SATURDAY OCTOBER 19 2002
I NEED YOU
One of the more popular song titles out there. (The Jam's version still rules: how can anyone lambast an album that contains such a beautiful song?) Last Saturday, I put out a call for help with this web-site,and a few of you bravely responded. But we're getting new readers all the time, so I'm continuing with the recruiting pitch. If you like what you see and read here, and want more of it, or at least for me to post the things I keep promising faster, then let me know if you're willing to: 1) Help transcribe interviews so I can take on more of them. (This is the most important task.) 2) Help edit manuscripts (some experience in that field is needed.) 3) Offer design assistance to make the site a little flashier without losing its easy-going readability. Thank you. Lots to come in the next week, so keep checking in.
FRIDAY OCTOBER 18 2002
Just listening to Sinead O'Connor's 1990 album I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got, and as with every other time I put it on (it's conveniently lying round on cassette), I find myself proclaiming it one of the greatest albums of all time. Worthy of official recognition for such - and maybe of an essay one day. Always disappointed she allowed herself to self-destruct - but all the warning signs were there in these lyrics. I gather she's just released a new album of traditional Irish songs, and I'd imagine her voice giving them exceptional treatment. . .Off to see Underworld tonight; I'm trusting it will feel complete, without Darren. . .Otherwise been staying in a lot, getting on a health kick for the big race a couple of weeks from now. I see the annual CMJ Music Marathon (the college radio shindig with hundreds of new acts showcasing) bumps right up against the real Marathon: I might have to miss a few gigs this year.
OK: Musical niceties out of the way. Onto some seriously serious subject matter. . . (Without photos.)
COUNTERING COUNTER COUNTER-TERRORISM
I shouldn't let Guardian editorials bother me, but I know many of ijamming!'s British readers trust the paper, and there's no doubt that its opinion pages influence political pub conversations and dinner party debates alike. Therefore, I can't let Jonathan Freeland's editorial of Tuesday October 15, in the wake of the Bali bombing, pass without response. You can read the whole column here, and in case you do so, I'll state up front that I'm an ardent supporter of alternative energy, and do not advocate a pre-emptive strike on Iraq. (I'll try and detail my views on Iraq situation another day; suffice to say, they're conflicted.) I'll also stress that if Freedland had made the following points, as he does we should be unrelenting in our war on terror, we should not start threatening war with Iraq before we know we've broken Al Qaeda's back, and we should be actively finding alternatives to oil and left it there, I'd be with him all the way. (So, I think, would the vast majority of Americans.) But he makes these arguments with so much duplicity, such disregard for the truth, and with such a short-sighted view of the world as it really is, that I feel compelled to challenge his thinking. Especially so because Freedland's position takes as its central premise the belief that, murderous though terrorists may be, the fault really lies with those countries whose citizens are being killed. It's a classic 'blame the victims' screed, and it's time to dispense with it.
At the core of Freedland's argument is the following premise, that "There is much western governments promised to do after 9/11 which would at least have obstructed the path of the men who plotted evil last weekend [in Bali]. Washington called it a 'war on terror' and, with remarkably little resistance, most of the world's people either signed up for it or acquiesced in it. Prevention of horrors like Saturday's was the new strategy's primary purpose. Yet all too little of that 'war' effort has actually materialised."
For a journalist, Freeland spends little time studying the flow of international news. This past year has seen a number of high-profile terrorist attacks headed off thanks to the co-operation of international governments, security agencies and police forces. The planned bombings on embassies in Paris and Singapore come immediately to mind, while the breaking up of terror cells from Hamburg to Buffalo, from Malaysia to Detroit, may also have saved countless lives. The questioning of Al Qaeda captives big and small has provided vital information about past and future plans: John Walker Lindh told his American interrogators of how he understood September 11 to be merely a preliminary strike that would pale in comparison to what Bin Laden planned to follow it with; given that such atrocities did not immediately materialize, who's to say that the 'war on terror' has not already prevented many "horrors like Saturdays"? And interrogation of Omar al-Faruq, a senior Qaeda operative in Java who was arrested in June, provided information that led to the closing of American embassies across Asia around the September 11 anniversary, and to concrete information of Qaeda plans in Indonesia itself.
"Most of the world's people" did indeed sign up for the war on terror. Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim nation, was a notable exception; it refused to acknowledge that the domestic group Jemaah Islamiyah even existed, let alone that it might be a terrorist organization with links to Al Qaeda; it allowed JI's leader Abu Bakar Bashir to operate freely (he's been publicly embraced by senior members of the country's leadership), and failed even to act upon specific warnings of imminent terrorist attacks issued, in person, by the American Ambassador only last week. As the self-appointed leaders of the 'war on terror,' the US Administration was so appalled by Indonesia's inaction that, unless significant steps were taken by later this very month, October, "the United States planned to send a public signal that Indonesia was a terrorist haven by ordering all but the most essential American diplomats home."
Only now, after the death of almost 200 innocent civilians, has the Indonesian government admitted that JI 'may be' a terrorist organization with connections to Al Qaeda. Only now have Indonesian security forces demanded to 'interview' Abu Bakar Bashir, who loudly expresses his admiration for Osama Bin Laden, his hatred for Jews and the West, and who, by the way, has already tried to assert that the Bali bombing must be the work of Americans. (And what a farce the questioning of Bashir is proving to provoke.) If it wasn't for the fact that it's the innocent people of Bali who will suffer most, it would seem fair recompense for Indonesia's tourist income to disappear overnight, as has now happened; and if ever there was to be a case made against a government for failing to protect the people on its soil, then this would be it.
Freedland goes on to write how, after 9/11, "citizens in the US and beyond imagined the full force of the state - its army, police and the complete battery of its secret services - deployed against the new enemy," and seems upset that this doesn't appear to have transpired. But isnt it the very fact that the US IS using the full force of the state especially its secret services that has so many of its citizens afraid? In case Freedland hasn't noticed, the American left is railing against every perceived FBI intrusion on civil liberties, it's challenging the legitimacy of every domestic arrest. If Freedland wants to witness the "full force of the State", then what better example than the detainment of Al Qaeda/Taliban troops in Afghanistan and their transfer, hooded and chained, to imprisonment and interrogation at Camp X-Ray? Did the likes of the Guardian offer support for that? Of course not: they denounced it in the strongest terms, as they did every aspect of the Afghan campaign until Kabul fell, the Taliban fled, the training camps were destroyed, AL Qaeda fled (admittedly, too many fled to ongoing freedom) and the Afghan people erupted in joy. (I was in the UK last Christmas and new year and I witnessed the virulent anti-Americanism of the left-wing media first hand.) The US long ago learned that in the eyes of people like Freedland and the newspapers he represents, it's damned if it does and damned if it doesn't and yet the likes of Freedland continue to want it both ways regardless.
The essay is long, and at times it makes sense. (Even a stopped clock
) But when Freedland talks about the "grievances" that have made "too many in the Muslim world rally to Bin-Laden's flag," my defenses go up. After all, we have 3,000 human grievances here in New York City, if you get my gist, and yet you don't find many people in this city rushing to join terrorist groups in response. The notion that 'grievances' give anyone the right to deliberately, maliciously, gleefuly snuff out the lives of civilians - those going about their daily lives far away from accepted battlefields - is abhorrent, and those who believe otherwise deserve our condemnation alongside the terrorists themselves.
But let's allow Freedland his explanation. He describes the "second prong of the war on terror many of us thought we signed up to a year ago," one that would "win over the constituency that offers (the terrorists) tacit backing: to drain the sea in which they swim." Admirable, I agree. (And close to Thomas Friedman's beliefs.) But Freedland seems to have signed up for a Brave New World the rest of us weren't offered. In Freeland's eyes, we were all agreeing to "a new alternative energy strategy, aimed at eventually weaning the west off oil." He didn't notice that George W Bush was President? Dick Cheney his VP? Condoleezza Rice the National Security Adviser? He hadn't noticed this was an oil government? Apparently not. "No longer would the US and others need to manipulate the Middle East just to safeguard their petrol supply. They could let the peoples of the Arab world choose their own governments for once."
And indeed, that would be a beautiful thing. But you have to ask what kind of choice the Arab people have when they aren't manipulated by the US (as indeed they should not be). Freedland actually published this essay on the day that the Iraqi people were sent to the polls to vote for a President, given only one candidate and one choice: yes to Saddam Hussein. Yet it would be hard to think of a country that makes more noise of how it isn't 'manipulated' by the US. And though he deliberately refers to 'peoples of the Arab world,' Freedland neglects to point out that the most vibrant democracy in the Middle East is in fact Israel. This is also the country most publicly accused of being 'manipulated' by the US. Somewhere between these two, there are dictatorships, theocracies, and limited democracies: some of these countries (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, vastly different in scope and political style) get strong support from the US, others (Iran, Syria) don't. It's not as black and white as The Guardian would love you to believe: that the west stops buying Middle Eastern oil, and democracy instantaneously blooms in the region. On the contrary, there is no indication that the Arab peoples "choose their own governments" when left to do so; in fact, you could strongly argue that the historical lack of democracy in these countries is a major contributory factor in to all our current global tensions. Perhaps it truly is time that that changed.
Still up in cloud cuckoo land, Freedland believes he also 'signed up' in belief that "the US would move its troops out of Saudi Arabia, healing one of the sores Bin-Laden most likes to inflame: the presence of 'infidels' on holy Muslim soil. " It should be noted that though troops have long been stationed in Saudi Arabia, Bin Laden's murderous jihad against American grew directly out of the Persian Gulf War the one sparked by Saddam Hussein invading Kuwait to steal a bigger share of the world's oil supply. Fresh from seeing off the Russians in Afghanistan, Bin Laden and his 'Afghan Arabs' offered to do the same thing with the Iraqis in Kuwait; when his Saudi relatives, along with the Kuwaitis, spurned his offer and turned to the American military, Bin Laden went off to Sudan in a huff, from where he built Al Qaeda into a highly effective terrorist organization with America as its number one enemy. Looks like Bin Laden's own biggest grievance is penis envy on a global scale: the 'your army is bigger than mine' complaint.
But of course, Freedland is only warming up for the real issue: he also bought into the notion, post 9/11, that "Washington would pick up where Clinton left off, devoting serious political muscle to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Genuine movement in that area would instantly rob the Islamists of one of their greatest recruiting pitches."
The closing sentence would be accurate were we to live in a rational world, and if history hadn't already proven him wrong so many times. But study that history and you quickly grasp that the problem with this notion is that Islamists are not really interested in an 'Isreali-Palestinain peace process.' They're interested in the complete eradication of Israel. Their recruitment pitch is based on the notion that every 'victory' in the 'peace process' can be improved upon in the battlefield. Bear in mind that 1993, the year that the PLO and Israel signed the Oslo Agreement (considered at the time a historic step toward self-determination for the Palestinian people), was also the year that Al Qaeda began its attacks on Americans, and you begin to see what I'm talking about. (Though you can go much further back on this score too: read Alan Dershowitz' new book Why Terrorism Works, of which I'll post a review soon.) Note too, that in 1998, at the point when Clinton was pushing hardest to get the two sides to sign further peaceful agreements, Al Qaeda aligned with Egyptian Jihad to form "the International Islamic Front for Jihad against Jews and Crusaders." That's an unambiguous title. The people who "rally to (that) flag," as Freedland puts it, can hardly claim they're buying into anything other than religious totalitarianism.
Similarly, JI, the terror group in Indonesia, wants a fundamentalist Islamic state across the whole of that sprawling nation of Islands. Imagine the Taliban ruling Afghanistan, transfer that horror to a mostly developed country with 210 million citizens, many of them Hindu and otherwise non-Muslim, living in some of the most beloved tourist destinations in the world. That's what the extremists are after. You can take the troops out of Saudi Arabia, you can give back the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and you can evacuate your tourists from their beloved beach resorts in the process, it's all part of the same capitulation - but if you think that's going to satisfy Al Qaeda, JI and the other terror groups, you are hallucinating. (You're also appeasing.) Those of us in the west take pride in our tolerant and essentially open societies, where different cultures and creeds live alongside each other in relative harmony, and yet too many of us are willing to find excuses for people who desire no such open-ness, wish for no such harmony, and will kill people from other religions to prove as much. It's a double standard, and we should drop it henceforth.
And let's back track. "Washington would pick up where Clinton left off. . ." Clinton left off at the end of 2000, a year in which the 'Israeli-Palestinian peace process' was apparently so successful that the Palestinians felt fit to launch a second intifada. (You know, the thing where the shadowy militant leaders instruct little kids to go in the streets and throw stones at armed soldiers, damn their consequences.) You'd think that if the peace process was getting somewhere, that uprising could have been avoided, or that if Clinton had sufficient 'muscle' he could have halted it. But neither: it was left to his successor to inherit that volatile situation and all the blame that goes with it.
Freedland's most deceitful sentence comes after he blames the Bali bombing on the fact that "the prosecutors of the war on terror have let their eye wander" and then writes how, "Like the rulers of Orwell's 1984, our leaders have urged us to switch our hatred overnight not from Eastasia to Eurasia but from al-Qaida to Baghdad." It reads well, doesn't it? Except that in Orwell's 1984. the populace is asked to switch not only its hatred overnight, but also its support. That is, yesterday's ally becomes today's enemy, and vice versa. Here in the real world, Iraq and Al-Qaeda have been self-declared enemies of the west for well over a decade (longer than the 1st and 2nd World Wars combined); it's not as if Iraq was our friend yesterday, or that Al-Qaeda will be our friend tomorrow. Even those of us who wish for nothing but peace are entitled to understand that in this complex world, it's possible to have two enemies at once. There's a phrase in 1984 called "doublespeak" and Freeland's duplicitous hijacking of that book for an inaccurate metaphor is a wonderful example.
In closing, Freeland reveals classically myopic, amnesiac thinking. "Bali has proved what Clinton argued a fortnight ago: that radical Islamism remains the "most pressing" threat in the world today. Clinton gets that. The only question is, does Tony Blair? And if he does, is he telling George W Bush?" (Isn't that two questions?)
I agree with the core sentiment: radical Islamism remains the "most pressing" threat in the world today. But I strongly disagree with the deification of Clinton as the only person who understands it. As I wrote a fortnight ago, Clinton saved Blair's hide by showing up at the Labor Party Conference and backing the British Prime Minister at a point when Blair stood accused of being Bush's lapdog; the delegates lapped up Clinton's admittedly phenomenal oral skills as if they'd discovered religion. But for Clinton to argue NOW that "radical Islamism remains the most 'pressing threat' in the world" only serves to amplify his failings as a President. Clinton came to office at the beginning of 1993, a year in which American soldiers were killed in a firefight in Somalia for which Bin Laden took credit, and the World Trade Center was bombed for the first time by Islamic extremists. (Clinton never visited the site.) Clinton left office at the very end of 2000, by which point Al Qaeda had attacked American targets all over the world, from troops in Saudi Arabia to American Embassies in Africa to the USS Cole in Yemen, and was months away from executing the September 11 atrocities on American soil.
The only time Clinton stood up to address the threat of "radical Islamism" was in 1998, after the Embassy Bombings, when he launched cruise missiles on Afghanistan (Bin Laden wasn't there) and Sudan (an erroneous target). It was three days after he'd given testimony in the Monica Lewinsky scandal and apologized to the American people for misleading them about his affair with the intern. A movie had just come out called Wag The Dog, in which a President foments a phony war to take the heat off his love-life. The whole world could therefore be forgiven for failing to fully digest Clinton's briefly-offered motives. For six years previous, President Clinton had had the opportunity to articulate the 'pressing threat' of radical Islamism and failed to do so; he had another two years after he survived the Lewinsky scandal and failed to do so then, as well. The fact that he's only discovered the 'pressing danger' post 9-11, is not only offensive to those who suffered in the attacks, but his sudden interference in international politics goes against all accepted post-Presidential protocol.
Don't mistake my anger with our last President as support for our current President, but the Bush administration inherited a global crisis of clearly catastrophic proportions. (Could Gore have done better? That's harder to prove than it is to say that other terrorist attacks since September 11 have been disrupted or forestalled. But you have to wonder how a man who couldn't win one of three debates with Dubya would have won a global war on terror.) It's just that when Freedland talks about "the eye wandering", what you actually have is a metaphor for President Clinton who preferred getting blowjobs in the hallway off interns, than to explain and deal with the 'pressing threat' of 'radical Islamism.' And now all of us the civilians of the western world - are paying the price.
But let's let the last word go to the British public. The day Freedland published his arrogant essay, the Guardian conducted a poll in which people were asked if they agreed that the United States had "taken its eye off the ball." 35% said yes. 41% said NO. Once again, I point out that the British people, who are mostly middle of the road politically, and no more fond of an international fight than your average American, have a clearer understanding of right and wrong than the opinion-makers who supposedly represent them.
I'm not going to end on such a negative. I was really pleased to find that there are corners of the British left-wing that are willing to challenge conventional wisdom and work to educate the public as to something closer to the truth. Please read this, from the Workers Liberty Party, about the history of and our responses to the land in the Middle East known both as Israel and Palestine. You can also read and listen to NPR's excellent six-part series, The Middle East: A Century of Conflict, here. And if all this pisses you off endlessly, you think all the major players are equally murderous, you've concluded we're all fucked anyway and you're stuck in an office cubicle somewhere - then this is the place for you to spend the rest of your workday online.
WEDNESDAY OCTOBER 16, 2002
THERE GO THE LAST DJs, PLAY WHAT THEY WANT TO PLAY
Green Velvet jamming with Led Zeppelin, Basement Jaxx up against the Clash, Nirvana in a romance with Destiny's Child, the Stooges backing Salt'n'Pepa if this is your idea of a beautiful thing, then you'll wish you were at Apt last night to hear 2 Many DJs. I've raved a-plenty already about the Dewaele brothers from Belgium band Soulwax, their incredible mix CD, and their phenomenal freestyle DJ sets, so I'll keep this report brief. Apt wisely limited the numbers in their fire-trap basement room last night which made the experience marginally less uncomfortable than when I witnessing 2 Many DJs there a couple months back; Apt has also put in a new sound system, which David and Stephen pushed to the very limits, with the result that my ears remain ringing twelve hours later. Apart from their 'mash-ups' (or whatever you want to call the melding of two or three songs into one new track, as per the examples in my opening sentence), the brothers also played Felix da Housecat, The Rapture, Primal Scream, Dolly Parton, Royksopp, Arbeid Adelt, Daft Punk, New Order, Inner City, Jeans Team, Nitzer Ebb
oh, and Paul McCartney, whose 1980 song 'Temporary Secretary' (from McCartney 2) they recently came across in a second-hand store and are pounding as the latest "electro-clash" obscurity.
|Stephen and David Dewaele, aka Soulwax, aka 2 Many DJs, at Apt in July
There's a reason why this McCartney track remains so little known it's terrible, I mean, excruciatingly, embarrassingly bad coming from the world's most popular living songwriter. Therein lies one of 2 Many DJs most distinct talents: the ability to drop an obviously bad track into a set so gleefully fun that the song sounds, if not necessarily good, then at least appropriately enjoyable. Contrast this with the opening DJ's choice of Kajagoogoo's 'Too Shy' (one of my most-hated hits of the 80s), played in isolation, and you'll understand the very thin line between kitsch and crap.
I had lunch with the Dewaeles yesterday, interviewing them for a future feature here (which should get up quicker than past interviews, thanks to all the volunteers who replied to my cry for help) and came away inspired by their attitude towards their own music as Soulwax, their surprise DJ career, the music industry in general and, most importantly, all music in general. As their set list indicates, David and Stephan are anti-snobs, non-purists, and as such, while I've labeled their As Heard On Radio Soulwax Pt.2 "the last great mix CD?" it doesn't mean they're the last great DJs. Here in New York and this city isn't operating in a vacuum the average club night out now involves hearing anything and everything. Which is a good thing. The Dewaeles, as I say, know how to stir the melting pot and come out with an original concoction. Other musical chefs should take mixing lessons from them.
It's complete coincidence that just after I posted the 2 Many DJs review with the tag "The Last Great Mix CD?" I received Tom Petty's new album, named for its opening song (and single) 'The Last DJ.' It's as much a coincidence that Petty's furiously barbed album arrived the day after Stu complained on the Forum that no one questions music industry sell-outs any more a la Neil Young's 1988 album This Note's For You. And it's mere synchronicity that Petty sings of "The last DJ, who plays what he wants to play," about the handful of hold-out individual broadcasters on this country's increasingly corporate rock radio format, not the trend in clubland typified by 2 Many DJs. But it's all part of connecting the dots, and Petty's demand for artistic independence is closer to the Dewaeles' mindset that either act probably realizes. (Look for a feature review of The Last DJ in coming days.)
Interestingly enough, the one album that's been challenging Petty for repetitive spins this past week could not, on the face of it, seem more different. Tom Petty and Mike Skinner are separated by several generations, a continent, an ocean, a nationality and an entire language of music-making. But because they're both passionately devoted to their art form, inherently poetic, decisively outspoken and both named their new albums after the radio I've had no problem listening to them side to side.
So who's Mike Skinner? He's the force behind The Streets, whose debut album Original Pirate Material all my friends were raving about when I was in London in the spring. The lone track I heard at the time convinced me they were on to something and I have no excuse for not coming home with the album from that trip or picking it up on import since, but what matters is that I finally have it, and I totally understand the fuss. Original Pirate Material is the most innovative album to emerge from the UK for several years. It's ground-breaking and genre-busting; it's politically pertinent; it's funny; and, as they apparently used to say on Juke Box Jury, you can dance to it.
