Black Sabbath: prophets

It is impossible to understate the prescience of Black Sabbath:

War Pigs: not only the greatest anti-war song of all time, but also a lacerating indictment of the immorality and cowardice of political leadership, and of the exploitation of common people.

Cornucopia: hints at themes explored by Guy Debord. Fundamentally concerned with the human condition in advanced Capitalist western society, and the profound alienation of the individual.

Wicked World: the title speaks a bit for itself; precedes and sketches out themes expanded in War Pigs. Trenchant critique of the hypocrisies of late-Capitalist western society. Describes the healthcare crisis, and portrays the breakdown of the family under income inequality and lack of opportunity. Never so relevant as today.

Iron Man: foretells a post-apocalyptic future, with a dash of sci-fi imagination.

Paranoid: stark portrait of mental illness and the hopelessness experienced by some of the millions of people who suffer from it. Speaks of alienation. Makes perfect sense in an era of rampant opioid abuse.

Supernaut: an ecstatic outlier, imagining a kind of übermensch, and freedom from bourgeois constraint. Bohemian, perhaps. An underrated song in the pantheon. One of my favorites.

Sweet Leaf: accurately predicts the social acceptance and legalization of weed.

Snowblind: another paean to drugs. Fundamentally about escape, the will to transcendence, and the individual’s quest for freedom from judgement. Underlying connections to Supernaut.

Fairies wear Boots: more drugs. The final verse is one of the best twists in any pop song. You think you’re in the land of Led Zeppelin, and hobbits and elves and vikings and shit, and lo, no! The whole thing’s a hallucination. The doctor’s basically saying stop taking drugs or you’ll die. Probably an actual transcription of a conversation between Ozzy and a doctor.

Children of the Grave: huge, HUGE portent. Harrowingly, urgently relevant. Foretells with terrible solemnity the climate crisis and the foreclosure of life for our children, and their children…if they get that far.

Geezer Butler is a genius.

Powerviolence, cuteness, hardcore

So when I speak of punk here, I mean a particular type of hopelessness, one that is an affective response to a bleak reality: running oneself into the ground or otherwise spasmodically squirming under the pressure; being loud as hell and being certain that it ultimately amounts to little noise. What I’m getting at here is hardcore as it relates to a sadomasochistic use of the term, an autoerotic impulse to step on yourself, to get in your own way, to treat yourself like trash. It’s in Henry Rollins’ and Darby Crash’s self-loathing. It was there in Iggy Pop’s and Alan Vega’s proto-punk self-immolation. It was there from the start but lost as delusions of success (and sometimes, frankly, delusions of political agency) developed. What I’m talking about is hardcore as a tool for the enunciation of panic and disillusionment. It couldn’t last long. It didn’t. But in the cracks of its short run (Reagan’s first term, 1981-1984) were a handful of records that exemplified the genre’s potential and preempted darker styles to come.

This essay by Ben Levinson offers a remarkably fresh and perceptive take on some of the more theoretical implications of a particular time, centered in the 1980s, in the evolution of punk, hardcore, thrash, metal, and other related forms of expression.

It also happens to connect quite deeply with my own experience as a teenager in the early 80s. I saw many of these bands many times. I shared stages with some of them, with bands I was in. I was friends with them. I contributed photographs to zines and album covers; wrote reviews, designed flyers, recorded demos…I was fully committed. While bands like Siege and Infest appeared at a time when I’d already mostly drifted away from hardcore, the culture surrounding their antecedents was everything to me; the stuff that buoyed me through high school. In September, 1985, I moved to San Francisco to go to college (in the back of a touring van of a band no less; I slept in there for a few days). Then the world broke open in a hundred other new ways, much as the first time I heard Black Flag, in junior high, was its owns supernova, before that. There was no looking back.

As if it’s not obvious to the people who really know me, the values and conceptual filters and assumptions on which a lot of my thinking is based today were developed and adopted in this time, and it’s gratifying to discover a younger generation reading this rather hermetic culture so perceptively.


Relating to the previous subject:

I am often suspicious of songs which too readily seek out the tonic, but there are certain exceptions I make.

Sleep point to the apotheosis of the tonic. Indeed, “Dopesmoker” is a vast, glorious paean to the hallowed joy of the tonic.

It’s a one hour journey everyone should take every now and then, as a tonic, as it were.

