Category Archives: Reading Habits of the North American Geek

The Odyssey

I apparently started a post under this title on about 6 weeks ago, but hell if I can figure out the thread of what I was talking about.  So I’ll just steal the title and make the damn thing work.

Hi!

The adventure this week is with my brand-new Nook, which I’m still slightly ashamed to own, but as it facilitated my reading of a left-petite-behind-several-hundred-pages-ago Stephen King novel, 11/22/1963, I am at least not suffering the post-King agony of my aching hands.  And I’ve moved on to a complete collection of Sherlock Holmes, which is no slouch in the length-and-therefore-heft department either.

Oh hell…I seem to have a penchant for big books, don’t I?  I’m sure there is a penis joke to be made here.

So, King.  He’s the author who provided the primary rationale for me to never own an e-reader (which made the situation that much more comical to me), as I have a rather unfortunate propensity for throwing Stephen King books upon completion, most typically because of the cutesies that would get plugged into so many of the novels, particularly those in the Dark Tower series (and especially Dark Tower itself, as I recall).

None of this should suggest that I don’t like King–I do, though I suspect it is often more in the vein of why I like John Saul than, say, Kate Atkinson. King (and Saul and a host of my other standbys) is nothing if not comfortably predictable.   And 11/22/1963 fits right in his oeuvre, even with the suggestions he noted in the afterword (including, apparently, a new ending, as proposed by his son, author Joe Hill, whose 20th Century Ghosts keeps right on wowing me years after publication.  Horns was comfortably funny (at times), and I’ve tortured a couple of classes with Heart-Shaped Box, which should be in the hands of all metal fans).  The characters, the cars, the action, the setting (of course) are familiar–like old friends who, as the books suggests, appear in multiple strings of possibility–multiple harmonies within King’s universe.

Perhaps weirdly, I had occasion recently to talk to another King fan (not the odd part) after an Avenged Sevenfold concert (still not the odd part) because I was carrying around a Norwegian mystery that had survived two nights in the pit with me.  After the show, I wasn’t quite ready to face the two-plus hours of rural roads home, so I gave into my 15-year-old fangirl and went out to the bus area.

(Note:  This is not the Matt story, those of you who have already been so blessed.  The book was present but went unreferenced at that encounter…which was less than 24 hours previously…holy crap.  When did I sleep??  The Matt story is a fangirling for another post).

A7X’s bus was, of course, behind the gates, but the other bands were more or less left to the whims of the fans.  In the course of avoiding being run over by screaming BVB fangirls (so small!  so cute!  holy fuck they are young!), I ran (almost) into Johnny 3 Tears from Hollywood Undead.  He noticed the book, picked it up out of my hands, asked (reasonably) why I had it (why this was became slightly more obvious moments later), and noted that I needed better reading material.  And then asked if I had the book in the pit, noting that I was slightly to stage right, yes?  I’m sure I looked at him like he was daft (which is better than my reaction might have been had I not heard him do the same to someone else already–naming pretty much exactly where they were, in that case, seated), but I nodded and agreed that the book’s survival was miraculous.  And because I am still learning the fine art of conversation, I challenged him to suggest better material.

He produced King, asking if I’d ever read his favorite King novel (and clearly assuming I had not, silly man), Hearts in Atlantis, which is also one of my favorites, in no small part because it is not as predictable or self-referential as he became in the books that followed.  He was quite charming (and clearly aware that he was), and we chatted a bit more about King, agreed we could probably wax poetic on the subject for many hours, and I wandered off into the great beyond of Northeast Georgia.

The conversation was odd and memorable not because of who it was with (though that part was at least unexpected), nor the situation (I find some of the coolest readers at concerts), but because when he asked what it was I liked about, I couldn’t answer easily.  I stuttered out something–the characters, the length (the damn things do have the benefit of taking a while to read), but as I walked away, the word that kept swimming to mind was comfortable–like the hoodie I was trotting about in.  I suspect we really could have talked for some time about King, but we probably would have gone in circles–because that is what so much of the post-Dark Tower (and DT itself) does.

11/22/1963, like so much (all?) of King’s later works, is self-referential (that is, referring to King’s other works), though not to the irritating degree achieved in some of his novels.   In fact, it would be all but impossible for this novel to avoid such references, set as it is (in part) in Derry, Maine, where so many of King’s works have been set before.  In fact, to fail to make mention of the murders from IT  or other happenings set in King’s Derry would have left the novel hollowed for long-time readers, I suspect (it certainly would have for me.  I started IT hunting as soon as we landed in Derry).