But the Brits already know all that. In America, Original Pirate Material bounced around divisions of the diminishing Warner Brothers empire screaming for a release until it was handed over to the wise guys behind Vice magazine as the launch act for their label deal with Atlantic. The Streets' album hits the States next week; The Streets hit the States in person for a gig a week after that. I'll be there.
If you've got this far today because you do love the idea of mixing up all and any music as long as it's good, and you live in New York, mark next Wednesday October 23 in your diary, and show up at Filter 14 over on West 14th in the Meatpacking District where I'll be DJing alongside Tim Burgess of the Charlatans, and the boys of Mint Royale. Should be a fuck-up in all the best senses. DJ sets start round 11pm. $5 will get you in.
Amendments: I didn't realize until talking to Soulwax yesterday that the dancer onstage with Princess Superstar at the Electro-Clash fest last week was none other than Peaches herself. This further raises the question as to why the Princess was singing a song called 'Fuck me On the Dancefloor' when Peaches' best-known anthem is called 'Fuck the Pain Away.' Perhaps I got it wrong, and the Superstar song is a response? Maybe it's a tribute? Or maybe I got it right, and having influenced Peaches in the first place, Princess Superstar is now the one being influenced. . . Also, not being a big David Gedge fan, I didn't know that the Cinerama, the opening act on the Ballboy/VHS or Beta bill the same night, is in fact ex Wedding Present frontman David Gedge's new band. (Thanks, Patrick.) So the talent booker was far more on the case than I realized: I wonder how Gedge, who's had his share of pop stardom, felt about opening up for an act that's cited as being influenced by him. At least we know now why Gordon McCarthy was willing to pronounce a new song title as being "suitably Gedge-ian."
TUESDAY OCTOBER 15
The e-mail petition started circulating a year back, after September 11, when the Americans made clear that they were going to take action in Afghanistan. It appeared again a few months back when Bush turned up the heat on Iraq. Then in the last week, this petition has begun appearing in my Inbox with all the regularity of that son-of-an-assassinated-African-dictator-who-needs-your/my-personal-help-to-access-his-$60-million-inheritance. And it's no more legitimate. This is worrying because I'm getting sent the petition from otherwise intelligent people who I trusted were able to think for themselves.
The opening or second sentence of the currently circulating e-mail usually reads: "Today we are at a point of imbalance in the world and are moving toward what may be the beginning of a THIRD WORLD WAR. If you are against this possibility, the UN is gathering signatures in an effort to avoid a tragic world event."
The first half of the first sentence is indisputable, as it has been for hundreds of years; the latter half is debatable, though hard to disprove. Fact is, it doesn't mention Iraq any more than it mentioned Afghanistan a year ago. (And incidentally, every time I get sent this, it ALWAYS has the same few names at the top of the signature list, all of them in the Grenoble region of France. Can a statistician prove why I always get the same names?)
Think about the second sentence: "the UN is gathering signatures in an effort to avoid a tragic world event." The United Nations is always trying hard to avoid war (though if you're on George W Bush's side, it obviously tries too hard) and is currently mobilising key diplomats, holding emergency talks, passing new security resolutions etc etc. But why would the UN be out "gathering signatures" like this was some kind of neighborhood protest against the building of new supermarket? If the UN was actively "gathering signatures in an effort to avoid a tragic world event" don't you think we might just have had it reported in the news by now? Something along the lines of how Kofi Anan has given up trying to convince Saddam Hussein and George W Bush to sit down, shake hands and let bygones be bygones, and is now actively engaged in an online campaign to gather random, undocumented names from across the world to prove that war is not the answer. Think about it, people.
And if you did think, you might just check the e-mail address that's "gathering signatures" and note that "firstname.lastname@example.org" doesn't sound like the UN's address. It sounds like a university's e-mail address. I sent a test e-mail to that address and received the following autoreply:
"The email account you are trying to reach, email@example.com recently closed due to a massive petition campaign that was started by an unknown source. While the intentions were admirable, this petition generated thousands of emails and has caused serious computer problems on our system. For those looking to send a petition somewhere, we suggest sending a postal letter to your government representative.
We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.
In other words, you're not only sending signatures to the wrong place, they aren't even getting there to begin with. You're completely wasting your time.
I agree with the Autoreply. If you want to protest to your leaders, do so directly, to your elected officials. (And if you don't like what they represent, be sure not to vote for them next time.) If you want to let your own views be known by a wider audience, write something up and engage in e-mail debate with your friends on line; start a neighborhood group if that's what it takes. If you feel very strongly, join a visible protest where numbers can be seen and counted. (Though try and make sure your protest stands only for the cause in which it was initially stated to stand.) But please, think twice about believing every circular e-mail that lands in your Inbox.
While we're on this subject, and on a day when the Iraqi people are off at the polls to re-elect their leader (a simple yes or no vote: which would you go for in a Police State?), I do want to call the British newspapers and journalists on their usual inability to factcheck. I was recently sent a lengthy Part 2 feature from the Guardian of September 3 this year, in which Oliver Burkeman journeyed all the way up Manhattan to gauge how the city had changed since September 11 of last year. There were plenty interesting comments, but the closing of his paragraph set in Harlem, about the popularity of last year's Democratic Mayoral Candidate Fernando Ferrer, sent me straight to the Internet. I quote:
"One of the more minor effects of the attacks was the postponement of an election to select the Democratic candidate for Mayor. . .After September 11, every pundit in the city wrote (Ferrer) off for good. . . When the primary was held, two months later, Ferrer won by a landslide."
