Archive for the nerdiness Category

ZERO’S LIST OF 100 GUITARISTS WHOSE ABILITIES HE APPRECIATES MORE THAN THAT OF JIMI HENDRIX, JIMMY PAGE, ERIC CLAPTON, AND ALL THE OTHER GUITARISTS EVERYONE FREAKS OUT OVER

Posted in best of lists, music with tags , on June 1, 2012 by darryl zero

I have ten guitarists I love above all others: 

1) Prince

2) Eddie Hazel

3) Chuck Berry

4) Ian Williams (Battles)

5) Tyondai Braxton

6) Vernon Reid

7) Dr. Know (Bad Brains)

8) Carlos Santana

9) Michael Hampton

10) Ben Verellen (Helms Alee)

and the rest, numbered only to keep place–I love them all in no real order

11) PJ Harvey

12) Kim Thayil (Soundgarden)

13) Marnie Stern

14) John Frusciante (whose music I actually don’t like, but the dude can play)

15) Mahavishnu John McLaughlin

16) Andreas Kisser (Sepultura)

17) Stephen Carpenter (Deftones)

18) Buckethead (possibly the only wank-virtuoso that will appear on this list)

19) Stevie Salas

20) Lindani Buthelezi (BLK JKS)

21) Tim Lash (Hum)

22) Dan O’Hara

23) Marc Ribot

24) Wes Borland (Limp Bizkit)

25) Buddy Miles

26) Vieux Farka Toure

27) John Vanderslice (dude never solos, but writes ridiculous riffs)

28) John Congleton (could possibly be the best guitarist on this list)

29) Che Arthur

30) Kevin Shields

31) Adam Franklin (Swervedriver)

32) Ian Thornley (Big Wreck)

33) Bob Mould

34) Matthew Ashman (Bow Wow Wow)

35) Unknown Hinson

36) Nicholas Sadler (Daughters)

37) Brian Molko (Placebo)

38) Billy Corgan

39) Ernie C (Body Count)

40) Jack White

41) Nils Frykdahl (Sleepytime Gorilla Museum)

42) Amanda Machina

43) Nile Rodgers

44) Lauren K. Newman

45) Terrica Kleinnecht

46) K.K. Null

47) Noel Gallagher (Oasis)

48) Dino Cazares

49) Eddy Grant

50) Sananda Maitreya (Terence Trent D’Arby)

51) Dean Ween

52) Ike Turner

53) Jimi Hazel (24-7-Spyz)

54) Steve Albini

55) Arto Lindsay

56) Max Cavalera

57) Crispin Gray (Daisy Chainsaw/Queen Adreena)

58) Kurt Ballou (Converge)

59) Justin Broadrick

60) Kyle Fischer (Rainer Maria)

61) Tony Iommi (yeah…sometimes everyone gets it right. early Black Sabbath is some of the greatest music ever written)

62) Paco de Lucia

63) Coley Dennis (Maserati)

64) Tom Reno (The Mercury Program)

65) Josh Homme

66) Eric Gales

67) David Pajo

68) Chris Carothers (Ativin)

69) Jon Fine (Bitch Magnet/Don Caballero/Coptic Light)

70) Shuggie Otis

71) Keziah Jones

72) Jimi Haha (Jimmie’s Chicken Shack)

73) Dave Holmes (Dub Trio)

74) Ernie Isley

75) Trevor de Brauw (Pelican)

76) Shaun Lopez (Far)

77) Jason Cropper (Weezer/Chopper One)

78) Wendy Melvoin

79) Micki Free (Shalamar)

80) Mick Thomson (Slipknot)

81) Dean DeLeo (Stone Temple Pilots)

82) Gary Shider (Funkadelic)

83) Aaron Turner (Isis)

84) DH Phillips (True Widow)

85) Frederik Thordendal (Meshuggah)

86) Uffe Cederlund (Entombed)

87) Alex Newport (Fudge Tunnel)

88) Gabriela Quintero (Rodrigo y Gabriela)

89) William DuVall (Comes With The Fall/Alice In Chains)

90) Jerry Cantrell

91) Cameron Greider

92) Adrian Utley

93) Elliot Sharp

94) Phil Elvrum

95) Takaakira Goto (Mono)

96) Amadou Bagayoko (Amadou & Mariam)

97) Daniel Ash (Bauhaus)

98) Manu Chao

99) Freddie Stone

100) Rocky George (Suicidal Tendencies/Fishbone)

and

101) John Congleton (because he’s so godly he has to appear on this list twice)

On Battles, part two.

Posted in music, nerdiness on May 9, 2011 by darryl zero

Seeing Battles for the first time without Tyondai Braxton threw me for all kinds of loops. For one, I’d heard the new Battles single and hated it. HATED it. Even months later, I still can’t stand it–the arrangement is okay, but the vocals are silly, pandering, and completely uninteresting to a point at which I was disgusted enough with the band to consider not buying the new album. I still stand by that point, to some extent: the band using lyrical vocals in the first place seemed superfluous and confusing until Mirrored‘s second spin through my mp3 player. I thought Battles was perfectly fine as an instrumental group, and thought Braxton’s departure was a telling enough sign that the band could (and should) return to that dynamic–that is, unless Williams or any other of the existing members wanted to sing. My acquisition of Gloss Drop, if nothing else, actually encouraged me to buy the album; much like Mirrored, it’s mostly an instrumental affair, one that finds the band (in particular Dave Konopka, who seems to have inherited the majority of song-propulsion duties from Braxton) in top form on their multiple instruments. Still, as the band took the stage at the Doug Fir on May 4th, I had my doubts.

