Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Losing So Long

I keep on thinking that one of the reasons Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign failed is because the leftist argument he made, that even when he won, people would need to continue fighting and protesting in order to get the things we demand is just hugely unappealing to normal people not invested in politics. What’s funny is that, by default, this argument now needs to be made to all of Sanders’ supporters to convince them why they should vote for Joe Biden. The only thing that transfers from the Sanders campaign to Biden’s is the notion of bitter struggle for the world we want. I don’t think it’s hard to see why this is a losing message, although I do believe it is being made in good faith.

 This is the argument Noam Chomsky or any number of distinguished leftist intellectuals would make, and it can be reduced to "choosing the lesser evil," but it's meant to be pragmatic, and inherent in it is a skepticism of electoralism and voting altogether. I saw someone phrase it as "You're not choosing a leader when you vote, you're choosing an enemy," and this is a cogent and intelligent point. It also lacks any emotional appeal to people who aren't socialist organizers. It completely neglects the broad swath of Sanders voters - young people, Latinos, the working class, aging hippies, people with debt, people suffering from health problems, whoever - who are actively being crushed by the world as it is and either can not or simply don't want to devote their time to direct actions and door-knocking campaigns.

The Biden campaign promised to its supporters, namely corporate interests: "Vote for me and Trump won't be president anymore, and things will be normal!" This is a plain-spoken emotional appeal, to the people it's being spoken to, but it leaves out everyone with half of a brain who sees Trump's presidency as the logical conclusion to a right-wing bipartisan project of deregulation that's been going on for forty years. The problem with Sanders identifying as a Democratic Socialist isn't the baggage of the "socialist" label, it's the expectation it then creates that everyone who wants something better than that is prepared to struggle all their lives to get the things they want.

I expect there will be a huge number of people who either do not vote this year, or if they do, do not vote for either of the major parties' candidates for president. I suspect Joe Biden will subsequently lose, and Donald Trump will win a second term, but this is complicated by the fact that Trump probably intends to steal the election by a number of underhanded means. In general, predicting the future is a sucker's game. I can only tell you what people are prepared for, and they're prepared to blame Bernie Sanders for not getting his people in line. It will never be acknowledged that Joe Biden never, not once, displayed the slightest sign of empathy towards people less powerful than him, to promise something better, or even remotely appealing, to people other than the wealthy donors he's deferential to.

It was only after writing this entire post that the thought occurred to me that all of the Republicans speaking at the Democratic National Convention, to offer their endorsement to Joe Biden, might be a psy op, designed specifically to demoralize voters and lead to Trump's re-election, and that the Democratic party leadership, in their naivete, is taking them at their word. This sort of paranoid thought, that comes from a place of deep cynicism, is genuinely the only thing that makes me want to vote for Biden. It's inspired by what I know of the politics in countries that have suffered from coups and dictatorships. If we start thinking of the Republican party as genuinely fascist and authoritarian, and presume they are therefore interested in infiltrating their opposition to render it impotent, things coalesce into a simpler shape, and the point of electing Democrats is that, while they're completely compromised and ineffective due to right-wing infiltration, the right wing is at least somewhat hobbled, and some of their plans will not be carried out as quickly as intended.


Sunday, August 02, 2020

On Music And Being Alive

It surely happens every day, but it only comes up every three or four months. Someone projects their insecurities onto the world at large, aimed in particular at whoever makes them feel insecure. The postulation is made that people who like “weird music” are only pretending to like it, that there is something performative to the act of listening. This is done, it is said, for the sake of appearing “cool.”

In my experience, anyone whose taste in music currently seems “cool” has spent a good number of formative years looking like a dork, a time during which music was balm for their soul. If they seem cool now, it is only because they have moved past the point of caring, and so are able to behave in some manner unselfconsciously.

The people I’m describing might be, in my imagination, speaking from my own experience, white nerds now labeled “hipsters,” but it might be fair to apply the same transformative process to Black people, long-othered by the dominant American culture, now dancing freely and defining coolness more generally. The experience I’m describing can occur on an individual level or on a culture-wide one. To make someone else feel insecure as a result of one’s own confidence might be a part of the underlying intention, but it is still more the fault of the witness if they become upset. They are merely refusing to learn the proper lesson.

As far as anyone can figure, the origin of music, and it’s evolutionary purpose, comes from a child hearing its mother hum or sing and learning to become calm and reassured by her presence. Another way to put it is the Albert Ayler album title “Music is the healing force of the universe.” It is best to keep this in mind before considering someone else’s relationship to the music they favor as somehow an affront to you.

There’s an argument I associate with the Carl Wilson book “Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey To The End Of Taste” where the argument is made that the whole notion of musical taste is defined by people identifying with something, whether it be the monoculture or a subculture. I fundamentally disagree with this premise. My own opinion on the matter is far more esoteric, which is: There are just certain things that resonate with  an individual’s consciousness. Some music is more complex than other music, on a level of harmony or whatever. I don’t want to make it into a thing where certain music is “smarter” than other music, and you need to be “more intelligent” to get it. I do believe that is true on a certain level, but I also think notions of intelligence are highly subjective and variational, so to put it that simply would be to miss the point.

Your thought patterns have a rhythm. Cognition is different for each individual. There are also larger patterns undergirding everything: i.e., in order to articulate a thought into a single sentence, there are at first initial presentiments underlying it, that the act of drawing out puts into their form. I’m familiar with this from language, other artists are surely familiar with it from drawing, or the act of playing music, either individually or with another person. The hand starts to draw and its line articulates the space it describes. One melodic line suggests another and together something complex comes into being. After you say something, you realize on how many other levels it seems true, beyond the initial instinct that led you to say it. Harmonies are suggested in thought, in resonance: For instance, what I said earlier, when I was describing the experience of white nerds, I realized what I was saying might also apply on a broader level to an entirely othered culture. You say things and they resonate with someone else, they harmonize. Someone smarter than me could put the same things I’m saying into a better form. I remain an imperfect instrument, but that very imperfection informs both everything I say and possibly everything I love as well. This is my best guess for why taste is subjective, but it’s also my best guess for how music works, and when I say that I’m referring to music as this enormously powerful force.