Whoah! Can we back up here? For one thing, the Primary was held two weeks later, on September 25 (one of many examples of how New York rebounded back to work despite the horrors); it was the actual election for Mayor that was held two months later, on its originally scheduled date. And as anyone who has even a passing interest in New York City politics knows, Michael Bloomberg, a Republican, was elected over Mark Green, the Democrat candidate. So if Mark Green was the Democrat candidate, how could Ferrer have "won by a landside"? In the Primary on September 25, Ferrer took approximately 35% of the vote against Green's 32% - not a landslide by anyone's interpretation of the word, especially the Board Of Elections, which mandates a run-off should any candidate get less than 40%. Ferrer and Green therefore went head-to-head in a run-off election in October, which Green won by a nose (51%). (You can confirm these figures here.) The fact that Green was a terrible Democrat candidate who threw away an even bigger lead against his Republican challenger than Al Gore had done so a year earlier in the Presidential race is neither here nor there: The Guardian misrepresents the most basic and easily-researched of facts, and it negates the effect and power of the entire story in the process.
Such mistakes are not the property of left-wing newspapers. Witness Andrew Sullivan's penultimate sentence from his column in the British Sunday Times of October 6: 'George W Bush is "the first president who never had a majority of the popular vote."' With only two major parties in the States, it would be easy for outsiders to imagine that the President habitually gets more than 50% of the vote. But that's often not the case: Clinton got much less than 50% in 1992, Nixon less than 50% in 1968, JFK less than 50% in 1960, and so on. Given that he runs such a busy online site of his own, Sullivan was quickly called on his error and issued a mea culpa: "What I meant was that he didn't win a "plurality," something that has happened twice before in America." (i.e., as with two previous Presidents, Bush got less votes than his leading challenger.) If you link to Sullivan's story on his own web site, you'll see that he's corrected himself, but the damage would have been done to Sunday Times readers - and his own credibility has suffered in my eyes too. (Living in the UK, I was always offended by how a party that might gain only 40% of the popular vote nonetheless routinely won far more than 50% of the Parliamentary Seats, and with it, complete and total power. I'm a strong believer in proportional representation.)
As I've said before, people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones, and I'm occasionally called up here for getting names wrong. I probably get the occasional fact wrong too. (Though there's been surprisingly little challenge on that score.) But I'm not writing for a personal web site, not an internationally influential newspaper with enormous resources and scores of sub-editors. When I first moved to the States, I read Bright Lights, Big CIty and thought that the narrator's stint at the New Yorker as a fact-checker was pure fiction; then my own stories for American publications were (occasionally) fact-checked and I realised that fiction indeed, had to be separated from fact. No, you shouldn't believe everything you read on the Internet (or in your Inbox) for obvious reasons, and that includes what I say. But you would be expected to assume your daily papers would get their basic facts right.
Lecture over. I'm off to interview 2 Many DJs today. Seems like I've gushed enough over them that they merit some space to explain their madness.
Sorry for the lack of pictures on today's editorial. Couldn't think of any that merited inclusion!
MONDAY OCTOBER 14
Part of the fun of hosting a website (as opposed to say, publishing a magazine) is being able to see precisely where one's readership comes from. On Sundays, if I have time, I log into my web host, and apart from checking the overall numbers (glad to say there was another record number of hits last week), the first thing I look for is where this site is getting linked from. In the past week, and for the first time, people have been visiting courtesy of links put up by steveearle.net, cpfc.org, the halfmanhalfbiscuit home page, and the British-based Alliance For Workers Liberty! As these four disparate sites might indicate, iJamming! has an eclectic (i.e. my own) editorial policy, which means you may not find everything here to your personal taste. But I do believe that, even if you got linked from a specific site with a particular agenda (be it a single musical act, football team or political party), you'll find plenty of interest if you look around. Have fun.
I'd write more today but it's a holiday Stateside (the dubious Columbus Day) and I've got a 7-year old hogging my desk and forcing me to play Bionicle Wars. In lieu of coming up with anything original myself, I'm reprinting 'How To Be Electroclash', author currently anonymous, which is doing the rounds of some underground news groups. Nuggets of advice include: "When you're prancing around on stage like the stupid ass you are, tell all journalists about your high 'concept' combining music, fashion, dance and performance art." Read the entire satire here.
SUNDAY OCTOBER 13
Writing this on Sunday afternoon, I'm in a conflicted mood. On the one hand, I'm euphoric from running the Staten Island half-marathon in a comfortable 1:51:30, without that knee bothering me like it has been the last two weeks. Assuming I don't do anything dumb to my body over the next three weeks, and that I continue all the stretching exercises I've been forced to learn after almost putting myself out of the running (literally) by over-training, I know I can do the real thing on November 3. And hopefully sub-four hours too.
I'm also happy because, in a hurry to get a decent night's sleep last night before the run, I accidentally wiped last week's entire daily musings before properly archiving it (or realising it). No, I'm not happy about that. I'm happy because this afternoon, I was able to work my way through the complicated Mac OSX structure, find a copy of the front page cached from Friday in the Netscape preferences, open it up with text software, copy and paste that text into a new page of source code in Adobe Go Live, and get the entire page back. (It's here.) As I said when asking for help with the ijamming! site (and thanks to those who've volunteered, I will absolutely be in touch), I'd sooner be writing - but the satisfaction that comes with rectifying a technical problem yourself, like some people experience when fixing their own car, is hard to beat.