Konopka got things going (as he usually does) with a slow, pitchshifted extended intro that the band eventually warped into “Africastle.” The song (also Gloss Drop‘s leadoff track) easily stands out as one of the band’s best ever and, while I’d have preferred to have heard it later on in the show, it did do a lot to whet the fans’ appetites (I’ll get to that later). The bizarre intro highlighted one distinct change from the Braxton era–minus one member, the band seemed more comfortable jamming their way in-and-out of songs, for good or ill (I’ll get to that later). “Africastle” ended, and then the band immediately launched into “Sweetie and Shag,” one of the weaker tracks on Gloss Drop (and the first in the band’s set to feature one of the replacement vocalists). Much to the crowd’s (or, at least my) surprise, a video of Kazu Makino popped up on screens behind Stanier, allowing us to watch as she cooed her way through the song. While such theatrics are normally distracting and annoying at a smaller rock show, this actually proved to be interesting and entertaining, if only because Williams seemed to be able to control the video at will (either that, or he had a great rapport with the tech near him, just offstage). In fact, since Makino’s vocals were mixed far lower live than they were on the album, the whole song ended up sounding better. Williams’ control over the vocal samples became obvious after the song properly ended, when he slowed the Makino down to a crawl, with the video doing the same, providing an interesting bridge into “Wall Street.”

While “Wall Street” is one of the new album’s highlights (even if it does seem like a subtle dig, or at least a reference, to Braxton), the live performance ended up being somewhat lacking, largely due to the looser playing style. Williams got lost in the middle of the song amidst his own keyboard noodling; while Stanier and Konopka were able to pull him back in to finish it, a band like Battles, that requires precision playing to keep time amidst the various loops, doesn’t really have much room for error. The instrumental jam following the song was pretty cool, but then Williams slowly began the opening chords of “Ice Cream,” bringing me (and only me–I freely admit to being in the minority on this one) to a crashing halt. Matias Aguayo popped up on the video screens, the white hipsters in the crowd lost their shit, and the band pretty much lost me.

It drove home a painful point: that Battles is a pop group, now, and clearly playing to the audience that likes their music, even supposedly ‘edgy’ independent music, easily-digested and, well, glossy. While this isn’t entirely a bad thing–lords know everyone in the band put in their dues and deserve to make money off their music–it also means the complexity of the band’s music has ceased to be its selling point, highlighting a role Braxton played that’s no longer there. Makino and Aguayo are hardly bad musicians, but their roles in Battles’ music could not have been more clearly tacked-on and unnecessary, to the point at which their presence as disconnected, easily-manipulated video images was enough; while Braxton’s presence meant the band couldn’t be as loose with certain sonic elements, the sheer fact that he was able to create the sounds that he did live was a sight (and sound) to behold, treating his voice the same way he treated his keyboards or guitar. It was strange, beautiful and, even when it was poppy, it was still challenging.

Following “Ice Cream,” Williams created an admittedly entertaining loop of segments of Aguayo’s vocal parts that got my interest just in time for Konopka to begin “Inchworm,” the song that most displays the new Battles at its finest: creating pretty, danceable pop songs using sweet sounds and clever technology. It’s a beautiful song, and the band handled it wonderfully, but I was already emotionally on my way out the door, pausing only when they played “My Machines,” the only Gloss Drop song with guest vocals that actually works. Gary Numan’s face appeared onscreen, of course, still in the gothed-out makeup he’s been wearing since the 80’s, and I got a kick out of one last jolt of energy, but then that was it. The band methodically plodded their way through “Futura,” disappeared for a few minutes, then came back out for an encore.

Something very telling happened before the band began to play again: Williams picked up the mic after hearing a request for “Tonto” (one of Mirrored‘s singles) and politely said, among other things “we’re playing all these songs because we just got out of the studio [a blatant lie, as Gloss Drop has been in the can for months], and that’s what’s on our minds.” At that point, with Stanier not yet having retaken the stage, I knew right away that “Sundome” was going to be the encore, and that going to the bathroom was more important than watching Williams and Konopka horse around with loops for five minutes. As I passed the empty merch table, I shook my head; the band hadn’t even bothered to bring any tangible reminders for people to buy, which was perfectly fine, but still disappointing. It was the first Battles show (or the first show of any band) I’ve ever been to in which the headlining band had absolutely no merch to sell.

I finished my business and stood by the door as the band finished “Sundome.” My friend Nate walked up to me with a lady in tow. “1939 Ensemble [the opener] blew these guys away,” he said, before disappearing into the night.

I nodded, not necessarily agreeing, but not sufficiently blown away by Battles to really disagree, either. Considering Battles was, for the longest time, a band I fought so hard to get other people to pay attention to, I felt surprised at how indifferent I’d felt at the end of the show. I didn’t have my hopes completely dashed from a musical standpoint, but I wasn’t really interested in what was going on–and, maybe, that’s what makes me feel worst about the whole thing.

On Battles, part one.

