freeways of the Southland. But good goddamn, when the fiendish easterlies begin booming in from Death Valley—and certain other places someone like Cain would recognize—and start sparking violent orgies of flame from the San Andreas to the sea, it doesn't just ask to be whined about; it demands a full-scale hair-tearing and Hawaiian-shirt-rending. And yet somehow, this appropriate and necessary reflex is waved off as a weakness by some of my more esteemed neighbors.

You see, last year at around this time, eruptions of fire decimated the hills of not only Malibu (a perennial victim) and Orange County, but also threatened to engulf the entire greater San Diego area—and ladies and gentlemen, when Tony Gwynn, the King of San Diego, must evacuate his Poway mansion, there is a massive Disturbance in the Force. Massive enough for the more literary-minded people of SoCal to yet again disinter that fabled passage from Joan Didion's Slouching Towards Bethlehem and plaster it all over every newspaper, magazine, screenplay, billboard, and ass crack from Palos Verdes to Pomona. You know the one—say it with me now:

There is something uneasy in the Los Angeles air this afternoon, some unnatural stillness, some tension. What it means is that tonight a Santa Ana will begin to blow, a hot wind from the northeast whining down through the Cajon and San Gorgonio Passes, blowing up sand storms out along Route 66, drying the hills and the nerves to flash point. For a few days now we will see smoke back in the canyons, and hear sirens in the night.

I have neither heard nor read that a Santa Ana is due, but I know it, and almost everyone I have seen today knows it too. We know it because we feel it. The baby frets. The maid sulks. I rekindle a waning argument with the telephone company, then cut my losses and lie down, given over to whatever it is in the air. To live with the Santa Ana is to accept, consciously or unconsciously, a deeply mechanistic view of human behavior.
Sounds about right to me. She continues:
It is hard for people who have not lived in Los Angeles to realize how radically the Santa Ana figures in the local imagination. The city burning is Los Angeles's deepest image of itself. Nathaniel West perceived that, in The Day of the Locust, and at the time of the 1965 Watts riots what struck the imagination most indelibly were the fires. For days one could drive the Harbor Freeway and see the city on fire, just as we had always known it would be in the end.

Los Angeles weather is the weather of catastrophe, of apocalypse, and, just as the reliably long and bitter winters of New England determine the way life is lived there, so the violence and the unpredictability of the Santa Ana affect the entire quality of life in Los Angeles, accentuate its impermanence, its unreliability. The winds shows us how close to the edge we are.
Now that's a cinch, right? Violence, doom, and the end of the world all rolled into one. Didion's #1 fanboy Bret Easton Ellis, for one, let more than a little of that shit seep into Less than Zero, didn't he? Of course he did, man. As for me, well, it certainly seemed like the apocalypse when I walked out the door one morning in October 1993, smelled smoke, and looked west to see Laguna Beach consumed by flames and belching smoke miles into the sky. Ash flakes fell like snow and refugees poured into my high school, which served as a disaster relief area for the next two weeks. People lost their fucking homes, and yet the Homecoming Game still went on as planned. Rock and roll, bitches! Shut the hell up and as you were, you pussies!

So naturally, when flaming destruction stomped SoCal with a vengeance in 2007, the literati went all Didion on us, and some people backlashed immediately—L.A. denizens who really should have known better, natives who baited the Furies with their every posturing keystroke. Local luminaries like noted political bloviato-blogger Kevin Drum:
I'm curious about something. I've lived in Southern California my entire life, and this just doesn't bear any resemblance to anything I know about the place. Santa Ana winds are just....Santa Ana winds. They do whip up brush fires, as Didion says, but otherwise her description seems way, way over the top. Sure, the weather feels a little weird when Santa Anas kick up, but teachers don't cancel classes, pets don't go nuts, people don't stay inside their houses, and Los Angeles doesn't get gripped in crime waves. At least, not as far as I know.
Kevin, Kevin, Kevin. You knew better than this. Nothing is too over the top, too excessive, or too hyperbolic when describing this foul phenomenon. But macho climactic projection was not only strong with the Calpundit—it ensnared my fellow Gaucho and then-L.A. Times opinion editor Matt Welch, who seconded Drum, backing him up thusly with this tidbit from Jon Healey:
This, I believe, gets close to the heart of the Joan Didion Problem. She is such a gifted descriptive writer that she often can't resist the temptation to wrap her otherwise keen observations with some Chandleresque hyperbole, just to see how the language turns out. It's delightful to read, and leaves lasting impressions on your brain, but many of the impressions are, regrettably, not true. Not only that, but they advertise some near-secretive knowledge -- hey wait, all this time I've been living here and I didn't realize that the Santa Anas were the primordial force unleashing the dark side of human desire?? -- allowing readers to congratulate themselves on being among the minority to break the SoCal code. It's like when postgrads first stumble upon the sunshine/noir dialectic, or when yet another searing cultural critic sees a book-length metaphor in the fact that (gasp!) Brian Wilson couldn't surf.
Dude, even if "sunshine noir" weren't a super-sexy, trendy, Keir-come-lately obsession of mine, I'd still be ashamed if I wrote that. Mock the vicious halitosis of Mother Nature at your own personal risk, man. I have no idea what prompted Welch to let that one squeak by—perhaps his impending fatherhood and move to D.C. was dulling any resistance to moody metaphysical metaphor—but all of these otherwise incisive and talented men totally whiffed on a beautiful, fat-hanging-curveball of embarrassing opportunity. Hell yes they did—because as anyone with simultaneous functioning allergies to bone-dry heat and chilly, recycled air-conditioning will tell you, old Joanie didn't go nearly far enough in her searing indictment of the Santa Anas.

Fuck no she didn't, because the Santa Anas are always, always an unregenerate force of Satan, which they proved yet again last week when they caused fires—or perhaps caused people to cause fires, but who gives a shit, it's the same thing anymore—to char both Montecito (in the laist photo above) and Sylmar into stinking, smoking cinders. Obviously, something or someone in those cities had offended the Gods to a heinous degree, because when Christopher Lloyd's house is destroyed and Oprah's remains intact, the universe is way, way out of balance. Like totally, dude.

So no, it shouldn't be a surprise that terrible disaster-by-fire prompts the Bethlehem passage-quotes out of people who admire that piece of writing (which my three antagonists above nevertheless acknowledge was pretty damn good). The ominous sense of foreboding is a direct result of a healthy respect—based in bowel-shaking fear, of course—of eerie karmaic judgement from a force far, far beyond the comprehension of us mere mortals. It's never a sign of weakness to acknowledge the awesome destructive power of metaphorical doom, gentlemen. It's certainly a sign of dangerously tone-deaf denial to pretend otherwise.

November 13, 2008

Projection Now, Projection Tomorrow, Projection Forever


Changeovers can be brutally destructive things. Many re-inventions happen in the wild and chaotic aftermath of massive, revolutionary change, but many more take place during the subtler transitions. Inevitably, though, naked avarice, cognitive dissonance and crude denial reign supreme. The winners scramble for as many spoils they can get, and the fleeing losers become scattered refugees, wailing in wide-eyed, desperate panic. Once-apt definitions no longer apply, as all forms of communication are pulverized into malleable blobs of Play-Doh, ready to be built back into whatever lingua franca the victors see fit to impose.

They also, of course, get to write history, which can be fun—believe me, I've met more than a few contortionist historians, and they were always winners—but for the most part, writing history is sloggy, boring transcription work, and that's where the projectionists make their real money. Yes, projection, that long-time tool of the Mighty Wurlitzer of Doom, ye olde standebye of demagogues and ranters of all stripes—but most recently employed by the snakes, thieves, and Judas goats who run the Republican Party, as well as the shifty little pimp-weasels who drive the Democratic jackass-mobiles, and the un-evolved rat-mammals we Americans call "third parties."

But enough of those fools for the moment—I was bitching about the election, because I have had e-fucking-nough of that, man. This merciless campaign has long since had its way with my fragile psyche, so by the time the climax slouched into view last Tuesday, I simply watched as the president-elect give his victory speech, then I drank a beer before immediately seeking a nice, quiet place to lie down for at least two months of hibernatory, blissed-out stupor. I felt I'd earned it, if only for the sheer feat of endurance I displayed by merely periodically degenerating into a jabbering puddle of goo—which is more than can be said for most pundits, bloggers, and other such self-important bloviators. Oh sure, I identify with those people in no small way, but their hyperventilating convulsions of informational ebb and flow this year clearly exceeded all recommended safety levels, and I needed a break from all that.

Sadly, it was not to be. I had barely settled down when a hideous shrieking sound crashed through my consciousness and blew apart any remaining sanity. "Mother of sweet babbling Elvis!" I thought, "what in holy hell can that be?" The tone and intensity was disturbingly familiar, and it didn't take too long to recognize the pitiful but dangerous yelps of cornered animals. Oh yes, I knew it well—it had been farting out of every nervous rally headlined by John McCain and his she-Quayle in the waning months of the vicious 2008 campaign, when frightened, incontinent crowds of Republicans collectively shit themselves with fear at the thought of a Black Liberal Democratic President.

Something was different this time, though, in the post-election-limbo-screaming. Every few notes or so, the sorry symphony reached apexes of fright that were just too articulate to belong to the average Sarah Palin fan, and then all at once I heard a crescendo of bile pour through the air—the kind that can only come from the brutalized and dehumanized, the sort that has only one origin; indeed, it was the sound of reflexive and reactionary self-defense, the kind of lashing out that I usually laughed at when it came from Minutemen at the border, or from Henry Rollins at a U2 gig, or from Red Sox fans down by one run in the bottom of the 8th in the unforgiving darkness of Yankee Stadium. Yes, it was full of that much pain, but all I could make out was a sewer-pipe of venom launched haphazardly in the direction of Salt Lake City.

Yes, it was the sad remnants of the Anti-Proposition 8 faction, the rainbow coalition of LGBT activists and their straight/hetero friends, frustrated into apoplexy that they had been caught flat-footed and beaten like lame mules by the "Protect Marriage" crowd, who'd swooped in from the deserts of Utah and utterly overwhelmed any last-ditch efforts at defeating the nebulous proposition and its exclusionary socio-religious elitism. It was the sound of sad, beaten projection—nearly a mirror image of the hysterical McCainiac crowd, but with a much sharper edge; oh yes, this was cornered-animal behavior too, but it also came from humans. Humans who'd had their humanity questioned and derided and denied and forbidden for millennia, humans who'd heard every lame, pissy, legalistic gripe about "so-called rights" and "no objective way to quantify homosexuality" and "think of all the frivolous lawsuits" and every other snide slanderous misinterpretation of "religious pluralism" or "cultural relativism" or whatever other pathetically feeble straw edifice ever employed to oppress the queers.

Yeah, they were pissed, and at the time, I couldn't really blame them, even though their collective spasm of protest was louder than an H-bomb and just as constructive. Days later, I would hear from a Mormon friend of mine who was caught in the middle of it; his flayed nerves and radiation burns were only a few of the ugly consequences of that raging horde's angst. He yammered on about tolerance and America and working together despite differences and all that other icky liberal do-gooder stuff, and as an icky do-gooder liberal, I agreed with him, because I'd also seen the same fallout demolish the momentary giddiness of a hundred thousand black people (and of course many other kinds of people) in L.A., delirious with joy at the ascension of our country's first off-white president, when they were suddenly set upon by angry and frightened Prop 8 haters who were convinced that "the black homophobic vote" had callously disenfranchised them in a violent, Jesus-fueled reclamation of "the civil rights movement."

