Sunday, June 26, 2011


L-R: Keith Morris, Ian MacKaye, Henry Rollins. Caption from the website I saw this photo on:

“I used to be with it, but then they changed what ‘it’ was. Now, what I’m with isn’t it, and what’s ‘it’ seems weird and scary to me.”

Friday, June 24, 2011


A few years ago, I saw the 2004 movie Head-On, directed by Fatih Akin. If you haven't seen it, do so. Netflix has it streaming. Hell, see everything you can by Akin. In Head-On, Sibel Kekilli plays a young Turkish woman living in Germany with her overbearing family. She's so sick of them (to the point of suicidal despair) that she convinces an older Turkish guy, played by Birol Ünel, to marry her. He's a dirtbag ex-punk rocker who wants little to do with her and less to do with marriage, seeing as how he's in a psychiatric clinic following his own suicide attempt (he drove his car into a wall, despairing over the death of his first wife). They initially lead separate lives, but gradually fall in love. Then things go bad again. I'm not gonna go into all the chaos that ensues, but there's rape, murder, prison, and much more. It's an amazing movie, one that could easily have become a hammering polemic about conservative Muslim thinking and how it conflicts with the more liberal social atmosphere of Western Europe, but chooses instead to focus on individuals who are themselves, and not mere symbols.

I wish the same were true of When We Leave, a 2010 movie, also about German Turks, and also starring Sibel Kekilli, that I saw this week. In this one, Kekilli (who had a nose job between the two movies, so I wasn't sure it was her until her name popped up onscreen at the end) plays a young Turkish woman who flees her abusive husband in Istanbul, taking their son, and attempts to seek refuge with her family in Germany. Her parents are more concerned with maintaining their status and honor within the community than they are with her happiness or safety, and her older brother is a psychotic thug who beats her, attempts to steal the kid and return him to his father, and is basically starring in a Lifetime movie about the evils of Muslim gender politics. The movie is so melodramatic that from the moment I saw the brother glowering at her across the dinner table, the first night she's back under her parents' roof, I knew he was going to attempt to punish her via "honor killing," and the only questions were how long it would take for the movie to get there, and whether he'd be successful or not. But in between, Kekilli's character does pretty much everything she can to lose the audience's sympathy. She repeatedly attempts to gain her family's support, long after it's obvious to everyone else on Earth that it's not coming (doors are literally slammed in her face—this is not a subtle movie), in the process breaking the rules of the women's shelter she's placed in by the German authorities, she disrupts family gatherings with public displays that wind up dishonoring them even further in the eyes of other Turks...I found myself basically shouting "TAKE THE HINT, STUPID" at the screen about a half dozen times.

So yeah, if you're gonna watch a movie about Turkish immigrants to Germany and their problems, Head-On is the one, and When We Leave is a propagandistic crapfest you can safely avoid.

Thursday, June 23, 2011


I finished reading The Idiot two or three nights ago, after a months-long struggle. There were never any times when I considered just abandoning the thing, but plenty when I thought, "I need to go read something else for a while." I'll admit it; a big part of it was the names. The way Russian names are written out - "Soandso Soandsovich" or "Whatsername Whatsernamova" - really annoys me, but then giving everyone nicknames by which they're also referred to got confusing and irritating at times. Also, because I let long intervals pass during which I'd go read something else, I frequently found myself forgetting who was related to who when I came back to the thing. But that was entirely my fault, and could be easily remedied with a quick trip to Wikipedia.

Another problem I had was just with Dostoevsky's general overwroughtness. How much of this was due to Constance Garnett's translation, and how much of it was due to the book being written in the 19th Century, is hard to say. But people are constantly in what seem to me to be absurdly heightened emotional states—clutching at their hearts, feeling physically ill as a result of some (to my mind) entirely minor social slight or passing remark, etc., etc. It's very weird to submerge yourself in a world like that if, like me, you're someone who tends to ignore all but the most overt conversational/emotional cues.