Posted in music, nerdiness on May 9, 2011 by darryl zero

I can’t remember when I first heard of Battles; it would have to have been before mid-2003. I’m going to say it was mid-2002 or so, because I was doing some digging and looking for anything on Ian Williams. I was a huge fan of Storm and Stress at that point, just coming down from the high of obsessively listening to Don Caballero and appreciating the direction Williams was taking with his music. Of course, I was unaware that Storm and Stress was completely kaput at that point (and still can’t figure out why–I remember reading some rumor that the bassist slept with the drummer’s wife, but that’s neither hither nor yon), so you can imagine my impatience. If you’re reading this, you know I’m something of an obsessive about the music I love and to which I listen–if I love something, I have to know everything there is to know about it, and if I really love it, I turn it into my oxygen, my fucking life’s blood, and I immerse myself in it and make it a part of me. That’s how I was about Storm and Stress, how I was about American Don (the last Don Caballero album–fuck you, Damon Che), and how I generally was about Williams. So, when I heard that he finally had a new project going on, and it involved the drummer from Helmet and the son of Anthony Braxton, I was, if you’ll excuse the expression, jazzed, and I couldn’t wait for something to come out. But that’s exactly what I had to do. The band had set up a website by that point, barely updated and with a bunch of cool photos and nothing else, and no record label or magazine seemed to be printing anything about them, despite their status as a “supergroup” (an annoying label that persists to this day). I checked that website pretty much constantly for months, and annoyed the living shit out of record store clerks (mostly Jason Buehler at O3 Records) asking when the band was going to release their EP’s. When I finally, FINALLY got EP C in my hands, it was like my brain melted; it was one of the first times I’d anticipated a record so thoroughly and it had been exactly what I’d wanted it to be.

I saw Battles a couple times during that time period–both opening spots, both at well-known-yet-smaller venues (Dante’s, Berbati’s Pan), and one thing stood out about them other than the fact that they really ought to have been headlining: that there was an interesting disconnect between them and the audience. Drummer John Stanier’s perpetual scowl, Dave Konopka’s determined focus on manipulating his pedals and Ian Williams’ spaced-out seeming disinterest made it seem, regardless of whether or not it was true, like the band were really simply there performing for their own reasons, powering through challenging songs simply because they could. Having come to the band through Ian Williams, I was simultaneously not surprised and nonetheless let down a bit by the approach. Naturally, I gravitated toward Tyondai Braxton, not only because he was the youngest member of the group (close to my age), not only because he was the only member of the group that sang, not only because he was the only member of the band who seemed to be of mixed ethnicity, but because he was the only member of the group that actually engaged the audience on any level. Even off-stage, he was the closest thing the band had to a frontman: I ran into him walking across a bridge immediately before my first time seeing the band, and he was not only engaging and funny, but seemed genuinely pleased to be in a band, and grateful to have fans in the first place.

Anyone that actually cares enough to have read this far will undoubtedly know how this story continues: three-plus years after they debut, Battles signs to Warp and releases Mirrored, incorporating lyrical vocals into their sound and thus gaining the interest of hipsters that need an ostensible frontpersonality to gravitate toward in order to infer some stylistic sense to ape or rate. Pitchfork loves the album and the band finally gets the love and respect they deserve, and suddenly the band’s playing bigger venues. Braxton finally finds the time to release Central Market to considerable acclaim, establishing a foothold in the realm of modern-day composers and warping people’s ideas of what composed “new music” can be. Battles takes their usual forever-and-a-day to record the follow-up to Mirrored, culminating in Braxton deciding he wanted to leave the band rather than embark on an epic world tour and neglect his solo career again.

Interestingly, despite my affinity for Braxton (and my appreciation for his solo music, which had grown in the many years between Battles releases into something greater than my love for Williams’ work), I actually thought his leaving Battles could still be good for the band. With Braxton emerging as the charismatic focus of the group’s energies, the band’s direction quickly seemed to be limiting some of the other members to side player roles whether it was Braxton’s intent (which was unlikely) or not. Williams seemed to be particularly relegated by the situation; despite his unmistakable stamp (to anyone who knew or cared) on many of Battles’ compositions, his disassociative personality often got lost, and his notoriously abstract performances, while mercifully reined in by necessity among the band’s taught compositions, occasionally seemed out-of-place or needlessly dissonant. Moreover, Braxton, while a phenomenally interesting live performer, never seemed to fit the mold of indie-rock icon; his own contributions to the Battles ethic were meticulously crafted, more suited as part of an ensemble playing longer-form pieces than what were, in essence, pop rock songs. While he clearly seemed to enjoy playing with the band, the responsibilities intrinsic to being a pop rock frontman clearly weren’t the ones he wanted to continue facing. While there’s no doubt in my mind that Battles could have continued to release great music with Braxton (their last song with him being a great example), his departure meant the band could go back to being the instrumental combo they began as and still sound as complete as they did with Braxton.

That is, until I heard the band was going to use other voices to complete songs begun with Braxton.

The Way Things Are, Part One: Wisconsin.

Posted in emo, nerdiness on March 10, 2011 by darryl zero

I left work today to discover that Wisconsin’s Republicans had decided democracy just didn’t suit them today.

When I first heard about Scott Walker’s quick and easy plan to fuck over a significant portion of his constituency (directly or otherwise), I was actually pretty low-key about the whole thing. I do think public workers’ unions (some of them, anyway) have been allowed to establish precedents which are approaching unfairness to a degree not heard of since the dark pre-labor union days–gods know I encountered enough bullshit as a low-level but high-ability school bus driver to sour me on one specific union–but what Walker was proposing struck me as little more than a Bush-level stupid idea perpetuated by the usual shortsighted neo-conservative dipshit. While I don’t think the election of Barack Obama signaled a turn toward a post-racial America, I had hoped it had at least suggested a turn back toward days of logic and reason, and that the Tea Party movement would be written off as little more than a bunch of angry white people that would calm down when they realized Democrats had their best interests at heart as much as Republicans did.

