Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Winter of Our Discontent

From As You Like It:

"The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool."

And from Richard III:

"The world is grown so bad, that wrens make prey where eagles dare not perch."

Talkin' About a Revolution

Life is good. In fact, life has been good. Overall, compared to my parents' lives, I'm having a good one. It's a bit boring, but that's expected. I'm a bit of a boring person. Me = bourgeois sensibilities wrapped in some aspiration for 'hipness' sprinkled with the occasional (feigned, I'm told) sympathy for socialist ideals. It's all very predictable. I was trying to figure out the other day whether I was in the 99% or the 1%. According to this at the Wall Street Journal, I am apparently part of the 99%. I am, however, above 77% of the U.S. population. That's a pretty significant statistic. That means that I make more money than approximately 240 million people in this country. (See here.)

Thinking about incomes. My initial income in graduate school (my first year) was $12,500 (before taxes). This was the 1998-1999 school year. I was able to live pretty decently in Pittsburgh with that income. I'm not sure how, actually. I think the income increased marginally and by my third year it was $15,000 per year. I lived in a one-bedroom apartment in the border between Oakland and Shadyside (in a very nice area, actually) and it was an area that might be termed 'gentrified.' I bought CDs (plastic things with music on them) frequently, spent money on alcohol and um other things, traveled a bit here and there. I went to England in 2000, which was a lovely visit.

I moved to New York in September 2001 (actually physically moved into my place on 112th St. between Broadway and Amsterdam on October 25) and my rent was about $750. By that time, I think I made $20,000 (before taxes) but I don't remember feeling particularly poor. In fact, it was good times, as far as I can recall, in terms of money at least. Shit, I saw a ton of bands, including Tool, who were Goddamn expensive.

There was a big jump, obviously when I got a 'real' job, which was in the fall of 2005. But for New York standards it was relatively low--I've since discovered that academic starting salaries in the humanities are the lowest at my institution in New York.

Which brings me to the election. Occasionally, people will bring up the current 'race' between the Romney, Gingrich, Paul, etc. I have some basic knowledge of their policies. I don't follow things too closely but I am aware of their positions on a few important things. I am also somewhat cognizant about Obama and his policies the past three years. My basic position on all of this has been very accurately articulated by one Matt Taibbi, he of the ceaseless wit and genius brain. He notes:

... this 2012 race may be the most meaningless national election campaign we’ve ever had. If the presidential race normally captivates the public as a dramatic and angry ideological battle pitting one impassioned half of society against the other, this year’s race feels like something else entirely.
In the wake of the Tea Party, the Occupy movement, and a dozen or more episodes of real rebellion on the streets, in the legislatures of cities and towns, and in state and federal courthouses, this presidential race now feels like a banal bureaucratic sideshow to the real event – the real event being a looming confrontation between huge masses of disaffected citizens on both sides of the aisle, and a corrupt and increasingly ideologically bankrupt political establishment, represented in large part by the two parties dominating this race.

He adds that "the candidate who raises the most money wins an astonishing 94% of the time" in the United States.

I understand that people care about elections. I also understand that Americans (especially young white middle class Americans) find it anathema to consider the option of not voting. But that is essentially my stance. I am tired of voting for the lesser of two evils as opposed to someone I want to be president. I voted for Obama in 2008 (with some hesitation). But I did. On election night, I was really excited, actually. I texted back-and-forth with a friend about the future. It was a hopeful moment. But that moment is gone. Perhaps it's lazy to say that Obama has disappointed. But I like to think that I have substantive reasons for thinking that none of the candidates, Republican or Democrat, represent truly egalitarian values. This is not a personal slight against Obama. I'm sure he is a very nice person (unlike, say, Gingrich). But what is one to do, if one believes in a set of things and none of the candidates subscribes to those values? Voting is where we get to exercise our democratic prerogative(s). But voting has been rendered an empty shell by the dollar signs in everyone's eyes.

Most of the musicians I like seem to be on the Democrat divide, which is not surprising. But few are for a truly revolutionary approach. I'm not talking about fringe figures but mainstream figures. It seems quaint to remember, but in the 1980s, there were 'mainstream' bands who espoused (almost) revolutionary impulses. There were punks (Dead Kennedys comes to mind) of course but also mainstream artists who were culturally and politically in the avant garde (even R.E.M., of course, and the Smiths who sang "The Queen is Dead," Bruce Springsteen, even John Mellencamp, and yes, even the uber-produced contribution of Bruce Hornsby). The 2000s and the 2010s have been periods of artistic orthodoxy. More or less, anyway. You see bands lining up to support Obama when he's basically been a shill for corporate leeches.

I guess I'm saying that music that is politically radical yet popular is a thing of the past. I'm open to be proven wrong -- that Obama is the one to vote for. But until, then:

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Whale & Wasp

Calling a hotel in Moscow the "Volga Hotel" is like calling an Indian restaurant the "Prince of India" (or the "The Taj" or the "Taj of India"). It's a bit obvious. Here in the Volga Hotel, I am listening to the Jar of Flies EP from 1994, early 1994, I think. I have a vague memory of a shadow of a wisp from that time of being in my red pickup truck and listening to something off this on my radio. That truck actually belonged to my brother-in-law but he gave it to me for free. It was totally beat up and a piece of crap from 1985. It was a Toyota, though. It had nothing inside except what bore only the faintest resemblance to a radio. Radio in western Massachusetts at that time was an obvious blend of post-grunge lite mixed in with some heavier guitar fare. I didn't like much of it but I did listen to a lot of it because I had no other options. Remember those bands? Blind Melon, Hole, Local H, Stone Temple Pilots, the Offspring, and so on. Mostly horrible bland stuff. But there's something about hearing a song on the radio, that precise moment when the song comes on, and you are about to switch stations but then you don't, 'cause you know, it's too much trouble, and there's no one around to judge you anyway. So why not listen to that new song?

Alice in Chains, I think, was better than that. They had some good ideas. They seemed to have cornered that halcyon genre of navel-gazing nihilism wrapped in commercial-sounding metal. I liked them, even though (or especially because, perhaps) they were a bit of a downer. Shove my nose in shit, indeed.

I had an eventful day today. Big day in Moscow. But if you don't tell anybody about it, did the events actually happen?

I feel like this right now, though: