Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Being a punk


I came to punk late. It took a while for me to realize how much I loved certain bands, but also for me to reconcile with punk's negative aspects. I mean, sometimes they are really obnoxious.

I'm not really into that. One of the irritating things I remember from Our Band Could Be Your Life was one band - I don't remember which - that bragged about playing halls and people asking for something a bit more dance-able, you know, for the dance they were being paid to play. Mind you, that was an alternative band, not punk, but there was this attitude of looking down on these stupid ordinary people who don't get us that could have been very punk. I just remember thinking that they could have still played their music mixed in with other stuff. Maybe the audience would have liked them, given a chance.

Let me throw out some random things that I have read over the years, and I'll see if I can make it all fit together.

One was about the origin of the name. "Punk" is an archaic term for prostitute that got used more recently to describe the person who got used for sex in prison. It's a position where you are low and unsupported and therefore abused. To accept that title is to take being low and embrace it.

Another comes from Mad World, and their interview with Marco Pirroni. I have quoted this before, but it bears repeating:

"I was completely done with punk by the end of '77. It became an excuse to be stupid. It lost style; it lost subversiveness; it got really conformist. I thought the early punk thing was that old Oscar Wilde thing: 'We're all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.' Well, the second generation was basically just 'We're all in the gutter.' They never moved on. A lot of them still haven't."

Finally, I had started to learn some things about the DIY (Do It Yourself) aspects of punk culture, like gardening, but a lot of it clicked in while reading Billy Idol's memoir, Dancing With Myself. They were trying to be independent from mainstream culture. That could be done on a principled anti-establishment basis, but it was often practical due to a lack of funds. So growing your own food is a way of eating, and scavenging and thrift shops and the safety pin repairs are a means of survival as well as a protest. Punk fashion's form did indeed follow a function, and sometimes the function was to repel, but that wasn't the only function.

So here we are.

Growing your own food, storing it, regular preparations for the (non) zombie apocalypse - those are probably all good things to do. The economy has been dangerously tilted toward the upper level for a while, and that's getting worse.

Being able to accept a lowly status and then embrace it as your way of rising above it - that won't hurt you. Be ready to be subversive and to create and make a scene when needed. But also keep your eyes on the stars.

Being punk is being anti-establishment. There are always reasons for that, and it looks like there will be better reasons on the way. But it's not enough just to be against. There are politicians that define themselves by their opposition, and they tend not to improve anything. I want to make things better. For everyone if possible, but for one person at a time if that's the best I can do.

I need to be fighting for something, not just against.

I may not be completely punk rock. I am fully me.


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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The music year in preview


I had a really good blogging week a few weeks ago, getting positive feedback four days in a row. That included a huge response to one Sunday post, the Twitter account for Winter Wonderland retweeting my review of them on the travel blog, and both Steven Battelle and Ray Toro saying nice things about my reviews of their music.

I love the positive feedback (especially from Ray), but it had felt like a good section anyway. Those two band reviews, plus the previous two reviews (for Lostalone and Frank Iero's new album) both felt like really good writing.

I have grown as a writer, but I have also grown as a music listener: This week I review my 405th and 406th bands. (I am going back to some old favorites because it seems like a good time.) Given how much variety that has included, I should have learned a few things now.

It was not only that though, because this was better music. Music with more interesting lyrical content and playing choices and more thought into how the album is put together - I come up with more interesting things to say.

There were other interesting things there. I was supposed to see Frank in concert, which has always been kind of jinxed for me. A bus accident in Australia canceled the rest of the tour (I take no responsibility for that), but I still wanted to review the new album, and Ray's as well. I decided to put Frank and Ray on subsequent weeks, and put bands they had recommended with each one. (If I had seen Frank, his opening band would have run in his week.) I'd had Steven and Lostalone on the recommendations list for a long time, but I had not looked into them enough to know that Steven was in Lostalone. Having just reviewed his former band probably gave some extra context to his review. Knowing stuff helps.

(FYI, Lostalone had toured with My Chemical Romance, which makes it a less astounding coincidence.)

The songs of the day play an important part in everything too. Giving each band a song of the day after reviewing them helps cement them in my mind. I mean, after listening to them enough for a review, they are kind of there anyway, but going back after a while to pick a song makes a difference too. Plus, the bands often feel good about it.

Not all daily songs are from bands reviewed. Sometimes I pick a theme (November 2015 was Muppet Month), but twice in the past year I have been going from books. I am almost done with Mad World: An Oral History of New Wave Artists and Songs That Defined the 1980s. That will not end there. I found a few bands there that I don't remember and want to take a deeper look at. That includes Cock Robin and Anything Box, but also some I kind of remember. I totally remember Thomas Dolby, but it sounds like he is doing interesting things now, and I will check that out.

