Archive for the 'The ultimately bleak future of a machine dominated world' Category


Visual Images without the Visuals – 1a – Summer Camp, maybe 10 years ago

For the longest time it was the only place in the world where I always knew the exact location of the Big Dipper. As an awkward pre-teen, and teen, I spent at least one Saturday night there a summer. The incline of the hill just the perfect angle for stargazing. As I got older I could still spot it, to the bottom left, just above the ‘Boys’ bathroom, standing now instead of laying down. Generally speaking, they were always the same thing. The same ironic nostalgia, nothing current, that wasn’t the point. Eventually the clothes grew as ridiculous and gaudy as the music. Dressing up as a competition. Who can wear more differing prints? More neon? More costume jewelry? More sunglasses at night? More androgyny?

A dark and muggy night like so many others. The colored ropes and Christmas lights blazing. Tiki torches. Not taking requests. Before the switch to Ipods. For the life of me I can’t remember the song that came on before it. Of the cordoned off and encircled space, the least available could be found directly in front of the DJ Booth. A volleyball court, a full size basketball court, the perfectly slanted hill in between, and 3 by 12 feet of dried out and browning grass on the other side of both. The first electronic notes hit and there is no mass convergence inspired by something so out of character. This isn’t Bon Jovi or the Spice Girls. The crowd slowly gets its bearings, as certain people start to recognize what’s happening. It’s the kind of music that makes you lose your job as DJ. Radiohead. The early 2000s uniter, to some. The jam kids and the trustafarians, the punks, the hip-hop kids, the suburban and oblivious, they all collectively seem to have no problem with the band still. Perhaps because they were mislabeled for years as the next Pink Floyd. It’s starting to get really dark now. The crowd descends into the 3 by 12 space of former grass, slowly but en mass, and they don’t dance. They don’t stand still. They don’t mosh or pogo. There is no skanking or lip synching or air-synth jamming. The gathering crowd simply ceases to be single entities. Moving as a whole, up and down, to the constant electronic drum beat. ‘WHO’S IN BUNKER, WHO’S IN BUNKER.” The outfits, the rest of the nights music, including the perpetual last dance ‘American Pie,’ where your friends are, where your girl went, it doesn’t matter. No one lacking control of their facilities, most underage. A strange song for some standards. And yet, it inspires a reaction on a level never seen since. 5 minutes in the woods. Hours until the nearest city. Dial-up only internet. Piles of CDs in binders supplying the music, a stereo borrowed from a low wattage radio station.


The Other Side of the Mirror – 1963,64,65


On Sadness and The Brutal Rationality of the Modern Era

Last night I had trouble sleeping. After reading a bit of The Corrections and drifting off (go figure!), something, I don’t know what, shocked me awake and after that I was fully alert, though a little delirious. Listlessly scrolling through my netflix queue, I finally decided to watchIn The Realms of the Unreal, a documentary about Henry Darger,  one of the United States’ best known “outsider artists” and the author of the longest known single piece of writing in existence, standing at 15,000 pages.

In the Realms of the Unreal

How did he manage to write 15,000 pages and a sequel of 8,000 more? Darger lived an especially sad life and these stories were probably his escape–let the body work while the mind flees. As for his story: Henry’s sister was given up for adoption after his mother died in childbirth and for some years following he lived with his father who many speculate was probably a sad-sack a-hole who could barely take care of himself, never mind his son. He was then sent from public school to a hospital for the mentally “feeble.” After escaping from a state work farm requiring hard labor for long hours, he walked a few hundred miles back to Chicago, where he settled at age 17. He worked as a menial laborer for the rest of his life, most often living alone–winding gauze, washing dishes, standing and repeating the same blunting tasks for 14 hours a day.

In short, he had a classically dour, harsh, and storybook-cruel life. What I find the most fascinating is that his story was based around Chicago, which brings it into consonance with many of the other stories I’ve been reading lately: The Devil in the White City and Jimmy Corrigan. All three of these stories, in one way or another, touch on the story of an outsider (sad-sack or serial killer) standing on the edge of the future in the midwest, watching the 20th century gather steam.

