With respect, I think it's more than just a matter of Moore's "sloppy and crude style," and confrontational methods. As Greg points out (and as I indicated in my post) there are celebri-pundits on the right who are just as in-your-face, just as offensive, just as vacuous, and there are many more of them. Why pick on him? And why is it that Moore's ideological brethren tie themselves up in knots worrying about the harm he does to their cause (or alternately trying to figure out a way to defend him or claim that he does no harm), while the right-leaning ideological machine seems to hum along just fine with nary a thought about the Michael Savages and Ann Coulters of the world? If, as Mattson suggests, Moore epitomizes, embodies and contributes to the Left's marginalization, why hasn't Michael Savage performed the same "service" for the right?
Now, I am no friend of the loony left. But that doesn't mean I don't want to see the issues associated with "progressivism," the interests they claim to represent, addressed credibly. Just because Moore and others of his ilk (broadly speaking, the inheritors of the excesses of the 1968/New Left spin on "social justice" and the Cold War) have cheapened the coin of progressive politics doesn't mean that the issues have disappeared. Regardless of taste, aesthetics, sympathies, whatever persuasions or attitudes we might have as individuals, no matter whom we vote for or which kind of philosophy we like to think we espouse, we all lose out when one "side" in an agonistic debate can't get its act together.
I believe what Mattson is saying is that Moore, in a more or less essential way, symbolizes and embodies the contemporary Left's defining weaknesses, its inability to get its act together. And I agree with him.
I quoted Mattson's final paragraph before, but here's a portion of it again:
[Moore's] political criticism signals problems faced by the left more generally: marginalization, a tendency to seek the purity of confrontation rather than to work for long-term political solutions, a cynicism about the possibilities of politics today, and questionable political judgments... Moore takes short-cuts when it comes to politics... That speaks to the state of the left; we are angry and sometimes vocal, but we have too little to offer those looking for or needing social change.
Of course, Moore has his fans. In such circles, everyone has a grand time congratulating themselves on how much smarter and more sophisticated they are than everyone else. But political mutual masturbation is like any other kind: fun for the participants, amusing for voyeurs, yet a bit gruesome and revolting for most passers-by. Anyway, the fans aren't the ones who need persuading. For many others, Moore and other public spokesmodels for Leftism/anti-Bushism who, rightly or wrongly, are associated with him, don't come off so well. I'm sure, at some level, Moore really is worried about the poor, the downtrodden, the disadvantaged, concerned about the economy, frightened of the risks of US policy and its potential effects on ordinary people. Despite the rhetoric, however, many get the impression that politics' chief appeal for Moore and the Moore-ians lies in the opportunity it affords them to look down their noses at others, to indulge in self-congratulatory cultural chauvinism at the expense of the less fortunate, to ridicule ordinary people for the pure fun of it and without offering them much beyond the opportunity to be the butt of urbane jokes at elite cocktail parties in Manhattan apartments for ever more.
Whether or not this characterization is justified, this impression appears to be shared by many among the people whose interests the Moore-ians purport to champion, e.g. the working class, the common man, etc. This lack of credibility outside of Manhattan, Hollywood and San Francisco constitutes a major challenge to the contemporary left's viability. It's not all Moore's fault, of course, but he certainly isn't doing his comrades any favors. Simply put, Moore is the worst kind of populist: a lousy one. His "common man" schtick is like Red Skelton's drunken hobo schtick-- kind of funny, but potentially alienating to drunks and hobos. Revolves around a funny little hat.
It might be argued that O'Reilly's populist routine may be just as phony and have as little to offer in the way of substance. Perhaps so. But at least he manages to avoid the impression that he is mocking his audience or constituents. Mockery, substituted for politics, will only get you so far. If the Left wants to de-marginalize itself, a good first step would be to distance itself from the perpetual alienation machine that Moore epitomizes. In the media war as in the culture war, a less condescending, less anti-American Left that didn't seem quite so "stuck-up" would actually have quite a bit going for it. In that regard, despite his Oscar and his regular guy hat, Michael Moore is more problem than solution.
This is pretty funny.
University of North Carolina-Wilmington professor and all around wise-acre Mike S. Adams decided to test collegiate attitudes on "diversity and tolerance", deliberately violating a university prohibition against faculty political endorsements by placing a "Clinton/Gore'96" sticker on his office door:
After two years without any complaints, I decided to replace the sticker with one that said "George W. Bush for President." Within a few weeks I heard reports from two faculty members and one staff member saying that someone was preparing to file a complaint about the Bush sticker.
Since the faculty handbook specifies "appropriate disciplinary action, including discharge from employment" as one possible consequence of violating the aforementioned rule, I decided it was time to let the faculty in on my little experiment. I did this by sending an e-mail to everyone in the building which began as follows: "You have all been involved in an experiment in tolerance which, unfortunately, some of you have failed . . ."
One of the controversial stickers placed on the professor's office door by one of his (female) students was this one: "So You're a Feminist... Isn't that cute?" This prompted an offended co-ed to have her father write a letter of protest to the Board of Trustees. Way to subvert the dominant paradigm, sweetie!
Is the line between the Practical Joke and the Scientific Experiment always this blurry? Perhaps so.
Or perhaps it is simply the familiar, useful explanation that most of us tend to fall back on when caught red-handed. Whether you're a starlet with a shoplifting problem, a rock star with an underage porn "situation", or an academic with a sense of humor, the response is essentially the same: Research. Yeah, that's it.
At any rate, I'm not sure what all this "proves" with regard to free speech and tolerance. Finding things to be offended by and filing grievances about them is, as I recall, the defining feature and most energetically pursued activity of campus life, par for the course for faculty and students alike. If you're into tolerance and free speech, an American university is the last place you want to be. I doubt this has changed much, though Professor Adams obviously knows more about it than me.
But how is it that this guy, in this supposed Oleana Age of ours, still has an office door to hang his sticker on after all these politically incorrect shenanigans? Maybe things aren't quite as bad as some of us think they are.
Euphemisms 'R' Us
Michele notes that her daughter's school has replaced the term "Foreign Language" with the acronym "LOTE" ("Languages other than English").
Presumably this sounds more cuddly and inclusive to some ears, but to mine, the phrase is mostly familiar as a stock formulation usually used to express dry ridicule of poor or impenetrable writing. (e.g.: "Stanley Fish's latest essay, which at times appears to have been inexpertly translated from some language other than English...")
I assume a similar misguided quest for cuddliness lies behind the fact that Borders Books now puts their books written in LOTE in a section called "Untranslated Literature." We're all the same underneath, the good people at Borders want you to know. LOTE are just like you and me. It just so happens that they haven't yet been translated. (Watch out, though: the way our demographics are shaping up, it may soon be a case of translate or be translated.)
I have no idea why "Untranslated Literature" is so hilarious. Maybe because, technically, the books in a language other than LOTE (i.e., English, if you'll pardon my French) are also (usually) "untranslated." Translatedness is a relative condition. (There's even an old Woody Allen joke about some vandals breaking into a library and translating all the books into a LOTE, placing a tremendous burden on the hapless folks who had to clean up the mess by translating them back-- something like that anyway...)
