April 27, 2017
Paul Berman, the New Left, Free Speech, Facebook, Nazis, Suicide Girls, and Me Elizabeth
I dug up this old, much re-read Paul Berman article because of a discussion on Facebook, and instantly got sucked into it again. It's something close to the Platonic ideal of the cultural-political-historical critical essay and it basically knocked me sideways when I first read it in the New Republic sixteen years ago (and in many ways I'm still sideways.) It was later expanded into a book called Power and the Idealists that is well worth your time, if you're at all interested in this stuff, by which I mean our political-cultural milieu, past and present.
It's worth reading for its own sake on on its own topic, but it's also quite strikingly relevant today, as much of the contemporary campus-fueled disagreements about free speech and "social justice" have their roots in the New Left experience he explores.
This aroused a dread, finally, that pointed to the terrors of the past.
It was a fear, in sum, that in World War II, fascism, and more specifically Nazism, had not been defeated after all—a fear that Nazism, by mutating, had continued to thrive into the 1950s and 1960s and onward, always in new disguises. It was a fear that Nazism had grown into a modern system of industrial rationality geared to irrational goals—a Nazism of racial superstitions committing the same massacres as in the past, a Nazism declaiming a language of democracy and freedom that had no more human content than the old-fashioned rhetoric of Lebensraum and Aryan superiority. And so the New Left in its youthful anxiety found its way to an old and mostly expired panic from its parents' generation, and bent over it, and fanned the dead embers, and breathed on them, and watched aghast as the ancient flames leaped up anew.
Much more where that came from. As usual, I'm having trouble resisting quoting it all (and it's long.)
I will add only that, believe it or not, I was approached by Berman's publicist or editor a ways back proposing that I interview him for Suicide Girls, where I was a blogger. He said he'd had a hard time explaining SG to him (didn't we all) but said he described it as a kind of Playboy of the modern era. I was intimidated by the prospect but did some work researching his writing and began to formulate questions, but I was fired by SG before it ever had a chance to happen. If it had, well that would have been something wouldn't it? Hard to imagine those comments.
April 26, 2017
April 21, 2017
Free Speech Speechifying
I posted this on the Facebook thing:
When a public university incorporates the "rioters' veto" into its de facto policy on doling out selective permission to speak on campus, it amounts to viewpoint discrimination that seems impossible to square with the 1st Amendment, it seems to me. Lawyers, tell me how that's wrong.
The ensuing discussion was extensive, interesting, funny, frustrating, and ultimately pointless of course, but I'm leaving a link to it here in case I ever want to find it and look at it again.
Here's the coda:
Yesterday's discussion of the law and public universities and the 1st Amendment was extensive, interesting, funny, frustrating (and ultimately pointless, of course, like everything). I enjoyed it. Leaving aside the law, and fair or not, the sentiment expressed in the headline of this editorial is the "messaging" that has won. The university and the folks who want to make the world a better place by shutting down speakers and beating up their audience have already lost big in the PR war. And among other takeaways, universities should prepare themselves for pressure to de-fund education. (Which I don't agree with, needless to say, I hope.) They need to get their act together but I doubt they will or even can.The headline in question is from the NY Post and it reads: If US Campuses Can't Protect Free Speech, They Need New Management.
April 19, 2017
We Are All Lena Dunham
BBC wheels out Erica Jong to riff on Girls, and this is one of the things she says, of the characters:
Her heroines have been seen as ‘unlikeable’ – does anybody ever find a male hero ‘unlikeable’? Never! Whether it’s Tony Soprano or Philip Roth’s Zuckerman, or even James Bond, male protagonists are never subjected to such criticism."If this were ever the case, it's certainly not now. Out here in the real world (i.e., the the internet) "unlikeable" is the standard, unapologetically tautological, go-to critique, not just of characters but of the works which contain them and the writers who wrote them, male, female, or otherwise. Why don't you like it? Because it's UNLIKEABLE. Case closed. Everyone's unlikeable, everyone's characters are unlikeable, everyone's books are unlikeable, and you have to point it all out. "This guy is a jerk" is annoying as a would-be literary critique, even when it concerns characters in books I haven't written. But it is our cultural standard. Check out Goodreads sometime. No, don't.
I am a great admirer of the writing in Girls -- it's among the best writing ever in a TV drama, I think, and some of it has just knocked me flat and sparked actual applause. The moral and aesthetic ambivalence with regard to the characters is its greatest strength. But like it or not, the world doesn't approve of moral and aesthetic ambivalence these days, not matter who you are. Which is to say, we are all Lena Dunham, innit?
My brother spotted this kinda funny genre description on google play and gave it a genuinely funny caption: Psalms about Girls.
I assumed at first that it was our mistake, that we just forgot to change the genre field to "punk/whatever" from what seems to be the default (Christian/gospel). However I checked and that's not the case. Our designated genre is "punk/other". The Orchard (our digital distributor) has big problems with their meta-data and so forth, and this is just another example.
In the case of this genre thing I don't care, and in fact I think it's rather amusing. The big problem, though, remains the product description, which never ever ever ever shows up anywhere, though we dutifully compose and enter one for each and every product. That means that our stuff just appears on places like iTunes and Amazon with a blank space where the product description should be. Not ideal, and quite frustrating. There also appears to be nothing that can be done about it.
