January 30, 2009

Ice Ice Baby

HAH! Joke's on you . . . now the song is running through your head.

The Port of Butchertown master computer has crashed, so there won't be any significant posting going on here for a couple weeks. When I get back, I'll probably have a couple new pieces ready to post (printed longhand on a legal pad - just the way I like it). Until then, be safe.

January 25, 2009

Sonata for Crazy Ass Traffic

The TBW! posse was rolling up to Chicago (from Bloomington, late 80's) for a show at Club Dreamerz. Tony was living there at the time, the rest of us were in Bton. We ran up 65 (natch), stopping at a gas station just north of Lafayette to fill up & grab the $2.99 gas station cassette that would be our talisman for the trip.

Quick aside here . . . is this something y'all do when you're on the road? I know that the posse would often partially rely on kismet for road trip soundtracks, be it Art Bell or gas station cassettes & CDs. The rules on the gas station cassette/CD talisman were: it couldn't be something you owned but didn't bring with you, and preferably something you hadn't heard before . . . or else that GREAT album which somehow always eluded you. Also, it had to cost substantially less than you would have paid for it in a real record store, and ideally, would have been something that you wouldn't be able to find anywhere else, like one of those Johnny Paycheck trucker's special editions. Tony's biggest score was an Abbey Lincoln cassette he got on one of his many AZ trips (or maybe that was Matt; they were both on the trip). My three most memorable: the copy of Alex Chilton's Set that I grabbed just before Tony, James Barber, and I headed out to Arizona for the annual Easter pilgrimage (though I obtained that on a hasty run through Ear-X-tacy right before I hit the road . . . does that count, since it's a real record store?); a Leadbelly cassette I found on the way down to the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage festival with Brian Kearney and a vanload of paintings; and the cassette I grabbed on this trip.

If memory serves, Whitaker had most of the band in his 'stang (a late 70's model, moderately under appreciated by aficionados), and he found a Byrds cassette . . . which, I must admit, until recently, I sneered at - I have lately come to a greater appreciation of the Byrds. On the other hand, I was rolling with G__, and my tape for the trip was Black Sabbath's Paranoid.

I had, of course, heard Black Sabbath all the way through high school, and I had an 8 track mix that I had made from a friend's LPs . . . but after living with an Ozzy freak for a couple years in South Bend, I had let Sabbath recede into the background. But here, with G__ riding shotgun in the S-15 and the bed full of ramshackle rock band equipment, Sabbath seemed more appropriate. The S-15 in question had the infamous "treble kicker" stereo setup,
(Me & Cosby & Whitaker used to cruise up and down Kirkwood, in the early days of the boomin' auto system craze, with the treble kicker up full to some white noise punk rock, usually early Husker Du, and it was so fucking loud . . . all the heads could feel their stereos [low end], but they could only hear mine [high end], and it was really fucking with them)
which was a cheap cassette stereo run through a cheap but powerful booster amp which was in turn fed to decent but trebly Kenwood speakers, all wired together with hand-twisted joints covered in black vinyl electrical tape. The Sabbath was searing on the treble kicker.

We hit the Dan Ryan around rush hour and, as is the road trip code for TBW!, we ran in tandem. Whitaker was in the lead, and I was the trailer. When he wanted to go, he signaled, and it was my job to jump in the lane before him and let him jump in front of me . . . sort of a rolling pick, if you will. It always worked well for us: Matt paid attention to where we needed to go, and I paid attention to traffic. Now, traffic on the Dan Ryan rolls hard, but we were rolling harder - 75-80 mph bumper to bumper, and some of the moves were beatific. The whole time, we were blowing Paranoid, and G__ was sparking a joint (though I was, by this time, eschewing the sacrament). Every so often, I would hear a "Whoa-ahh" from the shotgun seat after a particularly splendid bit of traffic management - if you know G__, you can picture the scene . . .

Paranoid became the first significant sonata for crazy ass traffic.

After dropping down off the freeway, we made the radical switch from Black Sabbath to Hank Williams. Somehow we lost Whitaker and ended up in Chicago's barrio. I sometimes imagine the scene through the eyes of the pachucos on the street that day . . . two big ugly white guys in truck with Indiana plates and a bunch of cheap guitars, drums and amps in the back, windows down on a cold day, blaring old school C & W at a ridiculous volume . . . We ended up finding Dreamerz without too much more delay, and that ends up being another story.

* * * * *

I roll out of the house 'round about 7 am these days. I have to do the square-around to get down the one way streets from Butchertown to 65 South (again, I-65), negotiate the early rush hour in the 'Ville, and run down through the hills to make it to Elizabethtown at 8 am. I've got the hard left merge from Story onto 64 then immediately onto 65, but since I'm heading south, I have one less hard merge than I had before. At this time of day, things are thick running down to the Watterson, and past that to the UPS depot, and to the Ford plants on Fern Valley Road. Beyond Fern Valley, things thin out, and past the Gene Snyder, it's the rural run down to Etown. A few days ago, during my maiden week of runs down south, the intensity of the traffic mirrored (a slightly diminished version of) the run all those years ago on the Dan Ryan. The song playing at the time? Blue Oyster Cult's "The Red and the Black".