The Devil in the White City explores the stunning architectural grandeur of the Chicago World’s Fair as parallel to the birth of a new american type: the serial killer. The spatial mastery of man is forced into comparison with an increasing divide between action and empathy as exemplified in the psychopath. Jimmy Corrigan is also set against the backdrop of Chicago’s World’s Fair. Both stories feature fatherless losers, men born into a childhood they could not navigate emotionally and thus could never quite leave.

Now, in my own imaginary, Chicago and the rest of the midwest stand as a symbol of the promise of modernity’s once-future that has since become the melancholy of the now-past and forever-present. It is a place of longing and loneliness, and to risk sounding cliche, it results from something brutal and monstrous in the grandeur of modernity. The visual style of Jimmy Corrigan is very evocative of this–it features small, simply-drawn figures standing in the foreground of large, complex public architecture. In fact, these figures are not so far off from those that director Jessica Yu uses to fill in the earlier portions of Darger’s story in her documentary–blueprints of institutions and rows after rows of hospital beds. It would seem that Darger’s stories were his Wonderland crafted in response to a world designed by Jeremy Bentham.

I think these stories have such resonance with us from where we stand because they register the psychic shock delivered by modern technology in the 20th century’s start, a shock we are still feeling as we continue to find our emotional lives steamrolled in new ways by the terse, abstract rationality of modern life. It is, for many intents and purposes, the record of struggles particular to our time.

They all work so well, measure this punch so smartly and delicately because in the era they are documenting, the punch is still in its infancy. Like Tacita Dean’s photographs of the closing Kodak factory, a dominant paradigm (whether an era, a form, a medium, or an idea) would seem to be at its most profoundly insightful and expressive when it is recording its own death, its own limits in the face of the neverending onrush of novelty. Here we have sorrowful representatives old era recording its death in the face of a technical and rational revolution.

Darger’s story hits so close to home, I believe, because it is about the subjugation of modern life to the unexpected results of our own technological mastery. So is The Devil in the White City. So is Jimmy Corrigan. It’s about the then-new emotional and psychic bruises left by the rational/emotional divide of modern progress. Which are, of course, bruises that we keep giving ourselves, and with which we continue to struggle.


