Thursday, December 29, 2016

20, or Rather 26 Meditations on 2016 and Modern American Politics

I’m shutting down this site, but for a good reason this time: I like what I’m doing on it enough to want to upgrade it. It’ll do the same thing, but with a longer focus, more projects, less (or shorter) politics, etc. And Conifers & Citrus will live on; I’m happy with that one, too.

Before leaving this site to drift forever in the ether (like V-ger! (aka, Voyager, Star Trek I reference; don’t see that one)), I want to leave a sort of marker at the top of it, one about the time and place in which all Americans are about to live, or already live in some ways. This is something I’ve started and deleted several times, and always for the same reason: once you start connecting the dots as to how the United States sorta, kinda elected Donald J. Trump in 2016 (e.g., nearly half the country were no-shows and less than half of actual voters voted Trump), the lines between those dots look like a frenzied spider web in very, very short order. By the time I feel like I’m starting to roll, I’m ten pages in and still have dozens of stranded dots.

(For example, the latest attempt squeezed in Alexander the Great, the idea that modern American capitalism is literally just a dick-measuring contest; technological innovation and how that’s hamstringing the holy shit out of that dick-measuring contest; the “permanent campaign;” freedom, and “freedom;” and, of course, Donald Fucking Trump. For all the good thoughts and a handful of good sentences, that attempt didn’t go any better (just four pages in this time). In all honesty, I can’t wrestle everything that’s on my mind with this into anything less than book form, but writing a book requires a completely different mindset, carries certain responsibilities to the reader, etc. And I don’t want to write a book, at least not about this shit.)

With that in mind, I am limiting myself to 20 talking points – hold on, 25, wait, 26; and 40 sentences max (now, 52; semicolons don’t count). (Shit!) Here no particular order…

Thursday, December 8, 2016

One Last Pick Through the Bins, Volume 8: The Hives

How far to back into that one?

The first song I ever heard by The Hives was “Hate to Say I Told You So.” A boyfriend of an in-law used that and a song by The Czars that I can’t remember to pad out the rest of a CD with The Strokes first album on it. So, yeah, good day for me. Great song, too, one that worked exactly the same way any great single should (i.e., “you like that kid? There’s more where that came from.”)

I didn’t listen to that parenthetical voice. When the next chance to pick up something by The Hives came ‘round – and this was years later, a half decade at least - fate threw two albums at me: Barely Legal and Tyrannosaurus Hives. Barely Legal, as it turns out, is the band’s debut album. It also turns out it’s not easy to come by, even by today’s (or Spotify’s) standards. I want to pause here to acknowledge something people can’t appreciate in these days of “(almost) every song at your fingertips.” There was a time when some kind of essentially accidental logic sent that Swedish album to a random record store in the American town you actually have to live in. Add to that the necessity of some random person going on a bizarre music-porn quest to seek out this semi-mythical, yet documented (in fanzines) colored 45 of a European import. This was treasure hunting, people. I only did it in Seattle and in the early 90s, and very, very passively. Also, that was a time when people just threw all that shit at you. You only had to decide whether you wanted to eat the extra cost. Still have a few colored vinyl 45s. Just sayin’…

At any rate, Barely Legal came from a European label, and featured an essentially anonymous band (e.g. The Hives; no one knew who they were…maybe just outside of Sweden). Even as I barely remember how I came across it (old gypsy woman?), it’s a good debut, one filled with a healthy dose of straight punk numbers – e.g., “Well, Well, Well,” “King of Asskissing,” and “What’s that Spell…Go to Hell!” – but a couple prototypes for future songs came in, too – e.g., “Here We Go Again” and “BlackJack.”

Tyrannosaurus Hives built from the prototypes. (It felt better to use “builds” in the prior sentence because good music feels current when I hear it, but that’s why I kept The Hives’ discography close while I looked into this stuff; Barely Legal came out in 1997; their most current is 2012, for reference). It came in the middle of their run and years ago – things change, people change, hairstyles change - but it’s still the cleanest embrace of what feels like the band’s best self. Searing pace, nervously manic guitar riffs, all topped by a bellowing sociopath who knows how to use a good scream: these are a few of my favorite things, and The Hives gave them to me on Tyrannosaurus Hives. When I think of The Hives, even with the oddballs on Barely Legal, Tyrannosaurus Hives is their sound.

Trumpgrets: Your Saddest Happy Place

You did not win, not really.
I have to credit Dan Savage's Savage Lovecast (listen every week!) for word of Trumpgrets, a tumblr that documents tweets from anyone now expressing regrets for voting for Asshole-Elect, Donald Trump. At the first mention, I made the mistake of assuming that the collection would feature people who voted Trump despite misgivings about various things. And while that's true as far as it goes, uh...
"@realDonaldTrump seriously not pursuing charges against @HillaryClinton ? I voted for you & I will now join the protesters."
The first point is that, yes, the captured tweets come from people who are disappointed in what Trump's doing, but for...well, stupid fucking reasons, like failing to prosecute Hillary Clinton (charges won't stick, idiots), for not building the dumb fucking wall (of which, pointless and expensive), and, finally, there are those who thought Trump actually had a plan for...well, anything. And, of course, people who use the word "cucks," and who embrace the word "deplorable" without realizing it just means "white nationalist," etc. And, of course, people who are white nationalists, aka (again) what got left behind when Western Civilization failed to finish wiping its ass after World War II.

My response to all those people: stop reading Breitbart, and especially fucking Infowars, those are propaganda/conspiracy outlets, devoted to hawking (ugly) aspirations, not information, and that's a huge reason why you were caught off guard by, well, reality. So, let's try talking about what's happening in the real world, what you want, and what's possible at given levels of taxation...this shit doesn't pay for itself, governing is hard and expensive, etc.

The second point is that, while it's not how my Platonic version of Trumpgrets would read - e.g. that would be full variations on, "holy god, the man's an idiot" or "wow, he actually never released his tax returns" - any kind of disappointment with Trump is a good thing. If "Adorable Deplorable" or "Morris Otto" or "Raya Pachevurova" or (personal favorite) "Everything4pageants" never vote again, the country will improve, if by only one less vote by an easy mark (as for "Celia & Thomas," I'm willling to call it a mulligan whenever you are). Trump won office by promising all kinds of things, most of them contradictory, some of them impossible, some racist, and more than a few of them serving everyone except the communities he promised to serve. Disappointment seems like the likeliest end to the whole experience.

The thing to understand is that, no matter how long or short Trump's reign, he will leave behind him the vital business of calming everyone the fuck down.

Monday, December 5, 2016

J.D. Vance's Hillbilly Elegy. And How I Caused Trump.

I’m going to start this one with a confession. I grew up in Ohio, specifically, in a suburb of Cincinnati called Glendale. That place isn’t far from Middletown, Ohio, the place where J. D. Vance, author of Hillbilly Elegy, grew up. One thing that I remember distinctly from my childhood was a very secure sense of superiority over people from Kentucky. The proximity played a role, for sure, but clearest distinction grew from the idea that Kentucky was part of “the South,” while Ohio was very much part of the North. That last detail had very distinct consequences for our world view and, here, I’m making the distinction between my peers and my family. More on that later…

Race loomed large in my upbringing, or at least one particular aspect of it: Ohio fought for the Union in the civil war, a fact that meant “good white people” understood the legacy of slavery and the civil rights struggle (things like Jim Crow and Reconstruction added nuance to this picture, but that came way later). This was the era of busing, so we had a lot of black kids in my elementary school. I know that busing stirred up all kinds o’ shit across the country, but I neither saw nor experienced any of that controversy. Black kids were kids just like me and that’s all the thought I put into it.

The kids from Kentucky, on the other hand? Total and absolute fair game. We called them “grits,” at least in Glendale. One of my more vivid second-hand memories involved my sisters holing up in a phone booth next to the pharmacy down the road because they called this kid we all knew a “grit” and he lost, oh, just about all his shit (wait, “grit” or “skag-butt”? We had a couple favorites). The phone booth was the only shelter they could find and he wailed on the outside of that until he wore himself out. They got home safe in the end (side note; my sisters could fight, too), but I’ve got a dozen stories that follow the same basic plot: we went after kids from Kentucky, or Tennessee, as escapees from the lands of the former Confederacy, the mad progeny of the Hatfields and McCoys. We were sophisticates, they were scum, etc.

What I didn’t know until I read Vance’s genuinely great memoir was how baked into the culture that conflict was. Here’s one relevant snippet from Hillbilly Elegy:

Thursday, December 1, 2016

One Last Pick Through the Bins, Volume 7: The (or the) Lemonheads

Don't get it either...

According to “my sources,” The Lemonheads cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson” “got them the most exposure they had had.” (Hat tip, though, for the quick reference to Madonna's "Like a Virgin.") And that’s a goddamn shame, not least because it’s not even their best cover. Here, I’m willing to entertain a debate: I’m partial to their “Amazing Grace,” but I’m sure some people out there would vouch for “My Name Is Luka.” That last one is a rare case where a male voice works better…something about vulnerability and the way men tend to suppress it…

Apart from knowing it happened at some point during high school, I can’t really say when I first heard the Lemonheads - but it happened before they, or rather he, added the definite article to the band’s name. And, “he” means the guy you’re likely to know, if you know The Lemonheads at all, Evan Dando.

However and whenever it happened, the Lemonheads put out two of my all-time favorite albums, Hate Your Friends and Creator. I played both into the fucking ground for years upon years and they somehow still make a steady appearance in my musical rotation to this day. One detail makes that doubly weird, or arguably embarrassing: the themes they address on both albums, even the way they approach to music, is decidedly adolescent – or, generously, “young adult.” Then again, that might be shortchanging just how cleanly they hit a couple major themes – among them, frustration in relationships, heartbreak, anger…I guess it’s mostly just frustration, really, a mindset that I don’t know that I’ve ever let go of. I’m not even sure that I’m capable of letting go of it. Put another way, I can listen to “Fucked Up” over and over again and still feel every word. I mean, who can’t connect to the idea of being reminded again and again and again of something that you already know in your bones – that, yes, I fucked up. And I’m real sorry.

So, yeah, both Hate Your Friends and Creator loom large in my pantheon of albums – they live in Arcadia, even Mount Olympus. They put out a couple albums after that – Lick, among them, which is where you find their cover of "Luka" – and Lick was fine, even as I had no idea at the time about where the band was when they released it (e.g, nowhere good personally, but improving professionally). Lovey came after that, and, bluntly, I’m not sure I even remember that one coming out. The only album after Lick that I remember coming out was It’s a Shame About Ray. That’s where they put “Mrs. Robinson,” along with the title track, but my opinion on it at the time of its release can best be summed up in the way I renamed it: I called it “It’s a Shame About The Lemonheads.” And I meant it.