Of course figuring out what happens when is always a question, because there is so much, but I like that. I like that there are still young bands trying to establish themselves, and that I get a chance to listen to them. I like that there are older bands still going around and holding up. Some are still creating new music, and some are focusing more on the old, but they can still put on a pretty good show. You should see how the Psychedelic Furs hold up!

Music is as much an area of learning for me as the academic stuff I do, and for a long way down the road there is still more coming. That excites me; maybe I still have some vitality too.

It is always full of surprises, so I may be wrong, but here, on my 45th birthday, is what I think will be happening musically over the next year.

I have 21 bands waiting for review from Twitter follows, and 37 on the recommended list (though that list always has some ideas that I haven't written down yet). I could do them all this year, but new things always come up, and I do have four concerts scheduled: Red Hot Chili Peppers, Modern English, Reggie and the Full Effect, and Green Day.

The daily song from Mad World will go up on January 20th. I will then start doing songs from the last batch of artists reviewed, maybe throwing in a few other relevant songs. That should take me to about where I finally do a James Dewees week, which should be a great kickoff to starting songs from Nothing Feels Good: Punk Rock, Teenagers, and Emo. I will write about emo, and about that book, but probably not until April.

I also hope to do a country week at some point (I don't I can come up with a full month of country songs that I like).

And at some point - maybe this year, maybe not - I hope to do a me week. Recording is an unknown area for me, with a lot of technical questions and obvious concerns about performance, but yeah, at some point I need to do that.

So, there's lots to look forward too. It's not a bad way to start another year.

But please, no more bus accidents!

Monday, January 16, 2017

No one band is my life

While currently I am focusing on improving me, the long reading list started as a way of being better at helping the young people I was encountering. The ones who befriended me first did it because I liked their bands.

They loved those bands, plus others that I had never heard of before, and at a deeper level than I did, even as someone who has written hundreds of pages inspired by some of those bands. Reading Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981-1991 by Michale Azerrad, seemed like an obvious fit.
It didn't go how I thought it would, but how often does it?

This book focused very much on specific bands, and I didn't like most of them that much. It made me happy that Sub Pop Records exists, but the biggest benefit was that it filled in some of the missing pieces in a different book I had read, Nothing Feels Good: Punk Rock, Teenagers, and Emo by Andy Greenwald. (That was valuable, but there will also be a lot of writing about that book eventually.)

"Our band could be your life" comes from a Minutemen song, "History Lesson Part 2". The lesson is the history of that band, and an important part of that history is the effect that other musicians (primarily seminal punk musicians) had on them. The song doesn't develop the thought that much, but I believe the point is that they want to have the same inspirational effect on someone else. They have, even if not on me.

For an understanding of music history, the book was really helpful. For an understanding of sad teens who love music, it wasn't particularly helpful, but I kind of did already know that part, and I learned more about it on my own.

I saw the movie Inside Out fairly recently. Inside Riley, Joy has learned the value of Disgust, Anger, and Fear, but still does not see the point of Sadness, which she learns throughout the course of the film. When you see Riley's parents' minds, all of the feelings are working together pretty harmoniously, having figured that out.

The adolescent developing brain has really intense emotions, and not enough life experience to have full perspective on them. When a song touches our feelings on an emotional level, that is huge.

We don't necessarily lose that in adulthood, but we usually get a lot more responsibility. That occupies our time and our mental energy, but that also often comes with some gratification. Ideally, we are doing things that matter. That's something we don't give teenagers often enough.

I just finished a book unrelated to the list, but one of the coauthors was the driving force behind Model United Nations for our school, and for many other extracurricular activities that helped participants understand the world better. I know I didn't appreciate it enough at the time, but also, I was working a lot of hours and doing a lot of other activities. Together they did enrich my life and keep me going at a time when I needed it.

(That book was Unfettered: A Philosophy of Education by James B. Barlow and Anil B. Naik.)

I still love music, and studying it and writing about it has been an enjoyable part of my life. The next post will be more about that. I am glad for the connections I have made.

I also wish many activities and responsibilities and discovery of abilities for friends, hopefully sooner rather than later. The creative artists who give us emotional boosts are important, but the listeners are important too. They also have something to give. The sooner they learn that, the better.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Band Review: Ron Sexsmith


Ron Sexsmith is a musician, but he first came to my attention as a purveyor of terrible puns. As someone who often recognizes that the pun that just sprang to mind is awful, but says it out loud anyway, I can appreciate that.

His catalog goes back to 1991, and with so much to listen to, I was not able to repeat a lot, which is often where the better insights come. The music is primarily rock with folk elements, kind of mellow and often sounding downbeat. The best comparison is probably Paul McCartney solo.

I want to say it's not always so serious, but the level of gravity lyrically versus musically does not always match. If some songs are more fun or less fun than the content would suggest, well, this is a guy who makes a lot of dad jokes.

With such a lengthy career, it can be hard to know where to start, but I think the most logical place is the most recent, with 2015 release Carousel One. Then, if you get into that groove, you can spend hours and hours finding more. 

Although there are currently only two upcoming shows scheduled (for April), several past dates indicate that more touring is likely.




Thursday, January 12, 2017

Band Review: Camryn Wilson


Camryn Wilson is a 17-year old singer/songwriter from North Carolina.

Her age may be best reflected by her son "Blah Blah Blah", where parental things are said but not really heard. It was the song that stood out the most to me, but it also annoyed me. This is jaded teenage attitude, not adolescent exuberance. The reason she isn't listening is that she can't stop thinking about someone else, but instead of feeling the heartbreak, there was just the moping lack of respect. I may be too old for it.

The song I liked best ended up being "It's Christmas"  which brought in more child-like sentiments. That is, it does until the end, when she starts talking about all of the things she wants for Christmas. It's no worse than "Santa Baby" but that is also an annoying song.

None of which makes Camryn Wilson horrible, but she probably needs to grow up a little.





Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Native American Heritage Month 2016 - Lasting impressions


I have a few thoughts left that I want to get out.

The first one is just a bitter little thing. As George Bent got older and saw those older than him dying off, he realized that their stories and ways were being lost. He started reaching out to different writers and scholars, trying to get that history captured. One of the most responsive was George Bird Grinnell, who did end up publishing two books using a lot of information collected by Bent, much of it in conjunction with another writer, George Hyde.

Grinnell believed the Indians were worthy of respect, and saw them as a vanishing people so knew there was limited time. He still felt free to put Bent off, and deceive him, and cheat Hyde. After all, he could. Bent and Hyde were financially poor. Grinnell knew more about publishing than they did and had better resources. Why not profit from it?

That happens a lot. Sometimes it happens with a very righteous feeling that this is a favor; you don't have to help. It reminds me both how important honest self-examination is if you want to accomplish any good, and also that marginalize people have a lot of reasons for being suspicious.

One thing that may have made it easier for Grinnell to be that way is that after all, the Indians were doomed. It is still easy to forget that they are around as anything more than mascots and stories, but we lose things that way. We especially lose if we do not look to indigenous people on the environment. I had heard that before, but I didn't understand it. It is true for a few reasons.

Perhaps the most obvious one - in light of the North Dakota Access Pipeline controversy - is that native lands are often used in the worst ways. They are out of sight, which makes ignoring legal treaties easier, and so things can be done that we don't see. This can include nuclear and other kinds of waste, and fossil fuel issues. It has also included medical testing. If we want to achieve environmental justice and medical justice, we need to look at that.

That self-righteousness can come up in ways you don't expect. An environmental organization can decide that the best way to preserve lands is to keep people off of them, or only allow certain uses, but the people who were on those lands first knew how to live on them without destroying them. Maybe there's a better way.

I still remember animal rights protesters interfering with the attempts of the Makah tribe to finally get back their tradition of whale-hunting. If they were all vegetarian maybe that was not hypocritical. Even so, when we have spent centuries trying to snuff out a people, and their culture, and it is important to their well-being to reconnect to it, that can be reason enough to shut up. If we listened to them more it might improve circumstances for all whales.

Much of the environmental and medical information came from Andrea Smith's book, Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide. That sounds like it would focus more on rape, but that was only a small part of it. However, one point that was brought up multiple times in multiple books is that there was no rape before, at least in the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) culture. This was true for both the native women and the white women who visited them.

It was not that they didn't know that such a crime was possible, but it was regarded as a terrible crime and it wasn't done. Later on there are cases of captives being raped (that does come up in the Bent book) and it is a common problem on the reservations now, but it looks like they learned that from us.

There is room for a lot more knowledge here. The Haudenosaunee had defined gender roles, but were still equal. Was the equality why they didn't rape? What other cultures didn't rape, and which ones did? Our culture says that rape is a terrible crime, but given how we treat it, it's like we don't really mean it. What sets apart the societies that are not like that?

Perhaps that is the most important lingering thought: we do not have to be this way.

White supremacy was invented. It has deep roots, but it is not innate. We can overcome that.

Even cultures that see different roles for men and women can see them as equal. We can do that.

There is plenty of evidence of how horrible we can be, but it is not the only story.

