Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Bowling for Twitter

I try my best to completely avoid social media in the wake of tragedies like the shootings Newtown, Connecticut. Too many knee-jerk responses of "I've lost all faith in humanity," or "People are fucked," or "Fuck that crazy fucker," or "Bring back the death penalty" (yes, even when the shooter killed himself) -- you know, all the usual emotional-irrational-response-venom that is so easy to post into the ether without consideration of the larger, more significant political and social dynamics at work. None of it really means anything, and it's nothing we haven't heard over and over again.

I don't know about you, but I was too fucking gutted by the news from Newtown to go anywhere near a computer or smartphone within minutes, or even hours, of the story breaking.

Of course, I am not denying the tragedy or excusing the shooting of 28 people, including Adam Lanza's suicide. It's heartbreaking beyond belief.

The fact that shootings like this keep happening in America, almost in a predictable manner, does bring into question the roots of many people's newfound "loss of faith in humanity," which is the purpose of this article. Indulge for a moment in some history...
  • If you publicly spoke about the earth being round prior to the advent of science, you would have been slaughtered, legally, by the church/state;
  • After 400 years of slavery ended with the Civil War of 1865, American politicians made the 13th Amendment to the American Constitution which craftily allowed slavery to continue "as punishment for crime," following which the American prison population became as high as 90% black within just 5 years, and is now entrenched in a spiral of private, for-profit prison industry;
  • The Holocaust happened.
  • Executives of the Ford Motor Company put the Ford Pinto on the market from 1971-1980 after a cost-benefit analysis that proved it would be cheaper to deal with any lawsuits pertaining to wrongful death than to recall a faulty, and fatal, fuel tank design;
  • The NestlĂ© corporation sent employees posing as doctors to Africa to push the use of baby formula -- that needed to be mixed with clean water, which was not widely available. Yes, many babies died;
  • The same day the Columbine shootings happened in America, NATO (under the hands of US President Bill Clinton) executed the largest single-day bombing in the Kosovo War; and
  • Nearly 120,000 civilians were casualties of a war in Iraq from 2003-2011 that had no empirical reason to happen aside from George W. Bush's ideology.

If you apparently lost your faith in humanity over Newtown, then reading a history book at some point in your life would have made commit suicide years ago. But in reality, Newtown has only really confirmed a preexisting narrow and cynical worldview; which most often, ironically, comes from a place of privilege. Well, as Pulp would say, "Everybody hates a tourist."

All of the above historical atrocities were perpetuated, rationally, of sound mind, with cold calculation, by Presidents, lawyers, and CEOs; people whom everyday citizens look to for guidance and whose careers we are supposed to envy and strive for in our own lives. They are "sane" and clean cut. They have homes, families, bills, and social circles.

Mass-scale and calculated acts of violence -- calculated cowardly from behind the iron wall of an office hundreds, and thousands of miles away -- and the people who perpetuate them, for me, have always been, and always will be, a lot more scary than a sole gunman. This is not to say that the fear response is the same or to make little of lives lost in Newtown, Columbine, or anywhere else -- but this is more of an exploration of the response of people on social media with no personal connection to the actual events.

It's easy to target one "crazy" person we can more easily write off as different from us than look at a complicated system where truth is a jumbled, post-modern mess of "WTF?!?", where the killer could just as easily be any of us.

Shootings like this, while always tragic, are nothing new. They are by-products of a larger culture of violence, fear, and selfishness. They are by-products of alienation. Which, in 2012, despite our apparently acute "connectedness" via internet and social media, is greater than it's ever been.

If you want to publicly share your feelings about a tragedy, then why not have a town hall meeting? Enlist the help of grief counselors. Go for coffee with a friend. Because you would be a lot more than simply pissed off if you were medically traumatized by the event. And you wouldn't have the stature to post a "fuck humanity and crazy people" status update during commercial breaks of Glee.

Please post responsibly. The internet is an opportunity for community-building and constructive dialogue. Not a faceless dumping ground for unresolved emotions.

Monday, November 12, 2012

A picture is worth another four years...

Photo by Joe Mac (http://www.flickr.com/photos/thepaintsite/8170202349/sizes/l/in/set-72157631646006001/)

Where were you when it was confirmed that Barack Obama would be President of America for a second term? Well, I was right here. On stage. Where else?

My usual pre-show ritual for the night we played C'est What? on November 6, 2012 for the opening night of our weekly November residency was full of interruptions, check-ins with the computer behind the sound board, looking at my iPhone for news updates during warm ups and stretches, and having the odd side-conversation with friends, bandmates, and people at C'est What? about what was happening, and we hoped would (or would not) happen. My freshly-painted black nails were pretty much chipped away before we even walked on stage, and I took permanent markers to draw stars and stripes on my hands. It was fitting that this was happening at C'est What? because last year Paint and C'est What? fought against Rob Ford and the City of Toronto on anti-postering charges (and won in court) -- so our politics are clearly stated and shared with this venue.

I knew Obama was going to win; I had confidence in America's ability to move forward positively, and after spending lots of time in the United States over the years, I've come to recognize that for every mistake the world's most powerful nation has made, there are hordes of resistance and positive steps taken on a grassroots level that we don't see in much mainstream media outside of America. It makes me hopeful to know that regular Americans are right where we are looking from outside.

After our second song, we went into an instrumental into for "Strangers," during which time I asked that if good (or bad) news came during out set, to please let us know on stage. We would stop the show to celebrate and/or lament -- but either way, I was ready to bring either Doctor Jimmy or Mister Jim* to the stage depending on which way the results swayed. Both characters are loveable, just one is more pissed off than the other.

We're halfway into the second verse of "Boomerang," fittingly our loud, massive rock 'n' roll anthem that is the opening track from our new album, and one of the few songs I play guitar on. People start jumping up and down, phones in the air, swinging them at me to get my attention. Mouthing "Obama" at me. And just then, it's the moment where we pause to let Devin smoke a drum fill into the "Heeeeeyyyyy!!!" chorus -- and I just let it rip: "Ooooobbaaaammmaaaaaa!!!!!!" Hitting that power chord never felt so good.

After all these shows, and many still to come, it's moments like that that stand out, that you'll never forget as a performer, and that you're grateful you get to share with audiences -- who become part of the experience rather than observers of it.

And in all this, I can't believe (but I can) that Joe Mac was right there to capture the exact moment when it happened. It's the only time I would let such an unflattering shot of my face go on our official Flickr. I'm still a singer, remember.... #vanity

We now affectionately refer to "Boomerang" as "Obamarang."

Congratulations, America. You made your voices heard and you made us want to scream even louder to let you know you did the right thing.

* The Who, Quadrophenia.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

As we prepare for the road again....

"What happened?" Is a question that will probably come up a lot as the band moves forward. Well... I'm not one to talk bad about people publicly, and I don't believe in airing dirty laundry for public exploitation.

All I can say is the we put out a new record and money got ain the way. Money was taken from the band account without the usual procedures of approval; money that was contractually-obliged was breached and people were stuck with debts; and money was owed between people who weren't willing to make concessions or look at the big picture. Inexperience and insecurities came in as well, surely. It's the 2000s; making money as an independent band is a tough gig.

What's more important is that the band still exists and is stronger than ever. Sometimes shaking things up is the only way to really survive, and I'm grateful to still have a place to call home musically.

Andre Dey and I do keep regular contact though. After all we've been through, he'll always be a brother and friend.

Monday, February 13, 2012

And the Granny goes to....

I don't think I've actually watched the Grammys since this speech blew my mind as a young boy:

"I don't know what this means. I don't think it means anything. That's just how I feel," is what Eddie Vedder said in 1996. Perhaps I had the luxury of growing up when MTV was unsuspectingly infiltrated by music that surprised everyone, even the industry, by going to the top of the charts; breaking the dentist-office-and-supermarket-musak tradition of the mainstream. Now it's back to more familiar territory in the post-Beatles, Stones, and Zeppelin age: great music is out there, but it's not on the radio or TV. You find it on the ground, through friends, through the community. Which is perfectly fine.

Last night, as families gathered around their televisions for some wholesome Granny time (no, that isn't a typo), my social media was flooded with praises of Dave Grohl's speech, which always kinda bores me because I've never found Grohl's post-Nirvana work to be worth writing home about, aside from the Foo Fighters' self-titled debut. So I checked it out:

With all due respect to Kurt Cobain's drummer (a role that Grohl has never been able to top), the romanticized illusion Grohl has created with Wasting Light, the latest installment in the Foo Fighters' ongoing saga of post-self-titled-debut unimaginative and conservative rock that suburban parents can listen to with their children, is rather suspect in creating false hopes for bands starting out today. Recorded in the "garage" of Grohl's million-dollar home with Butch Vig, one of the industry's most expensive producers, to analog tape, which is significantly more costly than digital recording in 2012, Wasting Light is hardly a Black Flag record in style, spirit, production value, and, ultimately, budget. It's another case of long-established group of music professionals telling you anything is possible when they emerged at a time when they could fund tours with album sales supported by major-label apparatus and be the subject of grassroots, tape-trading fervor from audiences who were physically present and participated in the consumption of physical products.

It's sad that a band that plays its own instruments is becoming a novelty, and that somehow makes them more "punk" than they would have been in decades past just because of today's fickle landscape. I'll lend Grohl some credence for the spirit in which his speech was delivered, so as not to participate in any divide-and-conquer rituals. It is indeed, as Grohl said, what goes on in our hearts and minds that makes music truly work. But "we couldn't have done it without the greatest (read: and one of the most pricey) producer in the world," is where the ultimate truth -- and catch -- of Grohl's sentiments lie.

His world is not yours, or mine. But maybe it's the thought that counts.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

So, they say we should blog more....

It's a fine line between self-indulgence and maintaining and audience's interest when it comes to blogging. One can't help but wonder in the age of an over-saturated online market if blogging has simply become a means of perpetuating a delusional and self-aggrandizing vanity, or if the so-called "information age" is indeed aptly named. Freedom of expression and equal opportunity? Or simply the illusion of a level playing field meant to pacify a restless mass of consumers yearning to be contributors?

I, for one, and completely baffled, intrigued, frustrated, cynical, inspired, and hopeful, all at the same time.

Pete Townshend, great prophet that he is, surely must have known the term "Quadrophenic" would have applicability far beyond its 1973 inception. Nothing exemplifies amplified schizophrenia more than the 140-character soundbyte-porn culture. Is the medium truly the message, as McLuhan has long since warned us? The "message" so to speak seems almost irrelevant; we have the attention span of mosquitoes. Where is the poetry, the beauty, the focus, the community? Click "like" if this resonates... Or see you in your town. An open slate for the grassroots. Cryptic messages from behind a keyboard.

What next?