I don’t play music. I’m incapable of doing so, at least at the level where I’m able to articulate my thoughts and harmonic concepts as clearly as I’m able to through writing. But I know from my own experience of writing that I can write a piece that years later I only vaguely recall but that I find compulsively readable, so drawn am I to its rhythms, which feel so natural, even if it’s a piece of fiction I strained over for months, unable to find the next sentence that would follow in the sequence from what I’d already written. Because while I’m saying “rhythm,” I don’t just mean the beat of it, the underlying tempo, but this sort of procession of melodic development, of harmonic build, that is a part of the excavation of the architecture of a particular self, which is not the self in isolation, but one connected, as if by tunnel, to the other people in the world who are in some way similar.

Some music is ritualistic, violent, as surely as some speech exists to enflame passions, stir up the fear in the lizard brain. Roger Ebert compared an Andrew Dice Clay concert film to a Nuremberg rally, I wonder what he would’ve made of a circle pit. I’m describing music like it’s a cathedral drawn in the air, or a spaceship, it can also be a bludgeon, or an ice pick. Those tools are needed sometimes.

I am analogizing music to consciousness but its relationship is more intimate than a mere metaphor. It’s a thing that fits inside of it and changes its shape at any given moment. As music once recorded becomes timeless, so too does consciousness seem to resist the container of linear time, stretching across in either direction, to provide the things we need to become what we do not yet know we’ll be.

Monday, June 01, 2020

America Riots While Baltimore Doesn't

So, over the past weekend, in response to the Minneapolis Police Department murdering George Floyd (a black man, known as Big Floyd to fans of DJ Screw and the Screwed Up Click), and his death being caught on camera for all to see, and the delay in any action to arrest the officer responsible for murder, there have been a series of protests nationwide. In Minneapolis, these protests gave way to rioting and looting, a police station was burned down. Many of the protests in solidarity have also escalated into large-scale property destruction. I believe this was largely escalated by police showing up in riot gear but I'm also sure that after many people saw the actions in Minneapolis and considered them beautiful and inspiring, people were excited to set their own city's police cars on fire.

I have no interest in condemning looting or rioting; I definitely think it's cool on a certain level. But regardless of how cool I think something is, I remain skeptical of its efficacy as a political act, because I don't see this being the political revolution that ends policing through brute force. There's no real possibility of the protesters killing all the cops in the country. (To the best of my knowledge, no cops have been killed.)

I worry about the spread of COVID-19, and can certainly see there being a spike nationwide resulting from this. Everyone arrested and placed in a jail was presumably stripped of the facemasks which reduce contagion and protect one's identity from face-tracking software. That said, I'm proud of everyone who participated for not being cowed by this threat. While the right-wing "protestors" of previous weeks basically insisted that people be forced to go back to work in unsafe conditions to serve them in a capitalist society, these people performed an act of solidarity with one another to manifest a world of direct democracy not defined by financial transactions.

But more than I worry about the spread of Coronavirus, I worry about the spread of fascism. I worry about the white supremacist gangs who might take advantage of perceived chaos to come into cities they don't live and declare open season on black people. I say this referring to militia movements and the alt-right, but to a very real extent, this describes the police.

The police force is where the fascist tendencies in American life find an outlet. The reactionary and the repressive find employment there. The idea that being a police officer is a dangerous job means that the people who work it demand respect, and they then view any actual presence of danger or threat as disrespectful to them, justifying the violence that emerges from their hurt feelings. The rationale for their actions is premised on a Catch-22. They then gain an enormous amount of political clout stemming from their mafia-style codes designed to protect themselves, not from the criminal element, but the consequences of their own actions. Officers charged with police brutality are not fired, and when transferred to new departments, tend to make the places they are transferred to worse.

Agreed-upon ideas of common sense gun control laws run aground when confronted with the demographics of the police. There can't be laws preventing people charged with domestic violence from owning a gun because many police officers are domestic abusers. I can speculate about why the behavior patterns that lead men to beat their wives are to some degree conditioned by the cop mentality, but that quickly gets into a sort of chicken-egg situation. Similarly, I won't get into talking about why many police officers are racist. Suffice it to say that they just are.

One place where protests remained peaceful and did not escalate into riots is the city of Baltimore, where I no longer live. By all accounts, the protests they had were large. Baltimore had a riot a few years back. Some people insist on calling it an "uprising." I hate this sort of rhetoric for a handful of reasons, one of which is that there weren't much in the way of material gains that followed. Officers were charged with murder for the death of Freddie Gray in police custody. There's an argument to be made that the district attorney only did this as a political move, to advance the careers of herself and her husband, and their agendas are not particularly radical despite the posture such basic attempts at accountability suggest in their rarity.

There's also a pretty solid case to be made that things got worse in Baltimore afterwards. Crime certainly increased. Police were at least partially responsible for this: The DEA found a particularly corrupt faction of the BPD, the "Gun Trace Track Force," took advantage of the looting of a CVS to steal drugs and connect them with a dealer, putting them on the streets. The police were also were pretty hung up on tracking down the people involved in the property destruction, reviewing footage to track down those tangentially involved months after the case. And, again, the police got their feelings hurt, and that means that the many many police who are just not particularly smart or good at their jobs probably felt justified in doing even less, and treating the public with more contempt.

Obviously, some of these problems are particularly endemic to Baltimore, which is a city hollowed-out by neglect and distrust of its institutions in ways that a city like Minneapolis, largely considered a pretty nice place, isn't. I don't know what will happen to Minneapolis. I don't know what will happen to Philadelphia, the city I live in now, which participated in solidarity protests that escalated into rioting. Philly has a wild reputation it loves to cling to, but it nonetheless feels considerably safer than Baltimore does, and it possesses a much stronger infrastructure and a much wider tax base. (There are two major train lines! And trolley service! And there aren't water main breaks shutting down multiple city blocks several times a year! And there are way less vacant houses!)

But I'm worried that, in the wake of all this nationwide rioting, rather than legislators making changes in keeping with the implicit demands of the people doing the rioting, the reactionary and repressive impulse will instead do the opposite, and insist on increasing the funding for police, so they can have more weapons, and riot gear, and replace the vehicles that got torched with ones better at driving into a crowd. Or, if the powers that want to be want to avoid such obvious displays of militarization, they'll invest in higher-definition cameras and place them everywhere. Whether this will happen because of people electing Republicans or because the Democrats in office now decide on it, I don't know.

