Mixtapes for Hookers

9/11: One Year Later, Eight Years Later
September 11, 2010, 9:11 am
Filed under: music, personal | Tags: , ,

[Years ago, I used to write reviews of every album I bought (which, at the time, was one or two a week) and post them on my website.  In honor of it being 9/11, I thought I’d repost my review of Sleater-Kinney’s One Beat album, which was five times as long as any of the others and which is also still maybe the angriest thing I’ve ever written.  I’m breaking it into two posts.]

We’ve had a year now to stop and reflect on ourselves as a society, to think about our place in the world, the global village if you will, where you can hop a plane and in just a couple of hours be in any city in the world, eating in the same restaurants and shopping in the same stores you had back home. September 11th, if you weren’t personally connected to anybody that died (or, I don’t know, even if you were), was a chance to step back and look around, maybe appreciate your families a little more, but also it was a chance to ask questions. Not just ‘how did this happen?’ but also ‘why did this happen?’ It’s too easy to dismiss anything as the ravings of a madman, denying that there might be a speck of sense in what really goes on in the world. So why does everybody hate Americans?

Well, because we’re assholes, for one thing. We’re destroying the earth, the same earth that everybody else lives on, in order to keep a small number of rich folks happy. And a good number of us that aren’t rich, that don’t drive BMW SUV’s and don’t live in gated communities, well…. we wish we did.

I for one consider myself extremely lucky to be where I am. Lucky because I can walk over to the sink and get a glass of water without being afraid that the water is poisonous or that there isn’t any water at all. I’m lucky because right now I’ve got on more lights than I really need, and I know it. I’m lucky because I can read and write, not to mention do all sorts of other useless things like conjugating French verbs and do calculus problems. I’m lucky for lots of reasons, most of which I never think about.

But one reason I’m extremely lucky, and it’s a reason I’ve thought about a lot this past year, is that I have the ability to look around and question what’s going on, to decide for myself what’s true and what’s a lie. It’s something every American can do, although most don’t. I’ve spent a good part of my life so far avoiding politics, and I plan to keep doing that. I can’t seriously say what I think about what’s going on in the world because I know jack shit about politics and governments and economics. Furthermore I don’t want to; it’s really boring. I only react to things instinctively, and nine times out of ten my instinct tells me to keep my mouth shut. My opinion about these things, just so you hear me say it myself, is completely worthless.

That said, I’m going to carry on anyway. Read along if you feel like it.

The terrorist attacks of last September were unfortunate. Lots of people died unexpectedly, and I’m sorry for their families. On the other hand, the United States reacted by blowing the holy fuck out a country where the terrorists were believed to be hiding. And I feel bad for all the families living there, too. And it looks like our president is about to lead us into another war, just for fun’s sake, just to keep all the American flag salesmen in business. Today I went for a long walk, something most Americans for some reason elect never to do because they claim not to have time. Funny, since I go to school full time and have a job and still have time to do all my homework, be in a band, watch movies, read, and spend an inordinate amount of time sitting in coffee shops doing nothing whatsoever. Anyway, today I went for a long walk to OfficeMax, so I could go make copies. And as I was walking through the shopping center on the way, I noticed that almost every store had signs up. “In Remembrance” (or something similar) said the sign at Yankee Candle, and there was a picture of a (Yankee?) candle burning. What the fuck? IParty is opening an hour late, to show respect for the victims. Hallmark’s gone so far as to make a holiday out of it, Patriot Day–you can by cards for it. It all seems extremely tacky to me–what the fuck do I care in Williams-Sonoma would like to commemorate the lives of the people who died at the World Trade Center? Since when is Williams-Sonoma an entity that has its own feelings, anyway?

Sometimes, you’re just going along doing your own thing, and something makes you screech to a halt. I’m talking about anything–falling in love, tripping on a tree branch, seeing your sister’s baby for the first time. And sometimes, just coincidentally, there’s a perfect song on that makes everything seem infinitely clearer. Like at your prom, say.  I guess it was just a coincidence, but today as I walked through the shopping center I was playing One Beat, the new Sleater-Kinney album. And it all made perfect sense.

I got One Beat a few weeks ago, and it didn’t really grab me. The best song seemed to be “Off With Yr Head,” which didn’t even come on the CD but appears on the bonus 2-track EP you get alongside the CD. It’s a fun song, jerking along like the louder songs on their last album, 2000’s All Hands On The Bad One. The chorus is catchy as hell; it’s a perfect pop song.

The songs on One Beat aren’t pop songs. There’s nothing to match, say, “One More Hour,” from 1997’s Dig Me Out (which was my introduction to the band). Instead you have strange-sounding things like “Combat Rock,” which is some sort of Clash tribute. Musically it’s not much to speak of, and Corin Tucker’s vocal delivery is even more affected than usual, to the point that it’s weird and kind of grating. But “Combat Rock” really grabbed me as I walked to OfficeMax..

I come from a generation where nobody sings protest songs. Maybe it’s because we’ve all gotten too complacent, which I find possible but not very likely. I think the demise of the protest song came in about 1984, when President Reagan appropriated Bruce Springsteen’s “Born In The USA” to turn it into some kind of MTV-generation national anthem. And it worked, because people don’t actually listen to song lyrics. That’s why everybody things “When A Man Loves A Woman” is love song, say, and that’s what everybody thinks “Born In The USA” is patriotic, which it is, but only since Reagan took it for himself. You can’t sing it now without either a) feeling intensely patriotic or b) feeling awkwardly and acutely aware that everybody else in the room thinks you’re being intensely patriotic. It’s a dilemma.

But maybe I’m generalizing. There have been quite a few protest songs since 1984, which you’d know if you listened to folk music or hiphop or 80’s house music. But in rock, real rock with guitars and real drums, there’s hardly been any protest music at all. Rock, which was started as a rebellion against the established order, is now so old that everybody under the age of sixty sees himself as some kind of rock star, part Elvis or part Kurt Cobain or John Lennon or David Bowie or Jim Morrison or whoever. So much so that it’s not anti-establishment anymore. It is the establishment.

I like rock music, I really do. But if I ever want to hear something political, I have to borrow a song from some other place and recontextualize it. “Dancing In The Streets,” “I’m So Bored With The USA,” “Destroy 2000 Years of Culture,” they’re all inspiring, but I can’t relate to them automatically because I’m not living in the same times and places as the people singing them. Songs like “Anarchy In The UK,” “911 Is A Joke,” and “Bring The Boys Home” are all great, and they all make me feel emotional to some degree, but it’s not always easy to forget that I’m not British, black, or living through the Vietnam War.

So “Combat Rock” was a welcome surprise, a shock even. Because it’s the first song I’ve heard about America that’s made any sense to me lately, on an immediate level I can see by looking around me. “Where is the questioning? Where is the protest song? Since when is skepticism un-American? Dissent’s not treason but they talk like it’s the same.” It goes on: “Show you love your country, go out and spend some cash. Red white blue hot pants, doing it for Uncle Sam. Flex out muscles, show ‘em we’re stronger than the rest…. the good old boys are back on top again.”

A song like this had to be written, and it makes sense that it came from Sleater-Kinney. It’s odd, saying that about a band I first fell for because one of their songs (“Words And Guitar”) reminded me of the Go-Go’s, but it makes sense.

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