On Wednesday night, at short notice, I accepted a friend's invitation to use his +1 and see Linkin Park at Roseland Ballroom. The show was, in its own way, entirely comparable to the Joe Jackson gig at Mercury Lounge the night before: a preview of the new album for the hardcore fans, a warm-up gig for an impending tour in a smaller venue than the band would normally play. The differences, of course, are greater than the similarities. Linkin Park's Hybrid Theory, with 8,000,000 American sales under its belt, was the biggest selling album of 2001. Last year's Reanimation remix CD has done over a million. The new album, Meteora, out on March 25, is shipping some 2,000,000 copies. By any standards, Linkin Park is one of the biggest bands in the world.
In some ways it's easy to understand why. The Southern Californian group has perfectly balanced white suburbia's twin fascination with hip hop and hard rock (to the extent they have one vocalist for each style, constantly overlapping and even "harmonizing" with each other), and their songs of alienation and despair (like 'Crawling,' 'One Step Closer') just happen to have grand singalong choruses that sound great on rock radio. And yet for all their outward rebellion, they're industrious. In their early days, when faced with record company rejection, they set up a street team that used the Internet to spread the word far and wide. Once they got label support, they worked it relentlessly, clocking up some 324 shows in 2001 alone (that's over six a week). You feel a spoil sport begrudging them their success.
Yet in other ways, their popularity is entirely baffling. In concert, Linkin Park were frustratingly one-dimensional, and on this showing, there's nothing on the new album to suggest any kind of musical development beyond the grinding chords, the digital groove, the primal roar and the easy-going rap that madE Hybrid Theory what it was. (Sample lyrics from a new song called Faint: "You're going to listen to me whether you like it or not.") The lack of star power was surprising: while rapper Mike Shinoda can carry a crowd, I expected to see something akin to a Trent Reznor or a Fred Durst up there, someone that hypnotizes you and convinces you they were destined for this role in life. Linkin Park don't carry that much charisma; most of the band would be entirely interchangeable from any other bunch of cargo pants and t-shirted young SoCal punks.
It's probably fair to say that for all their hard work, Linkin Park just happened to be the right metal/hip-hop crossover band at the right time and to some extent they know it. They made a big point of thanking the crowd for their support - and said nothing of any controversy. This was a disappointment: I thought that if any band was likely to comment on the state of the world, it would be a group of angry young punks who have the ears of some eight million American kids. Sadly, it wasn't so. Maybe they're not angry enough (they looked like they'd be happy to spend their royalties snowboarding), or maybe they don't know how to express anything but nihilism and frustration. The scary part is that the audience seemed the same. The moshing was furious, the singalongs rousing, but I didn't get the sense of redemption or exorcism that I've encountered in the past from truly alternative acts like Nine Inch Nails.
I've no doubt Linkin Park will continue to be massive for a couple of years yet, but it may be worth noting that the day of the show, I received a new album from Hootie & The Blowfish. Remember them? Their debut album sold, get this, 16 million copies in America alone. Kids have a habit of growing up, fashions have a tendency to move right along, and the music business is an impatient beast if you can't change with the times. Let's check back in a few years.
The Clash. Essential. Punks. Hip-hop fans. Original proponents of the Hybrid Theory. And unafraid to speak their mind. Read review here.
It was partly because of the hollow hole at the core of the live Linkin Park experience that I spent yesterday finishing off the March playlist, and in particular, relishing new (American) compilations of the Clash, the Jam, The Stone Roses, the Style Council, and a Ramones tribute. You can read full reviews of these albums here. The 20 new releases I've written about include the White Stripes, The Music, The Coral, Ms. Dynamite and Massive Attack. And there's five decent Eps to recommend too. How do I listen to so much music? I don't know. I'm on overload right now.
The new featured album review is Volume 4 by the Joe Jackson Band. Such a welcome return and to form, too. In the hope that it heralds the arrival of spring, I've also featured a white wine that I sampled way back last summer. It's an inexpensive, everyday and relentlessly reliable Pinot Blanc from the Hugel family in Alsace. Alsace is in France. At least it is this year.
There are some people in America who are boycotting French goods right now. I'm not among them. To me, that's akin to boycotting Bruce Springsteen (or Linkin Park) because you don't like George W Bush. To prove that point, I had in fact been planning on writing up the superb Rhone-style white from Tablas Creek we had at a friend's birthday dinner a few weeks ago, especially as it happens to be a Franco-American collaboration. Sadly, I can't find my notes. But it seems equally appropriate to point out that the 350 year old Hugel estate was taken over by the Nazis during World War II; while there's plenty evidence of French collaboration during those sorry years, the Hugels were most certainly not among them. Here's to their courage. And their wine.
That provides a nice little segue to my last comment for the week. I pointed out the other day that Thomas Friedman nailed my 4,000 word essay about the war in 800 words of his own. Oriana Fallaci uses closer to 3,000 to express her "thoughts on the eve of battle in Iraq" in the Wall Street Journal. (Registration required, but it's a one-off.) While the Hugels were trying their best to unsettle their Nazi occupiers while simultaneously keeping their lives, Fallaci was a teenager working for the Italian resistance against Mussolini. Which means that, unlike myself and almost all the iJamming! readers, she has first-hand experience of the horrors to which we may yet descend. I don't need to agree with every word she says, but my God does she says them with passion. Have a wonderful weekend. If you can.
It was something of a Nick Hornby convention Tuesday night at the Mercury Lounge, where the Joe Jackson Band played its first New York show together in over twenty years. Balding palates, bulging belies and graying sideburns were the order of the evening in a crowd whose average age was surely the far side of 40. These are the world's everyday Joes, and their visual appearance says much about their loyalty to this particular Joe. The opening line of his 1978 debut hit single 'Is She Really Going Out With Him?' - "pretty women out walking with gorillas down my street" won him the allegiance of countless thousands of male wimps and nerds, the ones who knew they were smarter than the tough guys, who knew they were nicely than the tough guys, and genuinely believed that they were better looking than the tough guys, but who could never beat the tough guys, especially when it came to girls.
Over the years these people have done all right for themselves I mean, look at Nick Hornby but during their insecure youth, they needed to know they weren't alone. Joe's songs offered them that solidarity. The fact that Joe himself dressed to Look Sharp!, as his first album was titled, and claimed, with his second album, that I'm The Man, was not so much a contradiction to his audience's quiet modesty; it was more the vicarious realization of their own dreams, the idea that someone as odd-looking, sentimental and poetic as themselves could make it as a pop star.
Jackson: the vicarious realization of every average Joe's dream.
Jackson proved more artistically ambitious than he was commercially driven. He broke up his new wave/power pop/ska-friendly quartet after just three albums, and went off to record swing, Latin, instrumental soundtracks and jazz. And he had some substantial American hits along the way. But he's still best known as the average Joe who made exceptional songs about average Joes, and that might explain why, when he realized it was coming up on 25 years since the Joe Jackson Band's debut album, he suggested a new album with his former backing band: he'd write songs the way he had back then, and they could play them that way too. The result is the revelatory Volume 4 , an album that sounds, but for certain lyrics, like it could have been recorded in his 1979 heyday. It's a triumph, and his audience knows it; almost to a man (and this audience was at least 80% male), they'd either snapped it up on import or snagged advance copies. This was as loyal and enthusiastic a club audience as any artist could ever hope for.
Unlike his followers, Joe himself continues to Look Sharp!, taking to the stage in familiar spiky died blonde hair and wearing a dapper grey tux with a velvet collar; his band mates were better dressed for the heat of a small club, opting for non-descript jeans an tees. All four wore ear-piece monitors, which may be the way to go for bands in the future, though given the musicians' age all hovering around the fifty mark it did suggest that the Nick Hornby convention had run into a gathering of premature hearing loss victims.
All quips aside, the musicianship was phenomenal. Dave Houghton on drums is simple and solid, Gary Sanford on guitar plays with the joie de vivre of a 20-year old, and Graham Maby is one of the world's unsung bass heroes. Throw in Jackson's skills as a pianist, and we're describing a band with the chops of Elvis Costello's Attractions, but with only a fraction of the acclaim. (And apparently none of the bitterness. If the backing trio were ever frustrated to have been left behind in the years that Jackson became a solo star, they certainly didn't show it tonight.)
Still sharp after all these years: Graham Maby, Joe Jackson, Dave Houghton and Gary Sanford.
The show, predictably, concentrated on music recorded as the Joe Jackson Band. From the 1978-80 trio of albums we got 'Sunday Papers,' 'Fools In Love,' all three title tracks and of course, a rousing singalong of 'Is She Really Going Out With Him?' (The other big hit of that time, 'It's Different For Girls', remained unplayed.) From Volume 4, we heard 'Take It Like A Man,' 'Chrome' (with a much appreciated Maby solo) 'Fairy Dust,' 'Awkward Age' and a rousing rendition of the most socially witty ska song since the days when 2-Tone mattered, 'Thugz 'R' Us.' (Emotionally if not quite visually, the group looked like a bunch of teens playing this one.)
And in the middle of the set, we got Joe alone at the piano, playing his enchanting new ballad 'Love At First Light', the Tori Amos rewrite of his own 'Real Men' (from her album Strange Little Girls and his album Night and Day), a song from the Laughter and Lust album that I couldn't identify and a majestic version of XTC's 'The Mayor of Simpleton.'
The ninety minute set closed with an encore of 'One More Time,' 'Blaze of Glory' (the only song played by the band that they hadn't themselves recorded) and 'I'm The Man.' By that point, having been on my marathon-worn feet for three hours or so, I was feeling my age. I think it's safe to say that most everyone else in the crowd and probably those on the stage as well - felt twenty years younger.
It's sod's law that the day I finally receive the JAM double DVD one of the only video compilations I feel like taking an evening out to watch should be the same day I take my DVD player (i.e. my laptop) in for repair. Oh well. Until I can sit down and visually relive my youth, hopefully in a week or so, I'll have to do with Patrick C's comments. In the meantime, I'm back on the desktop that was meant tohave become the family computer. Expect Campbell and me to arm-wrestle over our use of the Internet. Cartoon Network or Wine Lover's Discussion Group? Bub and Bob or Adobe Go Live? We'll see
The DVD came in a package with new CD compilations of both the Jam and the Style Council. The Sound of The Jam is that motley collection of select a-sides along with the 'better' b-sides and album tracks that was released in the UK last year. It's hardly an essential package, considering how many other Greatest Hits, BBC sessions, box sets and live albums of the "retro-garage pop-punk pioneers" (to quote the American press release's headline) already exist. In fact, in these days of ripping and burning, if you want to listen to a CD of previously released material by a classic band that is NOT a straight up Greatest Hits, it's all too easy to assemble one for yourself. None of which prevents each and ever song being part of the essential soundtrack of my youth.
Have you ever had it claret and blue? Fortunately the Style Council's music has endured better than its fashion sense.
The Best of the Style Council CD, meanwhile, provided a small revelation. Leaving aside that it opens with what was undoubtedly the group's artistic nadir (the dreadful 'It Didn't Matter' single: who sequences these things?), I was totally surprised by how big a smile this album put on my face and how many genuinely good memories it brought back. Despite the highly forced "casuals" imagery, the always offensive Cappuccino Kid pretentiousness and the frequently naive faux soul, the Style Council's (i.e. Paul Weller's) actual songwriting has endured: 'You're The Best Thing' and 'Long Hot Summer' are still the same beautiful ballads they were at the time, 'My Ever Changing Moods' and 'Have You Ever Had It Blue?' are delightful mid-tempo singalongs, and as for 'Money-Go-Round' (featured in full 12" extended form) and 'Walls Come Tumbling Down,' I admit to pans of nostalgia for the social protest of my youth.
There was a time I really thought we as musicians, as writers, as a generation - could change things, and though Weller embodied just as many contradictions and hypocrisies as both the best and the worst of them, he was, through the early days of the Style Council, very much a part of that idealism. And that's why I'm thrilled to see young people out protesting in the present day: I'm not old and cynical enough to have given up hope that a future generation will get it right. (Though I am mature enough to acknowledge that political change and global affairs can't be viewed in the simple black and white of 'left' and 'right'.)
Completing the nostalgia tip and leaving aside that this week also sees the American release of new Clash and Stone Roses compilations, neither of which I've played because I know the songs backwards last night I went to see the Joe Jackson Band at the Mercury Lounge. Joe has just reunited with the musicians alongside whom he made his three revered albums from 1978-80; their new album, unimaginatively but accurately entitled Volume 4, sounds not only as if they never spent time apart, but as if time itself has stayed still too. In this case and allowing that Jackson has pushed his musical boundaries so thoroughly in the interim two decades that's an entirely good thing. Volume 4 is truly wonderful, as good a 'come back' as I've heard in a while, and will probably the next featured review on this site. And I'll have a proper review of the show up here tomorrow.
Driving into town and back, I played the UK Pop 2 CD from Rhino's heralded 7-CD punk/new wave/power pop retrospective set DIY. For every Squeeze, Undertones and Joe Jackson, there was a Yachts, Radio Stars and Motors. The past was never as good as it looks from the present. It just looks that way
Trust Thomas Friedman to use just 800 Words in today's New York Times to say what it took me 4,000 words to explain yesterday in my lengthy essay. That's why he has a Pulitzer and I don't. The fact that he has an editor probably also plays its part. (Here's an idea out of the blue: bloggers and on-line diarists should team up into duos who scan each other's copy before it hits the 'net, checking for egregious errors and overstatements, and striking out excessive text.) Still, I take some minor satisfaction that the points I made yesterday right cause, wrong leadership, it needs allies and their support to work are the same ones he's making today. Peace.
With a war on Iraq seemingly inevitable, and only days away, I feel the need to publicly clarify my thoughts on this whole horrible and ugly matter. I've held a relatively hawkish stance on this web site (though I prefer the term "eagle") something that has been based on my refusal to see the issue as mere black and white, a simple 'right or wrong and which side are you on'. My attitude is also based on a near constant and thorough analysis of the facts as I can understand them, and the news as I can gather it. I refuse to be uninformed. And as of this point, Tuesday March 11, I am against going to war. My position is based on an examination of the most widely cited reasons both for and against war, and by concluding which on each side of the argument carry the most weight. My decision is maybe not based on the same arguments as yours. But so be it.
THE REASONS FOR WAR:
1) Saddam Hussein has continuously and belligerently ignored, delayed or frustrated United Nations resolutions and the inspectors they've sent into Iraq - since his defeat in the (First) Gulf War of 1991. Resolution 1441, passed last November, offered him one final chance to comply with previous resolutions which themselves were unambiguous in their demand he disarm his regime of its illegal weaponry. Even with 250,000 troops amassing on his border, he refuses to do so. To continue to let him defy the United Nations not only challenges the credibility of this global body; it threatens to make it entirely obsolete. And it sends a message to other aggressive, corrupt, rogue dictatorships that they too can ignore international agreements and resolutions and get away with it. Nothing but military force has worked before to bring Saddam into line, and nothing but military force will likely work in the future. I AGREE.
2) Despite pretence to the contrary, Saddam Hussein's Iraqi regime continues to produce chemical and biological weapons, and he is unlikely ever to give up his nuclear ambitions. The chances of UN Weapons Inspectors discovering and destroying all Saddam's programs are infinitesimal, given the dictator's long-standing policy of hiding them, lying about them and denying possession of them. The only way to prevent Saddam from developing these weapons and then either using them or selling them is to remove him from power, and the only way to do that, all other options having been tried, is by force. I AGREE.
3) Saddam Hussein is as brutal a tyrant and dictator as they come, a keen student of Stalin's tactics (and to a lesser extent of Hitler's) who has practiced a particularly cruel savagery on his own population, even by the distinctly ugly standards of the last hundred years. The Iraqi people live in constant terror of his brutality, and after 24 years of it, would welcome his overthrow even at the cost of a war that jeopardizes their own lives. I AGREE.
4) The overthrow of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and his replacement by a democratic government could lead to a sea change among the inherently corrupt and repressive Arab states. Once the young people of the Middle East see the positive effects of regime change in Iraq, they will call for a greater voice in their own countries (e.g. Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt and Jordan), which would divert much of the anti-Americanism currently fostered by their autocratic leaders. This in turn would provide a more positive landscape upon which to forge a lasting peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. I AGREE in principle, though I DISAGREE in practice.
5) Saddam Hussein's Iraq provides an immediate threat to American security. I DISAGREE.
6) Saddam Hussein's Iraq is allied with and either financing, harboring or providing weaponry to Al-Qaeda. I DISAGREE. (In so much as I don't believe Iraq is more involved with Al Qaeda than any number of other Arab and Muslim countries.)
THE REASONS AGAINST WAR (Leaving aside the obvious contradictions to the above.)
1) War is wrong. It's ugly. It's a waste of financial resources. It's environmentally damaging. Innocent people die. Well yes, obviously I AGREE. So should all sane humans.
2) The impending Invasion of Iraq is about oil and the Bush Administration's desire to control its supply. I DISAGREE.
3) The war is about American Imperialism, the lone superpower's desire to control and conquer the world. I DISAGREE.
4) The war is about George W Bush's desire to avenge his father. It's personal. It's because Saddam tried to kill George's daddy. I DISAGREE. (Though for many in the Bush administration, forced to sit on the sidelines during eight years under President Clinton, the problem of Saddam Hussein is indeed considered unfinished business.)
5) The war is being fought to protect Israel. It's a war against Islam. I DISAGREE
6) A unilateral pre-emptive strike on this level (should it come to that) goes against all previous American rules of combat and sets a dangerous precedent which could be copied and cited by other nations. I AGREE.
7) A war on Iraq would incite anti-Americanism across the Middle East and among Muslim populations, leading to more terrorist attacks on America itself. I AGREE in principle, and DISAGREE in practice.
8) There are too many unknown military repercussions. A war in Iraq could get bogged down in street-to-street fighting, leading to immense casualties on both sides. It could drag neighboring nations, including Israel, into the conflict. It could lead to a Third World War. I AGREE in principle, and DISAGREE in practice.
9) Iraq is a sovereign nation that should effect regime change from within. It's not the United Nations' job to enforce such a change. I DISAGREE.
10) There are other international crises particularly with that other repressive rogue state North Korea that demand more immediate action. I AGREE in principle; I DISAGREE in practice.
11) The Bush Administration has failed to sell its arguments for war to the public, both in America and across the world, as evidenced by the massive street protests. It's also failed to convince the United Nations, as evidenced by the threat of vetoes in the Security Council. I AGREE.
12) SHOULD the United Nations vote against military action, and SHOULD the USA take action regardless, the Bush Administration would essentially be defying the United Nations to fight a war based on the argument that Iraq had defied the United Nations. It's doublespeak and I AGREE that it's wrong.
Ultimately, it's mostly for these last two reasons against the war that I myself oppose it. I think that there are times that you win an argument, and times that you don't, and when you don't, you should accept that defeat, go home and analyze your reasons for failure. Hopefully you come back to the debating table better prepared and more articulate next time out. To do otherwise to insist that "because we're bigger than you we'll do whatever we want to" speaks terribly of the American people (or their leadership), presents the USA as a bully itself and will do yet further damage to relations with previously steadfast allies.
I make that statement with the important proviso that if I agreed with arguments 5 and 6 for war that Iraq poses an immediate threat to American security and that Saddam is closely allied with Osama Bin Laden I would not consider United Nations approval necessary. The USA has a right to defend itself, especially after the attacks of 9/11, and no amount of cheap, lazy, ill-informed anti-Americanism on the streets of Europe or in the chambers of the United Nations should alter that. But because I don't agree with those two vital arguments for war then I have to believe that the removal of Saddam is a matter for international resolve and not for the USA to take upon itself unilaterally.
This is not to say the USA has been unilateral up until now. It hasn't. Whatever his initial instincts, Bush was convinced (by the likes of Tony Blair and Colin Powell) to go the multilateral route and win support of the United Nations. This he did in no uncertain terms. Resolution 1441 was proposed, it was passed unanimously, and it is unequivocal in its demands. For the likes of the French government in particular (no slur on its people) to suddenly act as if they didn't register its meaning in the first place is political hypocrisy of a far more questionable nature than anything that Bush has been accused of in this military build up.
Still, this pursuit of multilateralism has had certain successes. A number of nations have stated their own desire to rid the world of the "cancer" that is Saddam, and in particular a number of European countries have made it fundamentally clear that they have no more desire to be beholden to the "old Europe" of France and Germany than they do to follow the lead of the Russians who once enslaved them.
Unfortunately, the appropriate course of multilateralism has been transformed into a litmus test for anti-Americanism, one that certain European nations have played to the hilt, and one from which former and developing superpowers, i.e. Russia and China, are reaping the benefits. The Bush administration, having taken the high road and seeking multilateralism at the United Nations, has found itself bogged down in bitter rivalries, intense jealousies and a certain amount of blind hatred, none of which hastens Saddam's removal nor the Iraqi peoples' freedom.
BEING BULLISH AND BEING A BULLY: THERE'S A DIFFERENCE
But Bush has only himself and his Administration to blame for this. No one likes a bully, and for many civilized people in the world, the belligerent tone of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Ashcroft and Rice has become indiscernible from the belligerent tone of Saddam Hussein. (It's been left to the admirable Colin Powell to make America's case to the rest of the world, but he can only achieve so much as a lone voice of well-articulated reason.) Indeed, given that America holds greater military power than Iraq and is showing an immediate desire to use it, it's not a complete surprise that there are those who consider Bush a greater threat to world peace than Saddam.
I don't despise Bush the way others do. I think he's a lot smarter than his critics give him credit for, and that his moral clarity is welcome following the vacillating, indecisive and often ineffective stances of the Clinton era. I think he is entitled to put the defense of the American people first and I don't even disagree with his belief that, following 9/11, "containment is no longer an option." I believe that a vast amount of the anti-war rhetoric has been based not on any intelligent study of the threat (perceived or otherwise) of Saddam's Iraq, but on a visceral hatred of Bush. This is why you generally see more demonstrators carrying posters and banners that attack Bush personally (many, it's worth noting, in an aggressive tone that would seem inconsistent with the demonstrators' supposed stand against violence) than you see or hear them offering concrete alternatives, short of war, for the removal of Saddam. This problem is hardly confined to Europe; it's visible and physical on the streets where I live, and it's part of my dissatisfaction with what I will readily call the "old left", because it's using outdated absolute-isms in an era of unquestionable complexity.
But don't take this to mean I support Bush either. I was steadfastly opposed to him when he was running for President, and I remain equally keen to see him go. (Among my reasons for disliking him are his economic policies, which stiff the poor and gift the rich; his lack of intellectual or international curiosity; and most dangerously, his religious conviction that born-again Christianity can save the world.) I don't understand why he and his cabinet have been so belligerent to the rest of the world, especially to their supposed allies. Staying away from war for the time being, and giving what I believe is a good example, I can understand why Bush refused to ratify the Kyoto Treaty: for one, it was voted down in the Senate, in advance, during Clinton's reign as President, by a vote of 95-0. (I wonder how many on the European left are aware of this fact.) The Kyoto Treaty was flawed, but it was inexcusable of Bush not to propose an alternative, nor to suggest a compromise. Bush and his team seem to have no idea how much resentment that arrogance caused in a more environmentally conscious Europe, and it seems appropriate to consider the continent's anti-war stance as something of a knee-jerk payback for the Kyoto PR fiasco.
"A truly strong nation will permit legal avenues of dissent for all groups that pursue their aspirations without violence." George W. Bush, West Point, June 2002. Hey George, you got our wish: the latest installment in the ever-brilliant Get YourWar On by David Rees, available here
As it happens, I don't think anything Bush says or does will ever be enough to satisfy even a minority of leftists. And I think he knows that too, which might explain his disregard for that part of the spectrum. But there was enormous good will towards America following the attacks of 9/11, and Bush and his Administration could have said and done so much more to appeal and win over the millions upon millions of centrists, especially in Europe, in the months thereafter. His failure to pay even lip service to their concerns is now haunting him in the place he thought he could dominate: the United Nations.
PRINCIPLE AND PRACTICE: THERE'S ALSO A DIFFERENCE
Returning to the war, there are some arguments (on both sides) that I said I could agree on in principle but not in practice. For one, while it's true that should we go to war we'll be providing an excuse for further terrorist attacks, refusing to go to war for this reason is tantamount to surrender. It's like the school principal/headmaster saying that he won't punish the school bully because he's heard the bully has a big brother who might come round and beat him up. And given that it's mainly Americans who seem concerned about provoking terrorist attacks, I have to ask them where they were on the morning of 9/11/01? The attacks of that day, as with preceding and subsequent al-Qaeda attacks (i.e. the African embassy bombings, Bali and Kenya) were entirely unprovoked, unjustified and unannounced. (They were a surprise, after all, weren't they?) These people don't need an excuse to attack us. They're doing so already.
Bush and Blair seem to believe that in taking on Saddam, they're also taking on these very terrorists. I disagree (see argument #6 for War). But I don't dispute that we're already at war with the terrorists and will continue to be so until one side wins or the political climate in the middle east changes sufficiently to reduce, and eventually eliminate anti-Americanism.
There are those who believe that "regime change" in Iraq could lead to this changed climate, one of the reasons "for" war that I agree with in principle but not in practice. It's balanced by one of the arguments against war, that we don't know what kind of a mess we're getting ourselves into with Iraq's neighbors, or the scale of the fighting, which again I agree with in principle but not in practice. In both cases they're hypothetical, which is why they can't be used as firm arguments either for or against.
On the one hand, I don't see Iraq itself, let alone the Middle East, falling into democratic line as easily and readily as the Bush administration hopes. (Nor do I trust Bush to back a proper democracy in Iraq to begin with, or to guarantee the freedom of the Kurds.) Old values die hard, and it may be many more generations before the 'Arab street' redirects its anger from America to its own corrupt rulers, stops funneling its money and resources towards the destruction of Israel, and recognizes the ability of different ethnicities and religions to live in peace alongside each other. But on the other hand, while recognizing the dangers of a drawn-out war that doesn't go to plan, I don't see that fear of the many variants (assuming they've been analyzed) should be a reason in itself not to take control of a situation while we hold the upper hand. The best comparison here would be of Europe in the 1930s when nations like Britain and France were still strong enough to defeat Hitler militarily but decided not to, partly because of a policy of appeasement, but also because they were fearful of the costs and the consequences. And what were the costs and the consequences of their inaction? I think we all know the answer to that one. And I'm sure if we could turn back time, we would all prefer to have taken on Hitler when we had the chance to defeat him, rather than engage the planet in such a horrific conflict as the Second World War.
This brings us back to a pivotal argument. Is Saddam another Hitler, determined to rule the world? No. He was once a little Hitler, determined to rule the Arab world, but he failed. His time has passed. Is he such a threat to American security that Bush would be justified to launch a war on Iraq without United Nations approval? No he's not. (Though if he was, I do believe the Americans would have the right to defend themselves without the blessing of the Security Council.) Is Saddam another Stalin, ruling his people through abject terror tactics? Absolutely. Which is why it's ludicrous to suggest that the Iraqi people should be left to overthrow him by themselves. They've tried several times and been ruthlessly crushed on each occasion. They're screaming for outside help. If the United Nations is indeed the global police force, then it has the duty to break into a house or a compound where people are being tortured and killed and deprived of basic freedoms: is not the very job of a police force or indeed a (global) government to protect its civilians?
Despite the above, I'm all for the street protests against the war. I think young people especially should be out on the streets opposing war, and I've no regrets that as a teenager I went on anti-American pro-CND marches in London in the early 1980s. (Though if you'd told me at the time that the object of my protests, Ronald Reagan, would be the man to make peace with the Soviet Union and instigate its collapse without a shot being fired, I would have laughed.) Probably the strongest charge against the Bush Administration is that it views war as the first option, not the last; that it's got a callous disregard for human life; that it loves to flex its military muscles and test its h-tech weapons on innocent civilians. I don't want to believe that this is the case, but I know that Bush and his team have not done enough to convince the public otherwise. I therefore see the stunning sight of millions of war protesters on the streets of Europe and America as a positive; it may yet provoke our leaders to consider other ways to make our world a better place.
