Reading Henry Rollins’s Get In the Van in our tour van. I feel like I am looking in one of those endless mirrors where you see a reflection or a reflection and so on. Not that I am experiencing any of the insanity that was part of those times, but perhaps reading a book about touring in a van while touring in a van wasn’t the best move.
I have been obsessed with Black Flag though lately. Once I dive into something I want to know everything there is to know about it. I can’t help myself. I dive into a world until I exhaust it and then I move on for awhile. That is why on this blog you will see a bunch of posts about a topic and then a week later I’ll move onto a new set of topics.
This blog is sort of a catalog of my obsessions. I only hope that there are enough people that share my obsessions and/or I can find an angle that makes them interesting to others for a few minutes.
There is so much great art out there. How could anyone be bored? Jail or lines are the only places I have ever found boring. If you give me my ipod and access to books the days just melt away for me. I feel sorry for people that have no passions or have passion and no outlet for it.
I think in the modern world there is a lot of misplaced passion. We are told by the television to have passion for money or items or religion.
Past the pub that wrecks your body
And the church – all they want is your money
The Queen is dead, boys
And it’s so lonely on a limb
The other night in the hotel I caught part of Beyonce’s HBO special and ever since I have been trying to figure out why it was so vile. It is true that is was style without substance, that it was music without musicians, that it featured politics of the shallowest kind, and that it was more Las Vegas show than concert. But even none of these things really get to the core of why it was so awful.
The part of the concert I saw was championing feminism. But that was it’s explicit premise. Implicitly it was really championing materialism of the worst kind. If you believe in yourself you too can be rich and successful and this is the height of human achievement. This was really nothing but Joel Osteen without pants.
Earlier this year I saw Buffy Sainte-Marie. She spoke about how the way we treat others, and not money, should be our defining purpose. There was something not only powerful about her, but subversive as well. You felt as if you were seeing a great spiritual warrior for good.
Buffy Sainte-Marie was, once upon a time, blacklisted by President Johnson for her brave political stances. Beyonce has been invited into all of the halls of power, even the White House, because at the end of the day she rubber stamps the status quo.
During the concert I saw there was a giant sign behind Beyonce that put up words pertaining to feminism. Subliminally it was saying the same thing as Wall Street’s Gordon Gecko: Greed is good.
As I creep slowly up the music business food chain and have thought about the state of the music business, I have had to think about what the term selling out means. I grew up when the music business was healthy. I also grew up following the punk and independent music scene quite closely. There were people who “sold out” and who “didn’t sell out”. It meant various things to various people, and was never clearly defined, but it was more so than today. Lou Reed made a Honda commercial, but I don’t think anyone could ever accuse him of selling out. Meanwhile a band like Fugazi never even allowed themselves to be interviewed in magazines that had booze or tobacco ads. Johnny Rotten, John Lydon, did a butter ad a couple years ago, but he claimed this was only to get Public Image Ltd, a very avant garde band, back to making records. Sometimes things stick to artists and sometimes they don’t. Really I think you have to measure someone’s whole career and determine if they have artistic integrity.
Back in the renaissance, in Italy, there was a rich and powerful family named the Medici family. They funded the arts heavily. They were patrons of such artists as Michaelangelo. Basically in one way or another artists need their Medici family. It is preferable if this is done through funding through the general public, as lots of small patrons cannot really force an artist to compromise their vision.
However, what do you do in an age when no one is buying records the way they once were? Art costs money to make. Bills still need to be paid.
You see more and more artists making corporate partnerships in order to survive. More and more artists also appear in commercials as mainstream radio has been neutered almost completely. This makes me uncomfortable because large corporations often act unethically. Part of the purpose of art is to speak truth to power. It becomes harder to do, though it is not impossible, if an artist is funded by that power. No one will accuse John Lydon anytime soon of biting his tongue. But he was well established by the time he made a commercial. I do think that the relationship between corporations and artists is corrupting, if not to every artist, then at least in the industry overall. If it is hard to pinpoint exactly who has been corrupted, it does seem like there is less art speaking truth to power than during the 60’s or the punk rock era.
