Burning Flags Press The website of Glen E. Friedman. Renowned for both his work with musicians like Fugazi, Minor Threat, Public Enemy, the Beastie Boys, Slayer (and many, many more) as well as his groundbreaking documentation of the burgeoning skateboard phenomenon in the late `70's, Glen has been privvy to (and has summarily captured on film) some of the coolest stuff ever. He's also an incredibly insightful and nice guy to boot.
SoHo Blues - Photography by Allan Tannenbaum Allan Tannenbaum is a local photographer who has been everywhere and shot everything, from members of Blondie hanging out at the Mudd Club through the collapsing towers of the World Trade Center on September 11th. You could spend hours on this site, and I have.
Robert Otter Photographs Amazing vintage photographs of New York City, specifically my own neighborhood, Greenwich Village.
oboylephoto Just some intensely cool photographs of abandoned places.
The Weblog of Spumco's John K. The weblog of cartoonist John Kricfalusi, crazed mind and frantic pencil behind the original "Ren & Stimpy," as well as "The Goddamn George Liquor Show." Surreal, unapologetic, uncompromising genius.
Back on Wednesday night (when it was unseasonably balmy only a few hours before the snow), my wife's alma mater held an alumni function at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum at 103 Orchard Street.
While I'd been in the ground floor book store of same on the corner of Delancey many times (well worth your time), this was shamefully my first time in the actual museum itself -- and I was entirely blown away.
If you are at all as intrigued by NYC's intricate, disarming and incalculably rich history as I am, it is ENTIRELY worth visiting, especially in this confounding and divisive era. This institution's mission is important and immeasurably informative to the American experience -- something that seems entirely lost on our current administration. Go, check it out, enrich your knowledge and *CELEBRATE* the complex diversity that literally forged this city and this nation. Sermon over.
I remember reading a lot of chatter on social media, during those deceptively carefree days prior to Election Day, that suggested that -– at the very least -– if Trump were to ascend to the highest office in the so-called free world, we’d get some great protest music out of it -– or “punk rock would be good again.”
This blithe suggestion irked me on two levels. For a start, it completely trivialized the ramifications of a Trump win (i.e. the dystopian Hellscape that is our new reality). This is not to say that protest music and/or Punk Rock aren’t valid and meaningful forms of art and expression, but rather that in the grand scheme of things, we would have (and now currently do have) a lot more concrete concerns to grapple with than music. Yes, music can be a vital means of changing hearts and minds, expressing ideas and galvanizing the spirit, but when long-held institutions are being dismantled, universally acknowledged priorities are being upended and personal freedoms and rights are being compromised or just completely stripped away --- on a goddamn daily basis -- it’s hard to get excited new tunes to listen to.
Secondly, while he now looks like fuckin’ Cicero in comparison to the current holder of the office, President George W. Bush sat in the White House for eight long years, and I certainly don’t remember a grand resurgence of empowering protest music, let alone any great Punk Rock. I mean, yeah …. Green Day’s “American Idiot” was certainly well-intentioned, but it wasn’t exactly incendiary (especially since it was later turned into a Broadway musical, for cryin’ out loud). But, y’know, that’s just my opinion, and I’m ultimately just a cranky old man, so fuck do I know?
To be fair, there were exceptions. It’ll come as zero surprise that I’d cite selections from Killing Joke and Firewater that specifically pertained to the Bush Administration, but neither of those estimable ensembles are particularly high profile, in the grand scheme of things. Ministry put out a string of albums with an anti-Bush bent, but it’s not like Jourgensen’s distorted vocals ever made the message particularly discernible. It also didn’t help that Ministry had long since abandoned things like melody years earlier. For the most part, while W. was in office, folks were more musically concerned with who was bringing sexy back and/or dropping it like it was hot.
In the past few weeks, the one track that I keep coming back to is both a bona fide protest song and one technically born of Punk Rock, although the fact that the song is eloquently articulated and musically sophisticated doesn’t immediately jive with what was later defined by the Punk stereotype. “Power in the Darkness,” the title track off the debut album by the Tom Robinson Band (or TRB) arrived on the shelves of discerning record stores in 1978, the same year as the debut albums by arguably less cerebral outfits like Sham 69, Generation X and 999 (all of whom I adore, incidentally). Given TRB’s penchant for outspoken, issue-specific songs (as opposed to just vague sloganeering) and the fact that they could play quite competently, they may have been somewhat overlooked during that era of British Punk, but the sentiments they expressed have taken on a much greater, impactful prescience in ensuing decades. By contrast, where Sham’s “If the Kids Are United (They Will Never Be Divided)” sounds dated and almost quaint in 2017, “Power in the Darkness” still sounds urgent and worryingly timely.
I first heard the song by way of a friend’s college radio program in 1985. I’ve mentioned him before, but my friend Warwick (a senior while I was a freshman) used to routinely borrow records from me for his evening shift on WDUB, and I’d dutifully tune in to hear which he’d play. In between, he spun tracks I was unfamiliar with like “Roadrunner” by the Modern Lovers, “Backwater” by Brian Eno, “Fortune Teller” by the Rolling Stones (later covered by the afore-cited 999) and, at the start of each of his shows, “Power in the Darkness” by the Tom Robinson Band.
For a start, the TRB played keyboards which – with the contentious exception of the already very contentious Stranglers – seemed to be somewhat of no-no for British Punk Bands at the time (see also facial hair, something the endearingly contrary Stranglers also boasted). And sure, they wore leather jackets, but the TRB were hardly the type of band that was going to vomit onstage or deafen unsuspecting listeners with feedback. No, what made the TRB distinctive was their gift for galvanizing social anthems like “Glad to Be Gay” and “Power in the Darkness.”
Like the best protest songs, “Power..” is entirely catchy, featuring an uplifting chorus and a couple of emphatically barked verses by the great Mr. Robinson himself. But what really drives the song home is the verse delivered after the keyboard solo in the middle-eight, wherein Robinson assumes the persona and voice of a stuffy British patrician waxing reverent of traditionally conservative values. The sermon quickly devolves into a vitriolic anti-diversity rant that in less capable hands would sound cartoony. My beloved Killing Joke attempted a similar approach with their debut song, “Are You Receiving?” about a year later, and I can’t help thinking “Power in the Darkness” was their inspiration.
Enough of my blather. Here’s the Tom Robinson Band track now. While written within and about the British social order of the late 1970’s, it could just as easily apply the antics and fallout of the Trump Administration here in 2017.
PLAY IT LOUD!
Inspired by same, I decided to get my fingers dirty on a platform I normally have no tolerance for. I decided to make a similarly inclined playlist on Spotify. I’d have loved to have included “Power in the Darkness” therein, but it’s not available on Spotify – possibly because of Robinson’s pointed dropping of the “N” word (recited in character and not used in earnest). I also wanted to slip in “Homophobic Asshole” by the Senseless Things and “Pistol Archive” by Missing Foundation, but they can’t be found on Spotify either … which only goes to show you how lame Spotify is and that you should go out and buy the tactile artifacts of music and support your favorite artists that way, but I digress.
With the exception of Moby’s well-intentioned “Erupt and Matter” and the endearingly profane "FDT" by YG & Nipsey Hussle, none of these songs were penned with Trump in mind, but they are all more or less topically applicable, I believe, to our current situation. You, of course, may beg to differ.
Here’s an entirely stupid, indulgent post for Friday. You’re welcome.
I’ve spoken about them a few times here before, but I’ve always been a pretty big fan of LCD Soundsystem. I mean, sure, I was less than entirely amazed when they reconvened after barely breaking-up for a couple of years, despite the fact that their return was feted by their millennial fan base in a manner that suggested the type of reception a rare, post-death resumption of duties by The Clash or the Beatles would enjoy. But yeah, ever since first hearing the aging music-snob manifesto, “Losing My Edge” back in 2002, I was fully onboard. That LCD mainman James Murphy copped to cribbing the bassline for same from “Change” by my beloved Killing Joke certainly didn’t hurt. (Yes, yes, I know, pedants – said bassline originally came from “Me & Baby Brother” by War, blah blah blah).
Anyway, I dutifully picked up each successive LCD Soundsystem release, encouraged by Murphy’s commendable taste, DIY aesthetic and knack for big fuckoff hooks. They seemed to go from a cool little indie band to a somewhat major phenom in fairly short order. I managed to see them perform at the awful Terminal 5 a couple of times, but thought their final show at Madison Square Garden – a room usually reserved for KISS and `Maiden – was a little unduly audacious. But, if I’m not mistaken, they sold it out, so -– clearly -– what the fuck do I know?
Over the years, meanwhile, on more than a couple of occasions, it has been remarked upon that I somewhat resemble LCD’s James Murphy. That might give some folks pause, but given that Murphy and I are close in age (I’m about three years old than him), it’s not too much of a stretch. We share an affinity for facial scruff and both boast physiques that could best be described as “dadly.” Coincidentally, it seems many are speculating that Murphy is about to join me in the ranks of fatherhood. We also probably share a few of the same vices. As such, being told I might look like him doesn’t really bug me at all.
Beyond the unspeakable nature of his worldview and curriculum vitae, Bannon is a girthy – and doubtlessly gassy – specimen, peppered with liver spots and gin blossoms of a variety that intones that their host is voluntarily dying from the inside out. While I sometimes have privately worried that I’m just a cheeseburger and a couple of pints away from looking like Bannon, to see it in stark black n’ white was a bit of a day-ruiner.
I feel like James Murphy and I should start a new jogging regimen together.
Over the past several days, I’ve attempted to engage with the various folks in my circle that aren’t quite as apoplectic as me about the current trajectory of the country with Trump at the helm. From reaching out to fellow members of The Gathering (a long-running online cabal of Killing Joke fans like myself), to various friends on Facebook and even with some regular readers and commenters here on my blog, I’ve tried to get to the bottom of how and why they’re seemingly a-okay with everything Team Trump is doing … and un-doing.
I’m not only doing this for the purposes of trying to understand their perspective, I’m also doing my best to keep the lines of communication open in these pointedly divisive times. It’s almost too easy to write people off and stop talking to them. Communication with individuals who seem to espouse ideas and values that are diametrically opposed to your own is not simple, not fun and sometimes entirely futile, but we’re not going to get anywhere if we don’t try. That said, I’m still avoiding the subject with certain family members (as I discussed here). I’m sure you know how that goes.
In any case, most of the Trump apologists I’ve spoken to, it seems, are singing the same song.
The pervasive refrain seems to be that the two-party system is corrupt and broken and that by sending a “non-politician” to the White House, America will finally get the fabled “reset” that vast swathes of the country have been crying out for. That’s usually followed by derisive comments about Obama and Hillary, etc. … neither of whom really matter anymore, at this stage of the proceedings.
Beyond dusting off my increasingly fatigued “lit firecracker into broken toaster” analogy, I respond that I do indeed understand the desire to inject the system with a more fresh approach. That was the very reason I was gunning for Bernie. But, I hasten to point out, while a “reset” may have been in order, Donald J. Trump (to say nothing of the nefarious Steve Bannon) VERY ASSUREDLY AIN’T IT!
Obviously, I took it for granted that Donald Trump is inarguably an idiot. I thought that went without saying. That he’s an abjectly ridiculous imbecile has been common knowledge held by most sentient New Yorkers for fucking decades. I thought we all knew that.
Then, of course, I remembered –- and it’s something his apologists are always super-dupe keen to point out -- New York is not at all indicative of the rest of the U.S. of A. (to which I say: YOU AIN’T FUCKIN’ KIDDING, JACK!)
To those outside of my much-maligned bubble of an island, Donald Trump isn’t the desperate, maladjusted ass-clown we’ve always known him to be; he’s a “successful businessman,” “a straight-shooter” and “reality TV star.” Thus, he ascended to the highest office in the land on the backs of the same people who thought “Celebrity Apprentice” was must-see TV.
Regardless of Trump’s myriad character traits rendering him laughably unfit for the office, the tally of the Electoral College (although not-at-all indicative of the actual number of votes cast) amplified the fact that that enough people – I believe the figure was something like 60 million Americans –- felt gung-ho enough about damning the torpedoes of rational thought and hitting what they perceived as a big ol’ orange “RESET” button to put his fat ass in the Oval Office. It was either that, or they were so repulsed by the notion of Hillary as President, that they didn’t care about the ramifications of their vote, so long as it didn't go to her.