But I do ask for some consistency of opinion. When I see a picture of a smiling German hoisting a placard reading 'Bomb Texas they have Oil Too,' or when I hear a Berlin-based protester assure a radio commentator, presumably with a straight face, that "all dictatorships are eventually overthrown from within", I first question supposed German pacifism and then find myself uttering that old adage about those who haven't learned from their past.
No wonder he's smiling: With 'enemies' like this young German, why should Saddam need friends?
Likewise I find there to be something offensive about the thousands upon thousands marching in the London streets with placards declaring 'Freedom for Palestine' (a perfectly laudable goal in its own right, and one that has indeed been offered to and rejected by Palestinian leaders) while staying absolutely silent on the issue they're supposedly marching over, Freedom for Iraq. It's apparently alright to demand freedom for one nation, but not for another. And while we're talking about confusing the issue, many of the anti-war protestors, especially in America, ask why Bush doesn't focus on North Korea instead of Iraq. (His apparent failure to do plays in to their belief that the Iraq situation is purely personal.) My answers are, a) I believe that he is focusing on both, b) why doesn't the rest of the world, i.e. the United Nations, seize an opportunity to take the lead on this one and show us all how to handle a crisis correctly? and c) are we to believe from this line of reasoning that the anti-war protestors would like us to go to war with North Korea?
Of course they wouldn't. It's a diversionary argument based on an assumption that every thing the Bush administration says or does is wrong, and that therefore every opposition to its actions must be right. But sometimes the world doesn't work like that; sometimes, in fact all too often, the world presents ugly choices. It forces you to choose the lesser of two evils. It forces you to fight the battle you can win at the time you can win it, even when that means aligning yourself with people you might otherwise not choose as bedfellows. This, for me, is one of those occasions.
But the international community, both on the streets and in their national offices, has concluded otherwise. They have spoken loud and clear. The world does not want a war. And so, the Bush Administration, and Tony Blair's Labour Government alongside it, should heed their call and postpone an invasion.
But what should Bush and Blair do then? Recall the troops and admit political defeat? Absolutely not. I would recommend keeping the troops firmly in place, in effect tightening a noose around Saddam's neck. I would insist that the United Nations foot a large part of the bill for this army, the only thing that has ever scared Saddam into retreat or disarmament (and don't suggest a UN force: Bosnia revealed all too tragically how ineffective United Nations peacekeepers can be), while letting the French, Germans, Russians and Chinese have their day to send in thousands of inspectors. I would then share all possible intelligence that would enable the Inspectors to uncover the chemical, biological and intended nuclear weaponry that Saddam surely has and which would vindicate Bush and Blair for their unflinching stance.
I would use these interim months to wage an effective PR campaign, clarifying that this is not about oil or imperialism, and to highlight Saddam's horrors which are, by any standard, abhorrent. I would further that PR campaign to educate the world as to American beneficence and sacrifice over the years and, perhaps subtly, to let the world know that the Middle East mess can be traced back to former European empires and greedy European businesses just as easily as it can to a current American "empire" or current American commercial interests. All the major players are responsible for this, and all the major players need to work together to get us all out of it.
All along, I would tone down the confrontational rhetoric which has done so much to aggravate European democracies, continue the currently successful hunt for al-Qaeda leaders, demonstrate that 'nation-building' in Afghanistan remains a priority, and request that the United Nations itself take the lead on the crisis with North Korea. At the end of the year, we would see whether Saddam had been disarmed, and whether international relations had been improved by the cooling off process. And if not? We'd be in exactly the same place unfortunately. But we would not have fought a monumentally unpopular war.
The downside of this proposal? Saddam would remain in power. After 24 years of dictatorship, this would hardly be a surprise. But until we can have something close to multilateral unanimity on the methods of his removal, it seems we have no choice. On others heads be it. When the Iraqi people are finally free of their tyrant, which one day I pray will happen, they will hopefully remember who stood for them and who stood against them, and with the tales of horror that they'll regale us with (though there's plenty of evidence already for those willing to listen), they may yet cause some people to think twice about the rectitude of their inaction.
But that day appears to be down the line. In the long run, I believe that calling off an invasion at the eleventh hour while maintaining the constant and serious threat of one at any moment will pay greater dividends than going ahead despite all the opposition. And that's why I oppose the war. For now.
Ask any seasoned gig-goer and they'll tell you: the incentive to see bands in an unusual environment, outside the conventional "black hole" of a rock club, is a highly persuasive one. This is certainly part of the reason the missus and I went to the famed National Arts Club in Gramercy Park on Saturday night to see the Flaming Sideburns and The Stratford 4 as part of a Jetset Records party. And the opportunity to wander around the spacious "drawing rooms" filled with ancient paintings, hefty armchairs, glass chandeliers and stained glass ceilings was worth the non-entry fee in its own right.
So were the chance encounters with old friends. For one, Michael Azerrad, a fellow music scribe with whom I share both a disdain for the rigmarole of conventional magazine journalism and a preference for the greater challenge of penning longer-lasting books (Azerrad has written both Come As You Are: The Story Of Nirvana and Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981-91). For another, Jim Thirwell, formerly known as Jim Foetus, and these days going by the anagrammatic name of DJ Otefsu. I've known Jim since he worked at the Virgin Store in Marble Arch, London, where he would kindly buy copies of Jamming! from a certain young fanzine editor. Though we have both lived in NYC for many years, we rarely see each other, but I should make a point of attending his DJ gigs: following discussion of our shared crush for Suzi Quatro, he pulled from his record bag a phenomenal all-synth cover version of her '48 Crash'.
Posie and the man who started it all...Matt Pinfield
And then there's Matt Pinfield, who some of you may know as a former host for MTV's 120 Minutes and Farmclub.com, others may recognize as someone who endorsed my Keith Moon book on the back cover (you know that stuff's all entirely incestuous, don't you?), but whom the wife and I know as the man without whom
. I first met Matt in the spring of 88 after a Bunnymen show in New Brunswick, New Jersey, at the Melody Lounge where he was DJ. It turned out he knew all about Jamming! Magazine and label, and during those days when I was finding my feet in the States and living out of a suitcase in Princeton, he proved a great friend. As well as playing brilliant, mostly British music on both the local college station and the more influential WHTG, Matt spun at the Melody three nights a week, and I fell in love with the venue and the crowd, which was unlike anything I'd seen in either New York or London. Matt was a magnet for the whole Jersey scene and I continued attending the Melody purely for kicks even after settling into New York. A week before starting my own club in the big city, I visited the Melody one more time for inspiration, and was introduced (though not by Matt himself) to one of his other regulars, a girl called Posie who seemed rather cute. We spent the night dancing and the rest, as they say, is history.
It's been three years since we last ran into Matt, who now does A&R for Columbia. We've all grown up and changed a lot, but by irony, Matt now lives almost exactly where Posie and I did in Manhattan for seven years during the 1990s. He's got a three-year old daughter to add to his 16-year old by a former relationship and clearly hasn't given up his love of music or of seeing live bands in unusual places.
Still, all friendships and free drinks aside, I wouldnt have ventured out without the promise of good music, and if youve been stopping by iJamming! of late, you'll know that I've fallen head and heels for the second Stratford 4 album, Love and Distortion. (Originally scheduled for release this Tuesday, it's just gone back to April 8.) The young San Francisco based quartet hail from the same sceen that gave us Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and have a similarly self-evident love of psychedelia and feedback. Unlike BRMC, Stratford 4's debut album, The Revolt Against Tired Noises, was somewhat nondescript, which is all the more reason that Love and Distortion blew me away. Imagine a band like Richard Butler fronting Spiritualized with sexy lyrics, and ensure that their album is recorded as if they've got a grenade up their collective rear end, and you'll have some idea of the cross-cultural influences and sense of unbridled urgency that marks Love and Distortion as the year's most welcome surprise so far.
It doesn't harm the Stratford 4 that their rhythm section is female, and I particularly liked the sense of perspective offered up by this deep stage and the manner in which bassist Sheetal Singh stood a few feet behind the male guitarists and in front of drummer Andrea Caturegli. Singh and Caturegli certainly don't lack for power or precision, but for some reason they exhibited rather downtrodden expressions throughout the show, an observation I may as well match by pointing out the dangers of using, as introductory music, one of your most overt influences (in this case Spiritualized) and, finally, talking to the audience when you don't have much to say.
The Stratford 4 give it loads...
...The Flaming Sideburns give it loads more.
Those minor criticisms out of the way, the Stratford 4 mainly lived up to expectations. Lead guitarist Jake Hosek in particular was astounding, coaxing all manner of inspired sounds from his Gibson SG and Vox combo, while rhythm guitarist and singer Chris Streng delivered the melodies in an equally high-pitched and strained vocal. The result was a consistent, taut intensity and a certain amount of ear-ringing afterwards. Their brief set concentrated almost entirely on the new album, repeating the one-two punch of Love and Distortion's opening cuts 'Where The Ocean Meets The Eye' and 'She Married The Birds' (with its Butler-like line "I went to confession but had nothing to confess") and concluding, smartly, with the lyrically superb eight minute epic 'Telephone'.
I've written before about this song, which contains the classic line, delivered supposedly by Chris' mom that "There's more to life than the Stratford 4." Funnily enough, the previous time I quoted some lyrics (about other bands), I left out the last line because I couldn't discern it. Meeting the group after the show (through Matt, who seems to attract introductions from bands like he used to attract punters at the Melody), I discovered that the muffled lines actually reference "Belle and Sebastian and The Bunnymen." Streng, it turns out, is a life-long fan of McCulloch and co., and equally fond of my biography Never Stop. The fact that it was Matt who made the introductions made this mutual appreciation all the more appropriate. Nice.
The Flaming Sideburns are a Finnish garage-rock sup
ergroup if such a term is not an oxymoron who are held in high regard by The Hives and other Scandinavians fond of sixties riffs and equally dated wardrobes. Back in October, I saw the Sideburns' last couple of songs at Southpaw, at which point it seemed like half the band was in the audience. On this occasion, the visual identity was almost entirely dominated by singer Eduardo Martinez, who carries off an unusual Scandinavian trick of looking like a shorter Mick Jagger, dressing like a shorter Mick Jagger (the blue sequins were absolutely darling) and even dancing like a shorter Mick Jagger.
The Sideburns' set is relentlessly high volume, enormously enjoyable and entirely derivative. As a trend in music, I'll take the garage rock revival over the synth pop revival any day, but I won't take it too seriously. For while The Flaming Sideburns may claim boldly, as with their album title, to Save Rock'n'Roll, as the Mooney Suzuki made very clear when I saw the two bands together, rock'n'roll can't need saving if it was never in danger of dying. I take both bands' points and I'll always have time for a group like The Sideburns that plays as if their lives depend upon it. But when all is said and done, The Sideburns are of a moment and a nostalgic one at that. The Stratford 4 are of a continuum - with a fasinating future ahead of them.