I don’t have the answer to these questions. I just think it is worth thinking about. I do think that it is important that individuals support artists with their own money through buying of records, supporting radio stations that don’t have corporate playlists, etc. In a capitalist society you vote with your money. If you want art that means something you need to be willing to pay for it. I am still a person that buys almost all of my records, because I view it as investing in an art that means something to me. Music has, if not literally saved my life, definitely kept me sane. I want there to continue to be artists that aren’t afraid to speak their mind and to expose their soul.
Before I move on to other topics, I wanted to just mention a few other brief thoughts that I had while reading John Lydon’s (Johnny Rotten) book Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs:
1. I found the level of violence directed at the Sex Pistols to be interesting. They were under constant threat of violence, especially after releasing their single God Save the Queen. Lydon was actually stabbed outside of a studio. Imagine that being directed at a band now. Imagine any young band with a sizable following actually taking any stances that got under people’s skin now, without just doing something for pure shock value. I’m sure if I thought long and hard I could come up with someone, but the pickings are slim. There are bands that seem to have provocative politics, but they are delivered in such a way as to not be very obvious or effective.
2. I found it interesting that although the Johnny Rotten character came authentically out of John Lydon’s own personality, Lydon claims that certain things he did were based on Richard III, especially Laurence Oliver’s portrayal. There were also other things that became signatures of Lydon that were just because of pure luck, or bad luck. Most people remember the stare that Lydon had on stage. This was due to poor eyesight that he acquired because he had meningitis as a child.
3. Steve Jones is a very underrated guitar player. His tone is amazing and his solos are very memorable. One of my favorite guitar solos ever is his solo on EMI. It’s amazingly simple, the kind of thing that a beginning guitar player could learn, but the sound of it and the phrasing make it seem as if an explosion is going off.
4. Also notice that for being a so called punk band, the Sex Pistols tempo is often quite slow, comparatively to other punk music. Anarchy in the U.K. is actually mid tempo. It’s sense of danger comes from the lyrics, the singing, and the attitude of the playing.
5. A great album like Never Mind the Bollocks could only come about, at least most of the time, through a true band. This is due to a group of individuals that had different influences that complemented each other. None of the members ever created an album that sounded just like it on their own. It was the different personalities coming together at that one place and time. Often people in bands, or any collaborative effort, don’t take into account how even the lesser members of a project can influence something in a positive way. It is often the differences between people that create a wider palate and make a work more interesting than any one person can. Anyone that thinks the Sex Pistols were the creation of McLaren are way off and the music alone is the proof.
Rest assured, there will always be poverty in Britain because the excesses of the royal family will keep people poor. We pay tax for that shit. We substantiate and perpetuate it when we don’t look after our own. Our own is everyone – including the queen, Charles, Di, Fergie, and the lot. But I fail to see how my tax pounds should give these fucks skiing holidays. Why the fuck do we support monarchy? Who on earth gave them the right to dictate terms to me about what is right and wrong other than the bastard murderers of their ancestors? They give a sense of etiquette to the world and have a nice way of dealing with things, which I do admire. I don’t admire the monetary upkeep this tradition costs, and I certainly don’t respect a system that dictates alienation by fault of birth. There should be an English way for all of us, whether you come from a council flat or Buckingham Palace. Why shouldn’t we all go to the same schools and treat each other with equal respect? Why is there nonsense of one education for them and a lesser for the rest? It creates the multi-tier systems and keeps civil wars brewing. These are not things I want, and this is an unacceptable order to me. It is the humiliation of one mass of human beings dictated by one tiny little amount. Greed of the highest order. Selfishness of the worst aspect. - John Lydon
To my fellow Americans, before you feel high and mighty because we don’t have a monarchy, I believe you could change some words here and there and just as well be talking about our country. If you need to ask which words then you need to use your imagination a little more.
An interesting read about the punk movement and the movie The Great Rock N Roll Swindle for those of you so inclined. I have been listening to the soundtrack in the van. Off to Louisiana today, so posting may be slow.
Tomorrow I am going on tour with Shinyribs. You can check out the dates at:
This is a tour of the South which is leading up to our appearance at Albino Skunk Music Festival. I’ve heard that this is a great festival and I’m looking forward to playing it. I stole the blog title from the hilariously named biography of James Maker. I always feel a little bit like I’m stroking myself off when I promote my own shit. One of my favorite singles of recent years is Maker’s Born That Way: