Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Marathon: Names Have Been Changed To Protect The Meth Mites (8 of 13)

Marathon's Names Have Been Changed… is a 40odd second song about two friends who's lives stopped intersecting with each other once one of them went to war. There's a line and I think it's the thesis: "Sometimes our beliefs get the glory, while our friends get the neglect."

So, of course, I think of Brooklyn's finest mosh band, Most Precious Blood. I used to love their 2003 record Our Lady Of Annihilation in high school, but once I went to college, they went inactive and I started listening to bands that didn't have that heavy, walloping sound, because, of course, I heard mosh bands weren't cool. (In my defense, I found most of the mosh bands I heard to be trite.)

Most Precious Blood got the neglect.

In early 2011, they released Do Not Resuscitate, their long-awaited followup to 2005's Merciless, and I listened to it once or twice, found what I found in college there and left it sitting on my iPod. Last week, I found it, again, in the blistering cold, going to the bar, to clear my head. The end of 2011's been rough and I've slept in places I wouldn't stand. I've done things this year that I'm ashamed of exponentially more than I've ever done before. Thus, I went to a bar and listened to some new songs from 2012 records, while people I only kind of know talked around me about punk rock. It wasn't a complete rejuvenation, but I needed to get out of my own head.

I left it on, returning from the bar, and settled on track three, Meth Mites. Listening to the rumbling, colossal, Meth Mites reminded me why I liked the genre in the first place. It reminded me there were big battles to fight and that, yes, you are equal to them. You just have to be willing to be bloodied.

The final two lines are delivered with the venom of a superhero who finally got to the lair of the villain, wants to dispense with the charade and fucking fight:

Open wide/and out with your tongue.

In those two lines, I found what I treasured in high school. I need now what I looked for then: That sometimes there's nothing left but to steel yourself, look into a 9 foot mouth filled with rows of keen, uncountable teeth and charge. Bring on 2012.

Yes, this one is super short, to reflect the length of the song itself. Here's Meth Mites, which is even more disgusting and grisly than its name implies.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Marathon: We Hide In Pixels (7 of 13)

It's been a while.

I cannot help but be influenced by my friends and somehow, these days: I'm eclipsed entirely by them. At least in the form notion now: Zach's got a blog in which he simply takes pictures of the update he wrote on a typewriter, which I think is a delicious piece of intertextuality and "just gotta plug away" nature of the form.

There was a series of posts called Marathon that I did in 2010 about the self titled Marathon record and its relation to my life. I stopped it because well, Rome happened, which meant this blog had to bloom and then wilt. My excuse for not keeping going with it was that I embedded a youtube version of the Marathon song in question being questioned. (Side note: My best interviews are cross-examinations, I've noticed.) Since they're not on YouTube anymore, I had to devote a couple hours or so to figuring out iMovie to put them back on YouTube and that was always priority #139 on a long list of not doing anything and then finding the brain space to play Silent Hill 2.

Because I was looking over the old stuff I did with Zach, I went back to the Marathon posts and saw: No, I totally didn't embed any Marathon songs into the post. So, back to the Marathon. I've been thinking about it more than I expected for a project that's gone to the list in my head labelled inactive.

Because of that: This song, called Where We Hide, is really, really stupid easy. It's about punk being played by privileged straight white kids. It's one of those really obvious points that gets overlooked in retrospect, but when you hear about it for the first time, it's mindblowing. There's a couple harmonies on the song that are placed quite well, the first one that leaps to mind is and we'll make it tasty with sweet melodies having a harmony on the words sweet melodies is one a neat moment of being metatextual with the song, if you know how to look.

The same off-key melody backing vocal hits during details that incriminate and that decision still makes me smile, two years after I noticed it. If you pay attention, the song repays your attention with cool moments like that.

I did something like the same thing for Overkill a college magazine. I named myself Charles Victor Szasz so that if anyone actually used Google, it would pretty quickly reveal I was a massive comic book nerd, and that would narrow the field considerably. But really: I didn't want to use my name for this stuff, because I didn't want to acknowledge the thoughts I had and defend them in public.

Our lives are not really as hopeless or as haunted as we'd like to think. We're just privileged brats. We barely understand it means to be oppressed. We just scrape something real to let out how we feel...

And it was really only with my final piece, an introduction to Overkill #10 that, looking back that I nailed finally my voice, or at least got it better than I did otherwise in previous issues. Not to say I was somehow meaningfully...let's say constrained. I just know now I could write these things better and had I admitted my name, I wouldn't have to apologize for some of this.

Overkill was a project that allowed me to say what I wanted to say. I just wasn't brave enough to say it with my name. The hiding allowed me the sham that I would be seriously inquired for the ideas fired out into the quite flammable collegiate ether like a flare. That these things didn't quite explode spectacularly is one of the things I can't tell if it's relieving or disappointing.

I did, as Aaron sang, pontificate. And in calling myself Charles Victor Szasz, I'm ashamed now that I did it with deniability. It wasn't really so scary. I thought I needed the balcony. Maybe, years later, it's enough to say perhaps I was wrong.

Since Youtube only has a couple Marathon songs easily available to find and it's not this one, take this track, from the singer's new project, Attica! Attica!. It's called "The Children Of Broken Glass." This one line made me love it:

we hid our hearts to shield them from disgrace
and injustice laughed aloud and rubbed it in our face.

Yes. And when I say yes, I mean a wide mouthed, saliva loosening yes!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

That Day Ten Years Ago

I'm having a hard time coming up with things/ideas that aren't better put here by smarter people. So go read that Guardian piece if you want insightful commentary.

Instead, I want to talk about three of the good things that have happened around the day of of 11 Sept 01 and then get out. First: My Chemical Romance got started. This may not sound like much and up until the Black Parade, they were an interesting piece of errata, a band that started out in the Ink and Dagger school of goth/punk darkness, so the descent of the scene into badly aging macabre imagery was something they came by honestly.

Then they put out the Black Parade, a record I ignore outside of three songs, the title track for it's Queen-esque bombast, "Teenagers" because it's got a great hook and an even better chorus "teenagers scare the living shit out of me" and the hidden track "Blood" for it's bizarre-ness, even on a record called the Black Parade.

Then...Danger Days and everything changed with Thought Bubble 2010. The dance floor at TB 2010 for "NaNaNaNaNa"was absolutely massive and had me screaming my lungs out. Put simply, that single song restored my faith in adjective-less punk rock. It's a mission statement. It's a threat. It's superhero punk rock for want of a better phrase. When taken with the album intro, Look Alive Sunshine, puts an Invisibles style bounce in my step and deserves to be played as loud as possible from any speaker capable of being jury-rigged and stolen.

Danger Days is My Chemical Romance retooling itself after the scope of ...Parade and finding a different muse in genre playing. When they play the Cure ("Summertime"), it's worthy of the comparison, when they play Bon Jovi, it's done with the two images being a bulletproof heart and a hollow-point smile. With that, how can I resist?

Second, a very good friend of mine proposed one year ago today.

Third, Adorno was born today.

Finally. I'm going to take Ed Brubaker's advice and find something beautiful in my world today. Joy beats oppression, so I've heard...

...but oppression will make you pay. A song called "Paul Robeson" from the World/Inferno Friendship Society's record Red-Eyed Soul.

Sunday, July 10, 2011


What to say about Trin Loch? J-school student? Nah. Likes cooking? Nah. Proud Pi? Nah. The thing, if I'm going to properly introduce you to her is that she's not what she's doing now, she's most precisely understood as what she's planning for in the future.

There. Now you're introduced. This is written by her. Wait five years and she'll be telling you the news from wherever it's happening. Particularly if there's cupcakes.

I looked forward to buying Tina Fey’s Bossypants for weeks. When it was finally mine, I immediately pored over every page, hungry for all the jokes and hair-secrets that must have fueled my devotion to Ms. Fey since age eleven.

But I didn’t laugh once. Not once! I was engaged the whole way through because it was clever, honest writing and had lots of jokes on every page, but it wasn’t funny. I did love her stories about Alec Baldwin and Lorne Michaels and I did crack a smile during the Sarah Palin chapter, but for a former SNL Head Writer/30 Rock powerhouse, some of her writing frankly sucked. A whole chapter of politely acrid letters to her "haters" on Tina, you're better than that.