But, in the end, it was just a comfortable, familiar ride, complete with a few giggles at the expense of teachers (especially English teachers).  It didn’t grab me in the same way that Lisey’s Story and The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon and Duma Key (and Hearts) did; it didn’t frighten me in the way The Stand did in the post-apocalyptic so-fast-it-felt-more-like-a-publisher-deadline-than-an-ending glimpse of the future (that said, it was far, far, far better than the dreadful Cell).  But, if you want a good book to whisk you a way and not challenge you too terribly much, 11/22/1963 will likely fit the bill (otherwise, I’d suggest one of those noted above or the short story collections, which are fairly wonderful).

The original post, as best as I can figure, referenced my health…odyssey, which is ongoing.  But, what the hell, it took Jake Epping (of 11/22/1963) years to perform the action he intended, and it took Odysseus 10 years to get home, so, what, three four (*sigh*) months is a cakewalk so far, right?

Apologies for giving into my inner-Baroque German with the parentheticals.

Professor K. Cracks the Books

So, Duff published his autobiography, and I hereby order all of you to go read It’s So Easy.  I know I am as biased as they come about the man, but, the book is well worth the time you’ll spend.  I reviewed it on Amazon, so if you want more of my ecstatic waxing (that looked so much better in my head than when I typed it) enthusiasm over the subject, you can read my thoughts there.   I rather wish I had finished my thoughts about Bozza and Slash–not sure why I submitted without, but that paragraph should have read something like this:

Of the three AFD-era band members published so far, I enjoyed McKagan’s the most. Adler’s was painful in a I-can’t-even-finish-it sort of way, and while I enjoyed much of Slash’s book, I too often felt like I was reading Anthony Bozza–particularly in the quirky little questions and pseudo-cliffhangers. Folks who have followed McKagan’s post Guns-career and especially his writing will be unsurprised by how engaging the book is; folks who recall only the Duff of Use Your Illusion will be stunned. Readers looking for more salacious detail about the band once heralded as the world’s most dangerous will be disappointed. The memoir treads lightly–for the most part–there.

The same weekend I read Duff’s autobiography, I read Jack Grisham’s, which is titled American Demon.  For those who don’t spend their time mired in punk memorabilia and whatnot, Grisham hails from the early days of Orange County hardcore, most memorably for most in T.S.O.L.  Unless of course you were among those confronted by Vicious Circle, in which case, indeed, your memories may be a tad biased on the matter of the man.  And possibly his bands.  Grisham has rather oddly become a centerpiece in my class this semester, partially because his remarks in American Hardcore are themselves rather memorable, and also because it’s rather difficult to ignore that Slade in What We Do Is Secret is modeled on him (nor do I think it is intended to be ignored–and modeled isn’t nearly a strong enough verb).  As a result–or perhaps this is a matter of causation–I was drawn to the book.

While I’d undoubtedly recommend the book to someone, I’m not altogether certain who.  If you were running with Grisham at the formation during the heydays of OC hardcore, certainly it might be a take worth examining.  If you have any interest in the roots of OC hardcore, you still may enjoy it, though it doesn’t pretend to delve into punk for the most part, though he provides the obligatory and, frankly–given the rest of the book–mundane take on “real punk”:

Real punk is not being able to hold it together for your college degree, or for your long term, forty-hour-per-week day job.  Real punk isn’t fun or glamorous; real punk means that, against all your best intentions, you’re sitting in a lonely apartment with your head in your hands wondering how the fuck your destroyed your life again.  Real punk means that whatever you love is gonna be gone unless you get a touch of divine intervention–and as I said before, God doesn’t give  a fuck.

Real punk does suck.

[…]

…remember, history is rarely written by those creating it. So, I’d be careful what you read and believe. […] Columbus didn’t discover America, Edison didn’t invent the light bulb, and your favorite old-time real-cool punk band or singer wasn’t. (202-203)

I’m not sure what put me off more–the arrogance (I’m reading Jack Grisham, what else was I expecting?), the hyperbole (Edison!  Columbus!  Punk!), or the everyday wrapped in an air of revelation. As my students can testify, he’s hardly alone or original in those claims about punk.  Of course, it could simply be that I get irritated by any claim to know what “true/real/whatever” punk is.

It is all about me, after all.