Their response to requests for help with this has been thus far to say, in effect, hey buddy it's not our problem if Amazon doesn't display the description field. Take it up with them. (I did... they don't care either.) But the way I look at it, they have ONE JOB. And product descriptions are an integral part of it. I'm not the only person in this situation. It's a common complaint. Something is screwed up in their meta-data fields, such that they don't match up with the retail outlets that they supply. That's somebody's fault and it isn't ours.
That said, it is funny.
MTX Shards Volume 2, notes
Yesterday was the release day for MTX Shards Volume 2. This 2nd volume of the Shards compilation completes the extant MTX digital catalog, volume 1 and 2 containing all the released tracks that were "orphaned" when we re-configured the catalog to reflect the actual records leaving off the bonus tracks, cover songs, and other detritus that had gradually built up on CDs over the years. (Theres's more detail on this situation here.)
It is on all the digital services, but the best place to go is of course Sounds Radical. They've got a cool commemorative pin set to go along with it.
As with Volume 1, I posted song by song virtual "liner" notes on the internet yesterday, and here they are aggregated.
1. We Are the Future People of Tomorrow
This was part of the big batch of songs in consideration for the album that became Love Is Dead. Kevin Army placed it on a lower tier of priority, arguing (correctly I'm sure) that we'd already recently done one rock culture lampoon ("Alternative Is Here to Stay...") and already had the self-referential rock-commentary song slot filled filled (with "Dumb Little Band.") Also it gradually became clear that it didn't quite fit in with the overall theme and "vibe" we were developing. So we held it in reserve and ended up recording this version a couple of years later very quickly and dirtily mid-tour at Fish Tracks in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, for the Joe King-produced comp More Bounce to the Ounce.
Though the target is pseudo-political punk sloganeering in particular, as originally conceived it was more of a sort of folk-song, a la Donovan or someone like that, and I still play it that sometimes way when I do it solo. But I'm quite fond of this arguably rather heavy-handed, anthemic realization of it, and it certainly is apt. To my amazement, not everybody who hears it is able to grasp that it's meant as a parody. (Then again, maybe I'm too easily amazed.) I've been criticized for the incoherent "message" and improper quotation (what, you mean Marx didn't say "all they want is opium in their masses, which sucks"?); as well as praised for my insightful commentary ("good to hear you guys doing a political song.. fuckin' genocide, that's so true, man.") For the record, the original, correct line in verse two is "we fight oppressionism for the revolutioning" but I flubbed it in the studio saying merely "revolution" and we just went with it. As you do.
2. Is There Something I Should Know?
As with most of the non-album covers we recorded this track exists solely because the people who were putting out the Duran Duran covers album gave us $200. I believe this, "Crash," and "Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah" were all stacked into the same session, at Roof Brothers in Oakland, ca. 1996. I have always been fond of the breakdown-outro just because it's so incongruous. Also because it doesn't have those weird, nonsense lyrics on it getting in the way of the rock and roll. But those lyrics, man: they're non-grammatical to the point where it was actually quite challenging to get them to come out of my mouth. Some guy on allmusic says the lyrics ""deal with a difficult romantic relationship in rather obtuse terms." Boy, I'll say. Obtuseness like that doesn't come easy, or cheap. Kevin Army said "I can't believe you made this sound like one of your songs," a comment which cut both ways I'm sure.
April 11, 2017
And speaking of which:
...and on the covers playlist (which is pretty well stocked with "Hitlers" at present) it goes.
Sink or Swim
So, our four shows with Teenage Bottlerocket and Nobodys went great and I had a lot of fun doing them. As always, I really enjoyed talking to all the "lifers," i.e. longtime MTX fans, each of whom shared detailed accounts of their history of seeing the band and following its progress, such as it has been, and the significance of particular records and songs in their lives. Always nice to be appreciated, and you could definitely "feel the love", particularly in Phoenix, where we hadn't played in something like thirteen years. Lots of these folks seem to have had some success in indoctrinating their children, as well, some of whom seemed just as excited and engaged as their parents. Which feels odd. Turns out, there is such a thing as an MTX family. Perhaps this is what it felt like to be a member of the Grateful Dead. Not sure.
So thanks to TBR and Nobodys, and everyone who showed up, shared stories, bought me beers.
But this post is a guitar update, mainly. This was the first time I'd played my old, notoriously idiosyncratic, '57 Les Paul Jr. at a show since I had it overhauled, revamped, fixed up, and fine-tuned this past year. This was an experiment to which I committed myself entirely, bringing no back-up guitar (and refusing offers to have other bands' guitars on hand just in case): it was going to be sink or swim. tl;dr: mostly, it swam, and when it did it swam just beautiful.