MARCH 3-9: The Pursuit of Happiness, Weekend Players, U.S. Bombs, Al Farooq, A New Pessimism, Brooklyn Half Marathon
FEBRUARY 24-MARCH2: Orange Park, Ali G-Saddam Hussein-Dan Rather-Bill Maher-Jon Stewart TV reviews, Stellastarr*, James Murphy, The Station nightclub fire, the Grammys
FEBRUARY 17-23: Village Voice Poll, Singles Club, Smoke and Fire
FEBRUARY 3-16: Snug, The Face, Pink, Supergrass live, Keith Moon, Phil Spector, Gore Vidal
JANUARY 27-FEBRUARY 2: Communist Chic, Spiritland, Daddy You're A Hero, Keith Moon, State of the Union, CPFC and more on Iraq
JANUARY 20-26: Divisions of Laura Lee, Burning Brides, Words On War, Child Abuse of a Different Kind, Losing My Edge
JANUARY 13-19: Pete Townshend, Pee Wee Herman, South Park and more Pete Townshend
JANUARY 6-12: Interpol in concert, Tony Fletcher's Top 10 Albums and Singles of 2002, More on Joe Strummer and The Clash, Fever Pitch and Bend It Like Beckham.
DECEMBER 31 2002 -JAN 5 2003: A tribute to Joe Strummer, Radio 4 live on New Year's Eve
DECEMBER 25-30: NO POSTINGS: ON VACATION
DECEMBER 16-24: Metro Area, Breakbeat Science, Sting makes Wine, New York Downtown redesigns, Keith Moon anecdotes, Campbell's jokes.
DECEMBER 9-15: Tiswas, pledge drives, The View from Up North
DECEMBER 2-8 MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes Weekend Players and Snow Lit Piano Bars)
FOR NOVEMBER 25-29 MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes Joe Hurley, Thanksgiving, Sven Väth, Richie Hawtin)
FOR NOVEMBER 16-24 MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes Longwave, The Pleased, Get Your War On, Powder, Radio 4, Supreme Beings Of Leisure, Ben Neill, Baldwin Brothers, Thievery Corporation)
FOR NOVEMBER 9-15 MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes CMJ report including Datsuns, von Bondies and My Favorite, and political Eagles)
FOR NOVEMBER 2-8 MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes Halloween, the New York Marathon, and British Cuisine)
FOR OCTOBER 26-NOV 1 MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes live reviews of The Streets, Mooney Suzuki, Sahara Hotnights, Flaming Sideburns, Stellastarr*; Jam Master Jay; Halloween)
FOR OCTOBER 19-25 MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes Underworld live, Atlantic Avenue antics, Girls and Boys night)
FOR OCTOBER 12-18 MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes Bali Bombing and stupid editorials, the Electro-Clash festival, VHS Or Beta, Ballboy, Mindless Self Indulgence, 2 Many DJs, Tom Petty, The Streets, pointless stop-the-war e-mails)
FOR OCTOBER 5-11 MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes Steve Earle and John Walker's Blues, Dreaming Of Britney, Girls Against Boys and Radio 4)
FOR SEPTEMBER 28-OCT 4 MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes White Stripes live, Morel live, My Generation re-issue)
FOR SEPTEMBER 21-27 MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes The Creation live, Village Voice, Wine not Whine and more)
FOR SEPTEMBER 14-20 MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes Firefighter Andre Fletcher, Untamed, Uncut, and more September 11 Musings)
FOR SEPTEMBER 7-13 MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes Sep 11 memorials, Did Bin Laden Win?, Scissor Sisters and Electro-clash)
FOR AUGUST 31-SEPTEMBER 6 MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes The Strokes live, The Rising, Saint Etienne, Team USA, a.i., Tahiti 80, Dot Allison)
FOR AUGUST 17-30 DAILY MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes holiday musings, wine reviews, Luna at Southpaw, and more)
FOR AUGUST 10-16 DAILY MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes lengthy Who live review)
FOR JULY 27-AUG 9 DAILY MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes Area 2, 24 Hour Party People Party, Hootenanny Tour, 2 Many DJs and more.
FOR JULY 20-26 DAILY MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes Wilson Pickett, John Entwistle, rebuilding downtown NYC)
FOR JULY 13-19 DAILY MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes Love Parade, Teany, RenewNYC, Femi Kuti, NRA, Londonisation of New York, Britishification of Global Rock)
FOR JULY 6-12 DAILY MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes Mike Meyers as Keith Moon, the RAVE Act, John Entwistle, Michael Jackson, Southpaw, Moby Online, Layo & Bushwacka!,(accidentally deleted)
FOR JUNE 29-JULY 5 DAILY MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes World Cup Final, John Entwistle's legacy, The Who's decision to carry on, the meaning of July 4)
FOR JUNE 22-28 DAILY MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes World Cup diary, Dr. John, Doves, Mermaid Parade, John Entwistle's death, Timothy White's death, Clinic Firewater and Radio 4 live, The Who's decision to carry on)
FOR JUNE 15-21 DAILY MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes World Cup diary, Liars live, GiantFingers, the Big Takeover)
FOR JUNE 8 -14 DAILY MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes World Cup diary, StellaStarr*, Jose Padilla, Dee Dee Ramone, suicide bombings)
FOR JUNE 1-7 DAILY MUSINGS, CLICK HERE (includes World Cup diary, Southpaw, Six Foot Under, Andrew Sullivan)
FOR LATE MAY DAILY MUSINGS, CLICK HERE
FOR MAY'S EIGHT DAYS IN A WEEK'S MUSINGS, CLICK HERE
FOR LATE APRIL LONDON MUSINGS, CLICK HERE
FOR EARLY APRIL MUSINGS, CLICK HERE