That was a lie, of course, but it was the same sound of projection, and I knew it well. Oh yes, I did—as tangentially well as a white, straight, and married man can, anyway (which is more than you might think, especially if your seventh-grade peers never discovered your name rhymed with "queer"), and I despaired with sympathy. I recognized the foul reek of hard loss, the fetid stench of inglorious defeat, the awful truth of hopeless finality, because it had long been in me as well, albeit infinitesimally less dehumanizing. It stemmed from the collective, falsely-imposed shame of thirty years' worth of politico-philosophical date-rape—the same thirty years that saw the rise of Reaganism and other lesser cults of bootstrap-worshippers. Yeah, the same people who looted and stole and maimed and killed in an immoral orgy of fraud, corruption, and institutionalized ratfucking that has effectively paralyzed American politics for a generation.

I know you all know this—that "liberals" and "liberalism" have been shat on with exponentially increasing vitriol for that whole time, but the empathetic among us are readily able to extrapolate that to a fraction of the righteous anger that the truly oppressed have fermented in forever. It's an unbearably crushing weight, and even though it's a pretty pathetic self-flagellating exercise from me, I can't help but think that these two groups, Mormons and gays—these two-of-many historically persecuted minorities—are yet again being purposely divided, in the most heinous and inhuman way; are yet again becoming shoe-horned into the crawlspace of projection—forced to fight it out in yet another No-Holds-Barred Socio-Political Death Match for the amusement of the great dumb prime-time cable news and bloggy audiences of the twenty-first century.

Even worse is that I know what the answer back will be: "What the fucking fuck is this really about, dude? What the hell have you got to whine about?" And I have no reply but to point to my pathetic, year-long and campaign-long attempts at bear-beating; of egomaniacal indulgence and trying not to become a monster in order to defeat a monster. Of mocking the devil in smug confidence that he will flee from me. Of countering political fanboyism, of balancing out the slavish boosters of any candidate or credo. But that's no reply at all, and I know that to be true because of this: like almost everyone else in the greater Los Angeles area, I bought a newspaper on November 5th, 2008. It was the L.A. Times, and the headline was at once both glorious and chilling. Many if not most of you have seen it by now:

IT'S OBAMA: DECISIVE VICTORY MAKES HISTORY
...and below that...
In California, gay-marriage ban takes early lead
Fucking hell, people. As if we needed more proof that we all live in a capriciously chaotic universe. Hold on to your goddamn panties, kids. Everything up to now has been prologue.

Cross-posted: dkos, dd, mlw.

November 12, 2008

Requiem for a Music Geek: The Decline and Fall of Juvenile Idolatry


So a few months back I threatened to begin a new series about being a hopelessly nerdy rock fan, and now that certain sociopolitical realities have resolved themselves, well, here it comes, gang. Stand back and hold your noses.

For some bizarre reason, people have a pathological need to create heroes. I don't know why, and I don't want to get too deep into a discussion about that, because we've had enough of that silliness thanks to uber-fans of our new president (or insert other obsessive enthusiasm here), but I do know that for a few years of my own adolescence my bass-playing, song-writing supreme idol was none other than Gordon Matthew Sumner, aka Sting, or in some circles, "the biggest wanker to ever walk the earth," which is of course a hotly contested appellation.

Anyway, he's probably not the best choice for someone like me to admit fandom for (even at some point in the distant past), but I believe one has to own up to one's personal moments of "meh," as well as larger successes and failures, so I must admit that Sting is the reason that I play a Fender Jazz bass today. He's also a contributing factor to me being a lyricist and playing in a band—and why I sometimes find it difficult to just stand back by the drummer and shut the fuck up, and why I've acquired an occasionally marvelous ability to be a self-centered, pretentious asshole—but so many other people, famous or otherwise, have reinforced that sort of behavior, so Sting can't take all the blame for it. Even so, Sting is also the reason that I wear pea coats, the reason that Nick Clemente once smacked me stupid in a movie theater (more on that later), and why Bill Fedderson nearly despaired of ever seeing eye to eye with me musically. Now, that doesn't mean I still don't enjoy every Police album—and, to skate on thin ice, three of Sting's solo discs—but that has more to do with childhood nostalgia than anything else, and as you all know, I'm always a pathetic sucker for that stuff.

