SUNDAY JANUARY 26
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY
As promised, a link to Thomas Friedman's second Thinking About Iraq essay, this one exploring "why conservative advocates of ousting Saddam underestimate the risks." I'd like to promise that next week this site will be back to the really positive discussions, but given the events of the coming week (Inspectors report to the UN on Monday, Bush gives State of the Union address on Tuesday), I can't be certain. Here's hoping and praying we're not at War this time next week. (My gut tells me we won't be.)
SATURDAY JANUARY 25
THOUGHTS FOR THE DAY
Here's Christopher Hitchens in, of all unlikely places, the Daily Mirror. (Note the 'Not In Our Name' petition in the side bar.) He advocates immediate action.
And this is Bill Keller in today's New York Times. He recommends patience for several reasons, including the same one I mentioned yesterday.
FRIDAY JANUARY 24
CHILD ABUSE - OF A DIFFERENT KIND
I was rendered somewhat depressed yesterday after composing my thoughts on the seemingly inevitable invasion of Iraq. Like everyone (I hope!) visiting this site, I'd sooner spend my time discussing music, pop culture, football, literature, wine, and social advancements than the prospect of killing each other. And yet the very real threat of war seems to be occupying everyone's thoughts right now even when we're not actually discussing it. My Inbox is filled with essays and petitions, some well-meaning, some entirely mis-guided, some still resurrecting that ridiculous online petition from late 2001, with the same signatures from Grenoble and defunct e-mail address at its head. Late night surfs around the web reveal that the level of poisonous hate is the same among leftist bloggists at it is among rightists. Arrgh!
I also spent much of yesterday with a nagging feeling that I had missed something vitally important in my opening salvo about the child soldiers in Iraq. (Incidentally, the Village Voice included a photo of 'Saddam's Lions' in its print version, showing these very young children handling machine guns and wearing uniforms; the web site doesn't have that worrisome image.) I woke up this morning and immediately knew what it was: surely the use of such young children in armed conflict is illegal under international law?
It is. The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict was adopted by the United Nations in May 2000 and came into force in February 2002. The Amnesty International site states that "The treaty, which bans participation of under-18s in armed conflicts, represents a significant advance in the protection of children's rights." But in case you think that a two-year old Optional Protocol didn't give Saddam Hussein enough time to change his own policies he is, after all, famously slow at acting on United Nations resolutions - let me quote further from the Amnesty International website. "Amnesty welcomes the Protocol as a significant advance over existing international standards, which permit children as young as 15 to be legally recruited and sent into conflict."
To summarize, long-standing previous "international standards" banned children under 15 from being "sent into conflict." The new standard bans those under 18 from being sent into conflict. (The USA, UK, Germany, France, Spain, Russia and China have signed onto the protocol. Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and India are among those who haven't.) Yet in Iraq, and here I'll quote the Voice's Ridgway in case you don't want to follow the links, "Saddam's plan (is) to protect Baghdad with thousands of human shields, including some 8000 child soldiers who have been trained to stage ambushes, act as snipers, and throw together roadblocks. Drilled in units with such monikers as Saddam's Lion Cubs, children 10 to 15 reportedly spend 14 hours a day absorbing political propaganda and weapons training."
Do I really have to say more? It's just another flagrant Iraqi disregard for long-standing international law, and it's genuine child abuse too. If I were part of the Bush administration, I'd be holding pictures of these child conscripts high and mighty as yet another prominent reason to overthrow Hussein.
Which segues onto my other addendum to yesterday's frustrating essay. Another vital reason I oppose military action right now is because we the people have not been sold on it. I was just listening to the Brian Lehrer show on WNYC, where Lehrer and his guest, the Senior Diplomatic Correspondent from Newsweek (I didn't note his actual name) were discussing the latest opinion polls. They were each smart enough to point out that support for American military action in Iraq, while seemingly low, is currently above the levels it was for action in Kosovo and Haiti, and similar to that of the first Gulf War. I'd like to think that this shows that Americans are essentially peace-loving, but you know the old adage about statistics. What's probably more important than the figures themselves is the passion of the opposition. The international conflicts I have lived through, those which have involved military intervention from the countries I've been living in (i.e. the UK and the USA) have generally been in response either to an invasion (the Falklands, the first Gulf War) or horrendous human rights abuses (Haiti and Kosovo). (Panama seems the obvious exception, and it's fair to say that capturing General Noriega was not considered a threat to international stability on a par with capturing Saddam Hussein.)
The current Iraq situation differs from the aforementioned because most of us in the west are not feeling the actual threat of imminent attack or witnessing an immediate upsurge in human rights abuses. Our leaders Tony Blair as well as George W. Bush have so far failed to sell us on the reasons for immediate military action. They may well be in the right, but if they can't convince us of that, then they're seen as being in the wrong by the very people they claim to represent. And that's a hell of a handicap to hold when you start sending your nation's children off to fight to the death.
The ultimate judge of course, will be history. And talking of history, the anti-war brigade brings up the ghost of Vietnam as in "have we not learned from Vietnam?" - in every single conversation about every single conflict. It's like a scratched record that needs to be discarded, given that every single military action since Vietnam has shown that, certainly, the USA has learned plenty from Vietnam. There has been no repeat of Vietnam, not in Panama, Kosovo, Haiti, nor the Gulf. Not yet, at any rate. To me, the Vietnam analogy is revelant in only one respect. Admittedly with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight (and leaving aside a moral right and wrong), it seems that American involvement in Vietnam was destined to failure largely because it never had the public support for it to succeed. People will endure incredible losses and hardship if they believe the goal is worth fighting for - as in World War II but if they don't support that goal, then only a quick, decisive victory will silence their doubts.
And so, while discussing the current opinion polls this morning, Lehrer and his Newsweek guest noted that support for military action usually rises dramatically once the guns start firing. (Makes sense: we'd sooner bring "our boys" home alive rather than dead.) That may be the case this time round too, but I won't bet on it. And it's for that reason that I personally urge our leaders to postpone a military invasion, because they shouldn't even consider embarking upon it unless they know that a substantial majority of their public backs them for doing so. My gut instinct is that the tighter we tie the political noose around Hussein's Iraq, the more we will see hard evidence of his own war-mongering and repression, the stronger will be international opposition to his regime being allowed to continue unchecked, the greater the chances are that Iraqi citizens will seize the initiative, and the better is the likelihood that Hussein will either be overthrown or run into exile. All of which has to be preferable to a full out war.
I should have known that Thomas Friedman's latest thoughts on this subject would be thoughtful and reasoned. This is the first of two essays entitled 'Thinking About Iraq.' In it, he explains why he thinks "Liberals under-appreciate the value of removing Saddam Hussein." On Sunday, he'll write "why conservatives under-appreciate the risks of doing so and how we should balance the two." I particularly look forward to the last aspect.
REGAINING MY EDGE
I have to end the working week back on positive ground. My edge is sufficiently regained. I now have the supernew limited edition LCD Soundsystem 7" in my hands. It's on vinyl so thick you could break rock(s) with it which is probably DFA's intention. And I have a copy of the new White Stripes album Elephant on vinyl, no less. I've been thrilling this week to advance or overdue CDs by Supergrass, The Stratford 4, The Libertines, and Nada Surf, all of whom are proving that there's still ample life in that hoary old beast called 'rock'. And fear not, I'm still working on owning that "compilation of every good song ever done by anybody." (I dont use emoticons on the site, but if I did, there'd be a big smiley face here!)
Oh, and I am particularly looking forward to Crystal Palace beating Liverpool in the FA Cup on Sunday. Hey, where would we be without hope?
Have a great weekend.
THURSDAY JANUARY 23
WORDS ON WAR
In this week's Mondo Washington section, the Village Voice's James Ridgeway asks the question: "What's going to happen in the Arab world when Al-Jazeera or some other TV networks broadcasts pictures of American soldiers killing Saddam Hussein's force of child soldiers?" Well, IF it ever comes to that (rather than Ridgeway's presumptuous 'when'), would it be too much to expect "the Arab world" to express its horror and outrage at Hussein's conscription of 10-15 year old boys to protect his dictatorship and see it as further reason to remove him? After all, while it would be wonderful to live in a world where none of our children were ever sent off to war, in the meantime, doesn't it seem essential that we insist upon a world where children under the age of maturity/consent/adulthood cannot be sent off to war? (Iraq and Iran each sent tens of thousands of young boys off to death as they ran out of adult conscripts in their futile 1980s border war.) Of course, if this is the same Arab world that believes in sending teenage boys and girls off to blow themselves up along with as many surrounding civilians as possible, in the name of "martyrdom", then we can't expect it to react appropriately upon seeing pint-size conscripts used as Hussein's human shields. But I'd like to think most people in the world (including the Arab world) have higher moral standards.
Staying with the media and the impending war, I was asked to back my assertion that the BBC often (not always) presents its stories, either online or on its widely syndicated World News, with a subtle but palpable anti-American stance. So try this one, a puff piece on Bruce Kent (I don't see an accompanying profile to provide balance). Can someone tell me how the USA's involvement in the Balkan crisis was all about oil, because I was under the obviously mistaken impression that the USA and UK came to the support of the region's innocent civilians, most of them Muslims, who were under persecution from misguided Christians bent on genocide? (And that these countries got involved at the request of the European nations, who admitted their own failure to solve the genocide internally though not before tens of thousands had lost their lives.) Still, when the BBC actually does its homework, then the picture becomes clearer. Check these brief profiles of six Iraqis. Most of them seem ready for the worst, in the hope that it will lead to something better. The only one who is blatantly and outspokenly opposed to the war is a member of Iraq's rubber-stamp Parliament.
Similarly, this New York Times story from Sunday's Week In Review section reveals the extent to which citizens have been brainwashed in Hussein's Iraq. It's enough to make you cry.
Above: Freedom of assembly: anti-war demonstrators in London.
Right: Freedom of speech? Iraqi schoolchildren hold up their "textbooks".
Such stories raise an awkward but pertinent question. Why, among the tens of thousands of well-meaning anti-war demonstrators in major international cities this past weekend, were there so few Iraqi exiles? Should their voice not be considered in all of this? Similarly, my instinctive reaction to the demonstrations - while recognizing that most people went out to stand for peace, an honorable and admirable notion that, as an ideal, I totally support - was this: Isn't it wonderful to live in countries where we have the freedom to gather in our major cities and voice our opposition to our leaders? Isn't it great to be able to openly express our own disgust with our rulers, to the extent of caricaturing and ridiculing them without the fear that we, along with our families, will be arrested, imprisoned, tortured and even executed for doing so? And if our freedoms of assembly and of speech are indeed such valuable and treasured rights, why should we celebrate them for ourselves and refuse them for other people? It might appease our own consciences to insist we don't want a fight, but there are countless millions living under abject conditions of repression across the world who have to fight for their most basic human rights every single day. Why do we ignore their cries for help?
Does this mean I support an invasion of Iraq? No it doesn't. I don't believe military aggression can be justified, I don't believe war is necessary at this point, and for the USA and the UK to lead a 'pre-emptive strike' on Iraq (without UN backing) would be in disregard of international law and signal a break with all historical precedents of self-defense. Though then again, even those of us who were too young at the time to understand geopolitics must be glad that the Israelis bombed Iraq's nuclear reactor back in 1981, before Hussein could manufacture nuclear weapons. And equally, it must be patently obvious by now that we can no longer afford to ignore what goes on in other countries, whether or not we can claim to have a right to intervene. The continental European leaders may not have learned from their mistakes of the 1930s, and they might still choose to appease rather than confront dictatorships and terrorists, but the American and British leaders see the world in a different, more complicated and dangerous light, and I believe they're right to do so.
So, do I have a solution? No. None of us who oppose war have a viable solution unless your solution is to stick your head in the sand and ignore international affairs in the hope that the problems of the world won't affect you personally, which in the post 9-11 world is naivety in the extreme. And to those who say, fairly enough, that the UN inspections are working and should be allowed to proceed at their own pace, I ask them to admit the awkward truth: that the only reason the inspections are even taking place is because the USA told the United Nations in no uncertain terms that if that international body was not going to actually enforce its resolutions, then the USA would do so unilaterally. (I.e. that only the threat of force is giving us a possibility of peace. A Catch 22 if ever there was one.)
So, do I have a wishful outcome? Yes. That international pressure, and the very realistic threat of military action, forces Hussein into exile. It would be offensive to see him live to a ripe old age given what he's done to his people and those of the two nations around him that he's invaded in his attempts to control the region's oil fields, but other dictators, from the Shah of Iran to President Marcos of the Philippines and Idi Amin of Uganda have all been given similar 'Get Out of Jail Free' cards for the sake of their country's stability. Should this outcome actually occur, and I believe right now that anything is possible, it might just force the appeasers to finally confront their own instinctive reluctance toward confrontation. And it would allow us to get back to the more immediate international danger that of Bin Laden and his fanatical Muslim terrorists - before another 9/11 occurs. Here's hoping that the Russians who have a massive oil trade with the current Iraqi regime, as do the French invite Saddam to see out his days in Siberia, a natural resting home for his Stalinist tendencies.
My thanks to Anisha for responding to my request for information about the Georgia sex-before-marriage law. According to this CNN report, the 1833 law has now been repealed. Similar laws appear to still be on the statutes in other States. But none of these are new laws; they're a hangover from the old, puritanical days.
Staying with the media, but on a much more positive note, I'm enjoying the new magazine Park Slope Reader, which may just succeed where the ambitious Brooklyn Bridge failed. The Winter 2003 issue has valuable pieces on the history of Prospect Park, and Health Insurance for the self-employed (i.e. half of us in Park Slope). Elsewhere in the mag, Darrin Siegfried, proprietor of local wine store Red White And Bubbly, is proving himself an adept restaurant critic and he's hardly short of choices in the neighborhood, currently home to some of the most innovative, imaginative and relatively inexpensive new restaurants in New York City. In this issue, he raves about Bonnie's Grill as I did several months ago. He also talks up the wine lists at Rose Water which I've yet to visit, and Long Tan, the excellent Thai restaurant with an all-Australian wine list, which makes sense when you allow that it's co-owned by an Aussie, and that Thai food is to the Antipodeans what Indian food is to the Brits and Mexican to the Americans: i.e. just about indigineous.
|White label, purple wine. A winning combination from the village of Chusclan
And staying with wine, when I first set up this site I penned a big feature championing Côtes du Rhônes as the most reliable, inexpensive and food-friendly wine choice in the world. Seems like a no-brainer to me, but it's always nice to get some backing. I went to a magazine launch last night, and when I saw they were serving a generic Côtes du Rhône, I raced to it. Sure enough, it was inarguably better than 90% of the Merlot-Cab swill served by those bars too lazy to think of anything more interesting. As it happens, the New York Times conducted a Côtes du Rhône tasting for its weekly wine column, published yesterday. They too concluded that its hard to go wrong in recent vintages, and most of their choices are wines I've been fortunate enough to taste for myself and wholeheatedly agree with.
I need to rewrite my Côtes du Rhône Villages feature to reflect the tasting we recently conducted of the more 'obscure' villages, but in the meantime, the one wine the Times didn't taste that I strongly recommend you do is the Eric Texier Côtes du Rhône Villages Chusclan 2000, a Grenache-Syrah blend that tastes like it looks purple. (Does that make sense? Purple is good, believe me.) It's only a touch above ten dollars, it's a sensible 13.5% alcohol, and it's from a village that has barely caused a blip on the Rhône map in decades, proving that there's always something new to unearth in this old world of wine.
WEDNESDAY JANUARY 22
LOSING MY EDGE
As I wrote yesterday, hopefully we all "know the importance of occasionally laughing at our self absorption." So it's with wonderfully embarrassed honesty that I can reveal that the LCD Soundsystem single 'Losing My Edge' which I championed yesterday is not new at all, and was in fact NME's Single of the Week as far back as August. Ho hum. I blame the local record store: I walked in and asked for the "new" LCD Soundsystem single and that's what I came out with. (Which will teach me not to be up to date in the first place.) I may even have the really new one by the next time I write. I'd better be more on the case when I spin at Transmission next week, where DFA types are known to hang and others are known to trainspot vinyl. Not quite sure who in the audience, if indeed anyone rather than everyone, 'Losing My Edge' is referring to when it delivers the line, "I heard you have a compilation of every good song ever done by anybody," but it cracks me up every time.
It's a lot funnier than the new New York humor magazine Jest, whose second issue unfortunately demonstrates all too vividly that young trendy Brooklynites have too much time on their hands and not enough punchlines at their disposal. The one exception is the first person account by Steven Rosenthal of his stint working the polling booths in the recent mid-term elections. (He was provoked to the job following the debacle of the 2000 Presidential Election.) "An 89-year old implied to us that she left the house to vote against a doctor's orders, which is quote a commitment for a midterm election without a single close race in it," he writes. "If twenty-somethings had the same amount of dedications, Congress would be quoting Rage Against The Machine and flipping the bird at the WTO instead of constantly addressing Social Security and prescription drugs." On reflection, that's not particularly funny either, but it's accurate all the same.
. . .That Keith Moon documentary didn't air today, after all. BBC2 repeated the recently-broadcast Dusty Springfield one instead. Not entirely sure why, though something is coming down the grapevine about last minute re-editing. More news as I have it.
. . .Over the last couple of weeks, I've had the chance to see two individuals perform two extremely different shows, each of which left me with a positive feeling about the thousands of indiosyncratics who are happily burrowing away in the music underground. Datach'i is the curious name used by a guy I otherwise know as Joe who used to hang out with my next door neighbor until that guy (who I know as Ray) moved out of the Slope to Kensington (Brooklyn, not London). I'm not always so psychic, but Joe's music sounds exactly as I thought it would based on my encounters with him: that is, like Squarepusher jamming with Aphex Twin in the New York Subway during rush hour. Its not exactly easy listening, but it's fascinating for those who appreciate harsh electronic dance music. Datach'i was personally picked by Interpol to open for them at their Maxwells show, which is just one more reason to like that rising New York band. I didn't take any pictures of Joe that night, but you can find out more about his musical adventures at his label's web site (scroll down on click the datach'I link).
JB at the Blah Blah. The lava lamp, Tom Jones album and pictures of Telly (Savalas) all hail from the venue.
Jonathan Best I know from the Park Slope Food Co-op, a great vestige of socialism that, as you might expect from a leftist co-operative born in the hippy era, is home to more singer-songwriters that you could shake a tambourine at. Best differs from the acoustic folkies in that he plays keyboards (and quite spectacularly too), creates loops as he performs, pauses mid-melody for spontaneous commentary and called his album Songs From Before I Got Laid but then deflects the obvious sexual connotation with a picture of a hatching egg.
Imagine the intensity of Jerry Lee Lewis's piano playing with the deliberate onstage deliberations of Badly Drawn Boy and the avant-garde experiments of (insert favorite found-sound avant-garde artist here, I can't think of someone appropriate) and you've got an idea just how quirky and fascinating his performances are. (I saw him at the Blah Blah Lounge in Brooklyn the other week.) Best is a serious peacenik, but his music avoid Baez-like proselytizing. Probably his most relevant and immediately appealing song is 'It Can't Happen Here' in which he loops himself singing in a round, overlapping the title line with "It can and does happen there" .The best part about it is that he doesn't specify what "it" is. All good art leaves something to the imagination.
TUESDAY JANUARY 21
BITS AND PIECES
It's been a busy start to the year round these parts. There's a fair bit of activity in my professional life (i.e. the part where I get paid to write!) and I'm looking forward to making at least one announcement on the book front in the next couple of weeks. There's also been considerable activity in my home life, which is more private. And then there's all the activity going on here at the web site. Each of the first three weeks of this year has seen a new record number of hits on this site. Naturally I'm thrilled about that, though I have a feeling that much of the traffic has been driven by negative news: Joe Strummer's death and Pete Townshend's arrest, in particular. Wish that wasn't the case, but I appreciate that people are spending time here and dropping me lines to tell me how much they like doing so. I find it easier to answer all but the most personal comments over on the Forum, and it allows others to jump in on a conversation too; in several cases, I've found that readers have been able to offer an answer to a question or an opinion of their own when I may not have time to reply. And I promise to update the software soon, now that traffic there is growing so rapidly too.
Among those responses sent directly to me over the last week, my mother wrote to complain that my condemnation of the UK pornography laws should be balanced by an article about, for example, the law in Georgia which forbids sex before marriage. (She thinks I was being anti-British when I wrote this.) The Georgia instance also came up in conversation with other parent friends over the weekend, leading to a long debate about whether we planned to act down the line as we would like our own parents to have done so when we were teens, or as our own parents actually did. (The eternal question for "ageing hipsters.") Anyway, in the interest of international fairness, here goes. A full year ago, I do believe, if not longer, a 16-year old boy was prosecuted by his 16-year old girlfriend's parents who found them in bed together at their house; the case has received a considerable amount of attention and appears to have revealed similar laws on the statutes in several other States. (I don't have a vast amount more information, though I know it must be out there.)
Obviously, these laws are arcane and should be taken off the statutes. There ought always going to be an age of consent, above which adults should have the right to conduct their lives in the privacy of their own home. In the case of the Georgia teens, however, they weren't in their own home, they were in one of their parents' homes. And most parents do react strongly when they catch their children in the act with their partners in the upstairs bedroom as I'm sure plenty people visiting this site (and my own brother!) can attest. Most people visiting this site, I imagine, would think that if the parents were particularly affronted, they could and should have resolved the issue in private, between the families if need be, and not through the courts. Litigation should always be a last resort. At the same time, the fact that they did bring in the police subsequently brought forth a necessary challenge to the law. Where does it stand now? Can anyone tell me?
Two things, though. Firstly, I try and write here about what I really know about. Last week I was absorbed in the Pete Townshend issue because of my long-term admiration (and sometime frustration) for my child-hood hero, and because, as an author on a respected book on the Who, I knew that people were visiting the site to see where I stood. As proprietor of my own web site, I also know a fair bit about the Internet, and have also read books about pornography and the Internet. On the other hand, I don't live in Georgia and don't pretend to know everything that goes on in the 'Bible Belt'. I have, however, spent quite enough time in Athens, GA, to know that if there's been a law forbidding sex before marriage, it receives scant attention in that college town.
This brings me to the second point. The scary part about the case against Pete Townshend is that as best I can understand, it's drawing on a brand new law, introduced specifically to deal with the Internet, in which it's apparently a crime even to unintentionally be caught looking at something illegal. I.e., if Joe Bloggs e-mails you a picture of children having sex, and you look at it while scrolling down your Inbox, you've committed a crime even if you had no intention of seeing such a picture and had no desire to see it in the first place. This is truly Orwellian, the official arrival of the Thought Police. (Of course, Townshend's case is more complex, given his use of a credit card to access a particular web portal.) Simply put, there will always be outdated laws in any society, and in time they need to be updated, challenged or removed. It's equally important, if not more so, that new laws introduced in the present day are both workable and realistic.
And so we segue onto other subjects. That Keith Moon documentary airs on BBC2 tomorrow, Wednesday during the day time unfortunately, though I assume there's enough people with VCRs who will tape it and watch it later. I won't see it for a while, so I'll be keen to hear how good a job they do in telling his life story. I notice the series, Living Famously, started with a documentary on Oliver Reed. I imagine that would make great viewing, and I've always believed there's a wonderful biography waiting to be written on the man, but I believe his soul should be allowed to rest a while before any one pursues the matter.
Going to get a February playlist up, but there's a couple of tracks with self-referential lyrics so sharp that I feel compelled to quote them here and now. The new single by LCD Soundsystem (aka James Murphy) 'Losing My Edge' is a brilliant pisstake of an ageing New York hipster ("I'm losing my edge to the kids whose footsteps I hear when they get on the decks,") that would sound a little too close to home if it didn't also finds time to assail the electroclash scene in the process: "I'm losing my edge to the Brooklynites in new jackets and borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered 80s." Hee hee.
And very much related to all the above, The Stratford 4's eight-minute 'Telephone', from their upcoming album Love & Distortion recounts a late-night call home from the singer seeking moral support from his mother for his decision to stay in "getting stoned
listening to the radio." Mum says that "it all depends on what you're listening to." The singer cites "Spacemen 3, Primal Scream, T Rex, Belle and Sebastien". Mum comes back and says "You'll be just fine, but don't forget Bob Dylan and dont forget the Stones, and don't spend Saturday nights at home." She also confesses that "When I was 22, I was a lot like you, I was high, I was high every night." (What a mum!) When he calls back the next night, yet more stoned, she finally advises him that "There's more to this life than the Stratford 4." Shortly after that, the song dissolves into several minutes of distortion as per the album title. The Stratford 4, like LCD Soundsytem, know the importance of occasionally laughing at our own self absorption. I hope my own lighter side comes across on these pages too.
MONDAY JANUARY 20
DIVISIONS OF NEW ROCK...
In case you hadn't noticed, rock'n'roll is back. For good? I'm not sure: in the current climate, any old band with loud guitars and long hair is receiving the buzz treatment. As is always the case with such broad generalizations, the latest crop of contenders includes the bad (The Datsuns) and the ugly (um, Sahara Hotnights up close) along with those who hopefully have something relevant to say in between their regurgitated riffs and carefully structured poses.
Don't get me wrong. A resurgence of back-to-basics rock was long overdue. But let's accept that it's coming in so much shapes and sizes and from so many countries - that it can no more be lumped together as one movement than can the entire world of dance, pop or classical. These stylistic differences were particularly apparent last Wednesday at Southpaw on the opening night of a co-headlining tour that pits Sweden's Division Of Laura Lee with Philadelphia's Burning Brides. (And Seattle's The Cathetors, who for some reason, failed to make this show.)
Burning Brides have a more interesting story than most. The front duo of singer-guitarist Dimitri Coats and bassist Melanie Campbell met in New York - at Juillard (School of Music) of all pretentious places. But as their attentions turned to making sweet music with each other, they decided that the Manhattan scene didn't suit them, so upped and left for the next metropolis to the south, Philadelphia. Their timing might have seemed off leaving New York the very moment the city became a hip breeding ground again but the move actually worked in their favor: Burning Brides owe more to Nirvana and Hawkwind than they do the Stooges or the Velvets, and Philly, starved for hard rock, embraced them. A low-budget album, Fall Of The Plastic Empire, was released in 2001 on local label File 13: an admirably coherent and unashamedly ambitious record, it quickly found an audience among fans of similarly hard but unpretentious rockers such as Queens of the Stone Age and
Trail Of The Dead, both of whom Burnings Brides have toured with. Not suprisingly, the album and the touring attracted a he act recently signed to V2, who have re-issued Plastic Empire to what will surely prove a wider and welcoming audience.
Burning Brides' Dimitri Coats and Melanie Campbell: total commitment lost in a wall of noise.
It's no surprise then that on stage, Coats, Campbell, and drummer Jason Kourkounis deliver the songs with complete confidence. If you've heard the record, you won't be surprised that they deliver the songs at ample volume too. Even so, the head-banging performance was almost too loud for comfort and while the goateed fans at the front were happy rustling up a mosh pit, I was disappointed that the all-out aggression muffled the melodies of songs like 'Plank of Fire' and the bluesy 'If I'm A Man'. On record, Burning Brides are unafraid to throw in handclaps, as on 'Glass Slipper'; on stage, though their commitment is total, such light-hearted subtleties are lost in the wall of noise.
Coats is clearly a Nirvana nutter: Kurt Cobain's influence is painfully apparent in his voice, his guitar playing and his posturing. As such, it's amusing that he should be quoted about The Vines' own Nirvana obsession that "They're wearing it on their sleeves a little too obviously." But he's right when he criticizes the Australian trio for being "Nirvana light. Paper cut out versions." Burning Brides echo much of the visceral anger at the heart of Nirvana's eternal appeal; they also have the stoner angle that seems particular to Americans, raised as they were in a haze of marijuana that Europeans and Antipodeans can only imagine. The crowd loved them. I prefer the album. But either way, they're an act to watch for a number of the right reasons.
On the surface, Divisions Of Laura Lee would appear to share many of Burning Brides' tendencies. They're on the established punk label Epitaph, and their music is as straightforward as it is dark: song titles like 'The Truth Is Fucked,' 'Black City' and 'I Walk On Broken Glass' (which follow each other on the album Black City) make perilously clear their pessimistic world view. But Divisions of Laura Lee are Swedes, and Swedish bands are all, at least these days, cut from modernist cloth. Which means where Burning Brides were flannels and torn jeans, D.O.L.L. were denim jackets, smart shirts and wispy hair. While Burning Brides headbang, D.O.L.L. intimate windmills and leg splits. The juxtaposition was so strong as to suggest this may not be the best-matched double bill.
Division Of Laura Lee: a pessimistic world view cut from modernist cloth
Viewed on their own, though, Division of Laura Lee are hypnotic. Lead singer and guitarist Per Stalberg is built like a bear, with a voice to match and missing front teeth to boot. To his left, second singer and bassist Jonas Gustavsson pulls off enough Keef-like moves to suggest he grew up locked in a room with nothing but Stones videos. To Per's right, guitarist David Ojala has sufficient character of his own to suggest he could lead lesser bands, which leaves drummer Hakan Johansson free just to make noise.
But as with Burning Brides, D.O.L.L.'s live show failed to match the promise of their debut album. Black City is a thoroughly fascinating record, blending the ferocity of Girls Against Boys with the cool of the Strokes and, occasionally (as on 'Trapped In') the compressed simplicity of Joy Division. But something was amiss onstage. It may have been opening night jitters. It may well have been the considerable task of following Burning Brides. (D.O.L.L. played at a more sensible volume, but to less people too.) It was nothing to get upset about, but the band entertained more than they frightened. And I think they're capable of both.