As a recovery narrative–it isn’t.  I won’t go so far as other reviewers (and Grisham himself) to laud this as a book unlike the score of other books written by and about addicts in that it doesn’t end in redemption.  The publisher puts it this way: “Eloquently disregarding the prefabricated formulas of the drunk–to–sober, bad–to–good tale…”.  And, yes, the redemption narrative stops short–we don’t watch demon Jack recover, but that’s less a result of the narrative strategy than when the timeline of the book halts.  Fairly easy to avoid redemption when you stay out of the recovery part of the tale (and, indeed, there is that–Grisham has been sober for more than 20 years).  And, as more than a few examples can point out, mere sobriety does not necessarily render one a saint.  Nor a nice guy.  Nor even tolerable, nevermind redeemed and/or good.

Of course, it was intriguing enough to make me want to chart where the book belongs within the canon (such as there is) of redemption narrative and the sub-canon (far more codified) of the Faustian narrative, though that’s not quite what he produced here.

The book is worth reading, provided rape, various forms of violence (inflicted on women, men, children, well, everything, actually), and descriptions of alcohol and drug abuse aren’t triggering.  Also a general tendency toward asshole–it’s difficult to come away liking the narrative voice, though I certainly enjoyed the playfulness and the turns of phrase.  His description, for instance, of alcohol, was…uncomfortably familiar (and the very thought of Grisham in my head decidedly freaky):

Booze is a synthetic taste of God, created by man to satisfy a closeness that wasn’t there when he, the man, was created.  God, in His infinite wisdom (and need for acknowledgement), left a spiritual hole in man that only God could fill.  This way, man would have to search out his Creator to feel whole, and then than Him for being created.

Shit, that was a mouthful of words just to say that booze makes you feel all cuddly and warm inside. (45)

Okay, so not really in my head, but, yeah.  I smiled.  I even whipped out the highlighter.

Two books arguably about similar topics (white dude, hardcore punk, addiction, and in Duff’s case, life thereafter), but wildly, wildly, oh so incredibly, different.  If ever two books could showcase what differences in narrative tone and thesis can do to a story, these are ready for the pairing.

Go forth and read, my children.

Addiction

For some of us, when the final penny finally drops, we’ll crawl to rehab or to wherever or whatever it is that will finally bring the peace of clean and sober.  For others, the final penny will drop only with the moment of death.  And none of us know which penny will be ours.  None of us.

Or which one will be the last, for that matter.

What needs to be said, brutally and beautifully about addiction and Amy Winehouse’s death can be found in Russell Brand’s “For Amy.”  Read it the whole thing, but here’s a taste:

All addicts, regardless of the substance or their social status share a consistent and obvious symptom; they’re not quite present when you talk to them. They communicate to you through a barely discernible but un-ignorable veil.

A softer, but no less apt tribute by Duff at Reverb:

I only know that addiction is a lonely and terrifying place to be. It’s not glamorous, and addiction does not care if you are well-known and rich, or a loner-hermit with no dough.

They are both entirely worth the read.

Addicts, the ones I’ve encountered in the last few days, myself included, have reacted with a bit of recoil:  Experience, Strength, and Hope is ALWAYS tempered by the reality that reminds what the other path will hold.  Amy’s death is one such reality.  And before her Andrew. Kurt. Janis. Jim. Jimi. Jimmy. Layne.  And scores of others heralded by first name to the family of fans and by so much more to friends and family, some of whom might have waited for the call.  And waited.  And prayed it was a cry for help or a resolution to find another way.  Accident or intent is irrelevant when the other call comes.

A penny dropped. And with it went a voice. A godmother. A friend. A daughter.

Fangirls and Community

Weirdly, this post occurred to me as I finished Brad Warner’s Sex, Sin, and Zen last night, coupled with the exciting revelation that I get to go be a fangirl with some of my favorite fellow fangirls in April *bounce, bounce,* when Loaded plays the Revolver Golden Gods Awards Show (add to this Alice Cooper AND Avenged, how was I to miss???).  Anyway, I’ll get back to his book and his notion of the effect of personal choices within a community in a bit, but if I recall correctly, I was initially inspired by the realization that I am something of a Brad Warner fangirl (read all the books! link to his blog! *sigh*) and in that regard, fangirl possibly doesn’t mean in my head quite what it might once have.

Fangirl (per Urban Dictionary) [A/N– all spelling errors belong to the site/poster, not kitsch]:

A rabid breed of human female who is obesessed with either a fictional character or an actor. Similar to the breed of fanboy. Fangirls congregate at anime conventions and livejournal. Have been known to glomp, grope, and tackle when encountering said obesessions. 

I’m fond of the use of rabid here; good image, fits the rest of the definition, which seems to regard fangirls as a subspecies of Saint Bernard (read it again, am I wrong?).  I tend to use the term somewhat more loosely, as a female-identified fan of a particular stripe.  You sort of know us when you see us at a concert (yes, I have an lj, and yes, we’ll get to that in a moment).  We often travel in packs, it is true, and we are often a tad…let’s go with overwhelming to the uninitiated.  Couple of examples, all pulled from personal experiences:

At the Avenged show last month, I found myself, as my partner-in-crime observed, square in the ZackyV fangirl squad.  This was not, she also rather cheekily noted, an entirely incorrect placement, either (and not a bassist.  Who would have imagined?).  Now, I’m older than most of the denizens by a decade or more (man, that was horrible to admit–and older than the object of their affection by 6 years.  Ack), and while I sport a few tattoos, piercings, and dyed-hair, I’m afraid my particulars are rather tame in comparison to most of the girls that were in the area around me, owing to the realities of my calling (the industrial, visible tattoos, and penchant for wearing combat boots or Converse high-tops have probably pushed it about as far as I can go, though I would rock blue hair and a lip ring, thank you).  Now, for those of you who don’t congregate in General Admission pits, please note that I am not referring to the sort of lady who pitches her recently-shed thong (not footwear) on to the stage.  Or bra, if you were from an older, calmer era–about 1990.  Those are not fangirls; we have other names for them….like Roxana Shirazi (I kid).  Fangirls, at least the younger and more boisterous set, come equipped with signs that name the object of affection’s dogs (case in point:  “Icky for Prez”* was one that was spotted) and stuffed animals of various sorts.  While such items were certainly present in the ZV fanbase, I did find myself wondering what the group in front of stage left was like…I couldn’t see any of what was thrown at Syn, but I feel certain there were similarities.  Including signs about Pinkly (shut up. That one at least has an easy explanation for its placement in my brain).  And the pet thing…I’m pretty sure this random information collection habit is a holdover from my youth (I arguably reached stalker-like knowledge of the objects of my fangirl affection pre-internet.  Fangirls got it easy now, I tell you.).

More well-known around these parts is the fangirling over Duff and his various bands.  I’ve connected with other women (and men, but we’ll leave them off for right now) over Duff’s bands and Duff himself through various media, including (once upon a time) letters and (now) email, discussion boards, the comment section for Duff’s blog on Reverb, and in person over the years.  And while we embrace our inner teen divas when we rock out at concerts (yeah, much excitement right now), gone are the signs (mostly–they still crop up from time to time) and gifts are likely to be books from discussions or food, should there be any at all.  Giggling and screaming, admittedly, has probably not reduced by much.  Pack-level attacks, on the other hand, probably have, what with our far cooler adult approach to seeing the objects of our affection.

Hey, I managed to keep a straight face to write that!

Once upon a time, of course, I was one of those teen fangirls, complete with signs suggesting rather lewd behaviors (the lovely lady formerly known as CDR, should she read this AND remember any of those signs, is specifically forbidden to relay the contents of those messages.  Ahem.) and, probably, some sort of gifts.  I know I gave Steve Brown (Trixter) a photo album for his birthday one year–filled with live shots of the band (I think.  I don’t really recall what was in it now).  So, I get where the young fangirls were coming from, and I was amused and amazed at the similarities some 20 years on.

What I want to get at here is the formation of community–real, functioning communities–built around a shared adoration of a band/book/person/etc.  I’m utterly fascinated by the creation of such communities, their ability to self-sustain (or not), and the particulars of the communication strategies.

One other common feature of (some–YMMV) fangirls, and this is particularly visible now in communities,  is fanfiction.  Real Person Fiction, as such, has been around practically forever (I’m willing to hazard a guess that Farinelli had a good bit scrawled about him, never mind the fannish movie made in 1994.  Ah, stupid me–googled it.  There is fanfiction NOW about him.  Sheesh.).  I wrote (hideous) fanfiction as a teen, most of it band-related, along with those friends who participated in the same.  In those stories, we tended to work out our anxieties about growing up, about identity–and the band members functioned mostly as sockpuppets for whatever crisis we were attempting to work through at the time.  While I’m sure communities did arise out of such works, I first became aware of such communities only in my twenties, when a friend of mine joined a Xena community (I’m not sure how most of their exchanges were conducted, though.  One person subsequently self-published a novel from the community works, if I recall correctly).  I don’t write fanfiction anymore, but I do read it (as I’ve mentioned endlessly), and I participate at slightly more-that-lurker levels in some commenting areas, but the primary difference for me between now and then (other than identity establishment, maybe) is that I now have a shared language based on community (and to describe the fanfiction community as large would be a rather egregious understatement) standards and agreement, which means we all can more or less have a clue WTF the other person is ranting about.  The language includes an extensive vocabulary, rules–these are the most fluctuating**–and expectations of behavior from authors and commenter.  I’m also fascinated by the breadth of fandom–fiction, discussion boards, tumblr sites, and so forth (along with related expectations regarding ownership, censorship, and plagiarism); take a gander if you’ve not–it’s wild out there.

For the most part, the fanfiction of my youth, not unlike zines and DIY cassettes of the same period, was exchanged primarily through personal means–there was no large-scale publication that I am aware of, prior to the advent of online exchange.  Say what you will about fanfiction, there are serious communities that form around it, and those in bandoms are particularly interesting to me.   These communities form rules–some highly concrete (how to post, standards of exchange (banned words, slash/gen/het), ) and some more ephemeral–particularly in the portmanteaux that have become so common (Brangelina), the alliances behind which can cause some almighty arguments in communities*** (to say nothing of the One True Pairing fights) over what will be regarded as a canonical shorthand for a particular pairing; Glee fandoms have some of the best fights about them (personally, I still haven’t recovered from the advent of Puckleberry).  Like other online communities, the fangirl/fanfic communities have particular attitudes and, for lack of a better phrasing, flavor, based on the personalities of those involved and the participation level of the moderators (who deserve their own discussion).

To follow:  Some Communities are Self-Policing.


*Were Rikki sitting here, she would require the following confession, so in a spirit of honesty, she nailed me on the appropriateness of our placement in the pit when I translated the sign for her.  Her response was naught but a lifted eyebrow and a giggle.  At me.

**A recent occurrence, courtesy of one of my favorite fandom rant sites:  a lengthy debate over the necessity of trigger warnings and, more over, correct trigger warnings (that this debate mirrored one that happened at Shakesville was both astonishing and a bit heartwarming, though I tend to suspect there are more than a few of us in both communities).  The Supernatural fandom was particularly set afire by fics posted on this matter after episode 6.15.  That I am aware of the ferocity of the debate in that fandom is testament to how widespread it was (for that brief internet moment), since I am not a part of that fandom, though I do watch the show.

***We’ll leave off the various splinterings in fangirl communities over wives/girlfriends.  That, my friends, gets ugly.  Far more so than I care to touch, thankyouverymuch.  Like some of the stuff below, I feel certain the same existed in my own youth (I seem to recall some of it in conversations), but nothing like what I see online.  These debates seem particularly common on tumblr sites.

I Know it’s (Almost) Lent Again…

‘Tis Mardi Gras today, which means the Lenten Season is almost upon us.  On the one hand, I’m a little surprised that I’m paying the season any mind, cut off as I have been of late from christian religious practice.  But, as Rev. Dean often reminded me, I’m such a dyed-in-the-wool Episcopalian that I could claim atheism and still find myself planning for the spring fasting season.

In keeping with tradition hereabouts (a catch-all summary and links for you), I am committing to two disciplines for the season: one for mind and one for body, the union of which, I hope, will provide fertile ground for a bit of spiritual growth (notice I’m setting the bar kind of low on that measure).  For the mental discipline (stop laughing) last year, I looked over  a theme of Radical Transformation, courtesy of Rhyte’s suggestions.  This year, I can’t say my reading has a particular theme, other than possibly “Somehow this needs to connect to the SACS prep at work,” which is vague to the point of being useless.  But, I have four books I’ll be wallowing in and wandering through for the season:

  • bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom
  • bell hooks, Teaching Critical Thinking: Practical Wisdom
  • Pema Chödrön, Taking the Leap: Freeing Ourselves from Old Habits and Fears
  • Douglas Hofstadter, Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid

I suppose I don’t need to mention which ones are directly related to work, eh?  But, getting my head around other ways of teaching and communicating seems worthwhile in my personal space as well.  And, yes, the last is a bit of a cheat, since I already started the book, but I figure 6 weeks might give me a chance in hell of approaching a finish, though, given my progress thus far, the halfway point seems about manageable.

For last year’s physical discipline, I gave up consuming meat (the single most oft read piece on this site, Embracing My Inner Hippie: Vegetarian Eating and Barefoot Running [which this week was brought to folks who searched “are all hippies vegetarian” and “vegan hippie eating” (*giggle*)].  This time, I’m picking up a morning cardio and whatnot ritual (like GEB, it’s not new, but it is getting a greater focus as a result of Lent).

I’m going to try to respond to my readings here fairly regularly, along with the occasional complaint about what the heck I think I’m doing to myself at 5 am every morning.  Hope to see some of you all come along for the ride!

Sobriety to the Front

Yeah, I know, that title is among the worst jokes I’ve attempted to make here (especially since I feel like I need to explain it.  It’s a Riot Grrrl thing).  I almost, very nearly apologize for it (except for that small, terribly geeky part of me that is giggling like mad.  Please forgive).  Also, as a matter of warning, this post sounds far more red-flaggish than it is.  I’m not in a great place today (way too much occupation of my own headspace recently, but I needed to get this out and published.  Should I post to my locked journal?  Probably.  But, my brain said here so here I am), but I’ll be okay.  No permanent solutions to temporary problems, and no attempting to “solve” in the first place.  Just being.

Among the various things one hears in 12-step programs–often–is that sobriety has to come first.  I’ve heard stories about how people have made this happen (indeed, I find myself listening hard to and for those stories–they aren’t always as obvious as one might imagine).  Everything from dedicated “me” time for meditation to sending other active addicts out of the household–those may be the far ends of the spectrum (maybe.  There are probably ends further on that I am not aware of), but those ends have each come up more than once from different people.

If I am to consider this week and last, I’ve done a poor job of putting sobriety first.  Things have been…hectic.  Late work evenings, long meetings, long meetings running late (a planned long meeting is bad enough.  When they keep going…), strangers (nice ones, but, well, that fear of people thing), details, complaints, oh hell I don’t even remember all of what has transpired.  Let’s just call it February.  February happened and continues to happen and my cow February, you expect a great deal from your minions, don’t you?  Exhausting beast, this month is.

Anyway, part of the problem is that the month is genuinely busy and there is only so much I can do about that other than just accept that this is temporary and things will slow down again–I simply need to meet February a day at a time (and, on some days, an hour at a time, lest I become overwhelmed by what the rest of the day holds).  These are the things I cannot change, but I’m also staring, this month, at things I can change.

I’ve become aware, for instance, that in my personal life I no longer trust my own judgement.  I won’t say this is a new experience–far from it, but it’s been quite a while since the feeling has been this intense.  Work life?  No sweat–I reach for consensus, I feel capable, I feel–most of the time–good.  Do I get thrown occasionally?  Sure, and I would be concerned that I wasn’t paying attention to those around me if I didn’t.  Home life…yeah, well, different story altogether.

Today, for instance, I feel like shrinking.  Mostly figuratively, but partially literally as well.  I want to shrink into this chair, small enough that I can’t be seen.  I want to confine my presence to the smallest possible area–restrict my belongings, my clothes, my books–all the physical reminders that Kitsch lives here–to spaces that are unobtrusive to the people I live with.  So I’m not troublesome, in the way, inept.  I typically have this reaction when I don’t know what to make of some emotion.  To escape from the emotion, I pull away and try to disappear. I did the “make presence smaller” thing earlier today.  I cleaned off my dresser and put my running medals in a memory  box under the bead so that they aren’t in the way for any one else.  I put books away.  So I gave into it a little bit.  Let us agree that my stuff is an aggravation to those around me at times, so I imagine that what I did earlier will be met only with pleasure.

Rather than continue down that path, I’m sitting here experiencing these fears–most of which I don’t have names for–and trying to just let them be.  Fighting them makes the desire to shrink away worse and it heightens the–ah, hell, let’s use that Zen for good here–suffering.  Fighting against the fears makes them stronger; trying to “solve” the fears on my own makes them–again–stronger.  All I can do for the moment is acknowledge that they are present and that–at least for this moment–they are real, even if I am not sure what they are, exactly.  Self-reliance in the matter of solving them is not a good idea.

Part of the expression of these processes is that in recognizing that I’m not necessarily the sane one in the room, I often default to assuming that my reactions are inherently insane (or wrong, depending on how I am feeling at the moment–I can live with insane–wrong is a bit tough for me) and that whomever I am in the particular situation with is having the “appropriate” response.  Sometimes this assumption turns out to be a relatively accurate way to gauge how I am responding (Am I overreacting? Am I hearing this incorrectly?*) and  allows me to move through circumstances more fluidly.  Sometimes, however, the assumption stymies me–because, frankly, I have always tended to assume in my personal life that I am “doing it wrong” and the embarrassment that comes from being wrong makes me lash out self-righteously, which is not useful, even if it turns out I have a relatively good point (ugly, ugly circle).  But, it’s a useful gauge enough of the time that I continue to use it–marking how I react, how others react, and what the level of difference between those reactions is.

Practically a scientific study here.

In not completely unrelated news, I started reading Douglas Hofstadter’s Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid again recently.  I’ve waded into my first copy so much that I broke all the glue in the binding (I bought it used, so it wasn’t totally me), but I’ve never really made anything that I could reasonably call headway before.  I’m kind of enjoying the puzzles this time, which may be a better exemplum of my insanity than anything above.


*Being around me must be awful.  I parse words and phrases to an obsessive degree.  I have to really think through what someone actually said as opposed to what they probably meant by it.  There is, for my brain, for instance, a world of difference for me between “I am sorry you are upset” and “I am sorry I did X and upset you” (or whatever); this is not the case for the rest of my household.

Postsuburban Youth, Part II

In completely parenthetical news, I seem to have gotten Duff excited about Kids of the Black Hole.  Well, truth be told, I think the title got him excited, but I’ll take what I can get.  Taking over the reading habits of the planet, one fellow geek at a time.

So, onwards.  I’ve finished mulling Dewar McLeod’s Kids of the Black Hole: Punk Rock in Postsuburban California, which led me to this peculiar interlude the other day,  and I’m pretty sure there will be at least one more post on this subject as it continues to rattle around in my brain. Fortunately, the rattling is largely positive; MacLeod’s book makes for an excellent narrative introduction to L.A. punk as well as a thoughtful and thought-provoking analysis of the underlying causes of both the music itself and the social context of the music.  I’m particularly excited about his analysis of the role of contention in punk.

One of the complaints I’ve made about punk research and writing is that so much of it is rooted in the “I was there”* (see also O’Hara’s Philosophy of Punk: More than Noise) or a variation on the theme, which is perhaps best regarded as “we were there”: the multitude of oral histories that have been published over the last 10 or so years, including Steven Blush’s American Hardcore: A Tribal History and Marc Spitz’ & Brendan Mullen’s We Got the Neutron Bomb: The Untold Story of L.A. Punk.  MacLeod doesn’t do this, though he acknowledges his place in the growth of California punk, remarking about his experience seeing the Ramones at the Whisky “They all seemed to be having a lot of fun, but I wasn’t sure what to make of them” (11-12).  In fact, rather than grounding himself as one centered in the experience of SoCal (or California, for that matter) punk, he describes himself as having “missed it,” particularly the early days when he was

…young and couldn’t drive.  But also I didn’t think it was mine.[***] These people were older, cooler, realer than me.  I wasn’t like them, and never could be.  They came from somewhere else.

Of course, I was wrong.  They came from places just like mine, and from the vast range of the broad middle class of postsuburban California. (13)

As it happens, he was in the midst of one of the turning points (MacLeod certainly argues as much) in SoCal punk–the Elks Lodge show on March 17, 1979.   When he tells the story of that night, though, MacLeod stands back and lets others, including reviews from the Los Angeles Times and seminal punk zine Slash.  MacLeod reappears in the chapter, not to paint the image of the night, but to offer excellent context and critique as to how and why that night was a turning point in punk.

This particular argument, regarding the co-existence of punk and New Wave, is one of several well-documented and nuanced arguments that MacLeod weaves together in the book.  The first half of Kids revisits much of the ground covered in We Got the Neutron Bomb and elsewhere, but, of course, he’s not relying exclusively on oral narrative; MacLeod creates a cohesive narrative using the various punk stories and conflicts over what constituted punk.  The latter half of the book turns to the advent of SoCal hardcore, where, as I mentioned, I thought the book might begin.  In wrestling with the text, it is more clear to me now why the first part is necessary–it offers a narrative that contrasts with the development of hardcore (punk and New Wave being elements of the city and the immediate suburbs, hardcore coming from the exurbs and remaining there, largely).

I have to say that one of the most interesting elements of the book is that MacLeod doesn’t wax ecstatic over any particular group, save arguably for Black Flag (though it is rather difficult to write about SoCal hardcore without writing extensively about Black Flag, so it’s rather easy to see why).  Most shockingly (I jest), he is all but dismissive of Darby Crash, who we see moving through his various permutations from Jan Paul to Bobby to Darby.  While not the first to make this particular observation, MacLeod is perhaps the most understated about the Germs’ eventual move away from the strictly amateur: “…even the Germs occasionally managed to play a song that actually sounded something like music to more traditional ears” (62).   The failure to laud the Germs as the be-all-end-all of LA punk is, I admit, refreshing (even if I am a bit of a Germs fangirl), and his otherwise straightforward tone throughout the book sets off the periodic wink-wink, nudge-nudge (though tinged with love, no doubt) one-liners well, including one about Germs guitarist Pat Smear’s time with Nirvana: “And thus, thirteen years after Darby Crash committed suicide and the Germs died with him, L.A. punk produced its first rock star” (135).

MacLeod tells the story of the Elks Lodge a total of three times: in the introduction, in the argument about the attempts to mediate the first phase of punk, and again as a link to the development of hardcore, fraught as it was with violence and police action.  In effect, the night, though MacLeod himself stays at a remove in telling the story the second two times, serves as the pin that binds SoCal punk entirely in the text.  Further pulling his narrative together is, of course, the theoretical premise that something in the human geography is at work in the development of both of these eras of SoCal punk.***  The premise strikes me as sound, and it is certainly intriguing.  Combining the exilic function of suburbia with an economic milieu rooted in information technology, postsuburbia created a youth who were

…fully “postmodern…,” whose alienation resulted from the “impact of modern information technologies spread by global capitalism,” as the corporate-controlled media and consumer environments increasingly supplanted the home, family, school, and workplace as sites for socialization [qtd. in MacLeod 99)].

While I understand–and tend to agree with– the argument MacLeod is drawing here–that one of the recognizable features of a shift from suburbia to postsuburbia is that the home (and, indeed, workplace, school, family, etc.) is no longer the center of authority as existence and experience became “fragmented” (104)–I am also tempted to quibble.  Clearly the fragmentation to which he refers was evident–one can certainly hear it in the lyrics of SoCal hardcore (MacLeod uses one song in particular to support this conclusion, Suicidal Tendencies’ 1983 “Institutionalized”), but I still can’t shake the feeling that were applying terminology more apt for a slightly younger generation to the early days of hardcore.  On the whole, however, MacLeod’s thesis is most intriguing and well-explored; he made me curious enough to keep digging into the subject(s).

My only significant point of contention comes in the conclusion, which MacLeod begins with “Hardcore was white music” (131). He’s right, of course; one of the realities of hardcore was its present and largely un-named whiteness, though his stated rationale for the claim is hilarious:  “Musically, the sound stripped out nearly all rhythm and even melody.  Generally, the only variation occurred in tempo” (131).  To which I would add the qualifier: tempo equaled mind-alteringly fast to even faster.****  I appreciate his humor here.

MacLeod’s too-brief exploration of race in hardcore is problematic for me, largely because he appears to buy into a fairly either/or notion; that is, either hardcore had racist elements or it didn’t.  He notes that “…while Black Flag’s “White Minority” seemed to lament the day in the near future when ‘all the rest will be the majority….We’re all gonna die,’ their singer at the time when they debuted the song was Latino” (131).  After cataloging several of the racial markers in hardcore lyrics, MacLeod remarks “As hardcore style emerged, race itself was strangely almost absent. The social problems hardcore punks did address did not include race” (132).  I can’t tell if MacLeod is suggesting that race was truly not present, even if it went unmarked, or not.  Even so-called “casual racism” (MacLeod’s term) suggests something about the context, even if race does not appear to be a concern for the majority.  One of the hallmarks of whiteness, is, after all, that it goes unspoken and unrecognized–especially for the white majority.  And, of course, for the majority white musicians playing to majority white crowds, how easy is it to be casual in the racism.  How easy to use the Latino singer as a token.  As a later for instance, the much-discussed Guns N’ Roses song “One in a Million” got much more commentary in the press from liberal-leaning (and talkative), white Seattleite Duff McKagan than it did from Slash.  Indeed, the media seldom even noted Slash’s parentage when asking about less-than-casual racism of the song.  In short, I don’t know that MacLeod and I would actually disagree on this point, but I’d have liked to see a less casual inclusion.


*Let us agree that for those of us who weren’t there (I was three at the time of the Elks Lodge show mentioned below.  My forays into punk came a tad later), the “I was there” is not so much problematic [read: aggravating], but the reflexive dismissivness of those who were not is.

**MacLeod writes about this notion, but I can’t underscore the importance of the perceived ownership of music enough.

***He does ever so briefly nod at the later developments of punk in Orange County and the Bay Area.  I’d throw in A7x to his list as well, but you probably saw that coming already.  I’ve reconsidered my position in the earlier Author’s note (and the 8 sentences I cut out of it).  I’ll revisit sometime.  Until then, an early clip for your consideration.

****Aaaaand later drummers, like the Rev (ahem), would use their access to technology to improve their speed–via practicing while gaming.