And then the bill was actually submitted, and even then, I took a pretty even-tempered, rational approach. I wasn’t any more irritated with Wisconsin Republicans than I was with other people–namely, an egotistical, extraordinarily self-centered group at one of my former employers, trying to use the plight of Wisconsin’s public workers as a galvanizing tool to help sway workers there into unionizing unnecessarily. When the issue became so contentious that people took to the streets (as they should have), I thought the whole thing would eventually work itself out, that the Republicans, in the absence of logic and reason, would inevitably place the importance of the democratic process over their own childish need to be right.*

*I have to stop a moment to go off on a tangent relative to my former employee: I find it interesting that, despite the specific actions being diametrically philosophically opposed–unionization vs. union-busting–I notice the tactics being employed by both my former colleagues and Wisconsin’s GOP State Senators to have the same overall motive. Both groups are taking an issue of their own invention, further fabricating it by ascribing to it a misguided sense of importance, and demanding upon a single, broad, sweeping solution–in essence, creating a problem they want to solve so they can avoid the real problems whose solutions may not work out for them personally. And whether it’s Republicans cravenly running from the truth that not all taxes are a bad idea or Massage Therapists/Nail Technicians who hate having to meet sales requirements within an organization that assumes all business risks they’d have to face alone otherwise, both groups have one thing in common: getting their way has become more important than whether or not what they’re doing is actually best for everyone.

Getting back to the Wisconsin thing: so, when I read the news today, I actually couldn’t believe it. I mean, even after the Bush Junta went gun crazy in Iraq back in ’03, after they railroaded all kinds of liberty-raping provisions through with the Patriot Act, after Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, John McCain and their über-rich colleagues somehow used their far-right-wing truth-evaporating fairy dust to somehow position themselves as fucking populist icons, after the last vestiges of what little faith I had in the American democratic process following Bush’s 2000 appointment were completely obliterated by a group of corporate-suckling whores in Wisconsin, I was actually surprised, if only for a moment.

That surprise has given way to something different. Something resembling fear, kind of. It’s more a grim, detached disgust. And yes, I know, all the directly financial-related portions of the bill were excised in order for the Republicans to try to use the loophole they used. Yes, I’m pretty sure there’s a chance someone could eventually sue the case all the way to the Supreme Court, and then, there’s a hope that the high court would declare it unconstitutional. But now, right now, we’ve seen it again, blatantly and overtly, that Republicans are more than willing to take the left’s need to adhere to things like logic, dignity, morality, law, and order, and completely and utterly ignore it.

Which leads me to another rant. But that’s going to come later.

For now, I hate to lapse into cliché but, in a way, we are all Wisconsinites now, in the worst possible way, and I’m quickly coming to think this is the beginning of something that can’t end good.

Libertarianism rant.

Posted in nerdiness on February 13, 2011 by darryl zero

Point of clarity: I’ve gone all over in my life, from right-leaning moderate, family-influenced Democrat to ardent center-leaning Green party idealist to aggressive Socialist asshole, and have reached a point where no political philosophy clearly speaks to me anymore. In the interest of full disclosure, at this point all I can tell you is that I’m liberal in ideology and fairly conservative in practice. I don’t see a lot of benefits in capitalism, but I think reverting to an exclusively socialistic mindset would be both needlessly reactionary and ill-fated. If I had to break down my political philosophy and put it under the banner of a slogan–a name, if you will–I’d call myself a Social Humanist–that is, I believe in the usefulness of Statism in terms of providing cultural groups with a means of organizing and maximizing the quality of life of their constituents, but also understand the importance of the individual within the context of cultural growth. I think that, if there must be a capital-based economic system, it is not only the right, but the duty of the state to ensure capital does not become the determinant of cultural change, and that is not only the duty, but the right of the state to cultivate the physical and intellectual potential of its citizens. Reciprocally, I feel it is the duty of the citizen to maximize their understanding of themselves and all others around them while contributing to the social good–if they cannot find a way to do it themselves, they may choose avenues offered by the state. If any of this is vague, I’m sorry–I’m not an economist, nor am I truly a political scientist. I’m just a human trying to figure out his way in the world, just like anyone else.

And now, I’m going to needlessly conjecture some invective against Libertarianism.

I’ve tried very, very hard over the course of the past decade or so to try to ascribe some semblance of respectability to Libertarianism. There’s something inherently cute about it, naïve, even, a sense of idealistic wishful thought that I, as a man whose passions (if not overt political loyalties) lie hip-deep in Socialism can at least appreciate. However, with the Tea Party inexplicably attempting to establish a foothold in contemporary political discourse, and self-proclaimed Libertarians coming out of the closet en masse, I’ve been forced to actively examine it, partly to separate the real folk from the funk-fakers and partly to ascertain whether or not my gut reaction–“these motherfuckers are crazy”–is correct or not. My current frame-of-mind–I hesitate to use the term “conclusion,” as my thoughts on this subject will continue to grow and re-shape as my understanding of life and such matters does the same–is that Libertarianism is, like Anarchism, a really interesting idea, one borne of the knowledge of the existing limitations and processes of current socio-political and economic systems.

It’s also fucking terrifying, and here’s why:

1) Libertarianism within an economic context, assumes an economic “equal playing field” that does not exist.

