Part 4 – Punk as fuck.

The next weekend’s gig was an opening slot for The Dead Pollys, and then I would sit in with them as well. They are a punk band. Straight up, though a bit celtic-influenced. The singer, Niclas, or Nizze, is a big bald headed dude with a leather jacket, and could potentially be assumed to be dangerous or scary or both, if you didn’t actually talk to him, or perhaps see him with his family. And when he’s singing, he’s all energy, all that hugeness is also inside him, and he sings it out. The reason he’s a punk rocker is that he’s got a lot to say about inequality and fascism and shit, and it’s gotta be loud and strong. When I went with him on the train to Nynäshamn to record at the bassist, Juba’s, place, I got a good sense of him being one of the actually good people around, though he looks sort of mean in the picture I drew of him.

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I thought that for an opening slot, again all by myself, I would just borrow his guitar and play some of my older songs from my Jack & Jill albums of the mid-90s, maybe a couple newer ones. But I assumed it would be a punk audience, and I have no idea how they would like a solo long-haired singer.

The venue was Brother Tuck’s, I guess yet another Irish-style bar with a cavern below it, this time on Götgatan in Södermalm. I knew where it was, right across from Skanstull station, but I had never been there. Walking in, I could see it was a football bar, tons of people were wearing green and white clothes because of some football game. The cellar with the bands was all cement downstairs, typical crap sounding place. I soundchecked with the band, basically just plugging the violin directly into an amp and dialing back a bit of treble, no pedals. Sounded great with the distorted guitar, and I had rehearsed with them so I knew four or five songs.

I checked Nizze’s guitar to make sure I could play it, and as I thought, it was a little tough. He played a Telecaster with thick strings, high action. He’s a strong guy, me, not as much. But I could do it, I think. If I remembered the words to the songs.

We ate upstairs, and I saw more punkers showing up, I asked Nizze about the band name, because when I had been thinking about it earlier, I veered away from the obvious and got caught up in a dark corner of the world, and thought about Polly Klaas, a young girl who was abducted and killed in Petaluma 20 years ago. She had actually been Chris Pedersen’s kids’ babysitter, and that was perhaps the final trigger that sent his family away from the US and to Australia. Then later, in 2007, I had been working with the Theatre of Yugen doing a cycle of Noh plays and one was about Polly (the demon play, I believe). But Nizze assured me that it was a Monty Python reference, of course. (And The Plastic Pals band name is from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, you know. Some predilection for British humor over here!)

After dinner I went for a walk in the area and saw some nice murals on the sides of work scaffolding, and then saw Marty Willson-Piper inside Pet Sounds Records. I went over and he unlocked the door, he was closing up shop, apparently having taken over from the owner who was finally taking some time off after decades. Marty is always fun to talk to, he is obviously way into music and writes a blog about listening to records, mostly (or possibly always) from his own record collection. I told him I was sitting in with a punk band this evening and he said, “Refused?” I said, no, that would be awesome though, but he said that they were in fact playing a secret show that evening. Dang! He said he was going to go to San Francisco to play Hardly Strictly Bluegrass in the fall, and wanted to know if I knew where he could get some more gigs with that as an achor, so I got his email address and later tried to hook him up with the booking agent that books Camper and Cracker, I think something may have worked out. Hope so!

When I got back to Brother Tuck, I could see that there were all sorts of football hooligans and punks there now. All sorts of punks, meaning skinheads also, wearing flight jackets and shit. I know there are anti-fascist skinheads and two-tone skinheads and stuff, but it still freaks me out. We’re in Stockholm. Not as bad as in some other parts of Sweden, but there are fascists and ultra-rightist racists, they even have Nazi-type demonstrations. When I went to the bathroom to pee, I realized suddenly that the skinhead peeing next to me might see that I appear circumcised and think I’m Jewish (as opposed to simply being American. It’s a long story.) That is fucking weird, I had never once in my life considered the fact that somebody might see my dick and hate me. I mean, because of the way it looked. I felt rattled by this, and had to talk myself down a bit before getting ready to play. I had a set of song-type songs, again, mostly from Jack & Jill’s “Chill and Shrill” or “Fancy Birdhouse,” Pushing the Norton, Another Beer, I’m an Idiot, I’ve Seen a Goat, and then threw in a rousing “Hey You” at the end, just to see if they’d come with me. Some people did, though most of the punk audience was still upstairs watching the football.

jesBotherTuck

The rest of the evening was some hella punk, though again I had some moments when I couldn’t tell which way the pendulum was swinging, politically. Lots of songs about marching boots, oy oy oy, but I believe they were anti-fascist. And “Olof Palme’s dead” which may have been pretty punk to say in 1980, but politically it’s a bummer and has been ever since he got shot on the street. This show featured a band called Sighsten’s Grannar, which means Sighsten’s Neighbors (someone is going to have to explain who this is, I was never sure what the implication was,) who were a defunct band coming back to make one last show, so they had the big audience. The band after me was D.B.T.S., which was supposed to sound like “diabetes,” then Sighsten’s Grannar, Dead Pollys up after them, so I saw a lot of punk rock. They rocked it, most people stuck around. I played the shit out of the violin on a few songs, it was a total hoot to play heavy loud punk rock. Nizze is a really forceful singer.

deadpollys

So now I’d spent the previous weeks with all sorts of music, jazz and rock and classical, prog and punk and improv. During the following week, the guy whom Nathan had originally suggested as a bassist, Jair-Rôhm Parker Wells, was in town and had a studio he usually worked at called Gyroscope Studios, run by a guy named Frank Sanderson who was a drummer, so we arranged to meet there. I took my guitar and violin, then when changing to the bus at Liljeholmen, there was a dude in a tweed cap with an instrument, and in fact it was Jair-Rôhm, so we rode together and he told me that he was an American who had lived in Stockholm for about 15 years, and then moved to Bangkok four years back and come back to Scandinavia to work on cruise ships and such. However, his background was heavy, lots of playing bass on everything from LA sessions to an awful lot of free improv. He was carrying a portable electric upright bass and a pedal.

He showed me the way to the studio, and we met Frank, who was yet another American who had been living here for years, and was a voice-actor for his day job. The studio was an apartment of several rooms, the first of which we entered was the control room with the mixing desk and computer and a bunch of other random Soviet Russian-made synths and outboard gear. In another little room were guitars and amps, and through there was the drum room, where he had his giant drumset set up and mic’ed in a permanent way. Pretty cool setup! He said that we’d essentially be able to play and listen in the control room to the whole stereo mix, so Jair-Rôhm and I set up on the floor there. I had brought my little pedalboard, but for some reason it was having a high pitched noise issue (power supply thing, I think, trying to power the pedals through the Boss tuner. No wonder everybody here uses those power bricks with isolated 9v outputs. Never had that problem in the states, even though the power supply wall warts all say they’re good from 100-240v.) In the end I gave up on my stuff because Frank had a big pedal board he had built with a bunch of Electro-Harmonix devices! Yum!

Jair-Rôhm had one pedal. He was pragmatic, it was a Zoom multi-effects device and looper, and his bass sounded like something between and upright with a pickup and an electric bass. We tested sound levels and I tested out some of the amps and eventually we were ready to play, so Frank started up the recording on the computer and off we went.

Immediately I could see that this was going to be great. For one thing, I had all these great effects pedals to play with that I didn’t really know how to use (yet), but for another thing, these guy were masters of their instruments, which meant that it didn’t matter if I even played anything and it would still be great. In fact my only job was not to fuck it up! I was in pretty good playing shape from all the recording sand listening I’d been doing, so it all seemed smooth. After a little bit of build up, Frank jumped right in with a groove, and Jair Rohm went in super rhythm, I found some good tones and we were off. At any given point there may have been two of us inside and one outside the groove, Frank or Jair Rohm changing things up as needed, I rarely took any rhythmic control and was happy to fly melodically around Jair Rohm’s harmonic space, on guitar for a while then violin.

An hour and a quarter or so later, we came to a stop. I guess that’s the piece? Nice! Time for lunch! We went out and walked a bit up the road to a cafe near Telefonplan, had a relaxed lunch and came back and played just another half hour more and decided we were done. This was some fun music. Frank’s “group” was called The Momentary Music Ensemble, so this was who this would be attributed to, though he also said he was going to take out bits and pieces to play with for other projects (one of which is this track, Dance Medicinale). I got a rough mix of the whole piece we did, now called “Bad News Spiderman,” and though I read that with a comma, Frank never put one there. (That is, somebody saying to Spiderman, “[Looks like] bad news, Spiderman,” not that he’s a ‘bad news spiderman.’) He claims it’s out soon… I can’t wait! I will definitely keep you informed…

It’s up on Soundcloud now:

The next gig I had was playing again with Håkan from the Plastic Pals, but this time as an acoustic duo opening for Chuck Prophet at Nalen. Nalen is on of those halls that’s been a popular place for a hundred years, the site of many great jazz performances in Sweden back when the great players all came here, and were actually appreciated.

Chuck

With all of this musical activity I felt ready to tackle the listening part again, so I spent a lot of the next month working in my home studio, sorting out my recordings and diving back into mixing the Øresund Space Collective recordings from the previous fall. The ØSC recordings comprised several hours of music, but by this point Scott Heller, Dr Space, had decided which tracks would be going on the release scheduled for the fall. The working title was “From Many Lands,” to somewhat relate the disparate origins of the players, though as we worked more on the release, and especially with the artwork from Mørden Smed, the title became “Different Creatures.” Two CDs, 3 LPs, including two pieces that had sitar, one that was more Hawkwind-like, one more MAN-like, two outside electronica and one 45-minute epic space jam. So I worked exclusively on mixing these tracks, going back and forth with Scott and Hasse (Hans Horrigmoe, the bassist on these sessions and long time member of Tangle Edge, a Norwegian band.) There’s a lot of information about this process here on Malcolm Humes interview here on Perfect Sound Forever.

The mixing went on most of the summer, as I moved my home studio out to the country and began working on overdubs for my recordings, and writing them into songs, writing lyrics.

At the end of the month of May, I finally did get together with Mikael Tuominen (who was the person who was supposed to play bass at Eastman Studios to begin with, remember?) and Andreas, and we played and recorded it. The day was the last day of May, so we ended up calling the ensemble Sista Maj, which I think is a dark joke as it is colloquial for “the last day of May” but could also potentially mean “the last May” ever. You can listen to some of this here on Soundcloud, so long as Soundcloud lasts.

The Momentary Music Ensemble, in an entirely different incarnation, played at Fylkingen in early June, this time with electric sitar and trumpet and saxophone, we were all arranged around the space!

So. The purpose of all of this writing and all of this playing and all of this listening is and all of this audio sculpting in mixing is… superfluity. The album I am working on now, completely superfluous, complete overflow, is superfluity. I did most of the organization during summer, I had no gigs until heading to California to play again with Camper Van Beethoven in August. In the process of arranging and editing the recordings I had, I wrote lyrics and played guitars, violin, whatever. I sang some. It’s a big project, it’s two hours long, about. Two CDs, if it ever is made into physical objects. One of the pieces is a 23-minute piece of electronic music called “Phenomenon and On,” a tape collage and whatnot, everything I know about music all thrown into the kitchen sink. It’s right in the middle (which would be the end of the first CD, so you could easily skip it.) There are songs that are rock songs, there are songs that are more complicated. There are some instrumentals that are improvised, some that are composed.

I started a subscription series on my Bandcamp page, you can subscribe and get this album when it’s done…And these subscribers are also getting the outtakes as time goes on. Yes, even as long as my planned concept album is, there are outtakes!

I will write more about it all as we approach its release.

Posted in Guitar, Music, recording, Touring, Violin

Part 3 – “Will and Representation”

For the show on The Partially Examined Life podcast episode 115 where we spoke about Schopenhauer and aesthetics, we read the third book of “The World as Will and Representation,” (or, “…as Will and Idea,” written in 1818, and then a revised and fuller version in 1844, so, from Beethoven to Wagner) specifically with respect to his take on aesthetics. A lot of the whole book is about trying to ascribe a “will” to the essence of Plato’s Forms without being theistic. It’s a tough call. The Will is somehow separate from the Form or Idea or Representation, which is isn’t the thing itself anyway, the Will is the thing-in-itself instead of its self in a causal world. And for the most part we only know of things through our senses, which means that we only know about their causality, (which would follow, from the Principle of Sufficient Reason, because anything you can see came from somewhere, for some reason, yeah), so even knowing the timeless Ideal Form of a thing, from your perspective as a human being, like the idea of “moose” as opposed to the moose you see over there eating a tree branch, involves your subjective understanding of moose given your own limitations of existence on a planet that has moose. So from Schopenhauer’s take on this, there’s an underlying level of is-ness to the moose, the will that is the objective thing that it is. But it’s unlikely that you can experience that, unless you have complete objectivity.

You know, like with Kant’s idea that to know a thing in and of itself outside of its existence in time and space requires a kind of knowledge that is not that that we obtain with our sense, but a direct knowledge of a thing, a transcendental knowledge rather than an immanent knowledge of something’s literal existence in the here-and-now. So how does a human experience transcendental knowledge? Via art, of course! Schope says: “What kind of knowledge is concerned with that which is outside and independent of all relations, that which alone is really essential to the world, the true content of its phenomena, that which is subject to no change and therefore is known with equal truth for all time, in a word, the Ideas, which are the direct and adequate objectivity of the thing-in-itself, the will? We answer, Art, the work of genius.” But of course it has a much to do with the self-consciousness of the knowing person and their own ability to objectify the world around them, separating their reaction from the knowing of the object/art/world. And he goes on about experiencing beauty (which ain’t good, as it’s sensual, you know, so non-objective) versus experiencing the sublime, which is the ultimate transcendental knowledge as it transcends our own individuality.

Well, as you can imagine, this goes on with examples and descriptions of what’s good and bad aesthetically. The will itself has motion and desire, so things that fulfill its desire and provide satisfaction don’t allow the self to transcend its own relationship to the object or art, so what you’d be after here is something unfavorable to the will and its desire that you could contemplate. So attractiveness, beauty and charm, that’s just tawdry. The sublime is reached when the will is transcended consciously. Pure will-less knowing. (And he goes on about how symbolism is crap, etc.)

Anyway, though he talks about how rhyme and rhythm are “aids” to poetry, he can only think so because of the direct connection to temporality in our human perception. They are a means of holding attention. What’s the real and true representation of the will, of course, is music, I’m guessing because it’s an abstract and is never literal even if it tries to be representational of specific things. He does say that great poets can present the thing-in-itself by understanding the inner nature of man and presenting it with adequate objectivity, but somehow he believes the music is a direct copy of the will itself, not itself a representation.

Really, I found a lot of his ideas to be contradictory, but what do I know about 200-year-old thought. He abhors symbolism but then classifies the parts of music symbolically, the bass being unorganized nature, the mass of the planet, which has to move in large intervals, the other tones the organization of harmony on top of that corresponding to animal life, then the melody is the great human being, the knowing guiding light. What a crock. I hate this Man-as-lord-over-the-earth crap. The whole dominion over the earth and animals thinking is what got us into destroying the planet we live on. It’s an ecology, we’re part of it. You’re soaking in it!

So anyway, the will strives, seeking fulfillment, and the absence of satisfaction is suffering (he had been reading Buddhist tracts!) Music is a universal language that expresses exactly this. Music is the metaphysical to everything physical in the world, and as the thing-in-itself to every phenomenon. We might as well say that the world is embodied music. He seems to have read a lot of theory about music, he knew his harmonic theory and mathematics of tuning. He had already gone off about the idea of the sublime in mathematics, (Germans are into that, as seen still in the Ritter Sport chocolate bar “Perfection in a Square”) and he goes off for a while about tuning ratios and how the physical world simply can’t even hold a perfect music because of the Pythagorean Comma and other deviations from perfect whole number tuning systems, saying how temperament is just the way our imperfect physical world has to deal with what would be otherwise perfection, and I suppose is perfection in the will.

I didn’t mean to write an overview of Schopenhauer here, but I get started and this is what happens. It was fun to read and talk about, you can listen to the whole podcast here, but you know where this kind of thinking goes, Nietzsche picks it up with the Will idea and goes for it, then more dominion-over-earth-and-people crap and then you get Nazis.

The fact that the passage of time disproves old science and old philosophy is ironic when you consider the intent in both is to understand the unchanging essence of the universe. Schopey had a lot to say about music and aesthetics, but music changed an awful lot after him, and went all abstract once the media technology could accurately represent sound (or vision: after the camera, painting got wild. That’s another essay…) One thing that stuck with me was his use of the word (in English translation) superfluity, which described the state of artistic genius, or art in general: the idea being that genius is an excess of knowledge that goes beyond just the needs to service the individual will, and can provide the genius with a “clear mirror of the inner nature of the world.” This is funny to me, as superfluity means overflow, of course, but we usually use the word superfluous, which just indicates that it is excess and unnecessary. So, art in general is superfluous. It is, indeed! It can only be there when the basic needs are taken care of, when the body is fed, clothed and sheltered. In fact, all art is superfluity. It’s overflow.

I’m one of those overflowing people, I recognize myself in this: if I’m fed, the next thing is music. And I acutely recognize the ridiculousness of making music in this day and age, when the very existence of our species is threatened by its own idiotic furthering of “individual will”. I mean, go back and read “Not a Tour Diary.

The next day was 4/20, dude, a Monday. Our family-friend Joa was singing Nielsen’s Third Symphony at Konserthuset, and I had a comp ticket, though nobody else could go (well, it was either me or Sanna, but somebody had to stay home with the child. I suppose it could have been the grandparents, but somehow none of this worked out. Nor did Joa’s parents come, for some reason.) This meant that I would be sitting by myself in the concert hall amidst all the Stockholm cultural elite. Best thing to do would be to smoke half a joint that I managed to procure from the previous week of studio activity. This is a much more difficult endeavor here in Stockholm than in, say, Oakland. Or anywhere else in the world, actually. Swedes think pot is a narcotic. It’s some weird cultural norm that all drugs are considered evil, even though alcohol use and abuse is rampant. Even when my wife moved to California, she was shocked that people smoked pot. Cannabis is severely illegal in Sweden. Well, that would make it unthinkable that I would just sit there and smoke it, right?

So I sat in Hötorget on the back steps of the concert hall with a hundred other people and ate a falafel, had a beer in a brown paper bag (bought from Systembolaget downstairs in Hötorget Hallen, so not cold. They don’t even make that easy*.) and then I went around to go pick up my ticket. I went around to the entrance to the concert hall and walked up the stairs to ask the ticket taker where to pick up my ticket, which was off to the side by the entrance, which was also the entrance to a coffee shop. After convincing the will call people that yes, this weirdo in front of you had a ticket left for him by a performer, I went back outside to smoke part of a joint. I figured standing there on Sveavägen would hide me in a crowd, so to speak. So I stood outside the coffeehouse and lit up. A black guy came out to talk on the phone, I offered him a hit, he looked at me like I was insane and ran back inside. Right, not Oakland, I forgot. I smoked about four hits, couldn’t hold on to it anymore, nobody seemed to figure out what was going on, so I threw the roach into the gutter and popped a piece of gum in my mouth and went in to go to the bathroom and wash my hands. I walked back up the stairs and handed my ticket to the guy, I just knew he knew I was stoned. Found the bathroom and waited in line with the well-dressed middle-aged men needing to pee before sitting through some classical music, washed my hands and face so nobody could smell the lingering scent and bust me. I felt like I was in high school. I made my way through the foyer with the exhibits about Sibelius and Nielsen and noted that I should check them out before the Nielsen symphony. Found my seat and sat down, luckily with nobody on either side of me.

Oh shit. I am really high. I’m so high I’m about to pass out. This is what you get for lowering your tolerance. This is a beautiful concert hall! Sounds amazing. I hope these nattering old ladies behind me don’t know I’m so high. Shit, my gum is not holding together, what the hell? Why would gum lose its consistency? It’s like strings of syrupy gunk falling apart in my mouth. Maybe it had some weird chemical reaction to the pot. Or the falafel. I have to get up and throw it away, shit. Ok, ok. I can do this… So I made it up and back to my seat, and then the orchestra people were coming out on stage. They are all dressed the same. In little rows. All those violins!

Right, they’re going to play Beethoven. Beethoven’s Third Symphony, The Eroica, 1805, the heroic symphony supposedly written for Napoleon and then rescinded lest the composer should subsequently lose a commission from a royal patron. Here they go.

Two hundred years have passed with this same classical language now being used to death to lead us by the nose in every movie score to indicate tension and release. Man, I’m getting tired of it. I’m tired of this theme from the first movement. I remember being so into Beethoven symphonies when I was young, but this endless drilling of melodies in diminished or dominant 7th chords, just waiting to resolve is awful! It’s endless purposeful tension—Oh! It’s Schopenhauer’s striving will. Right, his book was first published in 1818, this is what he meant by music. Shit. Right, let’s try to listen to this as the direct copy of the will.

The will is frustrated. And all those musicians all in lines, all wearing the same thing, sawing away, all playing the exact same thing. So fucking fascist. This music is fascist. And it’s about “heroism”. Right. I hate this symphony. Why did they choose to play this? Who the fuck put this on the program with Nielsen or Sibelius? The program says something about relating Beethoven’s Third to Nielsen’s Third, a hundred years apart. What the fuck. Was Nielsen writing about heroism? I doubt that.

Ok, ok, listen to the underlying will, the truth of people and reality back in 1805. Shopenhauer pointed out how poets presented history in more accurate ways than historians because they were free of the literal. This thematic material is being beaten to death. What do these people around me think? There’s a guy in a suit to my right in front of me nodding his head, he’s dancing a bit in his little way. The old ladies behind me are enjoying it. Or sleeping. Wasn’t there a movement of this symphony that I liked? I hope it’s the next one.

Nope, not the second movement either. The funeral march. That’s not super nice for Napoleon, is it? He didn’t die until 1821. At least is has some interesting fugal stuff. God it’s long. Right, it’s the will, endless, striving. Sweaty. Maybe it’s the third movement I liked.

Ok at least I don’t feel like I could faint at any moment now, and my adrenaline reaction to the situation and the fascist orchestra is dwindling a bit. Maybe I can begin to enjoy Beethoven. This movement has a funny thing in the totally gay Scherzo melody, it’s like the melody is presented, dit-dit-dah, dit-dit-dah, over and over, so dumb, then the response, and at the very end right before it’s supposed to end there’s a fragment, a little last turn of an appoggiatura, like fuck you, we’re leaving, but we just have this last thing to say. The fuck-you bit. I like that. Ha. Here’s the melody again, dit-dit-dah…and the responses, bah-da, bah-da, bah-da, bah-da… and there we go, diddle-dee-dit, fuck you. Have to remember that fuck-you bit. We’re going out, but, oh, one last thing: fuck you.

And now the last movement, finally. It sounds great in here, you know. I thought the way they had the violins with the first on the left and seconds on the right with the violas and cellos in between was gonna mean that the faces of the seconds were facing backwards and we wouldn’t hear them as well, but they’re some sort of reflective surface above and right behind the orchestra, so all parts are there. They’re all lined up in their tuxes, playing their lines all together. Like a good army. This movement is theme an variations and it never ends. Continuous tension in the only way we knew dissonance could be two hundred years ago, those tritones and dominant 7ths. And to think that people are still speaking this language, all the stupid film composers forgot the lovely dissonances of the 1940s and 50s films and went back to THIS. Let us show you to what you are supposed to feel! Shut up, Beethoven. Ok, it’s not your fault, but you started it. You and your trombones and piccolos. Oh wait, it’s only horns in this one. I think? Can’t quite tell, they are really blaring. And you guys are all sawing away on those diminished chords, let’s drag this out, and finally, finally get back to that big Eb. And Again!

Yay, you did it! The orchestra stands up and bows, sweaty. You did it, you guys, you played a Beethoven symphony. That’s what I think as I clap. You did it. You can go home and think, hey, we performed a Beethoven symphony, all the way through. What a feat.

Ok, shit, it’s intermission now. I’m gonna read the exhibit in the foyer and wonder why the fuck they put a Beethoven symphony on this week-long program of Sibelius and Nielsen, and why I didn’t get any Sibelius. Gotta maintain, here in public. Can I read? Oh yeah, I seem to be able to read, ok, I think I can do this. Maybe I can even buy a bottle of water.

Nice little museum of information in the foyer, I learned that Nielsen played folk music and that he was a violinist. I went back into the hall and listened to the sound of the hall. This hall sounded great. Some musicians were on the stage making little notes and sounds, people were milling about. The sounds from everywhere were available to me as I sat there on the main floor, back a ways but generally in the middle. I like the way they set up a reflection baffle directly behind the orchestra, but then there are rows of seats above that behind them with nobody in them. I love this music, the music of the random bits the musicians are playing and the sound of the reverb in the hall, and various little subdued conversations. Ahhh.

Eventually everybody has filed in and the conductor comes back out and the symphony starts. It’s obvious that the composer was a string player! This is very cool, open strings and melodies obvious to the left hand, with a harmonic language of big open intervals, fourths and fifths and seconds. This is from about 1910. Cool harmonic language, not exactly tonal but with melodies that suggest tonality, but move away from it, or move in and out of various tonalities. Very folk-music rhythmic. Why did they put Beethoven with this?

The second movement segues in and it’s fairly slow and static, then holds on a specific set of pitches and suddenly, hey, there’s Joa! He’s in the balcony row above the back of the stage to the right of the orchestra, like a little balcony. He sings a melodic vocalise over the static chord, maybe 32 bars. Now there’s a woman on the same level, stage right, she sings the same melody a couple octaves higher. Ok, that’s it, over and back to the orchestra jamming away on their folky melodies. That’s it? No more singing? He came all the way from Berlin to sing 32 bars? Wow.

When the concert ended, I was mellow enough to maintain, went outside and called Joa to see if he was going to come out or what, he texted back to say he was going to go across the street for a beer with a friend of his from school whose dad had been the horn player in the Royal orchestra here when Joa’s grandfather was the principal flutist. So I met them and we went over there, and asked them a bit about the program, trying not to be so obvious about that fact that I just could not comprehend why on earth they had put that Beethoven piece on there. Joa’s friend said, hey, ask my dad, he’ll be here in a second, he is the program director and this is his final program, he put together this whole Sibelius and Nielsen program. Oh shit! Well, dad came over, and they proceeded to eat dinner and we had some beer, and they talked about how horn players were great—and great drinkers. And about various conductors they had worked with and such, I tried a little to ask about the program idea, but couldn’t quite understand his concept beyond the two composers’ third symphonies a hundred years apart, but then I realized that he was a french horn player, and Beethoven really wrote the shit outta that part for this symphony, before he discovered the trombone. And there’s that part in the last movement where the horn precedes the main melody entrance, and they talked about horn players ripping it at that moment. Ok, so he had some special thing for this one. I guess it’s excusable. Maybe.

After this, Joa and I walked around and went over to the Glenn Miller Cafe, which is a small jazz club, to have another drink and listen to an entirely different kind of music. This place had Lagunitas IPA on tap, so I was happy. And Joa knew the bartender, she was a singer he had gone to school with also. There were about 4 people there listening to a trio of bass, drums and saxophone, who were good, not too inside, not too outside, just right for late on a Monday night. When they took a break, a couple sitting at one of the tables came up to ask Joa about his performance, (he was still in a tux and carrying a bouquet of roses) and it was obvious that they too were singers, the guy had the most huge low voice even when speaking. They talked a bit about the schools here and singing the Nielsen piece, which I commented was such a small bit for a solo for an out-of-towner, Joa said that was what made it critical! You were there to sing for less than a minute, at the right time with the right tone, better get it right!

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We tried to make it back to Hötorget station but were too late for the subway on a Monday night and had to catch a cab all the way home to Blackeberg.

I had some time the rest of this week to work on organizing and beginning to figure out what all I had recorded so far from both studios and try to think about where this completely superfluous musical addition to the world might end up, aesthetically. To say nothing of where it might end up economically, which was a foregone conclusion anyway. Plus I had one more gig coming up the following weekend with The Dead Pollys, a Stockholm punk band whom I had recorded a violin track for on one of the songs (“All the Gold in the Land”) on their new album, “A Bullet for the Wicked“, which this show would be a release party for.

(I ended up railing on Beethoven in the “after show” discussion on Episode 115 of The Partially Examined Life, a video chatroom where people discuss the podcast. And then discussing more about aesthetics and authenticity on Episode 118 with Victor Krummenacher there too.)

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*That’s on purpose. The idea is to make it harder to get alcohol (anything above 3.5%) by only selling it in state stores from 10am-7pm on weekdays and Saturdays. They even had ads on TV around the holidays featuring the ghost of Christmas present sort of thing to show how your life might have been if alcohol had been easier to get, how you would have wrecked your family life and your job by being a drunk.

Posted in Music, Philosophy, Violin

A full April, continued (part 2)

At this point, after a couple recording days, I had hours of audio to sort through, several pieces from Eastman and several from Roth Händle, though I had to wait for the files from Mattias Olsson because he likes to record on an old hard-disk recorder (it’s like tape, punch in or out, gotta know your part!) so he had to get the files from it and into Dropbox or somewhere where I could download them. So I didn’t get to dive in and start listening immediately to those, and anyway I had to reread Schopenhauer and think about aesthetics, and practice for an upcoming show where I would play solo.

I actually don’t like playing solo shows. It’s not because I’m more stage-frightened, although I guess I am, but it’s that it doesn’t sound like I want it to. I am into the sound of a band, the sound of electric guitars, and I like having the freedom of having a rhythm section so that I can be more fluid around it. And play lead guitar, of course. But here I would be opening for The Plastic Pals at the Southside Tavern in Hornstull, and then sitting in with them for a few songs on violin. I’ve played with the Pals many times over the past few years, they are a solid rock band led by Håkan Soold. They sound a lot like they stepped right out of the 1980s Paisley Underground scene in California (though with a few lyrical choices that might make it questionable as to whether they were indeed native speakers—not that the California guys didn’t perhaps sound that way as well), and as a result they’ve ended up playing opening slots for the existing folks from that scene, which has been sort of funny for me since Camper Van Beethoven had played with a lot of these guys back it the late 1980s. For example, since I’ve been sitting in with these guys, we’ve played with Chuck Prophet, Chris Cacavas and Dan Stuart separately, all of whom were in the band Green On Red way back when, and we also opened for the Dream Syndicate. I actually hadn’t talked to Steve Wynn since he and Dan Stuart were playing as Danny and Dusty and Camper played with them in London at the Mean Fiddler in 1987 or so. (That itself was a memorable experience for me when Steve and I started talking about living in Davis in the late 1970s and early 80s and how I used to ride my bike from my after-high-school job at Steve’s Place Pizza to the University to see him with the Suspects or see Alternate Learning or whomever…and we started speaking the flat-and-fast Northern California style of speaking and then realized that none of the Brits nor Scots around us could follow us! Ha! Just like so many Americans can’t understand thick Scottish or northern English accents!) At the gig in Stockholm at Nalen, I ended up talking with Steve backstage about Scott Miller and his passing. Weird, I guess that’s what old musicians talk about, either equipment or dead friends.

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Plastic Pals L-R: Olav on drums, Anders, Håkan, Bengt

This particular Saturday, April 18, as it happened, was “Record Store Day,” which meant that Pet Sounds Records had bands playing. I played there once on Record Store Day a couple years back, but to be honest it seemed like absolutely nobody there gave a shit about me playing, not even the people running the shop. They agreed to book me to play, advertising as “from Camper Van Beethoven,” but they didn’t have any Camper Van Beethoven albums in stock, nor have they since. This despite the fact that a few short years ago Camper was receiving huge 2-page reviews in the newspapers, we’d been entirely forgotten by the hip-oisie by the time I moved here. (The Swedish distributor for our stateside label didn’t even bother to put out our 2011 and 2013 albums here, they just did not care at all.) Also despite the fact that Marty Willson-Piper is now taking care of Pet Sounds Records! The record store crowd at the time that I played were really into some Swedish musicians from defunct bands, clearing out before I went on and then waiting patiently outside for the next batch while I played inside. This year, The Plastic Pals played a set promoting their new 7” single of Timing is Everything/I Want You Back (which I done a little engineering for) before going over to the Southside Tavern to load in, and at least 15 people were watching. I went down to watch and generally hang out, and then rode with them to their practice space to get other things and off to the Southside.

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…or go to TjejBoxning.

When I had first started playing with the Plastic Pals, they rehearsed in a tiny room near Slussen, now they had finally gotten a decent sized space, but what a weird location! This was like a hidden room behind a metal door in the lowest floor of the back end of an underground parking garage on the north part of Vasastan. You’d never know it was there, behind that random door. Who knows what’s behind other doors one might see in the cement walls of underground parking garages?

Then to the club, which, like many here, it seems, is some cellar below a pub. These places have narrow stages and sometimes low arched ceilings. The Southside Tavern is ostensibly an Irish pub. I think. Anyway, the people that work there are all English or Irish or Scottish. And the upstairs has a restaurant with fish’n’chips and burgers and such. I’ve played there with the Pals several times (and other similar places). Even though they actually have some decent beer on tap upstairs, the band gets a case of pilsner or some other cheap crap, and gets 25% off of food, or something like that. I had nowhere to go, so I stayed to eat, the other guys went to their nearby homes. It actually takes me about an hour to get to this area from my apartment, so rather than spend two extra hours on subways, I hung out and thought about what to play for my own set.

My wife’s family had met another local family in birthing classes when my wife was in the womb, and this other family has become, well, family. The kids all grew up together and the families not only have apartments a block away from each other, but they also have summer houses (like everyone in Sweden) right near each other. The younger of these two brothers is now an opera singer, and lives in Berlin, but he had come back to town to sing in a Nielsen symphony at the Konserthuset the following Monday, part of a series celebrating Nielsen (a Danish composer) and Sibelius (a Finnish composer). Both brothers came to my show to support me, which was great! But it did mean that I would be singing in front of a real singer. I’m not a good singer at all, though I like doing it. Like playing the violin: I managed to get into the University orchestra more on enthusiasm than talent.

I’m alternately happy and sad that I sound like I do. I really don’t want to sound like anyone else, but I tend to think that the sound or tuning of my voice alienates most first-time listeners. Or even long-time listeners, maybe. This is one of those things I think about often, the fact that so many popular singers in this past decade or two just sound like somebody else or some specific style or genre. It confounds me, how on earth did this happen? Originality is played down in favor of catching the listeners’ ear with the comfortable sound of the generic. Regardless, I certainly don’t sound like anybody who can actually sing, but I always believe in that balance point between ars and ingenium, one’s craftsmanship versus one’s innate abilities, that the balance point should never be equal: it’s always more interesting when it’s offset, even so much as to be about to tip. I love the artists that have so much inside that needs to get out even if the ability to play is underdeveloped. I also love the ones that are so technically competent that they can shine that little bit of genius through in the small touches.

For my set, I played an electric guitar rather than trying to be the standard acoustic-guitar singer-songwriter douche. As Seth MacFarlane accurately pointed out in Family Guy, these folks killed the guitar.

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solo set at Southside.

I played songs from my most recent albums with songs, Shine Out, All Attractions, and Honey: Can’t Help It, Turtles All The Way Down, Hey You, The Bolinas Witch, Listen, Örebro. It was short and sweet, not too much sweating. Joa (the opera singer) and his brother Ted said they thought I sounded great, though it was hard to tell with the rest of the small audience. Swedes, you know. Or maybe Stockholmers, they’re like the New Yorkers of Sweden: too cool to dance. Not that my songs inspire dancing. In fact, that’s not fair, I rarely dance at shows either, too busy thinking. About the music. Maybe everybody in Europe is just cogitating.

After my set, Ted, Joa and I got drinks and I sat with them during the parts of the Plastic Pals set that I wasn’t playing on; I only played about half dozen songs in their set. Which is as it should be, they are a rock band, adding a violin is cute and all, but it’s not necessary all over the place. The Pals have a ton of great songs, several from their last album, Turn the Tide, but many more newer ones that aren’t released yet. I sat in on a bit of both (I had played some violin on some of the newer recordings, and recorded Håkan’s vocals on several of them as well, but so far only two singles are out). Between songs, we drank more and I ended up meeting Donald Lupo, another American ex-pat who lives in Finland and plays the banjo. Apparently we had met 25 years previous at some Camper Van Chadbourne concert in Germany, though I had no memory of this. Surprise, surprise.

So eventually I packed up the violin and the guitar and headed to the subways station, where inevitably I had to wait 20 minutes for the next train, and then another 10 minutes at Slussen, two stops later, for the connecting train, so I got home at 3am or something.

I was a bit hungover the next day, which was probably not the best shape to be in to do the video chat recording for The Partially Examined Life on Schopenhauer and aesthetics

Posted in Guitar, Music, Philosophy, Sweden, Touring, Violin

…and a year later… (part 1)

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My last posts here were almost a year ago. I didn’t have any words. So I started recording music. Again.

Try as I might, I can’t stop recording music. I fully realize that it’s meaningless in this day and age to continue to hold onto this idea that there is value in recorded music, but it’s my passion and everything that I’ve trained to do during my whole life. The money and time it takes to produce a recording could perhaps be better spent on food or rent, but you know how it is with hobbies… Especially hobbies that were once professions. And I mean profession not like a job or “career” (as they might speak of referring to artists’ output) but more like one’s calling, I guess, the thing you do regardless of everything else. I know many people talk about how they can have separate lives, their work and then their “real” life, but I’ve never been one of those people that can separate myself from what I do. I am what I do. I’ve tried working just on the technical side, in studios or with computer work, but inevitably I become unsatisfied with working so hard on somebody else’s idea that I want to spend more time working on my own ideas. Even when I was doing film sound work in LA, it only made me want to make my own films. Or records. (Which I did, though the films were such crap that thankfully nobody will ever see them. The records (CDs, actually, but you know) were the second Dent album, “Verstärker” (1998) and what became my own “Scissors and Paper” (2000).) The technical knowledge of recording or computers or lighting or whatever is great to have to work on your own, but when you show that you can do it, you always end up helping everybody else, and the people who are creatives who have (or pretend to have) no technical knowledge always need help to facilitate their own vision, so anybody with technical knowledge is suddenly no longer working on the creative side of the production. If you know how to operate a mixing desk, you don’t get to pick up a guitar.

Last year I had some very severe misgivings about the importance of what I do (that is to say, being a musician and composer) in the grand scheme of life. Indeed, it’s tough to evaluate. Modern life is based on quantification, usually with money as the quantified unit, and to be sure, the qualities of things like music are rarely quantifiable. Especially in a world where there is no longer a sustenance level to being a middle-class musician as the economies become more and more neo-liberal, the small percentage of rich get richer and everybody else just gets poorer. This trend is systemic, and it’s destroying the human race’s ability to survive any long run scenario, which makes the idea of art irrelevant. I used to think that what I did was adding to the ever-growing spiral of human culture, but I have sincere doubts about culture’s (/life’s/the human race’s/the biosphere’s/etc) ability to grow any further. It never occurred to me 20 years ago that there might not be anybody alive in a hundred years to consider what the artists or musicians of my lifetime were doing. And this is without even considering the fact that what we make now is all stored digitally, so probably can’t survive another decade of format changes anyway. If people are around in a century, this era will be a dark age: no information will survive!

Well, so if it doesn’t matter at all, what have I got to lose? I might as well just continue. (Like Dorothy Parker’s poem “Resumé”). I spent most of my time in the first months of 2015 working on mixing a dozen or so recordings that I had played on the previous October in Copenhagen with Øresund Space Collective, each piece of which was between 15 and 60 minutes long. So that was a task, which I left unfinished. But then, in April of 2015 I started recording my own music again. Well, actually I started by being a technician again, but this time, I did it in order to get some studio time.

The week started with setting up some recording sessions at a studio called Eastman Studios at a study center in Vasastan, my friend Nathan, aka Diipak, wanted to record a bunch of Bob Dylan covers and so he hired a band to do the basics, and their pay was that they got the first day to record their own music. I came in as studio technician, to make sure the sounds got to tape (computer actually, they use Logic X. I don’t like Logic, personally, so there was some learning curve there) through the board, which was this awful 1990s digital mixer made for radio, which had a dead internal battery so that it lost its settings every night and all internal routing had to be reset before you started. Anyhow, after that struggle, this band started playing. What a riot! They consisted of two guys who spend all their time playing at local subway stations, one of whom insisted on using his little portable amp for his 12-string acoustic (it’s my sound, man!) and the other who was like a Mark Knopfler clone. The bassist was a metal dude, and the drummer was an American ex-pat who had been a child prodigy drummer so knew everything about everything and consistently played ahead of the beat. And what did they play? Bad blues-rock, basically. Though everybody got their own song in, so there was one sort of emo-metal track from the bassist.

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I have to say, this was a painful experience. I was doing this in order to get an evening of studio time, so when Knopfler would get picky with me about the amps there (which did sort of suck) or how much time it took to get drum sounds or whatever, I had to really hold my tongue. Not like I was being paid here. And so I did the best I could with this situation, at the end of which they did not understand why I didn’t have final mixes available for them to take home, and they were troubled by the fact that it was going to take 30 minutes to copy all of their basic tracks to their flash drives.

The next day was the start of tracking for Dylan songs. Nathan wanted to do each in some different style or genre, though basics all done here. This went generally well, though there was a lot of complaining by the band guys about whatever, how to do this, how the song should go, that sort sort of thing. They had thought that they would be able to listen to their songs from the day before perhaps. But they ended up playing some Dylan songs in the end. The day after, they weren’t there much and Nathan did some overdubs. My evening was that evening, and I had asked Mikael Tuominen to come in and play bass, he had suggested a drummer named Andreas Axelsson, whom I hadn’t met. Mikael played in a few bands in town (e.g. Kungens Män) and I had played with him with Einar Baldursson (from Gösta Berlings Saga) for Einar’s final concert at a music pedagogy program, so I knew Mikael was up for some improvising. At the last minute, however, he couldn’t make it (a sick child, I think. Can’t quite remember.) So no bassist. Hmm. Nathan tried to call one bassist he knew, Jair-Rohm Parker Wells, but he wasn’t in town, so he suggested a guy he knew named Mats Burman who was a guitarist who worked at a guitar repair shop, who also played bass. Ok, I guess!

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Andreas arrived early, and since we didn’t yet have a bassist (Mats said he could come in a bit later) I asked if Andreas would be willing to play drums along to some demos I had of songs that had click track or drum machine. He was fine with this, though he said he hadn’t really played rock music since he was a teenager. So I got a few takes of some interesting drumming for some songs I had been working on, or rather some ideas that were barely there, so having drums might help me try to figure out where to go with them. Then Mats arrived and we set up and I set up my guitar and violin with amps and everything and we started trying to play.

This was an odd experience. Nobody knew each other, nobody knew what type of music the others played. I tried to guide some things by playing, but it took a while to get into any sort of groove. The first piece took a while to develop, but got to some nice places. The second one was a little odd, and I got sort of frustrated and went off into abstract and dissonant Marc Ribot-style stuff for a while. For the third try I switched from Stratocaster to Les Paul, and still it was a slow build, though this one went more like Quicksilver Messenger Service perhaps. (At our best, anyway.) At this point I didn’t know where to go with the session, so Nathan and our friend Johan who were nominally at the controls came in and I played bass while Nathan played my violin and Johan played piano. This was really weird, very tentative, mellow, searching for a melody, it ended up sounding very ECM, or at least Nordic. For the last attempt, I played violin, again with Mats and Andreas. It ended up like a series of dramatic cadences.

