Month: May 2014

What to do when someone whose music you enjoy turns out to be a crank

Punk icon Exene Cervenka claims Santa Barbara shooting a ‘false flag’ government hoax

Punk singer Exene Cervenka posted a series of tweets Wednesday questioning whether the government staged last week’s mass shootings in Isla Vista, California, to enact stricter gun control laws.

Now I don’t want to get into a discussion of guns, gun control, etc. here, but I hope we can all agree that thinking the government staged the recent UCSB shootings in order to justify new gun control laws is kind of nuts.  If that sounds plausible to you… well, you’re probably not going to be able to relate to the rest of this post.

I’m going to just assume that you agree with me from here and not spend a lot of time trying to argue against Exene, because if I’ve learned anything from conspiracy theorists, it’s that there is not point in arguing with them.

OK, I just have to say it or I’ll burst…. if the Sandy Hook Massacre didn’t result in new legislation, why would the government stage a less shocking massacre as a follow-up?  And if the government wanted to make a point about guns, why were half the victims stabbed to death?  OK I’m done.

So I’m left with the fact that someone whose music I enjoy believes some weird stuff.  Which isn’t normally something I puzzle over- lots of musicians/artists, etc. whose work I enjoy believe some weird stuff.  Lots of people whose company I enjoy believe some weird stuff.  But I saw a lot of confused questions as to how someone who makes interesting music and presumably has some brains could believe this sort of thing.

I have a theory, and it’s probably stupid, but I’m going to throw it out there because YOLO.

People who become famous punk musicians don’t generally get a ton of schooling.  Exene, for instance, was a high school dropout.  Punk rock is a movement with lots of free floating anger at society, the government, corporations, whatever.  Without the means to process some of that, people are going to be susceptible to people like Alex Jones- people who offer to explain it all.  Who will share with you the knowledge that THE SYSTEM is hiding from you.

Without some critical thinking skills and the experience of having to back up one’s theories regularly, in front of impartial strangers, it’s hard to develop the kind of healthy skepticism you’d need to see through these theories.  The kind you need to say “really, there’s a family called the Rothschilds and they live in a big castle together and rule the world, without fighting with each other all the time like other families do?  I’m not sure I believe that.”

There’s also the fact that punk rock, ever since The Clash, has often dealt with some heavy subjects- war, poverty, class, race, systems of government, religion.  Punk rock actually has a fairly healthy intellectual tradition.  I mean, I’ve never heard a song on the radio that mentioned Foucault or discussed the invasion of the Falkland Islands.

So people get lost in all that.  People sit around, get high and try to discuss things they read about in fanzines or hear about on records.  They want to do something.  They want to fight back against alienation, against boredom.  They want to understand how the world can produce so much misery.  And some of them become cranks.  It’s not that hard to imagine.

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Random Thoughts

Saw the new XMen movie.  It’s the first one of that series that I’d give an unqualified recommendation for.  The older ones could have suffered from my own familiarity with the subject matter- I grew up reading the comics, so when they were brought to life on screen they weren’t exactly the way I imagined they would be.  But this one was really good.  I don’t really like doing movie reviews, but there were a couple of things that stood out for me:

*There’s no pure bad guy in the movie.  This was almost always true of the comic books, but it was especially true of the movie.  Every character has complicated motivations.  That’s nice to see in comic book movie

*Peter Dinklage plays one of the bad guys, but his dwarfism plays no part in the movie.  In fact, his character in the comic books is a man of average height.  I know Dinklage is already famous for being Game of Thrones, but in that show his character is defined by his being a dwarf.  In this movie it’s not even remarked on.  That’s the first time I can ever remember seeing that in a major film.

At any rate, it was good.  I don’t want to spoil it, but the story Days of Future Past was probably the second best-known storyline in the comics, after the Dark Phoenix Sage (which was the source for XMen 3).  If you happen to have read the comics and are expecting it to be exactly like that, it’s not.  Not going to elaborate, just saying.

Which is cool.  I have to admit I can sometimes feel cheated if I go in to see a movie that sticks too closely to the source material.  Like, I read the book, I’ve already seen this in my head, show me something new.  I know this isn’t always a popular opinion, but I feel like if I’ve already imagined it in my head that’s probably better than whatever they’re going to put on the screen.

Expendables 3 is coming out.  I was kind of with early reviewers of Expendables 2 who were saying- “we liked Expendables better when it was a swan song for these guys, but now it’s just silly they’re trying to keep this going.  These guys are too old for this to be believable”.  I was agreeing with that.  Then I saw Expendables 2 and I I like, who cares!  make more of these!  Those 80s action films (like most action films) weren’t that  believable in the first place, so I just have to suspend my disbelief a little more.

Also, I noticed that Sly Stallone wrote the movie.  I know it won’t be considered a classic film or anything, but I’ve always kind of thought that guy doesn’t get enough credit for being a multi-talented dude.

In the city

I’ve been indulging my ongoing fascination with the city lately, trying to learn as much as I can about how cities came to be the way they are.  But I don’t really feel good at writing about it, so I’ve been keeping that part of my life mostly to myself.  But I’ll share where I think my fascination comes from.

I was born in Orange County.  Please don’t hold that against me.  I lived in an around the OC until I was about two, then we moved to the desert to a tiny town of approximately 4,000 people.  It had zero stoplights, a couple of small markets, a park in the middle of town and was surrounded by fields.  The nearest larger town was about ten miles away.  The nearest big city was actually very close by, but it was in Mexico.

The first time I ever really got to spend time on my own in the city was when my family was living in Thessaloniki, Greece.  I was about ten.  My school friend was the son of some sort of American civil servant who was in Greece promoting American culture, because this was during the Cold War and I guess America had people devoted to doing that.  He lived in a huge rented house near downtown Thessaloniki and on a few occasions I went there to play.  His parents either didn’t know or didn’t care and we’d go for walks around town.

Urban Greece didn’t strike me as much different than any other part of Greece- where there were people living there were people out doing stuff.  This is something actually I noticed in Japan as well.  The idea that you live in a house and nothing is going on around it- no foot traffic, no commerce, no social events- is something that I’ve only seen be very prevalent in the USA.  So walking around the city wasn’t all that different than walking around small towns there, it was just bigger.

I don’t think we even had money, so maybe we bought some candy, maybe we didn’t.  But for me it was pretty cool to be able to walk around the city with another kid my age.  Just two guys, exploring.

This is another thing I often saw in Japan- kids just walking around town.  No parents anywhere.  On their way to school, or to the park, whatever.  No one cares.  I often think about doing that with my son- he and his friends could easily ride to the park on their bikes but for two reasons- one, cars make right turns on red without a second glance at pedestrians- I have narrowly escaped getting run over more times than I can count and two, I worry that the police will pick them up, and then come arrest me for negligence, or something.  But I’m not worried about a couple of boys getting abducted.

When I got to be 16 there had been a mall constructed in Mexicali, just across the border.  I could leave my house, drive ten minutes to the border, park (to this day I have never driven in Mexico, despite having been there dozens of times), walk across the border and about a mile to the mall and hang out at the mall.  I didn’t do a whole lot there, but I’d seen hanging out at the mall in movies, so I wanted to do it too.

When I was 18 my parents went to Greece for a couple weeks.  My brother was sixteen and they didn’t trust the two of us in the house, or maybe they were worried about getting arrested for neglect on their return, so they arranged for my brother to stay with my uncle in San Francisco.  I was to drive my brother to the airport, fly with him to San Francisco, deliver him to my uncle, spend the weekend, and then drive home and watch the house for the remaining 10 or so days.

My uncle in San Francisco is the poster man for benign neglect and told us to do whatever we felt like.  He showed us how to use BART and then let us go.  We spent two whole days traveling around the city.  This was early 90s, so it was still pretty gritty.  It may still be gritty now, I haven’t actually been back since.   But I was in love.  I got my Doc Martens shined because that seemed like an adult thing to do.  I bought records.  I met random people and skateboarded with them.  It was awesome.

When it came time to decide on a college, I chose San Diego.  My mom wanted me to go to LA, but I wasn’t ready for that big of a step.  San Diego is almost diet city.  I use the phrase diet ____ every now and then to mean something is not the full strength version.  Like Japan is diet travel, because even though everyone speaks another language, everything is actually convenient and easily accessible, and the food won’t give you diarrhea like it will in China.

San Diego too was a dump back then in places, but I like it here.  It could be better in a lot of ways, but there’s a lot to like about how the city is.  But that being said I was reading about housing discrimination and red-lining today, and someone made a list of the areas in my city that had been redlined.  What was sad was that before even seeing the map I was able to guess what areas had been designated as off-limits for lending by the FHA.  So not everything about cities are great.  But it’s something I’ve been really interested in and I’m trying to process it.  I’ve even felt somewhat that I should reconsider my long held belief that further schooling is not for me.  But we’ll see.