While her part in the narrative is over, here's a quick aside about Hillary Clinton: She may have come with an unduly tarnished reputation, some baggage and you may not have liked her very much, but here are four things she’s isn’t:Thin-Skinned, Inexperienced, Impulsive and Stupid.
Trump, meanwhile, is ALL OF THOSE THINGS, and in his ten days in office alone, he’s amply demonstrated how out of his depth he is.
Between his petty Twitter tirades, his duplicitous cabinet, his pre-occupation with his Inauguration audience, his COUNTLESS conflicts of fucking interest, his disregard for the Constitution and his tone-deafness on the will of the nation he seeks to govern, there is already a list as long as my arm of reasons why we should all be seriously goddamn concerned. This past weekend’s executive order about immigration (that's worthy of several posts in itself) and installment of Steve Bannon as a replacement for both the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Director of National Intelligence are simply beyond the pale.
Beyond venomously suggesting that the press corps should “shut the Hell up” (that’s really not how it works, Steve) and describing himself as a “Leninist” that wants to “destroy all of today’s establishment,” Bannon has absolutely no experience in any relevant capacity to the implausibly crucial position he now unthinkably holds. He’s also a vocal proponent of the Alt.Right, which is just a tidy little synonym for white supremacist.
This is not okay.
This is not normal.
This is not going to end well.
And by the way, it’s okay to admit that you were duped. `Cos that’s what happened. But now, we’re ALL paying for it.
I don’t mean that you, say, have an unseemly preoccupation with a host of largely insignificant post-punk records from the late 80s, collect ratty rock t-shirts of obscure bands that you’re invariably now too old to wear, or that you wish grave digestive discomfort on people who recline their seats into your laps during flights (don’t get me started). I mean, maybe you do, but that’s not my point.
I mean that maybe you share my predicament — that you have people in your life, or your family or your close circle of confidents who — for whatever reason, fail to see eye-to-eye with you regarding the realities of our collective political present.
It seems like the simple solution to that predicament should be to dust off the old “agree to disagree” proviso. Right? Done and done.
Not so fast.
For some of us, the failure to recognize the gravity of this situation – and by that, of course, I mean the failure to BE FUCKING ANYTHING SHORT OF ENTIRELY OUTRAGED by the antics of that bag of shit currently throwing his corpulence around the Oval Office, to say nothing of his treacherous “cabinet” of ill-equipped and duplicitous appointees – is almost a deal-breaker.
That’s solved easily enough over social media, of course. You can voluntarily unfollow or, more pointedly, unfriend someone on Facebook who you’re clashing with. Nobody wants it to come to that, of course, but sometimes, it’s a necessary step to maintain sanity and decorum.
In “real life,” however, it can be less easily resolved.
To my knowledge, I don’t have too many friends that are Trump supporters – avid or otherwise. Having worked for most of my life in the dreaded “MSM” (mainstream media, for those of you unfamiliar with the derisive truncation), most of my former colleagues and I stand on the same side of the playing field, so to speak. I even know some folks who work for the “other team,” to beat that tired sports analogy into the ground, and they also recognize that Trump’s a joke, a sham, a withering embarrassment and a global liability.
My close friends, meanwhile, are invariably close because we share certain crucial sensibilities, one of them being a pointed zero-tolerance policy for all the abject attributes that Trump embodies (do I have to go through that long list for you again?)
So yeah, I don’t know too many Trumpies or Trumpublicans or Trump apologists, but I do know a couple. And contrary to lazy projection and easy conclusion-jumping, by and large, they are not stupid people … usually.
Moreover, most of these folks aren’t people I can just avoid. So, in most instances, I just don’t bring politics up. I don’t even suggest agreeing to disagree. I just don’t engage in the conversation. Most of the time, that works.
I have a couple of other folks in my circle, however, that insist on discussing it – even knowing FULL WELL that it’s going to result in a fight or, at the very least, an unpleasant exchange of words.
In those instances, I am running out of answers. Despite the best of my intentions, it’s very easy to get me to drop the façade and engage in the fight. But I don’t want that, as rarely are minds effectively changed that way.