See, when I was 15, Sting's Soul Cages album was my favorite CD ever. I had no idea that could potentially be a major problem in many future aesthetic aspects of my life, but I still like the disc a lot and don't lose too much sleep over what anybody thinks about that. Also, I really enjoyed the whole Dream of the Blue Turtles/Bring on the Night period too, mostly because I associate those albums with happy times from when I was a kid and other false fantasies from deep within the mists of time. I had no idea that these discs were widely hooted at by critics, or mocked mercilessly by uber-cool punks and other people too bitchy for their own good, because I was a happy eight-year-old kid who liked dinosaurs and thought it was cool that Sting sang about them on a Police tune from Synchronicity. Things get a bit muddy from there, though. At this point, I can take or leave 1987's Nothing Like the Sun disc, because I haven't played it in a loooong time, and it sounds horribly dated in many ways that you'll just have to take my word for. I still enjoy Soul Cages, however, and for some reason it's more reliable than a rain dance if droughts are threatening. Seriously—the sky has never failed to open up with rain, be it mild drizzle or deadly El Niño flooding, when I play this album. Weird.

So yeah, I'm apathetic about the guy and his music—no matter how much time I spend griping about it now—and it's been a long time since i've actually cared. I didn't even want to try to get Police tour tickets, but I don't go to too many big-ass arena shows anymore. I haven't bought a Sting disc for a decade and haven't really been interested for 16 years, because the dude has been in some serious decline for what seems like decades now. In hindsight, it wasn't as quick or ruthless as I remember, but when the end came, it was a slippery slope indeed, with each blow more fatal than the last: the underwhelming adult-contemporary boredom of Ten Summoner's Tales (1993); the lame and presumptuous 1994 Best-Of and its attendant schlocky "When We Dance" ballad; the abhorrent "All For Love" team-up with Rod Stewart and Bryan Adams; the holding-pattern blandness of Mercury Falling (1996); appearing with Puff Daddy at the VMAs (1997); his awkward bartender cameo in "Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels"; the desperate commerciality of Brand New Day (1999); the sheer idiotic irrelevance of Sacred Love (2003). After that shit-storm of mediocrity, an all-mandolin album like Songs from the Labyrinth (2006) barely registered on the wankery outrage scale.

He wasn't finished, though—we would of course have plenty of Sting to kick around for many years—and it was, unfortunately, somewhat challenging for me to accept the inherent suckitude of an erstwhile musical hero. Oh sure, the man tried to claw his way back, taking his best shots at the big bulls-eye of shameless nostalgia with both the Broken Music Tour (2005) and the cute but apparently musically toothless cash-in that was the Police reunion tour of 2007-08, but personally, I just didn't give a shit—I was too busy paying attention to other entertaining distractions like baseball or politics or my own bands or whatever. I didn't have the time or the patience to follow someone like Sting down every little creative dead-end that might have amused him at the moment.

And that's okay, because there were plenty of other egomaniacal fools to replace him with. Exhibit A, naturally, is Bono—but I've kicked that guy around enough on these pages, so I'll leave Yer Man alone for the time being. Also, it's not like this slavish impulse is ever truly killed, because I've caught myself indulging in its treacherous waters all too often, and that pull is exponentially deadlier when genius hot chicks like PJ Harvey or Jenny Lewis are involved. Sooner or later they will all betray their most rabidly loyal fans, though; I could write a column like this (and I have) for almost every artist I've ever had even a fleeting interest in, but then I'd definitely be degenerating into Lester Bangs vs. Lou Reed territory, which is also a place I hope to never visit anytime soon.

If there's a lesson in any of this revisionist, projectionary bile of mine, it may be that I should be more willing to shine the brutal light of Truth onto my own stuff, searching for creative wankery with the obsessive detail of the fanboy, but really, it wouldn't be too hard to find. Still, it's not like I'm gonna give out directions or point to telltale landmarks. No, Gordon. Eventually we all must belatedly Grow Up, Move On, and Get the Fuck Over It. Sorry, mate.

