Archive | Autobiography RSS feed for this section
Image

Good Morning, Grey Thursday

2 Oct

Good Morning, Grey Thursday 5

Good Morning, Grey Thursday 3

Good Morning, Grey Thursday

Advertisements

In Praise of Palace Burners

11 Nov

Any respectable list of the nascent millennium’s best metal albums would have to include Lamb of God’s 2003 career high-water mark, As the Palaces Burn.

What a joy it was then, having woken to a cold, blustery Monday morning and now steeling myself to endure its attendant Monday morning hangover commute, to learn that these rugged Virginians have put out a remixed/remastered edition to commemorate the 10th anniversary of this, the band’s best–and, incidentally, most sonically lamented–record.

wpid-Photo-Nov-23-2013-959-PM.jpg

While anniversary reissues are often given a fresh mix/mastering tweak as a way of enticing fans into repurchasing something they already have, there were likely additional reasons behind the decision on this one. Both the band and producer (eccentric Canadian maestro Devin Townsend) have admitted in interviews that they were unhappy with the low-budget production. So much so that Randy Blythe has said that he can’t listen to it and prefers live recordings of the material.

I never had an objection, though. The gritty guitar sound lent those dissonant, trebly riffs a suitably jagged, piercing quality that I wouldn’t trade for the cleaner but less lively production of LoG’s breakthrough follow-up album, Ashes of the Wake (2004). And the punchy, organic quality rarely trespassed upon the dense precision of the arrangements. The airpockets buffeting the tight blasts of ‘Ruin”s obliterating post-solo section register clearly and noiselessly.

That said, the retooled audio production does nicely enhance the record’s already crushing suite of sturm und drang. The bottom end has been disinterred and rendered pronouncedly audible, and it blends more smoothly with the (now crisper) shredding guitars. Some clever processing has expunged the slightly cheesy quality from Blythe’s spoken intro vocals on ‘For Your Malice’. In short, it’s a fresh and polished sonic patina on what was already, at core, a flawlessly executed post-thrash album.

I was struck at the end of my first complete listen by the overall concision here. As the Palaces Burn is a remarkably lean and unhesitating novella of a metal record. From front to back it clocks in at a little under 40 minutes (38:06) and feels shorter.

That relatively quick runtime is a key virtue, staving off monotony. For AtPB is neither particularly dynamic nor stylistically diverse. Relatively subtle flourishes like the spectral keyboard tones (classic Devy) which weave under the final syncopated waves of riffage in ‘A Devil in God’s Country’ stand out like a mantis shrimp in a deli lobster tank.

And the songs, for the most part, grind out at a brisk, ceaselessly aggressive pace. Some at a steady gallop; others, like the title track, are sprinting torrents of aural carnage. The lurching downtempo grooves featured on some of the band’s subsequent work (eg. Omerta) are deployed sparingly (though when they are, as on the menacing ‘Ruin’ outro, the results are damn impressive).

When at last we arrive–limping, strung out from adrenal fatigue, probably bleeding internally–at ‘Vigil’, AtPB‘s worthy conclusion, something strange happens. By now accustomed to relentless surging aggression, we’re suddenly disoriented by an unfamiliar sound: clean, chorus-tinged guitar tone, demurely ringing out a softly arpeggiated chord progression. As the guitar is presently complemented by an uneasy electric bass pulse and palpably restrained drum-and-synth flourishes, we rightly flinch, as if in expectation of a blow.

We’ve been abruptly dropped at the eye of the storm. It lasts less than a minute.

Then, the inevitable: Blythe’s deep, rhasping–”Our father, thy will be done…”–announces an upsurge of heavy, overdriven guitar doom. And soon even the layered, plodding stonermetal dirge dies off, to be eclipsed by the frenetic staccatto barrage that’s reigned over our ears for the past half-hour or so.

In short, when these guys switch it up, they do it right.

If the occasion for the remixed reissue and its attendant celebratory fanfare is the 10 year anniversary of a landmark metal album, then I think it’s worth closing with some praise for As the Palaces Burn‘s sadly neglected significance as a small-but-meaningful piece of American cultural history.

It has always struck me as shameful that in the years following the horror of 9/11, as the US decimated and occupied two countries in the name of a transparently propagandistic “War on Terror,” American bands provided disgracefully little in the way of protest music. We should, then, also honor Lamb of God’s unflinching willingness to place front-and-center a fiercely defiant stance against the rampant militarism of the Bush II regime.

Here, I want to caution the metallically  uninitiated against a (blandly literal) misreading of what’s at work in LoG’s rebuke of the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld junta. It exasperates me to periodically encounter reviews that indulge in facile condemnations of the lyrics’ witheringly grim political pessimism. 

wpid-Photo-Feb-28-2014-430-PM.jpg

The apocalyptic vision is only fitting.

Lamb of God is, after all, a metal band. And read in the appropriate context of their genre, these lyrics mattered.

Speaking personally, I keenly remember being an outspoken budding leftist on fairly conservative college campus. At a time when reactionary frat mooks were prone to do things like scrawl “Go join al-qaeda, faggot!” on my door in permanent marker, I was grateful to Blythe & co. for writing righteous antiwar lyrics (see also) and making videos like this one:


(PS: You can watch the accompanying documentary packaged with the 10th anniversary reissue here.)

Peter Beinart: “It is immoral to have ethnically-based citizenship…”

22 Jul

[The following was originally posted 9/30/2012 on a short-lived blog dedicated to covering Palestine-related events in the northeastern US.]

In April of 2012 I attended a Peter Beinart talk at Harvard. He was there to debate the merits of his most recent book, The Crisis of Zionism, with Barry Shrage, a Harvard professor and president of Boston’s Combined Jewish Philanthropies. It was an interesting experience.

Despite facing a largely pro-Israel audience at Harvard at a time when his book had already elicited substantial scorn from many in the American Jewish community, Beinart presented his arguments about the immoralities and dangers of Israeli policy with dignified composure. That same composure attended his rejoinders to rightwing counterarguments from Dr. Shrage. He struck me as a very decent and unusually honest man. (My impression of Shrage was less flattering).

At the time I had been following the advance press and interviews for Norman Finkelstein’s then-forthcoming book, an ambitious exploration of waning Jewish-American support for Israel. One of Finkelstein’s key pieces of anecdotal evidence for his claim that liberal American Jews are distancing themselves from Israel’s more draconian policies toward the Palestinians is the case of Beinart: a figure of some standing in New York’s orthodox Jewish community whose CV includes a stint as editor at The New Republic—a staunchly pro-Israel publication.

I was initially skeptical about Beinart’s significance for those of us hoping to see American political discourse grow more sympathetic to the Palestinian plight. Before the Harvard lecture, I had caught snippets from reviews and interviews that made it sound like Beinart’s opposition to settlement expansion in the West Bank was solely a concern about Israel’s demographic integrity qua Jewish state.  Indeed, his statements were often adorned with reservations about the purported desire of Palestinians that Israel simply cease to exist.

But it’s clear that something significant is going on when you see someone like Beinart making this basic point about racism so bluntly, and at venues likes Shalom TV:

[Note: It looks like the timestamp embed code isn’t working, so to cut to the part I’m referring to here, skip to 35:15 mark or open this link in a new tab]

I disagree with many of his individual points as well as much of the narrative that frames them—e.g., he says Israel’s settlement projects in the West Bank constitute a “tragic mistake” rather than a predictable extension of a colonial project that goes back to the first Zionist aliyah—but ask yourself if you can remember anyone in the mainstream of the American Jewish intellectual establishment speaking so openly before, say, 2008, about the immorality of ethnicity-based citizenship policy in Israel.

Money Quotes

24 May

I recently left Boston for New York City to be with my girlfriend.

She works as a junior research associate at an economic consulting firm. I regret to report that as of this moment I’m still on the hunt for full-time gainful employment.  For now I get by teaching guitar lessons over Skype and taking intermittent freelance writing gigs.  We live in a small, offensively priced studio on the Upper West Side.

2013-05-28 20.34.56

Tonight it’s raining. And when it rains I tend and like to sit by an open window, mixing alcohol with caffeine while I read literature. On this May evening I’ve had Martin Amis’s rather grimy novel Money in my lap. The book’s narrator, John Self, has some apt things to say about New York, some apt things to say about unemployment.

On the street awash in scrum outside my window:

I wondered, as I burped up Broadway, I wondered how this town ever got put together. Some guy was dreaming big all right. Starting down in Wall Street and nosing ever upward into the ruins of the old West Side, Broadway snakes through the island, the only curve in this world of grids. Somehow Broadway always contrives to be just that little bit shittier than the zones through which it bends. Look at the East Village: Broadway’s shittier than that. Look uptown, look at Columbus: Broadway’s shittier. Broadway is the moulting python of strict New York. I sometimes feel a bit like that myself. Here the fools sway to Manhattan time. (32)

And on the desolate nihilism and slow-boiling resentment of an unemployed, screwed-over generation:

And now I am one of the unemployed. What do we do all day? We sit on stoops and pause in loose knots on the stained pavements. The pavements are like threadless carpets after some atrocious route of flesh-frazzled food and emetic drink: last night the weather gods all drowned their sorrows, and then threw up from thirty thousand feet. We sit flummoxed in the parks, among low-caste flowers. Whew (we think), this life is slow. I came of age in the Sixties, when there were chances, when it was all there waiting. Now they seep out of school–to what? To nothing, to fuck-all. The young (you can see it in their faces), the stegosaurus-rugged no-hopers, the parrot-crested blankies–they’ve come up with an appropriate response to this, which is: nothing. Which is nothing, which is fuck-all. The dole-queue starts at the exit to the playground. Riots are their rumpus-room, sombre London their jungle-gym. Life is hoarded elsewhere by others. Money is so near you can almost touch it, but it is all on the other side–you can only press your face up against the glass. In my day, if you wanted, you could just drop out. You can’t drop out any more. Money has seen to that. There’s nowhere to go. You cannot hide out from money. You just cannot hide out from money any more. And so sometimes, when the nights are hot, they smash and grab. (144-145)

And this was in 1984! Oh, there is nothing new under the sun. I suggest readers think about the resonance of this passage in concert with the resonance of this comment by Eric Hobsbawm on the historically confounding austerity response to the financial crisis of the late 80s.

2013-05-28 20.36.33

Outside the rain is easing off. Broadway thrums with commuters, commercial life.  Now two white high school girls are screeching at one another as cooler heads drag them apart, still gesticulating with crimson-cheeked rage; now an immaculately dressed woman in her 50s looks on blithely while her geriatric dachshund squats, arthritic legs aquiver, to poop on the sidewalk.

Manhattan’s elite classes, for all their stringent co-op rules and wrinkled-nose disdain for the poor, are surprisingly okay with feces-smeared sidewalks and urine-soaked tree beds.

You’re Welcome, Noam

13 Apr
Some three years ago 3 Quarks Daily, the superlative scholarly portal blog, posted an excerpt from a then-recent profile of Noam Chomsky in the UK newspaper, The Telegraph.One generally knows what to expect from articles like this. There’s a long-running tradition in mainstream Western journalism of periodically putting out a shallow, invidious, and ultimately dismissive profile of everyone’s favorite octogenarian anarchist (sorry Murray Bookchin!*).The journalist assumes the posture of a neutral observer, endowed with the sort unflagging “common sense” found only in people who veer relentlessly toward centrist, moderate, establishment-approved positions. Their take on Chomsky’s decidedly inverse approach to politics thus finds him depicted as a strange and quaint curiosity of possible interest to the general reader in the way that ligers or an amateur rocketry enthusiast’s successful launch of a home-made projectile into orbit might command some passing, inconsequential hold on the idle page-skimmer’s attention.

These profiles tend to be so predictable that it probably wouldn’t take much effort for a more patient (or masochistic) student of political discourse to draw up a reliably predictive template. By turns grudgingly or condescendingly pointing out his immense impact on the social sciences and his sweeping command of recent political history, they ultimately dismiss his political positions and activism as naïve ivory tower idealism, fatally corrupted by anti-American tunnel vision.

Basically, a disgraceful host of respected journalists have used their coveted, blandishment-laden “serious writer” platforms to perpetuate an endless, desultory parade of bad faith, Chomsky-belittling boilerplate dreck. And almost without fail, each insipid recycling amounts to just one more lazy, drawn-out variation on this well-worn passage from Paul Robinson’s 1979 write-up of Language and Responsibility in the New York Times Book Review:

Judged in terms of the power, range, novelty and influence of his thought, Noam Chomsky is arguably the most important intellectual alive today. He is also a disturbingly divided intellectual. On the one hand there is a large body of revolutionary and highly technical linguistic scholarship, much of it too difficult for anyone but the professional linguist or philosopher; on the other an equally substantial body of political writings, accessible to any literate person but often maddeningly simple-minded.
So, an unremarkable observance of this mainstream press ritual in the Telegraph, excerpted on 3QD’s homepage. I skimmed it and came across a puzzling quotation branding Chomsky as “America’s most prominent self-hating Jew”.The discursive weaponization of the slur “self-hating Jew” is, sadly, fairly standard in right-wing Zionist discourse on Jewish critics of Israeli policy (the corresponding smear for Israel’s critics among the goyim is, of course, an allegation that she or he is an anti-Semite). What made this particular instance of that vile trope so bizarre was that it was said to have appeared in the pages of The Nation, the flagship weekly magazine of the American Left. This was hard to believe first and foremost because Chomsky’s articles have been prominently featured in this very publication for decades. (!!!)Moreover, for as long as I’d been reading, The Nation’s masthead had been emblazoned with names far more prone to ignite the rage of the AIPAC crowd: unapologetic champions of the Palestinian cause like Naomi Klein, Richard Falk, and the late Alexander Cockburn. (After all, none of these admirable figures can claim, as Chomsky can, to have identified as a Zionist since age 5.)

So anyway, I dashed off the following:

Does anyone have a citation for this quote? I don’t know much about what Nation’s content was like before I started reading around 5 years ago, but I have a hard time believing that their editorial board (or one remotely like it) would endorse such a ridiculous, scurrilous statement.
Luckily, someone did. Oddly, they provided it three years later, at which point I had long forgotten the Telegraph article and the comment thread under 3QD’s portal excerpt, as had, presumably, the rest of human civilization. But oh!, it was a felicitous thing, that long delayed answer. For it turns out that this question, hastily posted in that 3 Quarks Daily comments thread, inadvertently led to Glenn Greenwald shaming Aida Edemariam into removing the dishonest and defamatory quotation about Noam Chomsky from her recent (largely execrable) profile of that world-historical mensch:
Then there’s Edemariam’s statement, offered with no citation, that Chomsky has been called “America’s most prominent self-hating Jew” by the left-wing Nation magazine. This claim, though often repeated and obviously very serious, is inaccurate.The Nation article which she seems to be referencing is not available online except by subscription. But what is freely available online is a 1993 article on Chomsky from the Chicago Tribune that makes clear that this did not come from the Nation itself, but from a single writer who, more importantly, was not himself calling Chomsky a “self-hating Jew” but was simply noting that this is how he is often attacked (“one critic observed that Chomsky has ‘acquired the reputation as America’s most prominent self-hating Jew.’”). In 2010, the scholarly website 3 Quarks Daily noted an article on Chomsky from The Telegraph that also claimed without citation that “the Left-wing Nation magazine [] called him ‘America’s most prominent self-hating Jew’”. Inquiries in the comment section for the source citation for this quote prompted this reply:“I know this is a few years old, but the citation for the ‘most prominent self-hating Jew’ quote is: Morton, Brian. ‘Chomsky Then and Now.’ Nation 246, no. 18 (May 7, 1988): 646-652.

“With access to a full-text archive of The Nation, it took me only a few minutes to locate this. The full quote in context is ‘If Chomsky has acquired the reputation of being America’s most prominent self-hating Jew, this is because, in the United States, discussion about the Middle East has until recently taken place within very narrow bounds.’

“As you can see the point was quite the opposite of how it was presented. The Nation often includes different perspectives so attributing one reviewer’s comment to ‘The Nation’ as a whole would be dishonest anyway.

“Regardless of that however, the reviewer was actually making the point that Chomsky’s views only seem far out because the spectrum is so limited… . .This is just another example of the kind of lazy, dishonest way in which Chomsky’s views are generally reported.”

Having myself retrieved a full copy of Morton’s 1988 article, I can say with certainty that this comment is indeed 100% accurate. Even leaving aside the sloppiness of attributing one article by a freelance writer to “the Nation” itself, it is wildly inaccurate – on the substance – to claim that the Nation labelled Chomsky a “self-hating Jew”:

The oft-repeated claim that Chomsky has “been called, by the Nation,‘America’s most prominent self-hating Jew’” is simply false. If anything, that Nation article debunked that accusation, and certainly did not embrace it.

Lest there I be any confusion, I should note for the record that I am not the same Will who followed up on my query with the full original quotation and info on the source text, although of course my hat goes off to that gallant stranger.*It saddens me to report that shortly after publishing this post it was brought to my attention that Murray Bookchin died in 2006.

It has been raining in Boston for days.

15 Mar

This weather’s pull on my emotional life has tended to place me at one of two recurrent points.

1. Melancholy-gloomy:

and
2. …

It’s odd, usually I’m excited by rainy days. I speculate that my affinity for dreary weather stems from how, as a kid, I relished days when rain or snow permitted me to spend recess and other downtime indoors reading, drawing (something I once loved, but no longer do because I suuuck don’t really have a knack for it), and setting up elaborate military confrontations between armies of action figures, plastic model dinosaurs, and other relatively small, anthropomorphizable toys (I later dropped the toys and took up AD&D (which (unless the trend is already dead) hipster poseurs have decided is cool— it’s a strange world)). Don’t get me wrong: I was very physically active up through 8th or 9th grade, but it was this athletic streak that solidified the charm of the rainy day. “Bad” weather was an excuse to indulge my hypergeeky introverted/creative side, free of the otherwise incessant drive to dominate the foursquare court or whatever playground competition might be afoot (I was also a sore loser and probably not much fun to play with).

ANYWAY, this miniature rainy season has been a downer. Intellicast tells me it is tapering off and that tomorrow will be dry and intermittently sunny, which means that it will probably snow.

12/31/2009

10 Jan
Gaza Vigil, Boston

Candlelight vigil in solidarity with the people of Gaza. Boston, MA, USA.

It had just begun to snow.