White people in the Western world have championed the idea of equal opportunity arguably since the Industrial Revolution–in the United States, they even went so far as to include it in the Constitution. The problem being, for as noble as the notion of humanity’s equal right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of the capacity to own (substitution mine–I always thought “property” was as much a misnomer as “happiness”) may seem, history has suggested and continues to suggest that White, male, heterosexual rich people have the easiest track toward acquiring them. The easiest measure of this is, clearly, the presidency of the United States. Some people–idiots, I like to call them–point to the obvious example of Barack Obama’s election as the sign that things are different, to which I simply point to the 42 white guys before him and say “when America elects its 43rd Black president, then we can talk.”

The argument also extends itself to earnings and holdings, so I don’t put any stock in the idea that “well, people are earning a lot more” is worth mentioning. Sure, there are more minorities, homosexuals, women, etc. who earn more money–everybody‘s earning more money, because the amount of money in the economic system has increased with (but, sadly, not directly correspondent to) the increase in global population. That there are millionaires in the ranks of ethnic minorities now doesn’t mean we’re all equal, because there are still a shitload of people who have a tougher time achieving that bullshit fantasy known as “the American dream” because they had the misfortune of being born poor. The idea that a completely ungoverned “free” market is somehow the cure to economic disparity is complete bullshit–deregulating business and industry has never resulted in anything other than disaster, either from an economic standpoint (Cal Coolidge exacerbating the onset of the Great Depression) or an environmental one (do I really need to point this out, or can we all just agree that the Industrial Revolution essentially began humanity’s ultimate fuckery of the ecosystem?). Moreover, it’s been proven repeatedly that success in any market economic system almost invariably comes not as a result of quality-of-work, but by simply being able to outlast the competition–to rephrase, in Capitalism, you don’t usually “win” as much as you “lose least.” Barring some scorched-Earth scenario in which all the world’s richest families somehow completely go extinct, thereby dividing their assets into the larger system, even a so-called “free market” economy will still have a hierarchy based on existing capital, one that won’t be broken no matter who comes along.

Which leads me to my second point:

Libertarian economic theory naïvely assumes innovation is the engine of productivity, ignoring its culturally subjective origins.

I have to admit, most of my vitriol on this point stems from my recent discovery that the nebulous “they” have, in fact, made a cinematic adaptation of Atlas Shrugged, one of the most ridiculous fucking things ever committed to print. Lest I go off on another rant a-la my Watchmen dissection, I’ll simply assume you’ve either read the book or Wikipedia’d/Cliffs Notes’d it and skip to the thrust of the fucking novel: that the people who drive the engine of industry and the market economy are clearly the people with the best ideas, most knowledge, and are therefore deserving of the most power, and that all legislative regulation of business is somehow the evil collectivistic mono-consciousness hoping to sweep away all notion of individuality from Western society. Run-on sentences aside, I hope you were able to catch the scent of ideological bullshit. Since we’ve previously established that hegemony in a market economy is almost exclusively the province of people who have had resources from the get-go, the Objectivist argument clearly believes that the progenitors of said hegemony deserved the power in the first place, because they obviously had the best ideas, which is why their power became hegemonic in the first place.

I don’t consider myself to be all-knowing, or even all-intelligent. But the fact that even I’m able to see this as complete bullshit makes me wonder what the fuck the Austrian school and lasseiz-faire economists are fucking smoking to make them think there’s any logical merit to this. There’s no way anyone can look at the Objectivist economic argument and not see an obvious bias in favor of post-industrial Euro-American hegemonic power. So, basically, the economic systems used by the indigenous populations of the United States (or lack thereof where applicable) clearly deserved to cease to exist, because they weren’t useful to the Europeans who came over and clearly deserved to establish their dominance on their ancestral land. Maybe that’s looking at it too abstractly, but it still works within specifics, because the bottom line of any market economy is that it’s not driven by “innovation,” at least in the sense that it’s not always the most effective or most functionally capable product that succeeds. In fact, since humanity has basically run out of space to do anything other than use resources, the notion of the most useful invention being the most successful has gone the way of the Iroquois. White people even came up with a word that means “not actually the best product, but the easiest one to sell:” marketable. The notion that use inexorably determines usefulness is pretty ambitious and hopeful, but unfortunately depends upon definitions of “useful” that weren’t created with functionality in mind–ask any fan of Sega hardware. In fact, it is the pure subjectivity of the market that effectively repudiates Objectivism and, by extension, Libertarian economic theory. It’s what I mean when I say (as I always do) that there is no “free” market. It can be argued that Eurocentric white society killed the only “free” market there was, but lacking the practical and academic knowledge of indigenous American cultures, that would be both unfair and inaccurate. Not that it’s going to stop me from putting it out there, of course.

Which leads me, 1500-plus words in, to my next (and, for now at least, final) point: Social Libertarianism is too inextricably tied to the biases and systemic disparities created by market economics to be anything other than a means of unjustly enabling a select group of people to survive at the cost of others

I suppose I’m unfairly equating “libertarian” with “advocating the minimization of State influence, allowing the individual to determine the course of society,” but that seems to be the only real thing uniting all factions of libertarianism within the current U.S. political climate, or the only thing separating Libertarians themselves from logical-thinking people who don’t necessarily lump themselves into a clearly-compartmentalized philosophical category. It’d be nice to live in a society in which people truly had the right to do as they pleased without having to exist under the domain of a state. It’d also be nice to exist in a place in which there was an infinite amount of space and resources, in which there was an equal division of everything.