With that, I leave which books appear to be the most important out of those that I read this time around.

Sisters in Sprirt: Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Influences on Early American Feminists, by Sally Wagner Roesch

Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide, by Andrea Lee Smith

The Invention of the White Race, Volumes 1 and 2, by Theodore W. Allen

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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Native American Heritage Month 2016 - Synergy


I have made peace with how susceptible I am to mission creep, especially when it comes to studying.

That is partly just because I really like learning, but also I have come to see that often things fit together well. The extra book rounds out the total picture, or it simply brings one corner more into focus.

Sometimes it is just that part of a topic is more familiar. That can make digesting the material easier, but it can also have pangs. Every time I see the name Black Kettle now there is a drop in my stomach, because it means Sand Creek is coming.

There were things that worked together well this time around, sometimes in unexpected ways. I did not expect reading up on Native American history to get me compulsively reading Hellboy comics, but that is all right. Here are other things that were unexpected.

Around the middle of the reading I read Full-Rip 9.0: The Next Big Earthquake in the Pacific Northwest, by Sandi Doughton. I did not expect that to relate at all. If anything, pending cataclysms feel more and more likely, and I like reading about things to be prepared. I didn't expect how many Indians would appear, but there were all these tribes I had just been reading about, because they had stories of the last great quake and tsunami. I knew that - the Coos retelling affected me deeply - but I hadn't been thinking about it.

The book I finished right before Sisters in Sprirt: Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Influences on Early American Feminists was Why We Lost the ERA, by Jane J. Mansbridge. It was not intentionally related. The blog series that I started on the Constitution back in March had expanded to include failed amendments, and when I got to the Equal Rights Amendment I thought I needed more knowledge. I had added Mansbridge's book to my Goodreads list a while back, so that was the obvious place to go. Together that was a good block of feminist history, and that perspective does not hurt for someone trying to find her way as an intersectional feminist today.

(There were interesting correlations to how conformity could be expected in movements. It hadn't really been that long since I had finished Utopia either.)

Deciding to read The Invention of the White Race, Volumes 1 and 2, by Theodore W. Allen, was more deliberate. Actually, it came from a Black History Month. In 2014 I read How the Irish Became White by Noel Ignatiev, and it was terribly disappointing (boring in its execution and concluding ridiculously). Someone suggested Allen's book to me then, and it occurred to me now that this was the time to read it, though that is no small undertaking.

What Allen says about race is important, but he spends a lot of time establishing groundwork, including a lot of time on English oppression of the Irish. It had many corollaries with treatment of indigenous people by colonists in the Americas. One interesting aspect of that is that there are ways in which taking over a society with its own hierarchies goes more smoothly than with a more communal society. Given capitalism's relationship with colonialism, that makes sense, but again it was something I hadn't really thought of.

What you may not know is that I am also working on a gardening reading list. I have been even worse about adding things to that, but a couple of books may relate.

The potato monoculture in Ireland left the Irish vulnerable to famine, which is well-known. It may be less understood that centuries of persecution and theft had left the Irish vulnerable to a monoculture. The potato kept them from starving when there were few other options. (That is lightly covered in Michael Pollan's The Botany of Desire, but there is much more about that in Allen's book.)

Many of the circumstances that favored the imposition of chattel slavery (an evil in itself) and caused a great deal of hardship even for the free was focus on tobacco monoculture in colonial Virginia. People couldn't eat it, but it was still all they wanted to plant because money could be made. (Though with everyone planting it, prices went down.)

Allen spends a lot of time on the capital investments necessary for sugar production and tobacco production, going over economic development and the growth of slavery in the West Indies and Virginia, and their similarities and differences. The most glaring similarity was that these were cash crops that were labor-intensive and planted by people that didn't want to do the work themselves.

Tobacco has the added perk of being poisonous, which is still an issue for farm workers who are often minors (something I was reminded of when researching the Child Labor Amendment).

But here's the other thing I know: the natives farmed! They practiced animal husbandry. In some areas they had summer homes and winter homes. They worked and played, but it wasn't recognized as such by the colonizers. Some of that was because they were looking for profits in a cash economy instead of a subsistence economy, but some of that is not recognizing easier, more natural systems. This brings me to Gaia's Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture by Toby Hemenway, which showed me a lot about how we fight nature when we should be learning from it.

So the path of success for the Virginians was that you had to do back-breaking work of breaking sod, hoeing, planting, weeding, and harvesting a crop that could sicken them, and they could starve with a barn full of it, in the hopes of becoming rich and living a life of leisure, for which they killed and chased out people who were already living a better life. Plus they enslaved others.

"Civilization" doesn't seem like a good word for that.