A post to say how much I enjoyed watching Westworld last week. And I'm not a fan of Westerns by any stretch, even sci-fi versions. But Binged its entirety over two days and found so much to appreciate on many levels. One issue in particular is handed in a great, if not slippery fashion, that of the dehumanization of our stand-ins, the not quite human beings, androids, or “hosts” as Westworld calls them, so they can be subjected to wholesale, unsavory violence in the name of entertainment. The show traffics in this entertainment, much like Walking Dead or Game of Thrones does, yet it is also very concerned with the psychology and morals behind it. A tag line which gets repeated often in the show is “these violent pleasures bring violent ends,” and its intoned as a warning and a truth.
One of my biggest complaints about a show like the Walking Dead is this very thing. It creates a human “other,” a stand-in, like we’ve done for ages in our stories: Indians, Slaves, Aliens, Zombies, then takes much sport in all the ways to do our worst to them: murder, rape, humiliation and countless mutilations in hundreds of grizzly ways to the point where the people who were once people, zombies, etc can be experiments in how far humans will go over various lines, and how much humans (watching) will tolerate. So far, no limit.
Yes, many people like this for a variety of reasons. Some say its a release into fantasy of what we would never actually do, that theres some kind theme park or haunted house thrill about seeing it done so graphically and particularly to “not people,” zombies, or in Westword, androids. Though I begin to wonder about all that killing. Why is it entertaining over and over. It isn’t entertaining to me, nor do I receive any carrhesis or other psychobabblish benefit from watching it. It only disturbs me and gives me less and less hope for humanity. And as many have noted, is probably desensitizing in a bad way.
I don’t feel good about his aspect of entertainment, and I rarely subject myself to it. Yet Westword takes a chunk of its violence out of this “gratuitous” realm and allows it to be fuel for internal debate and moralizing on itself - without getting preachy. Now we have the android’s perspective, and its horrifying.
Of course we never forget that HBO is just as intent on titillating our violent or sexual impulses by having as much nudity, sex and graphic violence on the screen as the story can support. They need the ratings for Westworld just as badly as the fictional Delos Corporation needs the ratings with its baby, Westworld, and they both use the same tools and for the same reasons. So the show self aware and guilty at the same time. And there’s plenty of great narrative to be gained as a result.
Westword then is very “meta,” almost unbearably so. But it is also very small and claustrophobic. It is also very large and sprawling. Just brilliantly done. One of my favorite things about it is a refusal to explain or get bogged down in a lot of technical details. There is deliberate vagueness about: how are the “hosts” constructed, how their brains work, how do they eat or sleep or leave and come back? Where is this park? How advanced is the “real” world” and on and on. We have to - gasp - imagine it, based on small clues. Very little is shown. Dark rooms, flickering lights, a tool that could be anything. I love this kind of construction. I’ve always argued it goes deeper and is more meaningful to us than that which tries to show everything.
That Westworld is far more engaging and interesting than probably any theatrical film I’ve seen in the last year continues the trend of television supplanting film as the premier way of telling a great story. For all the advances in CGI and 3D there is less and less to care about on the big screens. Its also interesting to think of the original ‘70s film Westworld starring Yul Brenner, of which I’m a big fan! Look at how our fears have shifted: from being afraid we’d create robots that would malfunction and kill us; to creating robots so lifelike that we’re now afraid of what we’ll do to them …
So I quit Facebook, a thing I really used to enjoy, but started to dislike for a number of reasons. I didn't "rage quit" but I did quit in a fit of pique. (Yes! Say that 10 times fast!).
I didn't mention on Facebook that I was quitting. I didn't "flounce,” a great term people use for overly dramatic QUITTING on line when peeved. I just shut myself off and deleted the app. Here’s what happened:
I was in the middle of posting a comment about a ridiculous event a few weeks ago, where a guy from North Carolina drove all the way to Wash., DC, went into a pizza shop armed with guns, and began shooting up the place. When arrested he said he was "investigating" a child slavery ring that he read was operating out of this pizza place, run by Hilary Clinton. So absurd. So dangerous.
The media dubbed this "Pizzagate," reported about this and other "fake news" problems, and all the various connections this actually had to Trump and his entourage and followers and bla, bla, and it added another straw to the already cowed and disabled camel's back that was my relationship with news and media this last year. I sloughed it off. But soon after I found out that this pizza shop was located next door to the bookshop where my sister works, and I got scared.