See, that’s the thing about libertarianism that gets me the most: it relies upon the notion of all things being equal and reduces the ills of society to be exclusively within the will of the people committing those acts that constitute said ills. This is how you can tell where the concepts of American libertarianism comes from: it accepts that “coercion and violence” exist within American culture and recognizes the need for an overarching authority to protect citizens from it, yet doesn’t acknowledge exactly what makes people violent and coercive; sure, there are a fair amount of fucked-up, evil people out there commit crimes just because they can. There’s going to be a number of people in any society who do that. But there’s an even larger amount of people who do fucked-up shit because they either a) lack the education to know better than to do it, or b) are made desperate by desperate situations. To phrase it another way: a Libertarian assumes a mugger is a mugger because he doesn’t want to be a businessman, or a drug dealer is a drug dealer because he doesn’t want to be a police officer, when the reality is the average mugger has neither the investment capital nor practical knowledge to be a businessman and the average drug dealer has figured out they can more money selling drugs than working their way up through the ranks of a so-called ‘honest’ profession. I’m not trying to excuse violent or criminal behavior; I’m just pointing out that Libertarians are quick to paint those who commit crimes as people who don’t deserve to be in society because they take advantage of the rights society gives them. That is, of course, unless it’s a right they believe in, and then all of a sudden the individual motivations of a criminal become chiefly important. And you can say what you want about Libertarians ostensibly being against the U.S.’s ridiculous drug laws, but they seem to care a whole lot more about the right to carry weapons than legalizing marijuana.

Because, really, the substance of American Libertarianism can be summed up in three words: “Unless It’s Mine.” The government shouldn’t intervene on behalf of anyone’s rights–unless it’s my right to own a gun or establish a company. The government shouldn’t intervene in business or industry–unless it’s my property that’s being taken away from me. The government should allow the private sector to create and manage infrastructure–unless the private sector from decides it wants to create and manage infrastructure where mine currently happens to be.

I suppose it’s important to mention that I do think certain aspects of Libertarian philosophy do make sense, and ought to be examined and, in a moderate way, practiced, but those tend to fall more under the lowercase libertarian ideology, the kind people in places other than U.S. tend to think about when they think of the term. Furthermore, my beef is not with Libertarians themselves…I suppose.  There are people I know whom I think consider themselves Libertarian whose opinions I actually respect and value.  But I can’t trust American Libertarianism on the whole, because it’s so tied to the notion of a “free” market, completely overlooking things like white privilege and hegemonic influence, or the fact that much of what they consider to be their divine right was obtained through the machinations of a strong central government. In turn, I can’t fully respect those who wholeheartedly and myopically embrace the movement, because they are, in essence, trying to say the past 400 years didn’t happen, while embracing the results which are proof that it very much did.

Just a thought.

in which i go off for no particular reason about music.

Posted in music, nerdiness on January 30, 2011 by darryl zero

I’ve probably written about this before, but I’m going to do it again.

I can’t put an exact date on when I decided irony (or the perception thereof) was killing music. Yes, my perceptions are clouded by the social climate of the city in which I’ve spent the majority of the past decade, but if nothing else, this means I’m a bit closer to the pulse of the zeitgeist–really, shit happens on the coasts before it happens anywhere else, and while the east coast tends to have marginal social groups innovating before anybody else, the west coast is where the dominant social paradigm seems to have stashed its younger, more creative selves. In short–the white people in the know represent the west side.

Lest I avoid a lengthy (and, yet, so typically Darryl) examination of my past and present relative to the musical scene at large, I’ll skip to the meat: the style of the youth, at least on the west coast of the U.S., directly relates to the music of the times. We’ve seen this pretty much since the transistor radio was plunked into cars around the country; whereas cinema is still too prohibitively expensive and time-consuming for the average (middle-class) Joe to contribute to much cultural change (although Youtube, for good or ill, seems hell-bent on changing this) and the finer of the fine arts are still the exclusive province of people with the luxuries of time and money to create, all it takes to record music these days is a decent enough microphone, your computer, and whatever instruments you can buy or borrow. (To phrase it better: how many “bedroom filmmakers” do you know–and no, you can’t count either pornography or Lars Von Trier.)

Somewhere between Kurt Cobain’s untimely suicide (really, he could have waited until he was old enough to see his first Rhino Records compilation rape his legacy before putting a gun to his head and subjecting us to the frustrating, if not amusing spectacle of Courtney Love raping it) and the awkward dueling spectacles of Kanye West’s id and Lady Gaga’s ego, music took hold of the emergent technologies available to it and, just as white people concocted the comparatively safe spectacle of the Beatles to create an iconic template for a safe, compartmentalized “revolution,” rich white males created a variety of interesting pop archetypes. Seemingly overnight, we got things like gangsta rap, to simultaneously keep the simmering Black urban youth from successfully integrating into middle-class culture and keep the rebellious white suburban youth from truly thinking outside the box by making it easier to rebel once they realized it’s a lot easier to ape Eazy-E than it is to, say, create and sustain a musical political movement. In fact, as a means of making sure the DIY rock scene never really achieved a level of relevance as the punk scenes once did, the cultural gatekeepers anointed their own safe, manageable proto-punk superstars (Green Day and, later, their legion of significantly lesser imitators).

I’m not telling you anything new, here–in fact, I’m pretty sure I’m treading on redundancy in my own corners of the blogosphere–but it still never ceases to amaze me how today’s musical (and, by extension, youth cultural) paradigm is so influenced by the superficial trappings of the 80’s that they completely missed the point of all of it. The 80’s, despite some of my vitriolic insistence to the contrary, did contain a lot of useful cultural details–but most of that useful, valuable culture developed as a reaction to the dominant culture of the time. It disappoints and disgusts me most of the time to see people completely having missed the point. To see spikes, mohawks, power chords and basic 4/4 songs in a time in which just about anyone with a couple hundred dollars and a little time on their hands can learn how to play their instruments well enough to sound like they actually care about how they sound is annoying enough–to see those useless anachronistic trappings carrying an ideology amounting to little more than “I like to get fucked up” borders on sacrilege.

