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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Other Guys and the other economic system

I hope those of you who saw "The Other Guys" avoided the ADD rush and stayed for the credits.(Please click on the link and look at them!) If you do, you get to see a litany of statistics detailing what's wrong in our capitalist system, played out over a ruthless Rage Against the Machine version of Dylan's excoriating "Maggie's Farm". Specifically, it's about what's wrong with the system of subsidized banks and nonsubsidized people. There are some revolting statistics--I won't detail them here, except to say watch them, and watch for the one about the exponential rate of growth of the proportion of CEO earnings to working-class earnings. Another tidbit: The $700 billion T.A.R.P bail out is enough to give each man, woman and child in America $2,258.
The credits are just one element in a strikingly anticapitalist and some would say anti-American (although that is just a conservative term for refreshingly critical) film. I thought it was courageous, for example, to play out a somewhat typical shoot-em-up action scene (with action heroes The Rock and Samuel L. Jackson) that ends in an arrest. A reporter then asks the cops if 20 million in city damage was worth arresting the culprits for what amounts to a misdemeanor quantity of pot. Their answer? "Why don't you ask the people of New York City? Best city in the world!" Rarely have I seen such satire of post-9/11 jingoism covering up wrongheaded policies such as the drug war. (Hollywood's complicity in the Drug War is spoofed throughout the movie as Mark Wahlberg's character thinks every lead and every bad guy points to some form of drug-dealing, when in fact all villainy in the movie belongs to the world of finance capital). The villain speaks at the "Center for American Capitalism", and the hero at one point, asked about the importance of law enforcement, says: "How about a community of socially-responsible citizens simply all doing their part?"
From spoofs of gun-happy cops to jibes at the S.E.C., the film is a veritable tirade against the age of corporate dominance and the complicity of law enforcement, the media, and the entertainment industry. Sure, the film is no "South of the Border" (Oliver Stone) or "Tout Va Bien" (Godard), but it's a step in the right direction. When interviewed, stars Wahlberg and Ferrell asked them if they were on board a propos the film's radical politics. They said: "Of course--that's why we did the film." Did I mention it was funny? I suppose that deserves some applause as well, since the combination of socially important and funny is a rare one indeed. Strange that almost none of the reviews I read mentioned the political messages. Then, again, that's not so strange, after all. It's part of the problem. One of the more insidious elements of the capitalist treatment of time and space is the division of everything into departments, sectors, and of course genres. Philosophy departments don't intercourse with Economics departments, a rock audience is now clearly delineated from a protest , and politics doesn't mix with entertainment, especially comedy. Even when it does, critics and viewers tend to tune out the socially relevant (see the mass exodus during the credits of this film) in favor of a pure form of the opiate of the masses. No, not religion, ENTERTAINMENT. Sure, there are always exceptions, and I close this note with gratitude for those who bleed the spaces together, such as Tom Morello and Stanley Aronowitz.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Let me tell you what it was like to listen to music in prison. I told you what it was like the first time I put on headphones in months. Heart-flooding. Thereafter, I developed a relationship with music that was a sublimation of my frustrated sensuality and sexuality. It was also a tunnel into the world.
Let me start by describing what was for me the opposite experience of standing on a prison yard: standing in the middle of the crowd at a Phish concert. Phish is a band that jams its songs into unrecognizable, unpredictable times and spaces. You can—and I have—follows them for a few shows and never hear the same song twice. When you do hear it twice, it can barely resemble the last version. Already this sounds nothing like prison, of course. But being there, on the road, on the run against time, was unparalleled, since I myself never got to participate in a revolution or even a minor uprising of the people.
Ana and I were on bail, awaiting our sentence when we followed Phish up the West Coast of these fractured states of America. Originally we thought that first night in jail was the first night of our sentence. Then we were bailed out, and looked forward to a couple months of freedom. Time to get our things in order, say what needed to be said to friends and family, make our peace with the disappearing free world. We lived every day like it was our last, embracing desperately, pouring forth promises and apologies and new dreams for a new millennium, with a new consciousness of class born of our being summarily thrown into a new class. Only weeks left! Only one week left! Only a few days! And then…
We go to court and see our trial date moved back another few months. Sweet merciful bounty of extra life! Bonus freedom! Commence the process again: living in vivid colors, vivid sounds. The last colors. The last sounds. The last chance power drive. Back to court….another suspension of our bodies in this sweet coupled time and space!
And so on. And so on and on. A whole year living each day intensely, fully, consciously and conscientiously. It was heady, high and exhausting. A month in Las Vegas stripping to pay my parents back for the lawyer. Reading the history of prisons, reading the great philosophers of solitude and strength—Nietzsche, Bukowski, Benjamin, Dostovesky, Roberto Benigni, Tyler Durden. Reading each other in an attempt to memorize each other.
And then on this tour, from Chula Vista to Mountain View to the empty plains of Eastern Washington, following them with a motley group of human living off of the goods they made and sold in the parking lots. We supported ourselves by making fake tickets (which nonetheless, back in the days before scanning, worked) and selling them in large numbers. Out under the September west coast stars.
And what I wanted in prison was this: the bass like a heart that lets you know it will go on when yours stops. The ringing of the guitar like a WASHING. The melody which is the one in our heads. You need the breeze on the neck. You need to see a few dozen smiles in your peripheral vision. You need the smell of marijuana, sweat, perfume, pine trees. Of course you need her next to you.
You need that strobe light as they hit the high notes. Why? Because a strobe and a machine-gun guitar line shake the lines. We expect the lines that form the shapes of our world to be mostly constant. In prison, we know them to be constant, deprived as we are of soft materials, of women, of mind-altering substances, of rock n’ roll lighting. The strobe is the limit of difference.
It’s a particular feeling.
For a certain kind of housewife or househusband: it’s when every appliance in your kitchen matches.
For five year olds: it’s when you read your first book to everyone you meet, and see that we can all be in the same story.
For lovers, it’s like falling in love, but with the whole world.