Many people much smarter and older than I am have waxed philosophical about what makes humor humor. Comedy’s in the wide shot and all that. Mr. Straw, my 9th grade global studies teacher, rattled off some behavioral psychology bullshit I only remember because it was so fucking pretentious: “Laughter is merely the response to a violation of the anticipatory set.” (Say that aloud in a British accent to sound like the world’s biggest tool.)

But I’m starting to think Mr. Straw was unfortunately right, at least for my sense of humor. I anticipated what Tina had to offer. I anticipated lots of fart jokes, improv war stories and feminism. I expected most of the book to be about food. It was all of those things, totally, and I was left both fully satisfied and completely disappointed.

I never laugh at sitcoms, but I do laugh when someone walks into a wall. I never laugh at comic strips, but I do laugh when waitresses drop all their plates. I’m the asshole that claps and yells, “Job opening!” And this frightens me, because with every day, I’ll get more used to the world and fewer things will violate my anticipatory set. Will I laugh less and less? Will I get so comfortable that nothing surprises me anymore, and I will never laugh again? Maybe those old grumpy grandpeople who never smile or laugh aren’t miserable…maybe they’re just incredibly well-adjusted. But there's a lot to appreciate about smart humor that's not ha-ha funny, so maybe they spend all their time appreciating instead of laughing.

The most recent violation of my anticipatory set was in the last Doctor Who episode called “A Good Man Goes to War." Amy Pond was gingerly holding her baby in the middle of a crossfire when it spontaneously melted (it was a fleshy doppelganger non-baby) and went “Pbbbbt” and all this jelly flesh landed on the ground with a plop. I laughed for ages. It was supposedly a moving, horrifying scene, but while Amy screamed a blood-curdling howl, I dissolved into hysterics: That baby went "Pbbbbt!"

It was funny because I didn't see it coming and it was totally bizarre. So, weird shit makes me laugh the most. But most people aren’t that weird, or maybe a lot of them are, and I’m not patient or kind enough to find out. This might be why I cut ties so brutally. I end friendships quickly. Graduation happens and I’m off, gone. I keep five or so people close-close-close because I know they’ll continue to surprise me and intrigue me, while the rest I can’t be sure of. I just want really weird, interesting friends who can make me laugh. I'm afraid people will go all boring on me and I’m even more scared of going all boring on myself. The qualities I value most in a person are eccentricity, creativity, spontaneity and an enthusiasm for all those things. If I’m not creating something new with friends, sometimes I feel like I’m wasting time. (The opportunity to share thoughts on Subsidized Sincerity is quite a lovely way to collaborate with a friend, so my thanks go out to James, for this and for never being boring.)

In Tina’s defense, I had huge expectations for the book, which completely disobeys her cardinal rule: always have low expectations. Memoirs aren’t her thing. Mom pants are. And so is improv, which is all about spontaneous creativity, so I'll still keep her on my List of Heroes, right under Fareed Zakaria but still above Lois Lane.

Here's “Many Moons” by Janelle Monae, another name on that list, who always delivers a healthy dose of weird whimsy on a boring day.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Words We Say And The Words I Hear

A clearinghouse of the things in my head that have to do with presentation. Two, then I'm off. Lady Gaga's self-designation as a geek and Ryan McKenney of Trap Them.

The original title of this was: James, stop being insecure about Gaga being a geek. That's really about the size of it. But some background is important.

Gaga calls herself a nerd or geek on her latest record and that sent me for a loop. I tend not to think of an artist that's gone diamond (10 million copies sold) as being a geek. That seems counter intuitive. That kind of colossal success is antithetical to geekdom, or so I'm trained to think. Geekness has definite boundaries and borders to me. I think of it as outsider culture, or at least a fashionably unreasonable focus on a particular piece of culture.

Of course I'm wrong. But I'm getting there.

Joss Whedon has a relentlessly positive online fanbase. Want to know how many of them watched Firefly when it came out? Answer: Significantly less than 10 million.

Gaga got my friends talking about Degas and threw straight up Starcraft, C&C and Dune references in her sprawling, gargantuan video featuring another hugely successful female solo artist/singer about girls going dancing and ignoring men calling them on their cell phones. Also: She could have thrown Dance Dance Revolution references in there and that would have been just as useful to her point. Games are still games and a geek thing even if they're not about killing people. More to the point: If Vin Diesel is one of us, then how the fuck is Gaga not? Vin Diesel is the ultimate dumb jock actor and this is a guy that played tons of Dungeons and Dragons and still talks about it. Plus, the guy's got his own videogame studio.

Point is: Because of her success, I don't think of her as a geek. I'm wrong in that. Her eccentricities have not been sandpapered out, but instead amplified, sometimes literally. She has turned those eccentricities and occasionally bizarre behavior into something incredibly profitable figuratively and literally. Figuratively in that she is perhaps the biggest female pop singer around with a message of tolerance, love and solidarity and literally in that she makes shitloads of money.

...and I'm still thinking of geek as a positive designation.

Second part: Ryan McKenney of Trap Them. I've talked about Mr. McKenney and the band he's in before, and man, seeing them live reinforces to me just how amazing they are. Short version is thrash metal bang your head wait queens of the stone age part oh shit hurricane of hydrocholric acid. Trap Them, ladies and gents.

Their new record, Darker Handcraft, is really good. But again: Language of thrash metal. You're not meant to be in awe of Darker Handcraft, you're meant to be murdered by it. I saw them live and at one point I was genuinely terrified when I realized one of my earplugs had fallen out. In between songs, he didn't talk that much except to say, yes, I've got anti-social tendencies despite the fact that I'm a frontman for a metal band and...I don't believe I have anything to say. I'm not an teacher or a [something else, it escapes me.], so I'm not going to say anything.

These statements he makes are all true, in that yes, he yells for a metal band, he is not a teacher but the conclusion is wrongheaded. Teachers and educators generally are not the only people who have wisdom. Even if they did, though, there's a slightly less straightforward one: People came here because they wanted to see your band, because they heard your band, liked it and want to hear more of it and are, presumably, far more willing to listen to what you have to say than the average person.

The point is, you can have something to say without being a teacher or educator and dude should give himself more credit. It's not merely in what he yells that shows it, but what he's a) able to say with it and b) has a series of paintings (the link goes to Fucking Viva, by the way) based on his lyrics. Most of it is Pollock influenced, features black, red and white and I suppose I could talk about the merits of the paintings themselves, but there's this: I can't think of many other lyricists that have a strong enough vision of words in their heads that they literally paint each song.

That, I think, speaks far better and more eloquently than his peers and contemporaries.

From the new Wonder Years LP, Suburbia I've Given You All And Now I'm Nothing. Play loud and wait for the three part harmony. Also, those racing guitar leads!

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Common Clearinghouse

Usually, I'm more nuanced than this, but Common's appearance at the White House and subsequent Fox News pants-shitting based on the "burn a Bush" line has only two sides for me: You either understand Common's rhymes in the context it was written and then compare that to his entire discography or you don't. This is one of the few times where black OR white thinking is completely correct. There's right and there's wrong. It's clear, Fox News is on the second side.
Oh, and this is obviously manufactured outrage. No one ought to be surprised.

(Also: I use rhymes here as opposed to lyrics not because I want to devalue the message in hip-hop, but I instead don't want to use rock parlance to describe hip-hop where I don't have to.)

The song that got Fox News' knickers in a twist, "A Letter To the Law", based on its last part is, explicitly, about moving beyond that kind of violent language and rhetoric the news organization took for the song's core aim, to make a better, more safe world as a community. Period. There is no grey area on this one. I accept none. So let's use this as a test: Are you for Common or Fox News? Life hardly ever gives us these clear choices, these easy distinctions between knee-jerk crank yankerism and you know, truth, bolstered by accuracy. Take this moment and hold onto it.

Side point: Since when does anybody, for any reason, go to Fox News for any meaningful critical dissection of art? Seriously: When was the last time you or any of your friends thought "There's a new record from [Artist H] coming out. What does Fox News think of it?"

