Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Just because he can fingertap the Star Spangled Banner with his dick...

Professional musicians and sound engineers. I'm going to use that category very broadly. I'm going to use it in the same way that someone might use the designation of 'warrior' to describe everyone from the Special Forces operator in Afghanistan to the mall cop who wishes he could carry his mail-order katana while on duty. As you can imagine, for every Neil Pert, John Scofield, or Victor Wooten, for every third tier technician that labored for two years on Fleetwood Mac's 'Tusk', and for every anonymous studio rat that makes an actual living doing ad jingles and the lead-in music for televised fishing tournaments, there's at least a hundred pretenders.

There are easily several dozen thousand guys with half a toe in the door of the music industry. If you're ever in Los Angeles and somebody tells you they're an actor, that's a fancy way of saying they wait tables. It's the same deal in music. Now, of these part-timers and weekend warriors, there is a very annoying subset who have inflated senses of professional accomplishment and of personal musical efficacy. They regard themselves as the unheralded vanguard and dogged preservationists of genuine music. And that makes them assholes.

Well, I'm sure that a few of these particular cats have ascended into the upper ranks. Not all of them qualify as rear echelon motherfuckers (REMFs). Still, I have found that most arrogant assholes aren't arrogant assholes because they know where they stand in the grand scheme of things. With these guys, I'd say it's closely related to all those angry little people with authoritarian personalities that enabled the rise of fascism: they kiss up while stomping down.

Sure, there were a million teenage kids who believed that the revolution would be at hand if they aped Sid Vicious. So what's wrong with being a wannabe? Well, this goes a little beyond that. If we're talking about punk rock, these guys are more analogous to the 'Crassholes' that went around sucking the fun right out of it. In the overarching world of rock-and-roll and jazz, they're the equivalent of Theodor Adorno carping on Stravinsky for being too populist and sentimental, and extolling the abstract cat scratches of Shoenberg in the next paragraph. Or rather, they're the equivalent of Adorno's snooty 1930s High German bourgeois readership, rather than of the great critical theoretician himself.

You see, in the vast, ultra-fragmented world of popular music production and consumption there is a certain subset of individuals whose bent is squarely towards conspicuous studio engineering, self-indulgent displays of technical virtuosity, and anally-retentive formal technique. To an excessive, almost neurotic degree, while oozing with pretension like lobster tails slathered in garlic butter sauce. You know who I'm talking about.

You play them a CD of a band you like and they instantly dismiss it, saying that it's pure shit compared to their third favorite lead guitar wanker that does seven-fingered arpeggios in the Phrygian Dionysian Mynacean scale in twenty-fourths while layering false harmonics in with the diphthongic cantacle overtone superstructure. Blah blah blah. They slobber over the latest bass guru in fusion jazz who can churn out 15 minute spank-and-wank solos on a gigantic 11-string bass guitar that looks like you could play it with mallets. (They stare blankly if you say the names "Ornette Coleman" or "John Zorn", and turn up their noses in derision if you mention the word "Flea.") They fetishize objects such as $5,000 coffee table basses that were carved out of solid slabs of exotic zebrawood with 400 year old luthiery tools originally used by a Viennese cello maker, and veneered with ten interlocking layers of burled walnut, purple heart, and spalted maple. Yeah, that's jazz fusion for you.

They earnestly believe that any example of rock that exhibits less "craftsmanship" than Chicago or Emerson Lake & Palmer is garbage. Well, I suppose the Grateful Dead and Pink Floyd make their cut. And maybe Dream Theater, in spite of their being associated with heavy metal. The one chord wonders of punk rock? It doesn't even qualify as "music." One guy I know is "deeply offended" whenever he sees people digging a three chord rock band, or weird outsider music like Daniel Johnston. "Because I spent all those years perfecting my technique, learning theory, learning how to play things that most people just cannot approach [deep breath]... And I'm supposed to just nod my head and agree when someone who doesn't know anything about music comes and tells me that this is good music!?" That must be what it's like when educated professionals abuse their children.

Needless to say, I always found their bullshit insufferable. And, asshole that I am, I always relished any opportunity I had to piss them off.

So, in the spirit of being an asshole who can't leave well enough alone, I ask this: Why should I consider it 'good music' just because your favorite bass player can fingertap the Star Spangled Banner with his cock? Why should I consider it a great album just because there was a 25 minute organ solo that took up the entire B-side? Why should I consider them awesome musicians because they took their conservatory training and introduced uptown pretension into music that used to be the domain of gutter slime? Yeah, an Aston-Martin is a fine automobile, but let's see it compete with a Jeep in the mud.

If it's rock and it doesn't rock, it ain't shit. And that's whether they know four chords or whether they know every conceivable harmonic on a 24-fret six-string guitar. If it's jazz, and "virtuosity" and "tone" are the two adverbs brought to bear above all the others, then it's entirely uncompelling. If the music doesn't get me going, regardless of how shitty or how slick the musicians making it are, then it fuckin' sucks! How difficult is this for you people to understand? I dislike your favorite jazz fusion musicians not because I'm not enough of a musician to appreciate them. I dislike them because 1.) it fucking puts me to sleep, 2.) the tones their instruments produce are as sterile, over-polished, and innocuous as Art d'Academe paintings of blushing cherubs, 3.) and I associate the music with wine and cheese booster events for a suburban school district in Tuscon, Arizona.

In the end, if you get to be the arbiter of what "good music" is, then I get to be the arbiter of who gets to be called an "arrogant prick." Guess who qualifies?

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Survivalists Vs. Everybody Else

Good evening,

It is not inconceivable that the modern world could collapse catastrophically. Let us go beyond the scheming in Brussels, the sorcery of Wall Street, or the possibility of another 1848 or 1929 in the boom-and-bust cycle inherent to capitalism. I want to address the Specter of Ultimate Bust that hovers over all the world, waiting to see if Fate will greenlight its descent. Let us count the ways.

The planet, or the galaxy, turns against us

Imagine that one day the Earth has the worst case of gas ever. It farts in the form of volcanos. Imagine the Ring of Fire going off all at once. "Went down, down, down / as the flames went higher / and it burns, burns, burns..." If that's how the dinosaurs all died, we can be thankful, for they would have dined on our ancestors before they even had a chance to go up into the trees, let alone come down from them. If it wasn't volcanoes, then it was a massive asteroid strike that covered the Earth in a life-choking shroud of death dust, pretty much killing off 90% of everything. Sure, it could happen again.

Peak oil

Peak oil is where the extraction of petroleum is no longer cost-effective as far as the global economy is concerned. Now, the Earth itself is never going to be depleted of the black goo of industry. Rather, it's just going to become harder and harder to get, until it's just too difficult for it to be worth it anymore. Remember hunting for Easter eggs as a child? All the obvious ones - the pastel blots of purple, yellow, and blue, in contrast to the deep Miracle-Gro green of grandpa's lawn - were scooped up by the shrieking toddlers within minutes.

The more challenging hiding spots weren't too much trouble for you if you were among the older children. However, the ones that your bastard teenaged cousins hid, deviously so, were another matter. Basically, we may soon be down to the Easter eggs that your black sheep uncle hid inside the cactus planter suspended from the patio overhang, and none of us would be tall enough to get them. It was often the case that nobody would ever find these particular eggs. Well, grandma would. A few weeks later. What did Toucan Sam always say to do?

Peak water

Yes, we might someday run short of the clear stuff. Nebraska's aquifer is about to go kaput, and Lake Mead here in Vegas will run dry in 10 years at this rate. African tribes are already skirmishing over water rights, just like in the Old West, except even the relatively powerful can't get their clutches on enough of the stuff. This may be Mother Nature's way of saying that she has diarrhea, and that we're the bacterium who has been irritating her lower bowels.


It's the classic Malthusian dilemma. But it's not just mouths to feed; it's lifestyles. One reason that commodity prices are through the roof these days is that the Chinese and Indians want to live like us. We would need six planet Earths for two billion more individuals to live as Americans do. It doesn't take a Nobel Laureate to figure that something's gotta give.

Nuclear war

The Cold War is over, but nuclear proliferation certainly isn't. Imagine the nightmare scenario of Islamic crazies coming to power in chaotic Pakistan. Not that they could lob one at us, but an exchange with India would kick up a whole lot of glowing green particles, and they might set one aside for Israel, an unofficial nuclear power. In addition, North Korea will be capable of hitting Los Angeles in a few years if they keep working on their dong rockets. The little guy might just be crazy enough to do it.