Scared, imagining my sister being injured by this asshole. Imagining a street full of “real” people going about their lives who were put in grave peril by this fuckface. I got so angry. Really hot and blood pressured angry. And naturally wanted to take to Facebook to vent it all.
I started doing that by way of responding to another’s post about it. I was there venting and posting when I happened to glance at some of the other comments and stopped dead. The usual: trolls and gun nuts and Trump supporters and news critics and arguing on and on. I froze. “What the fuck am I even doing?” I thought. What am I trying to prove? To who? Nothing I realized. I’m just adding gas to a fire that’s consuming me in the process. I’m making myself more angry, and solving nothing. In a flash I had deleted my post, deleted my response and deleted the Facebook app from my phone.
All the negativity. All the snark - much of it having been generated by me over the year, had amounted to a giant disgusting glob of nothingness wrapped in aggravation, preaching to the converted, arguing with unconverted, and frustration and bad feelings.
It was hard. I was fairly addicted to Facebook, and have argued its merit to naysayers for years now. I’ve been on since its early days and have made many, many excellent connections and some great RE-connections, and learned a lot of cool stuff about people I like. But perhaps its run it course for me.
I wish there was a new way to hear about friends, see pictures of what they’re up to, their kids and dogs and cats, but there isn’t that I know of. I am on Instagram which is much more benign but its not really so “social” for me.
Its not really fair, expecting you to read the blog of somebody who’s opted out of the general conversation. But I had this blog long before now and I’m gonna consider myself “grandfathered” in. Plus You can def. comment here, and I hope you do, and perhaps a new round of discourse can be achieved. I’m still on Facebook Messenger if you want keep me in the loop about stuff as some of you have. I will definitely miss most of you and your comings and goings.
It’s not you …
Speaking of me ...
Totally unrelated and random weirdness:
My young cousin, who I saw last night, who I barely know, but she's def. a good kid, likes to watch travel video blogs, came across a vlog about San Francisco. She was watching it when she noticed something odd in the background of one part. Take a look:
HAPPY NEW YEAR FOLKS. WE ALL DESERVE IT!
In which I resist, resist! please don’t do it, quoting the Who line about dying “before I get old,” but there it is anyway god damn it! Still such a bold and ballsy statement. I mean I knew Roger Daltrey wasn’t serious back when he said it, but jeeze, I didn’t know how far off the mark he’d be! He got old. Didn’t die, and continues to sing the line!
So maybe “old” isn’t old. Like he meant it back then, like it means when you’re a kid. Or as it pertains to rock and roll music.
Comes up more these days when, I don’t know, due to medical advances, the
Internet, etc., rock stars, and performers from the more golden ages of various rock genres, surface, or resurface as older versions of their former selves, to play the rock and (now) punk rock songs we all loved so much. There’s always a bit of cringe (stolen from my kid, who actually says “cringe” out loud when confronted with something awkward. Or used to six months ago. Now its probably old and passé) factor when I hear that so-and-so, old rock hero, inconoclast of my youth has resurfaced out of the ether, ghostlike, after living only on my LP collection or occasional CD, to suddenly appear live and in person all these years later, in an impossibly smaller, intimate and less disgusting venue then I would’ve ever seen them in before.
Its funny cause I was just wondering what ever became of Echo and the Bunnymen, or Gang of Four, or Jonathan Richmond or the Who, Rolling Stones, Blue Oyster Cult Television Stranglers Wire X Buzzcocks, etc, etc, where are they now? It turns out they are here. Everywhere. If there isn’t some kind of nostalgic book they’ve written, or filmed documentary about them, then chances are they are on tour. And I cringe. But just as quickly I un-cringe, cause what the hell, right? Who am I to cringe at a guy my age (or older!) playing music? I could certainly do the same. I could certainly get up there and strap on the ol’ bass and pound out a few tunes. Right? That is if I didn’t have the fucked up knees. Or hands. Or arthritis, high blood pressure, tendonitis, depression, gout, migraines, blurred vision, muscle atrophy, kidney stones and allergies. Not to mention kids! But otherwise, yes, I could do it, I still have things to say, music to write, songs to sing. So why all the cringing?
On the surface you wonder and worry that your ol’ faves are just plain going to suck. You loved the Who or Whomever so much and they were so good, that to hear them miss the high notes, forget the words or the guitar part, or watch them sweat like pigs and miss time is more than disappointing. Its shattering. It rewrites history. It goes back through time and contaminates your memories, landing on the many occasions you heard and loved that song, and swats it like a landed fly, zaps it to shit. You stand there hearing the wrong note and the strained, cracked voice, and your own history becomes altered like a time travel movie, and you disintegrate.
I have to admit I’ve been wrong more times than I’ve been right. I’ve gone to see more and more reunion shows and “oldies” acts, since more and more are around, and been genuinely pleased at how good most of them are. But the one or two times things were wrong, they were very, very wrong, and I did the whole disintegrating thing which is very unnerving and raises the blood pressure and never good when you’re old and finally out of the house for once in a rare, bad moon.
Yet we allow our other artists to get old, sometimes the older the better, and even venerate them and gather at their feet to learn from their experience and wisdom, instead of making fun of how old they are up there strutting around that stage. Most genres of music allow this: Classical, Jazz, Blues, Country are replete with old masters, wizened and wise figures who have ripened and matured. Yet Mick Jagger chicken struttin’ around at age 70 or 80? Yuck. Because rock music is different isn’t it? Born of youthful revolt and being a kid. It said fuck you to adults and rules whenever it could and should still do that. What? Now you’re the cool adult, the hip parent who runs with the kids? You still says fuck you with your financial planning (smart!), estate holdings and mouths to feed? Get outta here.
I always marvel, my listening stuck in the late ‘70s as it often is, that all my favorite stuff was created by musicians who were kids at the time, youngsters, 20-year olds who thought they knew everything and sounded so convincing about it. They still do! I still want to take advice from a young Pete Shelly of the Buzzcocks, who knew all about love and life at age 20. But its easy to forget how much time as passed. Shouldn’t I be listening to my contemporaries? Aren’t I lucky Frank Black and Bob Mould and Mike Watt are still hanging in there, banging it out, singing about recovering from drugs and alcohol, heart attacks and parenting?
Yes. I guess. I like those guys a lot. But is it rock?
As music alone, without the label, perhaps not. But as music alone it has to have improved, become better as the artist ages, keeps learning, practicing and mastering his craft. Mike Watt as a teenager was already a virtuoso on his instrument; 30 years later should he not be the Zen master of the bass? The Ravi Shankar, the BB King? Yes, he’s great; but no, because he was a punk in the Minutemen and he channeled youth and traded on everything that youth trades on: living fast and loud and to your own beat. Smashing it all up and being immortal. You can’t live by that particular sword then go ahead and suddenly play the part of the seasoned, traveling bluesman mentoring the young now can you?
Yes, it appears in certain cases, like Mike Watt, Frank Black, or Mission of Burma, Paul Weller you can. And for the many others (not Billy Idol) from the day who all keep playing and aging and getting better, who still write new songs, tour, and kick ass, and joyously illustrate that there’s no reason to quit, to die before the “old” age. Which is what age anyway? 30 (don’t trust anyone over), 40? 50? 52? We define it. Or Roger Daltry redefines it every year.
Its backwards really. In other musical genres you are nothing as a kid. A learner only. Far from having the gravitas of the seasoned jazzman, the traveling bluesman. That is only earned after a lifetime of paying your dues, apprenticing. Yes there are prodigies out there, but that’s a parlor trick. What life experiences does a prodigy have to sing about? When did they earn the gravel in their voice, the tone of their instrument? You need the depth and battle scars of age to be taken seriously right? Unless you’re in rock. In rock you can only be a kid! The less life experiences and chops the better! More DYI! Bravado, dumb energy and youthful intuition! “Pick up your guitar and play, just like yesterday!” Daltrey says,
but it can never be like yesterday. When you’re old you’ve thought too hard about it, you’ve played that hit song a million fucking times. How many more times can you play that song? Hundreds? Thousands? It plays and plays and never stops, in your head forever, a nightmare, a skipping record. Deep breaths one more time as its demanded at the “rib fest” circuit, the weird casino show, the roadhouse populated by balding, greying fans in double-x and frayed tie dyed Ramones t-shirts who have stagnated right along with you.
How to reconcile these opposing forces? How to rock and age?
Just as there can no longer be new “punk” there is can no longer be new any “rock” really. Not that kids aren’t playing “in the style of …” but its homage, post modern, something else entirely. It is “Classic Rock,” “Post-Punk,” music from a specific time period now firmly ensconced in a Cleveland museum. Dead. Kids may still play it but it is largely irrelevant. Music, Rap, Pop, Dance became its own ghost, ephemeral, existing as “information” in computers and clouds to miraculously float down a song or two when skies are blue. All the while my record collection weighs down its poor shelves, sagging the floorboards with my heavy, waxen Cringe Rock.
Its not necessarily a bad thing, this “dad-rock” or “Cringe Rock as I now call it,” just a necessary process to redefine things every 30 years or so, while our stones, still rolling, are now allowed to gather some moss.
I’m interested in the reactions to the minor controversy that erupted when it became clear that the Red Hot Chili Peppers faked their Superbowl half time show performance. Not because I think its so horrible and wrong to have faked a live music performance in this way, but that people seem okay with these faked performances, and don’t care so much if they are faked as long as other, kind of weird criteria are met like: did they admit to it? Did the performers at some pointactually play the music that was faked to, perhaps recording it the day before, or maybe they just slapped on an old record that they recorded in the ‘80s? I don’t know.
I do know however that you don’t care whether the Red Hot Chili Peppers faked their Super Bowl half time performance or not. You think the Chili Peppers suck now anyway, even though when you saw them back in like ’84 for $3 at some dive bar they were good, but after that they climbed, or descended the long ladder of suckage, selling out, or whatever it was they did that you hate. Plus you think half time shows are dumb and don’t care about them either, or the Super Bowl or television or Bob Dylan on the car ad. There are plenty more important things to get riled up about: the snow, the wars, and all that.
But that’s why I’m here. To remind you not to give up so easily on everything goddamnit because each seemingly insignificant loss like this half time show fakery, adds another straw to the cracked and bending back of the poor pack animal that is our culture with its dwindling integrity, and if we keep not caring we will soon be subsumed in an unrecoverable mire of Orewellian barf.
It is the not caring, the “you’re reading too much into it” that has enabled our entertainments to backslide into the current pablum of mediocrity and has helped cover our world in the opposite of amazingly creative expressions of independent thought: slick, over-studied, designed-by-committee sell-messages that run roughshod over our lives. Let me tell you something people, you wanted, you needed to have the Red Hot Chili Peppers playing live on a stage during the single most watched television program in a year’s worth of crap; because they were one small hope that even the smallest crack in the armor of tight assed, boring corporate control would briefly let a light shine through a place where the lawyers and pollsters and reapers of all kinds couldn’t stop it. But it failed.
Why did it fail? Because we don’t care. We work within the system as Flea so painfully admitted in his contradictory apology after the fact. Because kids, we take what bone is thrown to us and would never, never jeopardize that bone because in the long run we risk being on the outside forever and out of a fucking job. And when we do that we think only of our careers and paychecks, Flea, and not making art or protesting or opening anyone’s eyes, as you say you will gladly do, just at some other time and venue, not at the Super Bowl.
If you never did contrary or inflammatory things as a performer, like Bruno Mars, or Beyonce, then there is no complaint. You sing a song, you put on a show, you get hired by the NFL and you do your job. Good stuff. Boring. But sufficient. ‘s why I don’t seek out or consume such music in my own narrow life. Does nothing for me. And just as I’d not attend a Bruno Mars concert or the tons of shit like it, because it bores me, I don’t also watch it on the television set if it happens to come on, including the Super Bowl halftime show. (For the skirblog, half times are for takin’ a break. Takin’ a piss, getting some air, letting your poor eyeballs retract back into their sockets for a few minutes. Every second of football need not be crammed with blazing lights and screaming and shouting. Fact is we didn’t even include such high end entertainment like Diana Ross and Michael Jackson into our Super Bowl halftimes until approx 1991, when after a succession of marching bands and crooners and people, somebody realized there was a giant 15 minute hole when a whole new spectacle could be inserted to gather up valuable missing Neilson points. So in ’91 they got Disney to lend out the New Kids on the Block for the first of many corporately disgusting fuck fests. The list is here for your amusement.)
But if you’re the Who (2010), or the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and you have a history of breaking the rules, and saying something contrary, then to my mind you are suddenly in the position to bring a little more to the table. You have uttered pronouncements of independence in your pasts, you have rattled people, you have screamed when you should have been quiet, you have played too loud, too long, said “fuck you” too many times. You have smashed your guitars, you have worn nothing but socks on your penises, you had our, or at least my attention. But when you were asked to get up on the biggest stage possible, you caved. You got scared. You settled. You did what you were told.
That’s problem number one.
Problem number two is the way in which you obeyed your masters makes no sense.
They asked you, a rock band, if you would “play” during the half time show. You said “of course, what? Do you think we’re crazy? Of course we will “play” during the single most watched bit of American television in a year’s history. Because even though we, the band you know as RHCP have been around for over 20 years, we have never had this much single exposure ever! Imagine the new markets, the new virgin potential fans who can now learn first hand of the legend of the RHCP! We will rip that stage apart we will! We will show America our patented brand of furious rock funk punk hip hop. And we probably won’t wear shirts either so suck on that America!
Yes! The NFL said. We’re hep. Do that, the shirts, everything, but one small detail: live sound in a stadium SUCKS! (sorry all you thousands who’ve seen the Who or the Chili Peppers in some stadium somewhere. You got ripped off dude!), you, we, nobody can quality control it, I mean sound and electricity flying around everywhere, its horrible, so if you don’t mind, we’re gonna axe you not to actually “play” in the traditional sense of the word, but play in the sense that we slap on an old CD of you guys playing and the one dude can sing if he wants to, but as a whole, its like 100% better if you don’t uh actually “play,” or plug any instruments into anything, and just, I don’t know, pretend to play but with like a ton of that crazy energy you all are known for. That sound ok?
RHCP: Well yup. I guess so.
The next day Flea wrote a sort of misguided explanation of the thing and oddly this didn’t seem like fakery or lying to most people. Most people went: yeah, ok, I see the point. No foul. Makes sense. And you know what? Kudos to you Flea for coming clean! We love you Flea! Case closed. Matter done. It was ages ago anyway by now. Move on. Deal.
But it is my job not to move on. For you gentle reader, I stay stuck.
Look, I love the Flea too. He’s an absurdly talented bass player and showman, and he often has interesting things to say about the world. But unfortunately this was not one of them. The truth is they did what they did and if anyone would be honest, it was nothing less than a massive betrayal and failure. But the larger problem has been around forever: image over content, style over substance. It’s more important to have everything look good than for anything to be good. Over the years we’ve had artists fight that war and even working within the system successes were had: think of a prime time TV show like All in the Family, and the other Norman Lear classics. They are radical compared to what people try to do in 2014. The 2010s have seen so much retrograde backsliding in so many areas (politics, treatment of women and minorities, lulls in art and popular music) precisely because there are fewer and fewer artists willing to risk a slap on the hand when given the chance to reach an extremely wide audience. Think Jim Morrison singing the word “higher” on the Ed Sullivan Show during “Light My Fire,” when the network expressly told him (ordered him) not to. And he famously said fuck you, antihero that he was.
Why the need for flawless perfection? That poor Olympic ring that didn’t open in the Sochi opening ceremony meant what?
That the Olympics suck and failed? That it everything is wrong with evil Russia? That humans can’t control everything even though they aim to do it? Isn’t it okay for a rock band to sound rough or raw? Wasn’t that initially the whole fucking point, especially of music born of the punk movement like the Red Hot Chili Peppers? I say yes. I say that if a band is on a live stage with instruments, they should be actually playing those instruments for better or for worse. If they are pretending to play those instruments and only tell us this after the fact, then they lied to us, and their apology means nothing. And if we still enjoyed the show knowing all this, then we enjoy lies, and enjoy being lied to, and are ridiculous pigs marching to the slaughter, because we allow and encourage the giant, monolithic Lie which assaults us on a daily basis. Somebody had a chance to throw even the tiniest wrench of integrity into a large, slick machine. But then they sadly, freely, gave it away.