Well, it was something to play with once I brought the audio home anyway. I planned to edit and go about my normal route of isolating good melodic elements and doubling them, or generally orchestrating the improvisation somewhat into a composition. I had one more day here of doing technical work and then I had a day scheduled at Mattias Olsson’s studio in Sollentuna, Roth Händle.

The last day at Eastman was just overdubs for Nathan and general cleanup (I could only carry some of my gear there or back each day, so it took two days to get two guitars, a violin and many pedals there, and then two to get them back). Copy off all the audio files to drives, go home.

Friday, I went to Roth Händle, with basically nothing: I figured Mattias had gear at his studio that I could use. I wanted him to play drums on a few things, including a couple that I had already had Andreas do, and then just improvise with him. We started with some of the tracks to play to, but after a relatively short time, we got sidetracked into making one idea into something else, and then sidetracked into making entirely new things. And then we ate lunch. And then we came back and I played baritone guitar for some improvising with Mattias on drums, and then I played some old thuddy bass.

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Now Mattias Olsson is a nutcase. I say this with the utmost respect: these are the sorts of people that I love. He started playing professionally as a teenager in prog-rock band called Änglagård, maybe 1991 or so. They were complex-style prog rock, not the usual “Progg” of 1970s Sweden which was generally more progressive politically than musically (though not all of it. It’s a huge subject, if you’re inclined to research Swedish Progg, it’s pretty amazing.) But Änglagård sort of spurred a renaissance of complexity in the prog rock world back in the 1990s, and some people still refer to Mattias as part of that. However, after that he went on to form a pop band with his wife Åsa Carild called Pineforest Crunch who were sort of post-Cardigans pop wave and incredibly popular in Sweden and Japan. And with that, he set up his studio, though he eventually had to move it to this room in Sollentuna where it is now, which I believe was once a furniture store. In any case, the studio is filled to the brim with instruments (at least 3 Mellotrons, 3 pianos, a Chamberlin, maybe 10 different synthesizers in functional shape at any given time, organs, numerous drums and cymbals, vibraphone, marimba and bass marimba, and then a bunch of odd guitars and basses hanging on the walls). Mattias has several musical projects going on at any given point, one of which is called Necromonkey, which is with David Lundgren, also from Gösta Berlings Saga (have you listened to them yet? Why not?) Necromonkey is instrumental music based on synthetic keyboards and perhaps drums, or maybe drum machines, but somehow sounds like it may have been either from 60s psychedelic-noir era film soundtracks or perhaps some guy from Kraftwerk who got locked in a studio in Mexico City in 1980. It’s hard to tell. In any case, it’s impressive. I saw them play live once at the Stockholm Prog Fest, (which itself was bizarre), and they killed it, they had two extra players (a bassist and another percussionist) and a wall of TVs behind them. Then after they played, Gösta Berlings Saga played, with Mattias and I sitting in playing very specific complicated—and fast—parts, he on glockenspiel and me on violin. I have never seen a person be so accurate on glockenspiel after 5 beers. And I could not tell if he was hitting on my mother-in-law or just being genial.

Anyway, playing with him in the studio was great, as we wandered off track and I got a little nervous about getting some “basic tracks” done for “an album,” but the side trips proved incredibly valuable. Our improvisational tracks have since become very intense songs (won’t he be surprised!) They sound incredibly composed. Ha HA! Almost all of it ended up being used on “the album” I’m making.

So that was a draining week. But this month wasn’t over yet! I still had to continue to read a ton of Schopenhauer, because I was supposed to be a guest on “The Partially Examined Life” podcast in an episode about Schopenhauer and aesthetics, specifically music (which was hard to be specific about, though I’ll get to that later.) Plus, I had two gigs coming up, one opening solo for and then sitting in with The Plastic Pals, whom I’d sat in with several times before, and then a week later the same thing with The Dead Pollys, a punk band I had recorded a track with.

Tune in next week.

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Posted in Guitar, Music, recording, Technology

“I have nothing to say and I am saying it.”

the '62 reissue, somewhere in Seattle. Photo by Ian Weintraub.

…as John Cage said.

So with that in mind, instead of writing a million more pages of words, like I did last time, I’m just going to put links to recent music here for you folks to peruse.

Here’s the latest, a number of etudes based on playing with echo and reverb. Each is one performance of a guitar track, no overdubs, with numerous different delays, pitch-tracked and these (sometimes incorrect) notes fed to synthesizers or electric pianos. Enjoy!

Here are my last few albums.
Shine Out, from last year.

and then All Attractions and Apricot Jam from 2012.

enjoy!

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Posted in Music

Not a tour diary.

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I intended to write a tour diary of the Camper Van Beethoven shows with Cracker that we did on the West Coast and the East Coast between Christmas and the Martin Luther King Jr holiday weekend. But I didn’t.

The tour went well, most of the shows were sold out and we enjoyed ourselves immensely and saw many of our friends and fans.

But when i sat to write about it, I didn’t because I was constantly being pulled in two directions: in one I am amazed, in the other, horrified. We humans are incredible creatures, but in the end, nothing we can do now matters, because we are also terrible creatures who have destroyed our own ability to survive, and have done so by our own nature. We are probably at the end of our run. What should we do about it? Is there anything to do? We all have big conscious brains that are able to understand their own place in history, but we continue to act as if there is only next week. And maybe last week. And on top of this, we ignore the present moment in favor of the next one.

It’s a crisis of meaning, of what is important, of what meaning we can find in what we do now.

I went to see a show recently while in the Bay Area, when I had some time off between shows, people playing music. The first set was a band called “The Time Beings,” a clever pun. They had saxophone, bass and drums. They played what has to be called jazz, if only by the presence of sax and upright bass. The music was definitely coming from the jazz idiom, and the musicians were extremely good, Jon Raskin from ROVA, with Lisa Mezzacappa and Vijay Anderson on bass and drums. They went through some melodic pieces segueing into one another, some freer sections, solos, etc. At one point there was a drum solo and it was enhanced by added percussion from a homeless guy pushing shopping carts down the sidewalk outside, the venue door was open at the back of the room. I was carried along by the playing the whole time, amazed that human beings were making these sounds, coming into some sort of cohesive musical experience, making changes in air pressure at these frequencies in this room to tickle the cilia in our ears, the ears of no less than a hundred people. Human being were moving their hands and mouths, breathing and manipulating things that made sounds. It’s literally incredible. These beings were consciously doing this, changing the waves of air pressure with differing timbres at different frequencies.

I had nearly stopped hearing music and was just listening to the quality of the sounds. The last bit was a 9/8 slip-jig-like endless melody, with Jon’s sax sounding like a bagpipe, so that brought me back into hearing music as a set of melody and rhythm. I was there with Das and Univac, who are generally considered to be “noise” musicians, they heard this set as jazz, or more like the death of jazz, the last bastions of jazz as a cultural movement expressing itself, as somehow opposed to the second set which represented some other form of musical culture expressing itself, wherein Fred Frith played guitar, Jason Hoopes played bass and Jordan Glenn on drums. This band was much less tied to a specific idiom in which they improvised, but they were obviously informed by several. To begin with, they had an electric guitar and an electric bass, which stuck them fully into the latter 20th Century references, although some of the sounds they produced extrapolated from the instrument’s obvious tone into other areas. The bass, for example, sometimes sounded like an organ, and Fred uses his guitar as a percussion instrument as much as a melodic instrument. I again started veering into a perceptual world where I was hearing the ensemble as simply a collection of sounds as much as hearing it as music. I forgot what music was, I think: I was in a room with a hundred other human beings watching and listening to three people moving their hands and feet and consciously manipulating objects to produce sound waves. It was miraculous, these people could do this with their hands and feet. Perhaps even more miraculous was that not only were they doing this consciously, but that they may have been doing some of this unconsciously! Improvisors know this, I know this, it’s what happens when you are making music: you let the music play you, your hands just do what they know how to do and you can listen to it happen.

So here, in this room, the musicians were playing instruments and electronic pedals to produce sounds that somehow went together and people in the seats nodded and followed along, being subjected to the changes in air pressure that the speakers and the drums were producing in the room. It’s music. It communicates something, or rather, it allows a listener to feel that something is being communicated; there is no direct semantic transfer, but the producer of these waves and the receiver of these waves both feel something in the brain’s response to the sequence of auditory events. For the people here, this was pleasurable, as it is with most people who voluntarily listen to what they consider to be music. Das and Univac both enjoyed this set more than the first, I’m certain that there are many people who would say that the first set was music where the second set was not, or contained less “music” within it. I was still stuck on some edge of the ability to perceive any set of sounds as music, I was hearing everything as only sound-as-sound, though I did get pulled back when Fred played some more “normal” sounds on his guitar, the distorted lead guitar sound of melodic notes with bends and scales.

I like the sound of the electric guitar, we all know that. I can get pulled back into musicality by hearing it, the sound of an electric guitar playing melodic notes. That’s a conditioned response, I would guess, for me as a musician born in the 1960s, someone who started playing the electric guitar when they were a kid. It was interesting for me to note that the sound of it pulled me back into the normal world of the music listener in this context. I think that some listeners of avant-garde music who are strictly into “the new” or into how a musician could be “original” do tend to distrust idiom while trying to break out of idiomatic playing. The very sound of an electric guitar playing with distortion, single note lines, harkens back to idiomatic playing. Does that mean that this is a reference or a quotation? Or is it simply the unconscious conditioning of the player expressing itself while the player plays the instrument? When AMM started back in the 1960s, they had realized that they themselves, as white British players, couldn’t realistically be part of the jazz idiom, so they consciously chose to attempt to play non-idiomatic music. That’s a tough charter, as any instrument that you play comes with idiomatic baggage, and then any sound that you play has to be heard by the audience as music (as every sound can well be heard as, as Mr Cage made evident in the 1950s). And I know that many improvisors try their hardest not to be labeled as any sort of idiom, so they end up making a style of sound-based improvisation that ends up as its own idiom or genre. In the same way, there has been a wave of electronic music that tried to avoid anything that suggested “music,” such as beat or tone, so it ended up as drones of noise. A huge segment of Northern Europe fell into this world of sound, for a while I referred to it (privately) as GNEEM, or generic Northern European electronic music.

I’m personally not afraid of idiom, necessarily, and as an improvisor I’ve gone through numerous experiments within different genres or idioms, and lately have come back to playing electric guitar in the same way that so many people have since the 1960s: space rock, essentially. I still like the sound of somebody wailing on the electric guitar. Is that music?

In the 1960s, after Dada and Surrealism had brought the absurd to the screen of consciousness to play with the subconscious in the field of “art,” the abstract had become normalized, the absurd had become performance… After Fluxus, within the expanding world of freedom of expression and the freedom of the individual, people began to realize that anybody could simply label themselves an artist, and what they did as art. Process and performance art meant that, as Bruce Nauman pointed out, whatever the “artist” did in their “studio” was automatically art. It was because they said so. One might think that this was the fault of artists like Duchamp who positioned “readymades” as art in galleries or composers like John Cage who, by forcing the audience to hear their surroundings, pointed us in the direction of hearing all sound as music—is therefore everything art? Must there be an artist, even, whose intention or action make the “thing?” However, Duchamp, in his wisdom, pointed out that in fact art is the relationship of the piece to the audience: who is an artist, what is art, is something that in actuality is determined by posterity and not by the artist themselves.

It’s somewhat unfortunate that many of the ideas of self-proclaimed art these permeated western culture without Duchamp’s wisdom: by the time the 60s and 70s era of individualism hit the economic deconstruction of the 1980s, it paved the way for libertarianism, and worse: self-proclaimed expertise. The great thinkers and doers of the era started so many revolutions in technology that all panned out into what is now a society of self-appointed experts and an audience that can’t tell the difference between art and commerce. I am astounded every day by this, it’s reflected in every media. Sales prove validity, such that even “artists” such as Koons or McCarthy are considered to have been creative geniuses. Posterity should be interesting, in this respect. When my wife entered art school in Stockholm in the early 2000s as a sculptor, the entire academic course for art considered plastic arts to be old fashioned, that the ultra-modern was where the next generation of artists lay, doing video installation and performance art. It’s going to be funny when posterity tries to figure out the trends in art from this era because there won’t be anything extant for them to consider. (In fact, this entire era may be a second dark ages, when nothing saved on magnetic media survives nor anything digitally written exists in any format capable of being retrieved. This is assuming that somebody exists in the future to attempt a retrieval.)

When my wife came to live in California in the mid 2000s, she was greatly impressed by the people she met who introduced themselves as artists or musicians. Really!? You are an artist? That’s amazing, how impressive! Some time later, she realized that in fact, anybody could simply state such a thing regardless of their actual standing in society or the value or quality of their output. By the time I started being a professional musician (mid-1980s), we were already knee-deep in the late 1970s punk ethic of self-determination, and doing-it-ourselves. We could form bands, play shows, even record ourselves to a certain extent. This entire process got easier and easier and time and technology rolled along, until, as Steve Jobs put it, vis-a-vis the Apple Garageband application: “no talent is even necessary” to make music! We really won that revolution didn’t we?

Does that make it music, actually? Is it music because of the intentionality of the “composer,” or is it music because a potential audient hears it as such? Can any person even tell nowadays? Most people who have music in their lives in the modern era don’t even actively listen to it so much as hear it accompanying their activities of the day like their own little soundtrack. Naturally in such a case the development of the language of music and the quality of music itself will suffer, which for the most part has led to endless repeating of previously stated ideas, neo-retro-rock, electro, whatever. It’s sort of funny to me to hear current bands playing the exact same music that bands came up with in the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, etc. Especially such things as “Americana,” a genre that even some of the biggest artists in Sweden are now excelling at (e.g., First Aid Kit) when, at its essence what is it, even? Myself, I go for some recreation of psychedelia, I guess, mostly because I’m more interested in the mind-expansion than historical re-enactment or Live Action Role Playing, which is what dressing like a cowboy and playing country music or dressing like a “punk” and playing punk rock looks like to me. Admittedly the cowboy and the punk and I may all feel that we’re part of some ongoing tradition, that we are modern adherents continuing to expand the lineage of some specific genre, but which of us is living in the present? Any of us? Rockabilly yearns for that 50s era of cool, the period when the whole idea of teenage rebellion was first sold to consumers alongside cool cars and clothes. Punk gained its foothold as a political statement that very few bands even seem to grasp these days. Psychedelia, I imagine, tries to express that era when the feeling that anything was possible and what we did could further mankind. I still like that idea, though I fully admit to a soft spot for cool old cars and guitars as well.

