Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Daughtry is Distracting You All

I’m not the type to use music as the background for my life—I use life as the background for my music. Subsumed within song, dictated by it and sublimated into it, life is a dizzying stream of physicality that is, on a good day, sufficiently benign and uneventful to remain ignored. If something tragic or gripping pulls me out of music consciousness for few moments, I don’t panic. I play something by Death Cab, move the headphones to release the depressions in my ears, and embrace, again, soundtrack as foreground. Said another way, if life didn’t stop to notice me, I fear I’d never notice it.

The above paragraph may or may not be true. I’m sure, however, that it encapsulates my experience last night: a normally uncharged bus ride from New Jersey to Manhattan hosted a wedding between music and soul, a fusion of melody, mind, rhythm, and bone. I didn’t so much enjoy or anticipate or feel the music so much as I embodied it, manifested it, imparted it-was it. My skeleton spontaneously generated sound and vibration, and my gesticulations produced the energy that powered the instruments.

This very private, very enthralling experience illuminated two things: first, that listening to music alone is entirely different than sharing it with other people; and second, that trance music is an abused substance when taken in public. Trance is perhaps the most meditative genre, with a booming, unrelenting pulse and deeply hypnotic textures (hence, “trance”). Its manifestation in most countries, however—especially in Goa, Europe, and Israel, where trance is an overt, dominant style—is extremely juvenile. People obnoxiously announce that they “totally just took some e,” that they’re “raging hard” and “getting their ass melted.” All of these are valid things to experience and to say, but it’s the WAY they say it that denigrates the trance experience. It’s analogous to getting married, and then, on the wedding night, having your spouse belch, grab his/her balls, and say, “I’m pleased as shit to be married to you.” It’s a nice, legitimate thought, but the expression is disgusting.

Popular music is made for mass consumption: three-and-a-half minute songs replete with verse, chorus, bridge, memorable hook, and catchy chord progressions. Millions of people hear songs built this way, memorize them, and go to concerts to sing along. I was recently forced (read: drunk and not wanting to reach for the remote) to watch the music video for Daughtry’s “Home”, and it struck me that, in the live performance shots, everyone was singing along. Apparently, people love to use their voices when they listen to music, and will take any opportunity to do so—lyrics, a sing-along solo, etc. Trance, for all its virtues, does not indulge that love for singing, since it has no lyrics to parrot or easy-speak melodies to hum, nothing that feeds into our predisposition to use our voices. It leaves you verbally frustrated, and that spawns the phenomenon of people compulsively proclaiming how intoxicated they are.

Public trance, therefore, is problematic, since speech-starved masses are left with nothing to say besides for jamband platitudes like, “sick set, bro.” That same emptiness, though, is perfect for personal mediation. Without words or simple tunes, trance is not distracting in the same way that other music tends to be. Singing along is a diversion, a canard, only the apocryphal crux of a song. Trance strips away that element, and leaves purity—a timbre, a tempo, and nothing else. It brings out the same simplicity in the listener, but it cannot if the sweaty, tattooed fan next to you is rubbing his arms and asking if you want to blow lines in the bathroom. Not that you should turn down his offer—that’s between you, God, and your therapist—but it might not be conducive to an introspective evening.

Stay Situational, Trance’s Hypnotic Value
MC Music Machine

Friday, October 26, 2007

Reading and Writing: Only One Is Important

I’m a slow reader. Always have been. Even when I pored over John Grisham and Mario Puzo in the third grade—which would be remarkably precocious if I’d been reading them for any reason other than prepubescent thrill-seeking—I’d settle on a chapter for 45 minutes and then go to bed. Completing any book prompted a monumental celebration, followed by the dread and foreboding that accompanied my pacing up and down the fiction aisles at the Teaneck Public Library while I hunted for the next read.

I’m much better at continuing books than starting or ending them—starting means arousing enough determination to begin Chapter One, while ending means parting with a project that took weeks of concentration and commitment. Finishing a book is like sleeping with a girl, insofar as both are memorable victories fraught with pleasure, tribulation, patience, and surprise. And you can’t catch syphilis from a book, which is both the beauty and the boredom in reading.

Books, however, are inconsequential—you could live your whole life without reading one and be perfectly alright. The advertisement may claim that “reading is fun-damental,” but it’s not. Reading is something we all entreat ourselves to do, in hope of some short-term recreation and a heavier dose of long-term cognitive benefit. It’s a type of working out that doesn’t usually pay immediate dividends, whose value lies primarily in a future point that may or may not arrive. It’s beyond comprehension that there are so many Barnes & Noble bookstores sprinkled throughout New York, the one place of all the impatient metropolises wherein people never have the time to read. In fact, reading for pleasure has been replaced in New York City by a) reading for necessity on the subway—newspapers and work-related items; b) porn; and c) big-bicepped romance novels purchased on the top floor of a seedy bookstore; namely, porn. Manhattan literacy consists in the neurotic and erotic, while the novel and short story have long been forsaken.

I conveniently espouse that I prefer writing to reading. My reasoning is sound: it takes me virtually as long to read as it does to write, while writing is infinitely more proactive and exponentially more interesting. It also places me in total control, which, unlike finishing a book, is nothing like sleeping with a girl. I could either spend hours searching for the right book or minutes writing something of my own. Writing is easy—unlike playing music, construction, or most other things, it doesn’t require special skills. If you can talk, you can write. If you can think, you can write. If you can hold a conversation, you can write. If you ever speak to yourself, you probably should write. If music were writing, you’d only have to hum to compose a song. History’s “great writers” are just diligent thinkers, while those who claim that they can’t write are merely refusing to encode their sentient processes. Illiteracy or a language barrier is one thing, but, barring those, anyone could write something of import. Poke around Amazon or Blogger or the Onion, and it’s clear that writing only demands an expandable idea and a little free time. It’s just like masturbation, except without an orgasm. So it’s not like masturbation at all—but it is like sleeping with a girl.

Stay Slow, Reading
DJ Dawes Green

Friday, October 19, 2007

Terrorist Psychology, or, Fundamentalist H-O-R-S-E

Do terrorists have social anxiety? Phobias? Besides for the prospect of eternal damnation, do you suppose terrorists fear anything us laymen do? I, for one, am terrified of heights, humongous empty rooms with high ceilings, and Philadelphia. But someone seemingly unafraid of death—and of imposing his or her own death, moreover—couldn’t possibly fear spiders or public speaking, right?

Think terrorists have blogs? Does Osama bin Laden unwind by jotting down his musings on Wahabi Islam and Dispensationalist Christianity?

The underlying question here is, do terrorists have lives? Not just phobias and blogs, but do they have hobbies, artistic interests, secret handshakes, H-O-R-S-E contests, the mundane, recreational things that, here in the West, we associate with a well-crafted lifestyle? The answer is probably “yes,” that terrorists do, indeed, have lives outside of their suicidal, apocalyptic designs. But how could someone who’s come to peace with killing him/herself in the name of heaven possibly engage in anything else? It seems incongruous, as though the commitment to take lives—including one’s own, in some cases—subsumes and negates everything else.

The notion that the 9/11 hijackers made sure to squeeze in one last game of backgammon is one of the more intriguing existential concepts I could ever imagine. While the image itself is laughable, and completely irrelevant in a pragmatic way, it is nonetheless an abstract powder keg. Think about it this way: if Atta and co. did not stop for one last board game hurrah, it only proves further that these murderers were less than human, that there wasn’t even that spark of normalcy that we all possess. And, if they did throw together a round-robin tournament late on the night of September 10th, it only proves further that these murderers were less than human, that there wasn’t even that spark of normalcy that we all possess. Philosophically, they’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t—if they played backgammon, they’re heinous, unfeeling killers, and if they simply said their prayers and turned in early, they’re hyper-murderous automatons.

We try very hard to dehumanize terrorists. The media usually depicts them with a wrap around their faces, purposely concealing their countenances. We refer to groups of them as “cells,” instead of the words we use for groups in our culture, like “teams,” “squads,” or even “forces.” I’ll be the first to admit that there is a quantitative difference between a band of terrorists and the San Francisco 49ers, the former being sanguinary death-dealers and the latter a professional football team. There is certainly a difference between what terrorists do when they convene and what a true “team” does on the field. Even a legitimate military, unscrupulously bloodthirsty though it may be, is quite distinct from rogue terrorists. Even so, it’s still curious that, even in our parlance, we dehumanize terrorists, while our media literally hides their faces.

Obviously, they don’t deserve any better. Terrorists are below shit, whether we can see their faces or not. But if one played guitar or collected stamps, it would say a lot about his/her psychology. At best, it could be a counter-terrorism tool. I’m no terrorist, but someone who wants something from me is infinitely more likely to get it if he/she (usually she) knows how my brain works. The same approach could apply to the jihadists, and perhaps stymie something terrible.

And if that doesn’t work, we can always read Osama’s blog.

Stay Scary, Big Rooms with High Ceilings
DJ Dread

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

(Airport) Terminal 5

If you've ever been curious about what 40,000 square feet of noise, skinny jeans, and iridescent blue bathrooms looks like, wonder no longer: Terminal 5 is your cavernous answer. This past Thursday, October 11, the newest venue from the Bowery Presents (papas already to the Bowery Ballroom, Webster Hall, the Mercury Lounge, and the brand-new Music Hall of Williamsburg) opened on the West side lot that used to host Club Exit. Remnants of the space's previous tenant are scarce, totaling just a still-half-pink stairwell and--presumably--some of the same young clientèle that used to shake its collective, gainfully employed booty on Friday and Saturday nights at what was one of the largest clubs in Manhattan.

Terminal 5's official capacity is 3,000 people, but the edifice is spacious enough to accommodate closer to 5,000. Its layout is unnerving at first, with so many stairwells and alcoves and doorways that, for the first time in my life, I was intimidated and mildly insulted by a building. The personal affront stemmed from the conviction that Terminal 5 purposely aimed to bewilder and confound, and on opening night it took until The National galloped into the three-beat shuffle of "Fake Empire" for me to find my happy place: a bank of couches, set up at right angles and supplemented by ottomans, in the far recesses of the second balcony. Like I said, Terminal 5 is huge (fucking huge, even), and the couches are the best example of its expanse. Even on the venue's inaugural night, with a sell-out crowd exploring every inch and alveolus of a just-opened space, we were the only people sitting on the couches. There was no one within even 20 feet of us, and the bar to our left was our own personal watering hole. We've all been to so many crowded, germy clubs that it was a revelation to feel at peace both with my immediate radius and the bottom of my shoes. No gum, no sickly spit, no unidentified liquid, and no adhesive fliers advertising a band's MySpace page.

There is a downside to all this luxury: Terminal 5 is expensive as hell. Tickets for most shows hover around 30-35 dollars, and, as is the case at any self-respecting purveyor of spirits in Manhattan, beers cost about $7.50 and mixed drinks cost even more. Furthermore, while being situated between 11th and 12th Avenues is optimal for housing an enormous building, you have to venture eastward for a few long blocks to reach any subway. Late at night, the walk is a pain in the ass for guys and a safety concern for hotties, not to mention how burdensome the schlep might be in a month or two with snow on the ground and wind gusts coming off the Hudson.

Still, we finally have a comfortable place to see a concert in New York. Admittedly, even my favorite venue (the Bowery Ballroom) has sightline issues and sticky floors. My least-favorite place to see a concert (the Lion's Den) is too loud and too hot, and it's impossible to see the stage from the back half of the room. Terminal 5 is (probably) too big, (definitely) hard to navigate, and on most nights stands to resemble a Spin Magazine Subscriber convention. But you can see the stage, the sound is perfect, there's tons of booze, and the couches might as well be emblazoned with the advertisement, "Make out here without seeming creepy."

The only place half that potentially libidinous is the Delancey, a much smaller club all the way downtown. With a tropical-themed roof and a pleasingly dank, dark cellar sandwiching a respectable bar in between, there are three genres of getting-it-on at your disposal: exotic, grungy, and traditional. In much the same way, Terminal 5 offers a cross-section of feelings, from its industrial warehouse frame to its Yuppie crowd to its homey furniture. So what if it's a long stroll from the train? At least you won't feel like you're packed on the subway the entire time you're there.

Stay Spacious, Terminal 5
DJ Disoriented

Sunday, October 14, 2007

In Rainbows: Oh, the Crap I Gave Before I Listened

“In Rainbows” might not be the most masculine album title, but it certainly encapsulates Radiohead’s multicolor mood swings. In the last 10 years or so, no band has matched Thom Yorke and co. as a vibe contagion—as deeply as “There There” lolls in resigned masochism, “Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box” is a directive to move, to make like a well-dressed greaser at a machine politics cocktail party. “Packt” makes you feel so sinister, so outside society’s grasp, that it functions better as a motivational tool than as a song.

Just as remarkable, if not more, is the way Radiohead released their brand-new album, “In Rainbows.” Their last work, “Hail to the Thief,” completed their pact with their label, so they decided to release this new one sans corporation. The album is being sold both in hard copy and as a download (about a 40MB Zip file), and is only available at radiohead.com. Here’s the twist: you, the buyer, decide how much you want to pay. You simply type in the desired price, anything from zero pounds and up (they’re a British band), and you’re immediately sent a link for the download or ordering instructions for the hard copy.

I downloaded “In Rainbows” today, and I’m giving it a mediocre review despite listening to only three-and-a-quarter songs. It’s distinctly lacking in fire, and its few strong moments are overshadowed by the reality that, on “In Rainbows,” Radiohead sounds like a Radiohead cover band. The melodies and beats are derivative, and the vocals are, on a good portion of the verses, pretty uninspired.

But that’s not the point, at least not in today’s music market. Radiohead’s sales technique was, from the start, bound to overshadow the album’s content—in ten years, “In Rainbows” will be remembered primarily as the album Radiohead independently sold for no price, and not as the average listen it really is.

In all, this year’s album crop has been just that: average. Ben Harper’s new CD was OK, as were the latest Kanye and 50 records. Indie releases were solid, if not stellar, as the Arcade Fire’s "Neon Bible," for example, wasn’t as scintillating as 2004’s "Funeral." "Zeitgeist," the first album from the reunited Smashing Pumpkins, is ironically titled, since it unintentionally captures the perfunctory attitude of our time. The problem for songwriters like Yorke and Billy Corgan is that there we're currently floating between artistic epochs. We are steadily digging our globally-warmed, watery graves, and we're hacking away at a devastating, dead-end war in Iraq, but the public hasn't sufficiently mobilized to drive an artistic age.

Someone told me recently that we’re living in the “post-post-modern” age, the restless ennui of post-modernism supplanted by a docile, inert era. It’s hard to define “post-post-modernism,” since “post-modernism” itself inherently escapes description, but we might summarize our era as follows: we’re living in the time that came after the time that came after something important. We had classicism and industrialization a century ago, which dictated the Western world’s socio-artistic values. Post-modernism followed, hand-in-hand with deindustrialization, and we knew was that it was some kind of answer to modernism, that it pushed back against the strict definitions and mechanization of the early twentieth century. Now, in the era after post-modernism, we don’t know how to regard ourselves. If post-modernism is Point A, we're having trouble getting to Point B, since Point A is undefined in the first place. Our current station is the amorphous follow-up to an era of absolute chaos and intrinsic disorder. We’re floating in the clouds, in rainbows, and without an intellectual GPS. We’re living in pretty mediocre times, and our music, our art, and our zeitgeist reflect just how aimless we’re feeling.

Stay Stolid, In Rainbows
DJ Desultory

Thursday, October 11, 2007

One Test, Twenty-Eight Backwards Haikus, and Five Self-Satisfactions

There is a vengeful beast lurking inside the New York City public college system. It’s called the CPE: the CUNY (City University of New York) Proficiency Exam. Administered to every CUNY student after the completion of at least 40 credits, the CPE tests basic academic skills: reading comprehension, comparative analysis, and sitting in a packed room sweating your ass off.

The CPE has two sections, and the first asks the student to compare and contrast two essays. My test, for example, asked me to distinguish between the philosophies of two writers, one who espouses the benefits of modern technology and another who lambastes modernity as a soulless departure from upstanding, traditional living. I called the first writer a sage and the second, Amy Wu, a terrorist. I referenced the Taliban. I figured that was good enough.

The student is allotted two hours for Part A; I finished in 35 minutes, as did most of the people at my table. However, CUNY rules mandate that students must sit until the full two hours expire—even bathroom breaks are, literally, against the rules. So, armed with nothing but two number-two pencils, a pen, and two sheets of scrap paper, I set about writing twenty-eight haikus. However, because I'm an idiot I thought that haikus are arranged 7 syllables-5 syllables-7 syllables, while in fact they're 5-7-5. Herein is a sample of my incorrect work (I just hope the test graders don't see what I did and flunk me for it):

Hand inside the cookie jar
Caught with your pants down
Blowjob and chocolate chips

Trick or Treat! It’s Halloween
Dress up like a ghoul
Don’t rape a kid in costume

Conspiracy JFK
Bullets in Dallas
Texans own too many guns

The haikus touched on a number of significant world issues, from Ahmadinejad (conveniently 5 syllables) to alcoholism (conveniently concealable). At one point, the person seated across from me was scribbling on his own scrap paper and, like me, counting on his fingers. I assumed he was also writing haikus, at least until I asked him about it during the break between Parts A and B, whereupon he said, “No man, I don’t know what I was doing. I was just counting.” That, if nothing else, describes exactly how boring it is to wait for Part A to end.

Part B was even more scintillating than its predecessor. We were given a three-paragraph synopsis of how much meat and vegetables Americans ate in 1970 as compared to how much meat and vegetables they ate in 1980, 1990, and 2000. On the opposite page sat two USDA graphs, one with statistics about meat consumption during those years, and the one below with the same stats for vegetables. Our assignment was to determine whether the paragraphs and graphs said the same thing (really). They didn’t. Not even close. So I said so. We were given a complete hour for Part B, but most of us discharged the task in under 10 minutes. Mercifully, they let us out as soon as we finished, in lieu of making us wait the full hour, noting that, “You guys are really fast test-takers. I guess we’ll have to make an exception for you.”

I took a physical inventory as I left the testing center. Two number-two pencils: check. One pen: check. My bookbag: check. Serious B.O., left armpit: check. Trudging down the hallway afterwards, I called my friend JackO, who had taken the same test in a different room. The exchange:

Me: “I think I’m stupider now.”
JackO: “I finished Part B in 10 minutes. I don’t know what the fuck everyone was writing so much for.”
Me: “I called Amy Wu a terrorist.”
JackO: “I said that modern technology describes not how we live, but what we are.”
Me: “I don’t know what that means. What are you doing tonight?”
JackO: “Going to the Apple Store and seeing Resident Evil.”
Me: “With a girl?”
JackO: “Yup.”
Me: “A little make-out in the theater?”
JackO: “Fuck no, it’s Resident Evil!”
Me: “You know, if you were 14, you’d be dying for any ass. Look how old you are.”
JackO: “If I were 14, I’d be dying for a new type of Vaseline. Or a way to jack off five times a day without getting arrested.”

Confident that I’d passed the CPE (it’s administered on a purely pass/fail basis), and that JackO struggles with some combination of addictive masturbation and the law, I stopped by another building on campus to see Sideburns, who asked me how the test was.

“Retarded,” I told her (yes, Sideburns is a girl. She doesn’t have sideburns. Her nickname for me is “Big White”). “I wrote 28 haikus. And I called a female author a terrorist.” It was almost 10 o’clock, and both of us were exhausted, me from a two-hour, 10-minute brain drain, and her from being forced to listen to at least 10 of my non-haiku haikus.

Thus, a proper way to conclude:

Stay Swapped, Lines in My Haikus
Wu a Terrorist
MC Meat Consumption Stats

Monday, October 8, 2007

Please Call for My Drool Cup

I’m contemplating going crazy. Not shitting-my-pants, hearing-voices, punching-my-own-reflection crazy, but something in the “imbalanced” region. Slightly off, perhaps, is the appropriate nomenclature. I wouldn’t do it for very long, and I’d have specific goals in mind, like procuring medication, an extended vacation, and lots of sympathy. I wouldn’t go crazy enough to scare anybody, and I’d terminate the project immediately if the benefits didn’t work out exactly as I wanted them. I suppose I wouldn’t be “crazy” at all, insofar as I’d have complete control over my mental state—and I suppose, further, that having pinpoint control over my faculties is the exact opposite of crazy—but I’d fake it really well. Plus, never say never: I wouldn’t object to punching a mirror or two if I had to.

