Combat Rock

It’s difficult sitting here in 2018 Trumpworld, recalling how another hated politician spawned a musical revolution. But back in 1975, when Great Britain’s longest-serving post-WWII prime minister took office, the fury of the then-nascent punk scene hadn’t yet been funneled her way. Punks’ anger and rage found an able target in Margaret Thatcher just two years later.

Thatcher climbed atop her conservative perch, two years prior to the release of Never Mind the Bollocks, the Sex Pistols’ punk “shot heard round” the music world. Britain would never be the same, as Thatcher (much like Reagan in America), turned her attention to dismantling much of the country’s social infrastructure. And Trump seems hellbent on scrapping what remains of America’s.

While the Sex Pistols received the lion’s share of attention from the media for their outlandish “manners,” sneering frontman, Johnny Rotten, and McClaren-esque media savvy (not to mention their shot across the bow, “God Save the Queen”), it was a group of working class twenty-somethings from Brixton who embraced an incendiary ethic of rage, channeled through punk sensibilities and three-minute song structures, that would later evolve and incorporate reggae, rap, dub, and funk, demonstrating that punk could be more than three chords structures, played at breakneck speed. Continue reading

Pedestrians and Cars

The end-of-week news cycle is focused on the attack in London that occurred on Wednesday. A lone driver plowed his car into pedestrians on the city’s historic Westminster Bridge. The latest reports are that four people are known dead, with another 50 people receiving injuries ranging from minor to very serious.

While the media unravels details, seeking to supply motive and all the other things that have become the norm in reporting news events, real humans have been forever impacted by one man’s act. Mary and I know all-too-well how the actions of a solitary figure have the power to permanently alter one’s personal journey.

How our news is received is now ideological. No longer are most people able to simply process information and come to a conclusion. We have grown accustomed to having others tell us what events and actions mean. It’s important to frame everything in some larger narrative—terms like “terror,” “lone wolf,” and of course, the need to link it to “Islamism.”

Personally—especially since Mark was killed January 21—I no longer care to consume news that plays to the same old binary ways of framing the world and my life.  Actually, my aversion to black and white explanations dates much further back than that.

Historic Westminster Bridge, London

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The Anachronism

I’m feeling more and more like an anachronism. The things that I think are important seem out-of-date and not in-sync with technology and our app-based culture.

I like slow things—books, conversation, food, bikes, and black & white movies. I’m not so big on Facebook, Twitter, and a culture with an attention span of 10 seconds.

Innovation, early 20th century style.

Innovation, early 20th century style.

Reading about the past, and prescient thinkers who accurately sketched out what life would be like in the present some 25 or 30 years ago (or even further back) indicates that Americans lack the capacity to change their trajectory, no matter how detrimental their track might be. That sums up the span of my life, demonstrated by history’s arc back to my time of birth in 1962.

As I think about these things and many other matters, I’m less sure about what’s right and perfect. And again, this puts me out of step with the masses—who have never been surer that their opinions and actions are right and justified. Even worse, technology gives them all platforms to spew their drivel.

Of course, the same applies to me. Except writing a 200-word post like this one is torturous, and seems like an exercise in futility.

Laughing and Raging

I don’t pretend to know what a writer like Jonathan Franzen’s (or Stephen King’s for that matter) life is like. However, there are glimpses into a writer’s mind offered by others.

In the case of Franzen that look-see comes courtesy of Phlip Weinstein in Jonathan Franzen: The Comedy of Rage, a new book that proposes to be a “critical biography,” joining elements of a biography with those of literary criticism. Franzen may be a writer of fiction mainly, but his fiction emanates from his life. Weinstein unpacks elements of that life—his family and Midwestern upbringing being just two examples—and offers up themes and the motivation for Franzen’s critically acclaimed novels and nonfiction work.

Weinstein developed a friendship with Franzen when the latter returned to his alma mater, Swarthmore College, to teach creative writing seminars. These seminars took place just prior to publishing what would be Franzen’s second novel, Strong Motion.

This period in the 1990s was just prior to Franzen’s move to become arguably America’s best-known literary figure (as opposed to merely, America’s best-known, best-selling writer) at the end of the 20th century and entering the 21st. It was also before Franzen dropped what would become his coming out work, The Corrections, released in 2001.

There’s been a lot written of and about Franzen, from his well-publicized dust-up with Oprah (whom he was critical of), and the invite to come on her show; he ended up being dis-invited as a guest, This was right after The Corrections came out. I mean, who the hell disses Oprah, right? Weinstein details this and some of Franzen’s contrition that came later. I think this and a great deal of other things that he’s written—like his essays for The New Yorker, as well as his stellar nonfiction—has elevated Franzen as a prominent and important cultural player.

Making the cover of Time Magazine.

Making the cover of Time Magazine.

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Grammy Who?

While I’ve never been a “dedicated follower of fashion,” as The Kinks sang, especially when it involved Top 40, mainstream pop, I somehow managed to cling to some sense of who the kinds of people were that garnered Grammys. Until this year.

The unbearable whiteness that is Taylor Swift. (Photo: Robert Hanashiro/USA Today)

The unbearable whiteness that’s Taylor Swift. (Photo: Robert Hanashiro/USA Today)

I guess that officially pushes me up and over the threshold of relevance, right? Actually, I do know who Taylor Swift is, so maybe I get a reprieve from getting shoved into the trash bin. Possibly that admission probably means that I need to check my white privilege.

My penchant has been for music that went against the grain, or wasn’t trying too hard to be fashionable. In high school it was The Dead Kennedys. I coped with my post-fundamentalist years stranded in Indiana, surrounded with a soundtrack that was weighted towards punk and industrial music; Black Flag and Ministry come to mind.  Hit singles never really captured my fancy. Continue reading

Baffled, but believing

Maine won’t ever be confused for a literary hotbed. With our low population density (save for Portland), and lack of any real literary engine; like a major publication featuring writers; the state will continue to be known more for lobsters than literature. Continue reading