November 05, 2008

Fun with Maps: Presidential Elections I Have Known

Or rather, "Fun With Maps, Part MCXXXVIII." That's yesterday's result, more or less—Missouri and North Carolina are still too close to call, but I thought I'd color them the way they were leaning (MO-McCain, NC-Obama). A few anomalies: Indiana has not voted Democrat since 1964, and I think it's been just as long for Virginia. Obama is only the 3rd Senator to achieve the White House (the last was JFK, '60), and McCain is the 2nd Arizona Senator to be defeated (the last was Goldwater, '64).

Anyway, I've had just about enough of this horrible 2-year death-march of a vote, even though the result was what I'd hoped for—so I think I'll just leave it at that, plus below, the maps of the other 8 presidential elections I've been around for:

1976: Carter (D) def. Ford (R), on the day I was born. 1980: Reagan (R) def. Carter (D), which I also don't remember much of, but I do recall the map of 1984, when Reagan stomped Walter Mondale. I also paid close attention to '88 (Bush I def. Dukakis), from primary to voting day, when J.C. Green and I were the only two fifth-graders in our school who cared.

1992 was of course, the fell year of Bill Clinton, Zoo TV, and the defeat of Bush, and while I'd decided to be a political junkie from then on, I was a high school sophomore and only 16, so I couldn't vote yet—that would have to wait for the '94 mid-terms. For Clinton's re-election in '96 over Bob Dole, I was a college sophomore and had trouble juggling that vote with other normal college stuff like bands, girls, and controlled substances. By the time of Bush/Gore 2000, I'd graduated and joined the 8-5 crowd, sort of—and was snooty enough to vote Nader. We all know how that turned out. In 2004 I was all fired up again, this time with bloggy insanity, and Bush's defeat of John Kerry was a hard loss. This year, though, as interminable and stupid as it was, obviously ended up quite differently, which was fantastic—but even better is that 2012 is hopefully a long, long way away. These rides are harder to deal with the older I get.

November 04, 2008

Everything Was Fine Until I Looked Down


Yeah, and I saw that crazy Great White Bastard coming at me, bringing ten tons of total terror with him—and I was okay with it. See, despite my relatively young age, I have a long history of tightrope-walking, water-skiing, and chum-trawling over various toothy monsters in the sorry seas of American politics. I have now seen nine presidential elections (1976 to 2008), and was eligible to vote (and did vote) in four of those: '96, '00, '04, and this year. All of them were vile showcases of the worst this country has to offer, with shameless pandering and sniveling by electoral whores of all stripes. I did my best to counter that with, naturally, some of the most refined and urbanely arrogant apathy this side of a white jazz musician convention. Only it didn't work.

No, I was never able to shake the one fatal aspect of any hopeless nerd who seeks to geek over their handful of chosen obsessions. Until today. Today, my own unique brand of sneering pseudo-cool seems to be going out of style, or at least into an extended hibernation, and that's okay. Oh yes, the humorless have done their homework, people, and They are Coming. Stewart and Colbert are quite right to fear the oncoming juggernaut of Earnest Do-Gooders, and the Onion deserves to shake in its little booties for a few nights before the end of this awful year. The Axis of Snark is about to lose its grip on the so-called Satirical-Industrial Complex, but only if they're not careful. Many Robespierres will haunt the parapets of media culture in the ensuing weeks, and no one is safe from their righteous wrath.

Including cheap-ass dilettantes like me, which is why I'm checking out early. That sort of too-cool-for-school, pathetic posing that I'm so comfortable with these days ain't working with the new kids. No, mutant gonzo-slacktivism is not their bag at all. And again, that's fine. Sometimes you have to learn when to surrender, before it gets too personal (like 2004), too icky (1988), or just plain ugly (2000). Oh, I found a temporary respite—a tactical retreat into the waiting arms of terminal narcissism, of egomaniacal soothing in a way I'd not experienced since before my siblings were born and stole my only-child glory.

And let me tell you, it's been fucking awesome. Seriously—after some initial virtuosic, insular stumbling, I found some mid-career chart success in a previously (for me) untried and unmastered medium, and recently. I took to it like plumbers to burglary, though, and for most of last year and this one, it looked, felt, smelled, and tasted like the perfect fit—enough to earn me some token latter-day critical recognition. I mean, I'd studied this shit long and hard, paying attention to not only the Master but also his Prodigal Scion, and learned enough to even pass on a final spastic frenzy of unsolicited wisdom of my own when fellow travelers submitted their own theses for my approval:

From: The Bass Player
Subject: Re: "Desperation is a Stinky Cologne, John"
To: The Frontman
Date: Tuesday, October 21, 2008, 11:07 PM

Brother of mine,

Verily I say unto thee that this is Good. In fact, it's better than 90% of the Daily Kos diaries out there. You are a worthy student of Thompson and Taibbi.

However, for this piece to truly cross into the realm of Gonzo, you must shamelessly embrace your inner hyperbole. Throw "objectivity" to the feral hyenas, man—that shit is for do-gooder wimps. You know the Truth. You're not just right. You're righter than the most miserably wise guru who's ever been stuck up on K-2 without a decent porno for all eternity. You've ruminated on these evil aphorisms of our sick age for so long that they simply must be vomited up like...well, you get the picture. Compound those similies, and never be squeamish with the nastiest metaphors, for Gonzo is a caricature based on a grain of truth, where fiction and reality collide violently, and the Author is irreversibly self-injected into The Work.

Where was I? Oh yes—metaphors. John McCain can't just be a grumpy old fake maverick. No sir, he has to be the Holy Grail of Epic Fail, the ugly afterbirth of everyone from Barry Goldwater to Bob Dole, the final pathetic result of a party hopelessly in thrall to the Dumb Brutes and Rich People of our nation. And Sarah Palin? She is Caribou Barbie, of course, and the farcial scion of Quayle himself, sure- but she is also the screeching, sneering coda to an army of raging apes that has counted everyone from Spiro Agnew and James Watt, as well as latter-day, cerebral degenerates like Delay and Santorum, among its steaming hordes. They were all Losers, eventually—all slipping down the slick grease-pole of filth into oblivion.

Don't forget the Democrats, either, but lay off til 11/5; my gut tells me we'll still have some of them to kick around for a bit. So yes, keep a handle on that righteous anger, and channel it. Distill it further into what it really is, and where it really comes from inside of you, and don't be afraid of what you see in there. Ah, but so what? Everyone does Teh Gonzo in their own way, so indeed, who am I to judge? Was it fun to write? Did the air crackle with electricity? If not, don't worry- because one day it will, if you keep doing it.

You're Welcome.
That nugget of truth was, of course, taken for what it was worth—six bottles of Anchor Steam—but it was not unlike other semi-spontaneous vomit that I had foisted upon the unsuspecting Public in the past two years, which included meditations on the PermaGov Seeks Rebranding Theory, the U2 Album Theory of White House Drapery-Arranging, the Philly World Series Victory Bookends of Reaganism Theory, the Discredited Birthday Theory of 28-Year Cycles vs. the New Consecutive 16-Year Cycle Theory, and other unmatched flights of insanity.

But hey, any of that shit would equal the sterling analyses of cable news pundits, though of course that's not saying much, but this is still America in the 21st century, children—a nation of Rude Snobs and Hopeless Wankers, where not even the crafty wiles of Neo's Glamorous Arm-Candy can persuade me to get off my ass to help ensure that selfish tax-ophobes will weep bitter tears in California's 19th State Senate district—where a stage-time devouring, mediocre anti-Bush rant by an otherwise competent administrator can seal her own fate at the polls seven years later.