On top of all that, compare China's rapid industrial ascent in the beginning of the 21st century to Germany's at the beginning of the 20th. If we in America should begin to hear echoes of the anti-Teutonic belligerence that erupted from Britain on the eve of the Great War, start digging a hole in your backyard. Tell the neighbors you're building an underground clubhouse for the kids. After all, your fallout shelter will only keep four people alive until it's safe to see daylight again.


There is an elusive subculture, scattered from the damp forests of the northern Pacific to the stewing swamps of Florida, who do not consider these possibilities remote. They are the survivalists, and thanks to the magic of the interent, you don't have to stumble across their hidden compounds to find out what's on their minds. You will find that in regards to the above threats, they eschew proactive realism towards the big question of humanity's capacity to address these threats. Reactionaries that they are, they veer towards bitter, misanthropic pessimism, and chances are that you fall into one of their broad, hateful categories. Hence the guns.

If you already need Xanax to get through your day

What would it take for you to be reduced to the status of a desperate, starving refugee? Or rather, what would it take for a few hundred million of you to be reduced to the status of desperate, starving refugees? If it comes to that, you're probably going to die. If you don't die, then you will have found a way to live, and chances are that the way you will have found will not be pretty.

If you are a young woman, you might resort to selling your pussy. If you are a young man, you might demonstrate your willingness to rob and kill for the warlord that you would swear fealty to. (Well, it's more likely you'll just end up in old-fashioned slavery. If you're lucky. And you were so snarky when the Marine Corps recruiter approached you on campus!) Yes, you read that right: warlord. Read Somalia as being a microcosm for the postapocalyptic future.

Now, you might be able to demonstrate useful knowledge (such as electrical engineering) that would be of interest to the warlord, which may excuse you from trigger-pulling duties. For the most part. Either way, you're in the employ of a warlord, whether it involves spreading your legs, bayonetting small children, or converting a Diesel engine to run on the reconstituted fat of dead people. Don't like that scenario? Take the easy way out and jump off a building.

The eager sociopaths among the survivalists - the hated among the haters - plan on becoming those warlords. Let's hope that most of them die in the initial chaos. However, per the rules of Darwinism as they seem to be understood among Internet fascists (I am not one of them, so fuck you!), the ones who kill them will themselves become warlords. Worse ones. As for those of you who are kinder and gentler - more 'genteel', even - who understand that cooperation is the optimal path to reconstructing a more rational, sustainable, and humanist civilization: you had better have plenty of guns and ammunition ready for those who would beg to disagree.

Let's say that when the balloon goes up, you are unable to find the well-armed and fortified progressive commune in the forests outside Portland, Oregon, whose mission is to heal the Earth. Or, let's say that the progressive commune was overrun by a howling mob of northeast Portland tweekers, and that those left alive quickly went on to envy the dead. I mean, if you are being cannibalized, it would imply that you are dead. But hell, if you're not dead.... So that option's out the window.

You may try living on your own in the forest, foraging for nature's bounty in the form of berries, roots, and mushrooms. If you don't die right away, you'll quickly find that the Man Vs. Wild reruns you watched back when the TV still turned on are about as useful for wilderness survival as Star Wars is for the field of astrophysics. Suicide? You can take the easy way out any time. Meanwhile, you offer yourself up to the nearest warlord and hope he'll at least turn you into a slave and not into dog food. Literally, into dog food. Pig food, too. The hogs will eat every last bit of you, although your teeth won't sit well with their digestive tracts.

So you think survivalism's for kooks?

Meanwhile, the survivalists who are living up to their internet bluster - more likely, they are the ones who kept their net presence relatively subdued (they don't want to attract the attention of Federal agents, after all) - are sitting pretty on ten years worth of food stores, several dozen acres of arable land, livestock pens full of goats and chickens, and dozens of thousands of rounds of military-grade ammunition. They are entrenched enough and have enough firepower to pile up the corpses of your warlord's thugs by the dozens and hundreds all the live-long day. Chances are the clan patriarch had plenty of experience doing so in Vietnam, with his son's generation having seen their share of it in the Islamic world. Even if the thugs do prevail, good luck figuring out what to do with all that farm equipment once the food stores are picked clean and the animals are all slaughtered.

