A long time ago I printed a bunch of John Scheck’s funniest essays from his blog and put this printout in my bathroom for people to read while relieving themselves. I’d have guests over and they’d disappear for way longer than anyone needs to finish his or her business, and meanwhile the other guests and I could hear loud laughter echoing from the bathroom. I couldn’t tell you how many times people emerged from their potty break praising that they’d just read the funniest shit ever. “When is this coming out as a book?” they’d inquire.
Well, here it is in all its glory, a collection of John’s funniest essays that once appeared on his blog back when blogging was popular.
Scheck’s book is wickedly funny, sure, but what I really enjoy is that beneath the biting humor is some truly poignant social criticism. We are, for all intents and purposes, a fucking horrible society, truly demented and awful, and Scheck cuts through the niceties to point out what a pile of ridiculous piffle we’ve become. Moreover, most of us are batshit crazy and narcissistic nitwits, and Scheck reminds us that we have to seriously laugh at ourselves if we truly want to make sense of where we’ve gone wrong.
Here’s a sampler from the book, some of Scheck’s ideas for a 78-word short story to enter into a competition held by Esquire Magazine.
Esquire Magazine sponsored a short story competition in which all entries had to be exactly 78 words (in honor of their 78th birthday, clever huh?). The brevity thing was in tribute to the Hemingway ultra-short “For sale, baby shoes; never worn” which is supposed to be such a masterpiece. I find that horribly maudlin but that’s just me. Here’s my slightly longer version.
Say No to Drugs For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn. Why’re we selling the shoes you may be asking? The baby’s dead, that’s why. Are you happy now, you intrusive, heartless pricks? Your next question—if I know your type, and I think I do—is to ask how the baby died. Ever heard of crystal meth? Not exactly anyone’s idea of pre-natal care but the old lady is totally hooked on the stuff. Me too. Want the damn shoes or not?
Or this one:
Talbot’s Dream For as long as they could remember Talbot had told his friends and family that his big dream was to live in Paris. He studied French and received the highest marks. He said he would go after he graduated from the university. He got married, bought a house, and fathered two children. He taught them French.
He never made it to the city of light, as you may have guessed. He died suddenly and tragically of old age.
The best humor is really like a form of excision surgery where something has to be cut off to save the body from infection. Scheck’s book excises the inflated egos of the truly stupid and monumentally inept, all the while making us laugh out loud as he hacks away at these diseased parts. He rarely pulls punches and offends with an almost indifferent cruelty, and yet the honesty of his satire is what makes his humor so goddamned appealing.
The great Marty Feldman said it best about comedy: “Comedy, like sodomy, is an unnatural act.” Amen, brother. Scheck brilliantly exemplifies Feldman’s simple premise in every one of these humor essays. Whether brief or long, each essay bites through the polite, boring veneer of dishonesty and delusion that prevents people from seeing how utterly ridiculous they really are. Look in a mirror, folks, then read Scheck’s humorous take on everything worth mocking. All great philosophies worth knowing begin with criticism and doubt about the nature of everything, and Scheck’s philosophy, like his humor, shines brightly like an exploding star.
You must be warned: you might crap yourself laughing. That’s why I planted a copy in my bathroom all those years ago; it seemed the appropriate place for people to read this collection and not embarrass themselves.
Day 18: Philadelphia, USA, 30 March 2020, 10:30 a.m. EST
The view from my bubble to the streets below.
There was a TV movie in the 70s starring John Travolta about a lonely teenage kid who lived in a hermetically-sealed bubble because his body couldn’t produce antibodies, thus he was isolated and disallowed any human contact out of fear such contact would infect him with something his weak immune system couldn’t fight. Like all TV movies of that era, it was cheesy and silly, but now, after 18 days of complete isolation in my Philadelphia loft, during which I haven’t come in contact with another human being and I clean, scrub, and disinfect every possible inch of the place, I feel lonely and isolated like Travolta’s character in the film. Sadly, 70s teen babe extraordinaire, Glynnis O’Conner, clad in a bikini, is not waiting on the other side of my bubble like it was for Travolta’s character. That lucky, disco-dancing Vinnie Barbarino creep.
It’s Monday, March 30, 2020, and the world is in a place it’s not been in 100 years, paralyzed by a viral pandemic that is spreading like a wildfire and infecting people with such an alarming virulence that governments worldwide have ordered people to create their own bubble like mine and not come in contact with other people for…well, for as long as it takes to stop the spread of COVID-19, the villainous coronavirus. In the USA it’s killing about 1.7% of people who contract it, which is alarming mostly for the simple reason it spreads rather easily and the tally of the afflicted is growing rapidly. Too rapidly. Since I went into isolation the numbers no longer makes sense except to report, as a former medical scientist myself, that it is NOT GOOD.
I’m bearing witness to this unprecedented madness high above in my top-floor loft with its view of Center City Philly below, normally filled noisily with people coming and going in great numbers on foot or bikes or in cars, but now it’s virtually empty. People are bunkered in their homes waiting out this pandemic, and I hope, like me, they are concerned about what kind of world we’ll face when we finally emerge from our self-imposed home incarceration. Our economy is in shambles, our investment portfolios—for those of us fortunate enough to have them in the first place—are decimated, and our futures are ambiguous if only because we’ve no idea when this virus will run its course or scientists will find a vaccine that protects us from its ravages.
I am lucky in that I don’t need to leave my apartment for any reason. Thanks to Amazon and Instacart I can order groceries and home supplies and it all gets delivered to my door. I have provisioned myself the last three weeks with enough food to last months. Secondly, my company is in good financial standing so I work from home every day and the paychecks will keep clearing for the foreseeable future. I also have a decent amount of savings and credit to keep me afloat for a very long time. Moreover, I was always somewhat of a doomsday prepper, so I have an ample stash of emergency rations, medical supplies, and other critical survival must-haves in my supply closet. I have three powerful HEPA air filters that keep my loft free of dust and allergens. I even have solar panels I can mount in my south-facing massive windows where the sun passes for 12-15 hours a day. I have a decent-sized battery storage unit that can keep all of my critical electronics charged if power should ever be cut. I even have solar-charged lamps and lanterns to light my place for the same reason. I prepared for this outcome years ago, honestly never even imagining it would happen, and yet I prepared all the same.
I could bunker in my apartment for a long while like Charlton Heston’s character in the film The Omega Man. How weird to see such a science fiction plot finally come true in my lifetime. As I kid I watched that film and had nightmares. Guess what? I am living in that nightmare right now. COVID-19 won’t kill even a small number of humans, but it will infect a great number, and not knowing its true potency at this time is the cause of so much uncertainty and fear. We just don’t know how deadly and dangerous this virus will be, nor do we know how to combat it medically. Thus we wait.
The first 10 days of isolation had me wallowing in anxiety out of fear I’d caught the virus while flying home from Spain, but as the distance grows between my last human contact and the present, coupled with the fact I feel healthy and virus-free, I’ve calmed down and resigned myself to remaining in isolation until there’s a vaccine. I am an active, fit, and mostly-healthy 56-year-old man, but I do have type-2 diabetes and an aortic aneurysm, so I will not tempt fate. Catching the disease at my age is a crap shoot, and although based on the stats for my age group that I have a 98.2% chance of surviving infection by COVID-19, I do not want to temp fate as the 1.8% who didn’t survive it. Bottom line: I don’t want to catch this bug, and I won’t if I stay isolated.
How strange are these times? It’s difficult to process what’s happening with any kind of sane, rational, and coherent thoughts. All I can do is survive it and hope that I can emerge safe from this in a few months.
Day One: Valencia, Spain, 11 March 2020, 13:16 GMT+1
Proof of life, 11 March 2020, Valencia, Spain
So it’s March 11, 2020 and I am in Spain, which is rapidly becoming the next cluster of ever-increasing coronavirus infections, although in Valencia, where I am living, the rate has been relatively slow. However I have decided to go back to Philadelphia tomorrow as I’m worried if I wait a week or two longer I will be stuck here as I am sure, like Italy, Spain will be barred as a starting point to travel to the USA. Spain has been, as far as I can tell, extremely lackadaisical in handling the containment of the virus’s spread, so it’s no wonder the numbers are bounding upward at such an alarming rate. The US is the same, and I imagine in a week or two both countries will be at the low end of a pandemic.
I’d rather be safe at home in my already well-prepared apartment in Philly than here. I’m not exactly Joe the Survivalist, but I readily admit I have been a prepper for years and my my apartment is well stocked with food and other survival provisions that can keep me comfortably ensconced in my home for a month or two if the need arises. So luckily the window is still open to get my ass back to the USA tomorrow. If I’d have waited another few days I am certain I’d be fucked.
Tonight I am catching a Renfe AVE train to Madrid, where I’ll spend the night at the airport Marriott, and then fly home to Philly tomorrow at noon Spanish time, arriving home at 4 pm EST. Madrid is rapidly becoming the epicenter of the coronavirus infection in Spain, so I’m consciously aware of being highly vigilant in avoiding personal contact or large crowds.
En Route to Madrid, 11 Mar 20 18:30 GMT+1
Moving through Spain at 300 km/hr on the glorious Alta Velocidad aka AVE train from Valencia to Madrid. I’m in Coche 9 and it’s pretty empty. People seem wary and just a little concerned, but no one is running down the streets in a Chicken Little panic. It all feels creepy like a dream after eating spicy food; humanity is reacting to this unprecedented crisis with fear, yes, but also with some curiosity as this is so fucking weird what’s happening, and how astonishingly fast it’s gone into the red worldwide. The World Health Organization has declared it a worldwide pandemic. The zombie apocalypse is upon us. OK, most people who catch this will recover fine, but people are going to die, and that’s shitty. I hope I am one of the lucky ones.
Madrid Atocha Train Station, 20:00 GMT+1
You can sense the growing, “It’s every muchacho for himself” right now as people are avoiding even looking at each other, as if they can mind meld the damn virus with thoughts. I caught the first cab I saw and the driver looked healthy and safe. He told me no one is riding cabs in Madrid. I told him to wash his hands and don’t take on any sick looking fares.
Marriott Near the Airport: 12 March 2020, 04:00 GMT+1
I left my hotel TV on CNN and awoke to the news that Trump has suspended all Euros from coming to America on Friday at midnight. This doesn’t affect my ability to get home so I am pleased. But I praise myself quietly for deciding to go home before it got weird. It’s just gotten weird. I had a mild anxiety attack at the thought of being stuck in Spain, but it passed when CNN clarified that I’d be able to fly home in a few hours.
Day 2: Madrid-Barajas Airport, 10:10 GMT+1
I’m through security and found an isolated seat where I can hide until my flight boards. Lots of Americans are scrambling for flights home even though Trump’s ban is only for Europeans, but everyone, like me, feels the door will be shut in a few days even for us. I’m feeling mild anxiety as I just want to feel safe and at home. If I do get sick I’d rather be in my bed, in my home, so my only goal is to get on this flight and get back to Philly by 4:00 EST today. Once home I’ll at least have my familiar environs. Being stuck in a foreign country during the early stages of this zombie apocalypse has been, to say the least, surreal and a bit scary. My odds of making it home without catching this motherfucking virus are probably 30% yes, 70% no. I trust my hale immune system and my ability to heal, but I am still a bit wary.
Philadelphia, 4:47 PM EST
Eight hours later I made it home. The journey ends where it began. I’m putting myself on a self-induced 14-day quarantine at home. My flight was packed with Americans heading home before Trump’s European flight ban goes into effect, even though technically Americans can still fly home from Europe after Friday. No one was taking chances. I heard lots of coughing and sniffling, so I’m assuming I may experience a COVID-19 infection. I’d say the odds are in favor I don’t, but I want to be safe.
Day 11: Philadelphia, 21 March 2020, 9:10 AM EST
My self-isolated state has encompassed the last ten days since I returned March 12. I’ve had no contact with another human since then, and as of yet I haven’t exhibited any symptoms associated with COVID-19. I was not only lucky to get out of Spain when I did, but even luckier that I probably wasn’t exposed to the virus on the flight home. I will hold off celebrating this fact for another week or so, as I may just be carrying it but I’m asymptomatic. Until next Thursday I will not take any chances infecting others by emerging from my apartment. Even after that date I’ll probably stay isolated for up to another month if necessary.
Philly has handled the crisis well. Restaurants still deliver food even though their dining rooms are essentially closed, moreover through Acme Foods and Whole Foods/Amazon I have been able to order groceries that get delivered to my door. Also, in my “doomsday” closet I stockpiled about 6 months of emergency rations (Army MREs and Mountain House freeze-dried meals) a few years ago when I got all “prepper aware” while recuperating from a broken arm and not having much else to do but prepare for the zombie apocalypse. Smart move; I can literally remain in my apartment for months if necessary. It helps I am wealthy enough to afford such luxuries and that my job is not in jeopardy, and even so, I can live well for quite a while without a paycheck coming in at this point. However, my company is fine, and though things may slow down, we should weather this storm well.
The last week was a difficult and anxiety-ridden period as I saw the world outside going nutty over this virus. I decided after the second day to stop watching or reading the news because it only added to my anxiety about whether I was sick or not. I swear, there was a three-day period where every stomach rumbling or allergy stuffiness episode had me convinced I was ill with COVID-19. The ensuing panic would subside only after I realized, rationally, that I was fine, but in those minutes of frenetic panic I’d hyperventilate myself into a shortness-of-breath episode. Of course I realized I could breath deeply and that I was just in a state of too much oxygen being breathed in and not enough carbon dioxide coming out, which feels differently than the shortness of breath caused by pneumonia; my brain’s breathing mechanism realizes the oxygen to CO² ratio is out of whack, ergo it slows breathing to allow the excess O² to get absorbed and the resulting CO² to exhale, which makes me feel like I cannot breathe, but of course I am, just slowly. I wonder if I am the only fool to hyperventilate himself into thinking I had COVID-19. Of course, after each of these very minor and silly episodes I was fine. No fever, No cough. No weakness or fatigue. I was not ill with COVID-19; I was just being a silly billy running around gasping for the air I was actually breathing in fine. My lungs were not damaged or incapable of fully expanding.
Sleeping was difficult for a few days, mainly from the time change returning from Spain, but now I’m doing fine. Last night’s sleep felt refreshing, the first time I’ve awoken and actually felt like I had restful sleep. Based on what I know about the incubation period for COVID-19, I still have many days to go before I can feel confident I didn’t catch it, but each day without symptoms is a good sign, and the fact 10 days symptom-free have passed since my last human exposure makes me feel less anxiety than each previous day.
My greater concern is more scientific. Is it better we become exposed to the virus and develop immunities, or avoid it altogether? I prefer not to catch it as I am diabetic and also have an aortic aneurysm, and although I have both conditions well under control, and I am physically fit from lots of bicycling and long hikes, I’d rather not test myself by getting sick with this damn virus. However, over the long term it may behoove me to suffer through an infection as having immunity now for this early strain may benefit me if the virus evolves into something deadlier that I’d not have to face if I were immune. I am sure every epidemiologist in the world is positing the same theory. Yes, we do not want to expose those who are vulnerable to the virus to its ravages once infected, but maybe it is, long term, in the best interest of humanity that our young become immune to it. Natural selection is a motherfucker and viruses play the game as well as any piece of genetic material in our world. They are clever, adaptive, and sinister little Darwinistic machines.
This leads to an insane but true thought. Is our compassion for, and protection of, the weakest among us the right strategy? I mean, sure, isolate everyone over 60 or those under 60 with underlying health conditions. But for a vast majority of people it may be better for them to catch this virus and suffer through its infection into their system. Some 80-90% of people who have caught this virus only experienced mild symptoms and seem to have recovered fine. Now their immune systems are prepared to fight any new hybrid of this genetic code that tries to attack them in the future, moreover they will never be carriers, and hence vectors, of it again.
My guess is that scientists feel we are close enough to getting a vaccine that we can absorb the massive cost of isolating humanity in the short term if we are in fact rolling out a vaccine within the next year. I certainly hope that is the case. If not, how long can people be isolated before it’s no longer economically feasible? And since 80-90% of those infected recover fine, then let people catch it, carry on with life, and this thing will die of its own loneliness seeking hosts that don’t exist.
Anyhow. More later.
Philadelphia, 21 March 2020, 23:10 PM EST; Day 11, Part II
It was a good and bad day in isolation. Good in that I ordered groceries that will be delivered tomorrow by Acme Foods, bad in that I was edgy and nervous all day for no apparent reason other than I’m still unsure I won’t get sick. I know I should be more existential and even oblivious to this fact, that even if I get sick it will be mild, but I am so completely fearing getting sick that my squirrelley obsessiveness is starting to get irrationally stupid and panic-laden. What, my neck hurts from working at my desk all day? OMG, COVID-19! Then comes the five-minute check: no fever, no fatigue, no sore throat, no cough…all right, I’m fine. Breathe deeply and get my pulse down. There you go. Crisis over. I’m a nutty motherfucker, I freely admit.
This COVID-19 is a hypochondriac’s nightmare, and as everyone who knows me will attest, I am a wildly neurotic and laughably chronic hypochondriac. I have expended more adrenalin worrying about being sick, infirm, or dying than any ten human beings. What’s even funnier is that when I actually get sick I’m the calmest person in the room. But anticipating getting sick? That sickens me to the point of near paralysis. Seriously, I’m a goof.
I sit here at my desk in a state of calm resignation that I just have to let the chips fall where they may with this whole COVID-19 coronavirus shit. I mean, every day a human being is alive there’s a great risk of getting in a deadly car crash or other unexpected accident, or dying from one disease or other, or a fucking pile of space junk can crash down on one’s head. Life is a crap shoot.
As my 9th grade Biology teacher, the great Alfreda Buckner, who was also a trained mortician, once told us when we whined about homework, “Children, you don’t have to do anything in life you don’t want, except die. We all have to die.” That, in Mrs. Buckner’s terse words, is the essence of evolution. Mrs. Buckner was a brilliant woman. Like all living beings, we humans exist for a while, then we don’t exist. We can fight to exist longer, or not fight to exist longer, but in the end we all have to cease to exist. There are millions of ways for humans to die, but in the end we all die. C’est la vie. Worrying about this fact doesn’t ever change the ultimate outcome. I only wish I were zen enough to fully comprehend this simple fact; I’m not. I’m a hyperventilating mess right now.
Luckily, we humans have consciousness so I can record my thoughts for posterity during this weird turn of human events and let people understand how I, a nobody and about as anonymous as any other bloke, suffered through this monumentally unprecedented modern human experience. The world has literally shut down and people are bunkered in their homes awaiting salvation from this pandemic. I wonder how many others are suffering from the panic and anxiety that has left me reeling on occasion. When this is all over and we go back to living as we always have—if that is ever possible—then we can all have a laugh about it, or tell a few amusing anecdotes and stories about our experiences.
What keeps lingering in my hypochondriac panic is this rational thought: these past decades we’ve seen one of the largest mass extinctions the planet has ever experienced as countless species have ceased to exist due to environmental changes or simply through natural selection. Is that what humanity is facing? Has nature decided to punish us for our misuse of the planet the last few hundred years? Have we done this to ourselves and sealed our own doom? Crazy question, yes, but one that obviously has to be asked. Maybe this virus is just the first wave. Maybe the shit has hit the proverbial fan and the next wave will be devastating.
But I fucking hope it’s not true. However this fact has haunted me in my isolation and panic the last ten days.
The origin of the term “shoegazer” in the early 1990s by the British music press was a pejorative meant to slag the middle-class kids who comprised most of the bands, who, when playing live at clubs, seemed more obsessed staring at the floor while managing banks of guitar effects pedals than looking out at the audience. Of course the audience was comprised of middle-class kids high on hashish and X who dug the effects-laden, dreamy, ethereal noise by the bands on the stage. The music was a loud, swirling mess of new hi-tech sound effects mixed with a definite lo-fi, garage band ethos, with the lead singers almost whispering the lyrics over this cacophony of rich, fuzzy-buzzing sounds. The more potent designer drugs available at the time certainly added to the overall psychedelic ambiance at clubs, and for a few years the posh, slightly oblivious shoegazers offered an alternative to the “Madchester” sound embraced by the hooligans and working class club denizens. In the middle 90s the Shoegazers were made obsolete by the Brit Pop bands Oasis, Blur, Suede, and the like.
In America in the early 90s, Grunge, a more male-dominated and aggressive hybrid of Punk and Hard Rock, was the predominant new style that captured popular fancy after Nirvana’s epic “Smells Like Teen Spirit” exploded in late 1991, but in the UK the Shoegazers, eminently more feminine in their approach and yet fueled by loud, feedback-laden guitars and introspective, dream-like lyricism, definitely provided a delicious alternative to the Seattle boys who powered Grunge’s ascent. I honestly enjoyed the music of both scenes but for different reasons and for different personal circumstances; why limit one’s self to a single choice?
Grunge had very few, if any, female leaders, while the Shoegazers, even if led by guys, took great lengths to explore the female psyche in both content and feeling, which gave the movement a much more sensual and erotic feeling than the hyper-testosterone noise of Grunge with its hirsute rocker boys and all their masculine angst. The Shoegazer bands Lush and My Bloody Valentine were probably the best of the lot at making beautiful noise powered by this ethereal feminine power. Moreover, gay power was greatly represented by superb bands like Kitchens of Distinction, which added to the diverse and beautiful flavor of the movement, proving that Rock wasn’t just about hairy dudes flexing their man parts and hyper machismo on stage. Shogazers offered a softer and more sensitive feeling to its ambiance, and yet still rocked loudly and proudly in all that beautiful noise.
I’d like to present what I think are the best examples of the sound in no particular order, but some songs simply stand out more than others and exemplify why Shoegazer music was so fucking fabulous in the strange and wonderful early 1990s that was my life in transition from living in Europe through the middle-to-late 80s and now back home in the new decade, where I felt like a weird alien in my homeland and had great difficulty adjusting to the American way of life after years of being blithely oblivious to its culture. Good “Alternative” music and the book Generation X by Douglas Copeland helped me navigate these strange new waters.
I’d always kept an open mind and embraced music from a wide and diverse blend of genres, especially from what was coming out of London, Manchester, and greater Europe, while at the same time, thanks to SPIN Magazine, being jacked into the American Indie and Alternative scene with as much gusto. I never felt beholden to one band or genre or sound, and in fact found great pleasure in mixing and matching my listening playlists with as many weirdly diverse sounds as I possibly could. I first heard many of the great Shoegazer songs while watching MTV’s epic “Alternative” show 120 Minutes, which thankfully embraced the same weird music ethos as I did in 1990 when I returned to the the USA. 120 Minutes introduced early Grunge and Shoegazer bands with equal aplomb and respect in the early 90s, offering the fans to decide what to love and what to hate, just two more styles in a large and diverse mix of yummy alternatives to the deluge of boring and vapid mainstream crap pumped out on the airwaves on a daily basis.
So, where to begin? If I were to introduce one song by one band that captures the Shoegazer ethos perfectly, My Bloody Valentine is, hands-down, the band, and their song Come In Alone is the song. It’s a breathlessly sensual, joyously weird, brilliantly loud, gloriously messy mélange of everything that made Shoegazer music so goddamn great. If you’ve ever been high on X you know that powerful feeling to touch another human being while reality melts into a swirling, churning, bubbling mess of sights, sounds, and feelings too weird and beautiful to imagine sober. You find yourself reaching out to feel the flesh of someone, anyone, in your general vicinity, and that touch becomes an electrified and nearly orgasmic explosion of synapses firing in hyper-drive, and it’s not quite sexual and yet not asexual either, but somewhere wildly, weirdly in-between, as if you’re doing some kind of hyper-naughty Vulcan mind meld powered by your loins as much as your brain. You realize, high on this crazy nutty drug, how much another human being means to you at that moment, how fucking beautiful it is to touch them and share that feeling. This is X at its best. And this song captures that amazing feeling.
My Bloody Valentine – Come In Alone (1991)
In a very close second is this gorgeous mess of sound and feeling by the girl-dominated band Lush, proving that the exertion of lady parts and feelings can power a Rock song to utter nirvana with as much brilliance as any boy band. These ladies made some superbly sensual music in their heyday, music with which to blaze up and touch-kiss-feel-fuck your significant other in a yummy blissful way. There are two versions of this song and each is as vibrant and necessary as the other depending on your mood at the moment you spin them. I love this effects-laden explosion of yummy girl power best. This was a great band proving that feminine feeling in loud doses can power the psyche with amazing results. Influenced and produced by Cocteau Twins guitarist Robin Guthrie, this version is Cocteau-esqe and yet singer Miki Berenyi owns it with a breathlessly majestic vibe all her own. Dirty me, I always imagine a beautiful woman furiously masturbating to this as it plays. Sue me.
Lush – Thoughtforms (1990)
Kitchens of Distinction provided more of an introspective vibe to the Shoegazer sound with a distinctly gay flavor, and one needn’t be gay to enjoy this perspective if one has an open mind and wishes to understand all the vibrant and vital stories to be told by our fellow human beings. Why limit yourself to the narrow confines of your own experience and viewpoint? How weird to live in such intellectual myopia. It helped that the band could Rock and sounded fabulous. The guitars are powerful and shimmering with glorious majesty, and while R.E.M. and Echo & The Bunnymen obviously influenced the lads, they take their sound to new heights beyond that cool baseline. This was a real sleeper in the early 90s that 120 Minutes introduced to an American audience willing to embrace something bold and different. A Shoegazer 101 lecture must include this epic tune as one of the cornerstones of the genre. However, it stands on its own as a great Pop song regardless of the genre.
Kitchens of Distinction – Drive That Fast (1991)
You want a song that just rocks? Try this one by Swervedriver, in my humble opinion one of the great Rock songs of the 1990s, a driving, powerful, beautiful cacophony of noise and feeling, all guitars and nothing but guitars in a sonic wonderland. Again the band tones down the testosterone but not the masculine energy, and the net effect is a glistening, glorious, nearly perfect Rock & Roll song. It’s probably the least shoegazer-like Shoegazer song of this lot, but certainly well within the confines of the movement in spirit if not in reality.
Swervedriver – Duel (1993)
Slowdive captured the capital-E ethereal feeling of the Shoegazer movement, making loud guitar rock that was extremely girl-friendly and sensual without losing its power, and adding a wonderfully psychedelic atmosphere that took the listener to an otherworldly existence far away from the shitty hustle and bustle of reality. You felt the pot haze surround you when this was blasting from your stereo, and hopefully it was real as this was perfect for those soft, somber, candlelit, sensual moments lying on the floor cuddling with the one you loved after a good joint or two or three. Thirty years later this still sounds lush and vital, as if the years that have gone by haven’t really aged you or the feelings you had in 1993. You still need this sound to surround you in more contemplative moments.
Slowdive – Alison (1993)
Catherine Wheel was an interesting band, masculine enough in sound and style to be confused with the Grunge boys in Seattle in 1992, and yet never quite sounding as cock-thrustingly dude-like as Pearl Jam or Soundgarden or that ilk. Sure, the Seattle boys had a sensitive side, but it was too narcissistic to be anything but whiny, me-first male blathering, while Catherine Wheel displayed an astonishingly softer version of male angst, and while not losing the penis altogether within the mix, their style favored a much more sensual sound within the loud guitars and fuzzbox effects than the Seattle boys were ever capable of capturing on record or in live performances. Just compare this stellar track to any Pearl Jam or Nirvana or Soundgarden track and you’re immediately aware of the difference. It had guitar power and a driving 4/4 beat, but there’s a hypnotic sensuality to the sound that gives it more flavor and feeling than your typical Grunge song.
Catherine Wheel – Crank (1993)
Lush was so good, so perfectly sexy and profoundly lovely, that it would be hard not to include a few songs from the band’s limited but generally great catalogue. Miki and Emma’s breathless vocal styling amid the shimmering, echo-laden guitars, proved without a doubt that guitar Rock has plenty of room for female sensuality and all its unbridled glory without losing the powerful “jamming” of a male-dominated song. In fact, the gender gap in the sound is what gives it so much power and feeling. They’re not merely fucking you, they’re in charge, so shut the fuck up and let them ride you. I, for one, never minded that kind of relationship with a strong, beautiful, brilliant woman. If you really care for a woman, let her have the floor to express her feelings, moreover let her art shine with the power of an exploding star in the heavens. Lush did that for me as much as any girl-dominated Rock band before or since. They weren’t imitating the boys, they were showing us how it should be done properly. Fuck yeah it’s sexy, but it’s also mind-expanding and fun. In the early 90s few bands earned my love as much as this one.
Lush – Sweetness and Light (1990)
To truly understand My Bloody Valentine is to know how being afflicted with OCD affects the strive for perfection differently than in normal people. With OCD the excessive need to make each moment better than the next is maddening, but within that madness lies the genius that has always made the human race strive to be better, stronger, smarter, and fitter. In musical terms, with technology finally catching up to ambition, one could translate serious musical OCD tendencies into long, arduous, even insane recording sessions where layer upon layer of sound could be included on the seemingly endless space within a 24-track digital studio console. Back in the time of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, a lot of the recording studio work on such an amazing recording was obsessed with the difficulty in manipulating the tape or finding clever ways to harness analog sounds out of primitive electronic equipment, while by the time Kevin Shields was recording Loveless all of hard recording process challenges were simplified by digital technology, so every ounce of creativity could be thrown at laying every sound and whim possible into this vast space on the digital palette. Shields went way overboard during the recording of the album Loveless and we’re all lucky to bear witness to his OCD insanity, because no matter how loud you play the record it never overwhelms your hearing, but the layer-upon-layer of sound and effects across the entire stereo channel will drive you mad with its sensual allure and sonic perfection. There are so many overdubs of guitars and voices and sound modulations across every track that the net effect is like a nuclear explosion but without the concussion. It’s profoundly beautiful and yet also disorienting in large doses, especially while wearing good headphones, but few records have moved me with as much feeling and emotion as Loveless, easily one of my top-5 favorite Rock albums in my life. It is such a celebration of life and sound and music obsessiveness gone mad that I often feel a kindred soul has touched me in places so few of my fellow humans even know, let alone understand.
My Bloody Valentine – Sometimes (1991)
While most Shoegazer bands used traditional instruments in the vein of Classic Rock, albeit processed through a vast array of digital effects, Curve embraced drum machines and synths but didn’t lose their guitars, which, while heavily modulated with the same vast array of digital effects as all the Shoegazers used, still led the attack. It gave the band’s sound a Gothic-Industrial flavor amid the psychedelia and ethereal vocal stylings of Toni Halliday. Curve’s sound was creepy and lovely at the same time, a frenetic tornado of swirling sonic echoes backed by droning pulses and electronic drum beats, making it feel like a crazy acid thrip filtered through a jet engine. Halliday and music partner Dean Garcia eschewed tradition song structures and just threw the music in the air and let it catch the wind’s direction, which makes for a wild and sensually powerful feeling on a good stereo system or while wearing headphones. Better yet, while stoned it’s even more fun. Like Swervedriver, Curve is barely Shoegazer in the traditional sense, but gladly wrapped in the movement if by spirit alone. If feminine sensuality is the driving force of the sound, and this is record dripping with it, it can’t be that different than Lush or My Bloody Valentine.
Curve – Doppelgänger (1992)
Of all the Shoegazers, Chapterhouse embraced the Madchester beat the most and gave its songs a dance groove that was as alluring as its vastly layered, gorgeous sound. The breathless vocal delivery was buried within the mix a bit much, but that added a sensual mystery to the overall feeling, which of course sounds fabulous with headphones. Like all Shoegazer bands, the lack of hyper-macho posing probably led to it not selling well in America while at the same time, 1991, Grunge went stratospheric with its screaming hairy boys appealing more to the traditional Rock fans who longed for the days of Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin. Grunge wasn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination, but very few girls were included in the genre and it had little or no feminine sensuality amid the howling hairy boys up front. Chris Cornell, Eddie Vedder, and Curt Cobain were all valid Rock stars by any accord, but we’d heard their type for the last 30 years, while the Shoegazers gave us a more diverse expression of gender and sexuality, and refreshingly so. Like, it’s perfectly great if the music is a little less dude-like and more girlie and faggie, and as a straight male I like a little flavor to my mix than just straight testosterone blasting through my ears like acid through a firehose. Give my ears some soft and tender tickling too. But still the loud guitars, please. Always the loud guitars.
Chapterhouse – Pearl (1991)
Ride was a traditional Rock band who embraced the Shoegazer ethos but turned down the effects and relied more on traditional pop styling amid the guitar noise. They were smart and sensitive lads who experienced some buzz in America but not enough to become wildly famous like the Seattle Grunge boys, though it could be reasonably argued their music was as good or better than most of the Grunge fare. Such is life. Part of the problem was Ride championed the music over their image, while Grunge celebrated the long-haired Rock god image front and center along with the music. Eddie Vedder was pretty and long-haired and sensitive enough to make the girls scream, while Ride just wanted you to LISTEN and not look. Alas, Rock & Roll is as much about image as it is the music, no matter how great the music may be. I recall that Christopher Cross’s music was wildly popular on the radio at first in 1980 or so, but then after a couple of awkward appearances on national TV where people saw him as chubby and sadly dull looking, his appeal lessened even with so many good pop songs to his credit. Meanwhile, a few years later, MTV made superstars out of far too many pretty but artistically shitty acts while acts like Cross were too ugly for MTV stardom. Ride made great music but looked boring and uninterested in drawing fans into their looks and image, which, artistically, was cool, but also career suicide. They weren’t bad looking blokes, but they didn’t project glamour like Eddie Vedder or the like; luckily Pear Jam the band had the chops to match the pretty looks of the lead singer. Such is Rock & Roll. No one ever said the best music always becomes the most popular.
It’s 1968. I was a wee lad that year, a precocious, rascally, blond-haired goofball filled with unbridled energy and joie de vie, the youngest child of nine and spoiled beyond reason, and my favorite song was The Rain, The Park & Other Things by The Cowsills, mainly because I adored little Susan Cowsill, who on every TV performance seemed so perfectly flighty, silly, and adorable to my five-year-old self, moreover, like me, she was the baby of a huge family, thus we were kindred souls, which of course meant I was madly in love with her and this amazing psychedelic bubblegum monster hit. I imagined that she and I would blissfully skip down the hill on 22nd Street next my house, hand in hand, singing this perfect song. And then we’d smooch a little. I am sure most boys my age in 1968 thought the same thing about her. And yet I knew I was her one and only boy. She was my Flower Girl. Silly me.
I was five in 1968, and while vaguely aware of the tumultuous events of that trying time, I was mostly oblivious like any other kid. I remember the morning after Bobby Kennedy was shot, as my Mom’s friend Barb Schneider and Mom, grief-stricken and shocked, sat talking about it all morning while watching the news reports on TV. I have vague recollections of the Vietnam War, mostly that I wanted to be a soldier when I grew up, and that’s exactly what I did when I was 19. I remember a little about Mom and Dad and my older brothers and sisters watching on TV the events of the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago and all the crazy street protests by the hippies getting smashed by the Chicago PD. I don’t have many memories of all that insanity and turmoil in 1968, really, just vague flashes mostly.
What I do remember vividly were the great memories with my family and friends, and of course the amazing music on the radio. Or when a favorite music act appeared on Ed Sullivan or some other variety show on TV. Those memories are still in technicolor and stereo in my mind. Life was grand in the late 60s on my personal level. My family was happy, healthy, and thriving. My neighborhood was safe and filled with great people. My best friends were Jon Ramsey, Buzz Phillips, and Terrence Thrap, and we were midget Tom Sawyers that summer, nutty, bold, and adventurous. One couldn’t find a happier kid than I was at that age.
I’m an old man now, with most of my life behind me, and yet this song still brings me more joy than just about any other in the history of pop music. It takes me back to that vivacious, spirited, nutty kid I was in 1968, who once—just once!—wanted to smooch with little Susan Cowsill, my eternal beloved, my Flower Girl.
The Lords of the Deplorables, President Donald Trump and his faithful Fox News apologist and chief fluffer, Sean “MAGA-Douche” Hannity
It’s time to address the gigantic elephant in the room: How much damage to our American democracy can we tolerate by Trump and his insane posse, which are the following: loyal partisan shit-for-brains minions who gladly and willfully violate both the Constitution and legislated laws to protect the outlandish behavior of their psychopathic leader with his blithe venality and arrogant disregard for the rule of law; science-and-reason-and-logic-denying right-wing Jesus-freaks who wish to turn the USA into their private theocracy where their creepy religious dogma becomes federal law; hyper-malevolent rednecks and xenophobes and racists who want America to be white and Christian regardless of what non-white, non-Christians want; Fox News limp-wristed-quasi-fascist dork commentators (especially Hannity and Tucker “Why do we give a damn what this smug, douchie, tubby asshole says?” Carlson); idiotic elderly “get off my lawn” grouches who blame their shit lives and miserable disposition on everyone but themselves; and, mostly, the creepy oligarchic assholes financing it all who merely want all power rested in their control at the expense of the remaining 300 million citizens of the USA? Oh, how much damage this gaggle of virulently power-grubbing swine have done in the last three years. Too much.
Yes, America, we’re in a real pickle. Due to our uniquely weird Constitution, with its insane “two voting US Senators for each state even if that state has about 50 booger-eating idiots living in it while California by itself has 40 million people, is the fifth largest economy in the world (greater than the UK’s, which has 26 million more people than Cali!), and yet is represented by the same number of US Senators as these booger-eating DakotaWyomingTuckyDelaVermontTana states, where there are virtually no people and hardly any economy worth noting, and the equally appalling Electoral College where, as we saw in 2016, the winner by more than 3 million national votes lost to a far less popular candidate. Trump bragged about his “HUGE” victory, but, really, he took his sister to the prom and probably paid her to do so. Whooopee, Donald.
Some democracy we have in the USA. It’s a rigged democracy and we all know it. Trump and his foolish gang of thieves and liars and power-hungry creepies have just exploited it through clever gerrymandering and denying voting rights to millions of black and brown folk. Meanwhile the true majority must sit back and get royally corn-holed by this power-mad and insane minority-rule cabal of horrible ideas, grubby-greedy-sleazy wealth hoarding while tens of millions of citizens fall into poverty and ill health (our life expectancy in the USA since 1997 has declined while the rest of the “civilized” world experienced increases), and complete indifference to the fact our planet’s climate is heading to an Armageddon-like awfulness, sooner rather than later.
For the rapacious and power-nutty far-right and its oligarch overlords, it’s all about four simple things:
1. Tax cuts for the ultra-rich at the expense of everyone else. A simple wealth grab, period. A class war in which the upper 1/2 of 1% is kicking the crap out of the remaining 99.5%. You know, these super-wealthy “winners,” they need more yachts and vacation homes and private jets and Bentleys and caviar. They worked so hard to get where they are while the rest of us sat on our fat asses watching TV and popping Oxy. That’s what they think of we the lesser beings with no wealth. Bloomberg more or less said this in his first debate with the other Democratic candidates in Las Vegas. Oh, how hard he, and he alone, worked to make himself so fabulously rich. All those secretaries and IT techs and janitors who worked for Bloomberg, what a bunch of lazy bastards! They so deserve their meager wages compared to his bloated and obscene wealth thousands of times greater than their meager earnings. He did it all HIMSELF! Get it, losers? You deserve to be shit poor while he deserves to possess more wealth than a hundred million Americans combined. Tough titty. He and his ilk have rigged the game in their favor. Share their wealth? Screw YOU, commies. We’re merely their servants.
2. Criminalizing a woman’s right to control her reproductive choices to appease the Jesus freaks who apparently care more about this than the income inequality that makes a vast majority of these twits as poor and screwed as everyone else. Their willingness to self-destruct in order to maintain their religious “purity” is astonishly short-sighted and pathetic.
3. Cutting all government regulation even though most of it works fabulously at protecting the citizenry. Deregulation benefits the rich owner class and resigns the remaining 300 million citizens to living with a filthy air and water and food supply and zero protection from the dangers of unbridled industry, and also offers them mostly slavery-like employment prospects, and moreover forces diminishing political and economic power upon their futures.
4. Lastly, merely destroying anyone politically to the left of Heinrich Himmler and usurping all their purchase of governance. Listen to the mouthpieces of this madcap ideology. They don’t just hate anyone to the left of them, they want to crush them, eradicate them, and burn up even the mere memory they ever existed. Me, Social-Democrat and leftie that I am, just want to tax the super rich more and equitably distribute income more fairly, and maybe live in peace with even the biggest assholes out there if they will back off encroaching on my ability to live and speak and not worship some silly deity freely. That hardly makes me a menace. Yet in their eyes I am not just a fellow citizen who disagrees with these psychopaths, I am their enemy and must be first silenced, then marginalized, and then eradicated. I served my country with honor as a soldier, only to find myself considered unpatriotic and a traitor merely because I disagree with their twisted ideology and its power-rapacious fascism and eliminationalist intent towards its opposition. I, on the other hand, disagree with these morons ideologically, and vociferously so, but I do not wish them dead, nor even a smidgen of ill health upon their being. I just don’t like them and think they are raging assholes. But they are asshole Americans for whom I would have, as a US Army soldier for over seven years, gladly fought to the death with our foreign enemies to protect their right to be wrong and stupid and boorish and fanatically creepy. Notice the difference? (Complete transparency: If Tucker Carlson were lying on the ground engulfed in flames, I wouldn’t even pee on him to save him. Just saying. Even a magnanimous Liberal has limits to his or her compassion.)
That about sums up where we’re at in the USA in 2020. We still have tens of millions of amazing people who work hard, live right, and care about the future of fellow citizens and the planet’s health. Even the categories above that I mercilessly mock contain plenty of truly good folk who either have lost their gaddamn minds or are just wandering in an intellectual wilderness poisoned by their myopia and inability to accept science and facts contrary to their narrow worldview. They may be lost, but essentially most are good people too, patriotic, caring, lawful, mostly neighborly; however they hold acrimonious and often repugnant views, adamantly so, that are based on bullshit and not reality. It’s sad to witness this madness in such normally decent people.
The real zombie apocalypse we face isn’t that a virus has taken over the brains of people; it’s a zombie hoard fueled by the idiotic, deliberately divisive, and utterly specious sophistry and propaganda pumped into their naive brains by the lords of oligarchy and their sinister minions who do their evil work. These vile minions and mouthpieces pump up the hate and malevolence and spite in these sadly misguided, under-informed, and poorly-educated people with a overwhelming deluge of ugly and divisive sophistry and propaganda in order to divide the middle and working classes and keep them at each other’s throats, distracted by this unnecessary in-fighting, and meanwhile out the back door all the wealth of this nation gets put into the clutches of very small group. It’s a brilliant and successful tactic as we’ve witnessed.
The USA is at its heart populated with fine people. However, not enough people are angry enough, and care enough, to truly take back our government, economy, and environment from the destruction caused by this oligarchic coup d’état we’ve witnessed the last 30 years that is finally coming to fruition and turning our democratic republic into a totalitarian state run by the oligarchs, where our citizens have become subjects and serfs to this powerful oligarchic cabal, and meanwhile, sadly, most citizens are oblivious to this transfer of power from the people to the few ultra-rich assholes pulling the strings of our sham democracy.
One thing we must all understand is that Trump is merely the useful idiot propped to the top by the oligarchs because, even to their utter amazement, he’s wildly popular with the “base” peasantry the oligarchs need to vote for their seizure of political power. Trump himself is an egomaniacal fool and blathering buffoon by all accounts and is mostly just the front man for this junta. Trump also provides a tremendously loud voice that echoes the insane irrationality and abject malevolence of his followers, all their weird beliefs and goofy conspiracy theories and boogieman enemies list, and all their disgust with everyone who is not like them and ergo “un-American.” He is the vulgar hammer-wielding champion who expresses even the ugliest thoughts they themselves have been afraid to express openly, and to their delight Trump vows to crush their enemies with this hammer in his hand.
Moreover, no matter how corrupt, incompetent, and morally depraved Trump has been in the past, no matter how disgusting and venal his words and actions are now, his followers oddly forgive him in a way they’d never have forgiven any other public figure. Trump is not only impervious to the purity test to which most politicians and public figures are subjected by the mob, his followers have largely given him a get out of jail free pass. The man has bragged about sexually assaulting women, viciously mocked the handicapped, called Mexicans rapists and murderers, coddled and supported violent fascists at the Charlottesville rally in 2017, and numerous other acts of abject moral depravity, and yet he hasn’t suffered politically with his base, all because he’s as stupid and angry and ugly as they all are, and they adore him for this. King Donald of Redneck Jesusland.
Trump’s asshole populism is like the WWF in the late 90s when it went all “Attitude Era” with beer-swilling Stone Cold Steve Austin flipping the man the bird and exposing his ass to the adoring crowd, and The Rock being all “look at me, I’m a ragingly and cartoonishly egocentric asshole and you love me for it,” which catapulted the WWF into such popular heights that its CEO, Vince McMahon, became a billionaire nearly overnight after crushing his rival the WCW, owned by Ted Turner. Common folk with ugly thoughts love it when some asshole, unbridled and not giving a shit, expresses the deeply-hidden darkness in their damaged souls that they’d be terrified to openly express. They absolutely love it when someone steps to the microphone and lets it all hang out. The more vulgar and insulting, the better! Suck it!
Trump figured out this WWF-like asshole populism (he’d been on the show numerous times in the past, as a matter of fact) in his 2016 campaign and exploited it like no other public figure would have ever dared to try, let alone someone running for President of the USA. Dignity and humility? Screw it. Fair play? That’s for pussies! Taking the high road? LOSERS only! The more assholish he became, the more offensive and shocking his personal attacks against his opponent, the more this behavior made Trump hugely popular with the drooling and angry and stupid masses. Even a flaming racist redneck asshole like George Wallace didn’t have this kind of audacity, and he was a lulu of a divisive asshole in his day, wildly popular with his racist Southern brethren and reviled by most enlightened and thoughtful American citizens.
We have seen this kind of bloviating asshole of a fake populist before in history. In fact, the similarities are ridiculously apparent. Both were idiotic creeps and phony nationalists. Both appealed to the abject ugliness of the common folk. Both laughably claimed that he, and only he, could “save” the nation. Both were cartoonishly demonstrative in their expressions of self-love. Donald Trump, meet Benito Mussolini, your spirit animal.
Let’s compare some of their utterings:
Nationalism über alles: Benito:”All within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.” Trump: “America First!”
Excessive self love: Benito: “This is the epitaph I want on my tomb: ‘Here lies one of the most intelligent animals who ever appeared on the face of the Earth.'” Trump: “I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius….and a very stable genius at that!” “People love me. And you know what, I have been very successful. Everybody loves me.” “”I’m also honored to have the greatest temperament that anybody has.”
Shared wisdom: Benito: “It is better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep.” Trump (Quoting Benito in a 2016 Tweet): “It is better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep.” [Trump is more of an orangutan than a lion, but, oh well, to-may-to, to-mah-to.]
Strike a pose, psychic soul brothers:
Il Duce, please meet…
Moreover, why do you think the Jesus freaks love Trump despite the fact he’s the most damaged, sinful, and deplorably immoral contradiction to every tenet of their supposed “Christian” faith? Because he’ll help do their bidding, of course. The man hasn’t touched the Bible his entire life and has about as much spiritual faith as I do (which is none at all), and, let’s be honest, how many abortions do you think he’s financed and covered up with generous non-disclosure agreements during his lifestyle which, according to his shamelessly self-promoted boast, made him the premiere New Yawk high-society cocksman of the 70s and 80s? Pay no mind to the vast amount of lies the man tells on a daily basis. Or how he’s cheated nearly every business and romantic relationship he’s ever had. Despite knowing his well-documented failings as a moral being, the Jesus freaks love Trump more than any public figure I can ever recall.
The Jesus freaks seem to have made Trump infallible to religious criticism like Catholics treat the Pope. Trump is a pig, the Jesus freaks all agree, but he’s their pig. Maybe, the way the Jesus freaks argue about Trump, and I posit existentially, Jesus would have embraced the Roman Emperor Caligula, the wildly nutty autocrat who murdered his sister who he’d impregnated, forced the wives of many prominent Senators and citizens into prostitution during his public orgies to which he made everyone attend, and slaughtered thousands of Roman citizens mercilessly for dubious and often insanely whimsical reasons. But, you know, render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, sayeth good ole Jesus. Render unto Trump what is Trump’s as long as he criminalizes a woman’s right to her reproductive system and promotes to the Supreme Court justices who will gladly allow the Jesus freaks to enact legislation marginalizing LGTBQ citizens in their states and locales. Trump is more Baby Huey than Caligula, but they are both examples of inherited wealth and power producing unstable and destructive progeny.
Hey, if Trump grabs a pussy or two or a hundred against the will of the pussy’s owner, dumps two trophy wives in the trash and marries an even more vapid and creepy and inarticulate one for his third, bankrupts nearly every company and capitalist venture he ever ran, lies with every breath he takes, whatever, dude, he’s just Donald being Donald. Obama exemplified every virtuous and clean-living tenet of Christianity like few other Presidents. The right-wing maniacs tried for eight years to dredge up even a molecule of dirt on Obama’s past and could find none. They even resorted to making up phony shit about his birthplace, academic performance, and make-believe friendships with left-wing radicals, all to no avail. And here’s Trump, the most perfect example of an out-of-control moral degenerate if ever there was one, and he’s given a complete pass. It’s only in a zombie-dominated world that this total douchebag of a man man is revered.
Like I said, a madness has infected so many normally sane minds. I must point out, however, that while most Jesus freaks may have been sane in the past, nearly all were hardly logical or governed their thinking with reason and scientific fact. Reality passed over them years ago and it failed to penetrate their simple minds. But still, these people have sunk to a new low in their adoration of this scumbag. Now most are just blindly or myopically nutty-cuckoo fanatical and cannot start terrorizing the non-believers and faggots and dykes and trannies fast enough with theocratic laws that massively violate the Constitution, but course Trump’s SCOTUS will let them run wild. The Handmaiden’s Tale is but a lame warning of the kind of religious tyranny that religious fanatics truly desire.
Obviously the crème de la crème of the white master race. You’d be high on opiates too if you looked this frighteningly awful. Sieg heil, fatties!
The white working class in the Midwest is another sad, sorrowful story. The skyrocketing number of opiate overdoses in Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, and Missouri, among other states in the region, coupled with a huge increase in suicides and ill health and early deaths caused by obesity and smoking and alcohol abuse, all of which has led to a slowly declining life expectancy in these states that has dragged down the national average, points to a massive increase in the existential angst and mental breakdown of these citizens.
Declining incomes and job prospects, and a general decline in living standards, has led to rapidly increasing divorce, illegitimacy, and substance abuse rates among the white working-class denizens of the Midwest since 1997. The numbers are unbearably depressing to look at since I hail from Indiana, one of the hardest hit states by all this opiate addiction madness and all the other social pathologies causing so much self-destruction among its denizens. It has tragically affected my own family back in Indiana, so I understand it from first-hand experience. Time and time again families have been torn apart by this horrible crisis of people abusing themselves to such extremes.
Back in the 60s and 70s when opiate addiction was mainly concentrated in black ghettos in large cities, white Midwesterners couldn’t have given a damn about saving all those poor souls. Now it’s hit them much harder than it ever afflicted the ghettos. Only now it’s a crisis to these people as their own kids are getting sucked into addiction and self-destructive insanity.
The economic and social decline in the Midwest began 30 years ago as its cities turned into the “Rust Belt” as manufacturing, which has provided so many good union jobs for the people, declined as companies moved production to countries where labor was much cheaper and totalitarian governments relaxed environmental and labor protection. Meanwhile these jobs lost were not replaced with comparable transitions, so the people suffered. Most of the young, talented kids left the Midwest to go where the colleges and high-paying jobs were located, so after 30 years anyone “left behind” in these economically-depressed areas lived with diminished job prospects and little hope of social elevation, so why not turn to drugs and alcohol as a way to ease the pain?
When Oxycontin flooded the Midwest in the 00s, and later cheap heroin from the Mexican cartels, a vicious cycle began that has been devastating the Midwest ever since. The finical crisis of 2008, which laid waste to the Midwest (as it did everywhere in the world), where things were already shitty in most rural areas and especially in Rust Belt cities like Toledo, Flint, Dayton, Rockford, Fort Wayne, et al., was like adding gasoline to a fire and accelerated this crisis into tragic proportions. Once people are hooked on dope, it’s an endless nightmare to get off the shit. And more and more people got hooked. And more and more people have died from overdoses.
I can paint a good picture of the crisis, courtesy of the Center for Disease Control. Have a look. It’s frightening. As you can see, the Midwest is the epicenter of this crisis. The good news is there has been a mild decline in a few of these states since 2017, but not enough to say any progress has been made to reverse it. Indiana, my home state, had 1731 OD deaths in 2017 and 1701 in 2019. Ohio: 5337 and 4197. Kentucky: 1574 and 1386. Wisconsin: 1157 and 1188. Michigan: 2632 and 2727. Missouri: 1412 and 1505. Illinois: 1482 and 2900. West Virginia: 1047 and 958. Tennessee: 1816 and 1918. Minnesota: 688 and 679. Pennsylvania: 5795 and 5070. in 2019 in these 10 states, 40,696 people died from overdoses. Add to this total all the suicides not due to drugs, early deaths caused by obesity-related pathologies like diabetes and heart disease, and deaths caused by alcohol abuse, and you have a gigantic pile of dead self-destructed human beings in these “fly-over” states.
So who have white Midwesterners turned to save them? You guessed it, the worst possible person to truly address all the problems these people faced: Donald Trump.
Trump came along in 2016 and somehow convinced this disaffected mass of white working-class people in the Midwest that he was their champion, that he would hear their grievances and do right by them. Oh, did they latch onto this man as their hero! Pay no mind that he offered zero evidence of how he would help them, he just blamed it all on that dirty, non-American-born Muslim President Obama and Trump’s opponent, “Crooked Hillary,” and of course all the murdering and raping Mexicans pouring over the border to take their jobs in West Virginia, Ohio, and Kentucky. That was his campaign to woo these people: simple, angry, blithely untrue, and pandering to the lowest depths of existential depravity within them all. Solutions? Sure, he told them, he has the best solutions, though he not once articulated exactly what they were. And how they cheered him at his rallies! Donald the crusading hero. The man of the people! He who had never pumped gas for his cars in his entire life. He wasn’t a man of the people, and, as we know now in 2020, he hasn’t been a man for the people either.
Since 2017 Trump’s actually done nothing to change the plight of the working classes (thank Obama, Trump, you’re riding his wave, dude). Despite all his babbling and phony promises, white people in the Midwest are still shooting up and sniffing dope and drowning themselves to death with booze and shitty, diabetes-inducing food, all with a mindless madness that increases every day. Their incomes have not gone up, they still work shitty jobs like slaves, and their lives are really no better, and in fact worsening, than when Obama was President. But Trump has their vote because he gives them that “Attitude” they love so much. He is the voice of their spite, anger, hatred, and malevolence.
Let’s examine what Trump and his minions have actually done. Or not done, as sometimes doing nothing is a great strategy to make government shrink and become more hated by the people.
Firstly, Trump has done everything he can to debase, destroy, and eradicate our regulatory government agencies. He placed in charge of these regulatory agencies the leaders and CEOs who worked in the industries these agencies regulate. It’s like putting a wolf in charge of protecting the sheep. What the hell would any self-respecting wolf do with such power except gobble up all the sheep? Moreover, Trump has defunded and humiliated our State Department into total irrelevance at a time when diplomacy matters more than any time since before World Word II or the Cold War. His “America” First policy isn’t about benefitting America, it’s about enriching the oligarchy and taking power away from the citizenry, especially the citizenry opposed to his policy of trashing what’s left of our Federal bureaucracy. With no one to mind the sheep pen but the wolves, how will the sheep do anything except bow to the will of these new masters?
Funny too, how the Republican Party whined relentlessly about the national debt under Obama, even as the debt fell over the last four years of his administration, only to become remarkably silent about this very same national debt rising dramatically after Trump’s tax cuts to the super wealthy. The national debt is now greater than it ever was under Obama, even in the dark years after the finical crisis of 2008. What do the Republicans have to say about the huge national debt under Trump? Curiously, not a goddamn peep. Mitch McConnell, who couldn’t stop bitching about the debt under Obama, now has his lips sewn shut about it, apparently. And where’s the goddamn Tea Party, which sprang into existence (with copious financing by Charles Koch and other oligarchs) by their extreme hatred of excessive government spending and ballooning national debt? Oh, where, oh where, are thee, Tea Party patriots, when the national debt is more bloated than Trump in golf attire after a big burger-laden lunch at Mar-a-Lago? Silence. The slimy hypocrisy of all these unctuous creeps is astonishing. But let’s at least be honest: the Tea Party, and Republican opposition to the national debt, was never actually about the national debt, no-sir-ee; it was about destroying the agenda and legacy of the black guy in the White House. But I digress.
Next up for Trump if he wins in 2020: Grandma’s (and YOUR) Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Cut, cut, cut, bitches, and tough shit if you have to eat cat food in your elderly years, and forget about that hip replacement surgery, Gramps! Your entitlements are getting cut to make Sheldon Adelson even richer. Or Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates. Or Charles Koch. Or Betsy DeVoss. And, of course, Jared & Ivanka. Ergo, if Trump wins in 2020, wave goodbye to your entitlements that you actually paid for and deserve. Mine too. I’m about 10 years away from collecting my Social Security. I give it a 50/50 chance of being there in full in 2030.
And that’s where we are, America, whether you accept these facts or not. I assure you everything I said above is factual. I may not express these facts with sugarcoated niceties or deliver my message with respectful care and restraint to not injure the feelings of the idiots who don’t accept these facts; my apologies. I cannot help you if you’re too stupid or myopically fanatical to see the folly of your self-destruction in voting for someone who seeks to make us all into serfs and subjects to the power of a few oligarchs who are about to start running things with unbridled majesty and lawless abandon. Trump and his Republican enablers in the Senate and Supreme Court have proven that the man in power, and his groveling, loyal, and insane minions, can do whatever the hell they want. The Constitution is their toilet paper. And you are the idiots who blindly follow this path to totalitarian rule by the few.
How do I even begin to describe the English Post-Punk band Gang of Four? In the 1980s their music was part of the soundtrack of my insane, picaresque, and highly irregular life, where I quit college and ran off to serve in the United States Army, which took me everywhere and nowhere, often at the same time. It was a time when, while serving my country, I also danced, fucked, drank, and partied nearly every night, so music of course played an immensely important role. And few bands epitomized the insanity as eloquently and brilliantly as Gang of Four. The band’s music was noisy, punky, funky, and thought-provoking, but mainly it was just cool, kind of like my life in my early 20s; it made little sense to anyone, but that was the point.
Sadly, the band’s guitarist, main songwriter, and leader, Andy Gill, passed away on February 1, 2020 at the young age of 64.
So let’s kick off this essay about one of my favorite bands with my favorite song by the band, the first one I heard by them, and of course it was while acting badly that this magical event happened. First give this a listen and then read what I’ve written below. You must hear the band’s music to gain any cogent context to my essay.
Damaged Goods – Gang of Four (1979)
I can recall vividly the first time I heard this maddeningly vibrant and frenetic work of Post-Punk Funk genius. I was at a club in San Antonio called Rocky’s in early February 1983, and on that memorable night the DJ spun a series of crazy songs like this to rev up the crowd of slam dancers who’d taken the dance floor hostage by the sheer number of them. Just before he played this he played Wardance by Killing Joke and Pay to Cum by Bad Brains, two songs of similar fast-paced velocity and angry energy that got Doc Martens boots stomping like no other. Then came this song, with its killer intro where the bass and electric guitar’s nutty interplay kickstarts the jam, and then, a few bars later, the drums propel the band into slam dance nirvana. Rocky’s small dance floor was now packed with guys and girls flailing around as if they were epileptics who’d taken speed.
It was a cathartic moment, to say the least. I generally eschewed slam dancing for its thuggish and hyper-violent stupidity, but on this night I gladly joined the fray like a possessed demon; I was a young soldier in the US Army and had lots of pent-up anger to release with all my gusto. Or maybe some girl had rejected me. Or I temporarily lost my mind. Whatever the case, on that night I felt like slamming around with my fellow moshers with as much sweat and anger and vicious antipathy as I could muster. Since I was a tall, fit, strong, and confident fucker, just a few weeks removed from Basic Training, I was a formidable slam dancer. My memory is clouded about how violent the dancing got that night, but the next morning my hoops buddies at the Fort Sam Houston gym all noticed the copious bruises that covered my torso during a shirts vs skins game and I was a skin.
The irony is that the band, Gang of Four, was pretty much washed up at this point in 1983, although at that moment a new variation of the band, with only two original members, had a cool New-Wavish Disco-like dance track called “Is It Love?” that was popular at clubs, even though it sounded nothing like what made the band famous back in 1979 with its epic debut album Entertainment!. That album was one of the greatest records of its era, highly praised by critics and fans alike, and is now regarded as one of the seminal works of Post-Punk. It was still cool and relevant in 1983, at least to me, since the next day after that epic night of slam dancing at Rocky’s I sought out and bought it at a San Antonio record shop near my Army base. It remained on my active playlist all through the decade and well into the 1990s.
You want some more of this amazing band’s cool music? Here’s another epic tune from their 1979 debut. I can still feel this vibrating out of my orange-padded Sony Walkman headphones from back in the day. Again Gill’s scratchy guitar licks highlight this highly danceable track filled with thought-provoking social critique and Dave Allen’s kick-ass bass line. Singer Jon King growls about being a bored, married, middle-class bloke (at home he’s a tourist) who is looking to fuck a stranger down at the local discotheque where people celebrate the soulless, bland, boringly decadent capitalist lifestyle. You got your shit drink in your hand, a pack of rubbers in your top-left pocket if you get lucky, and all the while you’re dancing to shitty corporate music. Meanwhile your wife, who also feels like a tourist, is contemplating fucking a stranger too. Touché. Fucking brilliant, mate.
At Home He’s a Tourist – Gang of Four (1979)
To describe Gang of Four’s sound is rather difficult other than to declare it was influenced by Punk but also by Parliament-Funkadelic’s funky grooves. Guitarist Andy Gill stripped down his riffs and chords to scratchy, minimalist, detuned funk grooves, but with a hyperactive Punk edge, and his interplay with bassist Dave Allen’s overtly funky lines and drummer Hugo Burnham’s bouncy and frenetic beats created music that was often danceable and yet also induced aggressive feelings amid all that funky noise. That was it, no frills, no sweetness, no moon in June love-dovie shit. It was cool, minimalist Post-Punk funky noise, unpretentious and yet thought-provoking, with lyrics that denounced the English middle class existence as desperately dull, overbearingly repressed, and largely incapable of having much soul. Vocalist Jon King often sneered his parts with his thick English growl, equally desperate and often self-deprecating in his introspection as he lamented the stark and empty life he led amid the colorless society of 70s Britain.
At its best, Gang of Four’s minimalist sound, just the bass, drums, guitar and voice, with no multi-tracking or overdubs or any other studio trick, could be mesmerizing and yet ass-wiggling funky too. Gill’s insistence on laying down the guitar part like fragments of a conversation, with pauses and then a frenetic pulse of noise between Hugo Burnham’s drum beats, while Dave Allen’s bass sketched out the actual melody of the song, if that was what you’d call it, created a groove so electrifying and yet profoundly minimal that you found yourself hypnotized to its pulsing beat. Meanwhile the band injected its socio-political idealism into your brain with carefully-constructed phrases of alienation and irony-free dissent, stating, in effect, “I did what’s expected of me in a capitalist meritocracy system, embracing the process of social elevation through self-improvement and getting a higher education, and yet I’m more fucked than when I started.” Andy Gill and Jon King were shitty Marxists in that they had zero answers in their art, just questions and complaints, but they certainly created a sound that captured the very essence of their existential angst and disgusted self-examination.
I present Exhibit A of this breathtakingly cool minimalist rock art, the superb song Paralyzed from the band’s second album, Solid Gold. It is the very definition of the sound we old timers called “Post-Punk.” It’s difficult, in retrospect, to fully describe how radical and cool this all sounded back then, but, honestly, it still sounds pretty fucking vital 40 years later. This tune as much as any other by the band epitomizes the hypnotic brilliance of its simple yet profoundly masterful sonic delivery.
This wasn’t music readily available in the early 80s at mall record stores, nor did it get airplay on mainstream FM radio stations. I wasn’t even aware of it until 1983. By then the underground music scene was evolving into something else and banished the records by British Post-Punk bands that failed to evolve into the obscure import bins at hippie head shops.
Here’s another monster track, To Hell With Poverty, released in 1981 as a stand-alone single. Again the band’s funky sound plays its complementary role to Andy Gill’s stripped-down, scratchy, noisy, absolutely insanity-inducing guitar licks, and all the while you can imagine slam dancers bopping around wildly to its frenetic pace. Singer Jon King sneeringly implores his lover to join him in relishing the night with cheap wine while forgetting that, in a country of supposed wealth and opportunity run by maniacs, they’re two broke bitches working shit jobs, but to hell with it, have some fun, get drunk, dance, fuck.
To Hell With Poverty – Gang of Four (1981)
At Gang of Four’s center was guitarist and bandleader Andy Gill, who created a new Rock guitar archetype that influenced a whole host of bands in the past 40 years since Entertainment!’s debut in 1979. His twitchy, nervous, barely musical playing invoked a brilliant white noise that was surrounded by his bandmate’s insanely funky interplay. Call it White Punk-Funk. Not as groovy as black Funk, but certainly more cerebral and political. The Red Hot Chili Peppers (Gill produced their 1984 debut), Strokes, Franz Ferdinand, Arctic Monkeys, Bloc Party, et al., paid homage to this sound, perhaps with their fans largely unaware of the source material, but, alas, that’s Rock & Roll; it’s all good, bro.
As I stated earlier, Andy Gill was only 64 when he died on February 1, a mere eight years older than I am. I am sad because in the 1980s the Gang of Four was seriously one of my favorite bands and played an important part as the background music to my crazy, nutty, weird, and insane life back then. In other words, perfect music for a nearly perfect (perfectly imperfect?) time. You had to be there to understand. Oh my, what a fly on the wall witnessed while observing me in 1983!
You millennials missed so much back in the dark ages before iPhones and apps for everything and Instagram and Amazon and Google and Facebook and all the horeshit that mostly makes your lives fraught with impersonal information overload, fake news and phony outrage over nothing, and zero true physical social interaction with humanity at large. Take away all the time you waste texting and Facebooking and TikToking and Redditing and all that bullshit; what would you do with your time, little millennial sheep?
Ah, what does an old fart like me know? The past is over, so why bother dredging it up? Well, because. Just because. Maybe there’s something to learn in remembering how it was before now. Just maybe. When I hear Gang of Four music I hear the faint echoes of my life well lived then, and how it influenced me to live well now. My true physical youth was long ago, but my brain remains young and vibrant even well into my middle-age years. I look, feel, and act much younger at 56 than 99% of my peers born around the same time. So I must be doing something right. I am not ready to give up on life or quit having fun. Writing about my past life isn’t the lament of some tired old dying fuck, it’s a goddamn joyful celebration of keeping that ebullient spirit within me alive for a hopeful and awesome future. Get it?
Here’s that New Wave Disco tune that was the band’s 1983 swan song. It’s actually cool. Andy Gill also sings lead while bassist Sara Lee kills it with a Bootsie-Collins-esque funk groove. And again, Gill’s guitar work is as masterful as it’s also understated. When I heard this in 1983 I had no idea it was the same band that recorded Damaged Goods until I asked the DJ, “Who made that record you just spun?” Handing me the album cover so I cold write it down (I always carried a small reporter’s notebook and a pen in my back pocket), he tried to defend GoF’s new sound after I was surprised it was by what I thought was a Post-Punk band: “They ain’t sellouts, man, they’re just trying to evolve.” Indeed. If Paul Weller could disband The Jam to form a slick Motown-esque soul group called Style Council in 1983, why couldn’t Andy Gill go all New Wave Disco with GoF? RIP, Mr. Andy Gill.
Every new day brings another outrage du jour on Twitter where large gaggles of apparently deeply sensitive people screech incessantly about some HORRIBLEact by someone that requires a hundredfold overreaction that is equal parts bullshit grandstanding and completely specious reactionary blathering. Every time it happens we should have on hand a response that exemplifies this silliness for what it is, pure theater of the absurd.
So when the Christian Lesbian Conservative Transexual Vegan Outrage Coalition expresses its absurdly overreaching and grandstandingly overreactive response to some act or event, let’s just play the following clips instead of reading all the expressed, wildly bloviating outrage over something.
You think slaughtering lesbian chickens for your pro-life-Christian trannies of color rally for vegan Muslim fat shaming non-binary atheists is hunky dory?
OMG!!!! THE HORROR!!!! I’m soooo outraged I could scream! There. We’re outraged. Move on to the next silly made-up controversy of the day. Chicken Little, the sky ain’t falling, you disingenuous dipshit. For fuck’s sake, grow up. You don’t want “justice,” you just want attention.
As for the smugly sanctimonious “woke” crowd engaging in their condescending “douche-splaining” and “cancel culture” about how the rest of us are all barbaric violators of all that is just and good and should be outlawed or at least shamed into obsolescence while they are of course above it all and goody-goody-two-shoes-morally-and-ethically perfect, let’s dust off this classic retort from our favorite absurdly sanctimonious do-gooder of old about YOU, woke person:
I don’t use Twitter and I could care less about joining in on a group-piling-on jack-off fest with faux outrage or laughably ridiculous sanctimony, so, really, just fuck off, people. Like any of you silly fuckwits are really above anyone or anything. Newsflash. You’re not. Hell, I know I’m not, but I would never declare otherwise, especially to make some gas-baggy, hyperventilating rhetorical point.
Pay no mind to the fact I no longer care to learn every silly, nuanced self-described “personal” attribute” or gender identity by which the wokies call themselves. I don’t know what “genderqueer” or any of these other new-fangled identity monikers mean, and frankly I don’t care. I am far from being a homophobe or transphobe as much as I am far from being a sexist, or racist, or even a bully. I don’t feel this way out of hate; I feel it out of sheer indifference to your neurotic self-delusions about who you are, moreover how much you hysterically want ME to care. I don’t. Sorry. But I don’t hate you for this. I_JUST_DON’T_CARE.
Look, you can identify yourself any way you wish, and call yourself whatever your heart desires, but I truly don’t give a fuck about you enough to give two shits what you think you are or what you call yourself, or even how you construct your identity. My inability to keep pace with fashionable terms—and that is what a lot of this “gender identity” hoopla is about, really—doesn’t make me a fiend, a hater, or a bully. I’m just too fucking old and tired to care. I need to know your pronoun? Why? Can’t I just call you by your name? Or some neutral pronoun like you, it, or that? That seems easier than learning all the fashionable names you’ve invented and for which I cannot keep up merely because I am seriously uncool and totally lazy on this subject of self identity. But I’m certainly not a hater. You have a cock but identify as a girl? Cool. Go for it, Sparky. You are a guy who sucks dick? Fantastic, and more power to you! You’re black! Great. Christian? Awesome. Ginormous right-wing, climate-change-denying pro-Trump fuckwit? Yay! Get it? Be whatever you want to be. But whatever that is, do I REALLY have to give a shit?—or just merely respect your right to be that…whatever.
As a liberal thinker since I as a young child, I have always championed the cause of civil rights and liberties for all American citizens, and, when possible, world citizens. I don’t care who you worship, who you fuck, or what your race is, if you’re a biological or self-imagined gender of some sort about which I have no idea because it’s all getting confusing and changes with the wind; what I care about is that we all have the right to be whatever we want without the government or majority or anyone else fucking with our rights to exist in the manner we choose. You’re gay, a person of color, transsexual, vegan, genderqueer, or you worship Jesus or Allah or the fucking devil, whatever, I will gladly defend your right to be whatever you think you are or want to call yourself, even if I am largely indifferent to whatever you are or call yourself. I don’t have to fully agree with your life choices, personal identity, beliefs, or biological being to defend your civil rights in a free democratic republic where all citizens are equal. I do it simply because, as a human being, I want to be treated as I would treat others. And I would hope others think the same. I certainly don’t care if you understand what I think or who I am. Just respect my rights as I respect yours.
Don’t berate me because I don’t fanatically agree with your identity, beliefs, or life choices. I don’t have to, and, frankly, fuck off if you think otherwise. I certainly don’t care what you think about me. I’m a white, straight, left-liberal, atheist, free thinker, non-breeder, and libertine. So what? Those qualities are only important to me. Just respect my right to be who I want to be, because I deeply respect yours regardless if I think you’re a silly fuckwit or a decent person. I don’t know what it is to be “woke,” but I do understand the idea of intellectual enlightenment, where logic, reason, and continual self-education are the massive keys to open the doors closed by stupidity, intellectual myopia, superstition, fanaticism, and prejudice. Have an open mind and allow all ideas to be expressed freely, whether they agree with yours or repulse the fuck out of you. Have the courage to stand up for your convictions, but be careful to the extremes with which you hold your beliefs or expect others to agree with you. If not you will be sorely—monumentally so—disappointed, or worse, you’ll resort to intimidation and violence in your frustration.
I don’t think I am better than anyone any more than I think I am particularly smarter than anyone. But I am reasonable. Logical. Skeptical. Doubtful. Mostly I’m wary of fanatics and fanatical thinking. Excessive self-righteousness to me is a dangerous way of thinking. No, more to the point, it’s a poisonous intellectual position. Tragic. Destructive. Counterproductive.
In the past fanaticism led to genocide all over the world. And to what end? All those poor innocent people slaughtered by fanatics who thought they were more “woke” and supporting the most moral, ethical, right, and just cause. Catholic Inquisitors. Protestant “reformers.” Nazis. Soviet Commissars. Chinese Cultural Revolutionaries. Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. The KKK. Pro-Life activists who murdered abortion providers. And so forth. Alas, they were not enlightened or even remotely just or right, they were just assholes who used fanatical groupthink, intimidation, and extreme violence to “convince” others of the sanctity of their insane beliefs. Fuck that.
So, please, give me a break, all your wokies, religious fanatics, and hysterical, hyperventilating screamers. I am sure you are not only far from perfect in your sanctimony, you’re probably a bit of a neurotic, ill-informed, and illogical douchebag to boot. Get out of my face. Tone down the shouting and try to calm yourself of your hysteria, real or fake. Please. It serves no substantive purpose other than to call attention onto you, idiot, loudmouth, and asshole that you are. Fuck off.
NOTE: My site tracking indicates this page gets more daily hits than any other of my blog. To these cool visitors, firstly I thank you warmly, but also I’d love to get all your feedback about the tracks on this list. Which do you like? Which do you not like? What do you think about my commentary on each track? Did this guide help you to understand Post-Punk music better? Am I getting things right or am I totally full of shit? Or just tell me more great tracks that I’ve not included on my list.
Thanks! I moderate my comments, so after you submit them, please give me a day or two to approve them. I assure you I will unless they are just patently disrespectful personal attacks against me. Attack my ideas enthusiastically, but not me personally.
– Mat Scheck, 28 Feb 2020
After the demise of Britain’s Punk explosion in 1976-77, bands who were influenced by Punk, or had started out as Punk bands, began making music that was more intelligent, experimental, and musically sophisticated than Punk. These bands successfully incorporated traditional rock music structures with a wide variety of underground sounds that were emerging in the British music scene of that era, creating music that was atmospheric, darker than “classic” rock, and highly introspective and introverted but without sounding too experimental or obscure. Most Post-Punk bands experimented with sounds and lyrical structures but never lost their pop sense, so their music is extremely listenable, but at the same time there’s a veritable feast of amazingly new and cool elements to their music that set them apart from the rock & roll that came before them.
It was an exciting era for rock music, and while most of the best Post-Punk bands did not enjoy wide appeal or huge commercial success, their music was massively influential for what would be later known as “Alternative” rock
Update 2-15-2020: Speaking of great Post-Punk bands, upon the death of Gang of Four’s brilliant guitarist, Andy Gill, who passed on February 1, I wrote a long-winded essay about GoF and how much the band’s music meant to my life in the early 1980s when I was a young man trying to smash through an insane world around me. I needed a comparable soundtrack to my frenetic and weird life, and GoF was one of a few bands capable of providing that vital necessity. Neither American radio nor MTV presented artists who fit that purpose, so I spent countless hours perusing the import bins at hippie record shops or querying DJs at “in” clubs to find the music that truly spoke to me at my deepest intellectual level. It’s how my Army buddy Jim Torey and I discovered R.E.M., The (English) Beat, XTC, Killing Joke, Black Flag, Hüsker Dü, and many other cool but obscure (in America at the time, 1983) bands with off-beat sounds. Luckily MTV did present to me in 1983 great stuff by Duran Duran, The Cure, Psychedelic Furs, The Teardrop Explodes, and many others. Ah, but that’s all for another essay. Let’s stay on topic with Post-Punk bands.
Update 4-26-2019: Some record companies block embedding YouTube videos of their product, so fuck them, no free promotion here, as if obscure bands didn’t need more promotion, especially free promotion. Idiots. So a couple of links I had here were changed, goodbye The Cure and Echo & The Bunnymen, hello Bauhuas and Pink Turns Blue, two bands who certainly deserve recognition as Post-Punk legends while the other two are still controlled by retarded record companies who have no idea how these here “Internets” work some 25 years into its creation.
1. The Chameleons – Up the Down Escalator (1983) A really hot Army girl stationed with me in ’84, who had just returned from a tour in Germany, used to play the album Script of the Bridge while we fucked. It was majestic music, anthemic and bold, somewhere between the change-the-world ambition of U2 and the darker direction taken by Joy Division. I borrowed her album and burned it to a cassette that I played the fuck out of for many years afterwards. When I hear this I still think of her lying naked on my barracks room floor, a shit-ton of lit candles surrounding her like an ancient religious fertility rite, and Script of the Bridge blaring out my speakers. She always left deep scratches on my back, that one. I hear this and it evokes a good fucking memory of a great girl. The song Second Skin from the same album is also brilliant, but I can only chose one on this list from each band.
2. The Sound – Skeletons (1981) The best band of the 1980s that no one has ever heard. Fuck me as to why this happened. Front man Adrian Borland was the Jim Morrison of his generation, a brilliant songwriter, singer, and producer, and his sparse but hugely danceable arrangements became mainstays at “Goth” clubs all over Europe in the 80s. You wanted a dark, creepy mood along with great dance chops? Play The Sound. This song in particular is about as fucking great as any song from that dark, exciting, beautiful era. Like Joy Division, The Sound could take a dark mood and make it bright with an thrilling cacophony of pulsing bass lines and kick-ass beats. And, sadly, like Joy Division’s Ian Curtis, Borland took his own life at far too young an age.
3. Joy Division – Shadowplay (1979) Dark, sparse, moody, cool, utterly brilliant. While Punk was quite often working-class stupidness, especially American Hardcore, what emerged after Punk died in the UK in 1978 was amazing. I loved The Clash, who got better when they transitioned from Punk to more diverse rock sounds on London Calling and beyond, but I think, in retrospect, Joy Division was the greatest band to emerge from the ashes of Punk, even if we only have two albums by the band to measure its greatness. Ian Curtis was Rimbaud to Joe Strummer’s Lord Byron, when you think about it. Joe was a hopeless romantic with many socio-political axes to grind, and we loved him because he gave a fuck so passionately, with anger and rebellion in his heart like any romantic. Ian, on the other hand, was a massively depressed nihilist who veered too close to the dark side and fell victim to his own worst tendencies, and his music reflected this abjectly morose excursion into madness and gloomy introspection. Plus, holy fuck, Peter Hook was an amazing bassist who could carry a song by his sheer athleticism on the instrument. When Ian died the remaining members created a whole new band, New Order, with a completely different sound; without Ian Curtis, there was no going back for Hookey, Bernie, and Stephen, but there was certainly a future for the three surviving lads. They did quite well as New Order, a great band with many outstanding records, but never at the magnitude of greatness like Joy Division’s work. That would have been impossible, as Ian Curtis was the brilliantly powerful magnetic force that drove Joy Division’s Rock & Roll engine.
4. Comsat Angels – Independence Day (1980) Another amazing but sadly obscure band from an exciting era in musical experimentalism and “dare to be different” Post-Punk cool. Joy Division opened the door for all these young bands to express their darker thoughts and feelings, and while only The Cure and Bauhaus are well remembered today, there were other fine bands from that period who made great music. This is one of them. Like all great Post-Punk bands, the C-S Angels delved into the darker regions of consciousness, with pounding beats and a minimalist sound that was equally beautiful and dark, and of course one could dance to the band’s songs with great gusto. This is Post-Punk magic bottled into one great record.
5. Killing Joke – Wardance (1980) These motherfuckers were crazy, I mean batshit crazy, but in a good way. Nihilists, sure, and doomsday believers of the nuttiest sort, but they put down on record all these insane thoughts and ideas with some powerful and crushing music, which was foot-stomping hard rock without the silly macho posing of the Heavy Metal boys in Metallica or Iron Maiden, who explored the same dark themes, with the only difference being that Killing Joke was essentially a Punk band and not Metal. But Killing Joke rocked like one, and Metallica paid homage by covering one of their songs, The Wait. Wardance is, to me, a scary, superbly powerful, driving anthem of unequaled greatness, and the louder you play it, the better it gets. Doomsday never had a better theme song. Fed Astaire cheerfully dancing on the casualties of nuclear Armageddon? Best cover art ever, if you ask me. Fuck yeah, this is Rock & Roll at its darkest, creepiest, angriest, nihilistic best. Put on your Doc Martens and stomp dance like a psycho as we blow ourselves to smithereens, motherfuckers. Armageddon is coming? Let’s dance.
6. PiL – Public Image (1979) John Lydon left the Pistols and had a little Punk left in him with this kick-ass song and its Jah Wobble killer bass line and Keith Levene’s simple yet powerful guitar licks. Meanwhile Mr. Rotten gets to purge all his angst and anger with his usual sneeringly accusatory excellence, deriding his old band and all his detractors with a barrage of fuck you, spittle-spewing eloquence as only Johnny can muster. This is, simply put, a great fucking Punk tune. Johnny was a villainous cunt, sure, but we loved joining the bad guys when their message was right. He would cease being this cool in the years to follow, but from ’76-’80 Rotten was a goddamn sage. No one today is rebelling with such beautiful bile and cogently precise articulation. Bottom line: your rebellion had better fucking rock, mate. And this tune rocks. Anarchy indeed, in’nit?
7. Bauhaus – The Man with X-Ray Eyes (1981) Stylish Brit boys who combined Punk sensibilities with their fascination with Creature Feature horror films. Goth was born here, for better or worse. Peter Murphy was Ziggy Stardust meets Dracula, and it was kind of cool in the brief moments Bauhaus made great music somewhere in the Bowie-and-Eno-Berlin-era vein, though I think they underperformed mostly, and yet their influence was immense. Having said that, this is a brilliant work of Post-Punk art, with its minimalist instrumentation combined with a driving beat, and Mr. Murphy’s haunting vocal delivery always hit the mark. Creepy cool. Gothic chic, if you will.
8. Pink Turns Blue – Your Master is Calling (1986) “Dark Wave” bands like The Mission and Sisters of Mercy churned out tunes like this in droves, but this obscure German band may have created the best of the lot here, obviously influenced by Joy Division and The Mission, and yet, damn, it’s just a great song. I heard it in a club in Germany in 1988 and sprinted to the DJ to find out who it was, and to my surprise it was a German band, not an English one. All I can say is that at Club Gloria Palast in Saarbrücken, Germany in 1988, this song echoed like a haunting call to Dionysian debauchery, and the girls responded on the dance floor with some schmutziges tanzen—dirty dancing—Goth style. I loved Goth girls back in the day because they were usually the most perverted ones with the most exciting sexual pathologies. Ergo I dug their music because it put them in the mood for further debauched naughtiness. Silly me. This band was relegated mostly to minor fame in Germany, but this song is legendary Post-Punk coolness.
9. Sad Lovers & Giants – Imagination (1981) Another sadly obscure band that made vital and cool music, only to be buried beneath the deluge of more pop-influenced New Wave and Synth Pop that engulfed England in the early 80s. Sure, Gary Numan, Spandau Ballet, Japan, and the like were fun and cool, but so was this darker, more sinister branch of what came after Punk. Again, this is fantastic Post-Punk for dancing, especially when you’re feeling gloomy and doomy and life sucks ass, but you still want to flail around with your ass wiggling like a bloody fool. Bliss, mates.
10. The Damned – Life Goes On (1983) These old original Punks reformed and kept making good music, and despite Captain Sensible’s strange run as a UK pop star in the early 80s, with his old Punk band he still had a few great tunes left in him, such as here, a song with a bass line and chord progression that’s been copied not once, but TWICE, first in Killing Joke’s song Eighties, and then Nirvana’s epic Come as You Are. The Captain was in form here, no doubt about it, writing a truly sad and brilliant song about how to live life after losing a loved one. Hard to imagine this was the same band that made New Rose, a nihilistically joyful Punk anthem if ever there was one, and yet, here they are, still fucking great, going all “Goth” in their later years. All hail the real Punks of old. This is, in my humble opinion, one of the finest songs from the 1980s, obscure, yes, but so sublime and touching, so goddamn good I wish everyone gave it one listen to find out why I champion it with such gusto. Of course I have weird and shitty taste in this strange mélange of borrowed and stolen styles, but that’s me, Mr. Pastiche, lover of goofy, often obscure shit that apparently only appealed to me.
11. Gang of Four – Damaged Goods (1979) The recent death of guitarist Andy Gill led me to write an entire piece about this legendary English Post-Punk band. This track is, in all its greatness, perhaps the seminal example of Post-Punk as it is defined. Gill’s guitar parts were sonic slashes and frenetic bursts of energy that gave the band its angry, biting sound, but bassist Dave Allen was the melody-making generator of what drove the funky side of the band, along with the highly competent drummer Hugo Burnham, and vocalist Jon King’s bitter, sneering attack against the staid but effete English meritocratic lifestyle is what gave Gang of Four its political vitality. They only made three records but their influence in the 80s and beyond is the stuff of legend. Although Marxists, their approach was more Socratic in how they deconstructed the so-called capitalist paradise that they felt was more a decadent illusion than reality. Great fucking messengers, these blokes. Let’s have a revolution, mates, but let’s dance too.
12. Siouxsie and the Banshees – Christine (1980)
Siouxsie had a ground-floor view of England’s Punk elite in 1976, and when that movement blew itself up she led the survivors out of the ashes by the sheer genius of her charisma and delicate balance between her Punk ethos and superb pop sensibility. Her music with the Banshees was dark, brooding, and introspective, and yet Sioux and the lads could get your ass wiggling on the dance floor with all the Goth girls who adored her like a supreme Goddess. Come to think of it, so did I back in the day. Even The Cure’s Robert Smith joined the band at one point to further boost Sioux’s influence on anyone who mattered when Post-Punk was gripping the scene. Her longevity while many of her peers faded into obscurity proved the sheer strength of her songwriting and power to influence the coolest kids.
13. Television – Marquee Moon (1977)
The honest truth about this band was that the lads were too damn good on their instruments to be proper Punks, and yet they were without a doubt part of the small group of NYC musicians who invented the scene and later infected London with the sound and vision that led to The Pistols and Clash and all that good stuff. I mean, come on, this record ain’t Punk, if only because they have extended guitar solos on this track, which the Punks ridiculed in the early days, mainly because none of them were good enough to actually play solos. One only wishes that Richard Hell and Tom Verlaine could have remained simpatico and Hell never left the band, but regardless of that tragedy, this is probably the perfect record to kick off Post-Punk before Punk had actually died. Verlaine and Richard Lloyd were Punk’s Duane Allman and Dickie Betts, two brilliant axe men who traded licks with effortless aplomb and verve, and unlike Prog Rock, the solos are more necessary than gratuitously excessive. Verlaine is a competent singer, but Hell would have shredded these songs with his even better vocal delivery and charismatic presence. Oh, well. What we get is not exactly a Punk record and it’s not exactly Classic Rock either, but an amazing hybrid of both. In the 80s everyone outside the mainstream wanted to sound this good, and in a way Television was the Velvet Underground of New Wave, the obscure band that lit the fire of all that followed. It’s a goddamn tragedy this band wasn’t as popular as REO Speedwagon or Rush or any of that so-called mainstream Rock of the late 70s. Marquee Moon was the future and no one but the NYC critics of the day and nearly everyone cool in the 80s understood this true fact. Rock & Roll has hardly ever been better than this, my friends. Sadly I only caught on to this masterpiece in the middle 80s, but since then I’ve savored its genius like any hopeless devotee.
14. The Fall – Big New Prinz (1988)
I always thought Mark E. Smith was an ugly and talentless cunt, but that was his appeal, yet honestly I only briefly liked The Fall when Brix married Mark E. and joined the band in the middle 80s and left at the end of the decade. Brix’s ultra-hot looks and American Punk-Pop sensibility helped give the band the musical direction and visual appeal it desperately needed, and on the album I Am Kurious Oranj, The Fall sounded and looked absolutely fantastic and weird and vital. Mark E.’s creepy and virtually unintelligible vocal delivery could be equally annoying and yet extremely cool, which sounds stupid until you listen to this track. What’s he babbling about? Who fucking cares, the band sounds tight and professional and good. Still, he was an ugly cunt and the worst lead singer in the history of pop music, which to the most ardent fans of The Fall was never a negative critique of the man or his art. I heartily agree—Mark. E. Smith was pretty goddamn cool. RIP, you ugly cunt. Loved ya.
15. The Professionals – Join the Professionals
Ex-Pistols Jonesey and Cookie teased us with this great track of what could have been, but drugs, stupidity, and legal battles with the record company sent the project to the scrap heap, sadly leaving us with a couple of good songs and a trunk full of unfulfilled promise. It would have all been lost in the trash heap of history except this track got some juice from Lou Adler’s decent but largely obscure 1982 film Ladies and Gentleman, The Fabulous Stains, which suffered horribly from Adler’s stubborn refusal to listen to the two female writers and make the feminist manifesto they desired. In the film English actor Ray Winstone played a Punk lead singer who looked cooler and more authentic than most real Punks could have ever even imagined, and his backing band was like a British Punk supergroup with Jonesey and Cookie and The Clash’s bassist talisman Paul Simonon. They called themselves The Looters and it looked and felt authentic, despite the fact it was fictional. But Jonesey lent the fictional band this kick-ass song to give it some realistic Punk gravitas. Damn, what could have been. This is bloody good, in’it?
16. Cocteau Twins – Five-Ten Fiftyfold (1983)
None one knew what in the hell Liz Fraser was singing, but no one cared because it was so utterly beautifully brilliantly magical. First time I heard this it blew my mind, perhaps because I’d smoked a buttload of hashish, and I think in my insane dope-fueled mania and lust for this sound I may have cried more than a young man should; it was that good, folks. It was like a Picasso or Chagall or Dali painting coming to life, a bizarre and beautiful swirling cacophony of yummy glistening guitar effects and Liz’s amazing voice echoing across the stereo channel like a haunting apparition you sincerely would have fucked. In the 1980s there was nothing—NOTHING—quite like this intensely, weirdly, wonderfully hypnotic sound. A girl I dated back then called it an orgasmic wonderland. Yes. YES. I have never loved a female lead singer with such demonic passion like I have Liz and her gloriously unintelligible operatic sugar-coated orgasmic wonderland voice that was sonic heroin where I needed multiple fixes to even satiate the beginning of my jonesing for this beautiful brilliant magical woman. That about sums up how much I loved the Cocteaus all through the 80s and into 1990’s perfect Heaven or Las Vegas, still one of my top-5 records.
17. The Jesus and Mary Chain – Happy When It Rains (1987)
How did I explain The Jesus & Mary Chain’s sound back in 1987 to my friends? I’d posit, “What if The Velvet Underground joined The Beach Boys on Pet Sounds? Here you go.” Psychocandy had been a revelation and a truely great record, but on the band’s second record, Darklands, they toned back the noise just a smidgen and pumped up the pop melodies, and the result was, in my opinion, the finest record of the 1980s, and easily the most-listened album of my collection for many many years. Few works of Rock & Roll have brought me more joy than this album, I shit you not. This was my band from my generation, my album, and my sound. It belonged solely to me and it was my duty to proselytize its magnificence to everyone around me. Even The Smiths, a band I adored unequivocally in that period, couldn’t inspire as much love as The Jesus & Mary Chain and Darklands. It was Post-Punk music at the apex of that sound’s guiding principles, and yet it was something better at the same time, unrepentantly poppy and sweet even amid the dark shadows and fuzzbox guitars, like a delectable, tasty blend of fire and sea salt caramel. Goddamn I still love this song after 33 years. They should have been way bigger than they were, what a tragedy of the ages that in 1987 they weren’t bigger than Guns-n-Roses or Bon Jovi, because they were immensely and intensely better in every way. Such is life.
18. Flesh for Lulu – Subterraneans (1984)
Somewhere between Post-Punk and Goth was a cool land populated by bands like the Lulus, influenced by Bolan, Bowie, The Velvets, and Joy Division, call it Gloomy Glam Goth, at which the Lulus were the leaders of this new school. Nick Marsh was pretty and creepy like Bauhaus’s Peter Murphy, but put a happier face on Goth with his peppy enthusiasm for all things dark and gloomy. The band never hit it big but did get a popularity bump from the John Hughes turgid and largely stupid teen flick (using actors well into their middle 20s) Some Kind of Wonderful. Don’t let that yucky tripe poison your chance to listen to earlier, better songs by this damn fine Post-Punk band. This track is the Lulu’s finest hour by far, and it’s a doozie, really cool and bouncy and fun.
19. New Order – Dreams Never End (1981)
This was the transition song from an Ian Curtis-less Joy Division to what would become New Order, who after this brilliant song strayed into Synthpop and left behind its Post-Punk sound for posterity. Peter Hook sings lead and does a fine job, but we all imagine what the song would have been with Ian Curtis singing, and it brings tears to our eyes in our imagining. The Cure stole this chord progression for In Between Days and no one got mad because it’s also a great tune, peppier and more spirited, a happy-happy-joy-joy turn from all that Post-Punk gloom and doom. Still, this was a great healing track for everyone who thought Ian Curtis was the bee knees, because, really, he was, my friends, and this tribute is a sad but hopeful start to the fact that the remaining members of Joy Division were talented enough to carry on, and, oh, how they did in their own right!
20. Echo & The Bunnymen – Simple Stuff (1980)
Merseyside’s second invasion didn’t have the immense popularity of its first like the Beatles and Gerry and The Pacemakers and that lot, but the second wave, with Teardrop Explodes, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, OMD, Echo, and Wild Swans, et al., certainly rocked the underground and at times the pop charts with great resonance, and Echo was at the forefront with its Post-Punk, leather-clad paisley, big-haired psychedelia. On this early single they were still finding their own identity outside the obvious Joy Division devotion, but it was a good start for one of the truly great early “Alternative Rock” bands that would emerge as the 80s progressed, all of whom were heavily influenced by Punk but were most definitely not Punk. Echo, along with R.E.M., Hüsker Dü, The Smiths, Replacements, and Sonic Youth, placed guitar Rock in good hands in the 80s and moved it in some cool and interesting directions. I don’t need to say any more. Just listen.
It all started just after Christmas in 1973 when I stole $20 from by brother John’s wallet and claimed I found it while walking home from school. John, 15 at the time, had been working at the downtown Sheraton Hotel in Rock Island, IL, and was flush with moolah, so he didn’t even notice my pilfering his cash stash until a week afterwards, when he then realized my recent fortune had been at his expense, which he immediately reported to our Mom, who’d just gotten home from a business trip to London, Ontario, Canada.
I couldn’t return John’s 20 bucks as I’d blown it—along with another $10 of my own money—on a bunch 8-track tapes: Brain Salad Surgery by Emerson, Lake, & Palmer, and The Yes Album, Fragile, and Close to the Edge by Yes. John beat the crap out of me and kept the tapes, but I listened to them more than he did anyhow, so it was a beating worth the score. Our older brother Mike, home on leave from the Navy for Christmas in 1973, had purchased John and me a bitchin’ Panasonic stereo 8-track player, but John was always either working or hanging with his friends, while after my Dad’s death I became an increasingly socially isolated loner resorting to hiding out in my room, so I used it much more than he ever did. I eventually shoveled snow off a ton of sidewalks in my neighborhood to earn back the $20 I’d stolen from John, thus the matter was settled to his and Mom’s satisfaction once I paid him back. [NOTE: John informs me he bought those 8-tracks, although he agrees I probably pilfered money from him and spent it on other tapes, and since he tormented me a lot of time, it wasn’t unusual that he smacked me around for this, or for any number of reasons.]
To say I was obsessed with Progressive Rock was clearly evident by the fact I played the fuck out of those tapes every day. I was dazzled by the skilled musicianship and sonic complexity that these albums exemplified, mixing Rock & Roll with Classical and Jazz elements, and while the lyrics were often goofy and pretentious, the amazing music more than compensated for the shitty poetry. This was grandiose, ambitious, and majestic music far beyond the traditional Pop and Rock music of the day, much more European in its approach and less influenced by the African-American Blues that had kick-started Rock & Roll in the 1950s and held influential sway over most of the major American and British bands in the 1960s. Prog Rock attempted to be smarter, less sexualized, more lyrically diverse, and artier than traditional Rock.
Even a Prog Rock band’s album cover art was raised to a higher level like the musicianship of its bands. Yes had the utterly amazing, air-brushed, otherworldly fantasy landscape artwork of Roger Dean adorning all their covers from Fragile forward, and on ELP’s Brain Salad Surgery, the band hired Swiss futurist painter Hans Ruedi “H.R.” Giger—who was a half decade later the set designer for Ridley Scott’s seminal Sci-Fi outer space horror film Alien—to create an insane, surreal, futuristic, Sci-Fi-meets-horror design that was, in 1973, and maybe even today, the coolest cover art ever.
You could get stoned, listen to Yes or ELP, and totally lose yourself just gazing at their magnificent-looking album covers. Ah, the 70s; we didn’t have today’s preponderance of of computers, smart phones, online streaming content, video games, and innumerable cable TV channels to entertain us like kids today have available to them. We basically had books, FM radio, and records. TV was comprised of three channels, ABC, CBS, and NBC, and later PBS, that went off the air at midnight. So gazing at album cover art, or reading the album cover’s liner notes, was great fun while we listened to the music contained within that cover, or while reading whatever book caught our fancy at that moment, like A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, or Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, for instance. Or we’d have that day’s newspaper sprawled with us on our bedroom floor, perusing it for baseball box scores and player stats. We had numerous cheesy board games or decks of playing cards we could play with our friends, and that was about it for indoor activities.
True, not every tween kid in the 70s read books extensively, but I did. After my Dad died I became lost in obsessively intellectual pursuits and less involved in sports and other normal childhood activities. My Mom bought me a set of World Book Encyclopedias that I read so much I memorized a considerable amount of the data contained within their 22 volumes. What’s the capital city of Mozambique? The chief export of Belgium? What famous battle was fought on October 25, 1415? Who were the first five Roman Emperors? The first seven US Astronauts? To what Kingdom, Phylum, Order, Class, and Family do baboons belong? Dude, I studied and memorized all that shit until I was a walking human Wikipedia, and all while Brain Salad Surgery or Close to the Edge was blaring out of my Panasonic Stereo speakers. I was a weirdo, sure, but I after that I was basically able to ignore most of school from 7th through 12th grades because I’d absorbed so much knowledge during my tweens.
Yes: Virtuoso Musicianship and Silly, Foofie Lyricism
Yes’s lead singer, Jon Anderson, had a lovely, high-pitched wail that went well with Steve Howe’s brilliant guitar playing, Chris Squire’s complex bass lines, Bill Bruford’s dynamic drumming, and of course the magical keyboards by first Tony Kaye and then even better by Rick Wakeman, he of the flowing blond hippie-Viking hair and sparkling capes; if ever a Rock star looked like a Classical Music virtuoso, and was widely respected like one, it was Wakeman. Wakeman was one of the most talented and accomplished studio musicians of his era and appeared on nearly every great British artist’s record in the late 60s and early 70s, acts like David Bowie, Elton John, Cat Stevens, T Rex, Al Stewart, and even Black Sabbath. When he joined Yes he definitely raised the Classical music credibility of the band. Howe was an accomplished classical guitarist on a wide array of electric and acoustic guitars, mandolins, and other stringed instruments. Meanwhile Anderson, an interesting if not accomplished lead singer, fancied himself some sort of hippie shaman poet, mixing Eastern themes with his own goofy pothead vegan philosophy, trying mightily to affect Yes’s lyrics with profound, meaningful, and spiritual depth. It didn’t always work, but it was certainly less annoying than the thuggishly stupid misogyny of Crotch Rock or the highly overrated junkie chic of Lou Reed and Iggy Pop.
Rock critics in 1973 lambasted Yes but loved Lou Reed, who basically strummed a guitar badly and mumbled silly nonsense with his droning, dull, monotone voice; when Bowie produced Reed’s most famous album, Transformer, the hardest part of the process was getting the doped-up motherfucker in the studio to record anything, and what made the album any good was due to the brilliance of Bowie and Mick Ronson—in fact mostly due to Ronson—not Reed’s, who was, really, a lazy, dope-addicted moron and extremely creepy. But he was cool in his black leather jacket and mirrored shades, the urban junkie prophet, which to Lester Bangs and all the other booger-eating, dipshit Rock critics of the day, gave Reed street cred as a “real” rocker. When Reed later broke from Bowie and produced his own albums, they were totally unlistenable piles of malodorous shit. Meanwhile, Yes actually tried to make beautiful music with great depth, feeling, and artistry, of course with unparalleled musicianship and audio recording craftsmanship, and for this they were dubbed uncool and mocked relentlessly by the critics.
Perhaps none of the guys in Yes were capable of playing in the New York Philharmonic, but they aspired to such a hoity-toity goal, which was more than you could say about Keith Richards or Eric Clapton, who just wanted to emulate the simple, sharecropper, barely-educated black bluesmen they worshipped. Let’s face it, while Muddy Waters was cool and his music was super cool, I’m also sure he couldn’t quote Shakespeare or discuss Kant’s philosophy. In fact, he couldn’t even conjugate verbs with any degree of expertise, which is understandable for a black American man raised in the pre-Civil Rights extreme poverty of the tragically racist South. Richards and Clapton were more like the Prog Rock musicians than the Delta bluesmen they worshipped, which meant they were all middle class Englishmen with somewhat posh university educations (if only briefly), but at least the Prog Rockers aspired to be erudite and eloquent—even if they came across as pretentious and grandiloquent—intellectuals while Richards and Clapton dumbed down their posh, educated side to be “cool” like their Blues heroes, even down to affecting their hard drug habits.
A typical Yes song had multiple time signature changes and long, highly intricate instrument solos by Howe and Wakeman, plus lovely vocal melodies by Anderson and Squire, moreover, as I stated, the words Anderson sang made little sense, yet sounded fucking beautiful, so it was easy to forgive their whimsically elegant and yet laughably vacuous meaning. It was a lovely, ethereal, otherworldly, mind-blowing sonic experience. Grandiose is a great word to describe its overall effect. Majestic. Inspiring. And, yes, even overwhelming. But it wasn’t mindlessly dumb like a lot of Rock.
I was about ten when I first heard Yes, so their lyrics sounded cool and fascinating to my childish self, but as an adult I chortle when I hear such silly piffle as, “My eyes convinced, eclipsed with the younger moon attained with love, It changed as almost strained amidst clear manna from above, I crucified my hate and held the word within my hand.” Like, what the fuck does that mean? I listened to those lines from Close to the Edge hundreds of times and could NEVER quite figure out what Anderson was babbling about. But the music sounded amazing, so who cared? I never could understand what Michael Stipe of R.E.M. was singing on their seminal debut album Murmur, yet it remains one of my favorites of all time. No one knew what the fuck James Brown was babbling on most of his killer grooves, but who cared, they rocked. The same here with Yes’s best work.
Here’s Yes’s epic, 19-minute symphonic piece Close to the Edge, which has four parts:
I – The Solid Time of Change
II – Total Mass Retain
III – I Get Up, I Get Down
IV – Seasons of Man
Yes’s grandiose orchestral sound must have been insanely difficult to record back in those long-ago days on analog tape, and legend has it drummer Bruford quit the band after Close to the Edge because the long, arduous, precise, multi-take and multi-overdubbing recording process nearly drove him mad. But with amplifier and speaker technology starting to get amazing by the early 70s on high-end hi-fidelity systems, it sounded magnificent on a good stereo or quadrophonic system. On good headphones it blows your mind. I cannot tell you how many times I smoked a fuck ton of pot and lost myself with this album, hundreds and hundreds of times just in the 1970s alone. Say what you want about Yes, but their music didn’t get subjected early to the law of diminishing returns over multiple listenings quite like your average Pop song, which started to get boring after hearing it on the radio 10-20 times over the course of a few weeks. It took over two years and hundreds of listenings for Close to the Edge to start boring me. By that time I’d move on to something else anyhow.
Yes – Close to the Edge: Parts I – IV – Close to the Edge (1972)
Emerson, Lake, & Palmer (ELP) – Bombastic Musical Athleticism
ELP relied on keyboardist Keith Emerson’s almost insanely athletic skills on a vast array of organs, electric pianos and harpsichords, and synthesizers, and meanwhile drummer Carl Palmer and bassist and vocalist Greg Lake played and sung with equal abandon to create a sound of explosive, energetic, and maddeningly complex Rock songs that were enhanced with as much studio wizardry as early 70s analog recording technology could make possible. The band’s musical ambition was both vast and bold but also annoyingly pretentious at the same time, but if there’s one thing a listener can testify about playing an ELP record, it is that it will not be a boring experience.
Here’s ELP’s epic 30-minute song Karn Evil 9 from Brain Salad Surgery. On my 8-track of the album, each part, or “Impression” of the song as the band called them, was contained on 3 of the 4 2-track stereo runs of the tape, and as the player switched the tape head to each run, you’d hear a visible mechanical click as the tape head shifted back to the beginning and moved to the next 2-track run. Yes, it was weird using this ancient early electronic music content medium, but at least with an 8-track you could pop it into a player and it could, theoretically, keep playing to infinity or until the player lost power or the 8-track’s internal mechanisms broke down. With vinyl records you had to get off your ass and flip them over to play the others side, an annoying act when you’re stoned out of your mind and comfortably situated in bed, on a couch, or in your favorite recliner. If you were lucky enough to afford a reel-to-reel tape deck, and we were a few years later when my brother Mike brought one home from when he was stationed at Okinawa, you could play/record about four hours of music on its 7″ reel before you had to change or rewind the tape.
This is about as close and Rock & Roll ever got to be considered like Classical music, an electronic symphony of multi-dubbed instrument and vocal performances that the band painstakingly recorded in the studio. All three band members were accomplished musicians (as far as any Rock musician can truly be), so this song sounds astonishingly complex, way beyond what most Pop music had ever tried to accomplish, and to a kid like me in 1974 this was magical and highly addictive.
The lyrics tell a dystopian futuristic tale in the brilliant 3rd Impression (beginning at the 20:30 mark of the below video), my favorite part, with verses I memorized through obsessive listening sessions in the winter of ’73-’74, and which, once memorized, I wrote in my journal. Unlike Yes, ELP’s lyrics told stories that made sense, and were, relatively, quite well written pieces of poetry, fraught with strange and dark images of a bleak, freaky, nightmarish world overwhelmed by conquering fascist computers over a mankind that created the, all in a struggle for dominance in a world decimated by nuclear war and famine and environmental destruction, where a blade of grass is a rare thing to behold. Sure, it wasn’t Wordsworth or Byron, but it wasn’t stupid either like your typical mind-numbingly oafish Rock tune. Here are the 3rd Impression’s words:
Man alone, born of stone
Will stamp the dust of time
His hands strike the flame of his soul
Ties a rope to a tree and hangs the Universe
Until the winds of laughter blows cold
Fear that rattles in men’s ears
And rears its hideous head
Dread…Death…in the wind
Man of steel pray and kneel
With fever’s blazing torch
Thrust into the face of the night
Draws a blade of compassion
Kissed by countless Kings
Whose jewelled trumpet words blind his sight
Walls that no man thought would fall
The altars of the just
Crushed…Dust…in the wind
No man yields who flies in my ship
Let the bridge computer speak
Load your program. I am yourself
No computer stands in my way
Only blood can cancel my pain
Guardians of a nuclear dawn
Let the maps of war be drawn
Rejoice! Glory is ours!
Our young men have not died in vain
Their graves need no flowers
The tapes have recorded their names
I am all there is
Negative! Primitive! Limited! I let you live!
But I gave you life
What else could you do?
To do what was right
I’m perfect! Are you?
The hubris and arrogance the band exuded to record this insanely virtuoso performance, let alone perform it live, was a major accomplishment even if you think it’s sonically pretentious and its lyrics excessively grandiloquent. No matter what you think about it artistically or as a Rock & Roll fan, it’s a major achievement in 20th Century recorded music.
ELP – Karn Evil 9: 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Impression – Brain Salad Surgery (1973)
Both bands went far beyond the simple confines and formulas of Pop music and definitely expanded the possibilities of where a Rock song could go, both for its betterment and yet equally to its detriment, as their long solos and excessive and often silly bombast could get tedious after a while, no matter how brilliant the musicianship. Still, to my ten-year-old ears, this music seemed to be coming from outer space as far as I could tell, this weird, magical, and electronically orchestral sonic insanity that pushed recording technology and hi-fidelity stereo playback systems to their extreme limits.
In 1975 I switched my allegiance from Prog Rock to Led Zeppelin after my brother bought Physical Graffiti, and that was the end of my Prog Rock period. Heavy Metal became my obsession for the next few years until Blondie, Talking Heads, The Cars, and The Police stole my heart in 1979. And in the 80s I turned to Punk, Post-Punk, New Wave, Prince (a category all unto himself), Hip-Hop/Rap, and Alternative simply because I grew extremely bored and oversaturated by music from the 70s, or Classic Rock as it’s now dubbed. The Clash became what the early 70s critics wished Lou Reed had really been, but clearly wasn’t. And Joy Division was fucking brilliant. As was The (English) Beat, Prince, Elvis Costello, The Smiths, Pixies, Sonic Youth, et al.
Prog Rock took a beating by everyone after about 1977, some of it justified as the bands grew unbearably bloated and grotesque by their excessive pretension and self-adoration, but much of their early work was some of the best music ever recorded by Rock & Roll artists. The brilliance, artistry, and dazzling musicianship was breathtaking and highly original. Let’s not forget that Prog Rock had some of the highest highs of what music could become through deft playing, modern electronics, and sophisticated recording technology. The biggest bands sold millions of records in the early 70s, moreover they sold a buttload of tickets to their shows all over the world. So let’s give them some goddamn credit for being great and well loved by millions of fans.
Much of the ex post facto negative piling on by the hateful Prog Rock sneermeisters is just snotty and self-loving arrogant assholes trying to raise up their own “street” cred, like, look how cool I am, dude. Hipsters gush over Lou Reed and Iggy Pop, yet neither in their heyday sold many records; were they that good? Hardly. The Ramones were cool, but they couldn’t play more than three chords, and while I adored Joe Strummer, the man could barely play guitar. Say what you want about Keith Emerson, Steve Howe, Bill Bruford, Rick Wakeman, Carl Palmer, or Chris Squire, but they were amazing musicians who raised the level of how great Rock & Roll could sound if played by skilled craftsmen like these gentlemen. Maybe they took it too far sometimes, but most of what they recorded was great shit. Inspiring. Epic. Memorable. Grand.
I was never too cool that I couldn’t admit I once fucking loved Progressive Rock with an almost unhealthy obsession. Prog Rock records, along with the books I read while listening to them, helped shape a good deal of my young intellect. And for that I am eternally grateful. Mostly I am unashamed to heartily admit this fact with every fiber of my being: Prog Rock was brilliant.