When I was, maybe 8 years old, I remember really loving Aerosmith. I remember going to the library and getting their album and dubbing it onto cassette. Lynard Skynard, Aerosmith, anything like that that was on Classic Rock Radio, WPLR. Anything my dad liked. When I got older the MTV thing happened, the modern rock radio thing happened, and had my Green Days, my Red Hot Chili Peppers, and my 311s. Of this group, I remember particularly latching onto 311. They hit sort of, as the modern rock radio thing was petering out. Before it was so clogged with Stainds and Creeds, or maybe it was more important that it was my interest in it that was waning. All I remember is that, the only thing that really hit me after that was punk rock. The Clash, the first band that my dad, my brother, and I could all agree on. Nofx, H20, Guttermouth, Blink 182, the Sex Pistols. Somewhere amongst the crusty dreadlocks and safety pin ear piercings I was supposed to go to the Warped Tour. With a friend’s father as a chaperone. But still, the Warped Tour, the event of the year for anyone with a burgeoning collection of band t-shirts. After driving three hours in the rain, to find that it was rained out, I ended up at the now closed Virgin Megastore. Because some kids that I really looked up to in High School were talking about the final Pavement record once while I was in earshot I bought “Slanted and Enchanted.” While still hanging out with the punks, I never skateboarded and never got into Hardcore. Too much gravel. I got really hooked on College Radio, and the Alkaline Trio gave way to Pedro the Lion, Hot Rod Circuit, Jets to Brazil, Modest Mouse, and the Get Up Kids. One day on the school bus, I actually took the school bus as a primary mode of transportation throughout High School, an acquaintance suggested ‘The Dismemberment Plan.’ Something about the name stuck with me. The Dismemberment Plan I repeated in my head. This was just after “Emergency and I” was first released. Wanting to get the full effect, to experience things how they came to fruition, I chose to purchase the first album first. I remember liking it, appreciating the audacious and cocksure lyrics. It was punk, but it was intelligent. When did such things become mutually exclusive? If memory serves, just before leaving for summer camp several months later, I found “Emergency and I” at a Borders. In the suburban upbringing, at least in Connecticut,  Borders was an absolutely crucial part of the pre-alternative experience. The only place for miles the stocked Magnet Magazine, and things on labels I was yet to discover like Merge and K. I bought “Emergency and I” hoping it would improve and expand upon the first effort, and because it had great cover art. If memory suits, I played that album every single morning that summer. It became part of my morning ritual. Some people get up and brush their teeth or make coffee. I never do the former before breakfast, and at the time did not partake in the later because I was straight edge. The children would slowly rise to the ringing of the breakfast bell and the opening chords of  ‘Life of Possibilities.’ It is not a jolter and doesn’t really hit the listener over the head, rolling guitar couplets, lyrics that are easy to get lost in in an early morning daze. Then suddenly the bottom drops out of it when it hits the bridge, and that was really the first crash for the campers and for me. I was usually half asleep while reaching for the ‘disc 5′ button on my handy down CD changer. The song regains it’s mellow qualities just before the end, just to lull the unaware listener into a false sense of security, with dour synths, repetitious notes. It was always ‘Memory Machine’ that roused the final stragglers. Leaving the cabin to myself.  Somewhere about six or 8 lines in, when the chorus first hits, I was up, my robe and slippers on, and I was putzing around the cabin in morning light, making sure I couldn’t smell any urine created over night. Somewhere right around “If they can make machines save us labor, some day they’ll do our hearts the very same favor,” I had taken my usual morning perch on the stoop of the cabin, watching dazed children shuffle across sun roasted grass and gravel driveways to the dining hall. “What do you want me to say?” was usually a question I asked myself. Or perhaps, less commonly, a particularly reticent co-counselor. Which was for the best as it’s singular stabs of guitar and vindictive lyrics are at times the sort of thing a lovelorn teenager is best left to sing to himself. Following breakfast, while other counselors chose something upbeat for cabin cleanup, I hit play on disk five again, not missing a song, and made sure that contemplative sweeping occurred during ‘Spider in the Snow.’ For years the opening couplets to this song were my absolute favourite quote. Before I was 20 years old. Before I had ever heard of K street. I suppose what really matters now, is not that this was, I can’t even say how many years ago…8, maybe 9, that I religiously listened to this album every morning. In a way that, until then, I had never listened to anything with such love before. I mean sure, I had liked ‘Give me three steps,’ and I thought they I had loved “I Heard they Suck Live,” but I really had never connected to anything musical as much as I loved this album. At a certain point it wasn’t routine as much as it was a requirement. Perhaps the difference semantic. I mean my day could not begin without this album. That, had I any sort of musical ability, had I know anyone or, or believed in myself enough to write lyrics, I would write ones just like this, and I would learn to play just like this, and, we would sound just like this. That, I almost wish I’d thought of it first, because, not only was it Travis Morrison’s experience, it was my experience, and I assumed it was everyone else’s as well. In an ideal world, or, the idealist world of a pre-liberal arts college teen, I had hoped to share this with anyone that would listen, because, it was their life. They needed to hear it because they had already heard it, not coming from my stereo, or from a mix tape or CD of my creation, but in their own lives. Or perhaps everyone’s minute to minute thought processes weren’t nearly as disjointed as mine or certain lyricists. Generally, the public really seemed to latch onto ‘You are Invited.’ Being probably the most easily accessible and non-vulgar song on the album, with a teachable moral to boot. For years, not just that first one, that first summer of love, the song was a fixture in another ritual ‘Chill Time.’ As the campers fell asleep it fell to the counselors to discuss something with them, and then play some music to take them to sleep. In most cases, being the sort of summer camp that it was, this responsibility fell to someone like Jerry Garcia, Dave Mathews, Trey Anasthaio. Someone that could really put the kids to sleep. For me however, there was always ‘You are Invited’ and it’s unsure protagonist. It’s primitive Casioesque beat and spoken lyrics. It was all right there for the children to devour, a simple metaphor, a wonderful lesson. ‘Perhaps I shouldn’t have been so mean to so and so, perhaps I should have included so and so in what and what.’ At least, this was what I hoped was going through their minds. And, I would like to think it did. Certain sessions I would have campers who requested repeat ‘You are Invited’ Chill Times, or I would have campers come back to my cabin, having moved on to older cabins and other age groups, but still not having moved on from ‘You are Invited.’ Sometimes it’s legend would even spread through word of mouth, and children I never had as campers would come into my cabin during free time and ask to hear, ‘the one about Invitations.’ That’s the sort of song that it is, one so big that it splits the album in halves while making one of it’s defining statements. One of the few nice sentiments to be found within. Following this comes ‘Gyroscope,’ ‘The City,’ ‘Girl O’Clock’ and ‘8 1/2 Minutes,’ the sort of back to back to back to back perfection that  one can really only imagine. Had I ever owned this album on vinyl, which will be possible again come the new year, it would be an easy argument to say this was one of the best, most perfect b-sides of all time. But as ‘Gyroscope’ insists about happiness, “no one wants to be that tacky about it,” so excuse me if I get a little heavy handed here. Where that song is herky jerky, danceable but not perfectly beat driven, like the party it’s lyrics describe, ‘The City’ is remorseful and bitter, baring a final plea for the lost love of it’s narrator it is almost quiet, an almost awkward compatriot to ‘Gyroscope.’ This is just the first stage of the grieving, of the loss the lyrics discuss, it is the final, nearly blood curtling ‘GOOOOOODDDDDBYYYYYEEEEE’ that really gives ‘Good Morning Captain’ a run for it’s money. In the jittery ‘Girl O’clock’ our protagonist bounces back and goes all Forgetting Sarah Marshall, or almost Californication, sleeping with anything that moves and bringing out the Braniac like vocal tics to explore that sort of balls out recklessness. From that nervous breakdown and other self destructions, we head to the apocalypse and all the sirens and crashes involved in ‘8 and 1/2 minutes.’  While we’re at it, might as well throw a party to wash it down, like that Jennifer Lopez video, except before that, and not nearly as lame, or anything to do with Y2k. Because that would date the proceedings. And, in case you hadn’t gathered by all this , there is absolutely nothing dated about this album. When I go back and listen to things that I used to love, the hits from College or High School, lots of College hits stay with me. However, almost nothing from High School holds up. Where it was mostly all just heart on the sleeve romanticism or dated power chords, ‘Emergency and I’ seems to appreciate both, understand both, and use them to speak about a much more universal and timeless experience. The sort of things that we all think but are afraid to speak aloud. Or maybe not, I mean, It’s just a ten plus year old indie rock album by a bunch of guys who epicly flamed out in everything else musical they tried to do. No disrespect to “Change,” and album I loved and still love. But, it isn’t nearly half the statement that this particular piece of beauty is. It’s like trying to compare ‘Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain’ to Wowee, or Slanted. I’m also not saying this because I, unfortunately, will not be anywhere near the East Coast of America this January, I’m saying all this because it needs to be said. Because it’s the same sort of awkwardly beautiful self interested tripe that you may have already heard in this album. Or hopefully now, will hear.