Robbing the tombs

I really enjoyed Steven Hyden’s piece on Michael’s Jackson’s latest posthumous release, because it gets to the heart of something I think a lot about- who owns music?  Who owns ideas?

Did it bother you to see 2Pac turned into a hologram? Do you think it’s inappropriate for the Fast/Furious series to continue on without Paul Walker? Do you believe Kurt Cobain’s privacy was violated when the contents of his wallet were shared with the world on the 20th anniversary of his death last month?

In the case of Michael Jackson and Xscape, would it have been better to let these songs sit in a vault so as not to appear disrespectful of a deceased genius who has essentially been disenfranchised from piloting his own art? Or is continuing to put Michael Jackson forward as a pop star the best tribute that can be paid to one of modern music’s most ruthlessly competitive artists? Or are both of these questions irrelevant, because Michael Jackson is no longer a flesh-and-blood human being and therefore is incapable of being disrespected, disenfranchised, or saluted?

Is the living reanimating the dead for entertainment purposes gross, noble, or merely a personal prerogative with no moral dimension? I ask because I don’t know.

I don’t know that I know either, but since brought up Tupac, let’s talk about him a little.  Tupac was famously recreated as a hologram at Coachella a few years ago.  This seemed silly and gimicky, but it didn’t bother me.

On the other hand, one of his posthumous releases was a pairing with Biggie Smalls.  It’s not exactly a secret the two didn’t like each other- Tupac’s most famous diss track starts out with him claiming to have had sex with Biggie’s wife, while Biggie possibly arranged for someone to kill Tupac.  That song did bother me a bit.

The difference for me is that Tupac’s hologram performance was just a previous performance replayed in a different venue.  It was a little cheesy, but Tupac meant for that performace to be out there.  The song, on the other hand, wasn’t released during either man’s lifetime, probably because they didn’t think it was good enough to release, and maybe because they had started hating each other by the time it was due out.  Either way, they didn’t intend for it to be out there.

This is where I stand on the issue- if an artist wants it out there, they’ll put it out.  If not, then let it die.  There are plenty of people whose notebooks I might enjoy leafing through, but that’s pretty disrespectful and I’d like to think I wouldn’t.  Some of the vocals that were used on Michael’s new album had apparently been around for decades- that’s pretty strong evidence to me that he didn’t think they were very good.  Michael was also a noted perfectionist.  Again, not sure he’d want people assembling songs from his cast-offs.

I know there are some bands that don’t care.  They let fans record live shows, they released demo’s on extended CDs.  That’s fine.  I just think we should consider the artist and what they would really want.  For the record, I don’t think there is going to be a ghost of Michael haunting any studios, because he’s dead.  So yeah, I guess there are no consequences, but that doesn’t make it right.

And the alternative for paranoid artists is writing iron-clad contracts that nothing gets released after they die.  Or warehousing their music in buildings with self-destruct buttons.  That might be kind of cool.

I can see smoke from the fires from my apartment

Which is not to say they’re nearby- lucky for us there is a lot of inflammable stuff between us and the fires.  If I had a camera I’d take some pictures.

At any rate, it’s time for fires again.  We’ve had a very dry year here in California and the temperatures have been in the 90s this week.   There are several fires burning around the county right now, thankfully they’re small, but last I heard 30 or so people have lost their homes.

I have heard numerous people accuse environmentalists of not allowing fires to burn.  That may have been true in the past but I highly doubt that’s true today.  Most environmentalists have come around to the idea that it’s a natural part of the ecosystem.  Really, the people who are most unhappy about fires burning are those people who belong to the most powerful constituency in the State of California- Homeowners.  The governor who says “sorry, we’re out of money to fight fires, looks like your house is gonna burn” will be out on his ass in days.

So I’m hoping that some small fires won’t hurt too many people or their homes and result in a nice barrier for all the fires that are going to burn later this year.  But we’ll see.  I hope it’s not too bad.

And in the time I paused to go pick up my son from school it appears that two new ones have broken out.  Man, this is gonna be a rough year.

Smells like teen spirit

Since this blog is all about Kathleen Hanna all the time, did you know that she spray painted Kurt Cobain’s wall with “Kurt smells like teen spirit”?  That’s where he came up with the name of probably Nirvana’s best known song.