I put on my headphones in my cell in prison and could hear the soundtrack of those times: 11.20.98, Hampton, VA. 9.11.99, George, WA. Sweet merciful
All I wanted was to get out and be among the people in this way again. But it was and is, I realize now, not so cut and dry, the superiority of this musical experience over the one in jail. The real opening of possibility and perception comes from juxtaposition. In prison, one pines for the openness, pines for the breeze and the warm burble of friendly voices, that thump in the chest that is more than mere hearing. But back in the show, out of prison, one in fact pines for the focus and intense consciousness of solitude. Headphones, after all, are the preferred tool of the connoisseurs of sound.
More to the point, in either state, one sinks into that state, normalizes it. Ceases to be rocked by it. The ideal, then, would be back and forth: prison/show/prison/show. A bizarre juxtaposition. An impossible one. In and out. This is the rhythm of revelation and revolution. Not the copout of staying in or staying out, but the copulation.
Back forth
Past present
Red blue
Flood spot
Constrained free
Me us
Juxtapose! Juxtapose my scholarly work and my creative work. My professional life and my ‘private’ life. Literary and pop. Jazz and rock. Sex and spirituality. Politics and art. Class and consciousness. Indeed, the lack of juxtaposition is a product of time and space and produced by capitalism, which divides everything into sectors, genres, departments, for the purposes of maximizing efficiency and minimizing the dangerous effects of…juxtaposition! Mixing, coming together, hybridity…revolution.
Fuck that. No, literally, fuck it. In and out, in and out, hear her groan, the moon and the sea. Back and forth. Of course this is an impossible dream—to jump in and out of prison. If we could, we would be brilliant. But the closest I can get is to go back to the show and let the song intersperse with the version I listened to in prison. Or to let the one I listen to in prison intersperse with one from a past show. And to let my notes from the two experiences mix and match. Because I forget the truths of being locked up when I’m free, and forget the truths of freedom when I am locked up.


Here we are: a Greek theater. A tragic chorus, a comedic chorus. A tribe in the midst of the dance where everybody dances.

Uncle John is working the show, as an electrician. We are in the show, as electricity, conducted under the soft blue dome of sky.

One becomes an expert at listening, working through one’s psyche, spelunking in the caves of the Id, in a three-night stand like this. As Bergson knew, duration is the key to understanding time. Seeing multiple shows offers the wisdom of marriage.

Hi my name is: ___Andy_________. (There is the contribution of my neighbor. My journal is his name tag).

The drugs work! I can work! Here’s some work:
Learn how to funk it up in the face of death. The lesson of this song “Possum”, a meditation on driving down the road and being confronted with death. But this meditation grooves. It takes metaphysical talent to groove this hard with death. But Trey Anastasio is reading his guitar cues somewhere above our heads, gaping, eyes intent on some kind of telos prompter.

Another neighbor writes in my journal: Laugh and the world laughs too.
My response: get high and the world gets high too.

The jam is always relevant. Because it fits everywhere. You cannot have an irrelevant night here unless you are lazy.

Most of my life has been spent making sure a woman won’t leave me.
This time will be different, this time will be different…until I do it again” he sings. But the third time he leaves off the ‘until I do it again’ and just jams. Of course this time will be different—every jam is. In every jam there is the hope that we are not just repeating ourselves. That, contrary to Cesare Pavese’s intuition, it is not the case that “what has been, will be.” In any case this blues has become supersonic blues, elevating it into the realms of pop.

Time really only offers up its fruits when you lose track of it. Hard, because you love it so much and you have so little of it. There lies the rub.

Set break:
1 pill of aderol and 4 shots of supersonic blues. We want to believe anything is possible. To do this, start with techniques of defamiliarization and deterritorialization, using light, duration, chemical alteration, unfamiliar language. Then, we need a direction. Find a city, the band says, via David Byrne. Not enough. There needs to be a sense that anything is possible politically, which is to say that the political is now social and material.
To imagine crazy things such as flying horses and women as large as the temple is good training for this kind of belief. Good training for, say, the belief that we could do without the really poor or really rich. For the belief that property rights are not what make us human or happy. For the belief that it’s possible to all together disrupt the machine merely by quitting out little cog-parts.
There is plenty of faith—look at the churches.
There is plenty of will—look at the philosophers.
There is plenty of energy—look at this show.
But now we need a direction. The band provides fist in the air power. Now write the fight into this power. “Got a blank space where my fight should be”, to revise Trey’s lyrics. That’s my challenge to you.

So loving and casually eternal with my Linz tonight.

Things to remember:
- type with the kind of ruthless forward movement of “Weekapaug Groove
- the show of life is being played right now. You’re on. Play.
- You can always be at the show at least with Vanessa and Lindsey.


Phish played “Harry Hood” on both 12.30.99 and 8.07.10. Unlike most rock bands, the difference between those two performances varies greatly—such is the nature of the jam. I keep the numbers in my head like buoys spread out across great swaths of formless, merciless sea. This isn’t “Harry Hood”, it’s “Harry Hood 12.30.99”. The difference between jams is not only a matter of material, e.g. the notes, chords, melodies, themes vibrating in the cool humid Florida (12.30.99) or strangely chilly dry Berkeley (8.07.10) air. There is another part of the jam—your part. The part where your memories, hopes and present feelings swim and swirl around in the rarefied air of the jam, changing its contours.
Of course, “When the Circus Comes” jams quite differently with your own love on 12.31.99 than it does on 10.31.09. For when he sings “Could have had a chance to get out of this mess / The time that you came and the day that you left”, he was talking about one woman in 99 and another in 2009. In fact, in 1999 you held your wife and the chill went through your heart as your remembered your first, long lost love. In 2009 you do so with your 2nd wife, remembering your first. The song goes on, both in newer and newer incarnations, and in newer incarnations of older versions, since listening to 12.31.99 on 8.10.10 alters the meaning of the song again. “It didn’t mean that much / It didn’t mean that much”. It didn’t on 12.31.99, but it does listening to 12.31.99 on 8.19.10. Some numbers match up well. Sometimes they fall into place and out of the chaos swims a line of grace. A melodic line. And this time, you get what she had been trying to tell you. Or this time, you let it go once and for all, changing ad hoc the sense of a decade of versions of the song. But you cannot get too revisionist—the numbers are there to remind you of what you have forgotten. That is why some of those who do not want a reckoning with their past do not go back and listen. They know the numbers don’t add up. The difference between me and the friend who accompanied me for a 7.31.97 version in Mountain View, CA, is I’m still writing and rewriting the meaning of that number.
Meanings swim in and out of each other, back and forth across time and space. 8.17.97. 7.13.03. 8.07.10. Limestone, Maine. George, Washington. Prague, Czech Republic. Ana. Lindsey. Erica. Craig. Crime. Punishment. Freedom. Swirls and curls, through time, and always those numbers, flashing like the matrix at the beginning of the Wachowski Bros. film. What was trauma on 9.11.99 is grace on 8.08.09. The “Harry Hood” jam plays in my earphones—8.07.09, the Gorge. I think of all the Hood jams. All the hoods: Louis’ summer at Mt. Hood. Alan Moore’s “Under the Hood”. Ana’s clitoral hood. The hoods I knew in prison. The band sings “you can feel good, you can feel good, good about hood!” This is not some hippie clarion call announcing the oneness or the goodness of all things. No, this is multiplicity. A sometimes terrifying multiplicity of possibilities, meanings, hearts clashing. What matters to me is that we are continually revising, continually revisualizing, continually drawing new lines of flight through the matrix of versions of these songs. This is what I call jamming across space-time. Try this at home.

The Sacred Dice - A Revolutionary Salon

The Sacred Dice is a salon of musicians, scholars, poets, sound sculptors, activists and artists of all kinds committed to art that is committed.  That could get us committed (to an asylum).  That disdain's art for art's sake and artists who have no idea why they do what they do.  We know why we do what we do--to create and celebrate community in a country still stuck in capitalist fantasies of individualism.  If you want in, you're in.  If you want out, don't worry--you already are.