This is what's funny, or disgusting, about the incredibly condescending tendency on the part of politicians to look at a mass movement of protestors and to tell them to "Vote to make your voice heard." Many Republicans have been quick to point that these protests are happening in cities with Democratic mayors and majority-Democratic city councils (Minneapolis is 12 Dems and 1 Green), in states with Democratic governors. They point it out, partially, to fear-monger, and argue the need for "law and order" politicians and right-wing vigilantes to set it right. There are many reasons why cities lean Democratic: Black people live there, and the white people that live there are generally comfortable enough with the existence of black people to be willing to be their neighbors, so they're more liberal than elsewhere. (Or, alternately, it's living in close proximity to people you're demographically dissimilar to but still able to get along with OK that makes people less racist. Again, it's a chicken-egg thing.) But being "more liberal" doesn't necessarily mean there's any genuinely progressive will to, say, make corporations pay their share of taxes so the city's adequately funded, or have art education in public schools, or disallow cars from accessing streets so they can be strictly for bicycles or pedestrians, or make sure officers charged with police brutality get fired, or ensure settlements from citizens suing the police are paid by the officer, rather than have a massive part of the city's budget set aside for handling such lawsuits. To a certain extent, having a nominally liberal governing body probably blinkers its goals for what's possible: I think requiring police to live within the limits of the city where they work would impart a sense of community that would allow the police to be better equipped to do their jobs, as they would have a greater familiarity with what is normal and what's genuinely suspicious. But I bet if a city as nice as Minneapolis were to require police to live within city limits, the culture of the police and the culture of a progressive city would remain somewhat at odds, and many would probably end up concentrated within a single neighborhood, and maybe this would result in a Republican being on their city council. What's funny is that Republican would then have incentive to not change the law requiring police to live within the limits of the city of the work, and so one basic regulation of a politically powerful entity would come to find bipartisan support.

But perhaps I am now being too speculative. Let's go back to talking about rioters. I think it's safe to say they don't vote! And I think that's fine. Over the course of generations, they have lost all faith in the electoral process to represent them. If that's the case, that's not really their fault, but the fault of the elected officials. The people elected to serve do not think of themselves as being accountable to all the people who do not vote. But they are, and that's what a riot is. Rioters shouldn't be thought of as potential voters, but viewed instead as similar to how journalists are the 4th estate, a check on institutional power. While covering the riots, many journalists are being attacked by police, and shot by rubber bullets. This is awful, and transparently so. However, the same 1st Amendment that guarantees a free press guarantees the right to assembly as well, and protestors should not be shot either. Furthermore, the volunteers medics on hand taking care of journalists, protestors, and rioters getting hurt by police themselves then being shot by the police constitutes a war crime. None of this should be happening, but it is all essentially one thing. MLK said a riot is the language of the unheard. When it's spoken, it's a news story, and should be a scandal, with real political consequences.


It highlights an institutional failure, one a healthy press should've been covering in real time as it occurred beforehand. A progressive party in office should have lived up to its ideals and done the work to diminish the power of the police already. They should've delegated services to mental health personnel and social workers so the vulnerable have less interaction with people whose only solution is to beat up or arrest someone. They should've worked to make sure they didn't have military weaponry, they should've rooted out and fired all of the racists, everyone charged with police brutality, everyone on the take, everyone who beats their wife, and hopefully doing this would make it so there aren't riots! And if there are riots, and people then want to elect right-wing politicians, at least those new leaders aren't inheriting a fascist private army that operates according to mafia logic.

It's not my place as a white person to say what I think black people's demands are. I don't even think it's my place to insist the people protesting formulate a list of demands. What I am comfortable with, as a white person, is pointing to something that was said I think fairly casually, and saying, yes, that's an excellent point. There is a billboard at the corner of North and Charles Street in Baltimore that has been fairly contentious. For a while, after Freddie Gray's death, it read "Whoever died from a rough ride?" and at a later point "The whole damn system is guilty as hell." It has also, if I'm remembering this right, been a billboard for Larry Hogan, the Republican governor of Maryland. I believe he had a campaign office on the corner too, the billboard sitting atop the building, but I also think no one ever actually went in there to work. It's unclear to me. It also became a billboard advertising Jack Young's Mayoral campaign, after he was made the interim mayor following Catherine Pugh's resignation following a corruption scandal.

Again, I don't live in Baltimore anymore, I live in Philadelphia. I lived in Baltimore for eleven years, and it feels like home to me in way that South Philly does not, although I live in hope that maybe if I were to live in West Philly, which really does resemble a nicer version of Baltimore in many ways, I might feel differently. Still, I find myself interested in and caring about local Baltimore news in ways I can't imagine doing for anywhere, because there's a level of corruption that becomes comedic. The Healthy Holly story that led to Catherine Pugh's downfall is really funny. The ubiquity of the Chad Focus billboards a few summers ago, and the later revelations of just what the deal was with that, was amazing. Jack Young being a huge dope, who when asked what he was going to do about crime in Baltimore became defensive and said "You're acting like I'm going around killing people," is really funny. But I'm digressing right when I should be getting to the point. Which is that the Jack Young billboard got defaced a few weeks before all this to read "Cancel rent and fuck the police." But the funny thing that came after that is a cover-up job where it was altered instead to read "Cancel hate and thank the police," which is such a hilarious miniature of meaningless sloganeering intended to cover up radical sentiment.

Because I think "Cancel rent and fuck the police" is great, it says it all. First off, fuck the police. Pretty straightforward, but not to be taken literally, despite the fact that the movie Bridesmaids, if memory serves, takes place in Minneapolis and is about a lady marrying a cop. We should stop treating the police with an insane level of deference, and we should defund them considerably. They will surely take this as a grand insult, but such basic reforms if implemented could potentially have grand and sweeping effects in the long run. It is in the best interest of not just the Democratic party, but the whole notion of democracy, to not let the police be too powerful.

Derek Chauvin, the man who strangled George Floyd to death, should absolutely be prosecuted. So should the police officer in Minneapolis who acted as an agent provocateur to burn down an Autozone and escalate the conflict with protesters. So too should police caught on videotape making hand gestures associated with white nationalism be investigated. Pretty much anyone who wants to be a police officer should be viewed with extreme suspicion before being given a badge, and the threat of losing one's baton and gun should be held over the head of anyone with a badge afterward.

I say this taking it as a given the police aren't going to be dissolved anytime soon. I know "abolish the police" is the radical position. And I will offer this compromise: We should act like that is the long-term goal of our project, as a society, is that we get to a point where we no longer act as though we believe the police are a necessity, and we dissolve the organization, and I wholeheartedly encourage any cities that think they could get by without police to give it a go. For my part I think it's kinda suspect for white people to claim a desire for abolition of police and prisons. My dad's interaction with the police has been getting tickets and threatened with jail time for driving drunk, and I have no desire to act like I don't think that should be a crime, or even have that be suspected as being my ulterior motive. My tone's become much more digressive and jokey than how I started off, because I've been working on this for hours and it's now 4 AM.

We still need to talk about canceling rent. I've been talking about the police as a fascist paramilitary organization that shouldn't really be held in high regard by polite society but the racial dimension that characterizes the conflict between the police and the urban communities where they work is the product of white supremacy. White supremacy is a complicated thing with a long history, but it's built, to a large extent in contemporary America, around property ownership. Specifically, the affluence afforded to white Americans by the post World War II G.I. Bill was not extended to black people, so they weren't able to build wealth in the same way. Yes, I know about slavery, and that the police grew out of patrols for runaway slaves. But I'm talking about a more recent moment where there was a brief instance of something approaching equality, and then the snatching of that away, that the development of basically the entire landscape of cities versus suburbs emerges from. Property value becomes inflated if a property is in a majority white neighborhood and decreases in a majority black neighborhood. This barrier exacerbates growth of wealth for white people, and this wealth can then be used to buy more property, largely considered a safe investment, especially since you can rent it out at a profit.


Implicit in acts of rioting, looting, and property damage is a response to property ownership. In all likelihood, the people most upset about these acts own property. Property is not worth more than a human life, the destruction of a shop window not tantamount to a life lost, or even an eye lost, shot out by a rubber bullet. The demand to cancel rent emerges out of the Coronavirus pandemic, when people are told to shelter in place, but the homeless, unable to afford the inflated rents a landlord would charge, remain at risk. Meanwhile, unemployment skyrockets, and more people become vulnerable. If the vulnerable do not lose their job outright, they are more likely to have retained a job that they actually have to to in person, while white people, particularly those affluent enough to own property, are more likely to have jobs they can safely telecommute to. Such economic pressures, alongside widespread unemployment are certainly contributing factors to why people are able to go out and riot feeling like they have nothing to lose. If cities governed by Democratic majorities want to quell civic unrest, "cancel rent and fuck the police" is the platform they should adopt in order to mobilize the masses that have lost faith in the political process to rally and offer their support in the future.

Tuesday, May 05, 2020

What Happened by Joe Biden

I wrote a long piece from the perspective of a dementia-ridden Joe Biden regretting what went wrong in his campaign after he loses to Trump in November. Ideally it will circulate like a real thing, although it is far too lazily-researched and filled with jokes to constitute a hoax. Content warnings are necessary for all the stuff Joe Biden has done that are triggering to think about, you already know what they are.

Monday, April 20, 2020

2019 Music

Last year, I kept a list of every 2019 record I heard. Originally, the idea for this was so I would have a better idea of what new music I liked, so that I could recommend things to people who came into the record store I worked at. I kept the list going after I quit the job. Now, having kept a fairly exhaustive record of my reactions to things -- I gave records a little numeric notation, a scale of 1 to 4, that I ended up marking with the occasional plus sign or point-five -- I feel the only way to put this note-taking exercise behind me is for me to boil it down into an actual list. I will begin with my favorite records, and work my way down, until I get to a place where I no longer am interested enough in the records or the talking about them to continue. Or at least this was my idea, back when I began drafting this post, at the end of 2019. Now I think I will mostly just run the list I made down, with as little notation as possible, for the sake of throwing out a scrap of paper I scribbled it down on. I include links to Bandcamp where available. I might come back and revise these blurbs if bursts of insight come to me. Writing about music sort of feels useless generally, or at least not as interesting to me as writing about comics or books. However, this is a list that varies significantly in genre, so I do want to give a general idea of what is happening on a record, but just attributing things to a reductive genre is offensive to me. I can't say I'll do my best, but I will at least do something.


1. Purple Mountains - Purple Mountains

When I first heard word of David Berman's suicide, I actually grinned. I had listened to this Purple Mountains record a good deal before that point, as I was in a pretty miserable place in my life. I was moving out of Baltimore under duress, feeling like a hostage in my own home, trapped in all of the circumstances of my life. I would listen to these songs first thing in the morning, last thing at night. I would sing these refrains to myself. These songs were a companion to me in dark days, and thought my darkest thoughts for me while I struggled to come up with alternatives. All I could come up with was to keep on living and wait for things to change.

Despite the large shadow Berman's suicide casts over this record, I very much do not wish for him to be consigned to the realm of art for those who romanticize despair. His book of poetry, Actual Air, and the earlier Silver Jews records, were hugely influential on my writing and worldview, because they're able to capture this sort of deadpan mystic perspective that is moving and beautiful while never seeming to chase after the obvious sources of those effects. That the Purple Mountains record boils things down to this classic country songwriting approach, that's then just saturated in despair, has this weird object lesson quality in the dangers of seeing things too clearly, so that they can be summed up straight-forwardly. After he died I went back to a bunch of his older songs, trying to chase the spirit of life in its prime. Now that he's no longer among the living, he dissolves into this body of work, that's funny and human and observant and makes a hell of a lot of people, myself included, look like bad writers by comparison. I am saying all these words that amount to nothing so that when I stop talking we're reminded of the dignity of a moment of silence.

2. Caroline Polachek - Pang

Months later, I listened to this record all the time. I had spent a lot of time with the Chairlift album "Something" back when it came out-- something about the headlong rush of its melodies felt so joyful and euphoric I really became addicted to it. I know people don't believe in "guilty pleasures"
 anymore, but the way I engaged with that record, at the expense of other music, felt unhealthy. This feels less like that and more graceful, crystalline. I still listened to it plenty. These song structures feel really weird, like there's less in the way of choruses, and the flow of one piece into each other is more like how a poem or short story will follow its own internal logic to get to a revelation. Maybe I think this just because of how "New Normal" ends with stating a variation on its title. Having these songs in my head and playing the record really feels like trying to catch a moth in my hands or something. Listening is like watching video to try to figure out how a magic trick is pulled off.

3. Billy Woods / Kenny Segal - Hiding Places

Dove into this rapper's back catalog after hearing this, and a few of those records are stellar as well. This makes sense as a breakthrough, though, as the production is just amazing. It's so stripped down, but the repetitions never feel like just loops? Instead feeling like the blues being played, but in very precise spaces and atmospheres. Which then is the perfect backdrop for the raps, which are so clearly enunciated, shouted with this perfect precision, articulating a politics of disgust. I would contextualize this stuff as like post-Def Jux "smart rap," which is totally different from the way that like Death Grips or whatever felt initially like a followup to the Def Jux version of "loud rap."

4. 101 Notes On Jazz

In a lot of ways it makes sense, if you're mentioning this one at all, to put it at the top of a list, as a sort of absurdist gesture is the only way to pay tribute to it. A collection of voice memos, recorded in the car, over jazz, where the performer does this sort of NPR/jazz radio voice. This would be my favorite comedy record of the year, and it aligns very nicely with like Joe Pera Talks With You. I love that it's not coming from a "comedy" perspective and feels fresh and unique.

5. Weyes Blood - Titanic Rising

I was never particularly close friends with Natalie Mering, when we both lived in Baltimore. I did like to fantasize, last year when she was going on tour with Father John Misty, that she would get sick of that dude being an insufferable tool and kill him. Since that murder did not occur, I have to concede she is probably much closer in spirit to him than she is to me. Still, credit where it's due, this record rules. I don't know how much of a good idea it even is to chase this sort of seventies MOR vibe but what gets attained here WORKS in this way that feels both lush and gauzy in a way where both aspects contribute to an emotional effect.

6. Dustin Laurenzi - The Music Of Moondog

Jazz versions of Moondog melodies. A no-brainer, but obviously so much of jazz comes down to execution, the execution is strong.

7. Carla Dal Forno - Look Up Sharp

In retrospect, sort of surprised this one placed so high. I liked the song "I'm Conscious" a lot though, and also when I first heard it there seemed to be a sort of impossible amount of space and atmosphere, where I felt like the rhythms were in my own body, and the space created was perfectly attuned to it. In time I came to view it more like normal music but my initial experience was more miraculous, especially since I wasn't as into this person's earlier records nearly as much.

8. Jaimie Branch - Fly Or Die II: Bird Dogs Of Paradise

Saw Jaimie Branch rip a set with a totally different band than the Fly Or Die band and it was killer, I don't know why this is the only band on record? But they are a very good band and their first one was pretty widely liked for a jazz record.

9. Matmos - Plastic Anniversary

I think this is the best Matmos record in a while, maybe since The Rose Has Teeth In The Mouth Of The Beast? I haven't listened to it that much however as I never downloaded it because I intended to buy a CD of it but was frequently broke enough other things took priority.

10. Julia Reidy - In Real Life

Previous Reidy releases have been solo acoustic guitar things which I normally find boring but thought she could pull off, this adds synth and vocodered vocals, really makes for a weird thing but in a way that makes the older stuff make sense in terms of being good because this reaches elsewhere. Also Black Truffle records always look amazing, even when, as in this instance, I have no idea what I'm looking at.

11. Lily & Horn Horse/Banny Grove - 4 Partners Road

Lily's from Palberta, though she also has this duo with a dude and a new band that's like Liz Phair style? I liked this stuff a lot, she's very prolific and it's usually at a very high quality. I was listening to cassettes the other day and was saying what's cool about tapes is you can find out you have stuff you forgot about and not have other things you would think you would have. A good format for noise musicians and improvisers, but also very prolific songwriters.

12. Lazy Magnet - Tide

Longtime fan of this genre-hopping project, and I gotta admit that this shoegaze record is probably a bit closer to my ideal preferences than the industrial-ish synth-pop he made that I was also pretty into. "Kicking Over Tables" is my favorite song on here. He also put out a record called Mahogany which is more of a This Mortal Coil/that-era-of-4AD kind of thing that has a song on it called "The Air You Breathe Is" I like a lot.

13. Big Thief - Two Hands

"Not" is the song of the year, listened to it many many times. I do suspect the band's membership to consist of cornballs, and I have also heard their songs at a Whole Foods. But I am a cornball, and I go to Whole Foods to buy pastries and iced tea. I am always going to be suspicious of bands who put out records on Saddle Creek but we're all just people! I can't hold my suspicion that someone probably doesn't like "weird" music against the music they make if it just means they are focused and efficient when it comes to doing what they want to do, which is connecting emotionally with an audience of people who need it.

14. House And Land - Across The Field

Folk duo including the guitarist Sarah Louise, whose solo records I also like a lot. They, like Anna And Elizabeth, make folk music in the sense of performing traditional material, but update it and get mildly avant-garde with choices in arrangement, comfort with drone as a harmonic element.

15. Anadol -  Uzun Havalar

Uses some electronic grooves, nice atmosphere, I don't know, I am very tired and writing these out of order.

16. Park Jiha - Philos

Minimalist acoustic composition, indebted to traditional Korean music, one track includes a spoken-word poem performed in English.

17. Yves Jarvis - The Same But By Different Means

I mostly heard this at work and thought it was good but didn't really go back to it, can't say I know the songs, good D'Angelo inspired atmosphere. After I moved to Philly I mentioned this to a stranger who was explaining the music he made, and it turned out he thought this dude was THE DUDE, like a big inspiration, but just hadn't mentioned it because it's an obscure point of reference when you're just trying to say you make r&b and you can just say it's like Solange.

18. Not Waving/Jim O'Rourke

If I have ever talked to you about music at all I feel like you would know I love Jim O'Rourke, kinda feel like it's impossible to love music and not be into Jim O'Rourke at least as a producer/arranger. I know nothing about Not Waving's music, actually, and should probably investigate.

19. Simulation - Death's Head Speaks

A collaboration between two artists my friend Sara Drake has done work for: Matchess' Whitney Johnson, who Sara provided the art for a 3-cassette boxset for, and Gel Set, who Sara did a music video for. These are songs, I think, but also works of deep texture and transforming shapes. The label Hausu Mountain also put out great work by Moth Cock and Khaki Blazer, but I am basically always fans of those dudes and so it doesn't seem notable.

20. Charli XCX- Charli

Looking at this sheet of paper I wrote this list out on, I originally had this record at the bottom, but that can't be right, and is very dishonest. This slot was occupied by Oren Ambarchi's Simian Angel, but now I feel like I can just easily have this be a list of 25 records and not have that one on there at all! It's easy to underrate or overrate this sort of high-energy pop music intended for dancing based on how much you define your personality by that being the sort of thing you're into.

