Sunday, July 23, 2017

(Fuck You) Wee Rooster - The Bassholes (2017)

We see you, King Cheeto

Saturday, July 22, 2017

DoE Flashback, January 8, 2013: The Trace of Jon Rans, and the Defiance We Owe Him

Jon Rans passed away November 18th, 2012.  Of course, I meant to do this much closer to the event, but when do I ever finish anything in a timely manner?


Before the interwebs, there used to be bulletin boards (at the dawn of the interwebs, they initially referred to online message board sites as bulletin boards).  When I think of bulletin boards, I think specifically of ride board in the student union (pick yr school), with thousands of tattered flyers with tear-off phone numbers, scribbled notes, maps and pins, etc.  Those huge bulletin boards were always a nexus point, an intersection where traces of passages where left, and to where trace vortices pointed to all different points of the compass & forward and backward in time.  Those bulletin boards were coded portals to elsewhere, even if your elsewhere was as prosaic as a ride home for the break.

Lately, the bookshelf stereo in my kitchen has functioned like one of those bulletin board nexus points.  I spend a fair amount of time in my kitchen at home, and the stereo is always booming away as I work.  Stacks of CDs and cassettes have sprouted up around it, always in constant rotation, always spilling all over the place.  In early March of 2010, downloaded copies of 70's Alex Chilton albums burned to CD made it to the stack of burned CDs by the stereo, along with my cassette of an '84 show he did in Bloomington.  Then, in the midst of my Chilton binge, I received news that Chilton had died.  I got a little chill, like someone walked over my own grave . . . those CDs, that tape, became the tattered trace of someone moving on.

In December of 2010, Don Vliet, a.k.a Captain Beefheart, passed away.  Of course there was a Beefheart CD in the player when I heard, but I always have Beefheart in rotation, so I didn't make the connection there.

Last April, Paul's Boutique and a handful of Beastie Boys singles from the Check Your Head era found their way into the cassette stacks for the first time in years; and (you guessed it) Adam Yauch passed about a week later.

This past November, while doing something resembling deep cleaning on the kitchen (really all that means is that I did the windows), Latent Chaos tapes showed up in the stacks.  And then, I found out about the death of Jon Rans.

Another trace left on the board.

In a related note, Dan Willems has expressly forbid me from playing Sick City Four in the kitchen anymore.

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We are always so quick to name ourselves, sometimes more out of a sense of preservation than anything else.  We want to identify with a group, we want the protection of a clique.  So people ask us: what are you?  And we always seem to have an answer.

I don't know how Jon answered that question, but he could have answered it many ways.  He owned a record store (Repeat Performance) and co-owned a club (along with Jeff Weiss, the No Bar and Grill) that was the center of a small but very vital Muncie scene in the 80's.  He was a booker and a promoter.  He was a drummer for garage revivalists The Mystic Groovies and Hoosier avant krautrock noise pioneers Latent Chaos.  He played drums for anyone around who needed a drummer.  He made money restoring and writing about pottery.  He was a father, husband, and probably many other things in a private live I never accessed.  He was so many different things . . . if I had to guess, his answer to the question was "Whatever the fuck I want to be", because that pretty much sums it up.

I met Jon Rans through Tony Woollard.  Tony and I were both from the Muncie area (Anderson for me, New Castle for Tony), but the Muncie scene hadn't started to bubble up when I left Anderson in '79.  Tony and I were in Bloomington and in a band together in '86, and I met Jon when we went up to play the No Bar.

The No Bar was home for a bunch of artistic misfits, and the personality of the place was largely Jon Rans's personality: a sort of base-level, no-shit attitude about doing something to escape the gray oppression of the Midwestern American landscape.  They weren't a pretentious bunch, but neither did they make the mistake of avoiding anything for fear of being called pretentious.  Eccentricity was not a lifestyle choice, but rather a response to a situation, and it was never held against anybody.  They took you as you were, not as they thought you should be.  If you were ever at the No Bar and saw (what you considered to be) an uncool or bullshit band/act up on the stage, you best keep it to yourself, because the first snide comment you dared utter, about five No Bar regulars would turn on you in unison and shout you down: "Well, at least they're up there fucking doing something.  What's your excuse?"  That was the voice of Jon Rans, no matter who was mouthing the words.  That was the ethos of the place: do something.  Take control.  Break through the oppression of the normal.  And that, too, is the legacy of Jon Rans.

There are a lot of people who figure into a musician's deal: there are the artists you idolize up from afar, the musicians you get to know and admire up close.  There are the scene masters, the people who create an atmosphere to do your thing.  There is the audience (who are treated not as "fans", but as a peer group, again per the No Bar ethos), the people around to give you feedback, the people who test your ideas.  There are the people who help you get your deal to a larger world, either by booking/managing your band or releasing your music to the world at large.  Jon Rans (again, along with Jeff Weiss) was all of these things to me.  I started out as a Latent Chaos fan when those avant-weirdos seemed distant to me, I stayed a Latent Chaos fan when I stood in an audience with a handful of people mere feet away from them.  I got to go onstage with them at the No Bar to lay down sheets of guitar noise for an unruly version of "Golden Moments", a memory I find touching to this day.  And beyond all that, there were the (all too rare!) times when Tony and I showed up at the shop, or hung out with him at Second Story at a Mystic Groovies gig, just to shoot the shit.