this system works GREAT

I guess I would like to think that the fourth largest corporation in the world would rely on a “deep sea oil recovery chamber” that looks a little bit less like a rusty shed braced by 2 x 4s than this.  And I guess I’d also like to assume that the emergency shut-off valves that are supposed to cap off oil flow in the case of a rapid drop in pressure caused by an explosion or rupture would actually work rather than just instantly failing, allowing 1,100,000 galloons of crude oil to be pumped into the Gulf of Mexico each day.  It might also be nice if BP had the decency to admit that the 11 workers that are missing and presumed dead, which is how they are still phrasing it to the media, were killed, possibly by a negligent cementing of the well by a Halliburton crew that allowed too much pressure to build up without the workers being aware of it.  Or if they didn’t hold survivors offshore, forbidding them to speak to their families, for 29 hours after the blast.  It would even be great to think that this ridiculously hazardous method of resource extraction was being phased out, rather than vastly expanded, or that oil companies couldn’t convince the US to decide against requiring more advanced cut off valves, required by Brazil and Norway, that would’ve at least limited this spill.  Or that BP’s plan to use remotely operated vehicles to fix the valve in case of malfunction would actually work, rather than failing six successive times requiring them to seek out alternatives that could take weeks.  Or that this was an isolated incident, and that there weren’t allegations that another rig owned by BP, the Atlantis was operating without final engineer approval of over 85% of its’ piping and instrument schematics and should “immediately be shut down” (in 2009).  Maybe it would even be cool if we didn’t live in a world where 6 of the top 7 largest corporations are oil companies, and are directly involved, sometimes with their own armies, in some of the most vulnerable crisis zones in the world, operating extrajudicially.  But unfortunately that is wishful thinking.



“We readers of many books are still very careful to say “Whom did you see?” but we feel a little uncomfortable (uncomfortably proud, it may be) in the process. We  are likely to avoid the locution altogether and to say “Who was it you saw?” conserving literary tradition (the “whom”) with the dignity of silence…It is safe to prophesy that within a couple of hundred years from to-day not even the most learned jurist will be saying “Whom did you see?” By that time the “whom” will be as delightfully archaic as the Elizabethan “his” for “its.”….We say I see the man but the man sees me; he told him, never him he told or him told he. Such usages as the last two are distinctly poetic and archaic; they are opposed to the present drift of the language.”


Disillusioned that Coakley lost?

Scott Brown got you down? Well, here’s the way out: Believe the universe is made of math.  The logical inevitability of reason (or complete destruction) becomes apparent, and then it’s only a matter of time before the Tea Partiers fall away.  Not like you’ll be around to see it, unless you’re lucky enough to reach the age of biotechnological immortality, but even then the idea of a self (much less rugged individualism) gets fuzzy. In the mean time, Elitism and his cousin Hedonism will keep you going, just as long as you can get a hold of some dollar bills. Let Lie E-8 show you the light, and the futility and redundancy of human government won’t be so depressing.


The Holocene Extinction Event: Setting the Bar Low

Our ancient ancestors marched across the globe scorching the earth with giant walls of fire to chase their prey out into the open. They destabilized populations of easy-to-kill animals with such speed and ferocity that their part in a rolling wave of mass extinctions concurrent with human expansion is still debated, despite clear scientific evidence in support of their central role in the slaughter. They did in about 10,000 years what millions of years of predator/prey interaction (including dozens of climatic shifts and natural cataclysms) failed to do, i.e. wipe anything tasty asides from itself off the face of the earth as totally as possible. Once it got a little crowded, they immediately commenced eradicating each other with an endless enthusiasm, as the vast majority of all species on Earth seem to do.


Fast forward a tiny little frenetic blip in geologic time and you have us here today. Sometimes when I’m reading the news I feel like I’m riding in a bus with everyone else and the driver has depressed the accelerator as far as it can go and we have just left the roadway, with branches and rocks beating against the outside of the vehicle. We all see what’s happening but no one has any idea what to do or any ability to do anything even if they had a plan. Someone might try to get up and advance towards to front to seize control of the bus but is immediately cast back into their seat by gravity, momentum, and all the other natural laws that make the outcome of their attempts so obvious. The utter failure of the major emission-producing nations to set meaningful standards on pollution, the proliferation of nuclear arms as their host nations splinter into factions, the compression factor of the astonishingly fast rate at which the global population is growing: it’s pretty intense, and it doesn’t seem to bode well for what would be our children or grandchildren or even us in our old age.


But is it really that bad? Yes, of course it is. But only because we understand what it could be in theory. In practice though, given the sort of shambolic, brutal history of not just the human race but the natural order in general, things are actually pretty relaxed. I mean, here we find ourselves, searching for resources, consuming them, destroying our surroundings, just like we have been all along. But it isn’t a fall from grace, and we aren’t regressing, per se. You could watch a television commercial and say “Look at how stupid Americans are now, buying/watching/being tricked by all this crap”, but what is the alternative? What would you rather have? When has it ever been better? The 50s? The 30s? When people were hanging each other in public squares? Was that a golden age? There is something scary about how devastating the individual deviations from our modern placidity can be, for sure, and how apathetic people can remain, and how increasingly distant the rich and poor are becoming, but shocking catastrophes and futile, clumsy recalibrations are the order of the day, not just in this country or species or planet but everywhere. Pitchers can’t hit and humans can’t not kill everything.