On a much more important and serious note, my upbeat feelings are nullified by the horrendous mass murder of innocents in Bali. Words don't cut it: my sympathies to all those who lost loved ones in these cowardly car bomb attacks. And I never wanted it to take something like this for other parts of the world to realise that the international terrorist threat is not simply aimed at the USA, and it's not the price the rest of the world pays for any one country's foreign policy. It's a global war aimed at the entire 'west' and by extension, at all westerners, including those on holiday, be they Australian, German, British or, indeed, American. The fact that equally innocent Muslims are killed in such attacks (as they were on September 11) doesn't appear to worry the murderers whatsoever. But then they're not operating with any morals to begin with, so that shouldn't surprise us.
I was, seriously, thinking of saying something here along the lines of how surely even hardline Indonesian Muslims might now have to rethink the convenient international Islamic denial of September 11 (the one that argues that the plane hijackings were instead carried out by the CIA/Mossad/remote control) except that it seemed to be an inappropriate moment to raise it. Then I just read, at the Australian Broadcasting Company's news site, this paraphrased quote from Abu Bakar Bashir, whose Jemaah Islamiyah group was initially fingered by seasoned international observers as the likely perpetrators of this mass murder (though at this point, we don't know who was responsible): "Mr Bashir claims it would be impossible for Indonesians to carry out such a bombing because they could not get such powerful explosives. He says it must therefore be the work of foreigners, most probably the US." But of course.
SUNDAY OCTOBER 13
THE WEEK IN REVIEW
I've previously detailed my lack of excitement for the Electroclash scene. But I'm always willing to be proven wrong, and this week's festival across Manhattan and Williamsburg, conveniently entitled Electroclash, provided me with several opportunities to eat my words. I seized one of them: Wednesday night, I attended festival entrepeneur Larry Tee's "opening night" gala at Webster Hall, where I ran into all manner of old acquaintances I barely see any more. Some had come out because it's almost a decade since the venue has put on a decent show (after emerging from the ruins of the revered Ritz in the early nineties, Webster Hall shamelessly and profitably catered to the 'bridge and tunnel' crowd, alienating 'real' New Yorkers in the process), but most, like me, were there to see what the fuss is all about.
I'd still like to know. At its worst and there's some really bad music on this scene Electroclash is a combination of talent show, drag contest, lip-synching and early-era MTV choreography set to 1980s synth pop. On the main stage Wednesday night, Larry Tee played host to a conveyor belt of such performers, some of whom actually have critical credibility Mt. Sims, Poon, W.I.T. but none of whom delivered a performance to suggest they had the artistic talent (or songs) to merit an actual career.
As with any movement, Electroclash has drawn in those who were making music long before the scene came along, and when Princess Superstar took the stage unexpectedly, my eyes and ear pricked up. Ms Superstar's been making feisty white girl hip-hop for years already, and deservedly caught a break with this year's album Is, and the near hit 'Bad Babysitter.' But as one of the few acts who seemed to have her microphone switched on, she struggled to be heard above the recorded beats: the most I can tell you is that she sung one song entitled 'Fuck me On the Dancefloor' (with requisite dancer acting out the lyrics on her) and that it obviously deserves to be mixed with Peaches' 'Fuck The Pain Away'. In fact, for a girl who's paid her dues, I'm surprised Princess Superstar allowed herself to be so obviously influenced by a competitor; Peaches, for her part, was wise enough to stay away from Wednesday night's madness and reserve her own performances for sold-out clubs later in the week.
Vocal and instrumental highlights from this year's Electroclash festival.
(Yes, that is sarcasm, and yes that is a Jeffrey Daniels lookalike bottom left.)
In the smaller room downstairs, following an entertaining set by Scissor Sisters (they play, they sing, they even use guitars), I could only watch in dismay as a Jeffrey Daniels lookalike (remember Shalamar?) took the stage flanked by two dancers, and proceeded to sing/lip-synch/dance to the kind of Ready For The World 'Oh Sheila' rip-off such as sounded so whack to me when I attended Berliniamsburg. His name? Xavier or Ulysses, depending on the accuracy of the running order, but I'm not sure it matters; the similarity of moniker among performers tells you much about their likely staying power.
Am I a curmudgeonly old git for not letting "the youth of today" enjoy nostalgia - even for an age I don't think is worth repeating? Yes and no. They're welcome to dig up the apparent glories of early 80s synth-pop if they can add to it. But as stated before, so few do anything other than add icy cool ironically spoken vocals to the most repetitive of Depeche Mode synth lines, and bringing the worst of early MTV-era fashion and its dances along for the ride without apparent irony! seems no more valid to me in 2002 than going out to form a hardcore punk band and singing 'God Save The Queen.' And let's be honest: some of the people around this scene are old enough to have experienced it first time around. Average age Wednesday night was closer to thirty than twenty, with a substantial percentage in their mid-thirties and above.
In fact, much of what I witnessed on the main stage was highly reminiscent of early 90s Disco 2000 at the Limelight, or the much-missed annual Wigstock festival on Labor Day, at which East Village drag queens would take the stage to lip-synch and dance to a prominent club track, and occasionally even sing one of their own. Out of that scene came a couple of genuine, if short-lived phenomenons: Deee-Lite, and Ru-Paul, whose 'Supermodel' was co-written by one of Disco 2000's promoters Larry Tee. Which brings us full circle. Bless Larry for his unfailing enthusiasm seriously but let's call Electroclash for what it is: an awful lot of emperor wanna-bes wearing not even especially new clothes.
