News Flash: Ed Sander Cross is on Sunday! It's a great course. C'mon out.
Holy crap. I'm not a millenarian, an end-of-the-world cultist of any type, but some days one gets the impression that civilized society is in the midst of what I think of as The Great Unraveling. Civilized society is basically running water plus electricity plus good manners plus not killing each other randomly. But what do you make of the last week's news? Is it just me or is the pace of Teh Crazy picking up lately?
- There's a shit-ton of news about various terror plots going down all over the place. One of this country's enemies says his people love death more than we love life. That's a pretty fucked up attitude for a living being to have; it's unnatural. It's like saying "I wish I'd never been born" and really meaning it. A lot of people, apparently, share this view. They are nihilists. [Obligatory Big Lebowski reference: Nihilists? Fuck dude. Say what you will about Nazis, dude, but at least it's an ethos]. I have no use for nihilism, and think we ought to give nihilists what they ask for, or at least convince the nihilists to stop trying to inflict their nihilism on us. I mean just because *your* life means nothing to you, doesn't mean my life is meaningless to me or my friends or family. But it seems nihilism is not limited to poseur artists and the more far out precincts of religious observance these days.
- We're told today by some greenish nihilists that if you use soft toilet paper, rather than some combination of recycled glass and splinters from old railroad ties, that you are destroying mother earth. "Environmentalists seek to wipe out plush toilet paper." So what they're saying, basically, is that if your ass isn't bleeding and itchy, you're a bad person because you're wiping with redwoods, really, really old redwoods. This sounds hokey to me, since most of the 'virgin timber' that becomes toilet paper is scrub pine grown on timber company plots for the purpose of becoming TP or Bounty or a legal pad, and when the trees hit relative maturity around 20 or 30 years the timber companies bulk cut 'em and turn them into toilet paper. Nobody uses $12/board foot wood to make butt scrub with, and nobody makes anything nice out of weed-like swamp pine from coastal Georgia or South Carolina. But if you tell me that my double quilted lavender scented three ply was once a giant redwood, I guess you must be telling the truth. Activists would never lie to us, right? Yet I can't stand the thought of going back to using John Wayne Toilet Paper and wonder if this isn't another hair shirt crusade, like those crappy mercury-containing CFL lights or CFC-free asthma inhalers that save the Earth by not working very well and killing off asthma sufferers and reducing the load on Mother Earth. I wonder if I promised to let a representative of Save The Whales beat me with a stick once a week - an organically grown, sustainable bamboo shoot weighted with recycled cement perhaps - and if I promised to cry only into a containment area rather than into the watershed, if that would be enough sustainable suffering so that I could be allowed to keep using my non-abrasive toilet paper. I mean, the 1.5 gallons per flush toilet is torture enough, particularly when I'm on my race season high fiber diet. I shouldn't have to also stock a roll of 120 grit sandpaper in the bathroom. It just doesn't seem right.
- Really. They're taking a stand against effective-and-comfortable toilet paper? That's a political position now? WTF is wrong with us?
- Then there's the Philly Naked Bike Ride which I want to like, but which I suspect is basically a gay pride parade but for cyclists of all orientations. Yeah, the cyclists may like it, but those spectators... yes, they are laughing. No, they are not laughing with us.
- The Los Angeles Fire Department finally located the guy who has been sending you the spam email about penis enlargement. The good news? Some of that fitness equipment you bought for core training last year is, um, "dual use." The bad news? You aren't going to like where you have to store your dumbells to make this new treatment work.
- Speaking of dual use: it was news to me that you can also use cows to make milk. And it turns out that cops sometimes are pretty convincing suspects. Who'd have thunk it?
- Wow. That G-20 protest in the 'Burgh sure is going great. There's nothing that demonstrates the intellectual and humanitarian firepower of your cause, like setting fire to dumpsters and attacking cops. I mean, if that doesn't convince people you're right, nothing will... Maybe they just need to scream louder and burn more stuff to really convince people.
- I don't advocate them, but I get highway shootings. I really do. I was driving home tonight and there was this fratboy sorta kid driving a jacked up Jeep Wrangler, with the top down. He had out an I-Phone or maybe a Palm Pre. I thought he was texting or something; he was swerving between lanes. He was creating an enormous hazard in rush hour traffic. As I passed him, I looked over to see what he was doing. Watching porn, of course! Don't you do that on your Blackberry at 70 MPH, in bumper to bumper rush hour D.C. traffic, endangering everybody around you? I thought the morons doing that in their minivan or Chrysler 500 with the portable screens were the worst, because it creates a situation you really don't want to have to explain to your 5 year old a half hour before bedtime. "Um, no, son, I think that was actually a show called Spongebob *No*pants. I don't think you want to know what Squidward was doing there..." Seriously, if somebody shot that kid just for being an utter moron, I would get it. I'm not advocating it in any way, I'm not condoning it... but I would understand it.
Wow. That's some heavy stuff. See what I mean about The Great Unraveling? A lot of society seems to be getting a little frayed, a little worn around the edges; shabby, dehumanized. It bugs me but I don't know what to make of it. All I can do is puzzle it out, try to be polite to strangers, eat my vegetables and... well, have Friday Fun Time.
Here's one of my favorite songs ever. Just ridiculously deep, searching song about authority, credulity and skepticism. Beautiful music. Touching references to Andy Kaufman, a genius most of us probably didn't really get while he was alive. Andy, did you hear about this one? Andy are you locked in the clouds? Andy are you goofin' on Elvis [Hey Baby...] Andy are we losin' touch?