I guess my point is that, as much as everything can be overwhelming, I feel more and more that it is important to keep calm and be precise. This is the real world, with warlords, child slaves, oil tankers, missles, volcanoes, grandfathers getting crushed by hippos, Predator drones, etc. and not some Ancient Greek moralistic sphere where people will all just stop acting like they always have because they realize, after 2 million years, that they are ruining stuff. I’m often frustrated by how much contemporary radicalism seems to bloody its fists pounding at the rock wall of the obvious, the human, and the unavoidable, only to be eventually co-opted and subsumed by those same things, just like always. Maybe a thorough reading of the rules of the game will help further understand how to “beat” it. Or at least elucidate why we keep losing.


Also, I know essentially nothing about philosophy so if I am rehashing some horrible person’s worldview that they used to rationalize some horrible thing, please let me know.


ghost island style icon: john lydon

Dick Clark at his finest.

required viewing

(more required viewing – watch both parts)

Tom Snyder at his prickliest.

It’s not just that he’s an unimaginable dick, because he was certainly not the first or the last. It’s that he somehow managed to weasel his way into the system in spite of that, working every possible angle for his ‘communications company’. Can you possibly imagine 10 minutes of music like that on television today? A shambling Tommy Bahama reject nowhere near the microphone.  Or how about ten minutes of music in general? What really does it are the next two clips, almost 12 minutes of unimaginable awkwardness. I’ve seen uncomfortable interviews before, Orly Taitz comes to mind, but these questionings are always weird and stilted because the people being interviewed have nothing of substance to say.  Forget about ‘Rotten,’ Mr Lydon sets a different standard. I love his notions of an even ground between fan and audience.


On looking back–popularity, obscurity, and: a proposal for moving forward.

As far as music goes, it is a commonly repeated enough point that we tend to heap attention too enthusiastically, too readily at the feet of those who show any hint of promise. The internet and the blog have, among other things, made bands shockingly available, have busted open the doors on a culture that tended to separate taste into camps: the mainstream and the obscure. So, this is my question: what does it now mean to be mainstream or obscure, when it seems that everyone knows about everything and can download it instantly?

A caveat: I will admit that it is entirely possible that I exist in my own niche and as a result will consistently misjudge other niches, even if those niches happen to be large. I live on the internet, I don’t watch MTV (saying this might prove my lack of knowledge about a “mainstream”), I don’t own a radio. I don’t have a single idea what is at the top of the billboard chart right now. If I am to be faulted in any way, it is to assume that my experiences of popularity and obscurity are in any way indicative of a greater trend. I am open to arguments against my logic. I do not think I am alone in this experience, though. If it is not universal, there are at least a few others.

Before, the mainstream was generally defined by popularity, and, some would say conformity, though not necessarily always as a pair. Radiohead, or the Beatles, for instance, managed to achieve a great deal of mainstream success while remaining artistically curious. Conversely, we have all known a band or two that attempts to achieve popularity by aping more popular acts.

The obscure was the difficult to find, the difficult to appreciate, or the niche work. A talented but difficult band that released a single 7″ single at some point in the not-so-distant past of a show they recorded in their mother’s basement might have been legendary to a select group, popular for 15 people. EG- the first Vashti Bunyan record. If you had it, or knew someone who had it, or even knew about it, you were in the know.

I believe that the mainstream as we knew it is no longer, replaced by competing niches with varying degrees of popularity. There will be no mass-cultural events quite like those my parents experienced: walking down the street and hearing Sgt. Pepper’s blasting from every window. The mass-cultural event as such has been destroyed, or fragmented and sped up by the internet. In their place, we have niche cultural events, which are both more available and more mercurial. The blog band. The band on the last episode of Grey’s Anatomy. That rapper who sampled ______’s song. The micro-event is the event sped up and spread out.

Continue reading ‘On looking back–popularity, obscurity, and: a proposal for moving forward.’

August 2014
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