For pure inadvertent, well-intentioned, misdirected whimsy, however, nothing can top the tortured brilliance of a term for the handicapped that had a brief moment in the Berkeley sun awhile back:
People Who Use Chairs as their Primary Means of Transportation.
Neal does Sid:
For the first time ever, I saw Bill sob. I went behind his desk and rubbed his shoulders. It was going to be OK, I told him.
"Don't worry about these people," I said. "They have no real power. This scandal will blow over in a week."
Another affadavit buzzed through the fax. I put three cigarrettes between my lips and lit them all. Man, I'd taken off a lot of pounds since the scandals started. I only weighed 45 pounds now. But I didn't care. I just wanted to win.
Salam Pax loves the Guardian and wants to marry it
Reason: Sheer Idiocy
Not that the term "hate speech" refers to anything specific or with any precision-- but whatever "hate speech" may be, Tim's blog ain't it, unless you define it pretty narrowly, as in "excessive criticism of the collected works of John Pilger." Stop the hate!
(Practically every house and apartment building in my neighborhood has a sign in the window saying "Stop the Hate." That's how I know the phrase. The Hate is undefined; but it sounds pretty bad. I suppose I agree that the hate should be stopped, though I doubt anyone on the verge of hating something or other has ever been deterred in any meaningful way by these signs. It's worth a shot, though, I guess. But now it occurs to me that the whole thing could reflect a massive underground anti-Australian movement. In Oakland? Well, it's happening in Croyden. It could happen anywhere.)
As for Tim, haven't vast fortunes been granted on the basis of Britain's lucrative libel laws, on far flimsier grounds? Time to call in the wigs?
Uh oh... the Dr. Frank Reform Movement has begun. I know it's for my own good...
That article on so-called "Hipublicans" continues to reverberate.
I'm reminded of a question I've asked myself before: to what extent is the divide between libertarians and conservatives really just a matter of lame "freaks versus greeks" tribalism?
Of course, libertarians and conservatives are likely to disagree on some important issues. And they're likely to come at issues in importantly different ways. But are these differences really driven by disagreements about ideas -- or about who and what are cool? I'm afraid that for many people, including many intellectual types, the ideas are ultimately just matching accessories that adorn some underlying subcultural identity. The group that the political label describes is the main thing; dutifully following and cleverly rationalizing that group's catechism then substitute for critical thinking. As for the other side, well, they can't be right because they're such ... losers.
In truth, I never know how to characterize my politics, let alone my entire self. (I'm not alone there, I'm sure.) But often I feel as though I might be "a" libertarian. I tend to agree with much of what self-proclaimed libertarians say. Buzzwords like anti-statism reverberate agreeably. I'm a free speech absolutist. I'm all for guns. However, if I ever refer to myself as a libertarian, or carelessly use "libertarian" as an adjective describing my views on this or that, some guardian of the eternal flame of True Libertarianism will instantly inform me that I have no business calling myself a libertarian, taking the L-word in vain. Apparently, it's libertarianism's illusions I recall, and I really don't know libertarianism at all. So I guess I'm not one of those. (You get this as well, though arguably with less vehemence, from liberals regarding "liberalism," even if you make sure to put "Classical" in there. Not with "anti-Idiotarian," though. Not yet.)
Well, I never wanted to be in their stupid old club anyway...
Another great column from David Aaronovitch on British lefty flirtation with and denial about anti-Semitism. He addresses, among other things, a curious phenomenon (that I've often noted, particularly in Britain): people will auto-excuse their own antipathy towards Jews, on the theory that their views should not be seen as anti-Semitic simply because they have decreed that they are not, and warning in advance that any ensuing question about anti-Semitism will be angrily rejected and might as well not be raised. The weirdest thing about this is that they think it fools anybody. No, I'm wrong: the weirdest thing about it is that sometimes it actually does.
Too many leftwingers and liberals are crossing the magic line right now. Let me spell it out for you. There is no all-powerful Jewish lobby. There is no secret convocation. Most journalists with Jewish names do not write the things they do because of loyalty to their race or religion. Nor can you simply change the word "Jewish" to "Zionist" and somehow be exempt from the charge of low-level racism. And it's no good wiffling on about your Jewish friends or trying to slip your prejudices past the guards by boldly proclaiming your refusal to be intimidated. There are no Elders and there are no Protocols.
Sweet Gay Jesus
It sounds like a hoax to me, but Tim Blair is all over the story of the Melbourne academic who has devoted his professional life and a considerable sum of public money to "proving" that Jesus was gay.
The scholar, one Rollan McCleary, reportedly formed some of his conclusions on the basis of astrology, particularly Jesus's horoscope. It's okay, though: he's "an Anglican and a qualified reader of astrological charts." He's also a naked rights activist.
Three guesses as to what McCleary's (and, one assumes, Jesus's) favorite planet is reported to be/have been. (That's the bit that sends the needles of my internal hoax-o-meter quivering a bit more than usual, by the way.)
Favorite quote from Dr. McCleary: "you don't have to be gay to be Christian, but it would be easier."
Like many identity politicos, McCleary dreams of turning his personality into its own university department, hoping to establish Gay Spirituality as a separate academic discipline. My guess is that that will result in one of the more colorful faculty lounges in the country. Ye gods...
Digging through my stuff looking for something or other, I came across another "found" letter.
This appears to be the second page of a longer letter, written on lined paper torn from a school notebook in what is clearly a girl's handwriting (or the handwriting of a very unusual boy.) The phone number of a UC Berkeley dorm or campus office is scrawled near the top, in a different hand (perhaps that of the recipient?)
...I miss you tonight. We've mentioned your name numerous times all with stories all about you. I miss you so much right now. I wonder if you are thinking of me. What do you think? Do you miss me? Is it really so bad? Worse than it has ever been?
I dunno. I still love you but it is not the same. We are just at each others's [the word "throug" is scratched out] throats (literally) Has it been that bad? Mabye so. It's so hard to give up on us, for me. I know it doesn't seem like it but it's true. I miss you I wish I could hold your hand right now. I wonder where you are.
Don't give up on me. You promised you wouldn't I know that is a weak excuse but god damnit! I love you so much. I just can't take losing [underlined] you though I guess [illegible] that's not it I dunno. I wish I could make you smile that smile at me again. Mabye someday.
I know this may a bit rich coming from a retrograde, as-yet-unupdated blogspotter like myself, but is anyone else having trouble loading blogs today?
What kind of bizarro world is this? Or is it just me?
Update: here's why: a fire at Hosting Matters.
Clueless is as clueless does
Mr. Graff flirts with the notion that there might be something wrong with today's scholarship that accounts for students' difficulties--things like impenetrable jargon, needless complication and intellectual incoherence, especially in the humanities and social sciences. But it's only a tease. He isn't about to fault his colleagues for their self-indulgence. And he doesn't mention that the modern university's speech codes and political correctness hardly encourage the kind of vigorous debate he prizes.
