September 25, 2011 § 4 Comments
LAST WEEK: I went alone to Sao Paulo Brazil for 58 hours. Turns out Cashew Juice is a thing. And MTV Brazil appreciates “noise music.” I got home and went to see Swans play the most inspiring show I’ve seen in 5 years, went to work at 9 a.m. the next morning (turns out today’s youth are bored by Network?!?!?) Read the new Jesse Ball novel in one long sitting then went to Champaign early the next day to play a festival and drove home in time to see Dan Higgs play. I’m considering changing my clothes today.
THIS WEEK: Please do come –
MONDAY NIGHT: I’m DJ’ing at The Burlington featuring lots of weird new old Brazilian records.
FRIDAY NIGHT: Joan of Arc – last rock show until at least next spring, whew. With Brokeback and Coins at The Hideout.
SATURDAY NOON: Joan of Arc Big Band one-time performance of “20 Drumsticks on The Search” at Andrew Rafacz Gallery.
SATURDAY 4pm: I will be among the readers for the release party of Dmitry Samarov’s Hack at The Rainbo Club.
September 15, 2011 § 9 Comments
A theme has certainly emerged here on this blog which I didn’t intend, but I think is interesting. I’m not sure how I’ll respond to it now that I recognize it. But this is a transcript of a conversation I had with Brent Decker. I first met Brent in the mid-90’s when we went to school together and he played in the band Racetraitor along with a couple other dudes we went to school with. So, like most of the interviews I’ve done on here, I’ve known Brent a long time, but never very well.
As a group, those Racetraitor guys were pretty inspiring and cool. They were the toughest, most controversial band in hardcore at the time and they were awfully badass about living up to the politics they preached. But at the same time, they were always super-cool with me, maybe laughing at me a little bit as I was stoned every moment of that era, but never in a mean or condescending way. I always took that as proof of their politics coming from a point of compassion more than righteousness. And funny as this would seem to anyone that is aware of Racetraitor but doesn’t know them personally – for me, Racetraitor actually put a nice human face on a hardcore scene that I felt entirely alienated by. So, years later, learning that Brent has the ultimate badass-insane-awesome-terrifying-necessary job on earth, was not surprising, but very exciting.
That new movie The Interrupters is about his co-workers. I haven’t seen it, but I hear it’s great – I imagine in the same way that talking to Brent about his work at Ceasefire is pretty great.
BD: Yeah, it’s really crazy. That’s what’s so insane about Chicago. I feel like in other cities, like, as segregated as other cities are you know, Chicago’s more so. In fact, there’s no overlap. You know what I mean? It’s like this viaduct, and all of a sudden it’s like all African American, all Latino, all Puerto Rican, you know what I mean?
BD: Which is crazy. When I started- I’ve been at Ceasefire for almost nine years now. I finished grad school-
TK: And it started in 2000 and you were there in 2002?
BD: It started in 2000. Yeah, I was there in 2003 basically. So eight and a half years.
TK: So you went to grad school for what?
BD: Public health and social work. I went to Tulane in New Orleans. And before that I was doing different kind of volunteer work or work in Latin America, Bolivia, Mexico and Guatemala.
TK: And that’s the sort of degree that’s characteristic for someone who would end up at Ceasefire?
BD: Yeah, well… Ninety percent of our workers are people who were formerly incarcerated, you know what I mean? I can get into that in a second. So my role in it, in terms of helping develop the strategies and the trainings and all that. I think my public health degree helped a lot. In terms of thinking things through.
TK: Were you aware of Ceasefire?
BD: No. After DePaul, when I knew you I was all political science and radical about shit you know, and then I graduated and I was like, “I can’t fucking do anything”. You know what I mean? I could tell you about U.S. Intervention in Nicaragua, but what to do about any minor thing? And I was working in a warehouse and stuff and I was really thinking about what would be something like practical. You know what I’m saying? Like I can actually do something and- public health just kind of made sense to me. It was very broad-
TK: The reason I ask if you were aware of Ceasefire is because you said Ceasefire based their strategies dealing with public health.
BD: I had no idea and actually how I got the job was, my dad makes furniture. I was doing a delivery one time after I finished grad school-
TK: That’s the warehouse you were working at?
BD: Yeah, and we met someone on their board and they’re like “Oh what are you doing?” I was like “Oh I just finished grad school, da-da-da.” They were like “you should talk to this guy” and stuff like that. I think they were really interested at that time in getting someone who had had some more public health training to kind of develop the documentation and all that stuff and I thought I was going to be there for like six months.
BD: You know what I mean? And it’s like eight and a half years later, so-
BD: I had no idea about it. I knew very little about United States inner city violence. I had spent a lot of time when I was younger in Guatemala during the civil war.
TK: When you were how old?
BD: Junior high.
TK: In junior high you went?
BD: Yeah, my parents were super –are – super crazy hippy-type people.
TK: Right, well that was my next question after ‘what one needs to go through bureaucratically or administratively. Like what kind of degree leads one to this?’ ‘What kind of life experience leads one to this?’
BD: My parents were involved in a lot of solidarity movement during the eighties. In Guatemala and Nicaragua and stuff, like basically U.S. Intervention, death squads and all that stuff. We went down there pretty young and spent summers there.
TK: And you were in Evanston or Rogers Park?
BD: I was in Wilmette. My parents were stoned. They thought they moved to Evanston, but they moved to Wilmette. When they signed the paper they were like “Oh shit, we moved to Wilmette!” Like on Isabella, kinda like right on the border.
TK: I don’t know it, but I know they’re next to each other.
BD: Right, yeah. So I think that informed a lot of my thinking about violence as an issue.
TK: Right, so your parents are probably better equipped to deal with this as their son’s job than anyone else’s parents would be.
BD: Yeah, they’re really stoked about it. My dad is always calling to check in and very interested in the work and a documentary actually just came out about where I work-
TK: Yeah, someone told me that last night.
BD: They went to one of the screenings and they were very very happy that that’s what I spend my time doing. So they’re really cool.
TK: And when you travel, you’re mostly traveling solo?
BD: We work with other agencies or other government institutions to help them kind of think through and implement what their violence prevention program is going to be. And so sometimes there will be a team of us, there will be like two or three of us. For example this summer we went to Trinidad twice. There was three of us that went. All kind of different expertise in the organization and kind of did different things and things together while we were there. And then come back and come up with recommendations and some planning and things like that. But sometimes it’s by myself. Like the Iraq project we’ve- I know I’ve seen you a couple of times coming back from Iraq. I went to Iraq, I think three or four times. I don’t remember. One time one other person went with me. And I would meet up with our local agency there at the airport.
TK: So do you go solo on certain trip’s only because no one else is needed and just your specific expertise is needed in that situation?
BD: A lot of the organization- we don’t have a lot of money. So it’s hard to raise funds for three plane tickets as opposed to one. Best case scenario would be good to have more than one person go. With the Iraq trip specifically I know that no one else wanted to go.
TK: The reason I even have a sense that you went solo is one of the times I saw you in passing, you were like- you just must have mentioned in passing that you were there by yourself because it really rang a bell with me and I figured there must be some sort of a strategic advantage or something?
BD: Yeah, there is, right.
TK: I didn’t know if there was a strategic advantage to having just a person, a single representative or if it was just a simple administrative thing?
BD: I think it’s both. I know with Iraq too, after I went the first time I really connected with a lot of our workers and the partner there. And I think they didn’t want it to be seen as such an American thing and so it was much easier to have one person there and not a big convoy of- you know what I’m saying?
TK: Yeah, that makes perfect sense. That’s the sort of psychic strategy that I thought.
BD: Yeah, and it’s easier to get around. It was crazy, the first time I went by myself. We met with people who were working on the project in Beirut and flew over. I remember coming off the plane just being like “what the fuck are you doing, dude?” And we took a cab in the middle of the night through the mountains from where we landed three hours to where the training and the meetings and stuff were going to be.
TK: Is that the most scared you’ve been?
BD: It just seemed surreal. I remember this particular trip was around the time when that guy threw the shoe at George Bush in Baghdad or something like that.
TK: Loved it.
BD: I remember watching it on T.V. And being like “fuck, I’m here right now.” You know what I mean?
TK: Oh, it was at that moment?
BD: Yeah, it was like the first or second trip that I was there. It was interesting because, you know there was a lot of security and there was a lot of blast shields and stuff but like, where we were at in northern Iraq there wasn’t a lot going on. There was, but there wasn’t really. It felt more surreal than unsafe. You know what I mean?
TK: Yeah, sure. So how often do you feel unsafe?
BD: Not that much. The way that this program works is like the whole idea is working with individuals who are highly credible in whatever community it is. So if it’s on the west side of Chicago or if it’s in Iraq, the individuals who are involved in it are well known and well respected and so by going with them . . . do you know what I mean? If I showed up by myself and was like . . . It would be a much different situation.
BD: So for example in Iraq, the woman that we were working with was based out of D.C., but her grandfather was a big Shia leader in southern Iraq. That’s where our program is mostly based out of, Basra. And so her credibility and his name alone is enough security in a sense, you know what I mean?
BD: It wasn’t perceived as a U.S. Intervention or we weren’t with the military-
TK: So in that case you used the term ‘local agencies.’ She would be like-
BD: Yeah, implement agencies.
TK: So what’s their relationship with the governments?
BD: It varies. So in Iraq it’s an N.G.O. A Non governmental organization, the whole thing.
TK: What is? Her thing?
BD: Yeah, she’s not a part of a political party. And I think that’s really why she’s able to operate the way she does. Before she got into violence prevention work, she did a lot of womens rights, education, minority rights stuff in Iraq. So she knew everybody because of her grandfather and so when she met Gary at some conference a number of years ago she-
TK: Gary was the founder?
BD: Yeah, sorry if any of this is unclear you can write me an email.
BD: When they kind of thought through some of this process you know. So what we did was, myself and one other person traveled to D.C., spent a week kind of going over the model, the different components of it adapting to what the Iraqi context was going to be. And then we went and did kind of the first training session with the people she assembled to work on the project. A lot of the training was very open ended.
TK: This your first trip to Iraq?
TK: So the first trip, you aren’t doing actual work with the communities, you’re working with people who will be working?
BD: Yeah. And they’re all guys from the community. So the way that it works, in Basra, we were working in two neighborhoods she strategically picked. The conflicts – there are a lot of inner personal stuff, but it devolved very quickly into tribal or religious stuff. So she picked, in the target areas she picked individuals from each of the different tribes and different religious sects or groups. And hired them on to work on- it would have already kind of shown some like- wanting to work towards peace and not being violent about things. So she strategically picked all of them to be the staff.
TK: Right, so that anyone in the bigger community would be able to look and be like “oh, I personally am represented by someone.”
BD: Exactly, so if something happens between tribe x and tribe y in this neighborhood, one of their workers can go talk to the tribal leader, talk to the religious leader. It’s the same thing in Chicago. All of our workers are guys who used to be involved in different gangs or crews or whatever. So they have a legitimacy that a social worker or a law enforcement officer never would. So, I think where we’re effective at is helping structure some of that work and strategize about it. And provide some training just in terms of different stuff (inaudible) or things of that nature. But it’s largely run by people who are from the areas and who are formerly involved in the conflicts.
TK: Do you ever find yourself in a situation where you feel like one side is more clearly right about something? Obviously you can’t take sides as a negotiator, but there must be times where you just look and think to yourself, “you know these guys are being assholes.”
BD: Yeah, our workers do. The thing is to try to remain neutral and try to get out of the area of right and wrong. Because everybody have a grievance. You know what I’m saying? And a lot of times it’s very well founded. But at least in our thinking about it, just because there’s a right grievance doesn’t mean okay it’s cool to kill somebody about it.
TK: Oh yeah, of course.
BD: So I think the conversation a lot of times is- you know if you see the film ‘Interrupters’ you kind of see that. They’re not negating what people are saying or people’s kind of like grievance about stuff but it’s like “Okay, what are we going to do about it?” You know what I mean? If you get violent about it, it’s going to get worse. So it becomes difficult dealing with issues of like law enforcement. Like in Trinidad this summer a lot of violence is perpetrated by law enforcement and so it becomes very hard not to be like ‘fuck them.’ You know what I mean?
TK: Right, so what’s the relationship between Ceasefire and the Trinidad government then?
BD: We met with a lot of high level law enforcement. They were the one’s who told us that “a lot of our line staff are corrupt and don’t get paid enough.” They might have family members who are involved and stuff.
TK: They recognize it’s a problem?
BD: They recognize it’s a problem and I think even in Baltimore and other Cities we have. I think kind of higher-up law enforcement get that A. You’re not going to be able to lock away this problem. They realize they have a very antagonistic relationship with communities and stuff. So sometimes they’re cool with it, other times they’re not. The current, I probably shouldn’t say this but, you know there’s different administrations in police departments even in Chicago that view us one way or another way and largely we try and maintain a good relationship with them. Because we’re not anti- law enforcement per say. It’s just like a different perspective on how to deal with it.
TK: It’s very interesting that like I- when I asked the question I really meant more in an official capacity – ‘Does the Iraqi government in some form or the Mexican government in some form really endorse your presence.’ But then you answered it in a much more street-level answer. Which is like, well it really comes down to this is the situation in the street.
BD: Yeah, for example for Trinidad, we were invited by the government of Trinidad to work with different partners and agencies who they thought were working on this issue in an appropriate way. They thought that they’d have a good chance of doing something about it. It’s complex. In a lot of ways just dealing with governments, political parties, law enforcement and all that stuff. Each country and each city is different and that’s where it’s funny. You get the right workers – it’s in training. The media and the conflict seems to be the easy part of it. But the politics surrounding everything is where things become very difficult.
TK: You mean how it expands from the people present at the meeting. How it’s implemented?
BD: Yeah, and funding and things of that nature.
TK: So when you’re in those situations and they’re totally complex, however much training you have in conflict-resolution, however that relates to the specific and however much of the details you understand of the specific situation, how much of it comes down to intuition in the moment? I mean are you making quick decisions or is everything deferred and come back to?
BD: So on the street level stuff, like our workers, the reason why they’re hired is that they come street wise. A lot of times they have to make snap decision based on their history and they’ll make a real quick decision. When it comes to broader conversations with law enforcement or government officials, I might be sitting there listening to some guy talk and be like “this mother fucker is full of shit.” But I can’t just go on that. I have to maintain a level of professionalism and try and –
TK: Well that’s the sort of negotiations with one’s intuition that everyone does all day everyday.
BD: Exactly. I think, at least for me, I’m much better now than when I first started with Ceasefire and I’d see something and be like “fuck that!” You know what I mean?
TK: Well, you were younger and more hot headed.
BD: Exactly. My initial thinking about a situation might be right. But it’s better to- at least I found it better to kind of . . .
TK: Is that the most frustrating part of the job then? Administrative?
BD: It can be. I think what’s fucked my head up in a lot of ways is just like the amount of shit people are- I mean just how painful existence is, you know what I mean?
TK: Sure, you know, to keep it light.
BD: I think what’s great about this job is seeing the program work and seeing people being able to use their own fucked-up histories, guys who are involved in all sort of stuff, and be able to kind of have a moment of rebirth or whatever of like being able to change the situation. And that’s super inspiring and super motivating.
TK: That must be the most satisfying part of the whole job, right? When there are moments where you can actually witness that sort of change.
BD: Yeah, and getting to know- I’m really close friends with a lot of our workers now you know. We hang out all the time and stuff. Things can change, people can change. Not everything is as bad as it seems all the time which I feel super lucky to have that all the time, you know what I mean?
TK: Yeah, sure. We just very quickly changed the question of what’s the most frustrating part to a very hopeful answer, which I guess must come natural to your disposition to be able to deal with this job to just be like, “that’s the worst but, now the inverse”.
BD: It’s hard and sometimes I like sometimes, you know, drink for like three days straight.
TK: When you get home?
BD: Yeah, the situation is so crazy.
TK: The big situation?
BD: Yeah, the big situation, the world and even when you get on those individual levels. We were in Juarez, Mexico in December I think it was. And it was me and another worker there and they were having a conference on how they were going to deal the violence issue. And they had been working on some stuff and we went out to this one area, this one community and there’s this mural on the wall and I was talking to somebody and they were like “Oh yeah, the cartel came here. There was a birthday party, and just killed all the children in this neighborhood.” You know what I mean, there’s stuff like that where you’re just like “fuck man.” You know what I mean?
TK: Well, yeah, except for that’s incomprehensible.
BD: Exactly! You know, I get on my flight and fly home and I’m like . . .
TK: So okay, so do you find it hard after these to like . . . I mean that must be a totally unique or distinct skill besides the job itself – reorienting yourself in your home-life after a trip like this.
BD: Yeah, I think I’m much better at it now. And growing up, spending a lot of time in Guatemala I remember one time we came home when I was a kid and I was like, “Mom, why did they put lights underneath the carpeting?” Because I had not been around carpeting for six months or something. She said “what are you talking about?” I thought it looked like there was like fluorescent lights underneath the carpeting because it looked so clean and bright, and I was like “what the fuck is going on here?” ha!
TK: Ha! Clean?!
BD: I think now I’m much better at dealing with it. It’s definitely taken tolls on me.
TK: Occasionally I’ll see you at the bar or something. And I assume on the average night, oh, about eighty percent of the people out at that hour are either free-lance designers or might work from home or maybe slept till noon that day. And everyone has money to burn and is looking to get laid. Do you have an easy enough time still getting along with these people having just seen – What I mean and it’s sort of a stupid question because I too sometimes look at these people and I’m like “Uh, what are you people doing?” You know? But I’m not really doing anything else either. But you actually are doing something. So is it hard?
BD: It goes in waves. In my best situation I don’t care. Do you know what I mean? It’s cool and people are just trying to do whatever and I try not to get caught up in it and thinking about what other people are doing. That’s best case scenario. Worst case scenario, I remember it was like new years eve or some shit and I was at some bar and I had literally flown home from Iraq the day before or something and just like seeing everyone, it just seemed so gross, you know? I was just like “what the fuck?” You know what I mean? But I found that not to be the most helpful way. What I do now when I come home, I don’t put myself in this situation where I’m going to be like uber-pissed at everybody and judgemental and “who the fuck are these-” You know what I’m saying, I try not.
TK: Well, you’re aware of a specific situation that would make you feel self-righteous or that would just stand in such harsh contrast to it?
BD: Yeah, the reason I do this work is not to- it’s coming from a loving place you know. And I feel like . . . you know what I mean? Coming home and then being a fucking dick, you know what I mean? Ha!
TK: Of course the desire to be a dick couldn’t be motivation enough to be like, “Man, if I went to Iraq or Juarez then I could really be a dick when I come home.” I mean, of course that can inspire it, but-
BD: I feel like it’s all connected, you know what I mean? I feel like I can’t be like trying to do this really good work and important stuff and then to a lesser extent be violent in my way I look at people and what I want to do to them, you know what I’m saying?
TK: Yeah, sure.
BD: And so I feel like that is something I’m conscious about, to not be that way when I see myself getting there. I just go home and . . . I don’t know if that makes sense?
TK: That makes perfect sense. I’m not totally changing the subject, but what are your thoughts on Racetraitor and how you guys existed because Racetraitor was obviously the most confrontational band possible.
BD: Haha! What’s interesting about Racetraitor is- so I quit that band- like when I was still in that band we were still getting into fights and getting beat up by skinheads and being total assholes to everybody. I think part of why I quit was because I was like, “this is not fucking doing anything.” You know what I mean? Who am I to be so up in people’s face about shit when I don’t have anything figured out. You know what I mean?
TK: Yeah, sure.
BD: Right, I still don’t. Haha! What’s interesting about that because like Fall Out Boy and those like weird bands became big and so like Racetraitor is mentioned in Rolling Stone and all this shit. So there has been like a lot of people who have like followed up with me years later. My friend did this book about nineties hardcore, I don’t know if you were interviewed in it?
TK: No, I knew it existed. I mean, there has been a couple. There were some more hardcore one’s and some less hardcore one’s.
BD: Right. I feel like I’ve run into people that were like pissed at me and I was pissed at them and afterwards it was weird. I didn’t care anymore, you know what I mean? And they were still like “blah-blah-blah” and my friend was like “Oh, I was at some reunion show and they were talking about Racetraitor,” and I was like “Really?” You know what I’m saying? It’s weird. You’ve been in bands that people talk about them and shit, you’re just like what?
TK: Yeah, and generally I feel very little in common with the person that people sometimes talk about when talking about my bands. You know, like ‘ugh, really, that’s how it comes across?’ But it’s different.
BD: The one thing I think is cool about Racetraitor – not necessarily like how we said stuff. Or . . . at least we were like- I think our group of friends that was kind of surrounding that band, like we’re all still friends and everyone is still trying to do something cool in the world. To me that’s like, You know, like Mani, the singer, is doing Human Rights Watch. Dan, the guitar player, does all this cool stuff in mental health. Isaac, who is a friend of ours, who roadied and stuff, is doing all this leading research in PTSD and working with vets from the Iraq war. So it’s like- that to me . .
TK: Yeah, super-awesome.
BD: That’s cool and at the end of the day like that’s, that was like kind of our group of friends and we were younger trying to figure out what was up in the world. What I like about it is that I think a lot of us who were involved in that scene or whatever kept on trying to grow, you know what I mean?
TK: Yeah, super-awesome.
BD: It was our first stab at stuff and like, of course calling people “crackers” is ridiculous, but you know what I mean? I think the one good thing about it, when people ask me about it – about that – I’m like, you know when everyone who was in that band or who was our group of friends at the time if like continue to try and like do cool shit and like that to me is like . . .
TK: That’s specific to Racetraitor and your group of friends. How do you feel, then, Racetraitor, who had sort of declared war on the hardcore scene, right? How do you feel the hardcore scene informed that? Like for your friends to get to that point. Because what you’re talking about is sort of the ultimate potential-extension of political music. When I ran into you and you told me what you are doing, that was sort of my first thought about why I need to interview you – Because I was like ‘holy shit, that’s the coolest thing that the dude that was in Racetraiter has followed it through to the furthest degree.’ So how did being a part of a hardcore scene . . . ?
BD: Art, music or whatever to me has always been important. Maybe not as like it could be the way of organizing people per se, you know what I mean? But I feel like, to me, I mean in that scene I think I learned a lot and was inspired by a lot of those bands, even thought after I met them I wasn’t super-inspired. But you know, I think music or any of the arts, I feel like are very central even to who I am right now. Even like processing stuff and like the whole flight home I’m listening to music and reading, you know what I mean? I feel like it’s connected in that way. As like a vehicle for change I don’t necessarily think that a music scene or a band can do that. But I feel that it’s definitely important in informing an individuals perception of the world and feel like it’s-
TK: Right, which is a form of personal change which could then lead to-
BD: Yeah, you know- so it’s like- I’m sorry if that’s not making any sense. Haha!
TK: No, no it makes prefect sense, yeah. Is there anyone in the hardcore scene that – I imagine you don’t follow hardcore particularly?
BD: Not so much. Haha!
TK: You seem pretty busy.
TK: But are there people from that scene or era that you still are inspired by in any way personally or that even occur to you? I’m not asking you to be like “you know man, Rollins made a huge influence…”
BD: Yeah, well I have a Black Flag tattoo.
TK: That’s probably why I thought of it. But like anyone that you still . . . And it’s not weird to say no.
BD: No, I’m trying to think about it honestly. I think . . . it’s weird there’s this Krishna band called 108.
TK: Oh yeah, we played with them a couple of times.
BD: Really? I remember they were in this other band called Resurrection. That singer, I can’t remember his name. But –
TK: Norm and Chris – who the last time I heard of them playing music, they were playing in an Oasis cover band with my brother. So quite different. Haha.
BD: Okay, haha! To me the kind of . . . I liked their spiritual tinge they had. I mean not the Krishna conscience, like no. You know what I mean? But I mean, I just remember we were at some stupid show and people were fighting and this dude just said something you know he was like ‘you know unless you change my mind, you’re not going to change anything.’ I think that’s when I really diverted from thinking about things to be a bit more thoughtful and not just “Oh-blah blah.” You know? So I think those bands definitely inspire me. I haven’t probably listened to the record in fifteen years, but you know . . .
TK: I did listen to a Shelter record about eighteen months ago and it was fucking awesome.
BD: Yeah, I think a lot of those bands were really cool. Groundwork was a band that I was super into. I haven’t – my musical taste is a little bit different now.
TK: Sure, my question was more like ‘does it ever even occur to you?’
BD: Yeah, definitely. I think being in that scene, being in that band has definitely informed me. Rob Fish, that’s that guy’s name, Rob Fish.
TK: Oh yeah.
BD: I haven’t met him and I probably don’t want to because if like I changed- I’m sure he’s cool or whatever – but like, you know, I was like eighteen or something and they were like a little older and they were kind of into some heavy shit. And I was like, ‘that’s serious.’
TK: Yeah, it was actually addressing serious issues.
BD: Yeah, you know. Which I thought was cool. I still listen to a lot of music and stuff, but yeah.
TK: I think we have very quickly and easily covered all the issues that I was curious about. There’s a couple . . . You started to mention regretting . . . You know you said there’s been situations you got in – When you talked about the mural in Juarez, you used the word regret I think? So when the specific situation feels like, ‘Oh god, how’d I get into this?’
BD: What was crazy about that too, I forgot to say is that so Juarez and El Paso are along the border together. So we’re sitting in this neighborhood and it’s like, you got this mural with forty dead kids or something and then there’s like a fucking Wendy’s and Best Buy and like El Paso is the safest place in the country basically because there’s a war going on. I don’t remember exactly what I’m saying, I’m sorry. But that was when I was like fuck everything. You know what I mean? Nothing can be done and this world is a fucking waste. And so trying not to let that get too deep into- you know what I mean? How one looks at the world because it’s just like-
TK: Yeah, I’ve often wondered- you know because I’ve been to El Paso a few times, we had a night off there a few months ago, ate at some restaurant and were standing out front smoking afterwards just like looking at Juarez and just being like-
BD: A sea of lights, right?
TK: Yeah, because there are no buildings over however many stories tall, right? So you’re just seeing so far and we all just got in the conversation of like, what in the world does this look like from that side?
BD: Yeah, the situation in Mexico is just so heartbreaking, you know what I mean because it’s just like- it’s so like- because you have like- this guy Calderón or whatever, the President who like declared war in ’08 or I can’t remember, on the Cartels and they were like, “Okay!” They were better funded, better organized, and you know given the history of the United States and Mexico or Latin America, you know what I mean?
TK: Right, they have more credibility to-
BD: That’s really what I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. So you’ve had kind of like the colonial era or in the 40’s and post-WWII where we basically installed all these military dictatorships in Latin America and just fucking killed thousands and thousands upon thousands of people so that we could have cheap fruit or whatever. Or baseball in Haiti you know. And then it seemed like in the mid-nineties a lot of those wars ended and there was a lot of excitement about the possibility of the future for Latin America and a lot of countries. And what happened, which is so fucked, is we started deporting a lot guys that got in trouble here. So a lot of refuges fled to Los Angeles, to California. Formed their own gangs, kind of deal with the situation there, serve some time in prison and were sent back.
TK: Served time in prison here and then went home there and start again?
BD: And the violence in Guatemala now is worse than when there was a full on civil war going on where they were basically trying to exterminate the Mayan people. I was there in February or something and it’s real heavy because it’s like- for me – for my benefit you know what I mean? Like in general, like for fruit and how much people had to suffer about stuff and it’s like- what’s been very . . . it’s like fuck. It’s like, enough. And now the situation there is like, it’s really fucked up like El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras-
TK: Even on however small of a scale, I imagine actually seeing it, it must be overwhelming and just be like, ‘enough, I’ll do without my fruit,’ if that’s the true cost of it. But then however much you might have resolution on a certain street scale, do you see any real solution when the whole design is so flawed?
BD: That’s the question.
TK: I like this idea that people misunderstand nihilism as like hating everything when in fact it just means like no, I’m pretty disappointed in everything compared to the potential of things. You know, so I don’t mean to sound too nihilistic.
BD: Sure, I don’t know that anyone has presented or there’s been a movement or anything like that, you know? That seems to address anything on a systematic level that would make everything cool. I doubt that that exists. I don’t think that- I think in the mid-term right, in the existence in however many years we get here, it seems like some shit can be changed you know what I mean? I feel like that ‘s enough reason to do it.
TK: Enough inspiration to keep going?
BD: Yeah, I mean like- and certainly different policies and different governments will get you elected into our White House. I mean it’s a difference, there is a difference between- it might be subtle, but that might be a difference of one hundred thousand lives, you know what I mean? There is a difference in certain policies and stuff. Which I think are important. It’s not going to change the relationship of the United States and Guatemala for example, but we have different immigration policies and people are fighting for not deporting people or if they’re going to be deported, they have to provide funding for kind of some sort of rehabilitation when they get- I mean that’s a big difference, you know what I mean? I try not to get too overwhelmed by the magnitude of all the crazy shit that’s going on when there are certain things that can be done.
TK: I guess if you’re dug in deep enough to the particulars, you don’t need to focus on how intimidating the whole thing is.
September 12, 2011 § 2 Comments
September 12, 2011 § 8 Comments
I flatter myself a sophisticated enough man to be beyond guilty pleasures. But I’ll admit, it’s a little embarrassing how much I do like that Frank Sinatra song about how he does things his way. (I imagine he always used his shoe as a hammer to hang a picture and insisted his cakes be baked with fresh lard from a baby’s fat thigh.) Or the one about when he was 21 for a little while before he was 31.
And What a Wonderful World with Louie Armstrong’s throat?! Man, I really did swell with emotion like an autumn grape when that song would come on as the station-identification of a local Chicago channel when I was a kid.
Those songs really make you think, you know, about how a man becomes all kinds of things he never imagined he would and like, you know, life and shit. (As an aside – shout out to Think About Life – best band name ever!) Those songs are like that great scene in Husbands when Harry, Gus and Archie talk about the major shift in a man’s life – and it isn’t his wedding day or the day his first child is born or his first parent dies. The big shift is sometime around 35 when a man really accepts that he’ll never grow up to be a professional baseball player.
And, Dear Reader, my simple point is only that I never expected to grow up to be the weirdo uncle, bachelor and deadbeat, cartoons drawn all over my arms and forgetting to not smoke around the kid, etc. It’s a role I’ve fallen into quite easily and enjoy greatly, The Weirdo Uncle. But it just never occurred to me that it might one day be one of my roles.
And when I see that goddamn beautiful little wonder, it’s so weird, makes me feel like Whitney Houston. Most of the time I creep about like Serge Gainsbourg meeting Whitney Houston for the first time. But around that kid, I dunno, I’m like Whitney herself.
And so I just wanna do what little I can to help this children of the future get ahead, whatever small gestures I may muster to offer. And in that spirit, I have written my young niece a song.
The Keyboard Alphabet. (Educators please contact Polyvinyl Records for Fair Use Negotiations, some restrictions may apply.) QWE’s
September 11, 2011 § 1 Comment
WARNING: This may get stuck in your head for days.
As I’m always excited to meet another subtle Italian-American political satirist, I called this guy Dennis and talked to him on the phone once. It was 2004 or 2005. I wanted to collaborate. His mom or aunt or someone answered the phone and he was so nice, so genuinely such a true-believer and so friendly and kind and excited that someone tracked down his phone number to talk about his video. I never called him a second time.
But man, am I psyched to be reminded of this. He is not, as his name would suggest, either mad or alone. He is, in fact, happy and earnest and part of a big goddamn community.
September 11, 2011 § Leave a comment
Full disclosure: An aside for context – 1:30 a.m. sunday morning 9/11/11 – some dumb assholes – I swear to God and I realize this is so dumb as to be hard to believe – but I swear to God, some dumb assholes, a big group of them, are all singing a drunken sing-a-long, “Lean on Me” on the street below my window at this moment. Ugh. Gah.
As I was saying . . .
I almost forgot! I just remembered the best Joan of arc song that never got recorded that was written before the first record – aka – the definitive evidence to anyone not into our band of how much more lousy we could’ve been.
It was called “The Edit at 4:22 in Famous Blue Raincoat”
I went to a wedding tonight. Lots of fun. Lots of friends and everyone looking good dressed up and dancing and delicious food, and Mr. Brokeback playing and Eternals DJ’ing and a Mariachi band, Paul Koob ordained to minister -a great time! The kind of night people there will tell time according to – 3 years from now we’ll ask each other, ‘was that before or after Arief and Irma’s wedding?’ That much of a good night.
So yeah, I rocked “Superfuzz Bigmuff” on the train home, as has been my compulsion for the last week. (That song “Hate the Police,” I’ve listened to it at least 75 times this week – and that line where he switches the words to “Fuck me I’m sick” – Ahhh! So awesome.)
And in my suit I fell asleep for an hour in the yard – beautiful night and cozy patio furniture. My stereo-phone on shuffle, I slept through whatever until the dog licked my wrist, shocked me awake. “Famous Blue Raincoat” was playing and I remembered the best Joan of arc song that never got recorded that was written before the first record – aka – the definitive evidence to anyone not into our band of how much more lousy we could’ve been.
Joan of arc was named Joan of arc because we needed a band name by the end of that day, whatever afternoon, 1996, Hoyne and Iowa. I listened to “Bigmouth Strikes Again,” considered Morrissey from Joan of Arc’s perspective (which became the song “Stemingway and Heinbeck.”) I listened to “Songs of Love and Hate” and between “Last Year’s Man” and “Joan of arc” it was too many references in common in an hour to not accept the cosmos were indeed giving me a sign as per what exactly this band should be called.
Lee Hazlewood and Scott Walker records remain among the primary forces in shaping every Joan of Arc song written. Make Believe not only talked about The Zombies and Harry Nilsson every time we put a song together, we even wrote a song about Harry Nilsson (“His Short Quip When Eddie’s Bothered” [Duh, get it?]) and that song about the Fleetwood Mac song “Storms.”
A little bit strange, right? Why don’t we sound like those things? I’d love – more than anything – I’d love to make a straight-up Fleetwood Mac rip-off record or Lee Hazlewood or old Scott Walker.
But you know what? If you listen closely to “Famous Blue Raincoat” there’s a splice at 4:22. That song – the standard of heavy hushed intimacy in the history of recorded music. And you know what? No way did the band play it with that structure when tracking. That second chorus is tacked on. On headphones the splice is conspicuous. I was obsessed – fixated even – on that splice in 1996.
1996: Hoyne and Iowa with Nathaniel and Ryan. Crazy in love with girlfriend in another city. Worked at the library. Fixated on that splice. Wrote and rewrote songs, never got a version good enough, all about that splice.