I'm not going to pretend that I knew Jon well, because I didn't.  That perhaps makes it all the more remarkable that I always felt like I did know him well whenever I was around him.  He was that type of guy.

I'm not going to be the one that tells you stories about Jon being in a better place, or Jon looking down beatifically upon those of us left behind.  I'm not going to tell you that Jon is still with us like some ethereal phantom that wafts in and out of the physical world.  I don't have time for such fairy tales.  But before he gets lost in the cultural detritus, before he descends into the scrap heap of history, I will tell you that he lives.  He lives in those who bought into his ethos, he lives for those who modeled parts of their lives around his example.  He lives for those of us left who refuse to knuckle under to the narratives presented to us for our lives, who continue to fly in the face of whatever odds there are to do what it is we do, to do SOMETHING.  Jon Rans lives through me, and everyone else who he touched . . . and he will continue to live at least until they pry my guitar from my cold, dead hands.  It is that defiance, in the end, that I feel I owe Jon.


Friday, July 21, 2017

DoE Flashback, October 2, 2008: The Banality of Greed

I recently read an atrocious little volume called Cosmopolis by Don DeLillo. It reminded me of Tom Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities, another novel I hate. At the same time I was reading Cosmopolis, I was reading Wall Street Versus America, Gary Weiss's book on Wall Street greed, corruption, and incompetence. And then, shoes started dropping on Wall Street. Ah, synchronicity . . .

There's a lot of anger associated with all the bank and brokerage failures, even before the government started dumping chunks of the treasury into these private clusterfucks. Apropos DeLillo and Wolfe, we imagine the villains to be the so-called "masters of the universe" (a coinage of Wolfe's from BotV) that run Wall Street. While the stink of deep soul corruption hangs like a dank fog over the centers of money and power, the roots of the greed that bore this toxic fruit are sunk deep into the everyday soil that we ourselves tread. Contrary to the sexy elitist makeover that DeLillo and Wolfe (among many, many others) foist upon it, greed is, in fact, banal & pervasive.

A few years back, there was an exodus of salesman from my workplace into the mortgage industry. It was where the money was. As far as I know, it was all kinds of high-risk paper: re-fi, no money down mortgages, etc. A few of them came back because they weren't comfortable with the business. The idea was to pistol whip as much of this paper through as possible, any way possible. As an agent, you are not allowed to make judgements concerning a customer's ability to pay. Now, that sounds reasonable, except sometimes the customer just doesn't know what the hell is going on. You can sit there knowing damn well the customer isn't going to be able to make the payments, but as long as your bosses keep stamping it and sending it up one more level . . . well, not your problem. It's your job to pump paper into the pipeline, it's someone else's job to kick it back out. The more paper you pump, the better off you are.

This isn't Glengarry Glen Ross stuff here, this is just a bunch of kids trying to get themselves enough extra cash to get a new car, or a big screen TV. They want to impress their bosses, they want to make a reputation, so racking up big numbers is the way to do that. To get the numbers, you push limits as far as possible. A client may have put down that he makes $50,000 a year as a Burger King shift manager, but is it the agent's job to question that? Well, no, however unlikely, it is possible. Or there's that guy with his own "lawn service" who makes $70,000 - once again, it is possible, even if that broke-down 10 year old F-150 with a push mower and a couple weedeaters in back says otherwise. It's not the agent's job to be detective. Thought about a transaction can never be "is this the right thing to do, for the client and for the company?"; rather, all attention has to be focused into "what is the best way to maximize this deal for me?". The real face of the mortgage crisis isn't Cosmopolis's Eric Packer betting huge mountains of cash against the rise of the yen, it's a kid working far too many hours, going out and getting drunk after work, coming in again with just a couple hours of sleep, and having to borrow $10 to eat lunch the day before payday. The face of the mortgage crisis isn't one of Wolfe's "masters of the universe", it's a harried father trying to push a little extra paper so he can afford a babysitter and a rare night out for his wife on payday. This isn't the outscale greed that splices itself to hubris, this is the greed that puts the simple desire for a little self-gratification above everything else.

Of course, the outscale greed and hubris of Wall Street "power brokers" is involved in this as well: the actual crash is linked largely to a crisis with derivatives, bizarre creations whose only function appears to be generating cash with no extra collateral. And, as much as we feel for the homeowners who were duped into these shitty loans, as a certain point they have to be held responsible for their own decisions (it's rare that a prospective mortgage client actually gets lied to - they just don't get the full truth unless they ask). Even here, though, the banality of greed permeates: the Wall Street guys creating "financial products" were just doing their jobs, like the mortgage guys whipping bad paper at the wall to see what sticks. The homeowners jumping into risky mortgages with one eye open and their noses plugged were just grasping for what has been defined as the American Dream. Broken down to an individual level, greed doesn't seem much different than the inability to avoid that bag of chips in the vending machine when you have change in your pocket.

Wolfe and DeLillo want to make Greek tragedy out of greed. In so doing, they glorify greed even if, as in Greek tragedy, the greedy hero gets it in the end. Ultimately, DeLillo wants us to admire Eric Packer, even if we don't necessarily love him. The implication is clear: greed is something grand and desirable. They are wrong: greed is banal, pervasive, and menial. And it is destroying our culture.