I’ve been meaning to write this entry for a while since Nirvana has been on my mind a bit since their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame earlier this year.

Nirvana was a really big deal- they hugely influenced me, and I think most people of my age- late 30’s would say that seeing the video for Smells Like Teen Spirit for the first time in late 1991 really did change everything.  But the point I want to make is that it wasn’t so much a moment of- where did this come from? so much as a moment of- the thing we knew was coming is finally here.

Hair metal had a steady formula that proved surprisingly durable.  The original glam rock movement in the UK that it was loosely based on lasted only three or four years.  Glam Metal/Hair Metal began in the late 70s with Van Halen and dominated the entire decade of the 80s.  Bands followed a pretty basic formula- release a straight ahead rock tune with lightening fast solos to establish ROCK cred, then release a power ballad to impress the ladies.  Keep doing this until a key band member leaves or dies.

….

Despite Hair Metal’s dominance there were lots of great underground acts in the 80s- The Replacements, The Pixies, The Gun Club, Sonic Youth, Husker Du.  By the end of the decade they were starting to get some attention.  Rap and Thrash Metal also starting to gain attention.

I remember loving this song:

Despite having some of the cheesiest raps every recorded, it was decidedly different- both incredibly silly and incredibly awesome at the same time.  The band didn’t seem to take themselves seriously, as, ironically, so many Hair Metal bands did.  And while I wasn’t sure what the song was about, I felt like I could relate to it in a way I couldn’t relate to party songs, probably because I wasn’t old enough to party yet.  Epic was released in January 1990.

This was another song I remember thinking- woah, what the hell is this?

It was a metal band playing a song about stealing stuff, set to bubblegum dance beat.  It’s a perfect pop song, with a classic CC Deville Hair Metal guitar solo.  This song still sounds good.  Been Caught Stealing came out in November 1990.

Red Hot Chili Peppers were another band along the lines of Faith No More- merging several different styles.   I don’t know how popular they were outside of California, but I remember hearing this on on the radio and thinking it was pretty cool:

The video was pretty- what the hell?– but they were different and they maintained enough rock cred to not seem overly ridiculous.  The ending was a straightforward punk riff.  Higher Ground came out April 1989.

It’s tough to pick an R.E.M. for the pre-Nirvana era because you can hear them in so many songs that came out in the 90s.  For no reason at all I’ll go with this one-

It’s a borderline nonsense song, but it’s got a tight guitar groove, a funky wah-wah guitar solo and an overall irreverence to it.  It’s got a huge pop hook to it.  I didn’t know what the song was about back then.  I still don’t know what they’re getting at.   Stand was released January 1989.

Sonic Youth had been around for almost a decade when Kool Thing came out

It featured an appearance by Public Enemy’s Chuck D.  Kim Gordon’s singing is almost deliberately hard to listen to.  The guitar aren’t really driving the song so much as filling up space.  A really odd song, but when I heard it my mind was blown.  Kool Thing came out June 1990.

AND FINALLY

I don’t think Guns and Roses gets enough credit for killing Hair Metal.  They were like the Gorbachev of Hair Metal- they killed it from within.

Captain America’s been torn apart?  He’s a cold jester with a broken heart?  Where is this coming from?  I was expecting something about meeting girls and snorting coke.  This is real rock and roll, played with realistic sounding guitars.  They were raw and dirty and written off by other bands like Motley Crue as a “punk band” (they are not a punk band, that’s ridiculous).  That’s why they could release Use Your Illusion in 1991 and it didn’t sound out of place, while the rest of their peers were floundering.  Paradise City was released November 1988.

The Julie Ruin

I don’t want to keep talking about Kathleen Hanna, but I can’t stop listening to this song:

It’s just such a raw and beautiful song about dealing with pain and conquering parts of it.  It’s got a good fuck you to the people back in the 90s who gave her and her band a hard time.

It really takes me back to high school and being a misfit, but more important than that, it makes me think of the people I knew back then.  I wonder if they were feeling like this.  I wonder what kind of rough times they were going through.  I really wasn’t going through rough times at all in high school, so maybe I didn’t notice.  I hope no one I knew was feeling this way, but I think about it and I know at least a few people were.  Probably girls mostly, but I know a few guys too.  Just got me thinking about that.  I hope they all came out OK.

Update- though really, what’s wrong with talking about Kathleen Hanna?  She’s one of my heroes, and I’m glad she’s kind of back in public again.