Then, Ron Grossman wrote in the Chicago Tribune an idiotic op-ed with the point that hey, Common, as a rapper, is not a poet. And his poetry isn't really that good. He's certainly no Keats, and thus Common ought not to be mistaken for a poet. To support his point, he chose the line I'm a renegade. I ain't never been afraid, I'm fresh and gettin' paid.

Now: Let's ignore the Grossman sheltering himself in his description of himself as a fuddy-duddy. I'll get to that later. What he's doing is using a particularly, say, bad line of Common's and saying it's indicative of the quality of his rhymes. It's not, of course. I don't even listen to Common and I can smoke this guy. Here. I spent an entire...3 minutes on rap genius and found this one: so many raps about rims, I'm surprised niggas ain't become tires.

The genius of rap genius is that you can click on the rhyme itself and get the explanation of it, sooooo, when I click on that, here's what comes up: [Common]’s surprised that even after rapping about rims so much, people aren’t tired of it. Also, play on the words raps/wraps. What wraps around a rim? A tire, of course.

That is some wordplay that Grossman dismisses entirely. Shit, most of rap's best lines are double, triple and quadruple-entendres that you need to be in the community to get. And pursuant to sharpening my point, I don't even listen to that much hip-hop! The two I listen to most often are Dessa and P.O.S., not exactly Hall Of Fame material. I don't even LISTEN to Common! I know he's Kanye's friend from Chicago that isn't Lupe Fiasco. I bought one of Common's CDs, Universal Mind Control, for my brother, for Christmas. That's it. That's the extent of my Common knowledge.

Now: Let's get back to the point about Grossman sheltering himself in the phrase fuddy-duddy. He's old. He doesn't understand kids these days. It's a phrase to give him wiggle room, to show that, well, he might not have everything right, but he has the gist. Fucking wrong. If he's going to call out Common for being bad with language and saying he's an old teacher, then he should at least have the temerity to back up his "Common isn't Keats because Common occassionally writes lyrics that are putrid" statement with his full authority. Plus, I'm Keats wrote subpar stuff and it doesn't get collected with his best work. Why not the same for Common?

And, finally, a recursive point, independent of Common's ability as a poet, just because he's bad doesn't make him not a poet. One can do things and be bad at them. What all of this boils down to is vivid: Common's getting a lot of flak that he simply does not deserve. That it is this simple is something that does not happen terribly often.

This song is by Common. It's called the Corner. It's about the corner and its importance in black culture. Enjoy.

Monday, May 2, 2011

That Guy Who Is Now Dead

I'm not happy with the announcement that Usama Bin Laden was killed.

Don't get me wrong, Usama Bin Laden killed a lot of people. I hate that. I don't like it, not one bit. But the President announcing it was the wrong thing to do. Yes, it gets a bunch of political points and by now you've probably seen the .jpg at right in five different places, but hey, hopefully it's still new, even if it's not fresh.

(Quick aside: It's a sign of the times that an image that hasn't been out 24 hours is already old news. Or maybe it's just me.)

I'll even go so far as to say I don't mind that he's dead. But dude, Al Qai'da sticks around even after Usama's gone and it's already adrift from being largely left out of the uprisings in the Middle East. With their symbol's death, it will almost certainly galvanize them to some kind of reprisals, and guess what, that's exactly the kind of shot in the arm a terrorist organization need to realign its priorities.

Let me say now, by the way, that I'm okay with the U.S. finding and killing Usama Bin Laden, let's call it an assassination, if we're to be honest. But announcing that he's dead and you've killed him makes him a martyr. Hopefully, this assasination, which again, few people in their right mind are going to argue against, is the above the water bit of the iceberg that is Al-Qai'da's declining importance and not the thing that gave Al-Qai'da their M.O. back.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Forgetting The Face Of My Father

This one isn't backdated merely because I want to let you all know this thing isn't dead. It's just hard to pick up momentum again. I've got quite a bit of writing to do and have already done, so I'm hoping I will merely be able to follow on the crest of the wave.

I forgot about Bane. The same way, say, one might forget about Dre. Well, not really. But I forgot what the word means. Not that bane the word, the thing that means the anti-THING, or the thing that will poison the THING, but what Bane means, now capitalized, to me.

I have a sticker on the laptop that I write this on and one of my two hoodies is a silver on bright blue BA|NE hoodie. The word Bane is a constant presence which I did for a reason. I did it because that word has a very, very positive connotation for me and I wanted to be reminded of their existence. Years ago, when I put on a hoodie with their name on it (I have three now), it was something that brought me a pride and a swelling my head I could feel. It's a confidence. I realize, now, I could also be talking about fraternity/sorority letters.

Bane has that kind of a meaning for me. I forgot what that word meant.

Words, one of my friends, said, on the phone, are independent of their meaning. It ought to be considered, then, that we shouldn't worry so much about what we think they mean. We disagreed. Words shouldn't mean to so much. I almost told him to go fuck himself.

Of course words have meaning! Anyone who has ever, ever written something knows that words mean something. Their meanings might be ancillary to the words we choose for them, but that doesn't make the word meaningless. Ask anyone who has ever been a programmer. Their job, for which they are paid, puts words that have specific meanings, with specific effects, in front of one another for the purposes of a larger program.

Hey. That sounds like a good metaphor.

bane: thing causing death, poison, a cause of great distress.

Bane: a Boston hardcore punk band started in the 90s.

Bane and not bane, has a specific meaning for me. They are one of the elder statesmen of hardcore punk bands today. They are, to me, a band that has consistently brought a smile to my face and a reassurance that I can do this frightening thing ahead of me. Short version: When I see Bane, I smile and I remember that maybe just maybe the wind will break my fall and the rush will pick me up.

I think of the amazing, anxiety shredding performances I have seen from Bane. That band has blown my mind more times than I can count. I can say this without hesitation: I can divide my life one of two ways. My life before I saw Bane in 2003, with the Suicide File and my life after I saw Bane in 2003, with the Suicide File.

I think of Chicago in 2004, Pittsburgh in 2007 and Rome in 2010.

I think of listening to the Note for the first time in Denver in 2005. I think of keeping Give Blood in constant rotation in high school and spending any favors I had left in college to see Bane gigs in Pittsburgh and Erie, lying to my college about going to a career fair so I could see Bane two miles away that night.

All in all, I've seen Bane nine times and I forgot what those four letters meant to me. How this all was sparked was this: I was freaking out about something and I don't even remember, I just remember I had Bane on my iPod and it wasn't anything older than 2008. It was their new material, stuff that I haven't let sink in yet.

So I listened again, sitting on the bunk bed mattress and remembered, as my back unknotted, what I forgot.

Underworld, USA from Cold Cave's Cherish The Light Years. The beat is dirty and thoroughly rotten. The lyric aims? Far cleaner than you'd think. Point is: It's 80's glam, sung by a guy who used to be in American Nightmare and that band was purer than the driven snow and it seems like he can't entirely let go of that influence...

Monday, March 21, 2011

Don't Bury Me, I'm Still Not Italian

Today, I went to a con. Yeah, one of those cons. There was a lot of Naruto. And cat girls. I don't really know. It was an anime/comic book/videogames con. Which is strange, because at least in the US, each of those have their own specific convention. But this convention was, specifically about all three. Anyway.

I left at 2:30 p.m. for something that was supposed to close at 8, clocking two buses and a metro jaunt to get to the venue. I would have left earlier, except I only found out about it last night and then, in between finding out about it, I went out and got drunk and forgot about it thanks to the wonder of whiskey coke.

So. I arrived at the con about 4:30/5 and immediately went into the dealer room to find shitloads of comics and manga in Italian and nothing I particularly wanted in English. (With the exception of an Ann Noceioti/JRJR issue of Daredevil.) Anyway. I was confused, hadn't eaten much and decided that I needed to leave, since I'd spent 8 bucks, made a quick run and saw the place was charging 4 Euro for a small box of popcorn. I wandered around the floor of the convention that would lead to the exit.

(Oooooooooh. Quick moment of explanation. The con was held in a sports stadium [holds 8-10K+?] and the dealer room was on the stage/court of the stadium, with additional dealers on a higher level/ring around it.)