Like Jaron Lanier’s assessment of the rise and fall of the beneficial aspects of the internet, we all had such high hopes for humanity only to be proven to that greed and individualism will reduce society to the lowest common denominator. It’s our way, isn’t it? The monkey can’t see beyond what’s right in front of its face. The self-destruction of all socialist and communist societies was always due to somebody wanting more for themselves. The self-destruction of the promise of digital utopianism is the greed of individualism and the libertarianism of the tech industry*. How can anybody believe anything that they read on the internet now, is the news real, is anything written as if it were true actually true? Are all the opinions presented as fact made real by simply saying so? Is the intentionality of saying so enough to grant authenticity? Is that all it takes to be the authority, to be the artist? So then, is music made by software indeed still music? Where is the intentionality, the composer’s hand, the artist’s brush moving along a canvas physically manipulating paint? Is it all just noises?

Have I stopped being able to hear sound as music, or have I suddenly switched over to hearing even music as just sounds? Because what happened to me in the concert situation, though I very much enjoyed listening to Fred and company, and The Time Beings, and enjoyed being in the room with the other hundred people also doing so, was that I predominantly heard sound. I couldn’t tell any more if anything was music, I was in a constant state of amazement that human beings were capable of moving their extremities, consciously for the most part, to intentionally make sounds together for other human being to hear. In real time, as the “time beings” were aptly pointing out by their band name: music happens over time, it proves itself in the 4th dimension. Music is time-based art. A piece of music defines a period of time. If it’s successful, it can even alter the listener’s perception of the passage of time.

So here is where this crisis came in. I wasn’t unhappy at being unable to understand music versus sound, I was particularly thrilled by the idea that people were utilizing their wills to intentionally make sound, but the big question was: what for? Why were they doing this? Why were all the other people experiencing this, perceiving this, and indeed voluntarily paying money and getting their physical bodies over to this room on Grand Avenue in Oakland to be in the same place? OK, I know that the basic answer is: for pleasure. And for some, curiosity (“Why do other people go to listen to these musicians? I have heard of these musicians before, what do they sound like? Is it a cool thing to be at a concert with these musicians?” etc., etc.) In the East Bay, these musicians are well known, essentially celebrities, though in this context that doesn’t really bring much money or status, just that they are known as able practitioners of what they do. Which is “music,” or experimental or avant-garde music, or new music, or outside music, or whatever you want to call it. It’s certainly not mainstream music, you don’t generally hear Jon Raskin or Fred Frith on the radio, unless you are tuned to a specific type of free-form station that treats its listeners to side-stream genres. But that in and of itself is not enough, is it? Or is it? Is this why, why these musicians made these sounds for these people? To assert themselves as willful individuals who consciously moved some air with different pressure levels, made these sounds that were very specifically not part of the mainstream nor part of what was globally considered popular in the world of music? That’s perhaps a goal, to identify your self by what you aren’t. Music is a point of identity, or at least it used to be—perhaps more than it is now. People really used to change the way that they dressed or that they appeared in order to match their chosen genre. They individually worked on their clothes and hair to make them into things that communicated punk, goth, hippie, whatever. I’m not certain I could state empirically what styles signify pop music nowadays when everything is purchased from the same companies and everybody has clothes and music that come from a limited set of outlets that are essentially ubiquitous.

So why do people make music anyway? Is there a point? Did we, as an audience, derive so much joy from being entertained by these human beings manipulating their devices that it was worth the time spent during our limited lives? Was it the sense of aesthetic enjoyment that imbued this situation with meaning, with a reason for being? And if I stopped hearing what was music in favor of just being able to hear sound, was I losing out on that aesthetic experience? Because I felt, even listening to just the sounds in the space, that it was incredible, and that feeling was as much motivated by the simple fact that people were intentionally making these sounds. I was in awe that people could do this. Awe is perhaps a viable aesthetic experience (it’s certainly worth the ten bucks entrance fee!) But perhaps I was also there as part of the scene, part of my sense of identity as a human being: I am at home with people who consider this offshoot of the definition of music as an enjoyable experience. I did see and hug and talk with several people whom I hadn’t seen or hugged for quite a while, I don’t live in this area anymore and I did for a decade. I do identify with this “scene” and its people.

But in a greater sense, why? There’s no meaning to it, is there, in any existential sense. We continue, we try not to die, and in the meantime we either go on with the second rule of life, “Make More,” and we replicate our genes, or we simply continue to try to fill up our waking hours with experiences that are on the whole more pleasing than not. So this is an experience that is more pleasing than not, for reasons of being aesthetically enjoyable, being comfortable or reaffirming our identities as members of a human culture, or, like I was at the time, being hyper-aware of the physical situation and marveling at its very occurrence.

I steer most of my intent toward making music, regardless of what it does for me or the world. That is to say, most of what I do or think about is the making of music, in some way or form. I play shows whenever I can, performing live with other people or alone. Lately this has been almost entirely the shows that I play with Camper Van Beethoven, which have been regularly occurring a few times a year in the United States, and only occasionally in other places. I live in Sweden, so I have performed here in Stockholm a couple times, but mostly that’s been with other people’s bands. I can’t seem to motivate myself to sell the idea of my own music to a foreign populace who could really care less if there’s somebody new playing some music in town. That’s generally the way of the world these days, there’s no cohesive thread among music listeners that would mean that they would be interested in attending or experiencing a new addition to the possibilities of live music unless they’ve been told about the new act enough by some media enough to make it seem worthwhile to put out the effort to attend a concert. In the previous decades when people did have very strong identity attachments to musical and personal styles, attending a concert of the appropriate style would be de rigeur: you were part of the culture that brought this band into existence. You would go to see a band just because they were on the same record label as a band you liked. You would listen to what the band was singing about and go and research it in your spare time, learning about the politics or references that they sung about, and these ideas entered your identity as well.

This is one of the reasons that the music that was listened to when you were in high school sticks with you, that was the prime era of your life for establishing your identity. A great majority of people do not in fact grow out of listening to the music that they listened to in high school or college, they just stop exploring at that point and do not seek to expand their repertoire, so to speak. Their identities are set.

There are people, of course, who continue to add new music to their experience and to grow their own aesthetic ideals and hence expand their identities. The purpose of art or culture is not utilitarian, the value of it isn’t easily quantified, but continuing to grow one’s identity in relation to new aesthetic experiences allows even more reference material to evaluate the good and bad in the world around you.

The music scene is not so much part of the transfer or accumulation of identity at the present time, though social media can have an impact on the valuation of an experience such as attending a concert, or the social value of doing so. Myself, I’m not part of a scene per se, (unfortunately), and I make music in a bunch of different idioms, so it’d be hard to pin me down as a signifier of some specific scene to identify with anyway. On the other hand, when Camper Van Beethoven gets together and plays, several hundred people come to the show and enjoy the music and the scene. I guess it’s “indie rock” or something, though many people see the band as the producer of one semi-hit song from college radio in the mid 1980s. That would be horrible if that were the only value we had ever given to the world, because one song is such a tiny portion of what we have done, and also because it happened now almost thirty years ago and we’re still at it. (We do actually play that song at almost every concert, though. Still trying to get it right!) Imagine living your life knowing that your one contribution to society happened when you were 20, and yet you continue to stick around trying to hit that mark again or better it. They say most of the math geniuses achieve their major breakthroughs before 30 and then never again after that, though physicists peak a little later. Rock music really tries to follow the youth-culture rules and rarely allows musicians to get older and maintain a career—at least in the independent music world. Though, realistically, I wonder what the high-money 1% performers will continue to do when they are over 30, as well.

So why continue? Who is it important to? It appears that it is at least important to A) the band members, enough to stumble through all of the travel and discomfort at our advanced ages to continue to tour and play, and B) the audiences that continue to stumble through the discomfort of getting out of their routine to go and attend a concert. These are ways of spending time, a concert takes a few hours of your life that you will never get back and gives you only memories. The memories, of course, are of a multi-sensory experience, ostensibly focused around music, that is to say, there are human beings on a platform who are moving their hands and feet and mouths in some way, together, potentially in temporal sync (if all goes well), to produce a loud set of complicated sound waves that emit from speakers that move the air in an analog of these waveforms such that the audience both hears and feels the waves of air pressure and see the people making these waveforms. It sounds like something, it feels like something, it looks like something. It probably also smells like something and maybe it tastes like something, but usually people don’t go that far; that might tip the balance of the pleasing aesthetic experience toward some other direction.

Big deal. So it’s extremely important! It’s also completely meaningless.

It’s extremely important to me, it’s all I do. When I’m not on tour, I spend a lot of time working on recording or mixing sounds and music, in hopes that people will listen to it at some point and enjoy that experience as much as I enjoy the process of recording and mixing and perfecting the sounds, sculpting the sounds into a specific set piece. It seems important to me to do this, to solve these little puzzles of potential arrangements of waveforms, each little bit changing the overall set to move air pressure in a room or in your ear canal in a certain specific way. That’s what I do, that’s what I have done all my life, that’s what I trained to do, learned about, practiced, and taught.

When I was growing up, music was so important to me, but not only to me: it was seemingly as important to everybody. People listened to music, they examined it, lived it. Of course things are very different nowadays, there are a lot of people who have written about the changes in technology and culture that precipitated and developed the current societal status of art and music, wherein music is an accompaniment to every other action, understood as simply existing. Of course, to some extent people still pick and choose which music will be accompanying their activities, but the dedicated listening and development of meaning and identity attached is waning. The comeback of the LP is good for that area, though, as it takes more effort to interact with vinyl records, and you listen to 20 minutes per side, in a somewhat more conscious way than simply hearing the music that is your background for everything else you do, that’s just there in your earbud. Additionally, the interest in the very idea of the LP shows a concerted effort to acquire said LPs, which means willful intent, which means it is part of the listener’s identity that they are such a person who dedicates time and effort to doing so. The identity feature may be that the listener is interested in a higher quality aesthetic or interactive experience, although it may also mean that they want to establish that their identity is similar to the type of person who listens to LPs, i.e., their identity contains signifiers that value the aesthetic nature of listening to vinyl records of music.

What does that identity entail, then? What is its place on the planet Earth? When my scientist mom asked me about why music existed evolutionarily, it was pretty obvious for me to answer that it was just colorful feathers. If you followed rule #1, “Don’t Die,” then the next rule is still “Make More.” So if you’re not dead, you have to spend your time living, and the impetus, whether followed through upon or not, is reproduction. So, yeah, a lot of folks are into music in order to fuck, or rather, in order to find the right person to fuck. You could consider any art to be an attractor, you could consider any scene created around that attractor to be a specific gene pool. All frogs that chirp like this, go to your specific mating pond, please. The pursuers of high art may be thinking of adding to the overall progress of human culture (or not) but they are also singing a song that attracts the proper mate. Thinking of this with the dimension of time, where all art adds to a continuum of culture means seeing down that spiral to both find one’s antecedents and project the hopeful development of human thinking, human consideration and ability to perceive, discern, judge the relative aesthetic and human values of everything that they are presented with. In other words, continuing a genetic line that includes placing importance upon certain types of aesthetics indicates an intent at shaping the human species to be informed by the experience of aesthetics in their actions while extant on the planet.

For example, the hippies, or at least the adherents of psychedelia, that adopted rock music in the 1960s and helped along both the identity of music and culture into the 1970s felt like they were coming out of a repressive society, so they wanted to express their identities with freedoms, free speech, free love, etc. Free jazz, for example, could really be considered to be a part of the civil rights movement as the struggle for freedom of expression was a very serious issue in black communities within the United States of the 1950s (and continues to be.) And in the 1960s people took these some of these ideas even further (albeit perhaps with pharmacological aids) and expressed some pretty far out humanitarian ideas with the far out musical accompaniment. The bands, of course, like the hippies, varied in their depth. Some wrote directly about things, some just expressed loud music as its own intrinsic freedom. Some were overtly political or sung of things that expressed changes that could happen in society, some just played loudly to express power or made music that expanded the ideas of form and perception in order to “open minds,” because the entire idea of opening one’s mind to consider new ideas was considered important. I consider it important still.

But here’s the thing: many of these people thought about themselves in relation to the Earth, and to the universe, in ways that people had either been too busy or repressed to think much about before, and they started to embrace some of these aspects of their new identities into the way they lived. It seemed silly to the public at large, at first, to, for example, recycle things in one’s garbage. Or to be a vegetarian. Or an environmentalist—Dr Seuss’ “The Lorax” came out in 1971, you know. Or, more to the point, a computer programmer. Most of the technological ideas that developed in the 1960s and 70s are the things we take for granted as normal technology today, and these guys had some pretty far out ideas. It’s no coincidence that what is considered to be Silicon Valley now was the same place that the Grateful Dead came from. Talking books, or a computer book? A hand held device to point and click on things on a screen? Digitizing media, moving it away from a physical substrate? A computer that you could talk to…? These ideas were pretty far out in the 1970s of course. It just took a while for them to come to fruition…and from there to change the world.

In the process, though, society and culture changed. Living in California, it was really obvious immediately after the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978, a taxpayer revolt started by a rich consortium playing on people’s natural tendencies to dislike being taxed in general. The initiative dropped property taxes, especially for business property. It gutted the public schools in the state, dropping the quality of schooling in California from one of the best in the US during the 1960s and 70s to now one of the worst (48th out of 50…) It also gutted libraries and city services. Then Reagan was elected in 1980 and did roughly the same thing to the country in general, and since then the US has undergone a series of governments that have provided a healthy business environment for the rich, less taxation for the rich and generally destroyed a functional existing civil infrastructure as well as gutting education and the arts in such a way that the general populace doesn’t even know how to think anymore. And why would they? They’re badly educated and desperate, trying to stay alive and acquire the things that are dangled in front of them that they must own to be part of modern society. Why should your average American citizen be bothered about thinking about expanding the nature of aesthetics, making an attempt to understand or enjoy music or art outside of their comfort zone, let alone considering their impact upon the planet at large? How could they even know about their impact when they aren’t provided with knowledge about it nor the cognitive abilities to extrapolate their little lives upon the whole of the human race? Nobody thinks about that when they’re simply trying to survive. A stressful life means a narrower focus, and it makes it much easier to manage the populace, to steer them to considering only specifically presented data or goals. It stymies critical thinking.

And it worked, of course. Recent research indicate that the populace in general is at odds with scientific thinking in numerous subjects, including climate change, genetic modification of crops, vaccination, and of course religion. Scientists are experts in their fields, that is literally what a scientist becomes. But now when anybody on the internet can also claim to be an expert, the role is devalued to such an extent that it has become meaningless. Why listen to experts that you don’t want to hear? Plus, it’s not cool: it’s so easy to discount those “eggheads” when they’re just nerds, isn’t it? The cult of cool has been resurrected and sold to us again, just like it was in the 1950s, when scientists had essentially won the war with their inventions of nuclear arms and cryptography, playing with and devaluing the lives of the common soldiers. Can’t trust those eggheads, they’re not like “normal” folks. To be a real American was to be a soldier, not a scientist.

Teachers ever since have been trying desperately to make learning “cool.” The glorification of the nerd in the recent TV storylines almost works, though invariably they are computer workers, which is basically like being a modern mineworker: the company bosses still reaps the benefits of the programmer’s overtime. The cool hackers of early 90s VR-style plot lines are as fake as James Bond, I’m sorry to say. Maybe some kids have actually received an education along the way toward the commodification of their outsider status, but rarely has that been anything other than a narrow training, no wider array of subjects that might allow them to gain the skills required to be a citizen of their country or of the world, to discern right and wrong and open their minds to the multitudes of aesthetic and natural experience. Just keep writing that app, kid.

The problem is that it’s all probably too late to do anything about it, it may be too late to stave off imminent collapse of not only our current society but potentially the collapse of a viable biosphere for us to live in.

Humans are amazing. It’s such an intensely miraculous happenstance that we exist at all, that we exist on terms that allow us to consider that we exist, for me to write these words down that other humans can read and understand as being reflective. The current state of astronomy points out to us how rare planets like ours might be, how startlingly complex the balance of the thousands of variables might be to establish a temperate climate that could sustain life such as ours, the narrow temperature range that we live in, the chemical makeup of our atmosphere, even the presence of water. It’s mind boggling. Why people aren’t amazed by the presence of a living thing at every moment is beyond me. This awe probably allows some people to believe in god.

If you are familiar with the Anthropic Principle, it’s even more mind boggling: the idea that the entire physical universe is such that, it is not only the only way that it is possible to have life, but also that our ability to see and measure the way that the physical universe is is consistent with our own consciousness. In other words, the more we measure the physical universe, the more we see that there is no other possible way that it could have been that would still allow us to exist to observe it. The very laws of nature are consistent with the ability to form or hold life. If the big bang had had a sequence that were slightly slower (by even one part in a hundred thousand trillion, says Stephen Hawking), it would have contracted upon itself before anything could have formed instead of continuing along expanding at the critical rate that it is doing so to allow the formation of primary stars that subsequently collapse and explode creating heavier elements strewn about the universe, that then condense into later star systems that now have the critical ingredients that could manufacture carbon based life like ours. In fact, even on a subatomic level, the mass of quarks is such that it appears to be fine tuned toward allowing the creation of atoms that combine to form carbon and oxygen from nucleosynthesis within stars. The Anthropic Principle is tautological, of course, in that we exist and observe that we exist, so all of our measurements of our existence are true, i.e., if life exists then life must be able to exist. Some versions of the principle say that the universe must be such that it allows the creation of observers within it, or that it must have been designed to allow life.

Again, this would seem to allow people to believe in a god or creator. That’s idiotic, and I mean that in the etymological sense of the idiot: living in their own little world (or idiom). Consider the psychological diagnosis of borderline personality disorder: a patient has a rich idea of the structure of the world that they have manufactured subjectively, and then they choose to project their interior world’s structure upon the exterior objective world such that they see the exterior world in terms of their own constructed interior explanation. We consider these people to be at odds with objective reality. Believing that there is some god is the same, that your internal idea is somehow present in the objective world. It’s literally insane. And going a step further to believe that some ubiquitous creator or designer is somehow aware of an individual person or their thoughts or deeds is the height of arrogance in the believer. And then to behave in such a way to other living beings as if you had some knowledge or authority based on some relationship to a fictional consciousness is sociopathic. And some people even think that they can converse with this being.

If some conscious creator had manufactured our physical universe on such a level that it allowed the creation of life after 10 billion years, the very idea of that tiny life being capable of interacting with that creator is ridiculous beyond scale. We can’t even comprehend a billion years, much less make any sort of cohesive statement that transcends that much time. As individuals we would be less than an electron in an atom in a molecule in a corpuscle of blood in your body trying to petition your mind with prayer. Saying what? “Stop smoking! It’s making things bad down here!”

And yet, our modern world is still pathologically diseased by religion and religious thought. It causes more harm and bloodshed than nearly any other intentionality among human beings. “God help us in our war against these heathens!” If the religious were as awed by life as their religion’s originators were, we might actually progress. The very fact that there are many religions proves that none of them are correct: they each say theirs is the one true religion. No actual conscious deity would allow that. The fact that people have justified war, killing or even any harm to any living thing is proof that humans have manufactured gods and religions simply to justify their own actions. Trying to understand the actual physical makeup of the universe doesn’t seem to have the same result, hardly anybody tries to kill anybody for attempting to confirm or deny the standard model of particle physics (As far as I know.)

I could see being enthralled with the inherent wonder of life or overwhelmed at the sheer enormity of the physical universe. Even perhaps in some sacred or spiritual sense, though adding the element of a god-like or cosmic consciousness crosses the line into “eye of the beholder”. But when you start adding in any human beings, prophets or whatever, it’s definitely crossed the line into bullshit, especially when the believers deify these guys and kill people when they think somebody isn’t being respected.

Why are humans so violent and superstitious? I guess we’re just new to being conscious, it hasn’t been that long in the scheme of things. Imagine if people had a conscious grasp of the passage of time, imagine if, instead of developing as wary animals who were continuously trying to determine what was happening now, using our big brains that learned to evaluate events to predict some nominal immediate future from what we perceived, that we used our big brains to evaluate longer periods of time. Imagine how human societies would behave if everybody had a constant grasp of not only the immediate (though perhaps specious**) present, but saw this moment as a continuum of the past and how it affected the future. What if you considered your actions on a time scale of several weeks in either direction, or several months. Would that change what you ate or how you behaved? What if you considered several years backward and forward, or several decades.

What if people thought about everything that they did in terms of centuries, of many generations of people. You yourself, as an individual, are less important than the entire lineage of your family, or your species. How would you use what natural resources are available to you? Would that change your relationship to your food, to your use of land, to the impact that you have on the environment? Would it change how businesses used natural resources on your behalf, as a consumer? Do we still have time to even consider these things?

A friend of mine, Edie Winograde, is an artist who now lives in Denver. She’s a photographer. She’s been making large format photographs for gallery showings for years that capture events in the American West, some of them are of historical reenactments of things that happened in the western states during the past 200 years. For example, a reenactment of some massacre of white pioneers or Native Americans in the middle of the 1800s in Wyoming, or something like that. Human actions, and then humans recreating the actions in a theatrical way (not actually killing each other, that is). The event happened many years ago, it happens again in the same place. It’s like seeing through time. It’s also like viewing Baudrillard’s precession of simulacra!

I was at her studio again recently to look at a new series that she’s working on, she’s not sure exactly where it’s heading, but it’s a similar idea. This set, however, is mostly landscapes, things in the Southwest that have been there for millions of years, the gorgeous geological formations of the canyons and rocks. But, in each photograph there is evidence of modern humans, either a tourist waving somewhere, or a jet’s contrail in the sky, or some such evidence. Again, it’s like seeing through time. There is one that is a beautiful portrait photograph of the White House Ruins, a pueblo at Canyon De Chelly, a thousand-year-old man-made habitation carved into the cliffs. Taking a photograph of this structure at this point in time not only juxtaposes the time frames of man and rock—the man-made structures are ancient to us, yet so incredibly recent to the rocks they were carved out of—but it also contains the knowledge of more recent technological history in which famous early photographers captured this very structure. And here, in this most recent of photographs wherein the artist is preserving the images of things from vastly disparate historical eras, is a modern woman in the frame wearing her hiking clothes, snapping a picture as well. A tourist is there, a living human being, in the presence of the ruins of ancient human beings, the ruins of human dwellings, evidence of human activity where they performed their will by means of carving a rock that had been there for about fifty-million years. The people that came there and carved the hillside probably came about 10,000 years ago, migrating after the last ice age, maybe 500 generations ago. Here’s one of them now!

Human beings, or rather our species, homo sapiens, have been around for maybe a couple hundred thousand years at most, leaving Africa at various points in time in the past 50,000 years. These various migrations to different continents and parts of the world are the origins of what we consider racially different characteristics, yet all part of the same species. Dogs are the same species as each other, and that species contains even more wildly different characteristics than humans in its different breeds, but people still consider them all to be dogs…yet, still many people somehow hold onto some idea that different breeds of human are different. It’s odd, and it’s essentially superstitious thinking. Yes, there are numerous ways to become a conscious human being, and a different language will wire your brain to think in a different way with respect to the signified and the signifier, but we’ve all got the same hardware to begin with.

I live in Sweden, where recent elections have given a small percentage of the government representation to a group of people who are basically racists who somehow believe that they are more important as Swedish citizens than people immigrating to Sweden from war-torn areas in North Africa or the Middle East. Are they more important, are the resources that they control more important? Are they futilely trying to fight larger human migration patterns?

The reason people emigrate to Sweden is because the Swedes have had an open asylum policy for years, based on the humanitarian reasoning that if they themselves had a decent living situation and elsewhere there were people who were threatened by war or oppression, they could not simply stand by and allow those threatened people to be harmed. It’s an admirable stance, and commendable. However, as the rest of the world continues to create unrest and war, more and more people who simply want to stay alive are forced into migration. Sweden itself is no innocent, some of the largest money making corporations manufactured munitions for wars, including all of those going on in the Middle East***, which of course precipitates the immigration problems faced by the country now that the resources can’t handle the number of immigrants. (I should point out that Sweden’s domestic problems weren’t helped at all by having a “moderate” right wing government for 8 years who privatized many of the things that the state used to pay for by taxation, including many social programs for immigrants. So they let the people arrive, but then didn’t help them out. This led to disenfranchised and isolated immigrant communities that remained outside of Swedish culture, which led to unrest, which led to racist backlash. Nobody seemed to be able to use their big people-brains to predict that.)

The monkey doesn’t do well with long-term. The monkey that we still are in so many respects just lived from moment to moment, even though our big people-brains have to ability to cogitate and consider the future and the past and the ability to think in a continuum of time, it escapes our day to day understanding of the world around us; we would have to actually stop and think instead of doing whatever we’re doing. And the modern world keeps your attention occupied, all day and all night. No time to reflect. It’s very literally driving us insane.

Norman O. Brown posited that if Freud had anything useful to contribute to understanding human nature, it was that we repress our animalistic urges in order to maintain civilized conduct, and that fucked us up. In other words, since the very beginnings of civilization, say, agricultural communities, we have been suppressing certain behaviors, and as time went on and civilization became more and more ornate with more and more rules of conduct and decorum, we were forced to suppress more and more. Societies developed their own sets of order, how to control the populations’ behaviors by means of rules and force, and then by religious doctrine and sets of taboos. And living in a state of constant repression has made us insane.

Even now, in the beginning of the 21st Century, we are continuously fighting each other over, for example, sexual taboos. Why is this at all important? And people kill each other over ideas of religion, something that I have already said is nearly identical with psychological disorder. It’s because we, as a species, are insane due to having to repress so much of our naturalistic behaviors while trying to behave such that we interact in a way that seems to be cohesive. Stupid monkeys.

And yet, we are able to think, aren’t we? I’m writing down all these ideas, they are reflective and can be understood. Let’s consider the history of our ideas of government, for instance, something that we as a species realized was necessary to keep order within the groups of monkeys who were otherwise occupied all day long with trying to stay alive and then trying to make more. The “more” got subverted, of course, by money—that brought a whole new slew of problems, many of which negate the entire idea of government in the end anyway! But the idea of government was obviously to create some relatively controlled system that allowed for lots of people to live together. People considered all sorts of things, we’ve gone through numerous versions from dictatorships to consensus-based democracies. And all sorts of things in between.

The problem once again, of course, is that people just disregard the efficacy of governmental systems in favor of greed. Greed rules, and controls governments. The whole neo-liberal/libertarian notion skews the rhetoric into glorifying some sort of “every man for themselves” vision, which basically subverts the entire idea of having a government to begin with. Waves of privatization of formerly government facilities have changed over the functionality of them from operating for the benefit of the governed populace into operating based on a profit-or-loss bottom line. It’s a ridiculous way to operate something that is supposed to be for the benefit of the populace.

I had a discussion about this recently, I was talking about the fact that the US right wing seems to want to shut down the post office. In favor of what? Private delivery companies? So, we’d pay FedEx prices to deliver a letter? That sounds pretty bad. In Sweden, the moderates, who are economically a right wing group, did in fact privatize the post office during their 8 years of governmental control from 2006-2014. It’s a fucking mess. Whatever private firms picked up the contracts couldn’t afford to run it at a profit, so they shut down several substations and moved the infrastructures for larger areas into one crowded substation, fired numerous people, etc. The delivery system is flawed now, and especially for those of us who need to send things to ourselves from outside of the country, it’s extremely difficult. Why? Because the purpose of the post office is no longer to deliver the mail. The purpose of the post office now is, like any business, to make money, or at the very least to stay afloat. The bottom line is what keeps them going, and after that they get to think about how to get the mail delivered. Is this what we, as a group, want from group services? That some private company should be in charge of things that are ostensibly in place for the good of all citizens. And the wait times at the doctor’s office now…?

There is a reason why people developed government to begin with, right? To ensure the well-being of the populace. So when people call for less government, they are basically saying, “At the expense of the citizenry, I wish to make more money.” Or, more realistically, “I wish for some immensely rich private citizen to be able to control the government’s regulation of trade such that this private person can be even richer,” because that money really is not going to flow to very many people. The term “liberal” in terms of governing initially (classically) meant relaxation of government regulation and control of trade, allowing any sort of trade to make them money, regardless of the morality or legality. Like the importation of slaves, for example. Or the sale and transport of oil or weapons. I, personally, would prefer that the government regulated these sorts of things to the point of shutting them down entirely. In modern terms in the US, that actually would make me “liberal,” which sort of shows you how malleable and useless such a word is. The old meaning of liberal is now known as libertarian, perhaps, or neo-liberal in Europe. The people who subscribe to these sorts of ideologies are basically not giving a shit about the public-at-large, so long as they get what they want. That’s a basic human instinct, even maybe a basic animal instinct. They certainly aren’t trying to envision the continuation of society, of humanity. They certainly aren’t reflecting on the state of culture and economics and how it might continue, the goal is their own bottom line. And, presumably, the welfare of their offspring, one would think, right?

However, without a healthy society, they will have no healthy situation for their own lineage. Certainly as they maintain a selfish sense of personal profit, it is not only done so at the expense of the rest of the citizens, but at the expense of the environment that we live in. People who work for large companies that make their money from things that destroy the Earth aren’t even really able to look beyond their own paycheck, they’re so stressed about simply surviving. So it goes on and on and the environment suffers more and more, while some cadre of top executives make a ton of money and everybody else involved gets to continue to survive. My question is: how do the people in control of these juggernauts of capitalism think it’s going to work out, for them or their families? Do they actually believe that something good is going to be there for them at the end of the day, when the entire world is irretrievably set on a path to collapse? Are they willfully sentencing their offspring to live in a more difficult world, or do they somehow believe that their wealth will stave off the horrors of a societal or environmental collapse? I suppose the richest could be setting up gated communities in the arctic or antarctic—these may be the only places that humans could survive in the coming centuries. How fun that will be! If the human race survives, they could have two separate groups who are only vaguely aware of the other, living at antipodes of the planet. It would make for a decent science fiction series if it weren’t so imminently probable and horrific.

Do you yourself consider the news you receive on the state of the environment of our planet? Admittedly it’s tough to wrap one’s head around, and there are no definitive summaries. It’s a very complex system isn’t it? Consider the search for exoplanets in our immediate galaxy. There are lists of a huge number of them, we’ve determined that many, many solar systems have planets, we’ve mapped about a thousand so far. And as I alluded to earlier, maybe three out of these thousand are considered “earth-like,” which is to say that they lie in a particular habitable zone (the “Goldilocks Zone,” not to hot and not too cold), or they may have liquid water. These things that determine habitability are very much temperature dependent: we live in a very narrow temperature band! We humans can survive in temperatures that go from a little below the freezing of water to maybe halfway to its boiling point. We’re made of water, of course, as are most of the other living things on the planet. Some things, some bacteria, have adapted to other, harsher environments found on the planet, highly sulfurous or high temperature areas, for example. It’s unlikely that the majority of our planet’s life could adapt to these environments!

On top of this, even if you extrapolate the number of mapped planets onto the rest of the area of the galaxy or even further, where you might find a billion planets in this similar habitable zone, there is the additional problem of the fact that large stars collapse and release long gamma ray bursts, which can easily wipe out any nearby planet’s life in a matter of seconds, and planets further from the source could have their ozone layers destroyed, causing mass extinctions if fauna or flora had developed in some equilibrium of temperature and weather over the previous numerous millions of years. These things happen every day out in our galaxy, we just happen to be in a less dense area of stars. Its possible that our planet was hit at some point in the previous four billion years, but certainly not that recently. It’s possible that it was a cause for one of our five known mass extinctions, the Cambrian-Ordovician one about 488 million years ago. In other words, we’re lucky to be where we are and when we are in our galaxy.

Our planet is incredibly unique, and I mean that in the literal sense: it is hard to believe that such a balance of temperature and elements could exist in such a balance for such a long time as to allow the evolution of life, much less life that is conscious, much less life that is self-conscious. The odds are astronomical, again: literally. This planet has done a lot of growth and changing in the past billion years, but it settled into a relatively balanced set of motions that it goes through in the past number of millions. We homo sapiens separated our lineage from other apes a few million years back but really didn’t come into our own until after that point around 50,000 or so years ago when we started migrating out of Africa. By the last ice age, maybe 17,000 years ago, we’d moved all over the world and began to directionally select for our specific genetic variations in specific areas.

And we would continue doing so, if we could, wouldn’t we? Now we have numerous genetic traits that have been selected for over the previous tiny little lengths of time, only measured in tiny thousands of years, even. We have physical and mental traits selected for in every base racial type, and in the past couple hundred years, immigration, forced and otherwise, has been aided by technology, and now people containing genetic racial characteristics from anywhere on the planet have the ability to live anywhere else on the planet, and mix. People are still racist, though, which, like being religious, is simply prejudice and ignorance all hyped up by fear. People are people, for the most part, and while they’re pretty much all the same, they get stressed by people that are unfamiliar to them. People even get stressed by strangers within their own cultural or societal milieu. People have been stressed by civilization and overpopulation so much that they are xenophobic by norm.

That’s a little sad for those of us that really were hoping for the Star Trek utopia, or some sort of human race, wherein all people were just some blend of any possible human racial characteristics. To go even further, maybe we could have made it to some sort of post-scarcity society where people didn’t have to be stressed by having or not having anything, to explore the world or universe with the full attention they could give to doing so. I saw the Apollo moon landing on TV when I was 6, so I naturally assumed that science and exploration were going to continue apace and we were on track to a brighter science fiction future. What a let down! How are we ever going to explain ourselves to the aliens that arrive?

We were coming up the hillside after hiking down into the valley a ways, though we didn’t go all the way down to the bottom of the ravine between the Skyline crest and the coastal crest. There was a middle crest coming up from the south, we got to a point where we had a pretty good view over the valley. As far as I could tell, there was no evidence of people on these hills, beyond the existing paths or dirt roads. We ran into deer a few times, single (and limping), or several together. We had hiked on several trails that were ostensibly open to mountain bikers, though we saw none, and then got to some where they were apparently prohibited. I thought about the impact of bicycles—somehow even just that little bit more than the impact of people just walking through the environment. There were no sounds beyond the crunching of our feet on the trail and our breathing, and when we were talking. I heard no birds.

When we looked out over the valley between the ridges, it was all trees. We knew that over the western ridge it went down all the way to Highway 1 and the Pacific Ocean. Here in the middle areas between Skyline Boulevard and that last ridge line, there was nothing. Jed told me about a guy he had met who had claimed to have camps set up out in these woods, where no other people ever went, where he couldn’t be found…just in case, you know. I’m sure there are millions of acres of deserted landscape all over the planet, but it is odd to think that a 45-minute drive from San Francisco, or maybe 20 minutes from Silicon Valley could find you in such wilderness. There were signs at the trailhead telling us what to do if we encountered a mountain lion.

The flora in this area was very Californian, the kind I have been familiar with all my life: grassy hills, large groves of oaks moving into pine forest. Many shades of green, lighter on the ground, then getting darker in the taller trees until the pines appeared almost blue on the other side of the valley. Above us, the sky was gray with a low-hanging overcast sea of clouds that prevented the sun from cutting through, though maintained the early January temperature at above 60ºF, though again, there was no wind. The layer of clouds over us was still and flat and low and covered the sky. On the other side of the coastal ridge, it looked like there may be some sunlight breaking through, but then more clouds above the sea. It was impossible to discern any line between the sky and the sea, it was all a blend of gray lines. We came out from under the lichen-covered oaks and rounded a looping single track trail up across a long hillside. There was a bench next to the trail to overlook the valleys.

We sat down. It was completely still. Eerily still, actually, no wind, no birds, no fog rolling in over the coastal ridge, something that anybody on the peninsula has seen happen nearly every day: as the temperature inland cools, the hot air rises in the central valley and pulls the fog in from over the sea, it rolls over the peninsula ridges like a heavy white cloud creeping over the peaks and then rolling down into the towns. We looked at each other and remarked on this, that we could hear our ears ring, it was so quiet****.

Is this a new weather pattern? I’m over 50, I had lived in California for 45 or so of those years, almost entirely in Northern California, Davis, Santa Cruz or San Francisco, and I’d hiked in these and many similar trails, and I had never experienced this sort of stillness. Was something going to happen? Earthquake weather, perhaps? Or just a strange lull in pressure zones?

Jed had been talking about reading essays by climate scientists, and of the ways in which they were breaking the information to the public at large, in bits and pieces. He said he was waiting for the news to finally announce that we had a zero percent chance of surviving, just when they’d finally break that on the TV stations. How would that finally impact our society? Would anybody listen when the news told us that we’re fucked, we’re well and truly fucked. There may be no way back, to be able to re-right any of the balances that we’ve skewed, some unknown assembly of variables among the zillion or so that allowed our equilibrium of weather and temperature to settle to this specific narrow range within which we live. It took how many billions of years for the planet to get settled into the equilibrium that it had in the past few hundred million that did allow life to emerge, to say nothing of the recent tens of thousands such that we became people. We had a decent run, I guess.

My brother joked with me about the much-heralded emergence of Artificial Intelligence that, well, maybe it was time for humans to go extinct. This was based on the idea that if we managed to create an artificial mind, it would quickly manage to create itself better, and so on, such that we humans would be both superfluous and undesirable. I think the whole idea is suspect, of course, as is the quest for the singularity in which machines can equal humans in mind, which would necessarily imply that we could free our minds from our physical bodies and upload ourselves into similar machines, and then essentially choose to live in artificial environments as well, if we wanted. That follows due to the idea that if all input is somehow transduced to be understood by a non-organic mind, then all input can also be non-organic—in other words, what is real is what is perceived as real. So if your mind lives in a mechanical substrate, you could live in any idea of environment you wanted to and feel and perceive it as being real. What luxury! We probably can’t get there fast enough, however, before the “real” real environment ceases to be able to host our physical bodies.

Many scientists are trying to come to terms with the lack of action in dealing with the climate changing on our planet. Why isn’t everybody up in arms about this? How can governments even continue to think about things other than the ultimate survival of the planet, to say nothing about our little species? We’ve already knocked out 200 other species in recent history, but people continue to march on as if it was our right and manifest to do as we wished without regard to consequence. Because we’re the people! Anything we do is our right as people, because that’s what we are. Self-appointed masters of the planet, top of the food chain, the apex of the hierarchy. Right? Because we are the artist, anything we do is art. Because we manifest our intention, because we have the will to manifest, we are prime. Because Mark Mothersbaugh can sculpt a soft-serve ice cream out of the world’s largest ruby, he must do so.

Of course there are alternate published articles that correlate the various solar cycles with normal rises and falls of temperature on the planet, and with the ~100,000 year cycle of greenhouse gas levels. These claim that our current projection of the warming trend is a continuation of a recent upswing of the sums of several normal smaller sinusoidal motions of temperature variation. That is to say, the cumulative power of the somewhat sinusoidal patterns of ups and downs of the de Vries and Seuss solar cycles (which are similar to the 11 year solar maximum cycle of radiation levels, but in 1000- and 250-year cycles) combined with some normal sea temperature 60-year cycles have created an upswing in temperature from 1970 to now, and the belief here is that our current understanding that we are experiencing a continuing warming trendis only a projection of this recent upswing into the near future. The result, to these studies, is that what we call Global Warming is not at all anthropogenic in nature and is the result of normal cycles, and the temperature of our planet will follow the pattern back down in the coming decades. However, they are equating radiative energy levels from the sun with temperature, when the radiation emitted isn’t necessarily in heat, but in particles. And more critical, the primary studies that these call on are Petit’s 1999 studies of Antarctic ice core samples from Vostok that tell us the CO2 and CH4 levels over the last ~420,000 years which show the rises in greenhouse gas and temperature in ~100,000 year cycles, and this study clearly states that the current high levels of these greenhouse gasses are “unprecedented during the past 420kyr” and have risen beyond the scales of the previous half million years in the years since human industry came about.

Like the early rational arguments presented to combat Global Warming, it seems only intelligent to try to do something about it, because there are four scenarios: it is either a real trend or not, and we either do something about it or not. If it isn’t a real problem and we don’t do anything, we remain as we are, if is a real problem and we don’t do anything, we all die. If it is or isn’t real and we do something about it, we win regardless. If, that is, we can still do anything about it.

There is a site online that contains many letters from people who write how they feel about climate change, including, of course, many scientists. The feelings run the gamut of grieving, frustration, anger, sadness, etc. The scientists cannot believe that the idea is so glossed over in the news cycle that immediately goes on to the latest celebrity nothingness. I can believe it, of course; if it’s just glossed over, you can keep the populace from freaking out. It’s believable, it’s just pretty awful. And it’s not just the changing climate, it’s the changing environment. We’ve exploited our resources at such an incredible rate that the natural bounce back from such destruction can’t at all keep up.

Many of the scientists who write are distraught because they have children. They worry, as I do, that the children won’t have a world to live in when they grow up. I have a young child. She is all I can think of when I think of the awe of existence, the incredible unlikelihood of life and consciousness, the sheer happiness that happens when a conscious being witnesses the flowering of another conscious being. I’m fulfilling my genetic instructions, being all I can be by not dying and making more!

I want to make the world the best place it can possibly be for her. She’s not even four years old yet. What can I do? Is it possible for one individual to do anything to ensure the continuing existence of human society, of a viable biosphere for the continued existence of our lineage? I can’t face the idea that we are potentially going extinct, especially not when I look at my child. I suppose that I myself may be lucky to be half done, that I probably won’t live beyond the middle of this century, so that I don’t have to witness the horrors of a collapsing infrastructure. With another couple degree rise in ocean temperatures, a lot of the habitable land is going to be in harm’s way. Then what sort of human migration patterns might we experience? Trying to keep “foreigners” out of your country is going to be the least of your worries: finding food will probably dominate your thoughts, and then staying alive to eat it.

Scandinavia looks good for remaining viable as a place to live, in this respect, as does the American Pacific Northwest. I hope this helps us out somehow, but it may only stave off the inevitable for a few more decades.

So what can I do? I live in an apartment building, I go to a supermarket for food (in the winter, there’s no way to grow food here in the winter). I don’t currently have a car, but I certainly have flown in jets an awful lot in the recent years. Is there any real way to offset these behaviors? The relative value of my presence in a musical concert situation is debatable, of course, though several hundred people come together and have a joyful experience of music and social interaction that is the sort of thing that apparently makes life meaningful. As I’ve said, making music is what I steer my conscious will toward. Is it valuable? Is it meaningful?

I cannot rightfully say that anything I do will help human society to continue to exist. The best I can do is to say that I help human society, or a small piece of it, exist at the moment. The moment of listening to music, or witnessing it being performed, feeling the motion of air pressures at different frequencies, is valuable to one’s existence at the moment and only then. We can carry a memory of the experience, of course, and hold onto that memory as a source of identity and meaning, but indeed it is done when the music is over. “You can never capture it again,” as Eric Dolphy said.

I suppose one could say that mindfulness, the concentration on the self in the present moment, is important for well being. Some psychological systems and Buddhist practices of meditation certainly focus on the idea of centering one’s awareness into the current state of being in order to relieve the stress of trying to live in the future or the past and overcoming the trauma of existence associated with doing so. Trying to understand the specious present. It’s a form of focus, and indeed living in a way that one actually maintains awareness of the present moment can be exhilarating. Music can be good for this, as can many physical activities that require whole body and mind synch, the sort of thing where you are letting go of your thoughts in order to physically allow your body to function as it does or has been trained to do: playing a musical instrument can bring this about, as can driving or having sex, or playing tennis or really just about anything.

Being mindful, then, could allow us to continue living in the present contentedly, existing with meaning based on what we are doing now. But how does this help to shape the future? The term “mindfulness” did come into our modern languages from Buddhism, where it indicates a form of meditation, and the words that “mindfulness” is translated from, “sati” and “smrti,” seem to indicate some form of remembering—not as in just remembering things from the past, but more as in “not forgetting” that you are here now, not letting what you know now leave your mind: remembering all that you are while maintaining a sense of being centered in the present. Additionally, there is an aspect of remembering to do some action in the future. That could help, I guess. If we knew what we could do in the future to enable us to survive.

I think that remembering all that you are is important. All that you are as a person, all that you are as a species, everything that we have done, it should embody us. We need to know about all the things we have done as human beings, both great and awful, to continue walking our path in the present and heading into the future. We need to remember every glorious artwork, every horrific war, every technological advancement. I have always considered my job as a composer of music to be adding to an ever-expanding spiral of human endeavor, humanity’s growing legacy of culture. Everything I do or make rides on the shoulders of those that came before me, and this includes not only the artists but the scientists and engineers, the bridge-builders and soldiers and farmers. Those who don’t know history, well, you know…we unfortunately repeat our mistakes all too often, especially when it comes to violence and prejudice.

And yet, with all of our forgetting of history, we maintain so many outdated forms of thinking as if they were our culture. We keep our religions and prejudices as part of our behavior, taught to hate the enemies, reinforce group pride, team spirit, etc, follow some sort of ritualistic behavior based on thousand-year-old writings. Yes, it’s true that a lot of the ideas that the religions say are their base tenets would be great for continuing to have a peaceful society (love, kindness, all that) but it does seem rare that these are the actual standards that are upheld. More often, all that is actually passed on is some sense of self-righteousness, or the idea of being part of the one special group of people amongst all people, which further seems to allow the idea of self-appointed expertise.

And these things are reinforced every day at the expense of education and growth of our actual culture and knowledge. On televised news, time is even given to high school sports in favor of, say high school music, arts or science. What does that say about their relative valuation in society? Yet an incredible amount of news airtime is spent on the cult of celebrity, so there’s obviously value in some form of the arts if you’re the top tiny percentage. Or just famous for being famous, as many of today’s celebrities seem to be (or at least I can’t actually figure out what it is that they do…?)

There is no longer a middle class of the arts, we had spent a lot of the 20th Century forming that, as if culture were an important part of modern life. There is no middle class for education, really, either—even the universities have become privatized and funding for research is coming from the private sector based on future usefulness as profitable items, weaponry, pharmaceuticals, agri-business, etc. Teachers in public schools are so disrespected that they make poverty wages. As far as I’m concerned, this is all backwards.

I don’t really make a living as a musician. I have, in the past, but only for short periods of time. Nonetheless, I continue to do it because, at least until now, I have considered it important. How can I realistically say that music is important now? How is it important? Is it that it creates momentary happiness for someone? How can I even know if I am fulfilling that functionality, especially with recorded music? What is my effort worth in spending the time and money to produce recorded music? How can it possibly mean anything to the world at large, and especially to the continuation of the world, to the continuation of human culture—especially considering that there may in fact be no possibility of a future at all for the human race?

Past societies have left us ruins and artworks that we can view and attempt to reconstruct elements of their culture, aesthetics of architecture and sculpture, and later bits and pieces of writing and drawing and painting. Most of what is extant is stone, and as we get closer to the present, we get other less durable products. We reconstruct music from notation, which we have (and believe we understand) from the past thousand or so years. We know that people played music before that, as we have music and instruments mentioned in writing that comes from much earlier, but we really don’t know how it sounded beyond extrapolating from description and bits and pieces of existing modern culture.

Every piece of music that I have made in my life will likely be gone and forgotten within 50 years, and even if the media survive longer than that and we still have a society that holds together enough to maintain archives of such things, it will probably only exist as some divots on a plastic disc or magnetic particles on some sort of storage device, possibly notation on paper. Maybe everything will be in a new form of memory storage, crystals or graphene or something. Still, it won’t move any air, it won’t be heard or felt by anyone. Even all of the notated music I have written (that which has been printed out and isn’t just more magnetic particles) won’t actually be music unless some odd historian attempts to read it while playing an instrument. So I, like all musicians before me, fade bit by bit into nothingness as time passes. No continuation, imminent human extinction notwithstanding.

So if we just continue to fiddle while Rome burns, so to speak, where do we draw the line? If there is nothing we can do, should we all just continue as if nothing is any different? Or just go full-on anarchist? Societies usually function by continuing to go about their “normal behavior,” until suddenly they don’t. Most people just try to live day to day having the best possible time that they can, anyway, given their circumstances. And the way that the world’s current economics have been moving, we are trending toward fewer and fewer people holding all the wealth while more and more struggle just to survive. I think that initially, after the second world war, they had thought that a populace that had a large middle class would remain satisfied and therefore mollified, but endowing the class of “teenager” as an economic functionary gave rise to a whole new set of cultural problems, and to a rise of individualism and deviation.

Frank Zappa, when asked about whether popular music in the 1960s had had any political impact on the world, said that of course it had, as could be seen by the changes in clothing and sexual mores. He said, further, that, “Actual progress was only possible with deviation from the norm.” He himself wasn’t interested in being involved in politics, (though later he did involve himself as an expert in censorship laws) but he thought that, although small, his audience might become deviant, and affect other people who might become deviant, and thereby some actual progress might come about.

I would say that, yes, some progress came about, but most of it was subsequently muted by creating an environment wherein people either had to hunker down and only consider their own survival or, if they were economically able, were kept mollified by a constant stream of shallow happinesses. And television, of course. And beer.

So we are inevitably on our way out, having been prevented from saving ourselves, to say nothing of saving our cultural or scientific treasures or discoveries, and we are continuing to throw everything into this growing bonfire. Shall we just dance around it? Is the goal now just to stay happy until we pass away?

Then what point is there to writing, to making music…? I imagine I will continue to do so simply because I don’t know what else to do, and it’s what I’ve set myself up to do with my entire adult life. It makes me happy to work on recording music. I can only wish somebody were listening to it to make it seem more worthwhile to continue doing so. You never really get any meaningful feedback when the entire structure of valuation in the arts is based on sales. I hope it makes somebody happy for the moment besides myself.

And for my daughter? They say that studying music helps people’s big brains to think in ways that are important, that it helps in understanding things in the world around you. Learning and maintaining brain plasticity are things that I have always valued. The end result, of course, is that I am able to write nonsense like this screed. Maybe that’s just part of dealing with the stress of thinking, of considering the present, the past and the future, and not precisely living in the moment. It keeps me occupied, and keeps me from the stress of thinking about economics, which apparently accounts for the majority of stress in the modern human’s life. (Not that that isn’t stressful as well; I’m not employed either—which also means I can spend time writing this drivel.)

So for now, I continue. I should have learned to farm, I guess. Then meaning could be found in continuing to grow food in order to continue eating. Meaning in the face of mortality is much easier than meaning in the face of extinction; if it’s only mortality that is the rub, you can try to enjoy every second of life and do what you can to make the world better for those that come after you. (Not that many people actually consider doing either of these things, it seems.) If there is no “after you,” I guess we might as well enjoy what lives we have. But please, not in the sense of excess consumerism and sensationalism, which is all designed to keep us lulled into commodifying our natural resources—and ourselves—so that we give up our freedom to actually participate in our own governance. Which is indeed what we are actively experiencing, what Sheldon Wolin calls “Inverted Totalitarianism.” The pressure to buy into the importance of technology is a form of giving up the battle to preserve what we have left of natural resources. The pressure to drive content creators toward devaluing their product in favor of the freedom of information is exactly that, the commodification and subsequent devaluation of ourselves as natural resources. Neither of these things is making anybody’s life actually better, especially as years go by.

Can we be better, or is society just destined to end up collapsing into some anarchic Mad Max scenario when the natural resources fail? Is that what is being perpetrated upon the Middle East at this moment, essentially? I always wonder how the US will look when oil goes away, which, regardless of peak-oil predictions, will inevitably come about sooner or later. So many people in the US are very far away from the production of any food that they might survive on. So many areas are based entirely on the population’s ability to drive long distances between food, clothing and shelter. Maybe we should all just retreat to our survivalist compounds. Or maybe we can actually pay attention to what science is saying and see if it’s possible to get our governments to help our long-term, or at least near-term, survival. Then maybe, the things that enrich our lives can continue to be made and enjoyed in non-cynical non-defeatist ways. I, for one, look forward to continuing to make music, and learning about the universe around me.

I hope it has meaning.

tractor

*Libertarianism here is basically neo-liberalism in the classical sense, the idea that regulation prevents commerce. Regulation is imposed by governments for the benefit of a populace, commerce abhors regulation in favor if a bottom line, at the expense of that same populace. So much of political diatribe these days is about “building the economy” though that invariably is only beneficial to those that own the companies, not the people who work for them.

**A concept developed by William James to describe what our sense of “now” actually is, how long is “now”?

***One company had a large scale operation running within Saudi Arabia, which of course meant less transit time for shipping munitions, but also vastly changed the taxes paid back to the parent company in Sweden, which led to less tax money to able to be used to accommodate the refugee population.

****Actually, I have tinnitus, so I can hear my ears ring all the time anyway.

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Posted in Camper Van Beethoven, etc., Music, Philosophy, Technology, Touring

just a little bragging.

This is not the normal internet-style humble-brag, I’m actually bragging. I don’t do that often…or at least not overtly. But check it out—our family of musicians has a ton of records out, and a ton just recently. And they’re all just for you! Of course, this is understandably odd in these anti-musical/anti-artist times. Who’s making records? I guess everyone still wants to, but it’s certainly not completely viable commercially. We spend our own money on it anyway. And I personally have given up, at least three or four times just this year!

So, when I say, “our family” of musicians, I’m referring to the lineage of Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker. It’s a long sordid history that began in Redlands, CA back in about 1982 or ’83, then moved up to Santa Cruz after summer break. You can read the CVB history on wikipedia if you like: Camper Van Beethoven

The band split up in 1990, David Lowery went back to his roots in Redlands and got Johnny Hickman, they formed Cracker. Cracker was very successful, but regardless, in about 2000, Camper Van Beethoven started edging toward reforming. We did, began touring and recording again and now we’ve been a band longer the second time around than we ever were when we first started.

Both bands have been making records ever since. So have all of the individuals involved. We’re fucking old! (though nowadays we can actually play.) Victor Krummenacher, Camper’s bassist, and I started our own label in 1993, Magnetic, which we shut down in 2012 when I moved to Sweden. We’ve put out a landfill’s-worth of our own CDs as well as Greg Lisher (CVB’s lead guitarist) and others’.

Cracker and Camper, all mixed up.

Cracker and Camper, all mixed up.

In the past two or three years, though, we’ve hit some sort of stride. Camper made two albums:

La Costa Perdida” (2013) & “El Camino Real” (2014)— http://www.campervanbeethoven.com/

these were “about” (inasmuch as anything can be “about” anything,) Northern and Southern California, respectively.

And now Cracker has followed them up with a new double album, “Berkeley to Bakersfield,” (see:  http://crackersoul.com/store ) which are “about” California from west to east this time. We do love California…though nowadays only Greg and Victor live there.

These are obviously the most known of our albums, being done by the bands, whose names are probably more well known than the individuals involved, except maybe for David Lowery. But even for David, this comes on the heels of a solo album:  “The Palace Guards” (2011)

And for the rest of us, these are above and beyond:

Victor Krummenacher’s “I Was a Nightmare But I’m Not Going to Go There” (2012) & “Hard to See Trouble Coming” (2014) — http://www.victorkrummenacher.com/

Johnny Hickman’ “Tilting” (2012)— http://johnnyhickman.com/

Jonathan Segel’s “All Attractions” & “Apricot Jam” (2012) & “Shine Out” (2014): — http://www.jonathansegel.com/

that’s a lot of music! I personally vouch for all of it. It’s all great, (I say, polishing my knuckles.) A quantity, yes, but a quantity of quality music. Many different directions can be found here, from country music to pop rock, from punk rock to space rock, from Americana to out-of-this-world.

Most of these will be available to purchase in physical CD form at our upcoming shows featuring Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven:

December 27th & 28th, 2014: Independent, San Francisco, CA

Dec. 29th: Lobero Theatre, Santa Barbara, CA

Dec. 30th: The Belly Up, Solana Beach, CA

Dec. 31st: Soiled Dove Underground, Denver CO

Jan. 14, 2015: 9:30 Club, Washington DC

Jan. 15: Lee’s Palace, Toronto, ONT

Jan. 16: Middle East Downstairs, Cambridge, MA

Jan. 17: World Cafe Live, Philadelphia PA

Jan. 18: B.B. King Blues Club, NYC

See you there!

Tewkesbury

 

 

—>EDIT/ADDDITION

I forgot to brag even more about the new rereleases! Omnivore Recordings, the amazing label that’s been releasing great things lately on vinyl and CD (for example, the entire Game Theory catalog is on its way)  rereleased our records that we made for Virgin Records in 1988 and 1989, Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart and Key Lime Pie last year. And now, our 2004 album New Roman Times is coming out in February, all are expanded and remastered. They sound amazing. So that’s a baker’s dozen at least.

New Roman Times, out in February!

New Roman Times, out in February!

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Posted in Camper Van Beethoven, Music, Touring
about.me
Jonathan Segel

Jonathan Segel

musician and composer

Jonathan Segel started playing guitar when he was about 7 years old. At about 10 he had a crush on a girl who played violin, so he thought he'd try that too.

Unfortunately he sucked at it.

That did not stop him, however, from later playing the violin in rock bands when everybody else played guitar. Sometime around 1983, while carrying a violin across the quad at Porter College at UC Santa Cruz, he was approached by some kids who had moved their band up from Redlands, CA. This turned out to be Camper Van Beethoven and the Border Patrol.

Well, what we didn't know then is that this association was apparently for life, as Camper Van Beethoven has now made records/CDs for the past ~30 or so years, and is still playing.

Through all the ups and downs of that band, Jonathan has continued to make his own records (../CDs/tapes/whatever... probably a billion of them so far) in a variety of genres ranging from guitar-based rock music to way-avant-garde electronic music and many other places in between..​.

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