If you haven't seen it before, here it is, circa 1996:
The biggest problem of yore had been how difficult it was to keep it in tune from song to song, and, really, to get it in tune in the first place. This difficulty went beyond the familiar second- and third-string funkiness that all guitars have, maybe particularly Gibsons, that is just the nature of the beast. Tuning a guitar is always going to be a compromise and an approximation and you have to deal with the fact that math and the actual physical world don't quite match up perfectly. We live in a fallen world, and so do our guitars. Back in the old days I used to try to compensate for the anomalies and quirks by playing lower chords and notes and bending them up into tune as I went up the neck (a habit that was quite hard to break when I switched to the more reliable Epiphone Coronet as the primary guitar sometime in '97.) Part of this was the pre-tune-a-matic, non-adjustable original stock wrap-around bridge that allowed for no easy intonation adjustments, but the biggest part, I now realize, is the fact that the posts that anchored said bridge had bit by bit over the past six decades been tilting and leaning toward the pickup. This was probably happening ever so slightly in real time as I was playing, and it's why the problem got worse and worse over time. I was totally clueless about this till I noticed it midway through a European tour with the Queers (in which Joe King was relying on my guitar as back-up, for which I'm sorry to this day.) This was the point where the posts finally made contact with the edge of the pickup and the guitar became literally unplayable regardless of tuning. I finished up the tour playing Joe's guitar and never even removed the Junior from its flight case for years and years, when I finally decided to try to get it fixed up. Because I missed it.
April 05, 2017
One of Many, Many Hitlers Out There
It's a bit strange to hear people laughing at these lines, as I've played this song thousands of times, but usually in front of audiences who have already heard, memorized, and tattooed these lyrics on their hearts and souls. I like that they have done this, but such punchlines only work the once; after that, the performance is largely ceremonial.
I will say that when I have done it in front of people who haven't heard it before (school groups, fancy literary conferences, Supreme Court Justices, Tesco Vee) it has never failed.
... and on the covers playlist it goes.
I Don't Need You Now
A great one from Cydne, and the only time I've ever heard anyone get these chords right:
On the covers playlist it goes. Thanks, C.
California Born and Bred
April 04, 2017
It's "hell of," you filthy animal
"Hell of" vs. "hella" pops up again, in Language Log.
The KQED article cited in the comments, btw, misquotes me slightly. I don't claim the "debate", such as it is/was, dates to 1983, only that that is when I first encountered it, when I moved to Berkeley to go to school. But that thing of people sternly correcting the improper usage when people said "hella" (just a quick correction "hell of" inserted into the conversation, or sometimes: "you mean, hell of") really used to happen, and very frequently. No idea when it "goes back to." It's really "hell of," anyhow, to the extent that anything can really be anything.
Either way, it doesn't make my song less funny I don't think.
Cover Me Bad
I started a playlist of people covering my songs, found on the internet. I get a kick out of this sort of thing. If you've got one, send it my way...
Country Twangin Micro-jammer
I get lots of questions about the song "Thinking of You", how it was recorded, played, etc. Well, I used one of these:
March 20, 2017
I Believe in You
March 18, 2017
As you can see below, I am reading the Mortdecai books. Stupendous writing. Why was I not informed of this before? It's a "slow read" but not for the usual reasons: it's slow because I keep having to pause to read clumps of sentences out loud to the cat, G. K. Chesterton (who seems to appreciate them too, if only in his own way.) Gorgeous. Kind of wish I could be K. Bonfiglioli, except for the already being dead part. I'm sure he eventually figured out how to pronounce his own name, so that's alright.
The book was a gift from someone who said the narrator reminded her of me, which I suppose I ought to take as a slander, or at least as an admonishment and goad to do better; but as it happens, I don't.
(I haven't seen the recent film and my understanding is that's all to the good.)
Education in the Liberal Arts
When you guys see stuff like this, do you think back to your college years and imagine how your professors might have fared under the current zero tolerance "shout 'em down" atmosphere that apparently prevails at universities these days? I always think of Alain Renoir, the most interesting man I ever knew, and the best teacher, and also a man who told jokes that would launch a thousand black bloc pepper spray firebombs and buzzfeed excommunication-from-humanity listicle-encyclicals and twitter witch-hunts today. What would he have done? I don't know, it's impossible to imagine a guy like that anywhere near a university nowadays. It's a weird thought experiment.
Glad I'm not a professor (as, believe it or not, I once planned to be.) Or a student. Or a proper person, really. It's a funny old world, innit?
March 16, 2017
Bed is the only place for protracted telephoning. It is also excellently suited to reading, sleeping and listening to canaries. It is not at all a good place for sex: sex should take place in armchairs, or in bathrooms, or on lawns which have been brushed but not too recently mown, or on sandy beaches if you happen to have been circumcised. If you are too tired to have intercourse except in bed you are probably too tired anyway and should be husbanding your strength. Women are the great advocates of sex in bed because they have bad figures to hide (usually) and cold feet to warm (always.) Boys are different, of course. But you probably knew that. I must try not to be didactic.-- Kyril Bonfiglioli, Don't Point that Thing at Me
March 15, 2017
You Guys Know about This, Right?
That "sneak peek" thing is out of date (I actually took this photo at the Gilman "Lookouting" show in January where we had these handbills in advance of the shows' announcement.) Still, it's a show. More shows listed here.
March 14, 2017
Michele is playing Marisa's guitar.