Boring, nauseating, cringe-inducing sacrilege–and that’s not even getting started on the whitewashing of hip hop, by which I mean the dumbing-down to guarantee its listeners and advocates lack the motivation to reach any degree of social relevance. I do enough carping about that bullshit in shorter forms that I feel expounding upon it here would be useless–but I do think it’s especially telling about the designated social impact of rap music when the common justification for its existence in its current form is the condescending question of “well, don’t you want white people to buy it? Don’t you want some representation of ‘African-Americans’ in popular media?” Short answer: if that is the type of Black American archetypes white America wants, it’s clearly the exact OPPOSITE Black American archetypes that should be presented to young Blacks, and especially young whites.

Because anyone belonging to the dominant social paradigm is going to intrinsically be lazy about their cultural perceptions and projections. I don’t blame white people for that–well, okay, maybe I do a little bit, but y’all fucking deserve a little harsh judgment when people like me have to bend over backward to be nonthreatening in order to do something as simple as solve a workplace dispute (whoops–almost broke my silence on something I ought not to have) or, say, shop in peace. But, I digress. It’s unfortunate that white youth have become so lazy about their own culture and attendant subcultures that they go out of their way to find aspects of themselves in which they are marginalized. (And yes, I did just lump all white Americans into one culture. Deal with it.) With respect to music, it’s even worse (and prevalent) to see all young people marginalize themselves by staying within the comfortable confines of one paradigm. I’m referring to people who have to wear an immediately identifiable uniform, whose artistic sensibilities are as myopic as their worldview. Deliberately doing so is the trademark of a culture so ignorant of what the struggles of the marginalized were intended to accomplish that they take the pretty parts of that struggle and gloss over what it all was for in the first place, all the while claiming some winking meta-reference that never seems to be clear to anyone observing and certainly not for anyone involved.

Because, let’s be honest–not every winking reference, not every embrace of some stereotype for yuks among your enlightened liberal friends can truly be that well thought-out. If people really put that much thought into the content and observation intrinsic to their art, people like Jay-Z or Kanye West would be desperately digging through crates trying to come up with some catchy thing to mash-up with legendary producer Flying Lotus’s latest platinum-selling opus and selling it from the trunk of their car at Chuck D’s sold-out stadium tour. Hydra Head Records would be a major label, John Vanderslice would be as big as John Lennon, and Jack White would be perfectly content releasing his (admittedly) pretty decent music on CD. To put it another way–if everyone were truly “in on the joke,” there’d be no need for the joke in the first place. So, when I see acts like Die Antwoord or Das Racist getting paid for essentially embodying a subculture they’re ostensibly lampooning (pop for Die Antwoord, “underground” for Das Racist), or talented musicians like Lady Gaga adopting a meta-referential art-rock posture while churning out the same boring shit every other pop whore has been putting out since Madonna actually made pop whoredom somewhat interesting and provocative, I usually find myself trying as hard as I can to embed my face firmly in my palm. And, maybe most tragically, the thing that people like Robyn, Jemina Pearl, Jack White, or any of the slew of completely fucking soulless, ball-less, libido-and-soul-numbing-bitch-ass-wack-synth-pop-wink-wink-nudge-nudging-Soft-Cell-Gary-Numan-Depeche-Mode clones you read about in Pitchfork fail to comprehend throughout their peddling of their wares as some kind of postmodern interpretation of a classic theme is this: if it looks and sounds like the same old shit, it doesn’t matter how many “post” prefixes you slap on it–it’s still the same old shit.

Da Bears.

Posted in nerdiness, sports on January 27, 2011 by darryl zero

Even I’ve been surprised (and pleasantly so) at the controversy surrounding Jay Cutler and his early departure from what was, arguably, the most important game in Chicago Bears history. I think the best piece on the subject was Michael Wilbon’s ESPN bit from yesterday; in it, he takes the time to detail the Bears’s history of underachievers under center, roast the Bears’s management for failing to bring in and develop quality passers, and–most importantly–skewer Cutler for being an arrogant prick who constantly fails to live up to his own self-image.

I don’t want to say I’m on the side of Maurice Jones-Drew, Derrick Brooks, Deion Sanders or Torry Holt, who say that Cutler should have played through whatever injury he might have had. Especially in times like these, where greedy owners do their best to position themselves as ideological underdogs to greedy players in contract negotiations, I can’t fault a player for not wanting to put his career on the line over one game–nor can I fault team doctors or coaches for not allowing him to do so. However, I do think there’s something to be said for the fact that Cutler watched the second half from the sideline with that bored look on his face he always seems to have. He didn’t seem to be making any effort to help Todd Collins or Caleb Hanie (particularly damning in the case of the latter, considering he was probably more familiar with the Packers’s offense at that point than his own team’s), and I could have sworn I saw him listening to his iPod, waiting for the game to end so he could saunter off into the locker room and handle his business, which says a lot about a quarterback, really.

And I’m not talking about from a fan’s perspective, either. Okay, in a way I am, since I’ve never played organized football at any level (although not for lack of desire), but I’m speaking from the perspective of a person who has to have an awareness and understanding of team dynamics. As a coach, I’ve always stressed the importance of team–that interest in the success of one’s team is more important than anything else. The support of one’s teammates is the kind of thing that elevates the performance of absolutely everybody, and makes the team look better in general. A perfect example–Patty Mills, my favorite player on the Portland Trail Blazers, whose relentless enthusiasm for both the team and the community would make you think he’s an all-star, or at least the star of the team, when in reality he averages 11.5 minutes per game (less than a quarter, for you non-basketball fans). If you watch a Portland game–any Portland game–you can usually see Mills going apeshit in support of his teammates, whether he’s on the court or on the bench. Call me old-fashioned or silly, but that kind of energy feeds me a fan, and lets me know that the paycheck isn’t enough for a player and that he respects the fact that a team is willing to invest in him to play for them. Mills is a point guard, an on-court decision maker, and he realizes that he can’t do his job unless everyone believes in him. I have yet to see Jay Cutler–who leads more than twice as many people on the field as Mills does on the basketball court–demonstrate any real on-field enthusiasm for the people around him. That’s the honest truth. Cutler’s teammates can say whatever they want about what the guy may be like behind closed doors–he could be the most outgoing, charismatic, and supportive dude in the locker room–but he earns his money on the field, and no one can deny the fact that Cutler has a history of occasionally forgetting to show up on the field, to a point at which even some of his teammates (in Denver and Chicago, mind you) have doubted his dedication. In the piece I linked to earlier, I think Michael Wilbon summarizes the man perfectly:

“…Jay Cutler, who at his best constantly has the metropolis holding its breath, looking at games through spread fingers, praying to God he doesn’t screw it up by throwing it to the other guys. And at his worst, he looks for the perfect pass instead of moving the chains and managing the game and thinks his arm is stronger than John Elway’s, which is both stupid and immaterial.”

This is the Jay Cutler that showed up last Sunday, a guy whose high self-opinion failed to grant him the ability to complete a simple fucking out route, a guy who would take a seven-step drop, plant his feet and stand like a rock, a guy who was ineffective before his departure with a mysterious knee ligament strain. That’s the reason I’m pissed at Jay Cutler. It wasn’t that he bailed on his teammates in the second half; it was that he never got to the game in the first place. Whether he was overthrowing to wide-open receivers in the first quarter or underthrowing his way into an interception at the end of the second quarter, Cutler spent the entire first half of the biggest NFL game in 50 years shitting himself, effectively proving that he is not who Bears fans want him to be, not who the Bears’s management says he is, and–most importantly–he’s not who he thinks he is. When you look at the history of champion quarterbacks in the NFL, you’ll notice it’s rarely the most physically talented who take their team to the top. What separates Joe Montana, John Elway, Tom Brady, Brett Favre, or even Doug Williams from people like Michael Vick, Philip Rivers or Tony Romo isn’t physical talent or even mental talent–it’s the ability to inspire unfailing loyalty in all of their teammates at all times, the kind of loyalty that makes everybody step up for the better of the team. Hell, there are even people who haven’t won Super Bowls that inspired that kind of dedication–Dan Marino and Jim Kelly come to mind–but, despite their lack of champion status, their legacies as players can’t be denied, because that’s exactly who they were: players, consummate professionals who thanked the team for their successes and blamed themselves for their failures.

Probably the most unfortunate thing is that the Bears have essentially mortgaged their future to bring Cutler into the fold in the first place. Trading away incumbent Kyle Orton (who was and continues to be the consummate professional) was, by far, the most egregious error–not only was he cheap, but he was also gracious and never objected to coming off the bench. Just as bad, though, was the forfeiture of two first-round picks. I know my fellow Bears fans would say that not having a first-round pick prevents the Bears from bringing in another Rex Grossman/Curtis Enis/Marc Colombo–but it also prevents them from getting another Brian Urlacher. To his credit, Bears General Manager Jerry Angelo has done a decent job of bringing in decent role-players, but decent role-players, while solid, still need leadership. The Bears defense has a fair amount of role-players, but what has always put them over the top has been Urlacher’s leadership and field-smarts. The addition of Julius Peppers gave the team the star talent they’ve lacked since Urlacher’s gotten a bit older and isn’t as blazingly fast as he used to be–not only is there really not any star talent on the Bears’s offense, but last weekend, Cutler proved there isn’t any leadership, either–and, barring another lucky guess like with Matt Forte, there won’t be any coming through the draft.

All of this, of course, exposes the most glaring failure on the team–personnel management. People can say what they will about Lovie Smith, but it’s hard to deny the fact that his players (Cutler aside) are willing to push themselves to the limit for him. It’s a testament to his coaching ability that, every year, the Bears are considered also-rans by NFL talking heads, yet have managed to put together winning records in more than half of his tenure with the team. This year was especially telling–Smith took a team with no stars on offense, no speed on defense, and three washed-up or failed head coaches (Offensive Coordinator Mike Martz, Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli, and Offensive Line Coach Mike Tice) and put them one touchdown away from going to the Super Bowl for the second time in five years. The real problem is Jerry Angelo, a guy whose incredible knack for clinging to certifiable draft busts (Rex Grossman, anybody?) while ditching people who would go on to be solid performers (Thomas Jones, Cedric Benson, Orton, Chris Harris) would lead anyone to wonder why he still manages to have a job. Unfortunately, it looks like Angelo has a stranglehold on his job–meaning Bears fans will have to put up with Cutler’s mercurial lack of leadership for a while to come.

That is, of course, unless Cutler somehow can’t play. Anybody have Lavar Arrington’s phone number?