"The Red and the Black" became a significant sonata for crazy ass traffic.

What is it with those seventies bands and crazy ass traffic? I had a whole fistfull of CDs in the back, and there were plenty of options to roll with, but BOC just seemed to get the job done . . . not that I rely on it as a morning soundtrack, but the groove, drive, and aggression seemed just perfect for the job (unlike most of the jazz I had - too diffuse - or the classical - too abstract - or the nu-metal - too fucking fast).

There is, apparently, a rhythm in 70's hard rock/metal that lives somewhere between 70 and 90 mph.

* * * * *

So, here's the most recent playlist:

Blue Oyster Cult - Super Hits
Alice Cooper - Greatest Hits (the Seventies compilation)
Charles Ives - The Holidays Symphony
John Coltrane - Ascension
Sun Ra - "Stars Fell on Alabama"
Duke Ellington - Black, Brown, and Beige
Eric Dolphy - Live at the Five Spot, Vol. 1
Pig Destroyer - Terrorizer
Suspected Terrorists - s/t
Deep Purple - The Very Best Of
Arto Lindsay - Aggregates 1-26
Ornette Coleman - Live at the Golden Circle Vol. 1
MX-80 Sound - Out of the Tunnel/Crowd Control
Boris - Akuma No Uta
The Scientists - Absolute

Until next time, stay beautiful.

January 22, 2009

Slant Rhyme of the Week

On the back of a TARC bus:

Son in jail? Call Waddell!

along with the phone number of the honorable Mr. Waddell, attorney at law, all transposed over a huge photo of Mr. Wadell's grinning mug.

Of course, just north of Louisville, this is a more straight rhyme - as when "jail" rhymes with "gel". Or further south, when "jail" becomes a two syllable word ("jay-uhl", long "a" sound) and Waddell becomes a three syllable word ("Wha-dahy-uhl", short "a" then long "a").

Stay classy, Louisville.

January 14, 2009

Death of a Salesman

Yep, I'm back in management again, trying to ride out this little economic downturn in a non-commission position. Things have been getting really nasty down here at ground level, so I decided to get out of the sales gig while the gettin' was good (or at least do-able). I am still with the same company (h h gregg), but now I drive about fifty minutes each way down to Elizabethtown, KY. The good news is that the job is 8-5, Monday thru Friday. The bad news is that the pay sucks. The good news is that the suckitude of the pay is not as bad as it would be if I were still on commission . . . I was getting down near minimum wage there for a while.

One of these days, when I step away for good, I'll tell the story of the salesman. It's a ripper. Until then . . .

Good hours notwithstanding, I'm still trying to adjust my sleeping cycle - no more late night typing sessions. That means this space will be slow for a month or so until I can figure out how things work. I still owe a bunch of people correspondence as well, so this winter blast may turn to a a balmy spring breeze before I'm completely back up to speed (though, no fears, I'll still be posting at a somewhat slower pace).

January 8, 2009


I'm trying not to get too excited, but Danny Granger just may be THE MAN.

Count it! The DAGGER, at the buzzer! US Airways Arena just got awfully quiet.

January 5, 2009

The Death of Meaning Pt. 3: Hyperbolic Destruction

"I will ask you to not hang and lynch the appointee as you try to castigate the appointer" - Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., during a Chicago news conference in which embattled Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich announced his appointment of Roland Burris to the senate seat vacated by Barack Obama.

Let's peruse this statement for just a moment: African-American Congressman Bobby Rush says not to "hang and lynch" fellow African-American Roland Burris. One is left to assume that all symbolism of this statement is absolutely deliberate, since no African-American (least of all an African-American politician) would ever make this statement "innocently" - i.e., without knowledge of the full implications of the statement.

As the living witnesses of slavery have faded away, lynching becomes the most visible symbol of the oppression of Africans (though certainly not limited to Africans) in the United States. Lynching is justifiably kept in front of the American populace as a symbol of white oppression. Unlike familiar "hate speech" terms (such as "nigger", "queer", and so on), lynching is an action, rather than a linguistic tool of oppression . . . and, as such, can not be subverted or "reclaimed" in the same way that the affected subcultures try to reclaim such linguistic tools. Irreducible, lynching stands beyond language as an act of simple evil.

"This is not an opportunity to talk about difficult matters privately or in a closed environment. This is a circus. It's a national disgrace. And from my standpoint, as a black American, it is a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves, to do for themselves, to have different ideas, and it is a message that unless you kowtow to an old order, this is what will happen to you. You will be lynched, destroyed, caricatured by a committee of the U.S. Senate rather than hung from a tree." - Clarence Thomas, responding to a Senate Committee's investigation of sexual harassment charges against him during his Supreme Court confirmation hearings.

Thomas's famous quote starts a little differently, since his is not a simple lynching, but rather a "high tech" lynching: adding the term "high tech" to lynching makes the language more metaphorical. Using the colloquialism "uppity blacks" adds to the metaphorical nature of his high tech lynching. But, right at the point where his rhetoric is the strongest, he reaches for the brass ring: "You will be lynched." By distilling the high tech out of lynching, he moves back from the metaphorical to the concrete. He tries to move back to the metaphorical again later in the sentence ("caricatured [. . .] rather than hung from a tree"), but the lynching is still there in its most concrete form.

To the degree that the social sphere operates in an "ethical" manner (i.e., in a manner codified as "ethical" - the code's actual efficacy can still be open for question), there are concrete markers of evil that will be cited. These markers are irreducible events that are horribly unique and "unthinkable" yet frequently (and paradoxically) cited as measuring sticks for the concept of everyday evil. More common even than lynching references are comparisons of political situations to the Holocaust and of repressive leaders to Hitler. Think, for a minute, how many situations have been compared to the Holocaust: just recently, Bosnia, Darfur, and Rwanda top the list. And how many leaders have been compared to Hitler? Mainstream Western popular thought has put up Slobodan Milošević, Saddam Hussein, Pol Pot, and even tin horn dictators like Ruholla Khomeini and Muammar al-Gaddafi as Hitler surrogates.

"Relating to the Nazi extermination, it exemplifies radical evil by pointing to that whose imitation or replication must be prevented at all costs - or, more precisely: that whose non-repetition provides the norm for judgement of all situations. Hence the 'exemplarity' of the crime, its negative exemplarity. But the normative function of the example persists: the Nazi extermination is radical Evil in that it provides for our time the unique, unrivalled - and in this sense transcendent, or unsayable - measure of Evil pure and simple. [. . .] As a result, the extermination and the Nazis are both declared unthinkable, unsayable, without conceivable precedent or posterity - since they define the absolute form of Evil - yet they are constantly invoked, compared, used to schematize every circumstance in which one wants to produce, among opinions, an effect of the awareness of Evil - since the only way to access Evil in general is under the historical condition of radical Evil." - Alain Badiou, Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil, pp. 62-63

The establishment of radical Evil in this way creates a set that aspires to include all radical Evil. All elements of this set become, by definition, unthinkable and unsayable, like the radical Evil that serves as its model . . . and, as such, they also become irreducible and inaccessible. Anything thrust into this set becomes pure type and beyond scrutiny - which is exactly what those who use these classifications intend.

As what would have to be considered a radical Evil (in and of itself, separate of the set of radical evil as conceived above), lynching can be used to define a set of radical Evil in the manner described above. And, in the above quotes by Bobby Rush and Clarence Thomas, lynching is clearly deployed as a yardstick of Evil. In so doing, Rush and Thomas not only call the game, they set themselves up as judges and arbiters of truth, empowered by the (irreducible) symbols of Evil they utilize.

Obviously reading, listening, and speaking in a social sphere requires a level of sophistication from the actors involved. The majority of utterance is stacked to some degree, and communication doesn't necessarily take place on the surface level: for instance, when my dearly beloved decides she needs a drink from the fridge only after I have left the kitchen, it's doubtful that my death is immanent, no matter how much I claim that she "is killing me". It is here that these utterances (especially the Thomas quote) duck and dart around meaning. Again, Thomas moves between pure lynching and a mixed lynching metaphor. I insist that Thomas wants the lynching to be taken seriously, but (in a lawyerly manner) he leaves himself some wiggle room to claim the lynching as metaphor instead of event. Rush, on the other hand, is nowhere near as equivocal. In either case, the speaker clearly wants his lynching to be taken either seriously or not according to his own judgemental whim. The question becomes very simple: are there any bodies swinging from the trees here? The answer is, alas, no. We are left to assume that either Rush and Thomas are unreliable witnesses/judges, or that lynching as event has lost its singular meaning.

Here, there are actually three axes to the devaluation of utterance: not only is the speaker called into question and the symbol devalued, but the event described has been robbed of its unique character and posited as type. It has been filed away, listed as irreducible, and its irreducibility protects it from examination. The event, unexamined, remains misunderstood by its faulty (hyperbolic and incorrect) definition. So, Burris's exploitation by Blagojevich is misunderstood, as is the exact manner in which a legitimate inquiry into allegations against Thomas got turned into a partisan political circus. Both are unfortunate situations, but neither are lynchings (no bodies!), so we are left without any real concept of exactly what these events are.

Some would say that I am taking this language too seriously; I would say that these exchanges demonstrate a lack of commitment to meaning, if not truth. Burris's entanglement in an unfortunate political situation is in no way a lynching, and Rush is an idiot for using the word. Neither is Thomas's high-tech lynching a lynching proper, and as a Supreme Court Justice, he should have a very clear concept of the power of language. As surely as the commentator who would compare Hussein to Hitler, Rush and Thomas contribute to the death of meaning.