Friday, February 27, 2009

Rant then Run

I have yet to update the training, as I am supposed to be doing regularly, but I need to interrupt this particular training update for a rant. See, I'm particularly annoyed today by a local politician. This being a particularly conservative* politically-anti-regard-for-thinking-ability state, my annoyance with such folk is not especially unusual. I freely admit this. But this morning, I was faced with the gem of an article wherein Rep. Ralph Hudgens has authored a bill to limit the number of embryos that can be used in single in-vitro procedure. He'd like it kept to two, except for women 40 or above, for whom he would allow three embryos.

Isn't that sweet of him?

I'm sure you've already guessed where this piece of ridiculousness is coming from (especially if you read the article linked above)--Nadya Suleman, one CA mother of (now) 14.

Embedded in this piece of legislation is a ban on "destroying the embryos" that remain unimplanted in the womb. This clause, I imagine that Hudgens would claim, is necessary due to the claim that Suleman had the multiple embryos implanted because they were about to be destroyed. He remarks that the embryos are "a person" (actually, the quote is kind of funny, as he's clearly used to the rhetoric of "in the womb" and is forced to backtrack/clarify).

I have two bones of contention here. One, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine already HAS guidelines. Yes, yes, I know guidelines aren't rules and people don't always obey them...but that's okay. Really. Truly. We do not need a law. I even recognize that this is a voluntary society. That's okay too...because grey areas really aren't dangerous.

Look, I recognize that Suleman's case is an uncomfortable one--mostly because of the class issues associated with it. But, it doesn't necessitate legal intervention.

Here's but one of the reasons why, in addition to it's functional purposelessness; see, in Georgia, you may have heard, the Powers that Be have been trying to craft legal restrictions on reproductive rights for some time now. Granted, most of these get shot down--no matter which other piece of legislation the verbiage is buried in. The embryo remarks, though, reveal the game.

Don't destroy embryos. How will this be worded? Will this negate the ability to selectively abort when medically necessary? And, as much as I detest slippery slope logic, I feel the need to write one of those awful, pitch-increasing sentences that I discourage in students: How many steps removed from banning abortion are we after such legislation, Roe v. Wade be damned? And, it's not like Hudgens is attempting to pretend otherwise, either. He's laid his cards on the table.

How will the state react? Will it champion the rights of sperm over the rights of women?

Here's my cards: back off. Please. The state needs to stay out of my reproductive decisions. Even if I decide to birth 8 babies at one fell swoop (*shudder*). This is not a decision for the state.


On less ranty news--training is going reasonably well. 6 miles tomorrow, probably in the rain. Woohoo!

Back soon--maybe not ranting.


*Truth be told, I don't appreciate the co-opting of "conservative" by stupidity. Conservatism, at the core principles I learned, was a respectable, thoughtful set of ideas where exchange was appreciated. I am frequently annoyed with the liberal set of ignoramuses too...failure to THINK is the most significant failing that I can see in politics and it tends to not limit itself to a single side of the aisle (an image, by the way, that I also despise).

You know, I am beginning to suspect that I am in a bad mood. I'll have to work on a better name (and shorter) for the style of politics here. "Conservative" simply doesn't suit.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Lent: A Primer

How odd that I spent so much of my professional life dealing with religious fasting. I've written several papers either specifically dealing with fasting or that in some ways touched upon it; even the Dissertation-from-Hell™ touches on it tangentially, as fasting is a form of penance and penance is one of the steps on the "Redemption Path" in nearly ever variation of it.

Incidentally, if you even want to really fear or appreciate (depending on your mood) the nature of humanity--read some medieval penitentials, the books that housed the catalogs of sins and the various means of penance* associated with each sin. Such penance ranged from mere public confession (this example is a later one--not medieval) to permanent wandering exile (hence part of the significance of the Wandering Jew stories)--and some assorted oddities (heck the sins listed are at least half the fun).

So, today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of one of the major penetential seasons--Lent (Advent being the other)**. Check out this Time article from 1946 on the subject of Lent; I am really intrigued by the remark about the contemporary European Christians: "large parts of the Continent have been fasting, wearing sackcloth, and living amid ashes for several years." This in the years after WWII, of course-a haunting image of the events that laid waste to so much of Europe.

Contemporary Americans tend to see the day before Ash Wednesday through the lens of Carnival and Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday!)***, rather than Shrove Tuesday. Mardi Gras is celebatory excess before the penance of Lent; Shrove Tuesday signified confessions before the penance (which was a tad closer to traditional Penetential Rites, which are to be preceeded by confession).


Depending on your worldview, Grace should probably be part of the step between penance and salvation, as not all sinners who follow the track (if we look at literature, anyway) achieve "salvation," as in a number of Faust texts--that is one of Christopher Marlowe's major themes, indeed: why act in good faith if the deck is stacked against you?

So, today begins one of the major penitential seasons. Many will begin the season by receiving a mark--usually a cross in ash (made from the palms from the previous Palm Sunday). The mark signifies the perceived "otherness" of the christian wearing it--beyond the world. Marked as different; marked as one of Christ's own. Others, just as true of faith, will not begin the season in this fashion, often because the worldly demands of their lives prevent them from so doing. My church has the Ash Wednesday service at 12:00, for instance. Of the years I have lived here, I've been able to attend precisely once. Could I alter my professional life in order to more fully participate in my spiritual one in this instance--perhaps. But, I also know that part of my work here in the world is to assist students and this week (Advising and Midterm) demands my presence here with them--and I think that demand is an equally important part of my faith. To say nothing of the exciting information that gets dropped in my lap from time to time...yeee gads.