I'll forgive Stipe, Mills, Buck and Berry a lot of prior and subsequent idiocy thanks to this song.
While we're on REM... I had just turned 16 back then and some musician friends had turned me on to the blues and jazz that summer. Dave D. was into cool jazz - Miles Davis, Charlie Bird, bebop and fusion. Mark K. liked Al Hirt and Herb Alpert and newer stuff like Al Jarreau. I liked them all. Yeah man, high school kids getting off on Al Hirt. My dad was into this - at last the kid was showing some sense! Hey, were we wierd kids, or what? We just didn't like the pop back then. Rock had gotten formulaic, either heading to ponderous monster arena bands, artsy over produced stuff, or Southern Fried rock which is fun but not exactly musically challenging. Disco, then as now, sucked. Funk wasn't really known to us white suburban kids, and the urban pop was clueless. Punk was gone, and the great postpunk bands were still underground in D.C. and NY and LA clubs. We didn't have anything interesting at hand, So I totally fell in love with good music, with the sound of Stevie Ray Vaughn, Robert Cray, and B.B. King.
But then there was REM. That was my discovery that fall and my contribution to our little group. I first heard REM in '83. They were on Letterman and did this song. As I recall I was staying up late with my dad; it was unseasonably warm out, I'd had an away soccer game or something and couldn't get unkeyed and to sleep yet. Letterman was on - Dad never really got him but I watched Carson as an indulgence to Dad, I think he indulged me by letting me watch Letterman. This band with crazy long hair came on, and just started jamming like mad. Letterman had a lot of fun with them. They mumbled the lyrics. The music... damn, it swept me away. These guys were like nothing I'd ever heard. If I recall correctly I asked my dad what he thought of them after Radio Free Europe - "not much." Same thing he said about "Slapshot," only with that movie he said, "not much... did they have to do all that cursing?" He wasn't impressed with REM but I was blown away. Holy shit, ask and you shall receive - it's on YouTube.
I damn near shed a tear just now thinking about sitting up late with my Old Man, not really talking or anything, just hanging out. I think we both just liked the company even if we didn't understand each other much until I was in my mid-20's. Funny thing was, he was there the moment I really fell in love with music, and I don't know if he knew it. Yeah, that was a nice alt-garage sound they had back then. But the nice sound doesn't account for how they totally blew my mind. They were so unlike the arena rock bands, the art rock, the disco and soul and nascent urban contemporary stuff. It's a bit like what Nirvana or Guns and Roses did. They just turned the scene upside down for a lot of people.
Then they played So. Central Rain.
It was all over for me. Not long after that I got the Murmur album, which contained this song:
Driver 8 and the great range of songs on Fables of the Reconstruction was the next project they did that I really loved.
Damn, what a great song. The next year or so after that album hit I was serving as a young G.I. in Europe. It was really funny getting to know a bunch of German students my age and hang out with them. They were very into American music and I turned them on to all this alt.rock stuff they never heard in Germany. They enjoyed a lot of it, couldn't believe the post-punk and hardcore stuff I liked, but they loved it. They loved my roots music too, the blues and jazz. But REM? They didn't get that even after REM came and played at the Tor in '89 on the Green tour. It just didn't resonate with them. Except for this song:
Oh my God, they butchered that old Roger Miller song in that video, and they butchered it 4 years later when I caught them at the Tor. But you can't not listen. I discovered that on a German issue CD in a back alley music shop (probably a pirate outfit). That's the good old REM when they played hammered, had a raw nerve ending sound, and they couldn't pronounce oboe or mandolin, much less play harmony with one. My German buddies would listen to my music and laugh, then we'd go hit this underground punk club called the Limelight and we'd get hammered until dawn and slamdance and watch the sun come up, all draped on each other and a bunch of chicks on the steps of this big public hall overlooking a plaza a few blocks away from the Rhein. And there was this German communist performance artist I dated, a spiky haired punk chick from Koeln who had a case of the ass with U.S. defense policy, except perhaps for the portion of it responsible for deploying me to Germany. She seemed to view her own agreement with that portion of U.S. policy as one of those compromises that a committed revolutionary accepts as just another step along the way as the dialectic spools itself out on the way to utopia. I don't think my viewpoint was quite as sophisticated. This made the relationship somewhat ironic at its core and doomed, and in all likelihood I wrecked her for any subsequent leftist dude who wanted to date her. She's probably married to one of the Mannesman heirs today, such is my ability to mess other people up. Those were the days. Funny how the music weaves into and out of it and the little things you remember. I've been waiting to unload this REM post for a couple weeks and listening to old REM lately... been going through a lot of old mental files at the same time. Lotta junk in there, lot of old mental photos I remember pretty fondly too.
Here's another raw one from back then: Can't Get There From Here.
Their later albums picked up a lot of musical sophistication but I never lost my memory of how they just tickled me early on, and really appealed to a young guy's search for musical novelty. Novelty isn't the only thing that does it for you though. Weird Al Yankovic is novel, but his music isn't that good. The music has to be novel but it has to speak to you for you to fall in love with it, it has to speak to you just so. REM did. I just got along with them, particularly for the first ten years or so.
REM probably screwed up a lot of things later on; their later music sometimes sounds over-produced and ponderously artsy to me, the same way Moody Blues probably hits people raised on The Who. But I can forgive them a lot of errors because of how good they were, how perfect for me they were, for the first 10 years they were on the national scene. The music seems better because of the good times I remember, but the music helped make the times good.