So was there any redeeming factor? Yes, Felix da Housecat's short DJ set, perfectly timed for maximum audience hysteria. For that half-hour, Webster Hall felt like it was the center of clubland, as Felix used his limited time to push a number of his remixes, his superb single 'Silver Screen Shower Scene' with Miss Kittin, and Depeche Mode's 'Personal Jesus,' which you would never have known gets played in dozens of 'new wave' clubs every night of the work all over America judging by its reaction.
I missed turntable sets by 2 Many DJs, who are too young, alien and innovative to be tied in with Electroclash, and by Arthur Baker, who is too old, home grown and, equally, original to be anything but an honorary member. I did meet Arthur in the stairwell; he volunteered that he's taken the reverse journey from most dance icons, moving from production to remixing to DJing. When I proffered that "There's nothing to beat playing records," he shook his head in disagreement. "I hate it," he said. Then why do it? "They ask me to." Someone get this man back into the studio, and quick.
On the way out, I was thrust a flyer with the accompanying news that "Soft Cell are back!" I know. I've got their album already. It's awful. There's an act that should not have reformed.
Depending if I have any energy left after Sunday's half-marathon in Staten Island, I may yet get to the Electroclash closing night do to hear more DJs and try one last time to be convinced that this movement is genuinely new and exciting. In the meantime, I've been listening, while writing, to Electro Nouveau, a double CD upcoming from Moonshine. It features several good tracks by artists absent from Webster Hall (Chicks On Speed, Ladytron, Laptop, Bis, and the superb 'Rippin' Kittin' by Goldenboy With Miss Kittin) but when I tell you that the album's most energetic track is a Sigue Sigue Sputnik remix, you'll understand what we're up against.
||VHS or Beta . . . look like they want to play speed metal and sound like they're playing house music.
So let's talk real Electroclash. There was a good reason for missing the artists earlier on the Webster Hall bill. I'd gone instead to the Knitting Factory to see VHS or Beta, the Kentucky band who look like they want to play speed metal but sound like they're playing house music. Seriously, this is a group in uniform blue jeans and black tees, 70s porn moustaches and long hair, and whose front trio specialize in Gibson SG leads and Fender Jazz basses. Behind them though, is a drummer on pads, which allows for live performance of the famously crisp 909 snare roll, and a keyboard player armed with a Roland MC303 and another Roland synth. The combination is frighteningly effective, like Daft Punk filtered (heavily filtered, just listen to those pedal effects) through Sonic Youth by way of Phish. After ten minutes, you're convinced it's the most astounding thing you've ever seen. After twenty minutes, you realize you've been listening to the same quasi-instrumental all along but with different titles. And after half an hour, you grasp that there's a thin line between jam bands you can dance to and dance music you can jam to and that VHS Or Beta are straddling that line so precariously that they're bound to fall onto one side or the other. Still, for their originality, musical chops and for actually bothering to play their own synth lines and drum patterns, they were by far the most entertaining dance band I saw that night.
VHS or Beta were opening for Ballboy, the Scottish band whose album Club Anthems I raved about earlier this year. Perhaps a booking agent mistook Ballboy's ironic album title as making for a suitable musical match. And maybe I also expected a different band the one that soothes like Belle & Sebastian, that waxes poetic about why 'I Hate Scotland' and 'Olympic Cyclist.' What I got instead was the band that sounds like the Wedding Present, that sings pleasantly angular rock songs like 'Kansas' and 'It's Not You, It's Me' (the latter brand new song title one that its writer Gordon McCarthy even referred to as being "suitably Gedgian"; Wedding Present cognoscenti will understand the reference) but which fails to thrill. I stuck it out long enough to give a chance for the first band to emerge from the second; they didn't. (Time I left, they'd still to play a song I recognised from Club Anthems.) Did they ever? I'd love to know. The records are too good for the shows to be so average.
|Ballboy's Gordon McCarthy: "Gedgian."
And working backwards, guess which band/DJ/lip-synching performer that I saw this week played to the most people? Naturally, the least credible. Mindless Self Indulgence caused a brief national splash two years ago with their major label debut Frankenstein Girls Will Seem Sexy. A thirty-song shock fest with titles like 'Faggot', 'Masturbates' and 'Royally Fucked,' Frankenstein was hardly destined for airplay. Sure enough, the hype didn't translate into sales, and the band was eventually 'released' from its contract. That, you would assume, is the end of that.
Try telling the thousand kids who crammed themselves into a sold-out Irving Plaza Tuesday night to greet MSI like conquering heroes. (Admittedly, the band are New Yorkers, but they're also selling out venues across the country.) For over an hour, guitarist Steve Righ?, and goth femme rhythm section Kitty and Vanessa hammed it up furiously as they raced through a set of evident anthems, the crowd singing, screaming and shouting along while moshing and swaying. All the while singer Jimmy Urine jumped on speakers, ran riot over the stage, and generally acted like he was fronting the biggest band in the world when, in reality, over two years after Frankenstein, Mindless Self Indulgence are just in the process of releasing a live album, Alienating Our Audience, along with an offshoot by the band's male members (the girls have better taste) of toilet-humor mini-tracks under the names The Left Rights.
|They're not alienating this audience: Mindless Self Indulgence, back in the underground after a typically unproductive relationship with a major, inspire devotion at Irving Plaza
Are Mindless Self Indulgence any more likely to conquer the world now that they're back in the underground? No. But they don't seem to be any less popular for it either. And for as long as MSI's music remains a kaleidoscopic train wreck of goth, punk, industrial, hip hop, techno and speed metal, it's a proper electro-clash.