Many of you will give up something for Lent. Usually it is a vice that we surrender--real or perceived. Cigarettes, alcohol, meat (possibly the origin of the word Carnival: carne vale--"farewell to meat"), chocolate...anything that we can deem or isolate as "sin," "sinful," or "worldly." I even have a friend who pondered giving up Facebook. Her rationale is solid--she wants for more time with her family, so she'll give up one of her distractions and learn to live without it. After Lent, then, she could enjoy it in more balance.

Lent as a teaching moment. Now that's a good use of penance (one is supposed to learn during penance, after all).

Another school of thought, oft championed by our own Rev. Dean Smith, is "taking on" something for Lent, rather than giving something up. Again, the theory is sound--many old penances involved taking something on in order to--again, learn (and also to signify--as with the ash cross, though for different reasons--otherness). One might take on a hair shirt or a cross or chains or'll notice a pattern here. Most of the things "taken on" were painful or uncomfortable. One can do this intellectually, too--take on something you've not ever read or something you've rejected in order to learn and understand it better. I've often heard people decide to "read the whole Bible" for Lent, or to take on the major religious text of another religion for study (I'm particularly fond of that).

And, no, I am not going to read Gravity's Rainbow for Lent. That would constitute cruel and unusual punishment...well, maybe it could be a hair shirt kind of deal.

Anyway, I thought about this on my runs recently; I don't have much in the way of vices these days, what with the whole sobriety thing. Already I don't smoke, drink alcohol, take illicit drugs (heck, I don't even take Advil), consume vast quantities of sugar (marathon training, after all), have illicit sex (*snort*), cheat on my taxes, nor anything else especially nefarious, save for the swearing (and I am not giving that up, thank you) and caffeine (hands off!). I could probably be safely accused of other bad habits, but I can't think of any right now. Not going to forgo meat because I fare better with it on the training schedule than without it (though, note-to-self: Cajun sausage produces nausea the next morning at about mile 1.36. Avoid.).

My major vice'o concern™ is anger...and it's a fairly sizable one. But, it is also just a tad difficult to "give it up" wholesale, much as I would like to. So, I think that for this Lent, I am going to take on means of stemming the anger response--meditation (daily--since I rather got away from it last fall), reading books that address anger and fear, and making a gratitude list every day for the next 6 weeks (until the first Sunday after the first full moon after the first day of Spring, or Easter Sunday, for you mortals<--I didn't even have to look that up--that's some geekdom right there). Running will probably serve this well, as I'm usually too tired to bother getting angry at night. The objective is to "negotiate" situations that frighten me (fear being the source of anger) in more productive ways, so that during Lent I can learn and after Lent I can continue the process and maybe, just maybe, give more of my life to God and family than to fear and anger, which sounds like a pretty good deal. Best wishes today, all. Peace, Your Occasionally Intrepid Runner

*Holy Mother website devoted to Tertullian. And to think I spent months digging around in the library to read the same stuff. That is what I get for not googling Tertullian....which sounds vaguely nasty, come to think of it.

**Yes, Rev. Smith, even this recovering Episcopalian sees Advent as penitential. I do understand your concerns about "rushing to the manger."

***My family included. We have red beans & rice, sausage, veggies, and King Cake every Mardi Gras. MB came home wearing beads yesterday, which seemed...I don't odd thing to be distributing at school, no?

Monday, February 23, 2009

On Living in College Towns

Confession: I live in a college town.

I won't go so far as to say that the town lives and breathes education in the way it does, say, football, but it is definitely a college town.

Where else can the remark: "I drink to release my inner orange," following a long discussion about research practice and millennials, possibly make sense?

If you've ever lived in one of these fine semi-urban establishments, then you too have seen the college-student theory of partying: get wasted on Thursday and sober up (maybe) on Sunday. I can't count how many students have come to class inebriated or confessing their various vices of nights past. Indeed, one of the primary distinctions between my former job, where I taught at a residential college, and my present one, at a commuter school, is that students come in (or don't) complaining of hangovers...the residential students were still drunk. It is a matter of degree, I grant.

Anyway, I started mulling this in the grocery store on Friday night. I hate going on Friday nights because I am often so exhausted from the week that having to make a decision in the store becomes a chore. Too, as any fellow alcoholic knows, tired is not good. And tired is particularly bad when faced with availability of alcohol.

There is this trait among alcoholics where we begin purchasing our drink of choice at various locations, lest any one catch on to how much we consume. I was never very good at this, owing in part to the relatively small community I live in, but also because I didn't really have to be concerned...because I live in a college town with a serious drinking problem; I was merely one of the faces in a crowd.

Of course, at my worst I was still paranoid about being shoved out of the closet, as it were. I did purchase at various grocery stores (mostly out of convenience, though), and that was another way to hide, I suspect, because who looks askance at the wine in the grocery cart? Could be for any reason. Even if buying in large quantities, one remains anonymous--merely that person who must be giving a party.

And, being in a college town, this makes perfect sense. Have party (especially during football season)? Will drink.

So, weekends remain the most difficult for me; I'm tired and often frustrated. I often find myself shopping on Friday evenings to stave us over until Sunday, so that the three teenboys aren't forced to eat the countertop. And as I wander through my grocery store, I will inevitably be near "the aisle" and I will consequently have "the argument" with myself.

So far, logic prevails. The joy of waking up without hangovers prevails--hell, the joy of sleeping through the night (mostly) prevails. And I muddle through.

And I worry about the kids I teach, when they miss Fridays and/or Mondays. I worry about my colleagues who come in with the glazed expressions of hangovers. I worry about me and my arguments and what I will need to do to remain sober. And I worry that I live in a college town as an alcoholic with Tough Guy, who has the genetic equivalent of an IED waiting to be tripped...who asks me about marijuana and Amsterdam and alcohol and heroin. And I am grateful that he asks. Every day, I am grateful that he asks and doesn't slink off silently.

Perhaps I need to work on another grateful list--and reread my old one. Recreate my shame list and reread my old one. Stay thankful and stay realistic.

While I worry in this beautiful, tired, cranky, struggling, brilliant college town.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Still Playing

Eh...the previous layout wasn't feeling the love, so I'm experimenting again.

I'll settle down soon. Maybe.

We'll call this merely an obnoxious interlude.

Okay...settling on the daisy for a spell. I'll leave it a few weeks to see if it drives me batty at all.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Marathons and Academia

I keep finding myself joking that I will be happy if I so much as crawl across the finish line in June. And that is probably pretty close to the truth, even if the "just finish" spirit sort of bothers me.

So, yesterday, I was doing a mental blog (brilliant one. Brilliant. Goat ate it, sorry) while wandering across campus. During my foray, I had the opportunity to talk with one of my favorite people in the world, D., who somehow managed to tap into my wandering thoughts about marathons and academics.

See, I figured out what this marathon is to me; it's the physical version of a dissertation, which, as with the "crawling" comments above, I was convinced that merely finishing the damn thing would be enough. Brilliance being overrated and all. But, in the years since completion, I have returned to the beast time and again, wondering if I could have approached it differently...I've certainly found other ways to look at my topic (Redemption, for those who never had any portion of it inflicted on them) since completion.

Then again, there is something to be said for just being done and then revisiting under less pressure. Could I have realized the connections between addiction literature and my theories of redemption sooner, maybe...but I was fairly disconnected (denial) from my own ongoing addiction struggles at the time, so it is highly unlikely I would have recognized such a connection during the writing phase.

Well, that and it took reading Slash's bio, for whatever reason, for said connections to sink in. I think it was about the time he opens a chapter by talking about the addicts impulse to know more about his or her intoxicant o' choice. After that book, I started reading (and in some cases re-reading) addiction narratives voraciously.

So a marathon, like a dissertation, is perhaps something that I need to complete--and then refine, if I so choose. But, I first have to know and to prove to myself that I can finish it. Crawl if necessary; upright would be best, but we'll see.

I suppose that this could all be summarized by simply noting that I probably left "Glutton for Punishment" behind some years ago and am currently heading up "Masochist Way."

They posted the course this morning...well, they were supposed to. I guess I need to account for "morning" in Seattle is getting toward afternoon here. Sigh. I'll look again later and share as it appears. Duff didn't post today either, so maybe Seattle has just gone on a collective hiatus today....or perhaps they are just celebrating because Junior went back to the Mariners. Seems that there is hope for Seattle sports after all. Okay, so I jumped the gun on both counts: Duff posted (finally) and the course info goes up tomorrow, not today. But I stand by my theories regarding Griffey, Jr. and Seattle sports. So there.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Running for the Bears

  • Registered for Race--check
  • Requested time off--check
  • Began hotel research (always the most fun)--check
  • Figuring out why anyone would recommend gummy bears to consume during a run...okay, well they are more portable than your average banana...but....eeek. I like 'em, but I'm pretty sure that would be a bad combo for me. *shudder*

Holy cow...we may make it to Seattle after all. Sans gummies, of course.

Three lovely miles this morning in 35-ish degree weather. My northern friends are hereby invited to keep their laughter over my wimpiness to themselves. Please remember that I've lived in the Deep South for 10 years now, so my blood is very thin. Yeah. That's it.

My friend the three-legged dog, who normally barks and threatens to chase me, ignored me on the first pass and almost, kind of looked happy to see me on the second. Almost. Of course, it could have been the shadows. What does it mean when you are accepted into the clan of the curmudgeonly three-legged dog?

I still owe the site a punk update...but it will get here one of these days.

Cheers, all.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Off and (not) Running

Today's a rest day, so mild yoga (ha!) only (keeping those, limber). Back to the grind tomorrow.

Completed about 15 miles last week. Gee, only need 11.2 more to be able to complete a marathon in 7 days! Now, if I can get that down to 5 hours....

Official news to report: I'll be running the Seattle Rock-N-Roll Marathon on June 27, 2009. Anyone care to join? *Snort* -->even includes a "finisher's medal." This will likely be the only time in my life I don't giggle about that.

All of which is to say that all is well right now; I'll report in with more good details soon.

BTW--just gave an interview on Punk. life is good.

Speaking of Punk and marathons and, Loaded will be playing in Seattle in June, yes? Yes????


Thursday, February 12, 2009

Bits and Pieces

How funny to open Seattle Weekly's site this morning and see this: Athens Pop-Fest Canceled. Not funny because of the cancellation, of course, just...surprising.

I'll work on the Punk Post (post punk??? ack!) today, but it probably won't be up until tomorrow....In the meantime, there is Krist Novoselic's piece on the miracle that is music. Enjoy. Or this funny as hell slideshow on "unromantic album covers"--number 14 rocks. And, if you are feeling really punchy, here's Duff's thoughts on dating. Number 6 is my favorite.

Sea Gals??? Oi.

Pain, angst.

Anyway, so, I think I've got G on board with a Seattle Marathon in June. Confirmation will come this weekend. Went to a 5:30 am spin class (motto: "real spinners do it at 5:30." This simply does not live up to the thespian motto of "thespians do it on stage" or Duff circa 1989 "rockers do it. (pause) Ya know?")...said class was good--tough, I'll grant--but good.

So, all is well. Hope the weekend is kind to all of you.

<--ETA: OMG...the cover of Seattle Weekly

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Punk Notes, Round Two

Another collection of Videos to be used in the Punk series. I'll add my notes tomorrow.

Minor Threat and the ecstasy of punk

Kit and the Outlaws--Garage Punk: I love that we sit here and watch the record spin. Dude.

And the boys themselves

Note the decided differences in style from, say, Loud Fart.

Iggy and the Stooges--American Punk, Bowie style. I love this..especially the guy talking to begin with. Please make note of his gloves; I beg you.

Sex Pistols: Brit Punk with Glen Matlock! And the pants....the pink pants

and again, after Sid joins

And, the Angelic Upstarts...just because

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Clouded Vision

One of the most annoying elements of alcohol consumption, for me, at least, is the insomnia. I recall vividly the first morning two years ago that I awoke at a totally normal time, rather than the then-standard 2:35am. Now, those who know me well are likely already aware that I have struggled with insomnia for eons anyway, but alcohol certainly made it more predictable. Pretty much irrespective of how much I drank (even on the "good"--single glass--nights), I would wake up around 2:35 and stay awake for about two hours.

Thinking...or something approximating thinking at any rate.

So, sobriety brought with it this really cool thing where most nights, anxiety-riddled ones not withstanding, I would sleep from 11:30 or so (falling asleep tends to take a good while) until at least 5:30. This is a Good Thing.

Last night, however, was not Good, in so far as even without alcohol, I was awake...more or less...for hours last night. So, I am a bit more befogged today than I would prefer, but the serial jumps my brain was taking indicates that Ms. Hyperactivity is awakening at home, which is Good. I wasn't worrying or thinking especially clearly, but I was in that unfortunate space between asleep and awake, and I was completely aware of that the whole time. I can only assume that the caffeine intake late in the day did me in.

Or, perhaps that I went to bed irritated. I know better, of course, than to do so, because trying to sleep while annoyed is even more difficult than sleeping while intoxicated.

Here's what got me riled: As I mentioned, I have decided to run the Seattle marathon. Why Seattle? Well, mostly just because, but also because (go ahead, laugh at me) my running shirt says "City of Seattle Marathon," and it just seems right. Other positives? I've never been there, and I've long wanted to visit, but I recognize that I won't necessarily be in the mood to traipse around the natural sites that G and I would normally visit on such a quest (like, wandering up a mountain). And the city offers plenty of non-hiking things to do in the time we would be there. Confession: I did not discuss with G my goal before setting it, a stupid mistake, so I know I need to be flexible on the matter.

G, on the other hand, wants me either to run locally or he wants to go to Kona, HI. Now, I'd like to go to Kona someday as well, but I'd really rather not do it when I probably will want to do anything other than, say, climb a volcano. I really want to climb the volcano, I do; I just realize that will probably not exactly go hand-in-hand with 26.2 miles or 13.1, for that matter.

I'm not really sure what the opposition to Seattle is...and I didn't ask. Nope, I just got peevish because he's mucking with my goal. So, the task for tonight is to fess up and work with G to find a place of mutual amusement for next November. You know, together and stuff. I am so terrible about this.

Maybe I'll sleep better afterward.

Training is going reasonably well-->did 40 minute runs yesterday (remember, we're in week one--give me time) and today in the neighborhood between 5:20 & 6:00 am. Fortunately, the weather is cooperating and it is quite warm (hooray!), and the switch to a white sweatshirt does seem to make me substantially more visible (hey, a Yeti!) Did yoga last night to stretch the limbs before bed, since I am clearly starting to head toward that field of old I've heard so much about. Will run again tomorrow and spin on Thursday morning, then rest on Friday.

So, all is well, generally. And, as for the goal-setting, even if November has to change, there is this other marathon in Seattle in June....

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Learning to Write

I'm starting a new series today, Learning to Write, which will chronicle a return to sobriety. I started penning this in my head while I was running this morning, so please forgive the kind of runner-ramble tendency.

I made a choice during the summer to experiment--to see if I could learn to be a "good drinker." I called it, at the time, learning to have an adult relationship with alcohol. My hypothesis (quite frankly) for the pseudo-experimental indulgence was that I would not be able to teach myself to drink normally (whatever that means), but I wanted to try to overcome the fear that was associated with alcohol and me.

The context: Last year, I had the best two semesters ever....fantastic classes. Even met a student who challenged me intellectually every single day--I could not go to class and wing it. I had to be not just on my game, but reaching beyond it. Which rocked. I remember, vividly, the first moment I realized that he was pushing me and, better, I didn't have to be afraid of my brain, that I could run with it in class and that relying on material of the preceding 10 years was not necessary (I'd been clinging to the familiar in sobriety). For the first time in years, I felt fully awake and energized. I started researching again; writing again; thinking and dreaming and hoping, instead of being afraid. (R., should you ever read this--this is what I was talking about when I said thank you.)

I don't like being afraid; fear makes me angry, but it also has some significant benefits, whether I like it or not, because the moment I decided that I also didn't like being afraid of alcohol...well, you can see from the rest of the post where that lead.

I've only told one person about this, though several friends have borne witness and cheered me on. To all of you, and especially to CD, who really is my sanity-checker more often than he probably imagines, I must say thank you. To those for whom this constitutes a disappointment, either to discover the experiment or to discover the alcoholism--I am sorry. To the students of those classes last year, thank you. I LOVED the breathlessness that you provided me with--the engagement, and I want to keep feeling it. And, since drinking tends to preclude such excitement...

...the experiment is at an end, and it should have come to an end before this. I am frustrated with myself for an inability to "drink normal," and I am irritated with myself for failing (even if it was more or less what I expected to happen in the first place). Irritation or no, I would be far more upset with myself if I failed to act on the years of accumulated knowledge and just knock this shit off. The oddest part of the last few months has been the self-awareness that accompanied the drinking. I knew with some incredible precision what I was up to and often pondered my actions and choices.

Know when I knew I was in trouble? I stopped listening to a couple of my favorite songs, including the one that this blog is titled after, because I felt guilty. Now that, my friends, is weird.

A couple of positives did come out of this, and I need to figure out how to replicate them in healthy ways. First, the obsessions were under better control (really, they were). Second, I was more likely to say what I was thinking, rather than hiding my opinions from G. Both of these are good things.

I have to confess though, the "mellow" that comes along with drinking is probably what stemmed the obsessing, and that is not a good thing. I stopped the active research, had to force myself to read and knit, and my poor bass sits dormant in the case. I actually prefer being wound-up, obsessive, and hyperactive to being mellowed. I really miss that nutcase; I hope to find her again quickly and put her to good use. I know she's around, because she's been hanging around at work (thank goodness) and finding the tasks that needed completion and invention there. At home, on the other hand, she's been noticeably absent.

I did not preserve the electronic posts from the first time I sobered up, though I have all of the print diaries, but I intend to preserve them here this time. Why? So I can share and confess (proper like, you know?) and so I can be faced with it every single day. And, so I can mark progress on the white knuckle days. I won't cross-post this particular series (as I do with most of my other rambles and kvetsches), but this is not an anonymous blog--many people know who I am, and I don't mind if my colleagues and students see these posts, so don't feel as if you've tripped into something I am ashamed of.

I am an alcoholic. I know this, and I have no intention of pretending otherwise to anyone. So, please, pull up a chair and share with me. We can put out demons out to pasture (aw, poor cows) and have a good time in the process.

The series will chronicle the return to sobriety, which, I'm sure, will have a few entertaining moments (like when the hyperactivity kicks back into high gear--watch out world!) no doubt, and the gifts that my particular Beautiful Disease--both alcoholism and OCD-- provide...compassion, insight, and a peculiar ability to celebrate my hyperactivity--because it really is far more beautiful than it is annoying. I'd like to be able to show that to people.

At the same time, I am aware that boredom is what most often gets me into trouble, so I am setting two non-work related goals (got oodles of the work-related ones I am already working on--wanna hear??? *bounce, bounce*). First, I will write on this subject at least twice a week here and at least once a week on the research project at hand. Second (and far crazier), I'm training for a marathon. The Seattle Marathon is held on November 29, 2009 this year, and I'm going. So, I'll also use the space to update the training (and bleg for good wishes).

Now, if only I could be assured that Loaded would be playing in Seattle then. Hey, Duff...any hope for me???

So, I hope you will join me as I Learn to Write Me again with honesty and humor and hyperactivity. Oh, and since you got the sobriety part already--here's a training update: I ran/walked a 5K this morning (and met the sweetest Black Lab named Poodle during it!) in my neighborhood. I really need to find other routes. Locals--any suggestions?

Friday, February 6, 2009

God, Yes: Lux Interior

I could not possibly have said it better than this

He was just that something.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Punk Chautauqua

As I was writing this, I saw that Lux Interior died last night. Sympathy and Prayers to his friends and family. Wow. Must have a Cramps fest this weekend in memorium.


I was invited by colleague Sam to lead the inaugural lecture in his new Chautauqua series here at work. The link will give you a good overview, but for those who want an even smaller summary, the Chautauqua is a fairly interactive adult-education format. Because he loves to harass me about my musical quirks (and because he is a genuinely nice and supportive fellow), Sam asked if I would speak on one of my favorite rambling subjects--punk.

We had a small, happy group. And we had fun. Well, I know I did.

I used the clips in yesterday's post, and what follows here are a version of the notes that I used and during the talk. When I can, I will link to the songs referenced (there were myriad others that I can't link to). Bonus--he asked that I continue the conversation next week, focusing on the Britpunk influences on American Culture and one of my pet subjects, Punk as a 20th century Romantic movement. I'll share notes on that next week.

So, here's some of what I did yesterday:

I’m doing a bit of a test run here, both for this series and for my own research quirks, so I need to lay out some ground rules.

First, I am a bit of a Westie on this matter; most of my research follows Seattle and Los Angeles bands. This is not a rejection of MidWestern or Eastern Punk—Akron and NJ and DC Hardcore (among others) have some excellent examples, but more of a sound preference that I am not quite sure I can articulate. So, if it feels a bit West-leaning, there you go. Blame the Californian birth; my mother has always attributed my "damn liberal notions" to breathing my first breaths in CA.

Too, I come at this from an odd angle—I’m a literature prof by trade, so I often look at written records. That said, my Masters thesis was on opera and politics, so this study is really an outgrowth of that (or, rather, the thesis was an outgrowth of this—I could get away with writing an academic treatise about Wagner. Darby Crash? Jello Biafra? Loud Fart? Yeah, not so much).

Other general notes: defining punk is akin to nailing Jello to a tree—and not our friend Biafra, if you are wondering. I have discussed hereabouts the original definitions of the word, though I later discovered that Lester Bangs used punk in reference to music in a Creem article at least a year before the Rolling Stone citation I mentioned. Likely, it was already becoming common when Bangs used it. Too, I realized (rather belatedly) that the connection between the second definition ("a boy or young man kept by an older man as a (typically passive) sexual chiefly prison slang") and the current musical culture usage.

In Philosophy of Punk, O'Hara reminds us that many of the origins of punk image lie in the Skinheads of 1960's Britian and the violence wrought on Pakistani immigrants. The general notions of "hoodlums" is also relevant here...and I've no idea if "punk" was a term applied to or claimed by the groups in question, but the connection between the definition and Bangs’ use is deceptively simple: as the class of disaffected young (primarily) men of the cities of England were imprisoned for the violence inflicted on the Pakistani neighbors and (presumably) fans of other football clubs were imprisoned with older men, they were, to turn a phrase away from the current use—Punked. Whether they chose to appropriate the name (with both the sexual overtones and the “person of no account” ones) or it was thrust upon them is somewhat less clear, but the propensity for three pieces of the original uses remain throughout American punk:

  • Sex and sex trades: consider the stories about the Go-Gos, many of which are highly specious but also highly sexualized (to say nothing of the Joan Jett stories). Too, sexuality and the politics of gender identity and sexuality were incredibly important in American punk. One need think only of Darby Crash’s reaction to Don Bolles showing up in a dress—and his concerns that the HB bands would discover that he was gay—and what they might do to that end. The fights between the Stims and Bad Brains, Steven Blush reminds us, often devolved into dismissive accusations: “The Stims accused Bad Brains of being rip-offs; the Bad Brains accused them of being homosexuals. All of the sudden, the singer’s gayness became an issue” (American Hardcore 175). Interesting, isn’t it, that charges that were leveled against one another—rip-off versus gay.
  • “no accountness”/hoodlum—see Dr. Quincy’s nefarious punks below—burning holes, taking drugs, “there’s no one innocent here.” Notice the white makeup (“look how different those punks are,” the episode practically shouts) and the chaos of the punk scenes.
  • Drunkenness—there is no point in pretending that addiction/use/abuse and the attendant Straight Edge movement aren’t significant to punk’s history. Remarkably, two of the earliest known uses of the word punk references drunkenness (probably more for rhyme than anything else, but the early correlation is awfully interesting to me): the first, from 1575 merely remarks that drunkenness and punking are sinful: “1575 Old Simon the Kinge in J. W. Hales & F. J. Furnival Bp. Percy's Folio Ms.: Loose & Humorous Songs (1867) 127 Soe fellowes, if you be drunke, of ffrailtye itt is a sinne, as itt is to keepe a puncke.” The second, from 1698, explicitly ties punk and drunk: 1698 Womens Complaint to Venus (MS Rawl. 159) f. 32, The Beaus..At night make a Punk of him that's first drunk.”

O’Hara further remarks that “there is a current feeling in modern society of an alienation so powerful and widespread that it has become commonplace and accepted” (21). He goes on to contextualize this remark, situating the beginnings of this “feeling” with the Industrial Revolution. As does Fredrich Engles in his “the Great Cities”, O’Hara suggests that the creation of the city—the space in which we can live so close, but utterly separated (O’Hara puts it: “people think that they have nothing in common with each other” (22) is the foundation for our alienation—especially from one another.

And from this pervasive alienation, disaffected youth, and assorted other bits of interest—along with a good bit of attention paid by Malcolm McLaren and other “Svengalis,” punk is born, in and around 1968, alongside the philosophical arm—the Situationists.

The Sex Pistols are often heralded as the “first,” but doing so leaves out so many bands and influences, not the least of which is David Bowie, Iggy Pop, etc.

So, How do I know punk? Some of the basics of identifying punk rock:

  • self-identification as such: This will necessarily lead to various charges of “posing” as punk or “playing at” punk, versus real punks. Such recriminations will remain true in the most bizarre ways as LA claims glam rock in the 80s and the Aquanet boys volley similar charges at one another. Alex reminded me in the course of the talk that they were, at least around here, known as “Quincy Punks.”—they looked the part, but perhaps didn’t live it. See Steve’s remarks in the case study below.
  • At least for hardcore punk, a very fast tempo——something like 160-200bpm. Rock is often 110-150. Overlaps and exceptions abound. There does tend to be a dismissiveness toward ability. Sid Vicious, for instance, was a terrible bassist, technically—and Steve Jones began unable to play [he remarks in Lydon’s autobiography, Rotten, that “I didn’t know how to play, but once we got John in the band, I had to learn seriously” (79)]; the Germs reveled in the stories that they couldn’t play their instruments (such stories are largely apocryphal. Pat Smear, Don Bolles, and Lorna Doom all seemed to practice fairly regularly.) But, amateurism was highly regarded---part of an ethic that championed DIY---not relying on the “majors” (major labels).
  • Stage presence: the relationship between musician and audience is fairly unique to punk. Duff McKagan (you knew he’d get here, didn’t you?) recounted an early punk rock experience for him was at a Clash show prior to the release of “London Calling.” At said show, Strummer forced security away from the stage, insisting on the reciprocal relationship between audience and band. He recounts “During the show, a big yellow-shirted security guy up front punched a fan and broke his nose. Blood was everywhere. The Clash stopped the show. Bassist Paul Simonen appeared from the wings of stage right wielding a firefighter’s axe that he must have plucked from the wall. He jumped down in the pit and proceeded to chop down the wooden barrier separating the fans from the band while guitarist Joe Strummer dressed down the security gorilla and went on further to say that there was no difference between the fans and the bands…"we are all in this together! There is no such thing as a Rock Star, just musicians and listeners!" We have, by turns, stage diving, slam and circle dancing, and the like. Examine Sid Vicious and my man Steve Jones here, to say nothing of the incredible shirt on Johnny Rotten. Sid is the very image of ideal punk—blood covered, doing poorly wrought Pete Townsend-style Windmills. Sam wondered if he realized that he was parodying the Who with that; I suspect not—I’d sooner believe that Rotten was actively satirizing. Rotten is bears out the antagonism that necessarily occurs between close sets—audience and band—in his disdainful looks and the mock insanity between stanzas. And Jones, well, Steve Jones is just the man. Always.
  • Humor: there is a fair bit of satire apparent in the lyrics and actions of the American punk crew. Dead Kennedys “Night of the Living Rednecks,” for instance. This is one area that I think needs greater attention; satire lives and breathes in punk.

So, the Fartz: A Case Study
Seattle was in a significant recession at this point; the youth were unemployed and largely unemployable. The punk scene here sprang, as it did in England, from the unemployed working class. The Fartz certainly play on this. In an interview in Ripper # 7 from 1982, Steve and Loud discuss their politics:
Just by what's going on around you. After three and a half years in the service I realized that something was wrong. Somebody always wants control and to be able to tell people what to do. It's about to the point in life where everybody's pretty much sick of being told what to do. They want to find out for themselves what they should do, and not just fall into a role in society.
LOUD: Mine was Abbie Hoffman, '69. He was really big in the news, and he was bizarre, so I just clicked right into that. I just read whatever he put out and whatever was put out about him.
STEVE: Paul and Blaine are a little younger, so they really haven't had a chance to get really badly fucked over enough to jar out a view or to have a view on it. It's to an advantage for them because they got to learn about getting fucked over before it happened to them, and now they know how to avoid it.

The “typical” tendencies appear to be present—the little guy fighting against “the Man.” Even the notion that here, and in the remarks that follow, that the older must protect the younger from the system and from being fucked over. We have here an insistence on a certain kind of relationship between musician and audience-->reciprocal of sorts, but certainly a responsibility of musician to audience. The interview continues with the following remarks:
Yeah. We feel that it's great that there are kids coming out to the shows who are only 15 or 16 and still live with their parents and haven't had to be on their own yet, and really had the chance to live out in the gutter and have nothing to eat. [Notice here the assumptions of working class—not suburban—participation, which is not quite what we see borne out in American punk]. It just shows them pretty much that if you just keep playing your role, you're just gonna fall into a category and you're never gonna be able to control your own mind. You gotta figure out the problems you're gonna face and deal with them before it happens. Just learn young. That's something we'd like to accomplish.

Further, and I adore this one:

STEVE:We don't want to try and come across like some real politicals or anything like that, because it's really not that much of a thing as - we're more after the apathy. It really pisses us off to see people just sit back and sing about destroying this and destroying that, cuz that's stupid.

See, conceptually, this is interesting. The lyrics tend toward the highly political and active, not the apathetic. Clearly being “pissed off” suggests something other than apathy. Finally, the classic “the corporation” remarks, which make perfect sense in light of their politics and the economic period in Seattle:
STEVE:It's not so much that we want to criticize the corporations, I feel more pissed toward the middle class people who can just ignore everything else. The low class people like us who are starving or whatever, we're the ones suffering, they're making money, they're happy, cuz they adjusted to that way of life, they can put up with silly rules and whatever they have to face to make that money.