Indeed, the university that Mr. Graff describes is a barely recognizable place of "paradigm-smashing, boundary-crossing, high-wire interdisciplinary scholarship." People traffic in "big-picture ideas." As an editor who deals largely with academic writers, I was delighted to learn that "the writing habits of the so-called public intellectual, once the exception to the rule," are now "seeping into academic writing generally." I only wish that the manuscripts I see bore evidence of this trend. I don't know whether to laugh or cry when I hear people like Mr. Graff propose that university professors play a bigger role in teaching the young how to write.
"Our Moorean Dilemma"
That's one of the sub-headings of this interesting essay by Kevin Mattson on the drawbacks and pitfalls of Michael Moore's brand of Leftism. Eager to rescue the Left from the inanity and contentlessness embodied by "America's most prominent leftist," and echoing the "sell-out" debate that crops up whenever anyone makes a quarter (which I'm most familiar with from the punk rock world), Mattson frames the dilemma thus: "do leftists stay on the margins or do we bust through and play by the rules of the entertainment industry?"
I'm not sure you can blame the weaknesses of Moore's faux-activist schtick entirely on the "rules" of the entertainment industry. Perhaps the message has been dumbed down a bit for mass consumption, but it was pretty dumb to begin with. I doubt if a Michael Moore freed from the constraints of show biz would be any more compelling or persuasive than the one we're stuck with.
To be sure, Moore's sub-literate "book" is on a par with all those other flimsy, virtually content-free, large-type, best-selling "books" by celeb pundits (Coulter, Matthews, O'Reilly, The Rock, et al.) Whether it issues from the mouths of mascots of the left or those of the right (or from professional wrestlers), "all attitude, little substance" can be a bit more entertaining than dour, jargon-laden, political speechifying. Not for long, though. I usually don't find this sort of thing very entertaining, but there are obviously those who do. Yet sincere leftists, I believe, would be ill-advised to take the devil's bargain which Mattson (none too seriously) hints at: accept Moore, warts and all, as your dumbed-down, massively popular, entertainment industry-certified mascot, in return for a shot at the hearts and minds of his legions of fans. "Sure," these earnest, non-dumbed-down leftists might say, "Moore's an inane, embarrassing, untrustworthy, cartoonish buffoon, but at least he's our inane, embarrassing, untrustworthy, cartoonish buffoon." There's not much of a future there, I'd say.
Yet, though I think the blame on the entertainment "industry" is misplaced, Mattson's larger point is well-taken and expressed with admirable eloquence and clarity:
None of what I've discussed here would matter if Moore's techniques didn't symbolize bigger weaknesses in the American left today. Moore is not just a quirky guy with enough talent and dough to reach a wide audience. His political criticism signals problems faced by the left more generally: marginalization, a tendency to seek the purity of confrontation rather than to work for long-term political solutions, a cynicism about the possibilities of politics today, and questionable political judgments. Moore exhibits all these weaknesses. Unfortunately, an effective left cannot draw energy or inspiration from a deeply cynical view of politics that blurs entertainment and argument. Moore takes short-cuts when it comes to politics. He entertains, but he doesn't always do much more. That speaks to the state of the left; we are angry and sometimes vocal, but we have too little to offer those looking for or needing social change.
Totalitarian Nostalgia, Police State Chic
"Berlin's Communist past has become more fashionable" these days, according to this article in yesterday's Independent. So they're considering re-erecting the 60 foot statue of Lenin that was pulled down after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
I suppose the logical next step would be to re-erect the wall itself. Those were the days, eh?
From the New Republic's Notebook:
MOTHER OF ALL CONDESCENSION
"As the mother of a teenage daughter, I know, if you don't set limits around children, they'll test you, and we should have predicted that there would be the looting or at least more looting than we foresaw."
—Representative Jane Harman, explaining that the administration was unprepared for postwar Iraq, NBC's "Meet The Press," May 18
Grape Mrs. Carillon!
Katrina vanden Heuvel imagines that Emma Goldman, were she alive today, would be "shaking it" with "radical cheerleaders" like the "Dirty Southern Belles, or Radical Teen Cheer. There is, of course, no way of testing this hypothesis, but it's kind of fun to try to picture it.
Here's one from Radical Teen Cheer:
Another really fun tree cheer is this one:
OW! I"M A TREE!!!! STOP CUTTING ON ME! UH!
(for this cheer, you all get in a line and pretend to be a tree, and with
each time you say Ow I'm a tree... you get smaller and smaller till you end
up rolling around on the ground)
Dehumanization and Flatulation!
You don't have an invitation to take over all our nation!
Privitize this (point to your booty) UH!
One Step Beyond
Here's spiked's Duleep Alliraja, on the much-discussed attempts to ban competitive "events" at British schools, and the notion that this represents "political correctness gone mad":
The notion that political correctness has gone mad is a strange anthropomorphism. The implication being that political correctness was once a perfectly sane and reasonable chap who only concerned himself with sensible pursuits, such as hounding Nazis and kiddie fiddlers. But then he suffered a breakdown, perhaps triggered by a humiliating sporting experience, and now Mr PC is a twitching, bulgy-eyed loon who has started stalking innocuous targets such as egg-and-spoon races.
But in truth political correctness hasn't so much gone gaga as gone mainstream. The scrapping of competitive sports is the logical consequence of our therapeutic culture that assumes that children are vulnerable creatures whose self-esteem will be irreparably damaged by sporting failure.
(via Harry's Place.)
Jeff Jarvis has a suggestion for Yasser Arafat.
Better than "My Lovely Horse"?
I just stumbled on this page about Austria's entry in this year's Eurovision Song competition (via Michael Jennings, by way of Natalie Solent.) The song is by one Alf Poier and to judge from the description and lyrics it appears to be an anti-human, pro-cockroach, rabbit- and kitten-boosting, anti-collectivist, pro-individualist, anti-banality anthem. I like it.
I can't vouch for the accuracy of this translation of the lyrics, but I can't resist quoting it. My favorite part is the section that begins "But whoever wants to know more..." (which I assume is the bridge.) Actually all the parts are my favorites:
I like most animals on this earth
But I really prefer little rabbits and bears
Soon all birds and beetles will die
But Adam's in bed with Eve busy reproducing
Rabbits live in the woods
Cats in the meadows
Live under tiles
Little rabbits have short noses
And kittens soft paws
And Mother Holle likes her wool
From the african dromedary
The difference between animals such as apes and primates
Is no bigger than between noodles and pasta
But whoever wants to know more about animals should study Biology or inform himself on my homepage
Some animals have wings
And others have fins
Some live outdoors
And others in cans
Update: he came in sixth.
Ken Layne's cyber-busking again: check out "She Thinks She's Me", recorded on a boombox in a Gilroy, CA park. "My gosh, I'm married to a freak..."
As Instantman says, the author of this article on university campus conservatives seems to be straining a bit too hard to blame outside forces for the rightward trend he discusses even as he documents it, almost as though he is hoping that these students couldn't have come up with any of these ideas on their own. I'd say it's a perfectly natural response to the stultifying atmosphere of political correctness and identity politics that make up the "establishment" at most college campuses. Nevertheless the piece is a fascinating look at the changing face of campus conservative activism.
Politics aside, these young conservatives, as they are quoted in the article, often seem to make a lot more sense than some of their professors.