Maybe I’m just waiting for events to play themselves out in such a manner that these folks will start to share my perspective. I suppose the egalitarian thing would be to suggest that perhaps it could work the other way, as well, and that maybe I’ll change my tune. But I really wouldn’t suggest holding your breath on that one.
So, where does that leave us?
In my travels across the `net, beyond that amazing open letter on behalf of journalists I highlighted not too long back, one of the best, most succinct pieces I’ve read that sums up how I’m feeling – not just as a big ol’ bleeding heart, lefty liberal, but also as a SENTIENT, COMPASSIONATE AND CULTURALLY COGNIZANT HUMAN BEING -- is this op-ed by Paul Waldman from the Washington Post. It really hits the nail on the head, as far as I’m concerned.
I’ve been very active on Facebook in the venting of my political spleen, but I also fear I’m just adding to the maelstrom of noise. I’m concerned that said maelstrom will just encourage folks to tune out. Now is NOT the time to do that.
I don’t have all the answers here. I’m striving to make sense of it while still retaining hope for solutions ahead. I don’t know where we’re headed, but I don’t like fighting with my friends and my family.
I spotted the sticker below affixed to a very wet mailbox on West Broadway this morning. It’s a message that, overall, I am striving for.
The message in italics below has been making the rounds on social media in recent days. I thought I'd share it here for the nine or ten people who still read my blog. I did not compose it, but I think it's worth reading.
Don't worry, I'll get back to posting about lost compact disc shops, forgotten punk records and unjustly maligned pizzerias soon.
If you are puzzled by the bizarre 'press conference' put on by the White House press secretary earlier this week (angrily claiming that Trump's inauguration had the largest audience in history, accusing them of faking photos and lying about attendance), let me help explain it. This spectacle served three purposes:
1. Establishing a norm with the press: they will be told things that are obviously wrong and they will have no opportunity to ask questions. That way, they will be grateful if they get anything more at any press conference. This is the PR equivalent of "negging," the odious pick-up practice of a particular kind of horrible man (e.g., Donald Trump).
2. Increasing the separation between Trump's base (1/3 of the population) from everybody else (the remaining 2/3). By being told something that is obviously wrong—that there is no evidence for and all evidence against, that anybody with eyes can see is wrong—they are forced to pick whether they are going to believe Trump or their lying eyes. The gamble here—likely to pay off—is that they will believe Trump. This means that they will regard media outlets that report the truth as "fake news" (because otherwise they'd be forced to confront their cognitive dissonance.)
3. Creating a sense of uncertainty about whether facts are knowable, among a certain chunk of the population (which is a taking a page from the Kremlin, for whom this is their preferred disinformation tactic). A third of the population will say "clearly the White House is lying," a third will say "if Trump says it, it must be true," and the remaining third will say "gosh, I guess this is unknowable."
THE IDEA ISN'T TO CONVINCE THESE PEOPLE OF UNTRUE THINGS, IT'S TO FATIGUE THEM, SO THAT THEY WILL STAY OUT OF THE POLITICAL PROCESS ENTIRELY, regarding the truth as just too difficult to determine.
This is laying important groundwork for the months ahead. If Trump's White House is willing to lie about something as obviously, unquestionably fake as this, just imagine what else they'll lie about. In particular, things that the public cannot possibly verify the truth of. It's gonna get real bad.
We weren't going to be able to make it to D.C. today, but the Flaming Pablum family took part in the Women's March here in Manhattan. I can't say I've ever seen anything like it. In case you missed it, here's a brief taste. It's still happening, by the way. I get the feeling that this is just the beginning.
ADDENDUM: Listening to apologists on various news outlets spinning on the marches going on across the world, suggesting that it's "uncertain" or "unclear" or "ambiguous" about what these marches are all about. Lemme tell ya... from first hand experience, there is absolutely *NO MYSTERY* about what these marches are singularly about. As endearingly diverse a mix of individuals and sensibilities comprise them, there is a ROCK SOLID point of unity running throughout. It is a *RENUNCIATION* of Trump, his appointees and their threatened policies writ large. Pure and simple. And as sensory-engulfing as the NYC crowd was, I've never encountered a great sense of unity.