And the suburban/working class bit works itself out here, too. Quincy Punks, I imagine were largely suburban, and how many of the reviews mention that a band was “okay, but clearly suburban” (as happens with Genocide)?

Compare this with the remarks made by Gregg & Duff, after Fartz reformed as Ten Minute Warning. Much of the language here is what is cited as “the death of punk”:

On the difference between the Fartz and TMW, musically and the attendant—“I thought you were hardcore” comments:
Duff:We're still a hardcore group; hardcore to me means just hardcore. Getting intense on that music, slammin' on them guitars and believing in what you're doing. That's hardcore to me. Hardcore is not raw smash, stage dive and shit. Hardcore is more a way of thinking and playing.

I’m intrigued by the next set of remarks, as they recount one of the reasons behind a “death” of punk culture, if not of punk music. Punk became, well…like everything else:
O. K., what kind of spiritual message are you trying to relate with your music? Haha. . .
Love in the light. No, we're not trying to blaze any particular path or any political 'do this' or 'do that,' just, uh, having fun and not being. . .
Duff: Begin[sp] caught up in certain cliques or peer pressure. Basically what the whole quote-unquote 'punk scene' was about was getting away from the cliques and the peer pressure. Now it's just regressed back into. . . Gregg: It's turned into what it was trying to get away from.

Duff: Yeah, it's just kind of gone around in a big circle, to right back to what I was trying to get out of. So we're just trying to say, hey you guys, let's unite; let's not worry about what you're wearing or what the guy behind you thinks about you. Just have a good time, have fun, don't go around hittin' people and shit.'
Gregg: I think, in a way without having to say much, we're an example of that happening because we're not a punk rock band and there's a lot of punk rockers who get into what we're doing. And we don't always necessarily look like punk rockers when we're on stage. Yeah, we're just an example of that working.

Ten Minute Warning, however, rejects the overt politics of the Fartz:
So you're not an anarchy band?
Duff:Definitely not an anarchy band! Some people might say, 'Oh well, these guys serve no purpose,' 'cause we've had interviews where the first question was, 'What are your political views?' We're a rock 'n' roll band, not Governor Spellman. And people might look down on us 'cause we don't have political views, but then you gotta look at it, why should we? You guys are getting dragged down by peer pressure because somebody says you gotta have political views. That's the cool thing right now, to be a political band. Well fuck that shit; we're not political.

On the amueturism that became a totem of punk; the last remark is my favorite. It is sooooo Duff. I’ve said time and again he’s gone on the “I’m not a RockStar” bit forever—he even does it here, sort of, in 1983. I love the remark here.
Gregg:It's a fact that we come across a lot more professional than a lot of the other local bands and alot of people interpret that wrong.
Duff: They think we're stuck up or trying to sell out. I don't know where they're getting this: do we have a record contract? We just want to be good, we don't want to be just five wankers up on stage.
Gregg:To practice once a week and jerk off is not where it's at.
Duff: We are serious musicians, but I want to make the point that we're not stuck up, no matter what people think, not that we care what people think.

Even in the desire for inspiring apathy, the Fartz dealt in parody. With Ronald Reagan as the center of their ire, songs such as “Battle Hymn of Ronnie Reagan” (lyrics here) use the familiar sounds of “Songs of Patriotism” and satirize them and the messages.

As I mentioned, this was great fun, and I’ll keep adding to the thoughts begun here in the coming weeks.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Punk Notes

I'm doing a talk on Punk today--looking forward to it, but also suffering a bit of fear and trepidation about getting up and out there. Last fall, I had planned to work through a series on punk history here, and I intend to get around to it...eventually. Maybe this will be the proper kick in the ass.

Anyway, I'm sharing some clips with the folks who are kind enough to join, and I need an easy way to organize and access them all, so I'll share them here, along with some notes on the matters at hand.

First, everyone needs a bit of punk via Quincy, yes? Note here the references to the Germs burn, drug addiction, and general malfeasance. Also, the abundance of white makeup. Love this line: "There's no one innocent here."

So, a bit of the Pistols, 4 days before Rotten would leave the band, after the Winterland show. I love this clip for the "punk how-tos" from Rotten's dear-god-awful shirt and practiced sneers to Vicious' bloodied chest. And then there is Steve. The Man. I adore Steve Jones. I'll resist the temptation to share some Neurotic Outsiders. Just trust me. He is the man.

Penelope Spheeris and her cooking scenes. Darby in Decline I. Notice the Sex Pistols poster and the appearance of the "beard" in the form of Michelle Ghaffari.

More to follow after the talk.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


Here it is: Duff's Newest Blog. If you missed the previous thread on the subject, the blog is at, so it is decidedly NSFW.

Haven't opened it, being at work and all, but I thought I would share. Apparently, he went with a play on "Freakonomics" for the title. The post appears to be titled "Appetite for Investment."

He is, as I have pointed out before, a pretty savvy businessman; he's certainly done well for himself. I've read (though not verified) that he invested in Starbucks and Microsoft back in the late 80s, because a brother-in-law (could have been brother, for that matter), suggested it.

Too, for whatever poor choices he made on his way into addiction, he also made some damn good ones, not the least of which was that little project out of L.A.

Screwing Around

It's been more than a year since I last changed my poor blog's clothes, and it needed an update. I am not sure I am sold on this one yet, but we'll see how it wears for a while.