If you should come across them while still a lone, harmless refugee, hat in hand and begging to be taken in, you'll be lucky if you're just turned away. They already have enough mouths to feed, and since you were just a cubicle dweller prior to being displaced by the apocalypse, you're worse than useless to them. In addition, they might just shoot you so that you won't go on to run your mouth after later being taken captive by thugs. "Shoot, shovel, and shut up" as they often say in the most rural corners of our land. Don't count on pity overwhelming paranoia. Believe me, as of today they have already been thinking long and hard about the possibility of having to dispatch innocent little you should you ever darken their doorstep in that darkest hour.

Ultimately, what is but a paranoid right-wing fantasy today may tomorrow become prophecy realized. Who's crazy now, motherfucker?


In the above nightmare scenario, however unlikely it may be, it would seem that survivalism is the thing to do while you still have the luxury of calling it an eccentric hobby. Yes, you would want to call it that, while insisting vehemently that you're not one of those "right wing nuts in Idaho." After all, scrutiny is one of the survivalist's worst enemies, whether it comes in the form of a curious neighbor or a Federal SWAT team.

For you, the reader, it comes down to a matter of Rational Choice, if you are familiar with the socio-behavioral theory that goes by that name. How likely is that scenario? Is it worth sacrificing your Juicy Couture, your bling-encrusted iPod, your $12 neon martinis, and your stucco townhome to make the dire preperations for something that may or may not happen? (By the way, you're a fucking douchebag.) Would it even save your ass if things got that bad? Life is a gamble, and altogether few of you will elect to live like Jed Clampett before up from the ground came a bubblin' crude. That is, unless you have very compelling reasons to do so.

I'm guessing that if you're anything like the next sane, well-adjusted, complacent American, that you are far from being compelled. Hell, who can blame you? In fact, I'm not all that compelled myself. Aside from bump-in-the-road contingencies like Hurricane Katrina, which in all seriousness you would do very well to prepare for, I'm going to gamble on all that extreme apocalyptic shit not happening in my lifetime. Why else would I remain right smack in the middle of this unsustainable sandblasted neon shit-hole they call Sin City? (Not that I plan on staying here for much longer; few sensible Las Vegans do.) In the end, life is too short to survive.

The Inaugural Post

Good evening. Welcome to Several Minutes Off Your Life, the latest bit of self-indulgence to pock the surface of the Internet. Yes, I have decided to start a blog. Why is this commonplace gesture "self-indulgent", might you ask? First, there is the usual vanity that precipitates the starting up of a blog of almost any kind, regardless of how high or low the blogger is on the cultural totem pole, or how high-minded the blog's explicit purpose is. Second, and despite my knowing better, I harbor the illusion that this activity might somehow enhance my (virtual) social life. Well-read strangers will hold me in esteem, granting me more than my share of cachet for being the penetrating witticist that I am. Right.

Finally, the content of this blog is diffused across a dry lake bed of non-specific miscellany. I believe I am qualified to comment on anything I please, like some Renaissance man of the postmodern era. Lazy as I am, citations and qualifications will be kept at a minimum, so I don't want to hear any carping about that. Now, I do not focus specifically on politics, music, religious affairs, sexuality, pop culture, or any other particular area of late modern life. Nor am I limited to musing reflexively on the day-to-day urban mundane, or the 'oversharing' of my personal melodramas as I approach the age of thirty. Rather, I will write about whatever my goddamn mood pushes me to write about, motherfuckers.

This is a sounding board for me, that I may indulge in the belief that my own thoughts about things are at least of some special import. I honestly believe that it is better for my thoughts - my thoughts - to leave some lasting mark of pollution on the greatest medium of the early 21st century, rather than for them to just rattle around in my brain before fading out. Yes, I believe that my "voice" matters. God, I hate that word. It's so self-serious in that Berkeley way, bordering on treacly, just like the words "the [fill in blank] community", or "solidarity." Fuck you.

I may choose to write about something tomorrow.