Archive for the Dispatches Category

A Note to My Seventeen Year Old Self

Posted in Dispatches on October 20, 2016 by Magadh

I am cruising down I90 east of Cleveland in a 1984 Mercedes with Martyrdöd’s Paranoia cranked up so loud the windows are vibrating. And I’m thinking of you, the earlier version of myself. In truth, you’re always with me. I wear (mostly) the same clothes, listen to (mostly) the same music, have (mostly) the same politics. But things have changed too. I’ve learned one or two things and I dearly wish that I could go back in time and tell you.

Of course I can’t. And even if I could, I don’t know that you would have the wisdom to listen, even if you knew the message was coming from your own self (better or perhaps merely older)? I like to think that I don’t have many illusions about the capacities of boys of 17 to learn things in the abstract. But since you are still with me perhaps there is some use to the exercise, a sort of settling of accounts.

You’re never going to straighten out. The you that is here now is the you that you are. Revel in it.

Punk rock is the right choice. You’ve already met lots of interesting people and seen things your peers could hardly imagine. You’ve met anarchists and squatters and hunt saboteurs, and all kinds of other crazy people. You’ll see so many more bizarre and worthwhile things, I hardly know where to start (so I won’t bother). Some will be exhilarating, others really frightening, but all of them will be interesting and worth seeing. You’ll meet a lot of jerks, but you’ll meet so many more of the right sort of people, the kind who have the courage to look at the dark side of the world and to work to make it a better place. You’re not alone.

Shut your mouth. It’s really difficult to learn with your mouth open. But do ask lots of questions. Learning about other people is probably the most important thing you can do as a human being. You don’t understand what’s behind other people’s eyes. Let them tell you. Maybe then they’ll be interested in what’s behind yours.

Don’t assume that just because people are wrong they’re stupid. Also, don’t assume that just because people are right that it’s for the right reasons. Stay calm. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Don’t worry about convincing people. Try to learn from them.

Listen to the women in your life. There are a lot of powerful souls among them. They’re different than you, not in that idiotically essentialist way that popular culture tries to present them, but because they have different life experiences than you’ve had. They have important things to tell you. You need to hear them. Some of it will not be pleasant. Suck it up. Remember that you can share their struggle in the sense of being an ally, but they don’t need you to it for them. You’ll need to step out of the way and let them do their thing. Do it, and share their joy in the things that they create.

Drink less. Not that you’re an out of control drinker or have the fundamentally pernicious relationship to alcohol of so many of your friends, but it does take a toll. Also, you’re angry. Maybe you’ve got a right to be, all things considered. Alcohol creates a pathway for that anger to manifest. The less that happens the better.

Don’t waste your time with drugs. A little weed is alright now and then, but anything else is just a waste of time and money. You have less time than you think, and money is hard to come by.

You’re a melancholy person, and that will always be a part of you, hardwired into you, alcohol or no. Melancholia will be as much a friend as an enemy. It will feed on your darkest moods if you let it, blotting out the sun and pushing away from you exactly the sort of people you need. But it will also impel you to be creative. It will gnaw at your self-satisfaction, prompting you to do things and make things, if only to chase away the darkness.

Be mindful of the world around you. Often it’s grim, but in places it’s beautiful too. Later on you’ll read these words by Herman Melville and understand: “Look not too long in the face of the fire, O man!  Never dream with thy hand on the helm!  Turn not thy back to the compass; accept the first hint of the hitching tiller; believe not the artificial fire, when its redness makes all things look ghastly.  Tomorrow, in the natural sun, the skies will be bright; those who glared like devils in the forking flames, the morn will show in far other, at least gentler, relief; the glorious, golden, glad sun, the only true lamp – all others but liars!”

There are probably a lot of other things I could tell you. But it’s for the best that you figure most of it out on your own. I made it to where I am without knowing most of this stuff, or at least not having thought it through very clearly at the times that it mattered. But if you just try to be civilized to other people you won’t go too far wrong

The Reading Life

Posted in Dispatches on October 18, 2016 by Magadh

gaimanI’ve been reading the first couple of essays in the new collection of Neil Gaiman’s
nonfiction writing, The View from the Cheap Seats. There will certainly be more to be said about this when I’ve had a chance to really tuck into it, but the first essay, “Why Our Future Depends on Libraries” is on a topic close to my heart.

The first thing that I should probably mention about this is that I’m pretty sure that I’m the only librarian in the English-speaking world who didn’t read this essay when it was first published in 2013. I don’t have anything that would qualify as an excuse. I wasn’t really familiar with Gaiman’s work at that time (although I read a lot of comics I was never a big fan of The Sandman), but I was a librarian and I now remember lots of people talking about it. Anyway, I am a librarian and so I’m pretty sympathetic to what he has to say on the topic from the off.

I am also about as voracious and obsessive a reader as you will ever meet. I read in bed and on the can and in the shower (in addition to all the other normal places to read). Back when I lived in Portland and used to walk places more than I do now, I perfected the skill of reading while walking. I’m impelled to read constantly by my fear that sooner or later people will pick up on the fact that I’m not nearly as bright as I might seem at first glance. Maybe if I can just squeeze a few more books in I can maintain the facade a little longer.

I mostly read nonfiction, partly for reasons related to my fear of being caught out, and partly because I’m convinced that the world is about to collapse into utter anarchy (or worse) and I’d like to get a leg up on the signs of impending doom. But I also read comics and graphic novels, even the occasional science fiction novel. It’s hard for me to stay concentrated on fiction though, once again because I can’t shake the feeling that we are on the verge of a new dark age.

Having said all that, reading Gaiman’s essay on librarianship was really quite pleasant, even life affirming. He puts his finger on a number of the things that I think make the job eminently worth doing. One thing one discovers as a reference librarian is that one is the helper of last resort. For no money at all people can come in (or call you up) and as you every sort of question that people with more power, or money, or with better things to do generally aren’t interested in helping them with. That’s the kind of thing that makes you feel pretty good about your life choices, at least from time to time.

At one point in his talk, Gaiman mentions that for-profit prison companies use rates of illiteracy as a back of the envelope way of estimating their future needs for capacity. Ok, one should probably not make too much of this. Crime is a complex sociological issue, and it’s at least arguable that illiteracy is a much a symptom of other conditions as criminality is. By the same token we shouldn’t make too much of the salutary effects of literacy. One group that was statistically over-represented among the leaders of Nazi mobile killing squad was holders of doctorates, so there’s that.

Still, I feel like there are a lot of society’s ills that would be ameliorated (if perhaps not cured) if people would simply more and with more variety. Gaiman’s talk makes a passionate case for reading fiction, and I can’t really argue with me. But I also feel like the world would really be improved if people would read more nonfiction books. And not just nonfiction generally, but books by people with whom one disagrees. Reading something that one disagrees with is a lot more healthy than reading things with which one knows fro the outset that one agrees. People should do rather more of this, even if reading things by people with whom one agrees also has virtue.

I don’t bother arguing with people very much. This will certainly come as a shock to people who knew me in the days of my youth. When I was in my teens and twenties I would argue with people about the color of the sky, often in the most bloodthirsty style. I’m kind of surprised I have any friends left at all from those days. But since then I’ve really given it up. When people offer to argue with me (particularly about politics) I’m reminded of an old W.C. Fields short I saw as a boy in which an insurance salesman is trying to entice him to buy a policy by listing the various benefits he’ll get if he dies. At one point, Fields says, “What do I get if I live, a velocipede?” This sums up my feelings on the matter. I could argue with with, but what do I get for taking the energy to convince you?

Nowadays I really won’t talk politics with anyone who I haven’t assured myself isn’t crazy or stupid, and that’s a process that (for me) often takes years. I don’t mind writing about things, and if people want to offer up reasoned commentary I’m willing to argue on that basis, but it’s because this is a medium that lends itself to the provision of references and other background material, rather than relying on bare assertion. In any case, this too sums up what I like about being a librarian: I can find you the information that you’re looking for. To the extent that I can offer that service to people I can make what’s left of American democracy just a little bit better.

 

Postcapitalism

Posted in Dispatches, News and Notes on October 16, 2016 by Magadh

I’m working on a large piece for Souciant.com centering on the work of Wolfgang Streeck and Paul Mason. I’m going to be posting the extra bits of my research here (along with the normally expected quantities of reviews, interviews, blag, etc.). This should start happening in the next few days.

For starters, here’s a link to James Boyle’s, “The Second Enclosure Movement and the Construction of the Public Domain” (2003). That will do to be going on with.

The End of Capitalism

Posted in Dispatches with tags , , on August 13, 2016 by Magadh

The video below is kind of boring, so those people who come to this site to find information about music and more interesting things might be a bit disappointed. I’m posting this because it pretty much expresses my view about things, in case anyone is interested. Streeck’s book, Buying Time is, so far as I am concerned, the most important analysis of modern conditions available today. You’ll have to judge for yourselves.

Dischord

Posted in Dispatches on August 2, 2016 by Magadh

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Finally getting around to publishing things here again. Writing for Souciant.com has been sucking up all my time, and then of course there’s my job. Anyway, I have lots of stuff to post up here, which will really get going tomorrow. Until then, I leave you with this…

Dischord Records has now put up (as far as I can tell) all of their releases on Bandcamp. I love this. From Teen Idols, to The Faith, to Scream, to Rites of Spring, and so many more, this music was the soundtrack to my youth. I love putting it on Bandcamp as well. I was never to much about the objects anyway, so digital download is fine with me. Anyway, this is an absolute trove of interesting stuff. Do yourself a favor and check out Fire Party, or SOA, or Egg Hunt, or…well, you get the idea.

In Case You Were Wondering…

Posted in Dispatches with tags , on September 22, 2015 by Magadh

“So now we finally know who John Galt is – the idiot responsible for the 2008 financial meltdown and, consequently, for the threat of the shutdown of state apparatuses.”

—Slavoj Žižek

lehrman

What Did I Miss?

Posted in Dispatches with tags , on September 16, 2015 by Magadh

Deafheaven, Sunbather (Deathwish Inc.)

Occultist, Death Sigils (Primitive Ways)

sunbather1It’s not like I don’t spend a lot of time surfing the web, reading magazines, talking to people, and doing all the other things that one does to discover new music. And, truth to tell, it’s not like I don’t dig up a lot of stuff. I’ve perpetually got eight or nine things hanging around waiting for me to listen to them, and it’s a rare disc at this point that I’ll listen to more than once. Still, I’ve managed to miss some pretty crushing stuff. My most recent “find” was the Deafheaven Sunbather disc from a couple of years ago. After I heard it for the first time, which was about three days ago, I was exchanging texts with a good friend of mine, and he was like, “Yeah, we talked about this in 2013. B. [another mutual friend] said these guys were the shit like four years ago.” I dunno, maybe I was drunk, but I just don’t remember this.

In any case, Sunbather is undoubtedly the most remarkable record I’ve heard in years. It combines black metal song structures and vocals with spiraling melodies that bring to mind the likes of Pelican and Russian Circles (with whom they’ve apparently toured). The drummer spends much of his time blasting for all he’s worth, but still manages to slow things down in ways that are interesting and subtle. The whole effect is very much atmospheric and, I must say, quite intoxicating. My attention was so transfixed during my first listen that I nearly crashed my car. And perhaps there is a lesson in that.

The question that I keep asking myself is: Is this black metal? I guess it’s not that important, but it is kind of intriguing for one obsessed with the boundaries of musical style such as myself. Their visual aesthetic is definitely well outside the black metal norm, and I don’t just mean the fact that they don’t wear corpse paint. Only real atavists do that these days, and that’s saying something given that the whole subculture has a fascination with atavism so large as to be visible from space. No, the thing that really makes clear the stylistic difference is that the cover of Sunbather is pink. Yes pink.

Whatever one classifies this as, this is a direction that black metal should have been smart enough to take a decade ago. The component pieces were already there. In fact one thing that this kind of reminded me of was the Shaxul and Hasjarl’s pre-Deathspell Omega project Hirilorn. In any case, I regard Sunbather as a major stylistic advance. Since its earliest days black metal has been mired in a sort of anti-aesthetic that made a fetish of ultrasimplistic structures and mild dissonance. Deafheaven’s melodies are jaw dropping and the melding of these with black metal’s dense sonic palette creates effects that are hypnotic and breathtaking.

They are slated to release a new record at the beginning of next month (New Bermuda, expected on October 2). I await in hope and expectation.

***

occultist 1I have little excuse for having failed to at least give Deafheaven a shot. Admittedly, I probably looked at a picture their album cover in Metal Maniacs and decided that it wasn’t worth my time. I feel rather less culpable for missing out on Occultist and their absolutely crushing Death Sigils, also from 2013. The fact of the matter is that Occultist have flown below a lot of people’s radar.

One reason for this is that they too have a bit of genre-defy issue, although it’s a bit less esoteric. Occultist is a band with a very metal name, a pronouncedly punk aesthetic, and a racing metal style. You can kind of see how some people on both sides of the punk/metal divide might not be able to decide whether they were fish or fowl. What they are is extremely hard rocking. Occultist’s approach is stripped down death metal, less whooshy than bands like Sacrilege or After the Bombs, which I mention because, like them, Occultist has a female singer. And oh does she howl. It was, and sadly is, kind of a rarity to see women fronting bands like this. But maybe the more it happens maybe the greater chance that people will learn how perfectly women can fill this role. Kerry Zylstra takes a back seat to absolutely no one, riding this crashing metal waves with a voice that blisters.

I commend both these records to you all. In the meantime I’m off to try and figure out what else I missed.