None of that, of course, changes two of the few immutable certainties in life—Republican-Baiting will always be the Sport of Kings, and Yuppie-Punting forever the pastime of princes—but it would appear at this juncture that my methods of gonzo-ripoff verbal spew have indeed jumped the shark, for now. One day they shall rise again, though, and on that day—when President Barack Obama is chased out of the Oval Office after only one term by the cerebrally-undead ticket of Huckabee/Bachmann—on that day, my fellow crazies, I shall walk tall and kick ass again, with the awesome power of Quetzalcoatl himself.

You've been warned.

Cross-posted: dkos, dd, mlw.

November 02, 2008

Working on a Cocktail Named “Damn, You’re Old”

Today I turn a year older, which is pretty awesome. And yes, of course I feel good about it, but me being me, I've been thinking about this for a while now. It occurred to me that when certain people were the age I am today, they were doing some interesting things:

Bob Dylan was making the Planet Waves album for Geffen (1973). Sting was releasing Synchronicity with the Police (1983). Elvis Costello was reverting to his given name and making both King of America and Blood and Chocolate (1986). David Bowie released Lodger, the third album in his Berlin trilogy (1979). Bono was touring Zoo TV with U2 (1992). David Lowery was making the first album for his new band, Cracker (1992). Mark Sandman was undoubtedly doing something cool no one will ever know about (1984).

John Lennon was in the throes of his post-Beatles politicizing (1972). Thom Yorke was releasing Kid A with Radiohead (2000). Morrissey released Kill Uncle (1991). Frank Black released his first album with new backing band the Catholics (1997). Kim Deal was getting over Black's breakup-via-fax of the Pixies (1993). Jeff Tweedy was making Summerteeth with Wilco (1999). Guy Garvey was touring Leaders of the Free World with Elbow (2006).

PJ Harvey was touring her Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea album (2001). Tori Amos was probably recording Boys for Pele. Liz Phair was touring White Chocolate Space Egg (1999). Bjork released Homogenic (1997). Jenny Lewis released her Acid Tongue album (2008)—and yes, she was born the same year as me, but 10 months earlier.

Hunter S. Thompson wasn't writing much, but he was managing Joe Edwards' mayoral race in Aspen (1969). Salman Rushdie was probably writing Midnight's Children (1979). Irvine Welsh was three years away from finishing Trainspotting (1990). Bret Easton Ellis was probably in the middle of writing Glamorama (1996). Neal Stephenson was probably writing Snow Crash (1991). Jo Rowling was experiencing the first spasms of Harry Potter mania (1997). Matt Taibbi was getting culture shock after returning to the U.S. from post-communist Russia (2002).

Ryne Sandberg batted .306 with 100 RBIs for the Cubs, was an All-Star for the 8th time, and won his 6th gold glove as a second baseman (1991). Tony Gwynn batted .317 with 41 RBIs for the Padres, and won his 5th gold glove as a right fielder (1992). Shawn Green batted .266 with 86 RBIs for the Dodgers, and hit two home runs in one playoff game (2004).

Eddie Izzard was taking a break from stand-up in favor of West End theater. Jon Stewart had his own show on MTV (1994). Stephen Colbert left Second City to work on the short-lived "Exit 57" (1996).

Certain other people were leading very different lives in the year they were the age I am today:

Barack Obama was teaching constitutional law at the University of Chicago, and moved professionally from community organization to civil rights law (1993). John McCain was in the second of six years of hellish torture as a POW in Hanoi (1968). George W. Bush got married and lost an election in Texas for the U.S. House of Representatives (1978). Bill Clinton was elected governor of Arkansas (1978).

None of this intimidates me too much, though. So what the fuck have I been doing?

Nothing earth-shattering; writing a novel, adding two new song lyrics to my massive canon, making some weird ambient instrumental soundtrack music, and compiling my past decade-plus of writing. I've managed production of an education research journal, and the last five issues have been the best-designed they've ever seen. I've built way too many websites and spent too much time in front of computers. I've visited three baseball stadiums. I bought a house with my wife, and have been getting steadily older, fatter, and balder.

It's been a long few years of looking back. It's probably time for things to be epic and new again.

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