Gamestop had a bunch of boxes all hooked up for network play. I think I saw Gears of War, some fighting game I wanted to believe was Marvel v. Capcom 3, but didn't recognize and some other game with guns and shooting. (Oddly enough, not Dance Central or DDR. You'd think there would be non-traditional party games but whatever. There's not.) And that's when I saw the note charts and the set up and I knew: There was Rock Band. I chose to walk over to it, I didn't feel a pull, but this whole thing would sound better if I did.

Of course there was a line. Of course I had to wait for an interminable 15 minutes. Of course they played Du Hast (twice!) and a Slipknot song (ugh!). Best part was seeing Italian 16 year olds trying to sing along Slipknot lyrics having no idea what the words mean and not knowing what they were missing. They literally did not know what they were singing and could not understand how shallow it was. It's Slipknot, for God's sake.

They also played the Ramones' I Wanna Be Sedated (Romans, Ramones. Huh.) , which was intruiging. Kid singing couldn't be older than 17 and it was clear he got about half the words, the remainder being sounds and unclear ideas. It was also clear, he was struggling with the fact that he didn't know what it meant. I, on the other hand, did know and knew what he was missing. It made me feel old and a little bit proud. I knew he wasn't missing much, and that, maybe, the kids playing the song on instruments might know better, though they'd struggle to find the words or justify their belief. I also knew, then, that the only language we shared, despite the Italian I'm taking, was the note chart for the game.

Finally, finally, finally I got near the opening and before I could object, both guitars were taken. Fuck. (The drums gave out on Du Hast play number two.) Fuck. then, they offered me a song. I saw the riverboat gamblers and fucking knew. 'Don't Bury Me, I'm Still Not Dead" had to be it. HAD TO.

The other players (one too young for his fake army fatigues) listened and said okay, sounds good. After turning on the vocal assistance and waiting for a brief moment, while the game loaded the song behind a pair of hands stapling a show flyer (all-ages! 9 p.m.!) to a telephone pole, we were off to the races.

So: I remember playing the micstand close to the vest and then deciding fuck it and rocking out with it full on (mic out, directly in front of my mouth, eyes facing the chuckling crowd) by the final chorus. As I sang "Don't Bury Me..." it felt more and more like a hallelujah. I didn't eat a particularly good lunch and didn't have anything to keep body and soul together on the two hour commute from one side of the city to the other.

And despite being malnourished, sick, not taking care of myself and any number of other things, I still was singing (well, that's generous) "Don't Bury Me, I'm Still Dead", a speedy, consise song about friends, most of them unfashionable or dead and also about being alive. It should come as no surprise I played this one constantly in 2008 and 2009. With each repetition of "I'm still not dead," energy returned in bitter, acerbic spurts, so by the time I faced the crowd, I wasn't just playing a game, I was addressing whomever was listening, the naysayers and peanut gallery in my head, the audience, the other players and maybe even God, that, motherfucker, whatever I do or whatever is done to me, I am here, alive and singing a song that means the world to me with a couple guys backing me up on plastic instruments.

Sure, I wished this was in Meadville. Sure, I wish I had James' face knotted in concentration next to me or a number of people playing drums or guitars, but, as I looked up at the crowd, who was clearly uncomfortable at the idea of a song played with enthusiasm that wasn't couched in irony or distance, I knew something: Right now, it feels really great to be alive. And that, dear readers, is a feeling I'm proud of and still surprised to have.

This should require no explanation.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

What I Don't Know Might Interest Me

I don't know what I don't remember. I broke my iPod, so it had to be wiped, just before I left for Florence. And every so often, I trip over a line from a song I don't have on the iPod and I remember to re-download the music, somewhere. (Before I continue: I own most of the music I re-download, they're on CDs that I didn't put on my laptop, because I didn't figure I'd brick the iPod when I wasn't paying attention. [Oh God, read the second part of that sentence until you laugh.])

So I'm singing snatches of melodies and choruses, anything that has stayed in the subconscious of my mind that I hear even when I don't recognize what I'm saying. Things just come out and I try to capture them. Yesterday, it was fun.'s Aim and Ignite. I just up and sang the chorus to “All the Pretty Girls” in a private moment and I thought “aha! That's another record I listened to!” I'd like to hear it again, so I redownloaded it. I wonder what it will be tomorrow. (Oh! Perhaps boysetsfire's final record, notes from the plague years and their demo of phonecall 4 a.m.)

My subconscious knows me better than I do.

Forgetting an entire lifetime in music and remembering it in snatches and hooks. Is that something?

I've written this and I've remembered:

Rise Against's the Sufferer and the Witness, Revolutions Per Minute and the Unraveling (the reissue Fat put out in 2005, anyway)

Tsunami Bomb's the Definitive Act and bside TB v. the Monster

Alkaline Trio's discography

the Shai Hulud discography

Reel Big Fish's We're Not Happy 'Till You're Not Happy

I remember things differently now than I did as a kid. I would have hung myself, years ago, if I ever said this: But of the Rise Against records I want to hear from those three, the Sufferer and the Witness is at the top. Simply put, the songs are better constructed on a song-y level. Plus, that's one of Tim's better lyric records and I suspect my love for Revolutions Per Minute is rose colored. This might be growing up, acknowledging that something I said when I was 18 was wrong and not terribly insightful or merely uninformed.

What I know is this: There's about a five song spree on Appeal To Reason (7-11, the Strength to Go On through Savior) that'll hold me until I get back to the Sufferer and the Witness. Brief digression: I think it is a goddamned crime that track 3? 4? on Appeal to Reason, the Dirt Whispered, was not a single on the radio. A song about a girl and the earth and resistance against the cold, monotonous monoculture, which is basically Thomas Barnett's (Strike Anywhere) bailywick. So I like that. I also like the fact that it's a fastish Fat Wreck style punk song, with singing. In short: It is a compact punk song with a chorus that will bury itself in your brain. It deserves to be taken into people's hearts and warm when the goddamn concrete is too cold and the winter is too frosty. And, of course, it won't. Or it won't warm as many people as it could have.

When I hear Tsunami Bomb, I think of Allie and Sonia. I think of high school. And even saying that, I type Reel Big Fish. Sonia's a biologist or something. She makes money in science. I imagine it makes her happy and I smile, easily. Ditto for Allie. I don't think they've spoken in years and I was once their band's biggest groupie. Don't start a band, kids.

I remember, in flashes, all of these, with the mere mention of those bands. These things were important once, and now, I laugh and toast to their sailing on.

There's a girl. Between occasional cigarettes, she tells me that she's so disappointed in the studies here that she feels like her vocabulary might be atrophying in its disuse. I laugh. I laugh so hard because she's probably right. But I see it differently. I think you gotta, gotta give these kids a shot. Which is pretty mediocre language or at least malleable and pedestrian, I'll admit, but it serves a purpose. If someone is looking to be disappointed, they'll just look for things to confirm their thesis and they'll miss cool things.

And after reading Planetary, I want to live in a strange world. I want to read Indian noir (that is to say, noir from the country of India and not something that resembles the incredible Vertigo series, Scalped) in the hopes that I will see things, whether with my eyes or with my mind, I honestly don't care. I want those new experiences, because they will be new memories and there will be songs to go with them.

My voice is shot and raspy. I am still sick and though I feel much better, it looks like it's all finished except being cold and not being able to eat, so I write this a little bit deliriously.

I have forgotten much. Was much of what I forgot unimportant? Do the important bits stick with me? I hope so, but I fear not. Inevitably, a song will come up and it will jog a memory. And I sure as hell don't want the memory to be pedestrian or another moment of inscrutable reticence. I get pedestrian or incalculable reticence by being anonymous and talking about Things with People. Maybe even if they don't entirely get it.

(Often times, I don't either. I didn't mention that to the girl because I didn't think of it.)

I'm pretty sure that all of us here (hello, whoever you are!) has had a really crucial conversation in our lives with language we weren't exactly sure of. We're constantly using words imprecisely, or ones we barely know at all.

Phonecall 4 a.m. I have to imagine that 4 a.m. is a knowing reference to Avail's 4 A.M. Friday. Here, though: It's a torch song (there is a lyric "lighting a fire in a darkened tomb", for god's sake!), with the vocabulary of stabbing at a dependency. My favorite lyric from this song, and one I always think of when I see a certain girl (not the one in this update), is "I'm not gonna lie. You know the truth. Please, believe, I've lost myself inside of you."

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Backdated: Duke Nukem Forever?

I've been checking out whatever Duke Nukem information I can find. I should not be paying attention to it in any way that's serious, I know. But: There's something about Gearbox Software's ads that I really like. It's in the use of their fourth wall breaking. I liked it when Claptrap shows up in the ads all snarky and angry and mean, like he's the most adorable foulmouthed editor ever. And now they're working on Duke Nukem? That seems like a pretty good fit!

But the last Duke Nukem game came out literally in the last century (1996) and since them times and gamers have changed significantly. Oh, right, developer 3D realms started and restarted the game over and over for 13 years, on the profits of Duke 3D, originally and later on publisher 2K's dime, until 2K got sick of their not-finishing-the-game in 2009 and pulled the plug on the studio.

Gearbox, which is another shooter developer that has basically been formed from 3D Realms expats, who also develop games published by 2K, took over the project with 3D Realms' approval and it's 2011. The game's coming out. In May. Now, in June. Don't call it another delay, but that's what it is. Anyhow. The Gearbox PR process comes out again and it acknowledges the issue and makes the audience laugh, while reinforcing the Duke brand even in the admission. "Duke never comes early."

And that's the tamest of the videos so far. What's clear from the other promo videos is that fifteen years have gone by and Duke Nukem remains unchanged, aesthetically. It's still as juvenile and immature and completely ridiculous as it ever was. Apparently, Gearbox needed time to tighten up some issues, one of which may be the butt slapping physics.

(Yeah. That was simultaneously a joke and not one.)

But. When Duke was around, gamers were still white nerds, who didn't need to be designated as male. It was an assumption. And the market understood this and catered to them. What exists now is a landscape where there is a very good argument that anyone who plays Farmville is a gamer and a less significant fraction of those people identify as white male nerds. But. White male nerds, would be willing to put 40ish bucks down on a game that they knew not to take terribly seriously, one that had chicks and guns.

The scale of videogames was different too. There wasn't the kind of money in it that there is now. There were respectable $40 games, for God's sake. And there aren't those now, or if there are, they're bargain game stuff for the Xbox 360. Even during the last console generation, the centerpiece of which was the PlayStation 2, there were great $40 games, from Atlus' Persona series to the Insomniac oeuvre.

Maybe it was the understanding, that a worthy game could be made with a budget that wasn't 8 digits, with a little bit of wiggle room. Now, there's games that legitimately cost $30 million and need to sell about 2 million copies to make their money back. For whatever reason, publishers aren't interested in smaller bets for boxed games, they're interested in going big or, I suppose, going home.

Duke, I think, with its, let's say, polarizing (and not sexist) aesthetic, works best as one of those $40 games, not as a tent pole or something. There's more heat on videogames and especially for publishers looking to make a big push on each of their products. Let's imagine Rachel Maddow with her hands on Duke Nukem. (It would probably also sell more copies because of the critical bowel-loosening.)

But the Maddow of my mind, I think, would have a point: This is a game that had a place in time and is now, well, like one of those old embarrassing uncles that didn't get the message that we're legit now. It's not like it's Deus Ex, a game that's well loved for good reason, its open-endedness and its incredible construction. Duke Nukem is known for being a foul-mouth, titty obsessed pervert who happens to save the Earth.

Is that really a tentpole game?

As a pallate cleanser, have one of the best rock songs (and best videos for it) of the 2000's, Weezer's Keep Fishin'. Weezer's aesthetic meshes really, really well with the Muppets. Everybody's smiling. It works. Plus, Animal on the drums is an inspired touch.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Japanese Influences, Part Two

Mario. Zelda. Mario made the rules of platforming. I've seen the level 1-1 repainted on a wall in a Cleveland bathroom and on tattoos and seen pictures of it in a baby's room, around the crib. Zelda made the rules of an action-adventure. There are dungeons. You fight through them. Plus, Link looks like me. Kind of. More than that, Zelda is exciting. I got scared going through dungeons in Zelda. I was worried about being killed in the labyrinth before getting to the Forest Temple.

Pokemon, might have been the only videogame I played for years and years. I think I stopped playing around college. Some of my friends still do. Pokemon is a culture unto itself, one that I left about the time that I realized I didn't care to repeat the same mechanics for creatures for hours on end. I look back on Pokemon fondly.

The Final Fantasy series is synonymous with Japanese role playing games and those also occupied a place in my heart. I bought 8 first and not 7. The ones I have played are: 6,7,8 and bits of 10. Six (whichever one is the one with the Espers, since that's much clearer) was a mindfuck that became clearer the more I played. Seven, well, it's hard to have an opinion on it without pissing someone off, but at the time, I enjoyed the game, a lot.

Two points indelibly stick out.

First and most obviously, the death of Aeris. That, in a single stroke of plot, was a shot to the gut of JRPG players who knew enough about the genre never to expect the death of a major character within the first disc of a three disc game. Of course, the minute you try to explain her assassination in ingame logic, it falls apart, but from far away, it's a revelation.

The second is literally getting into the head of Squall, finding out he's a guy who was so messed up from Sephiroth's betrayal and going crazy that he based his personality around the squad leader who'se orders he was following.

And then there's drawbacks. The padding in the game. Barrett's character. The sharp decline in humor after the first disc and the falling back on exploration tropes for the entire middle of the game.

Eight was my first. You don't forget your first, right? The combat system was eh. I don't remember much. I remember the rocket bit. I remember Seifer and Edea, vaguely. Swords. I remember the dance scene FMV. I remember Eight being more lush, but I haven't gone back to it.

Chrono Cross. My gold standard of Japanese RPGs. The story is labyrinthine and connects Cross to Trigger intimately. Bright colors everywhere. Character designs felt fresh. You could choose how you seriously you wanted to take the story with the characters (40+) you could bring along.

The battle system! Okay. The battle system works like this.

You have a set number of points (7), which regenerate. You can use them to cast spells, which take your points down by seven, or attack. So long as you have positive points, you can cast a spell. There are three kinds of attacks, low, high and medium, each of which do more or less damage, but for more points (1,3 and 5). So: if you wanted to, you could do a heavy attack and then cast a huge spell with a character but it would leave them helpless as their points regenerated from negative 6 or 7 to something where you could use them again.

It works better in practice than in words and it made battles deeper and more interesting. Also, there were different flavors of spells, that if a bunch of them were cast in a row, would do more damage or have their effects increased. Which means, you had to pay attention to what was being cast and if you were particularly good at it, use the enemy's spells to your advantage. And, if you got the spell board entirely of one color, you could drop a super attack of that color on an enemy, which, as super attacks go, is super awesome.

If I'm remembering correctly, you can even recruit a glam rock group to fight alongside you. (I think it's a play on some really random J-rock/visual kei band, but, but still.)

Beyond that? Plenty of little things to collect, if you wanted to. Plenty of secret characters, multiple ending points once you beat the game once. NewGame+, implemented well. Again.

Chrono Trigger is a grand slam.
Chrono Cross is an inside the park home run to win the game.

Persona 3 is high school, if high school was unspeakably terrifying and awesome due to fighting nightmare monsters for your extracurricular activities. If high school was fucking sweet, Persona 3 would be it. The battle system is fairly traditional. Also, I sunk 140+ hours into the universe.

I haven't touched Persona 4 yet. I'm terrified. I don't have a week and a half free to play it.

Metal Gear Solid gets ripped on, brutally, for trying to talk about war and nuclear weapons and the military industrial complex in a videogame. Kojima's hamfists, sometimes, with overlong cut-sequences for minor points, but fuck it: Dude's actually trying to say something with the videogames that have his name on them. In a culture and genre where game creators go to great pains to avoid saying anything controversial, Metal Gear Solid is a l'enfant terrible, shitting all over their silences and omissions, often not doing it well, but there is a good message in the game.

As proof: You can go through Metal Gear Solid 2 without killing a single person (and the game gives you the tools to do it.) You get guns, but there is always an option available to knock out guards instead of murdering them and hiding them in a locker. It's a degree of difficulty that's indicative of how easy it is to kill people and when the player chooses to remove the option, it reveals something foundational about violence.

Metal Gear Solid 2 terrified me when I played it. I've written about its effects on me elsewhere and I'll probably quote them at length. For half a year after that game, in real life, I peeked down hallways before walking down them, afraid I'd find terrorist minions.

Also! Terrorism! Presented in a way that was ambiguous and not clear who the real goons and bad guys are. Metal Gear Solid has a fucking point. There aren't many videogames that do. And when it fails or isn't perfect, that fucking point is still what separates from the dreck that kids call shooty games. It's not enough that Metal Gear Solid has a point, but that it's also a good one and one that goes unappreciated by the people that play it.

In short: Metal Gear Solid dares. Repeatedly and as a matter of course.

Would that it happened more often.

Have I shown this one before? I don't know. I don't think so. When You Were Young, live from the Royal Albert Hall. "Let's see what this thing can do," indeed. Play loud.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Japanese Influences, Part One

Oh, Japan.

I am…tremendously sorry to hear about the 8.9 earthquake in the country. I am a world away (maybe two or three, even) and I want to write something that talks about how incredibly influential that country's media output has been in my life. Without anime, I wouldn't be writing this. I would be a completely different person. I would be leading a completely, different life. God, high school and college and bits of middle school would have been unrecognizable to me now.

In celebration of that, I'm going to write! Japan taught me that the world could be more interesting, that the world could be stranger.

(I've been reading Planetary. Can you tell?)

There are two of these things and they are broken up into Things That Touched Me Out Of Japan That Are Not Videogames and Things That Touched Me Out Of Japan That Are Videogames.

Here we go.

Ronin Warriors and Dragon Ball Z. I think are best described as…things that showed me there were different ways of the growing up process. I latched on to those shows. Looking back now, they're corny as hell and they're borderline unwatchable and ridiculous. (The costumes for Ronin Warriors alone make me smile and shake my head.) Still. It looked really cool to me as a kid and gave me the idea that I could do really interesting things if I was willing to go against the mainstream.

Gundam Wing might be the seed of my strangeness. When I think of Gundam Wing, I think of being a teenager and being in a friend's house and watching them with him. It's the one mecha anime I got into. It's philosophy is laughable now and heavy handed and obvious. But it blew my mind all the same: Pacifism in the face of war. Weapons so terrible that could not be wielded by human beings without breaking the humans leveraging them.

Duo Maxwell (the funny teenager with the good head on his shoulders that wasn't stoic, sociopathic or terribly pliable) killed an entire colony of people trying to master Gundam Wing Zero. There was switch that was flipped when I saw that. I don't think I could ever be the same. Good people can be forced to do terrible things and..yeah. I didn't see it in Japan's timeline and it would probably have made more sense to me if I did, but that feeling of the character I loved being taken over and massacring millions of civilians drunk on power stuck with me since the first time I viewed the episode.

Cowboy Bebop is just really cool. Start here. Mixing the cowboy aesthetic with bebop was something that only makes sense in Cowboy Bebop's long, long shadow. It's immediate, it's vivid and it could be ridiculous and dramatic and painfully funny in the same episode.

It's a noir. It's a space comedy. It's a pulp. It's ridiculous and unique. It's a love story. It's an anime. It's a redemption. It's a…all of these things at the same time. It didn't have the stakes of DBZ or Ronin Warriors, but it's certainly smarter and asked, in a way no teenager could resist, "Hey, those other shows are huge, but they're trying too hard. Want to see something cooler?"

Trigun. Trigun is something I remember for individual moments. Trigun is something I remember because it got me into an argument that I couldn't admit I was wrong about (Was it with Fitzee, Sonia or Elizabeth? I don't remember. I think it was one of those three.) that was the impetus for me going into philosophy. It was the whole Knives/Vash thing and I fixated on the idea that killing things with self-awareness was kind of bad and that Knives didn't have a right to do that but couldn't explain it in those terms.

I think.

The other person was right with their point (I remember, somehow, this being on a train platform. Now we might be getting into things that are apocryphal or memories blending together.) and I was wrong. That moment made me resolve to argue better and, since 2007, there's a public record of that aftermath.

The death of the Nicholas D. Wolfwood was...surprising and almost made me cry.

I got drunk with a couple guys and we started talking about Trigun (in Rome!) and that last fight in the final episode, in which Vash has lost both his super powerful guns of death and instead uses Wolfwood's cross of guns used to stop Knives from killing him. It's Vash, an angel, using the tools of human worship to stop the extra-terrestrial weapons of Gods.

For a piece of errata: Samurai Champloo. It's here for the baseball episode. Basically, copy and paste everything I said about Bebop and replace bebop with hip-hop and it'll work. That baseball episode literally cry with laughter. Tears of joy. Tears of happiness.

The end of the series has one really great twist: One character who is a "lesser" swordsman kills another one, but not by feats of swordskill, but instead by understanding that if he took a non-killing blow to his body he could get an opening for a killing blow on his more talented opponent. It's a grisly stratagem, literally, in this case and it worked.

Mishima. I've only read Patriotism and I cried when I finished it. Reading the disemboweling of the main character was literally painful. There were parts where I had to put the book down because his suicide was so vivid. I have another Mishima book in Chicago and I want to get back to that one (I think it's the first one in his tetra logy. I think.) when I'm back.

Murakami. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running makes me want to write, myself and Dance Dance Dance I just wanted to spend more time with all of the characters. Murakami's works saved a mediocre trip to Milan and meant I got something out of the experience. (Protip: Don't waste your money. It's expensive and like an American city. Go to Florence instead.) Murakami, oddly enough, uses words I already know, but uses them very precisely and tells strange stories with them.

Envy should be clear by this point. Towering, torrential post-screamo that's gorgeous. Incredible beauty from far away. Like watching someone get disintegrated in an anime in a cool death sequence, with the volume off.

I've found my love for The Explosion's last officially released full length called Black Tape. This song was the single from it and it was amazing live. Enjoy.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Backdated: Dance Dance Justice

I've been in a rut with the Theory Of Justice posts, obviously. And I couldn't find anything for it. I finished the chapter 24, about the Veil of Ignorance. I stopped after that, trusting that the concept would interact with everything else I've been reading, from Bolano's the Savage Detectives to Dance Dance Dance by Haruki Murakami.

In something approximating idiomatic English, the Veil of Ignorance is a concept that says that principles we ought to abide by are ones that we could decide on if we were looking in on the Earth before we were born, without knowing what the lottery of our birth would be. Some people would gamble, yes. But people, mostly, not knowing where they would end up would likely, rationally, choosing principles that would be most beneficial to the greatest number of people and would set up a system that would levy the apparatus of our society not at the expense of the multitudes, but in favor of them.

That didn't swirl or interact with anything that I could find. I tried a drink to figure it out and I was left with a five euro bill and watching a pretty girl leave to go to a dance club I couldn't afford. C'est la vie. Life, right? Or maybe I've been reading waaaaaaaaaaaaay too much 100 Bullets. Regardless, nothing was coming and I'm still about five posts behind here. Last night, with the remnants of my computer's battery power, I posted some Murakami lines on Facebook and started the downtempo of going to bed, slipping into my pajama bottoms and brushing my teeth.

Tonight was going to be the same, too. Too much noir, and not enough actual progress here, but when I berated myself about not getting the work done, something finally interacted. There was a catalyst. And it was that Murakami quote from Facebook.

"Yougotta dance. Don'teventhinkwhy. Starttothink, yourfeetstop. Yourfeetstop, wegetstuck. Wegetstuck, you'restuck. Sodon'tpayanymind, nomatterhowdumb. Yougottakeepthestep. Yougottalimberup. Yougottaloosenwhatyoubolteddown. Yougottauseallyougot. Weknowyou're tired, tiredandscared. Happenstoeveryone, ok? Justdon'tletyourfeetstop."

A note on its context is important: The speaker is a extra-dimensional entity, with its own floor of existence, phasing in and out of a hotel. The person hearing it is a minor writer that makes his living not writing pieces he likes, but pieces he can turn in quickly, efficiently and also on time. It is a warning to a young man to live, live while there is still time, from outside normal time and space.