One Geoff Schneider, an economics prof., worries that the young conservatives may have been making too much headway in persuading their fellow students that the university is, in the author's phrase, "infected by political correctness and that professors seek to indoctrinate students with a liberal agenda."
Or Schneider puts it: "the openness of a number of students to new ideas and new ways of looking at things has actually moved in a disturbing direction." "New" is relative, of course, but I know just what he means. Back when I was in school, openness to new ideas and new ways of looking at things only used to move in one direction. Indoctrination was a cakewalk in those days.
A social psychology professor has a similar complaint about "the potential for conservative activists to stifle intellectual openness among students":
Recently she taught a class in which she talked about the theory that news coverage of warfare in Iraq could lead to a rise in homicides in the United States. ''I could see the students rolling their eyes,'' she says. ''I could just hear them thinking, 'Oh, there she goes again!'''
Update: hey, Ken Layne, too! With a cool, custom made graphic. Wow. Thanks, dudes.
the supposed six leading British neocons: David Aaronovitch, John Lloyd, Daniel Finkelstein, Michael Gove, Melanie Phillips, and yours truly.
As usual, the piece itself completely misunderstood the meaning of the phrase. I've bored enough people which this sort of thing already, so I'll pass over that. What is truly bizarre, though, as Aaronovitch's column shows, is their list of British neocons. I can't speak for Daniel Finkelstein, Michael Gove or Melanie Phillips but I have certainly long been happy to describe myself thus, ever since I first came across the work of the likes of Norman Podhoretz, Irving Kristol and Midge Decter - and long before the first Gulf War, let alone 11/9. So no problem there.
But David A, and John L? It reminds me of the Seinfeld episode, Bizarro, in which everything in the world becomes offbeam. Both of them are classic, straight down the line social democrats. The only thing they have in common with neocons - almost literally, the only thing - is that they supported the war in Iraq. But so did Anne Clwyd, so did Nick Cohen, and so did Christopher Hitchens. Are they neocons, too? Only in Bizzaro.
If you were trying to launch an effort to rebuild a sensible Left, to rescue "progressivism" from the loonies, eschewing residual New Left excesses and identity politics and attempting to revitalize true liberal, pro-democracy internationalism, to create (in Josh Marshall's words) "a political movement that combined a progressive agenda at home with a tough, democratizing internationalism overseas", and if you wanted it to have a ghost of a chance of capturing the attention and endorsement of anyone outside your tiny, idiosyncratic circle-- if that was your goal, would you call your movement "Social Democrats, USA"?
Of course you wouldn't. In fact you'd be hard-pressed to come up with a worse name, even if it might be a more or less accurate description of your program, affinities, tastes, and sensibilities. It comprises and rolls into one at least three distinct buzzwords with relative-to-overwhelmingly negative connotations in the contemporary climate. And by that I mean: "Social(ist)", "Democrat" (sadly), and "Social Democrat." (USA is all right-- that's always a winner.)
Read Josh Marshall's article in Forward: it's pretty interesting. Marshall found the conference invigorating, if bizarre: "by the end of the day," he writes, "to my surprise, I believed this could be a movement with as much of a future as a past." I doubt it, though maybe you had to be there. But the effort to create a sensible non-nihilistic Left is a welcome one, and I hope (and expect) to see much more of this sort of thing, particularly as the Bush administration seems bent on trashing the tenuous, conditional support granted it by "independents," "liberal hawks," and the like.
They just can't let go of the Jew thing...
The New Statesman (the British paleo-left journal of "Kosher Conspiracy" infamy) has sunk to a new low, apparently launching a program of "outing" British "neo-conservatives". (i.e., exposing British Jews in high places and positions of influence, from the look of it.)
I suspect Stephen Pollard, who is proud to describe himself as a 'neo-con' would laugh at the idea that Aaron, a liberal, ex-Eurocommunist, broadly New Labour type could seriously be considered a convert to neo-conservatism simply because he took a sensible position over Iraq and isn't afraid to call a terrorist a terrorist. But I would like to know who else was 'outed' by the New Statesman?
I am not paying NS a pound to find out - not only because I am tight-fisted but also because I am not financing a publication that is a disgrace to its own history. After all this is a magazine that believes anti-Americanism is profitable so shifted its orientation to tap that market. I'm not going to help their unprincipled profit chasing.
Another moderately surreal experience
I stumbled on this clip of a D.C. group called Emocapella doing a kind of doo wop cover of one of my songs, "Even Hitler had a Girlfriend." It's from an "anti-Valentines Day Show" that appears have been held in a high school or community center auditorium.
It's pretty weird (though cool I suppose) to hear the audience laughing at the punchlines.
Do other "content providers" find it weird when people laugh when their lines are delivered by total strangers? I've must have done this particular song thousands of times over the years. I have to say that even though the "insert laugh here" moments are eerily familiar, usually the audience has been so familiar with the lyrics that its members generally don't bother to laugh: the laugh is implied. Mostly, they listen reverently. And it's only just now that I realized how bizarre that is.
Update: If you're having trouble with the clip, it's a .wmv file. (For some reason, clicking on the link, for some, produces a long file name that truncates the .wmv and spits out gibberish rather than surreal video-- that's how it was explained to me by a helpful emailer, anyway.) You can download it and rename the file with .wmv on the end, and that should take care of it.
Also, I got a couple of questions about the original song. It's on the 1993 Mr. T Experience album "Our Bodies Our Selves," available here, if anyone's interested.
Everything Must Go
We will never have true dissent till we find a way to make it mandatory
Emily Jones, commenting on the story of the Arcata City Council ordinance which imposes a $57 fine on anyone who cooperates with the USA Patriot Act, produces a list of "Arcatisms", i.e., things she learned about the self-regarding lefty soul when she lived there. Many fall into the "funny because true" category.
One of my mild regrets is that I was too "cool" to bother to show up for my university graduation ceremony. I don't know if they even had a speaker at it. But if they did, I doubt he or she said anything as true or applicable as Michele's Commencement Speech I Would Give If I Have Had to Give One.
I think I know this guy...
BERKELEY, CA— Nineties punk Drew Tolbert, 29, expressed scorn Monday for the punks of today, denouncing them as "phony poseurs unworthy of the word 'punk.'"
"These kids today have no idea what real punk is," said Tolbert, who called himself "Steve Spew" from 1992 until May 1999, when he was forced to revert to his real name to take a job at Roberto's Custom Auto Upholstery. "Those so-called punk bands they listen to today? Sum 41? Good Charlotte? The Ataris? They're not punk. Back in the day, man, we used to listen to the real deal: Rancid, The Offspring, NOFX, Green Day. Those guys were what true punk rock was all about. Today's stuff is just a pale, watered-down imitation. There's no comparison..."
"They can talk all they want about how much punk means to them, but the simple fact is, they weren't there," Tolbert said. "These kids today have no sense of history. They don't know about Pennywise. They barely know about Epitaph Records. Most of them don't even know about Green Day's legendary appearance in '94 at the L.A. Coliseum. It was a watershed, one-of-a-kind moment in the history of youth rebellion, and if you didn't live through it, as I did, you'll never get it, no matter how punk you pretend to be..."
"I saw some kid wearing a Sex Pistols T-shirt the other day—he couldn't have been more than 9 when the Pistols did their Filthy Lucre reunion tour," Tolbert said. "I was like, 'You can listen to the music, you can wear the T-shirt, but I was there.' I had fifth-row seats at that goddamn stadium, man, right up front, close enough to see Johnny Rotten's wrinkles. Did you see an original member of The Clash play during Big Audio Dynamite II's last tour? Did you see two of the four original Ramones play at the KROQ Weenie Roast in '95? You did not, but I did. I swear to God, they're like a joke, these people."
Saddam's Fantasy Art Collection
I hate to keep harping on the subject outlandish judicial costumes, but it keeps coming up.
Chris from Canada forwards this link to the "Supreme Court of Canada Collection," and adds:
These outfits inspire neither respect nor fear. To me, they inspire the urge to tell the Judge what I want for Christmas.
Perhaps that's just me.
If you run into him, please tell Mr. Justice Bastarache to give me some money; that I have no time for his cuddly toys; that I'll beat him up if he doesn't hand it over; that I want his bread, and not to make me annoyed; and tell him to give all the toys to the little rich boys...
(Ironically, perhaps, Pere Noel presides over the Court of the country that gave the world the "holiday tree.")
Cyber-busking, I mean.
The last time I stood up in the blogospheric square with my virtual guitar and tried to foist unsolicited "entertainment" on digital passersby, my little operation got overwhelmed by a flood of Insta-gawkers and other looky-loos. Eventually, I found a better, less tenuous location and I ended up having a pretty good time. Thousands of listeners, no more server crashes, relatively few hecklers, a few generous tips. Lots of interesting comments and some thought-provoking discussion. And no one called the cops.
If you're comfortable playing the role of enabler in my ill-conceived (but basically fun) bohemian lifestyle, and if you've got any, throw some spare change in one of my imaginary guitar cases. (i.e., the paypal or amazon buttons to the left-- cute huh?)
Like "democracy, whisky, sexy", "Institutionalized Misogyny" is one of the eight songs on the little CD of bedroom recordings I took on my last little solo acoustic tour. Originally, I was just going to sell them at shows, but I got a lot of requests from people who couldn't make it to the shows, so I'm making it available here, just to see what happens. It's some of the stuff I've been working on lately, some of which may end up, in some form, on the MTX album that we're planning to record this summer. So far, I've been pretty impressed with the comments on these songs from those who picked up the CD at shows, and I've learned a bit about the songs, which is the main point here.
You can order "Eight Little Songs" here. It's cheap! It's pre-autographed! (That is, I wrote my name on each CD because I was too retarded to figure out how to use any of those label-maker things!) It's only available through this special offer! Not sold in any store! (Though you could say that about a lot of my records! Just kidding, Chris!) There's a brief review of it near the bottom of this annotated discography page.
But back to Cyber-busking, round deux. A fair few complained last time that they had trouble making out the lyrics. We aim to please here on the virtual street corner, so I'm adding the lyrics to "Institutionalized Misogyny" at the end of this post. Let me know what, if anything, you think.
Your turn, Ken.
I'm not complaining, I'm just figuring out
how everything left us behind
I got my problems, I'm aware of them
I'll take care of them, never you mind
you're still repeating pre-recorded things
they used to say in universities
and books on left wing politics and law
about underlying structures
that so far as they mean anything
still won't support the personal connections that you draw
that's all that stands between my baby and me
now science tells us I'm hard-wired to-- I'm required to--
do it with you
'cause I'm a man, and you're a woman
and that's what those kind of people do
I stole that line from Woody Allen
isn't it amusing?
I wish I could make you understand
what Woody Allen meant.
If there's no such thing as objective reality
why can't we quit our jobs and just imagine
we won't have to pay the rent?
that's why they're charging rent
to my baby and me
Michele, ma belle: ton beau, Michel Foucault
a Foucault dependent is always ready to go
I think we're alone
I might have known
she's got Chomsky on the phone
that's all that stands between my baby and me.
(By Dr. Frank, © 2003 Itching Powder Music (BMI), all rights reserved.)
3 for 3
Richard Bennett posted three things on Sat. May, 17, and three of them are great: a clear, incisive (and to my mind right on) discussion of common sense, tax-cuts, and tax policy in California; a wry comment on al Qaeda's "brilliant target selection"; and a post about the letter from ambassador Paul Bremer that recently appeared on WSJ Opinion Journal:
This part was especially appealing:
10. The State Department is to inform Gerry Adams that he will no longer be welcome in the U.S. as long as Sinn Fein-IRA continues its terrorism.
Too often, the IRA is given a pass, or worse, actually supported by American politicians of both parties. That's not good.
The subject of British judicial wigs and gowns comes up here more often than you might imagine. (My most recent post on it might be here, if this happens to be one of those rare moments when blogger's archives are working: otherwise, you could scroll down to "organdy snood," believe it or not.)
Gary Farber has a good, lengthy post on the general wigginess of British judicial custom, with several interesting links.
What I find most interesting is the cultural divide here. Most of the British discussion of this question that I've seen, pro-wig as well as anti-wig, focuses on the assertion that these foppish, floppy, flouncy, frilly, effeminate-on-men/extra-ludicrous-on-women, theatrical, costume-party get-ups are "intimidating" and inspire "respect and solemnity." I'm sure it's true, but for an American (this American, anyway) it's pretty hard to fathom.
Granted, being given a stiff sentence for shooting a burglar who has busted in to your home, say, must be pretty unsettling even if the judge looks a bit like Liberace. Especially if, I guess. But I assume they're not intentionally seeking a De Chirico effect, trying to disorient the defendant with surreal-ness. Or are they? ("Order! Order in this court! The defendant will cease giggling this instant!")
My wife is British, with no great personal experience of the law, and her take on it is perhaps the most surprising. To her, all this foppery is neither intimidating, nor solemn, nor risible. To her, it's "normal." Unless you think about it, she adds. It all turns on what you're used to, of course, but this is a pretty, er, inclusive definition of normality if you ask me.
Clearly, these archaic, outlandish customs are so familiar that they blend into the background and are hardly even noticed. It makes me wonder, though, if there are any American traditions like this, i.e., customs, habits, institutions, costumes that seem completely normal to us, but that are overwhelmingly bizarre to outsiders. There must be some, though I can't think of any right now. (Kind of demonstrating the point, I think.)
According to Lee's Useless Super-hero Generator, I am:
The unpleasant Shambling Fang
Power(s): Matter consumption, Incomprehensibility
Source of powers: Extra-terrestrial mutant home study course
Weapon: Fungal Torpedos
Transportation: Sea Donkey
Snoozing, Losing, and Missing Ben #7
I'm bummed that I missed Matt Welch's TV debut as a Ben Affleck lookalike on the WB network.
UPDATE: Matt explains it all in this hilarious (and, given the topic, surprisingly illuminating) column. Still wish I'd seen it, though...
Jonah Goldberg wades into the "what is a neocon" question. This is the first of what is apparently a series, but the telegraphed conclusion appears to be that the term has been used to refer to practically everything under the sun at one time or another, is all but meaningless, and ought to be abandoned:
In fact, it's increasingly difficult to find plain-old "conservatives" anywhere these days. National Review, according to a ludicrous article in The New York Observer is a "paleo-conservative magazine" which is "seen as a kind of a relic by the new neocons" but according to The American Conservative, National Review is not only "safely in neocon hands," we actually symbolize the neocon takeover of the conservative movement. Often, the absurdity has become syllogistic: Neoconservatives are conservatives who favor war and if you are a conservative and favor war you are a neoconservative. My own beloved mother perfectly captured the nebulousness of the term. When asked whether she was a neocon by The New York Observer, she jokingly replied, "You mean the people who like to kill people and break things. That's me!"
Thought for the Day
I want people to understand that I am not just the bourgeois-hating, working class revolutionary that everyone percieves me to be. I am also a lover of animals and hot young girls.
Iraqi exile Hamid Ali Alkifaey had a good piece in yesterday's Guardian:
No Iraqi can forget the moment when Saddam's statue was pulled down by Iraqis, assisted by US forces, in Baghdad. On that memorable day, April 9 2003, a new dawn shone on Iraq, and indeed the whole world.
That day, I was working with Sky News, commenting on events as they unfolded. I remember saying, earlier that morning: "Today is the tipping point: it is the day on which Saddam's regime will fall".
A few minutes later, we watched a brave man, on the streets of Baghdad, holding Saddam's photo and hitting it with a shoe. Another respectable-looking person tried to urinate on the photo in front of the cameras. Both actions signified the ultimate insult that can be directed at a person in Iraq, and showed the amount of hatred and disdain for Saddam and his regime among Iraqis.
When I visited Iraq just after its liberation, I saw people desperate for basic services, and apprehensive about the possible return of Saddam, but hopeful for the future...
Many questions came to mind: Why did the world allow him to cause so much devastation and suffering in Iraq? Why was the Arab world happy to support a mass murderer? What would have Iraq looked like if we had a government like the one in Kuwait, or even Jordan? Would it not have been a sought-after destination for historians, archaeologists, believers of all world religions, as well as ordinary holidaymakers?
Wouldn't Iraqis have become the most educated and sophisticated people in the whole region? Would they not have been a force for democracy, human rights and moderation in the Middle East?
How many lives would have been saved? What would the Iraqi population have been if Iraq had not had the Saddam government? 40 million? 50 million? How many Iraqis have been deprived of their lives just because Saddam Hussein and his family wanted to enjoy absolute power?
However, looking on the bright side of life, Iraq is now a free country thanks to the courage of George Bush and Tony Blair, and the US and British people who backed them. Iraqis are looking forward to democracy.
"Was it her gorgeous red hair? Her killer body?"
This Bomb has no Title
Political correctness has squelched the tradition of bomb graffiti in the US Navy. Strategy Page says:
it was only a matter of time before a few pictures of irreverent chalk marks on 500 pound bombs got some admiral in hot water. There was only one way to solve that problem, and the problem has now been taken care of.
Yet, as Donald Sensing points out, this instance of pre-emptive public relations damage control has a silliness all its own:
They are about to drop high explosive on other human beings to kill them, but hey, let's not write anything that might offend someone!
Somehow, though, I have a feeling that this tradition won't be so easy to kill.
Here's a suggestion for kinder, gentler bomb graffiti from one of Sensing's commenters:
Gee, you would think with a little ingenuity they could have PC graffitti that still makes a point. Like maybe "No animals were harmed in the testing and manufacture of this cluster bomb."
Punk Rock Communist Quote of the Day
No link to the quote is provided, but here's how it's cited over at Harry's Place:
"The world is living through a series of never-ending and incredibly quick changes. Shouting 'peace, peace' at a time when there is war around us, is like going to a hospital and shouting 'health! health!' "
--Giovanni Lindo Ferretti, Italian communist and punk rock singer explaining why he refused to provide a song for an anti-war CD.
"Media bias" doesn't send me into an apoplectic, sputtering tailspin like it does some people. Bias is normal. My feeling is, you notice it, object when it's offensive, laugh when it's amusing, and otherwise just go with it. Write a strongly worded letter from time to time. Snort derisively here and there. The idea is to take note of it, yet try not to let it dominate your life. Unless it's your job. You've got to make a living, after all.
Beyond that, I try to care about it (since media bias hounds seem to be having such a great time), but, for some reason, I don't much. Feel free to inveigh against the Powerful Forces that have conspired to spin every news item in such a way that it undermines all that you and other right-thinking people hold dear; but be prepared for my eyes to glaze over while my mind drifts to more pleasant, intriguing matters.
That said, Rod Liddle has an interesting take on BBC bias in the latest Spectator. He notes a tendency on the part of BBC presenters to draw conclusions that plainly run counter to the facts they have just presented, using examples from coverage of the recent British election to produce a list of "Things the People of Britain Are Not Allowed to Think Despite Being Palpably Self-Evident." He attributes all this to "institutionalized political correctness." Much as I distrust the formulation "institutionalized whatsit" (which usually means "whatsit that only I can detect with my superior powers") I think he may be on to something:
It’s a sort of terror of the truth, arrogant in its assumptions because it believes ‘ordinary’ people cannot cope with the truth and need it either sweetened or altered entirely.
You could see it at work during the war in Iraq. Now, I was opposed to the war but I was aware that the military campaign was carried out with devastatingly brilliant precision and speed. And yet, watching television — Channel 4 or the BBC or, for that matter, Sky — there seemed a determination to present at every juncture the worst-case scenario as if the war, because it was inherently ‘immoral’, could not therefore possibly be expedited with success. Maybe it is just my imagination, but I seem to remember being told, every night, that the prospect which awaited our troops was a ‘quagmire’ of ‘hand-to-hand street fighting’. Where’s the quagmire, huh? Where are the fights? I don’t object to the speculation; just the one-sided nature of the speculation — as if it were in some way indecent to have someone suggest that the war would be over by the end of next week and very few people would be killed.
The night before the election I watched a BBC News report about the two British Muslim suicide bombers. It was, for the most part, a perfectly good piece of journalism — until the last line. The correspondent, Niall Dickson, concluded by saying that the vast majority of British Muslims were vehemently opposed to such violent attacks. Howja know that, Niall? You asked them all? You haven’t, have you? You just made it up. You sort of hope it’s true. It’s an article of faith that we have to believe such things, so bung it in the end of the report. Like Welsh people really love their assembly and the people of Burnley aren’t racist and the Tories can’t possibly win. There’s no evidence for any of this stuff — indeed, there’s rather more evidence to the contrary — but let’s say it anyway because the alternative is, frankly, too unpleasant to contemplate.
I see London, I see France
NZ Pundit turns up this headline from the dawn of WWII, demonstrating that France has always been France. Of course, it should be noted that England had, in essence, been France right up till the previous week. And America continued to be France for years after that. Heh, indeed. (via Tim Blair.)
Britney! Barbarella! The Kinks! Go! Go! Japan! Tea!
Perry de Haviland provides a short, basically accurate, ironic history of the flag of a certain southern state.
They're talking about wig-reform again.
British judges and other court personnel are required to wear outlandish costumes which include elaborate neckpieces and sashes and funny little powdered wigs.
Americans find them hilarious, but Brits seem oddly fond of them. I learned this awhile back from Natalie Solent, who offered a stirring defense of the wig-wearing tradition when I made an offhand derisory comment. And I whole-heartedly agree. Weird traditions should never be jettisoned without a great deal of thought. I'd hate to see the wigs go, in the same way I was sad when they tore down the Pussycat Theater at 51st and Telegraph. A world without judicial wigs would be as colorless and empty as a world without The Vibrating Women of Hong Kong. That's where we're headed, and, as always, we should savor the present just in case the future ends up sucking.
Still, though I'd vote for them, they are funny. (Especially, for some reason, when worn by women.) You keep expecting the bewigged m'luds to burst into a ribald song, or say "wait for it" or "oh no, he's not..." Hilariously, many who defend the wig 'n' fancy dress tradition do so on the theory that it inspires respect and solemnity. Maybe you have to grow up with it in order for this solemnity to kick in.
Check out number four in the judicial costume slide show, the current get-up of a circuit judge:
This current outfit comprises knee breeches, stockings and buckled shoes with a lace jabot under a violet robe, a girdle and tippet (sash) over the left shoulder.
The lilac is a friendly colour that is "flattering and invites communication."
It brings to mind the "Dress Me Dress Me Dress Me" song from the Dr. Seuss movie the 5000 Fingers of Dr. T:
I want my leg of mutton sleeves, and in addition to those
I want my cutie chamois booties with the leopard-skin bows.
I want my pink brocaded bodice with the fluffy fuzzy ruffs
and my gorgeous bright blue bloomers with the monkey feather cuffs.
We Are Normal and We Want Freedom
Hey, speaking of cyberbusking, I keep meaning to mention Ken Layne's recently posted mp3, a cool song called "Worried." Stonesey, tipsy, honky-tonky, homey, catchy, free-y-- what more could you ask for? Check it out, and throw some change in his tip jar if you can. This sort of thing should be encouraged.
If I can get this rickety old machine (oppresses masses, kills fascists) started again, I might give this cyberbusking thing another shot. Watch this space.
Freedom of Expression Requires Ceaseless Censorship
Julian Petley, chairman of the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom, on why Fox News should be banned from Britain:
"I'm not in favour of censorship, but Murdoch would like to do with British television news what he has done with newspapers, which is to force people to compete on his own terms.
"So if we allow into Britain the kind of journalism represented by Fox, that would bring about a form of censorship."
On the subject of authors being mistaken for their characters (see post below, Song Talk), Dave from Geek Life sent along this link to the transcript of the interrogation of Langston Hughes during the McCarthy Hearings.
This bit reminds me of some punk zine interviews I have done:
Mr. Cohn: Mr. Hughes, when you wrote Scottsboro Limited,
did you believe in what you were saying in that poem?
Mr. Hughes: No, sir, not entirely, because I was writing in
Mr. Cohn: It is your testimony you were writing in
character and what was said did not represent your beliefs?
Mr. Hughes: No, sir. You cannot say I don't believe, if I
may clarify my feeling about creative writing, that when you
make a character, a Klansman, for example, as I have in some of
my poems, I do not, sir... I don't think you can get a yes or no
answer entirely to any literary question, so I give you----
Mr. Cohn: I am trying, Mr. Hughes, because I think you have
gone pretty far in some of these things, and I think you know
pretty well what you did. When you wrote something called
``Ballads of Lenin,'' did you believe that when you wrote it?
Mr. Hughes: Believe what, sir?
Mr. Cohn: Comrade Lenin of Russia speaks from marble:
On guard with the workers forever-- The world is our room!
Mr. Hughes: That is a poem. One can not state one believes
every word of a poem.
Mr. Cohn: I do not know what one can say. I am asking you
specifically do you believe in the message carried and conveyed
in this poem?
Mr. Hughes: It would demand a great deal of discussion. You
can not say yes or no.
Dalyell's conception of the Likudnik Menace differs from Buchananite stateside versions in that he avoids euphemisms and in that he tries link Tony Blair to the Jewish conspiracy by noting the Jewish ancestry of Lord Levy, Peter Mandelson, and Jack Straw. As Freedland points out, "only the Linlithgow MP and Hitler's Nuremberg laws would count Straw and Mandelson as Jewish."
I find it rather surprising that Peter Mandelson could come up with no stronger word than "incorrigible" with which to describe Dalyell and his worries about the poisonous influence of Jewish Blood among the Prime Minister's minions, but the English excel at understatement.
(via Harry's Place.)
I know I keep claiming that "normal" blogging will resume presently. I'm sticking to that story. The aftermath of the "democracy, whisky, sexy" cyberbusking experiment and the mini-tour has been a bit crazy. I got around 3,000 emails (though Lord knows a great deal of it may be spam) and I haven't had a chance to sort through much of it. Plus, I still haven't got around to sleeping off twelve days or so of stored-up hangovers. If you emailed and are waiting for a response, it may be awhile, but I promise it'll come, either as a reply or as something posted here.
I've been really digging the comments that I've read so far, both on the mp3 and the eight song CD that I was selling at the shows. Once I get my act together, I'm going to try to respond to some of the more interesting observations by writing about them on the blog. (I know that will bore some people, so sorry in advance...)
"democracy..." confused a lot of people, which I suppose was intentional. That is, much of it was deliberately cast in ambiguous terms. I got a fair amount of mail noting inconsistencies, contradictions, and failings in the narrator's "analysis" of Iraq and understanding of current events. (They always assume this narrator is, uncomplicatedly, me, which is a fascinating topic for future discussion. In fact, I'm hardly ever the narrator of my songs, and even when I am, it's a funny, less-than-accurate or -complete version of myself.)
The third verse in particular was criticized for feeble logic: of course, no one can tell the future from a gut feeling. But hope is kind of like that. I'll have more to say about this later, but I really find it fascinating that there is such a need on the part of some sincere listeners to find an unambivalent, didactic "message" in a song of this type. They see the ambivalence, the narrator's failings or quirks or kinks, as a deficiency in the song, rather than as a successful characterization. I worked pretty hard at the ambiguity, as it happens. "I just have to know," said one correspondent: "are you being sarcastic or sincere?" That question is never as easy to answer as people think it is. I think the narrator is sincere in that he is utterly lacking in cynicism, yet he is vaguely aware, if inarticulately, of the irony embodied in the use of the word "democracy" on two sides of a great cultural/experiential divide. Wondering what the man from Najaf means when he says "democracy" raises the question of what we mean-- and the narrator is asking that question without, perhaps, realizing it.
Since I hardly ever write topical songs (and indeed, among my fans, it's well known that I have on occasion expressed a fairly dim view of "political songs" in general) I've received quite a few queries as to my motivation for writing it in the first place. As this ties in to the subject of what the narrator and I share, and as I'm getting a bit tired of typing it out in individual emails, I'll say something about it, though I have to admit I'm a bit uncomfortable with it. It's not something I've ever discussed before explicitly. But I started this whole "squawk about songs" deal, so here goes:
When I first read the NYT story about the man from Najaf, I reacted like most people, I guess. I found the anecdote funny, sweet, unique and irresistibly charming. Like practically everybody else I smiled inwardly and said to myself something like: I couldn't have said it better myself. Isn't that really what America is all about after all? It occurred to me that it would only be a matter of time before this irresistible catch phrase was turned into a song by some quick-off-the-mark songwriter or band. And I thought, whoever does that first could make some kind of splash.
But I didn't really consider writing one myself. As I said, I don't usually write topical songs, and I try never to write songs that don't have a personal emotional resonance, however goofy. They never go anywhere.
Then I watched the footage of the Saddam statue being pulled down and the people quite literally jumping for joy, dragging the head through the street, ecstatically thumping it with shoes. I was really profoundly moved by this. It was impossible not to share their quite obviously sincere elation, exhilaration. Whatever complications, whatever horrible events might lay ahead, to whatever degree American action may have been spurred by considerations other than pure altruism, I felt I could feel a bit of their joy, even if only as a voyeur rather than a participant. Democracy is exciting, fragile, complicated, powerful. Democracy is, America is, beautiful and deep. Sexy. Confusing. Hard to pin down. Occasions for such sweeping, all-encompassing emotional swells aren't that common, at least, they aren't for me.
But I also couldn't help thinking of that man from Najaf. Where was he, what was he doing, what was going to happen to him, what was going to happen to all of them? It occurred to me that the words he used, that we turned into a charming catchphrase, reflected an understanding of America that I couldn't necessarily completely understand, nor could I ever really know if I understood it. I think it probably says something about me that I took such pleasure in the anecdote, that I felt a sort of kinship with this man based on a wry understanding of a few words. I noticed a similarity between his view of America, and our view of him: true enough, perhaps, but shaped by dreams, hopes, a sense of irony, maybe some self-deceptiveness, benevolent yet a bit uncomprehending. Something clicked, and a self-sustaining narrator emerged (which is what a good song requires) and the song pretty much wrote itself. Like me, this guy was watching TV, reading the Times, elated yet maybe slightly puzzled, vaguely questioning the meaning of the terms that refer to an overwhelmingly "real" and immediate experience. In the end he settles upon hope, with slight reservations. I think he's right to do so. At least, I hope so.
As the phrase goes, that's probably more than you wanted to know, but drop me a line, as always, with comments or questions if you've got any.
I've really enjoyed this whole cyberbusking experience. The write-record-release-get critiqued-respond process, which usually takes a couple of years, has run a "cycle" in about two weeks. So I may try it again in the coming weeks, though I daresay my other tunes probably won't have quite as much blogospheric appeal. Developing...
Folk Wraiths vs. the new New Dylans
This site is starting to look more like a rockblog than a warblog lately. Sorry about that. Nothing wrong with it I suppose, though I imagine the thousands who still visit this site by googling "war+blogs" will be a mite disappointed. But what are they gonna do, sue me? It's not intentional, and it will only be temporary. For some reason, while I'm travelling and playing, the usual schtick (rote Guardian-bashing, gratuitous, good-natured lefty-baiting, and a few rounds of "ya gotta read this one by Mark Steyn/Johann Hari/VDH via Instapundit") seems to move itself well down the list of Important Things to Do Today. Hence the blogs of
Rockblog? Maybe I should say "folkblog." Only someone with severely diminished genre sensitivity would mistake my stuff for "folk music," but the fact remains: I am on a folk music tour, playing, as a rule, in folk music venues with folk musicians. Last night we played at the Sidewalk Cafe, noted headquarters of New York's anti-folk movement (which is not as negative as it sounds-- I think "anti" is meant in an ironic "he's good bad but he's not evil" sense.) And tonight we'll be playing at the Kendall Cafe in Cambridge, Mass., another venerable, celebrated hub of acoustic and folk music. (Don't let all the pictures of Jewel fool you-- a lot of famous people other than Jewel have played there, or so I'm told.) Sure, I'm the odd man out in many ways. I did this tour a couple of years ago, and I'll never forget the bewildered look on the faces of the Kendall people when they saw, clearly for the first time, a kid with a skateboard stroll in and take a seat. The times they are a-changin'. I'm trying to fit in, though. Sort of, anyway.
Another indication that we (which includes me, unlikely as that sounds) are truly a part of the folk scene is that we seem to have attracted the attention of the Folk Mafia. Their minions pursue us across the land like black riders in search of hobbits. I'm not allowed to say much more, and I understand very little of their mysterious ways, but it is said that the Folk Mafia can make life very difficult indeed. Evading their grasp requires skill, determination, stealth and subterfuge. But I've said too much. Michael! Row your boat ashore!
Big E, Little E, Pseudo E
I know the internet has been around for awhile, but this is the first time I've ever felt any significant impact from it upon my own shows and tours.
A case in point: at Wednesday's show in Pittsburgh, to my astonishment, "the kids" started singing along to "democracy, whisky, sexy," which I had just written and "released" last week. Now, these were not casual listeners, but rather the sort of diehard fans who you'd expect to make an effort to hear the current thing. Still I think that's quite fast for a song to enter the audience sing-along repertoire. It's unique in my experience, anyway.
It would be wrong of me to mention Pittsburgh and fail to note the earnestly over-the-top young enthusiast named Mike who brought his whole family to the show, including his mom and I believe a few cousins. He saw himself as a kind of ambassador of Pittsburgh and his portfolio appeared to include keeping everyone well supplied with a local beer called Iron City. It comes in brown plastic bottles. If you saw me play at the Sidewalk in New York the next day, and noticed a wan, uneasy bearing and a slightly distant look in my eyes, Mike and his bottles are probably partially to blame. Thanks, Mike. Go Steelers.
I don't know how common this is for other guys in bands, but after a typical show, several kids will hand you little folded up pieces of paper on their way out. They're basically little thank you notes, containing things they'd be too embarrassed to say, perhaps, or things they felt they might not have a chance to mention in post show autograph/photo op. confusion. Sometimes these notes have been written hastily during the show; others have been laboriously prepared beforehand (in Trig study period, no doubt), decorated with little pictures and stickers. They're often creatively punctuated, hearts, circles, x's, etc. Sometimes all the a's have little circles drawn around them. Occasionally the contents have a strange, indescribable, off the wall charm; for example, I once got one with what looked like a sketch of some kind of monkey along with text that read "P.S. I'm sure you have better things to do with your time, but I thought you might be interested in this picture of my dog that I drew in Social Studies. P.S.S. Her name is Dave..."
Some things never change I guess. Kids still communicate by passing notes to each other, like they did when I was in school. And they're basically the same kind of notes. The weird thing is, circumstances have arranged themselves so that I'm still getting them.
They can be silly, funny, retarded, or barely intelligible, but they can also be thoughtful and poignant-- you'd be surprised at how many of these notes are genuinely touching. And on rare occasions, the contents will conjure a moment of pure poetry. I received my favorite one of all time the other day. Here's an excerpt:
Here is something to make your ego expand ten dress sizes-- you are my own pseudo Elvis Costello.