Why feign insanity, you ask (as if drugs and time off aren’t sufficient motivation)? Because I’m curious about how people regard the insane. Movies portray the fissure between sanity and psychosis in various degrees of acceptability, while popular literature aggrandizes psychosis to a larger extent than one might assume is realistic. The dichotomy in how we perceive and categorize the process of going crazy is pronounced: on the one hand, we romanticize it—we associate artistic and academic genius with it, and ally it with great personalities of our time. On the other hand, we think that crazy people are crazy. We don’t think they’re sexy, and we don’t want anyone we know—no matter how brilliant—to become afflicted with imbalance.

There is just one indisputable fact concerning going nuts: it happens. The question of how often it happens, why it happens, and how we classify it is less discernible than the circumstance itself. But is it useful to go crazy? That’s the intriguing, potentially lucrative question—could it spawn a new career, or some efficacious product to which only a fractured mind could give rise? We all know that both Dave Chappelle and Mike Tyson nearly lost their respective careers because of mental illness, but there have been, presumably, world leaders whose own psychotic breaks have vaulted them to power. Travel to a place like Cuba, North Korea, or Iran, and despite any personal or ideological differences you may have with the leadership, you’d have to agree that insanity goes a long way towards ensuring a vice-like rule.

Herein lies the intrigue: would my trajectory more closely resemble Castro or Tyson? Moreover, I don’t think that pretending I'm nuts would hurt the experiment, since empirical evidence indicates that, for some, insanity is partially affected —Tyson and every UFC ultimate fighter being the best examples. They're not as shit nuts as they’d like us to believe. So why can’t I get in on the ruse? Why shouldn’t they share the psychotic glory? Any person willing to risk their personal and professional reputation on a get-rich-quick insanity scheme deserves a piece of the Wellbutrin pie.

So, if you hear about me losing my mind in the next few weeks, don’t be concerned. I’m probably faking it—and if I’m not, at least I’ll be medicated.

Stay on Seroquel, Tyson
DJ Desipramine

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Reflections on Still Being Pissed At the Mets

Everyone’s a douchebag. I wasn’t aware of this when I signed up for existence. I merely checked “English speaking” and “musician” when I filled out the preferences form, learned some in utero calisthenics, and jetted into the womb for what were, regrettably, nine months of celibacy. The saddest revelation of all the sorrowful truths I’ve accrued is, undoubtedly, that my conception of the world and the world’s actual reality are evolving in inversely proportional ways: I grow increasingly sure that there is some bastion of goodwill here on this earth, while this earth continues to defecate large, undigested turds on my face. There is no battle between good and evil; rather, various degrees of evil battle for immoral supremacy.

Think about all the things you learned not to do with strangers: talk to them, take candy from them, get in a car with them. Later, when your father/mother/guardian/teacher/older sibling/LSD tab was edifying you about business, there were a few principles about people that you had to know: everyone just wants your money; everyone’s out for their own ass; everyone is trying to screw you; everyone only sees you as a resource; it’s dog-eat-dog, and everyone’s trying to be the big dog. As if all that weren’t sufficiently disheartening, the real misanthropy lies in the wisdom we impart about relationships. Women are evil. Women are vixens. Men are assholes. Men always cheat. Love is an illusion. Love isn’t real. Love isn’t worth it. Every relationship ends badly.

Quite caustic, this world of ours. Brimming with assholes, overrun with pricks, nothing but people getting fucked while they’re groping for footing: just a big, unfortunate porno where all the actors contract VD. Loving kindness be damned—anyone who’s spent a spiritless five minutes in a law firm knows that we’re litigating our way towards an bleak future. Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.

I’m a bit encouraged by the Live From Abbey Road special on the Sundance Channel, and soothed further by the knowledge that the worst of the Mets’ season is over. There is a new Californication in the TiVo queue and a promising Rangers season about to get underway (Drury and Gomez? What a treat. I don’t deserve this. No, really. You’re too much. Please, take back one of them. I couldn’t possibly. Really? I can have them both? I feel so spoiled. Oh—I still have to watch the NHL on the VERSUS network? I guess life is worse than I thought.) The weather is decent, and it’s been quite some time since I’ve been in a law office. I’m practically oblivious to society’s most venomous sectors (law, politics, health insurance), and I’m at peace, for now, with my iTunes collection.

This life may not be grand, but it has its gentler moments.

Stay Sexual, Dystopian Metaphors
MC Maladjusted