21. Tomeka Reid Quartet - Old New

Jazz quartet led by a cellist. Feels influenced by Abdul Wadud but like... Wadud doesn't consistently rip in a rhythmic way on records. Like, yes, the first two Julius Hemphill records and the work with Arthur Blythe, but his solo stuff and the work with Anthony Davis & James Newton is in a more chamber-music sense of space and delicacy which isn't what's present in Reid's quartet (though it is more present in other improv contexts). The quartet is a ripper. Mary Halvorson plays guitar in it.

22. Writhing Squares - Out Of The Ether

Missed my chance to see this band live due to their show starting while I was still at work. In that garage-rock/psych vein but the only variation I can fuck with, where the b-side is a single extended jam. There's drum machine, and saxophone, so maybe more a la Suicide or the Stooges' Fun House than a more reductive idea of what's punk.

23. Maurice Louca - Elephantine

This one's great, really feels like an inheritor of that Mingus Black Saint And The Sinner Lady tradition. Feel like that's every rocker's favorite jazz record. Louca's Egyptian, and also plays in the group Dwarves Of East Agouza with Sam Shalabi and Alan Bishop. This is like a big band thing that pulses and gets huge.

24. Caterina Barbieri - Ecstatic Computation
 
Barbieri makes sort of minimal electronic music, each record I think consists of the sound palette from a single synthesizer, but good! I  don't know. I was hoping to see her play a set in March, then Coronavirus shut everything down. I like to imagine the crowd would've been a wild mix of nerds and people out of their minds on research chemicals.

25. Big Brave - A Gaze Amongst Them

The best metal thing I heard ends up lamentably low on the list but still definitely notable. I don't know, this list sort of skews "accessible" as far as I'm concerned, or my thinking was informed largely by my being in a retail space, and while I can suggest this record to metal listeners, I probably would've been reproached if I were to just put it on in the store. I apologize to music for prizing a sort of background utility over overpowering force in the ordering of this list. Another way of putting it is I'm just not much of a metal guy - I'm more of a huge pussy - but this was my favorite metal record of the year. Female vocals, which I guess is uncommon in metal but does show up with bands I like, like King Woman and Couch Slut.

I could probably keep going and listing records that I liked pretty well but I feel like best-ofs lose their utility at a certain point, and that is probably around five or ten and this list is already useless. I think many of the deeper cuts, the weirder overlooked stuff it's good to mention for the sake of support, you would see if you browsed my collection on Bandcamp. I haven't even listed my favorite reissues/archival releases, which I will do now:

1. Blue Gene Tyranny/ Peter Gordon - Trust In Rock

How much do I love Blue Gene Tyranny's Out Of The Blue? So much. That's an outlier in his catalog, which makes this record, a document of the concert where some of that material was debuted, very exciting. Saw a conversation between reissuing label Unseen Worlds and a guy on Twitter where the guy said the energy was similar to the Langley Schools Music Project, and the label was like "But with chops" and that kinda does sum it up. There really is a lot of feeling here. It's difficult to imagine what it would've been like attending this concert and seeing these pieces performed.

2. June Chikuma - Les Archives

Chikuma's most known for doing video game soundtracks, notably to the Bomberman franchise, which is interesting and I wish there was a way I could listen to those in order as the palette available to her developed: The Bomberman Hero soundtrack, which is influenced by drum and bass, is on Youtube. This is a reissue of her "real" (i.e. non-commissioned) music, dating from the eighties and it's wild, mixing electronic programming with written string parts in transforming movements. I really value how crazy something sounded to me on first listen, and this seemed deeply psychedelic or I wished I could've been high so it could've been more confusing, though I still found it very disorienting.

3. Sachiko Kanenobu - Misora

This, on the other hand, is very soothing. Produced by Haruomi Hosono at the tail end of his Happy End days, a woman singer I guess considered a Japanese Joni Mitchell who moved to the U.S. and was friends with Philip K. Dick. This record's great.

4. Prince - Originals/1999 5-disc Expanded Edition

I love Prince, 1999's one of his better records, the expanded version has a bunch of weird stuff on it. Originals is demo versions of songs that were hits for other people. Neither feel like cash-ins although Originals definitely is.

5. Marvin Gaye - You're The Man

Mix of political material and Christmas songs, I kinda feel like I don't even know how I feel about Marvin Gaye's more popular material? Besides overhearing a conversations at the store where someone was dismissive and I thought they were an idiot. This stuff's really good. Roland Kirk performs songs from What's Going On on his record Blacknuss so that speaks to something.

6. Michael O'Shea

Solo acoustic jams on an invented instrument. Apparently this guy played with Alice Coltrane at some point? Either way spiritual jazz is probably a good touchstone. But also: This record was originally issued by Dome Records, aka Graham Lewis and Bruce Gilbert from Wire. Which tells you nothing about what it sounds like but does point to the fact that those dudes (and Colin Newman) have had really interesting careers characterized by a sense of exploration.

7. Ryuichi Sakamoto - A Thousand Knives

This might be the only Sakamoto record I like. I definitely consider Haruomi Hosono's solo work "better" than Yellow Magic Orchestra and while Sakamoto's career is also far-reaching enough I do consider it of interest when I see his name credited, it's not necessarily a guarantee I'll find it appealing.

8. Antoinette Konan

Not sure I have the skillset to explain this record in an appealing way. Mixture of eighties electronic pop sounds with traditional African percussion instrument (that I don't really know what it sounds like) and a vocal style. This might make it sound like "world music" in a corny or pejorative sense but that's not really what comes across.

Friday, April 03, 2020

American Failure In The Light Of Covid-19

So I still have no intention of voting for Joe Biden, in case you were wondering. In 2016 I begrudgingly voted for Hillary Clinton, thinking “I should vote, on behalf of the people who can’t,” imagining a population of people in prison or who otherwise would get their vote suppressed, people of color who were worried about the prospect of a Trump presidency. In 2020, it feels impossible to make that argument about Joe Biden: His constituency consists of the most powerful people on Earth, and they have consolidated their power to mobilize with the specific intention of demoralizing everyone else, anyone who’s actively vulnerable. I’m talking about health insurance executives and career politicians, and let me be perfectly clear: Any politician who looked at Joe Biden, who at this point is basically a walking corpse, and went on the record to say “That man should be president” I will probably never vote for, as they’ve shown themselves completely untrustworthy.

As COVID-19 ravages the globe, the horrible response of American political parties gives me far more anxiety than seeing line graphs depicting the death toll’s exponential growth. That’s what makes me realize that things will not get better: When a vaccine is developed, two years from now, and people are allowed to return to work, the economic inequality will be even greater, with corporations larger and harder to avoid. This disaster is not nearly as big of a problem as climate change, but we see similarly a Republican denialism which makes everything worse, and a Democratic response that vacillates between ignoring the scale of the problem because it demands more of them than they’re capable of, and actions which are tantamount to denialism, e.g. Joe Biden’s urging people to go out and vote at in-person primaries, rather than push for voting by mail.

The disease is a real thing, resulting in the loss of life, but is being processed primarily as something that will disrupt and ruin the workings of the economy. I basically understand the economy, except for the notion that it’s important it continues to grow, and that this growth is sustainable indefinitely into the long-term. The reason I don’t understand that second part is because it’s obviously a lie.

I really do not understand the thing that happened last week, where 1.5 trillion was authorized by the Fed to go into the stock market, as it was in free fall, and it only slowed the collapse for like 15 minutes. That’s a colossal amount of money, and it just disappeared. It’s almost like it never existed. But: I don’t understand where it came from? Is that debt now? Can money just be printed, set on fire, and then retroactively ruled counterfeit? The amount of the money itself is on a scale I can’t imagine. Is it safe to say it was imaginary? I need this explained to me by way of a comedian’s metaphor. I am OK with the idea of money being fake. If anything, I think more people need to get on board with that idea. I think mortgages should be frozen, rent suspended, where we essentially just declare the economy on time out for the foreseeable future. This would seem to be way more attainable and understandable than what happened with the stock market.

I live in Philadelphia now. There was a huge controversy about a developer/private equity dude who bought a public hospital last year, closed it, and insisted that, if the city want it, they pay him a million a month in rent. When I was calling up my local elected official, to say the people of Philadelphia need a rent suspension, I pointed out that they could, in fact, agree to the scumbag’s terms and then immediately pass a law saying no one needed to pay rent. The woman I was speaking to, who worked in the office of some city council member, was quick to tell me this was illegal. THEY MAKE THE LAWS, and surely it would be up to the courts, which are closed, to decide how illegal such an act would be. It was basically laughed out of the room, never to be referred to our city council, who I’m assured are very liberal and progressive these days. My logic seems airtight to me, it just runs counter to the ideas of a country that value property rights above all else.

We need a rent suspension. We won’t get it without a mortgage freeze. Surely, the rent suspension thing could happen at a city level. But things keep on getting deferred to a higher authority. The reason a mortgage freeze won’t happen is because the banks need the money. I don’t understand why, as our economy is collapsing, the banks are the highest priority. It’s not like people are requesting loans.

Even the idea that everyone would get a check for $2000 a month, (which I do think would effectively keep the economy afloat far better than giving massive sums of money to large corporations organized into self-dealing industries) would be difficult from a logistic level, far more than just putting a freeze on debt and giving that money to cities to give to grocery stores and farmers to distribute food to everyone. Maybe that seems too much like communism to people, but: There is at least a historical precent to communism, and there isn’t really to “giving the stock market a trillion dollars it immediately destroys.” It’s at least a coherent system.

For my part, I’m poor as hell. I was unemployed when this started, but was weeks away from starting a new job. I don’t qualify for unemployment insurance. I qualified for food stamps. Except for the fact that there’s a Trump era rule that says you can’t be on food stamps for more than 3 months if you’re unemployed. That rule has not changed. So what am I to do? Besides steal food. Which I feel literally no guilt over, in terms of who is getting subsidies, and in terms of who, at the grocery store, is already horribly underpaid because every person they interact with puts them and their families more at risk. My goal is to survive, and to help everyone else survive I can. Shoplifting helps achieve that goal better than anything else, honestly. Our politicians are useless, the notion of a society built around the exchange of money for goods and services is outmoded. Anarchism is basically the only recourse left available to normal people.

Beyond any depression I might have faced in the past, that you would think I would need to confront anew now, there is a sense of morbid curiosity that has stalled it in its tracks. Every time I’ve felt suicidal despair in the past, it’s at how difficult it is just to be alive, to function and make money to keep yourself alive. Now it really feels like the only goal of being alive is to continue being alive, and this makes a lot of sense to me as the way things should be. However, the forces are in every way laid out against you, and even that is fine, basically: There is no reason to commit suicide if you might contract a lethal disease, which will kill you in a way that your loved ones will not feel guilty about. My only goal is to maintain my mental and physical health, and do what I can to reassure and care for those close to me. The government’s goal is to keep the economy going, even at the expense of human life. These two goals are diametrically opposed, but it honestly seems, at least at the moment, like the odds are more in my favor than they are the government’s.

(This feels like a good note to end on. There is another post I will right another day, about how much art seems outdated, not just because of "social distancing" and the plague but due to long-running inabilites to address the rise of fascism and the collapse of neoliberalism, and what literature might still be relevant in this moment, and perhaps another post about acceptance of death on an individual level in the collapse of the collective ritual that allows a community to mourn, but for now I should go to bed. This is a me essentially writing down a chunk of the conversations I've been having with friends, you can reach out to me if you want what will effectively be a preview of these posts, combined with advice to a hopefully ameliorative end. I hope you're doing well; I also hope if you're reading this in the future that I am still alive.)

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

How Many Eyes Do You Need To See?


A few months ago, I was officially diagnosed with glaucoma. This was a good thing, inasmuch as I waiting for a diagnosis. A few months before I had seen the neuro-opthalmologist who gave this diagnosis, and prescribed eyedrops to begin a course of treatment, I had seen an opthalmologist who noted the high amounts of pressure in my eye, but gave me a referral to see another doctor instead, because my youth made glaucoma seem unlikely, and he wanted to check this pressure was not caused perhaps by a brain tumor inside my skull pressing against the back of my eyes.