Everything is Political — Art.

Look, I don’t want to make everything about politics, but, as we used to say a few decades ago, everything is political.
It matters that amid all this crap that you stay engaged with creation and art.
Last Friday, I purposefully skipped The Installation. I still haven’t watched that speech, and never will.
Instead, I went back to MY safest space, which is art, and by being engaged with that, affirmed its power and hoped-for eventual permanent triumph over anti-human values.
I bookended this pivotal weekend with art.
Friday night I learned about two new artists, and heard and saw performed some of the most strikingly fresh music I’ve heard in a while:
And last night, Monday, as part of the Monday Evening Concert series, the mounting of three of Julius Eastman’s pieces.
And I swear, nothing gives me more energy and power to fight the fuckers of regression and dismay and the champions of the death-drive than music and art and bodies in creative motion, carving out an aesthetically inclusive, morally righteous, maximally just space.
It IS political.
Fight. Stay active. Call. Protest. Listen. Support your sisters and brothers whose lives and bodies are more imperiled than your own.
But don’t forget about art and creation. It is one of our mightiest pillars. Support it. Spend some of your money on it. Support foundations and grass roots arts groups. Support arts education for children and especially children in underserved communities. Support arts education for the incarcerated. Go to your local museums. Participate in free happenings.
Before there was a country, there was the voice and the drum.

News Analysis ®

Post Women’s March.

You know what I especially appreciate about yesterday? That within less than 24 hours of the inauguration, in a span of time in which the Unnameable should have enjoyed the uninfringed glow of victory, he and his mission were stripped of that; displaced from the top of every page and from the head of every news story; displaced and replaced by a picture of a maximally plural and inclusive vision of this country and the world.

Put it another way: he and the GOP were denied their golden optic. Their balls were barely done and all of a sudden, millions of ordinary Americans wrested the spotlight away from them and amplified that spotlight a hundred times.

Put it another way: their first morning waking up in power, and they’re already playing defense.

Desperate, angry, dissembling defense.

That’s a powerful message.

And it burned their ass.


Artists: time to work.

This a call out to the artists. The writers, the performers, the musicians, the observers, the chroniclers, the dancers, the choreographers, the singers, the voices, those who must create: I want to have a serious, sustained conversation about our calling.
Let me re-post Toni Morrison’s famous paragraph:
“This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.”
We need to go to work.
So we’re doing the first order stuff: calling, donating, showing up, writing, calling again, faxing, engaging, resisting however we can, provoking advertisers to blacklist Breitbart, boycotting, marching, etc.
The next round is organizing in a more substantial way. I’m not sure what that will look like yet, and it’s not my strong suite.
What is my strong suite is creative work.
And a whole bunch of you have the same or even better strengths.
We have resources. We have skills. We have a LOT of skills. Rare, important, difficult-to-master skills, and we have the confidence to deploy them at will.
How can we begin to link our skills and ideas and creative fervor with those who possess other gifts and insights and skills, and work together to create a movement? How can we enlist our skills in the service of producing change, provoking thought, provoking reflection, reconsideration; provoking empathy where empathy is lacking, caring for others where caring is lacking? Changing the conversation. Reframing the discourse. Destroying existing perceptual frames; help to begin chipping away at existing power structures, and building new, more fair, more just, more civil structures which respect and hold as equally human those of us who have the least as those of us who have the most? 
We have studios. We have media apparatus of every conceivable, technical variety. We write well. We type fast. We compose with grace. We edit with precision. We know how to do lots of basic, technical resource management. We organize information well. We understand modes of perception, aesthetics, style, form, content, formats, clear communication, and complication and difficulty where necessary. We understand signs, symbols, metaphors, interpretation, meaning. We have discipline, can work very long, tedious hours. We know how to deliver. We know how to meet deadlines. We are not intimidated by massive projects. We understand vision and how to translate that in to work.

What can we do on our own? What can we do in small groups? How do we enlarge a creative culture which recognizes common cause even without coordination?

What can we do to work with other agents of change from completely different backgrounds, with completely different skills? How can we work together?

I’m not talking about abstract ideas. I’m talking about concrete work.

What the products of that work will be is up to us.

But I have to do something more than what I’m doing, and art is what I’m good at.

If you’re reading this, and you feel this, then let’s start with this question: how can we help?

Thus begins the work.