Ultimately, though, I'm glad I read the book. Not just because of the awesome ending, which I won't spoil but which I totally didn't see coming, but because I feel like Dostoevsky may not have written the book he thought he was writing. It seems to me he set out to satirize social climbers in 19th Century Russia, and he does that ably enough. Whether he successfully created the character of Myshkin is more debatable—the idea that the guy was some sort of innocent, too good for this world, doesn't quite work for me. He really does seem more like someone who's just socially maladjusted, a man who's never been trained in the blithe lies and masquerades that are necessary to navigate any civilized society during any period of human history. But what I think The Idiot is really about, and I'm not sure Dostoevsky meant it to be, is the ways in which bourgeois society drives women insane.

The two primary female characters, Nastassya Filippovna and Aglaia Epanchin, are both out of their minds. They remind me of Jack Nicholson's line from As Good as It Gets about how to write women—"think of a man, and take away reason and accountability." Their capriciousness and weird, ultimately self-destructive displays of pique make me think of an exotic bird bashing its own brains out against the bars of its cage. And the men treat them like alien creatures impossible to comprehend or empathize with, but obsessively loved for reasons that are never quite made clear. I mean, what does Rogozhin even like about Nastassya Filippovna? Does he ever even say? Does Myshkin say why he likes Aglaia? There's so much talking and talking and talking in this book, and yet no one ever lays emotional cards on the table—it's all dancing around social obligations and trying to make sure someone is an acceptable suitor.

It's a weird book. I think I'm gonna have to read it again. In about a decade.

This is the edition I bought, if you want to read it yourself.

Saturday, June 18, 2011


This is a long one, so get comfortable.

First up, some things Alternative Press's editors subjected me to:

Astral Rejection (Epitaph)
The second song on I Set My Friends On Fire’s sophomore (and sophomoric) album is called “Infinite Suck.” As they say in Hollywood, the joke writes itself. The duo of Matt Mehana and Nabil Moo is now the duo of Mehana and Chris Lent, with production assistance from Travis Richter of the Human Abstract. The music is as annoying as ever, mixing the worst qualities of Brokencyde, I See Stars and Agoraphobic Nosebleed into one swirling blend of cheesy rave synths, ultra-affected “extreme” vocals, talentless guitar mangling, ultra-primitive drum programming and song titles that probably seemed funny at the time (“My Paralyzed Brother Taps His Foot To This Beat,” “Life Hertz,” “Erectangles”). It’s hard to decide which is the album’s worst quality—Mehana’s scratchy-throated “extreme” vocals or his lame, off-key attempts to sing cleanly. Maybe it’s neither of those things; maybe it’s the lyrics.

At least there aren’t any lame hip-hop covers on Astral Rejection—the group’s debut, 2008’s You Can’t Spell Slaughter Without Laughter, featured their “hilarious” take on Soulja Boy’s “Crank Dat.” That’s a tiny, tiny plus. There are one or two moments on Astral Rejection that are briefly and superficially entertaining, in exactly the way drinking a bottle of Jolt Cola instead of eating lunch is temporarily satisfying. But both leave you with an empty, gurgling pain in your guts and the feeling that you made a very poor decision. (Buy it from Amazon)

Enhanced Methods of Questioning (Alternative Tentacles)
It’s not impossible to age gracefully within the confines of punk rock. Ian MacKaye’s done it; so has Henry Rollins. Jello Biafra hasn’t. And it’s too bad, because of the three, he’s probably made the greatest sacrifices for his art and his beliefs. Biafra is a true free-speech icon who spent years in court fighting an obscenity bust for a poster included in the Dead Kennedys’ 1985 album Frankenchrist. But based on what he’s been doing musically in the last few years, it seems like he may have finally lost it completely.

His first album with backing band the Guantanamo School Of Medicine, 2009’s The Audacity Of Hype, had some decent songs and featured a fairly killer lineup that included two guitarists, moving the music out of the realm of hardcore or punk and towards psychedelic hard rock. Unfortunately, the lyrics were a mixed bag—some songs were trenchant critiques of modern society, while others were already-outdated jabs at the George W. Bush administration. This new EP, while it’s still got some quality music on it, travels even further back in time to find things to complain about; “Dot Com Monte Carlo” is a tirade about how yuppies in the high-tech industry have made San Francisco too expensive for Jello and his punk-rock buddies to live in, a subject it’s difficult to imagine anyone in the rest of the country caring about, especially when he starts in on a highly specific list of streets and places that are overly yuppified. And “Miracle Penis Highway” is a seven and a half-minute(!) song about Bob Dole and Viagra, a subject that was already tired a decade ago.

And let’s not even get into the 18-minute closer, “Metamorphosis Exploration On Deviation Street Jam.” Okay, let’s. It’s a dubby, acid-fried, one-riff jam over which Jello relentlessly declaims his own iconoclasm and awesomeness, talking about how going against punk orthodoxy makes him super-duper-ultra-punk, or something. At one point, he talks about how he’s been into rock ’n’ roll since he was seven years old—in 1965. It’s hard to be sure whether he means to come off as punk’s pissed-off grandpa, or he’s just so lacking in self-awareness that he doesn’t take even an instant to question who would want to hear him jabber endlessly about this stuff. He should be admired for battling censorship, but he should have exercised some self-censorship before releasing a record this half-baked and pointless. (Buy it from Amazon)

Next, the latest batch of All Music Guide reviews:

A Life Divided, Passenger (Buy it from Amazon)
Ancestors, Invisible White (Buy it from Amazon)
Behemoth, Abyssus Abyssum Invocat (Buy it from Amazon)
bb&c [Tim Berne/Jim Black/Nels Cline], The Veil (Buy it from Amazon)
Cave In, White Silence (Buy it from Amazon)
Cerebral Bore, Maniacal Miscreation (Buy it from Amazon)
Gigan, Quasi-Hallucinogenic Sonic Landscapes (Buy it from Amazon)
HammerFall, Infected (Buy it from Amazon)
Hell, Human Remains (Buy it from Amazon)
Magos Herrera, México Azul (Buy it from Amazon)
Living With Lions, Holy Shit (Buy it from Amazon)
Daniel Menche, Feral (Buy it from Amazon)
Morbid Angel, Illud Divinum Insanus (Buy it from Amazon)
Joe Morris, Traits (Buy it from Amazon)
Lee Konitz/Brad Mehldau/Charlie Haden/Paul Motian, Live at Birdland (Buy it from Amazon)
Pitto, Objects in a Mirror are Closer Than They Appear (Buy it from Amazon)
Scar Symmetry, The Unseen Empire (Buy it from Amazon)
Starlicker, Double Demon (Buy it from Amazon)
Trúbrot, Undir Áhrifum (Buy it from Amazon)

I also reviewed Amon Tobin's ISAM for AMG, but they didn't use it, so here's that:

Amon Tobin
ISAM (Ninja Tune)
ISAM is pretty far from the manic breakbeats and jazz appropriations of Amon Tobin’s Ninja Tune debut, 1997’s Bricolage. Dense and complex, it recalls the late ’90s output of Warp Records (particularly the work of Autechre, Squarepusher and Plaid) more than anything else. Synthesizers squelch; programmed drums slam like concrete slabs; voices are reduced to squiggly background noises, only occasionally bursting out of the mix to sing nonsense syllables like “doot-doo-doo”; melodies are ominous and even militaristic at times. It surges and recedes, and the density of the sound is astonishing—although some elements seem like field recordings, in fact nothing is created from samples. Tobin has created an astonishingly focused, multilayered album in ISAM, one that is unlikely to ever find itself part of a DJ mix but which will undoubtedly reward close, attentive listening for years to come. (Buy it from Amazon)

Finally, and most importantly, I've written a new book, which will be available via Amazon's Kindle store on July 1. It's a novel called Hard Lessons, and this is the cover:

Hard Lessons, in two sentences: Freelance writer and part-time ESL tutor Harry Shaw went to a strip club to meet a potential new student. Now he's on the run from Russian gangsters and corrupt cops, trying to solve the murders of six kidnapped girls while saving a dozen more from lives of sexual enslavement.

Hard Lessons takes place in New Jersey. These days, when people think about New Jersey, they think of The Sopranos, or The Real Housewives of New Jersey, or the guido kids of Jersey Shore. But where I live, the stores have signs in Spanish and the streets are filled with Latino immigrants just trying to survive and make their kids into Americans. That's the New Jersey I'm writing about in Hard Lessons. And the problem at the book's center—human trafficking—is very real. At my local train station, the state government has posted flyers, in Spanish, advising people of the signs that someone may be a victim of human trafficking, and who to contact about it.

The book is, I think, a fairly mainstream thriller, the kind of thing that would do well in airports as a mass-market paperback if I'd gotten an agent and/or a major publisher to handle it. Instead, I'm selling it through Xynobooks, a friend's ebook imprint. It's going to be available to you, the consumer, at the very friendly price of 99 cents. Think you can spare a dollar for an exciting story of sex, violence, and political corruption? I think you can, and I thank you in advance. I'm proud of Hard Lessons, and I think you'll like it.

Thursday, June 16, 2011


Why? Because Suffocation are awesome, that's why.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


I've got a longish feature on the Brooklyn-based black metal-ish band Liturgy in the Summer 2011 issue of Signal to Noise. I'm not gonna put the whole thing here; you should buy the magazine. But here are a few paragraphs, to give you some idea of its tone:

Hunter Hunt-Hendrix's core idea, that black metal is fundamentally European in outlook and thus requires philosophical reshuffling in order to be relevant to American life and culture, is certainly defensible. This has been true of other musical movements in the past; contrast, say, the Sex Pistols' declaration of "No Future" with Black Flag's determination to "Rise Above." Compare the fatalistic doom of Black Sabbath when they were 100% English to the heroic mythmaking of their second lineup, with Italian-Americans Ronnie James Dio and Vinny Appice on vocals and drums, respectively. The wintry nihilism of black metal as performed by its Scandinavian creators—Mayhem, Enslaved et al.—is only minimally applicable to American sensibilities. Consequently, US black metal acts like Nachtmystium and Black Anvil add elements of punk, industrial and Goth in order to give the music a rock-star edge it would otherwise lack.

Hunt-Hendrix's use of the word "transcendental" is misleading, though. He seems to be primarily talking about transcending the limitations of black metal as a musical genre and set of philosophical concepts—actual links to Transcendentalism are minimal. The closest thing modern America has to the 19th Century Transcendentalists are the Amish, or maybe some super-committed hippies, militant environmentalists, et cetera. There are black metal musicians who have taken the genre's embrace of paganism and primeval nature in that direction, most notably the Pacific Northwest-based group Wolves in the Throne Room, whose members live on a collective farm in the woods. But Hunt-Hendrix is a city kid, and he wants no part of this kind of rejectionism. "I'm not interested in pre-industrial ideals," he says. "The more technology and science the better."


Of course, it's possible to argue that black metal itself is essentially anti-metal, that the qualities it emphasizes—obscurantism, lack of catharsis (blast beats aside, the guitar riffs seem to hover in place rather than galloping forward), crude sound quality—are precisely the opposite of metal as it's been known since the late 1970s, when bands like Black Sabbath and Judas Priest were first forging a unique sound out of the ashes of the heavy blues-rock scene. Black metal rejects the strutting godhood of arena-sized metal, and the use of makeup puts them into a weirdly androgynous performative space occupied mostly by, yes, Kiss and the other glam-rockers of the 1970s (from stars like David Bowie and Alice Cooper to also-rans like T.Rex and Jobriath). Is black metal itself androgynous, and is Hunt-Hendrix, with his shrieks that are sometimes more like the yelps of a startled Girl Scout, playing into that?

Wednesday, June 08, 2011


Why not have dignity today, for ourselves? We don’t need to wait for a Gandhi or Bobby Seale for this. You wake up, regardless of your circumstances, and you have a pretty open book. You can turn on the teevee and have some people yell at you, and then get in the car and have people yell at you, and then feel bad all the time, and then come home and flop on the couch or in front of the computer, and eat fast food that you know is rotting you away, and then go to bed exhausted and depressed and repeat until death...or you could not do any of those things, because you’re going to choose personal dignity instead.


We have a remarkable ability to know exactly what things we’re doing are harmful to us...and then we keep doing those things, until we decide to stop.

For anyone who feels this Internet emptiness chewing at them, I would say, do a little test. Go outside and take a 15-minute walk — around the block, through the park, just a short walk. While you’re doing this, clear your mind of work and of home. Just look at things, birds and cars and trees and the clouds and buildings and dumpsters, and when you think of something internal just say “thinking” to yourself and go back to walking and breathing. Then return to your computer. Do the usual things you do on your computer, like check the news and your email and the blogs you read and whatever people post on Facebook and Twitter.

Do this second part, the computer-looking-at, for just 15 minutes. You can set one of those web timers...hang on, I have one in my bookmarks.

When this stopwatch beeps, honestly ask yourself how you feel. Compare this to how you felt at the end of your 15-minute walk. Ask yourself what, if anything, you learned during those 15 minutes of wasting time on the Internet. Did it help you in some way? Are you better off? This is a question often asked by political challengers: Are you better off than __ years ago? Well, are you better off than fifteen minutes ago? If not, don’t re-elect the Internet.


[T]he answer is almost certainly going to be No, you’re not better off. But you’re going to be agitated now, both restless and slothful, and you’re either going to feel something negative about somebody you don’t even know or you’re going to want something you don’t need, because you’ve been bombarded with advertising the whole time, even in the corner of your vision while reading your gmail.

The above comes from an interview with now-former Wonkette editor Ken Layne, who has a book out (Kindle-only, apparently) that sounds sort of interesting. But who said it, and in what context, is sort of beside the point.

Recently I wrote about giving up cable, and how it's helped me out mentally - I'm reading a lot more, and writing a lot more (which means I'm making more money, so while cable was an expense, the absence of cable has turned out to be an economic engine). Now I'm thinking about erasing all my bookmarked political sites, too.

I've lately come to the realization that a lot of things are out of ordinary people's control. You can apply for a thousand jobs and never get one, because in 2011 America, jobs are like meteorites - one either falls out of the sky and hits you, or it doesn't. You have no control over it - who you know doesn't help, volume of applications doesn't help, skill levels don't help. You're just out there making your way in the world, and maybe someone steps over and taps you on the shoulder and says, "Hey, I'll pay you to do [x thing]," but more likely than not, no one ever comes.

Politics is similar. We, the governed, have no control over what our leaders do. None. We can vote for them based on what they say when they want us to vote for them, but they're almost certain to be lying. This has been proven time and time again. So what recourse do we have left to us? Why, we have the Internet! We can tell each other how angry we are that our leaders keep lying, and we can even address our angry thoughts directly to the leaders in question, as though Barack Obama or Sarah Palin or Anthony Weiner or whoever is reading the comments on We can call each other names and explain in agonizingly minute detail how wrong everybody but us is, or we can clap each other on the back and talk about how smart we are and how dumb and wrong and destructive-to-America everyone else is. And none of it matters.

I used to read some right-wing sites (National Review Online most prominent among them) along with a bunch of putatively left-wing sites and blogs. I felt it was "important" to know what people who disagreed with me thought. Now I don't even care what people who agree with me think. Most of American politics, and all of American political commentary with one or two exceptions whose names I will not cite, is composed of people I don't want on my side of any issue. They're ugly (I mean this in the spiritual/philosophical sense, though Washington, DC is not exactly a hotbed of modeling-agency recruitment), narcissistic people who don't seem to have even fleetingly thought "But what if I'm wrong?" in decades. And that includes the ones in their twenties.

I just don't have time for it. Reading about politics is like studying meteorology. You can know all you want about weather patterns, but it's not going to help you stop it from raining on a day you'd rather it not rain. You can figure out what causes tornadoes, and maybe learn to predict them, but they're coming whether you know about it in advance or not.

I choose to be ignorant. I wish I didn't know who was President, and couldn't name any members of Congress just like I can't name a single baseball, basketball or football player. I for damn sure wish I didn't know the names and faces of political writers and TV talking heads, because they are to a man (and woman) a worthless, debased group of people who should be rounded up and shoved into the Fukushima reactor to prevent further leakage.

The more time I spend thinking about politics, the less time I can spend doing things that make me happy. Like reading stories, and writing them. Listening to music, and thinking about it and writing about it. (Buy Burning Ambulance - issue four just came out this week.) Watching movies (not documentaries, movies - preferably ones where things blow up and people get kicked in the face). Like just hanging out with my wife.

I don't need this shit anymore. I'm done.