You probably are a little unclear on what glaucoma is. It is most known, I believe, for being a condition that smoking weed helps. Before medical marijuana became legal and able to be prescribed for anxiety and depression and all the psychological conditions people had been using it to self-medicate for for years, glaucoma was a cited example of a condition whose effects were mitigated by smoking. When I explain that I have it to friends now, there usually comes a point at the end of the conversation where they bring it up. For what it’s worth, I hate smoking weed. I feel debilitated by it to do anything I enjoy, like write, or follow a conversation,  or accomplish tasks without being distracted. Most people who smoke a lot of weed will either tell me that the effects I have a problem with go away after steady smoking, and that I probably haven’t found the right strain yet. The act of getting to this point seems an unpleasant one, filled with physiological incapability. Of course, CBD is now basically sold as a cure-all that takes care of any bad feeling one might have, but it is apparently the effects of THC that take care of glaucoma.

Glaucoma is an increase of eye pressure. As you are aware, the eye is a soft orb of mucus membranes, and some duct or another regulates the release of a fluid into them, to keep that balloon-like sac inflated, essentially. I’m unclear on the exact details. In glacoma, the eye gets too filled up. Maybe this makes the eye bulge out a little, it does seem like what I’m describing would lead to a situation where the eye eventually explodes. But before that, the pressure of the eye presses on the optic nerve. When I had this explained to me, by an optometrist, who told me I was pre-glaucoma and I should go to an opthalmologist to get my eyes looked at. I thought I would experience this as physical pain. After I forgot about the appointment I had made, I anticipated I would experience pain and that was when I would need to go to a doctor. It turns out this is wrong, because the optic nerve isn’t really set up to register feeling, it’s set up to see things. So as the pressure wore on my optic nerve, moreso in my left eye than my right, my vision deteriorated. However, I didn’t notice, because I have two eyes, and together they form a composite image, and my right eye compensated. I would experience weird effects of light, sort of like there was a smudge on my glasses lens, and occasionally it would seem like what I was looking what had a crack in it and was bleeding light, but I didn’t really know how bad it was.

It was when I finally saw an opthalmologist, and in the checking to ensure my glasses’ prescription was correct, and he kept on switching out lenses and asking me if my vision was better or worse with each new one, I found I could not register any letters on the vision chart at all, that the whole field existed within a blank spot of blurred white light, that I realized how bad things had gotten. It was a scary day, certainly made worse by the physician’s suggestion I might have a brain tumor, and his general displeasure and frustration at the fact that I have an instinctual aversion to people approaching my eye to touch it, poke it, and administer eye drops. I am convinced this is a normal thing, but doctors often have God complexes, and apparently I was such a difficult patient that he refused to see me again afterwards. That’s neither here nor there in the story I want to tell, but I do hope he gets hit by a bus and killed.

Anyway, I have now seen a doctor that prescribed eye drops, and then I saw another doctor who prescribed still more eye drops, and I am broke enough to qualify for Medicaid so I haven’t paid for any of these things, so all of that is good, and while I’m concerned about how coronavirus will effect the ability of these prescriptions to get into the country it’s fine thus far. The doctor has made clear that all of these things, however, are really just to make sure my vision doesn’t become worse, that I don’t become totally blind, as far as they’re concerned, the damage done to the optic nerve is irreversible, and won’t be returning to where it was before, which was pretty bad, but at least able to be corrected by strong prescription corrective lenses.

Not covered by Medicaid are the lion’s mane mushrooms I have elected to take. Lion’s Mane, supposedly, stimulates nerve tissue growth. People take them for depression and “brain fog,” and so I had been toying with the idea of investigating them anyway, before I started to think that maybe they would help repair my optic nerve as well. I am well-aware that a lot of people consider any herbal remedies to be snake oil peddled by the likes of Alex Jones and Gwyneth Paltrow, but a bunch of my friends are hippies and herbalists, and the people so assuredly righteous in their politics often have deeply reactionary cultural opinions they are not interested in examining, lacking even the self-awareness to get offline and take deep breaths to make themselves feel better. I don’t consider Lion’s Mane a placebo in any way, but I also register the necessity of feeling hope and the grounding nature of a ritual such that I will probably continue to take it for a while even if there are not immediately noticeable effects.

I am interested in perception, cognition, and how brain chemistry dictates who we are. We are taught as children about the lobes of the brain, how the left brain is more analytical, and the right brain more emotional and intuitive. Ideally, we have easy connection between these two lobes, and when we see something, we are both able to tell what it is and feel a certain way about it. Writing about comics, I try to be as intuitive as I can, to pick up on things that are perhaps unconsciously present, to write about something other than the exact nature of the plot or how well-rendered a background is. It occurs to me that, since the left eye is processed by the right brain, I might be feeling the things I see less than I should. This is all theoretical. It does feel like it’s been ages since I’ve seen a movie that I felt particularly moved by, though it is easy to chalk this up to the cynicism of age. I am still capable of seeing the movie, the full page, still able to read and put the thing together in my brain; and at the same time, I’m placing everything into the larger context of my life, the same way everyone does. Even my favorite film of 2019, Uncut Gems, I didn’t find as nerve-racking as other people apparently did. Maybe that’s because I went in aware of a good deal of hype and other people were more surprised by it? There is really no way to know. The brain makes a composite image consisting not just of the two eyes, but everything else it’s taking in. I can perhaps attribute a certain hesitancy in my own writing to the lack of synchronized lobes taking in what they see, that rereading my own brain no longer gives me the weird floating feeling I used to get from it. I check that it makes sense and still feel like I am fighting uphill, and remain doubtful of everyone else’s writing. “”Why are you talking like this?” I ask of most sentences. Again, I would maybe be asking this anyway, most people are bad at writing, and it doesn’t take some sort of newfound autistic attentiveness to notice that.

All this connects to comics, and to the fact that I write about them. This sense that I am somehow impaired in my ability to read  them now, I don’t think anyone else would think if I didn’t bring it up, but I feel like I would be lying by omission not to mention. I disclose it in the name of honesty, even as I am on a certain level only articulating this anxiety to avoid the morbidity of talking about how my thoughts about perception, cognition, and the construction of the self apply to death, in this time of pandemic, when all of my or your or someone one or both of us love could have their entire brain go blank and no amount of adaptogens could reanimate it. (I’ve also been drinking chaga and echinacea teas for the sake of my immune system.) And while I don’t think this issue with my eyes applies to written text as much as it does all the other forms the visual world can be arranged to convey information, if I am taking in the news in a less emotional way than other people, that is probably for the best.