That's how the two pieces swirled and suddenly, as I feel the light, chilling breeze at eight minutes past midnight, I'm looking out at the city of Rome. From behind that veil of ignorance, would I choose life if it was an option for me? Would I choose to dance, to use Murakami's language?

And more to the point, what does dancing constitute, philosophically? Dancing is obviously a way of expressing the idea of working, hard, like you mean it, at what excites you, but in the case of being behind the veil of ignorance, does it mean leveling the playing field or upending it? it something else entirely? I think it's something else entirely, or ancillary to Rawls' point. But still. Dance. Dance. Dance!

I remember the first time someone told me about the Arcade Fire. I ignored her because she liked Guster, Moe and Fountains of Wayne. (Which, in my defense, might constitute an actual axis of evil.) But she also recommended the Arcade Fire, who have since won a Grammy and before that become Pitchfork darlings.

But. They have this song. This song is called Modern Man and it confounds me. It's a slow but steady buildup to the crescendo and just when I expect the singer to start losing his shit, they just neatly tie the whole thing down, like testing a hot air balloon for takeoff. I'm waiting for the band to cut the ropes on the song every time, but they never do. Anyway. Modern Man is also a song by Bad Religion. But this is not Bad Religion.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Modern Life Isn't War (Protip: It is. Just not for us.)

If you have ever wanted to live in a time of great turmoil and upheaval and change, Egypt and Libya should tell you in no uncertain terms: You always have been. The earth is gigantic. There is always something happening, somewhere, some little bit of change or swing bubbling under the surface and whether it gets squashed or not is up to the dictator that runs the country. This will always be happening.

More to the point, it feels more than a little bit embarrassing to be watching videos about videogames on the internet and not doing something to help real, live, actual human beings fight their actual oppressors for the ability to decide how the country they live in ought to be run. I am listening, right now, to an industry analyst talk about 10 million dollars for an SKU of a videogame involving guns. And then watching the remix of All I Do Is Win, which I'm pretty sure is a commercial for someone's alcohol and the vindication of all the people who keep the schedules of Nicki Minaj, Ludacris, Puffy, T-Pain and Fat Joe (there's a name I haven't heard in years) to get them all in the same room, messing around with each other on camera for just long enough to get some quality shots of everyone with a half-full bottle of whatever that alcohol is and then get out.

Reading a Pitchfork column called Why We Fight seems pretty hilarious in this context, too. What, exactly, do you fight for, leaps to mind. The next one in mine, of course, is what do I fight for? And the silence.

And the silence doesn't do me any favors in a world where people, are, in fact, fighting for things that matter. Do I fight for anything that means anything? (And I don't mean an imagined ideal. I mean something concrete. Like broken glass under my swaddled feet.)

There's more to say about silences, but I think Bolano captures the heart of it. I'm quoting from By Night In Chile here.

One has a moral obligation to take responsibility for one’s actions, and that includes one’s words and silences, yes, one’s silences, because silences rise to heaven too, and God hears them, and only God understands and judges them, so one must be very careful with one’s silences. I am responsible in every way. My silences are immaculate.

The trick, is that the person's silences are not immaculate and the entire story is the priest recounting the strangeness of his life and his sins on his deathbed. But yes, what does my silence on "issues" like Egypt or Tunesia mean? Surely, these dictators are bad and repressing their people, but taking a "stand" against that stuff from the safety of America seems...presumptuous at best and insulting at worst.

I'm left with my immaculate silence.

In the same way that Why We Fight is tangentially related, so is The Few That Remain (ft. Haley Williams) by Set Your Goals. In theory, the song is about the "real" artists who are trying to stick together through tough times. Haley Williams, of course, is from Paramore, a band that was basically created as the vehicle for her star by her father/manager. Huh.

Ignoring all the meta stuff, the song still rules. Press play. Smile and work for a better tomorrow.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Thirty Questions: No Answers

This will be about a Facebook meme. (Yes. Subsidzied Sincerity is Topical Subjects, LLC.) Presumably you've seen the Thirty Questions thing that has been passed around Facebook, one a day of pictures to an ordered series of questions, like "person you couldn't live without" or "thing that's influenced you most recently." It's a fun part of "talking about yourself and topics you enjoy" that people like, but I don't like the one a day format. I'm uncomfortable with putting a photo on people's newsfeed once a day and so I'm doing it all, all, behind the scenes.

Yes, the one a day thing makes it easy to do and to keep up with, but it seems aimed, to me, anyway, to be aimed for its viral spread and for it to repeat, like a barrage, on the newsfeed. It's not really an invasion, but it is annoying, so doing it all behind the scenes. And one outcome of that is that I get to...hem and haw over the exact wording of much of my things and keep it from coming up. I've had people tell me I'm very accurate in what I say, so this just increases the pressure to say it in the way that leaves the most interesting silences. There are worse things.

But more than that. What do I write about my biggest regrets? They almost all involve other people, and privately, to boot. Thus, I am unlikely to list it in "thing I wish I could forget." So, white lie on Facebook. People do it. I'll do it, too. Hopefully, they'll understand. (Or won't. I'm not sure which I want more.)

Hopefully, the point of Thirty Questions is to reveal something about oneself in a way that's structured and interesting and easy to browse. Who knows how it'll end up working out, but it's something that I plug away at, bit by bit. If I have any interesting reveals (it's not entirely clear to me that I do) it's because I, at least now, try to live by that old Eggers chestnut, that and the "go with it girl" advice of the World/Inferno Friendship Society. Saying yes instead of no and not playing it safe, essentially.

Of course, playing it safe is rather relative when I can read stories about an eighteen month old child being shot with an anti-aircraft round in the Middle East. Huh. Be creative and don't run from it is the only answer I've ever gotten that's made sense. I suppose figuring out how to make money from writing is a good idea.

I've been listening to the Wonder Years split with an English band called All Or Nothing. This song is on it and is called An Elegy For Baby Blue. No relation to the post. Oh well.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Death Curses LLC.

Because this week's batch is craaaaaaaaazy late, this one is the last one of the three written. And it's about death curses in Frankenstein and Dresden Files and contains huge goddamn spoilers for Dresden Files. I'm going to be using Not-Frankenstein and Frankenstein nomenclature to refer to the monster and the creator, respectively.

The two death curses are not quite the same.



You've been warned.

Alright: Dresden dies at the end of book 12 after losing or having to distance himself from everyone that cares about him. His girlfriend is dead, he has to turn his back on his friends, though apparently, they all still like him and most of them are alive. Ebeneezer, Thomas, Murphy and most of the wolves are alive. All of them seem to understand, somehow, that distancing is something Dresden has to do. And it's at the point where Dresden finally has a minute to decompress that the death curse aimed at him goes off: Die alone. He dies, alone, getting himself gussied up for a date with a girl in 10 minutes.

Dresden dies comfortably.

I will be with you on your wedding night is the curse that Not-Frankenstein leaves Frankenstein with as Not-Frankenstein resolves himself to kill all of the people Frankenstein loves. Frankenstein, then, in addition to the grim tally of his two virginal family members die, has his best friend Clerval and the woman he wants to marry, Elizabeth, die, by the hand of his monster. His family views Frankenstein as an unhinged wreck.

Frankenstein, after seeing the woman he loves destroyed by the thing he made, vows revenge on Not-Frankenstein and sets after Not-Frankenstein, who remains a couple days ahead of Frankenstein, taunting him and leaving messages. Frankenstein dies on a ship bound back to England, away from Not-Frankenstein, in the care of some random sailors that were lucky enough to pick him up from a loose ice floe and indulged his mission as much as they could.

Frankenstein dies of hypothermia, overexertion and being turned insane by his creation. In short: Frankenstein does not die comfortably.

Dresden dies knowing: I saved my daughter. I am going to kiss a woman and maybe a couple other things. My friends still respect me and exist.

Frankenstein dies knowing: The monster I made, that killed my friends and wife, is still out there. My family thinks I'm a maniac and I can't prove that I'm sane. In fact, I failed. I'm dying turning my back on my monster.

Frankenstein dies with failure. Dresden dies with something like a victory.

Today! Time Keeps On Slipping Into the Cosmic Future with the relevant lyric being: "If I can ask one thing when I am dead / would you lay me down by the river bed / and let me wash away? Let it take me back from where I came / because all I am and all I was is just / blood and dirt and bones and mud /and I’m better off that way."

