Monday, 2 November 2015

(Can’t) Get(ting) back: free choice killed my roots (and I don't mind)

Make no mistake. I’m older. We all are. I’ve been actively, consciously seeking out new music to excite me for twenty-five years. It has been an expensive habit. CDs used to cost $30 each. I’ve bought, sold, owned, rented and even accidentally stolen hundreds of them. Then there are all the records still in the boxes they were stuffed into for an aborted migration to Australia… over two years ago. Still unmentioned are the hundreds and thousands of individual audio files obtained thanks to file sharing.

Since I first started this, a lot has changed. As physical media gave way to owned digital media which has given way to streaming the amount of available music has grown as explosively as its monetary value has diminished. A vast collection of music, even within the most jealously guarded, narrowly defined genre ghettos is available within moments of committing to a keyword search.

With very few exceptions (and thankfully they do still occasionally appear), I can own it all. I can hear it all. The only obstacles are science: biology and physics. There are only so many hours a day that I can stay awake. Only so many minutes I can commit to listening.

The inevitable outcome is that anytime I am presented with an opportunity to listen, I face a deep existential problem: reflection or exploration? Listen to something old, for memory’s sake, for nostalgia, for deepening, for resonance or listen to something new, for excitement, titillation and the potential to add to the list that defines me musically. Naturally, had I the time, then the question would not have the weight it does. Nevertheless, this problem lies at the heart of my daily listening and more often than not is resolved as I fall asleep with headphones on at the end of another long day.

Where once I had clear musical “roots”, now my location stretches to the horizon. What had been a small, neat garden has been replaced by an unruly and ultimately unknowable forest. Although I maintain a degree of lament for this change, as in a real forest, walking, watching, noticing, reflecting… all of these activities connect me to a wider whole. I suppose that what lies at the crux of the earlier question is a persistent, low-level angst that at any one time in the forest, I can only know what is immediately around me. And that in a finite temporal stream, both the desire to know and the desire to return, both tradition and hope are simultaneously bi-directional and proportionate.

Which leaves me to lead to a single conclusion. Admit the angst and just keep movin’.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Clutch – Psychic Warfare

A disclaimer, the “behind the scenes” for the transformation of this site continue to develop, much slower than anticipated, though still steady. Programing is complex, brainy stuff for a non-programmer. The upside to this is that it makes me use my brain, particularly logic (especially troubleshooting/debugging) and math skills at a level not experienced in years.

I once lived alone in a small old house on a hill just a short walk from my university. It was lonely and expensive but the surplus of time allowed me to enjoy music at a pace I rarely have time for any more.

“Elephant Riders” was my first Clutch song. It was buried on the Roadrunner Records label sampler Sweating Bullets. The hard rock swagger and funky groove caught my attention but it was the lyrics that won me over:

On Our Way To Washington Where Work Is Done By Men With Gavels,
I Heard A Sound That Just About Removed Me From My Filly's Saddle.
Just Outside Of Antietam, Where Once There Was A Mighty Battle,
I Heard The Rhythm Of The Hammers Beating The Rail Lines Together.

With or without the music, Neil Fallon’s lyrics stand alone. Over time, he has become my favorite poet, just behind William Blake. He draws on a deep well of fantastical American imagery, mythology, history and stream of conscious. His is not the work of mopey, “traditional”, post-ironic appropriation of Americana. It is something deeper, more ambiguous and powerfully evocative.

Take the psyche-blues set to science fiction of “The Rapture of Riddley Walker” (From Beale Street to Oblivion):

Went to the doctor, to see what could be given.
He said, "Sorry, but you've got to do your own livin'."
Went to the pastor, to hear what he would say.
He said, "Sorry, son, come back later some time after judgment day."
There is no safe way out of here. No passage below the dungeon.
No mother ship will save you. So goes the rapture of Riddley Walker.

There are few lyrics as powerfully evocative of the decay of the American empire (a recurring theme for Fallon) as in “The Amazing Kreskin” from Strange Cousins from the West:

In the raining park the chessmen play,
The faithful atheists refuse to pray,
The steam-works weep, the addicts do not care,
Crowd of cold people stand by and stare

The garbage eaters, their many retainers
Come to collect all the foul remainders
The smoke hangs heavy, the wrecking ball swings
In the clockwork of a collapsing thing

Wasted plastic empire's golden age, chemical wedding
Citizens in their refineries cheer the nuptial bedding
The hourglass is turning

Of course, there is the wonderfully refreshing take on the raging Clutch of old on “D.C. Sound Attack”, off of Earth Rocker:

The optics of it are not important.
The public don't give a damn.
I see you're in need of consultation now.
Everybody needs a sinister hand.

Naturally no sympathizer.
I'm a war monger, baby.
Gonna industrialize ya.
Trouble I love.
Peace I do despise.
I'm a war monger, baby.
I got blood in my eyes and I'm looking at you!

Psychic Warfare is Clutch’s attempt to make re-distill and blend into a fine liquor the best of everything they have done over the three preceding albums. The reconstruction of simple blues formula on From Beale Street to Oblivion, the blatant, over the top psychedelia of Strange Cousins from the West, and the return to hard rock primitivism on Earth Rocker are refined and combined to create compositions that are distinctly Clutch yet new, energetic, playful and original. This is a band who could break the fourth wall and wink at their audience. But their meta is far too clever: “we know we could wink at you, but we won’t cos we respect you, but here are a few clues…”. Psychic Warfare is everything that Clutch did and continue to do well. It is respectful of its adopted musical traditions but it is also daring and bold. In other words, it is splendid.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Metal Writing Sucks

The other day, I started reading Treme Stories and Recipes, a cookbook born of the HBO series Treme. As I metaphorically leafed through the digital "pages", I noticed that each of the introductory pieces was well written.

Well written.

Which is to say that descriptive passages featured clear, creative descriptions, economical use of words, avoided repetition and "meme speak" (what we old timers called cliches) and skillful metaphors relying on evocation, implication and imagination rather than spelling it all out.

I read fast. I read a lot. I wish I read more print. In my youth finding a typo, spelling mistake or other grammatical error in print was a big event. "Gotcha! How did no one see this? I reckon I'll write a letter to the editor."

In the present era of ultra brief news cycles, getting content to "front page" as soon as possible is the main goal of the media. Mistakes of all kinds are extremely common. Frequent factual errors and correction trails are found often.

Then there is the "culture" of contemporary writing. Modern writing is built on the maxim: hyperbole is necessity. The type of dueling language popular among the youth, at first found in comments, then social media, have been folded into current stylistic standards.

The result is verbosity, fragmented often conflicting metaphors and unreflexive parroting of niche language as though it is universal. In small doses, in specific contexts, this type of writing is fun. It can be a joyous celebration of linguistic excess. The problem, however, is that excess has become the norm.

Metal writing suffers a deep infection as a result of that listed above. I wrote about this elsewhere. Seek and ye shall find.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Things are about to change!

Get ready, for it has been a while. Things are about to change.

New academic year, new computer, new resolutions.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Hang on, what?

Yeah, seems like no one noticed. Or cared. Anyway, the Abysmal record isn't. It's great. The other one? Not my thing but it does the job.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Gaijin Myths About Japan: The Salaryman

No one type in Japan earns as much discombobulated Gaijin ire as the Salaryman (sarariman). Salarymen are frequently referred to as uncreative, mindless, drones, grunts, alcoholic, misogynist and all that is wrong with Japan. Perhaps there is some measure of truth to these observations. But before we go there, let us shine a light on social-cultural context of the gaijin casting such aspersion in an attempt to understand the behind-the-scenes "how" and "why".

First though, let me be clear about my terminology. I use gaijin as a mildly offensive insult. As you likely know, gaijin is an abbreviation of gaikokujin, "foreigner". Most urban Japanese understand that the contracted version is somewhat abrasive but still use it. In every day conversation, the word is not quite a "nigger", "gringo" or "beaner" but nor is it completely inoffensive. In the right/wrong hands, however, it does become a derogatory term.

My usage is somewhat more specific. In my context, gaijin refers to a stereotypical, willfully ignorant, Anglo-colonial steeped in internet lore on Japan, lacking Japanese language skills, Japanese peers, friends or community and who feels a strong sense of "us versus them". The gaijin is a type of cultural chauvanist, primarily though not exclusively in his early to mid twenties, s/he is always right, Japan is always wrong, his/her country is the epitome of democracy, human rights and social justice and Japan is a racist hotbed of extremism, thought control and repression.

Sigh. This would not be so depressing if it were not so common.

So gaijin hate salarymen. But why? To me, the salaryman represents everything that the gaijin cannot and will not ever be. As an outsider, suddenly injected into Japanese society the gaijin lacks the educational and social context that his same age peers share. Certainly that is a disadvantage but it is not unique. While the sane viewpoint might be for one to work hard at integrating into the community, establishing friendships and other meaningful relationships, the gaijin scorns these connections as merely obligatory, lacking the organic roots of his/her own experience of community building... 

Which took place in another country and to which s/he is no longer a part...

Irony much?

But for what other reasons does the gaijin hate those besuited office workers? The gaijin, frequently resentful as a result of ongoing culture shock, a lack of language and social skills and limited employment prospects finds him/herself positioned in a field with little prestige or vertical movement. This is not inherently negative, everyone has to earn a living and not everyone is ambitious. Some people just want to pay the rent, have enough food and have something to do everyday. But for the gaijin the salaryman's world is so foreign, governed by obscure sempai/kouhai (senior/junior) rules, mandatory parties, inefficiency, subservience and... sometimes... good pay and twice yearly bonuses. Politics of envy, perhaps?

Next comes the gaijin assertion that salarymen are uniform drones, they all dress the same, have the same haircut and abide by corporate dress policies. There are two problems with this: first, have you ever seen how gaijin dress?

Yeah, that's right, fish out of water, often over-sized, no-currency foreign brand names two years, too late. Have you seen the shoulder pads, mis-matched shirts and ties... have you seen the "hilarious" gag ties, tank tops in late Autumn and sunglasses on subways? I have. And so have the salarymen. Be careful to notice that the object of laughter may well be capable of subjecthood, in spite of being Japanese...

The second problem is that gaijin aside from lack of linguistic proficiency also tend to be context blind. A black suited salaryman is a black suited salaryman, right? Look again. Did you notice the angle of the cuts, the fabric type, thickness, durability? Did you have a close look at the stitching on the shirt, the weave, the pattern? Did you notice that all check is not created equal. Can you distinguish between this and last year's check? See overstated the entry level brand name watch on that guy? New to money. See the well made, understated, subtle elegance of the smart phone cover that guy is using? He has been at this a while. 

But the gaijin sees none of this. Even within salarymen there is more diversity than the black suit. Many smaller companies or specific branches of larger companies encourage more creative dress styles as they try to create an image of desirability a means of attracting new recruits. Gaijin frequently do not know how to intperpret such data and assume such salarymen are freaks, hosts or something else other than what they are.

Foreigners in Japan don't have to be gaijin. The first step to giving up gaijin sensibility starts with questioning not only stereotypes but the propensity toward adopting them as valid knowledges. Stay tuned, more on the way.