Saturday, January 28, 2017

YES! WE'RE OPEN WOUNDS

This whole album (4 songs) totals a tad over 2 minutes.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Cliche Asylum


Ya know, I used to like Soul Asylum. A lot. As a high schooler in Laguna Beach (yes, that Laguna Beach, like the horrific reality show) transplanted from northeastern New Jersey, I was pretty miserable. Karate Kid stuff. Some of the worst misery of my life, and to this day I still get nervous around surfers. But there were little oceans of coping or even happiness in those days, and one of those was playing Nintendo Super Mario Bros. (the original w/ the cartridges) while listening to Soul Asylum's Hang Time (looks like a Turkish or somewheres bootleg version, above -- note the noose and 1970s futuristic font for the album title). 

Like any band of longevity, Soul Asylum have mutated a lot over time, but this album is their first major label release after a few albums on Minneapolis' punky Twin-Tone label (also the home of Ween's first album). SA started as Loud Fast Rules, a band that formed in the shadow of Husker Du until becoming their own thing, and one thing I liked about SA was the punk-rootedness, but with a mixture of folk, singer-songwriter, and Springsteen-esque, Stones-esque rock n roll in there. I found Dave Pirner, the main songwriter-singer and only surviving original member, a kind of dirty sage at the time. As time has gone by, and after seeing SA fairly recently and leaving early, the band has become a caricature of itself, and I've noticed that Pirner employs probably more cliches in his songwriting, song titles, and album titles than any other musician I know of. 

I understand that there's zero to little new under the sun, and that SA's brand of working class/middle American rock n roll lends itself to cliche-ism. But check out the excessiveness of cliche use from this dude: 

Song titles: 

Tied to the Tracks
Ship of Fools
Made to Be Broken
New Feelings
Growing Pain
Long Way Home 
Lone Rider

and that's just one album! (Made to Be Broken, which is a pretty solid album)

More: 

Supersonic
Can't Help It
Doomsday
Ladies Man
Change of Fortune (also an album name)
By the Way
Pipe Dream
Cruel Intentions
Take Manhattan
Leave This Town
Time Will Tell
Bitter Pill (good song)
Something Out of Nothing (I like this song)
Easy Street
Be On Your Way
Crazy Mixed Up World
All is Well
Good for You
Fearless Leader
String of Pearls
Runaway Train
Without a Trace
Creatures of Habit
See You Later
Blood Into Wine
Draggin' the Lake
To My Own Devices
Promises Broken
Caged Rat
Nothing to Write Home About
I Did My Best
Keep It Up
Homesick
New World
April Fool (I like this song)
Carry On
No Man's Land
Sun Don't Shine
Miracle Mile 
Lap of Luxury
Money Talks
Voodoo Doll

Album titles: 

Candy from a Stranger
The Silver Lining
Delayed Reaction

I mean, I know titling things is hard, thus the glut of "untitled" works of art and so many things with the same name. I make a lot of music, and I get lazy with titling, too, sometimes calling a song "Pretty Song" or "Anthem" or "Pot o' Gold." We're all guilty of it. But Dave Pirner: lordy! I mean, when he writes a song, what comes first: the idea of the song/the lyrics, or the cliche?! 

I wanna end on a positive note, because despite what SA have become, there's always that classic lineup of Mueller-Pirner-Young-Murphy and those early albums (their big hit album, Grave Dancers Union, has some good tunes, but I think it demarcates a shift, and it's the last album I bought of theirs, losing touch with them after that). Back in high school (circa late 1980s), I found out about SA via an article in RIP magazine (a heavy metal/hard rock mag back in the day) and then saw SA on the Hang Time tour at a small place. It was a good show, and I met a completely wasted Pirner afterward, who was nice, if having trouble seeing straight. I wore out my Hang Time album, and I'm fond of their early work and And the Horse They Rode In On. (I like the production/mix on that album particularly -- it's a "drummer's perspective" record, but I still like it. I like how they recorded it late at night and both a complaining lady neighbor wearing her pyjamas and Keith Richards stopped by.) I like how SA wrote "P-9" to benefit striking Hormel factory workers in Minnesota, played a high school prom even once they were big, and, of course, allowed a song from GDU to have its meaning changed from metaphorical to literal with the whole "Runaway Train" (runaway kid) thing. And those Nintendo sessions soundtracked by Hang Time certainly helped me survive a time I don't like to think or talk about. So, thank you, Dave & Co., but let's pay those overuse-of-cliches fines. 


Monday, January 23, 2017

Should We?

There has been a renewed interest in Chimimanda Adichie's argument We Should All Be Feminists due to the Trump presidency and the backlash -- most recently and perhaps vocally, from largely white women -- against it. I'm intrigued by arguments, have a strong background in them, and have been wrestling with feelings that, while Adichie is currently fashionable and resonates with millions in her argument, I'm not feelin' it/her.

This is of course blasphemy to some, as Adichie's book is sure to grace liberal coffeetables just like a Michael Pollan book or Zinn's A People's History of the U.S., tomes that become almost gospel to their followers. But as heated as the issue of feminism and attacks upon it are these days, one thing I've learned from studying and working in the field of critical thinking is to remain calm and cool about arguments, and try, if possible, to separate them from both their authors (so you don't unwittingly commit an ad hominem) and the times they grow out of, even though these are both important factors.


One thing I like about how people communicate today is the use of disclosures. I'll be fully transparent that 1) I really struggled with Adichie's book Americanah and 2) my life has been significantly marked, defined, realigned, and damaged by interactions with some really difficult, traumatizing, and downright mentally ill, aggressive females. But nonetheless my anecdotal experiences have little bearing on a general argument such as Adichie's. I should too as a third disclosure mention that I have really gone deep into critical thinking and argument analysis in my life, to the detriment of said life sometimes in the criticisms I hear from others and sometimes realize myself. But onward. I'll try and be succinct. 

1. First off, any philosophy that promulgates that everyone should accept it scares the shit out of me. This kind of mass acceptance and homogeneity is often found in fascism -- which isn't just something that happens on the right-wing -- and it reminds me of the old wisdom that the world needs diversity: genetic, vocational, personality, ideological, biological, etc. As much as, after 43 years of living and decades spent in the realm of philosophy, I admire certain philosophies and people -- punks, Buddhists, critical thinkers, off-the-gridders, anarchists, etc. -- I don't want the world populated by only these folks.  

2. (or perhaps 1a) I understand that Adichie's passionate, evocative use of "we should all..." is probably born out of the fact that feminism is a philosophy of resistance, rebellion, and common sense that women should be treated equally to men. People feel more strongly about a philosophy when the philosophy and its adherents are under attack or under-represented. I once attended a lecture on the geography and history of Buddhism, and it was interesting to learn that Buddhism is currently historically at its most unpopular, although it has strongholds and may be making a comeback. Adichie is making an all-out stand, calling for all hands on deck and as much help and empathy/sympathy as the world can muster. I get that. 

3. If I was a strict empiricist, I would be much harsher in my appraisal of feminism, because I have never empirically seen a woman make less money than a man simply due to her gender, be a damsel in distress, or be quite the victim that some feminist narratives make women out to be. This goes back to my disclaimer about having dealt with strong, even aggressive, women. But since I'm a combination of an empiricist and rationalist, I trust that oft-repeated facts about women as 2nd class citizens hold true overall, even if I haven't witnessed it. I certainly have seen women be victims of sexual objectivity and sexual assault. I have seen women treated in subtle, pernicious ways like dumber beings or 2nd class citizens. But I have also seen women yield incredible power in certain institutions such as family law courts and higher education, the latter of which it's joked is really at heart run by the secretaries. I won't even go into my own life for fear of skewing my vantage point by getting lost in the personal, as immediate and potentially illuminating that is. 

4. Feminism as a philosophy, because it came to be responding to a lack of equality in the world gender-wise, should in theory put itself out of business if that inequality is rectified and the rectification maintained. Because of this, it doesn't have the same magnitude as I've seen other philosophies -- often criticized by postmodernists as "grand, master narratives" -- have, the same lasting value or oomph, let alone the ability as a philosophy to appeal to men as much as (oppressed) women. Existentialism, for example, is a philosophy that transcends oppression, place, time -- the self-made millionaire as well as the down-and-out prisoner can both appeal to it, because existentialism posits that our lives are the results of our, and only our, actions/decisions/work/mistakes/etc. I'm not saying I'm a big existentialist -- in fact, I'm not. But as a philosophy there is more meat to it, to me, than feminism, which largely relies on continued oppression for its very existence. 

5. Abdullah Ocalan, an imprisoned Turkish dissident, made an interesting comment that the overall freedom of people is directly relatable to the freedom of a society's women. I think this is wise, as certain things in the world are good barometers of overall system health/fairness/sickness/dysfunction, like a canary in a coalmine. If we see our women oppressed, we should not only care for their sake, but because we could be next. But keep in mind he is steeped in dealing with, it can be argued, heavily-oppressed Middle Eastern women, who are very different from, say, white American females. The latter have actually enjoyed quite a bit of privilege, second only to white male privilege. 

Overall, feminism is a philosophy that I have always had a soft spot for, but unless I was a woman, I don't see it one of the philosophies I've studied and wrestled with and rolled around in my head and life that would endure the test of time and experience. For that, I've found, as I mentioned, an admiration of Buddhists (and my heart swells with pride when I see women wrestle with meditation), punk culture, anarchism, off-the-gridders, and critical thinkers. Believe me, I've embraced postmodernism heavily and found much fault in grand master narratives, but these particular philosophies have stood the test of time. And, yes, I'm aware that feminism is largely part of some of these philosophies. 

I don't want to call myself a feminist when I can't really do so. It's not a philosophy I have that much against, but Adichie's claim is bold and challenging. As much as I admire the philosophies I do, I wouldn't say that everyone should hold these same beliefs. And finally, I think it's important to denote a distinction between feminism's call for equality, ie equal treatment/fairness -- which I think goes without saying -- and the fact that men and women are different. I actually think it is some of these historical differences that have put both oppression against women and feminism into motion. I really think we need to figure out these differences, even if it's a clunky, mainstream approach like the Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus book of a few years ago, before echoing blindly slogans about general equality. If I go into a contest with a woman about the nuances of color and their names, I suck at that, and don't expect to be treated "equally." That is something that women have historically excelled at. Should I be treated fairly that I have the potential to be as good as a woman about colors and their names? I guess it's possible, but I'm the first to admit what my strengths and weaknesses are, and I think there are areas where fairness isn't an issue. I also understand that certain times in history and political regimes are more female-friendly than others, as we're witnessing now with the transition from Obama to Trump. But having female-specific issues (abortion, representation, societal power, menstruation, etc) right off the bat creates its own animal, which at its worst leads to Balkanization and at its best finds adherents and sympathists in people who don't have to directly deal with these issues, such as men. But I don't expect everyone to be on the side of men because there are certain male-specific issues (vasectomy, prostate exams, balding, being drafted for war, emotional repression, midlife crisis, whatever). Again, I think the best discussion about feminism and its merits begin at acknowledging and going deep into the differences between genders. 






Thursday, January 19, 2017

Their Hooves Carve Craters in the Earth, Their Waters Deluge Us




New Orleans hardcore band Thou performing in N.O. I like the song title, and it's interesting to me that you can see clearly on the back wall the high-water mark of Hurricane Katrina's flooding in 2005. Dang that water was high!