I first heard this song last year while going down to see a Papal Audience. It was an epiphany on public transportation.

Friday, February 25, 2011

What Have You Ever Risked?

Dear Esther, a well-recieved Half-Life 2 mod got so well recieved, Valve (the makers of Half-Life 2) included, that the modder and Valve came up with a deal to add to the mod, include better music and then sell that for money. Unsurprisingly, the mod community feels betrayed, because they're a bunch of insecure kids who don't understand the concept of making something, thinking its awesome and then a certifiably awesome company says "hey, we want to sell this with you" and going through with it. As Dave Eggers once put it: No is for wimps.

But beyond that, the community is spouting the insane theory that the plan was always to make a game for sale, that Dear Esther going in the mod community was just a way for him to seed it for its eventual release with the free release of the full game. Which, I guess, if you take two Ambien and mix it with a couple shots of tequila and a handful of horse tranquilizers, makes sense.

(Wait: It doesn't.)

It presumes that the guy knew, when he started the project, that he would have a venue to sell it in and something worth selling. Which is ridiculous. But even then: What if that was the plan? That all the time spent on ModDB in 2008 and 2009 was just an investment in a later return on a 2011 release for this project?

Then it still means the mod community wins. What I mean is that the mod community has the kind of talent within itself, to release games that Valve Software (nobody's idea of a bad game company) thinks is worth cleaning up and charging money for, which means that more people should be paying attention to the mod community, because that's where the new shit is and will always be.

What remains, whether the mod community likes it or not, is that there will be a game that one of the best videogame companies ever believes is worth paying for that has its origins, its growth and its full bloom in the mod scene. More to the point, it's still available today, for free and will likely remain so for the rest of its existence. If that's not a victory for even the most anti-commercial people in the mod scene, I'm not sure that they like winning.

One of my favorite Bane b-sides, You Wrote This Song For Me. Relevant lyrics: "This has nothing repeat nothing, to do with your ignorant arrogant ass. Or some preset image of some preset scene..."

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Rest In Peace, Dwayne McDuffie

Without Dwayne McDuffie, I wouldn't be here. Literally. I wouldn't have made Subsidized Sincerity. I wouldn't have cared about comics universes. I wouldn't have a couple of the interests I do because of what he wrote on Justice League Unlimited.

He's dead now.

See, the "comic" I read as a kid was Tintin. In French. And for the better part of 20 years, I thought that it was as far as it would go. But then, someone, and I forget who, introduced me to Justice League Unlimited. I remember Websnark (Jesus, a website that hasn't been updated in a year now. How old am I?) was talking about it. And I don't think I got it from there. I think I got it from a friend of mine.

Dwayne McDuffie was the head writer on the show. And when he didn't write the shows, he bought scripts from people that would also blow my mind, Gail Simone and Warren Ellis.

And somehow, by hook or by crook, I watched the second season of Justice League Unlimited. Along the way, I met the Question, which led me to love what I thought was the character, only to have the character's nature flipped on my head when I read his solo series and had my mind blown again. (This seems apropos: the picture to your right is drawn by the penciller on the Question, Denys Cowan.)

But before any of the Question, I had a lot of goddamn fun with the Justice League. I didn't know Green Arrow's backstory, or why he was so sly, but I could tell a conservative/liberal discussion underneath his arguments with Captain Atom. JLU was funny, serious, terrifying and genuinely suspenseful when they wanted to.

When I think of Green Lantern, I don't think of Alan Scott, Hal Jordan, Guy Gardner or Kyle Ranyer. I think of John Stewart, black Army grunt. I think of John Stewart, the guy who loved an alien, who lied to him under order from her people, blackmailing her. I think of John Stewart, trainer of Supergirl, conscience and counsel of the JLU. I think of John Stewart, a Green Lantern that made mistakes but never excuses.

I'm never going to meet Dwayne McDuffie now. Beyond that, he had a bibliography that I was aware existed, but never really looked for. There were always interesting stories: The way he fought and bled out for Milestone Comics, now a horror story of the comics industry, bought and then buried by DC because they had no goddamn idea how to market characters that weren't white. The way that every time he tried to write the JLA, there was some inane crossover which killed any momentum he had going with the characters and yeah.

What's...also inspirational is that none of the garbage, the horrible, terrible garbage made him stop or let him give up. It's not like he hadn't done his fair share, he fucking founded a comic book company that wrote non-white superheroes and got screwed by a corporation too goddamn rigid and you know what?

It didn't stop him. He didn't leave comics a husk, burnt out and angry. He kept going, he kept creating and he kept writing. That's inspirational.

I'll console myself with this: I started getting serious about comics thanks to Dwayne McDuffie's writing and now that I'm serious about comics, I'm going to check out more of Dwayne McDuffie's writing.

He's dead, but if nothing else, he started something. In his honor, let's keep it going.

Rules are made to be broken, so no song. Here's four minutes of Mr. McDuffie talking about the challenges of writing in the comic book industry.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Eldritch Contract Law.

I've been reading a lot of Dresden Files recently and it got me to thinking, between sunbathing with John Rawls and sips of prosecco, that there exists a number of differences in fae contract law that are exploited repeatedly.

Also: Fae can be spelled fey. Or! Fey can be spelled fae, apparently. Additionally: If any readers are left, bravo. Contract law and fairies. If you keep going, you might deserve a Medal of Honor from the internet.

Point is. Fey (fae?) contract law (at least in Dresden Files) is almost exclusively oral, with few written components and most, if not all of the important terms and consequences knowingly obscured by murky language. It's like a deal with the devil. Except the devil is usually female, totally hot and has a court of labyrinthine motivations and aims to keep track of.

And, of course, this court of incredible, accessible power runs on misery, most of the time or at least an intractable web of lies, deceit and half-truths, lorded over by appallingly pretty women with petty worries and apocalyptic schemes. (Makes me wonder who wrote these stories and why.) Wayward, bumbling humans are the the gasoline on which this society runs, and through cunning use of incredibly high stakes and verbal trickery, this position is maintained.

(This is, in case there was ever any question, the opposite of the way any agreement should work.)

Fey bargaining is based, I think, on a loose system of "if I get you to say something when you're bent over a barrel, you're totally liable and I'm in the clear, I just offered you a deal," which we can shorten to bullshit. But supposing we can't shorten it to bullshit, the fae (yes, I'm going back and forth with the names) when pressed will say something to the effect of we had a deal, to which there is an obligation and a tie to that obligation.

Rawls, of course, says that that obligation and that tie presupposes just institutions, or institutions that are as just as can be, given the situation. But, even if we ignore the fey society, there's still one foundational point on contract law that the fae are missing: Informed consent.

Informed consent is basically what the fae contract law runs away screaming from. It means that basically meant to show that all parties agreeing have a minimum understanding of what the terms, consequences and facts are in the agreement, which has never historically been a strong point for fey bargaining. But informed consent is also a goddamned standard of any agreement ever, the basic point that people who are making agreements, need to know, on a deep level, what they are getting into, what they are giving up and what they are getting, which is a standard the fae don't tend to meet.

So: At least on earth, or an agreement signed to here, one would hope our laws apply and not theirs. And if our laws apply, well, their deals might be something you don't have an obligation to keep.

Thus: Here are some ways you can avoid fairy trickery.

1) Don't make deals.
2) No, seriously. Don't.
3) Repeat.
4) Vocalize, explicitly, using the most unequivocal words possible that you want to know exactly what you get and what you give up. And if they don't want to do that, you might know that you have a bad deal. (That said, few people make good deals with the fey.)
5) If you have already made a bargain with the fae, I'm sorry. You're deep in the hole. Try telling them your consent wasn't informed and force the issue. They're a stickler for rules. Maybe this'll help.

If you're reading this and you're involved with fey, then you might not want them reading over your shoulder. I'm not sure about all fae, but hardcore punk seems like it would be a little abrasive for them. Thus, This Is Hell's cover of 108's When Death Closes Your Eyes. Throw that in with some straightforward lyrics about hiding behind words, and well, I'm pretty sure they'll leave you alone. Good luck.

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