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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
3. T-Shirt Commercial
This Jon von song should have been on Milk Milk Lemonade but the band was not too keen, and if I recall correctly Alex simply folded his petulant drummer arms and refused to play it. A strange hill to die on, but our career was full of such strange hills. After that line-up broke down and up following the '92 Euro-tour, Jon secretly recorded it anyway with some pals and it appeared under the name Mystery Experience on Lookout's Can of Pork compilation. This was perhaps a strange kiss-off, conceptually, since it remained an advertisement for the merchandise of a band he was no longer in, but then again, we never sold that much merch in those days. At any rate, I am glad to have it aboard.
4. Vive la France
As I've explained before, probably, this fractured-French version of "God Bless America" was simply the original recording with a new vocal track. The idea was to respond to requests for compilation tracks with no budget (which was most of them) with some variation of this song, new lyrics being plugged in each time. I envisioned doing this dozens of times, all the major languages, Elvish, Klingon, sound effects, children meowing, maybe a computer-generated robot voice, etc. None of this happened, but "Vive la France" did happen, on the Can of Pork compilation. Lots of people seem to like it, and I get a surprising number of requests to add it to set lists. Must be that je ne sais quoi.
5. How'd the Date End?
As originally conceived, the ... and the Women Who Love Them CD EP was supposed to have six tracks, and the 7" would have two of them, plus an extra song that wasn't on the CD. The song slated for this slot was "Checkers Speech," but Jim was really fond of that track and insisted that it be on the CD. I had to come up with an additional track, and this was it. (Kevin Army managed to veto the other contender, "A Gal and a Half" which was a half-baked ragtime-type love song about a fat girl. A good call, I understand that now.)
At that time we were already way, way over our tiny budget for this project, so the song had to be dashed off really quickly. When it came time to do the vox over the guitar track I realized that I'd missed out a whole chunk of the song (the bit where the narrator describes being picked up where he'd fallen down, read his rights, and brought downtown.) There was no time to correct the error, and we just went with it. The song was included on the 7" but not listed in any way.
I always meant to do a proper version with all the lyrics. This one was recorded in my bedroom, and appeared on the Women Who Love Them "Special Addition" compilation. (Note: the current digital catalog has this version and not the original on the "Tapin' Up My Heart" digital "7 inch" because we didn't have a digital file of this song at hand when we put those songs up. It was meant to be a place-holder till we got a file of the original one, but that never wound up happening. If anyone would like to rip it for me, I can try to substitute it. People do complain about stuff like this, to my slight surprise.)
6. Time for Your Medicine
There are three schools of thought on drum solos: (a) they're a terrible idea; (b) they're a really, really terrible idea; (c) they're a really, really, really terrible idea but it was the only way we could get the drummer to agree to play the song. Well there's a fourth school, actually: (d) they're hilarious. I'm gonna go with (d) here. Nonetheless, this is one of Jon von's better tunes, though I'm not sure this slap-dash arrangement and recording does it justice, quite. I love the main riff. This is from that 1988 Greg Freeman demo. I seem to recall that we may have recorded the song a second time with Kevin at some point but the details are lost in the shadows of time as they cast themselves imperfectly upon my memory's barren wastes.
7. Hello Kitty Menendez
This song is hard to explain to those who need an explanation, which I am occasionally asked to provide by younger people. So many dead references, including the main gag and entire justification for the song's existence. Well, these things happen. This appeared on the 13 Soda Punx compilation on Top Drawer Records and I believe it's the final song we recorded with Alex. The guitar solo still amuses me, as does "doctors and dentistes."
This cover of the Primitives' song was recorded for a compilation called Before You Were Punk. I never got where they were coming from with that title and concept, as the album consists of covers of mostly '80s post punk pop songs. It should have been After You Were Punk, but Before You Subsequently Went Back to Being Punk Again (Basically Because Green Day and Offspring)... but maybe that was too long to fit on the CD cover. It's a great song, though I'm not sure we added all that much value to what was already there. There are people who know of the band chiefly from this track. I know this because I've heard the words "oh you're the guys who do that Primitives cover" from more than one mouth. This appeared on the ...and the Women Who Love Them "Special Addition" CD compiliation.
9. Don't Go Away Go Go Girl
This was recorded for a four-song Banana Splits covers comp called Banana Pad Riot, which also featured tracks from the Young Fresh Fellows, the Vindictives, and Boris the Sprinkler. Nice little record. We also put it on the end of the Our Bodies Our Selves CD as an unlisted track and unexpected ending to "God Bless America", coming after eight minutes of silence (because that's the kind of stuff we used to do back then.) I always loved this song, and Aaron's Joey Levine-esque backup vox on our version still charm me. Though the record didn't come out till 1995, the track was recorded at Dancing Dog in Emeryville ca. 1992 in the same session as "Swallow Everything," "More than Toast", "Together Tonight," and "Not Guilty."
10. Another Yesterday (demo)
A song from the Love Is Dead overflow that we wound up recording for real for the subsequent Revenge Is Sweet and so Are You album. It was a song the band liked so we did it, but if that hadn't been the case I'm sure it would have ended up on the solo album. I'd had big production ambitions for it that never got to happen, which is maybe a good thing, maybe not. In those days, as perhaps now as well, I really had to expend a lot of effort if I wanted not to "over-write" and this is an example having tried that hard. This appeared on the ...and the Women Who Love Them "Special Addition" CD compiliation.
11. Gilman Street
This version was from a demo we recorded at Greg Freeman's Lowdown Studios mid-1988. The lyrics aren't 100% together, but I still like it a bit better than the one that eventually ended up on Rough Trade's Big Black Bugs 12" in 1989. I want to try to dig out this tape and see what else is on it. I remember it having a whole lot of songs on it, including at least a few of the ones that wound up being on the Making Things with Light album. I've got bins and bins of tapes in my little apartment -- I'm basically tripping over them -- and I'm sure one of them is this. This track first appeared in public as a CD bonus track on Lookout's 1996 re-issue of the Night Shift album.
Anyway, as many have had occasion to point out recently, it is perhaps just a bit ironic that I of all people was the guy who happened to write the "Gilman anthem." It could have been a lot more sycophantic and triumphalist and mythopoeic in other hands. Sorry about that, Punk History.
12. I Ain't Gonna Be History
We knew this great old Maniacs song from the Live at Vortex LP and this not-all-the-way-baked attempt to cover it is an out-take from the Night Shift sessions at Hyde Street Studios. It was included as a bonus track on the Lookout CD re-issue of that album. Too many songs done too fast, we were young and inexperienced.
13. Look Back and Crack
We could never make this song work in the studio, but for some reason we tried several times. This was the final try, an out-take from the first batch of songs we recorded with Kevin Army in 1989 that became half of Making Things with Light the following year. We'd also tried to do it for Big Black Bugs, and I think there was an earlier attempt as well. I remember it working better live, but maybe I'm kidding myself. Anyhow, a shard is a shard, as the saying goes.
14. God Bless Lawrence Livermore
This was never intended for release. I just did the alternate lyrics to "God Bless America" during a vocal take to amuse Kevin Army. (That's what gave me the idea to do a bunch of different versions, though we only ended up doing one in the event.) Kevin was amused enough to make me do a full track of it, and I think he may have even inserted it subliminally into the "God Bless America" mix. Good times. We put all three on the Big Black Bugs re-issue compilation CD. It may not be much, but it is a "shard."
15. Told You Once
This was one of over a hundred songs on Fat Wreck Chords's Short Music for Short People compilation. It was meant to be songs that were thirty seconds or under I think. Ours clocked in at ten seconds, which I'd hoped would be the shortest but in fact "Short Attention Span" by the Fizzy Bangers beat it by a couple of seconds. Oh well. The recording was one of those backline-in-the-tudio deals where the bands would shuffle in, do their song, and shuffle out. Engineer Ryan Greene and I really didn't see eye to eye on... anything, really. He was very unhappy with my funky but classic 1957 Les Paul Junior, and kept trying to get me to use this metal-looking guitar he had instead (which I didn't - I have my principles.) Admittedly, it was hard to tune. Basically, there was a lot of conflict packed into those ten seconds, which may well be the best way to record a song that goes "fuck the fucked up fucking fucks..."
16. King Dork (Forward 'til Death version)
This was an out-take from the Revenge Is Sweet sessions, left unfinished because we had just run out of time and we already had too many songs to deal with. We assumed we'd come back to it some time, finish it up, and use it for something. That finishing up didn't wind up happening till five years later (2001 ish) when Kevin Army and I attempted to do so for its inclusion on the ...and the Women Who Loved Them "Special Addition" compilation CD. In the meantime, this version, which was basically just a rough mix not really meant for release, had found its way on to the Lookout Records compilation Forward 'til Death. It's the first version many people heard of this song and some folks seem to prefer it. In other words, it is, if nothing else, a "shard," and it seems a fitting final track. Had I but known how important this song and its conceit was to become in my later life, I might have taken more care with the whole thing. Then again, I might not have.
And speaking of which:
...and on the covers playlist (which is pretty well stocked with "Hitlers" at present) it goes.
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.
The fix for the leaning posts is to remove them, re-inforce the hole area with hardwood and redrill, but removing them proved to be very difficult. Steve Streit, the guy who did the restoration, said it appeared that one of them might have been epoxied in at some point for some reason, and called to warn me that a possible outcome of trying to remove it would be that half the wood of the body would come out with it. I elected to proceed anyway, because I wanted a guitar I could play not just hang on the wall and cry over. After months of gradual wrangling, he did manage to remove it with little-to-no wood loss, and re-inforce and re-seat the posts. We also replaced the bridge with one of these.
That basically solved the problem per se, but there were still tuning issues during these four shows, and to be honest I still have a ways to go in learning how to manage this beast. Mostly, though it stayed pretty well in tune, if a bit unpredictable, and nowhere near as reliable as the Coronet (which had similar if less extreme issues till I substituted a "badass" bridge for the stock lightning bolt wrap around.)
This gets to the second "traditional" problem that is, I (think I) believe, bound up with everything that makes the Junior, and arguably this Junior in particular, so great. There is something about the combination of the single surface-mounted P-90 pickup and the 60-year-old wood that results in a crazy, untameable tsunami of sound and resonance, an unearthly presence beyond math, reason, and logic. The overtones and undertones and semi-tones and multi tones and devil tones are hell of volatile and jump all over the place, to the ear and to a tuner, and it's often quite difficult to figure out with genuine precision where you are on a given string at a given time, much less to fine-tune all six to work in concert. And the squealing and buzz of the pick-up itself doesn't help when dealing with the facts on the ground in a combat situation. It's like riding a wild mustang (or I what imagine riding a WM would be like, had I ever ridden one): you just have to hit it and hope for the best, exerting what control you have, but basically hanging on for dear life. But that tone, man. The tone is so spectacular that this difficulty is worth it. I know of no other way to get it. I've never even really heard it anywhere else, even from other Juniors. I am in love with it.
I haven't said goodbye to the Coronet by any means, but yeah, it's good to have the old Junior back. We still have our issues, but I'm willing to do the work, to come to some arrangement that is mutually satisfactory.
Next up, trying to get this one in fighting shape:
(cross posted on Medium.)
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.
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.
"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.
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...
I get lots of questions about the song "Thinking of You", how it was recorded, played, etc. Well, I used one of these: