Barbarian Days

Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life

I feel like life passed me by. That I squandered my chance and I’m a loser in the new economy. You know, the STEM world, run by entrepreneurs. Money is everything and I ain’t got none. What did I do, where did I go wrong? Did I break the cardinal rule of the future by not having the five right friends who could help me through, did I not have enough confidence, or did I just waste too much time period…what exactly did I do in my twenties and early thirties?

I’m doing my best to read only fiction. Because it illuminates life better than truth. And I’m sick of people telling me how to live, what makes them such experts. But when I finished “The Story Of Ove,” which is a juggernaut overseas, I dream of having such impact, I researched online for greatness, that’s how I decide what to read, on the reviews, of both the cognoscenti and the hoi polloi. And I saw that William Finnegan’s “Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life,” had won the Pulitzer Prize.

Hmm… I knew of this book. But was there too much surfing? Some of the user reviews said so. But I was gonna be wasting a lot of time waiting for doctors so after I found the free sample chapter intriguing, I purchased the whole book.

And I saw myself in it.

It was not like today. In the fifties and sixties no one had famous parents, we didn’t have a leg up, we weren’t worldly. My father owned a liquor store, as did one of the surfers from the Inland Empire who went to Yale. Our mothers and fathers didn’t want us to be equal to them, they weren’t buying insurance, making sure we could survive financially, rather they wanted us to be BETTER than they were, they wanted to provide opportunities, and they neither coddled nor hovered over us. We went unsupervised. We got hurt. We made it up as we went along. And one thing’s for damn sure, our parents were not our best friends.

Finnegan, presently a staff writer for “The New Yorker,” dropped out of college. As soon as they got a high draft number that’s what so many baby boomers did. They were less worried about finances, state schools were relatively cheap, and certainly not worried about their financial futures, rather they were interested in themselves, finding out who they were as opposed to accumulating notches in their belts.

Don’t confuse this with the tech dropouts. Zuckerberg and the rest were driven, we were lackadaisical. We might know the credits on every LP but we had no idea who we wanted to be. The pinnacle was an MD, and even if you could tolerate the sight of blood did you really want to see sick people all day? Sure, organic chemistry weeded out the wannabes, but the truth is most of us wanted nothing to do with science and math, art and literature, anthropology and sociology, people-focused subjects were king.

Assuming, once again, you stayed in school.

Finnegan dropped out to go surfing. He brought his girlfriend along with him to Hawaii. Even though in so many ways we’re going backwards, with cuts to abortion, never mind welfare, much of what we accept as commonplace today was anything but in the sixties and seventies. Free love was permitted by the pill. And living together turned our parents’ insides. They wouldn’t let us stay in the same bed under their roof unless we were married, today I know kids who LIVE in their parents houses, together!

Finnegan eventually goes back to school, but it’s not Harvard, it’s UC Santa Cruz. Everybody wanted to go to the best school they could get into, but if you didn’t go to an Ivy you didn’t see your life as immediately ending, you didn’t see your future chopped right off.

And then he worked for the railroad. That’s right, after finishing his education Finnegan did blue collar work to accumulate enough cash to fuel his dreams. Does anybody even do that anymore? As far as starting a career out of school, not a single one of my compatriots, including myself, of course, met with a recruiter on campus, and I went to a highfalutin’ college filled with strivers.

So why did I go to Middlebury?

THE SKIING!

That’s true, absolutely. And looking back over the decades I can see that’s the one thing I studied that I still do, assiduously, it appears I made the right choice. However, I could never relate to most of the people there, they thought life was all about what you learned in books, I wanted something more, which was not so easily accessible in the hinterlands of Vermont.

So with that railroad cash Finnegan went on an endless surf trip, around the world. Even Howard Stern believes you can’t sacrifice that career time, but Finnegan did. He was in search of not only the perfect wave, but new experiences, in an era where when you were far from home you truly were, hopefully letters caught up with you weeks later. There were no cell phones, no safety net, you lived by your wits.

In this case at the bottom. Finnegan reported his travelers checks stolen and after getting reimbursement the originals were sold on the black market. Desperate people do desperate things. But today’s upper classes don’t know desperation, they know flying private, the world is their oyster!

As for the surfing… What is the most important thing in life? Everybody goes around just once, we all get the same amount of time, give or take. You can work at the bank, do 24/7 at the tech firm, make a lot of cash, but when you look back did you follow your dream, did you have great experiences, or did you just do what was expedient, afraid to break the mold and be poor.

And free.

You die and then you’re forgotten. Just look at the deceased heroes of the year, no one was even mentioning David Bowie until Prince died, and the purple one is getting tons of adulation but then…time marches on.

So I feel better about myself. Especially the 54 days I spent on the hill this year. I hit some amazing powder in Telluride, especially on Electra off of Gold Hill. It was blowin’ and snowin’ and near closing time and there was an EX sign on top of the slope that designated extreme terrain and I’d never been there before but something inside said this was my chance. I was on ’em, I could do this.

So I pushed off.

Stuart said no mas, he went down. Joel and Schmitty decided to follow me, they went into the trees.

And when I reached a point where I could see no more, I stopped. And asked a local. Which way to go.

NOT THIS WAY!

The obvious way, over the ridge, was full of rocks and cliffs, we should go ’round the bend.

Where there was a railing. A series of poles and wire rope installed so you didn’t fall off the cliff. There were a couple of feet to maneuver in. But you could only go straight.

I’m here telling you the story. Obviously nothing untoward happened. And sure, I might have survived just fine on the road not taken.

But the fact is I took a risk. Not a business one that would yield me money, but a personal one that meant something only to me.

And it won’t pay dividends.

But it made me and still makes me feel fully alive.

I don’t think youngsters fully understand their baby boomer progenitors. It’s hard to imagine being so unencumbered and free.

But we were.

In an era when life was different. When musicians were kings, speaking their truth, beholden to no one, corporations were the enemy.

And the audience was all on a personal hejira. Groupthink was anathema. We wanted to be all we could be.

Sure, the Army ripped off our slogan but we were there first.

We were always there first.

Trump

The more the intelligentsia tells me he’s unelectable, the more I want to vote for him.

Nobody knows anything. Especially the smart and educated. We continually laud the graduates of Ivy League institutions, those with money and fame can do no wrong. But then they do.

Like Nate Silver.

Nate got it half right. Trump does have sky high unfavorables. But those became secondary to an electorate pissed that the Republican majordomos had paid lip service to them for decades, but ignored them on the street. And no one likes to be ignored, no one likes to be manipulated, revenge permeates all income brackets and social strata.

So how did this happen?

Trump started early. The “New York Times” said that was Bernie’s flaw, his late start, as if he never believed he could really win. We’ll never know if he could have, but we have learned that some rules are immutable. You have to be in it to win it, you have to lay the groundwork.

And Trump said the unsayable. The right wing may act prim and proper but it’s the left wing that has taken political correctness too far. Sure, racism should not be tolerated, but truth knows no bounds, it resonates with all. And if you’re so busy being hurt by literature that you need trigger warnings, good luck in business.

Which is where Trump triumphed.

But maybe he didn’t, maybe he was born on third base, maybe he’s just a mediocre licensor. But it’s hard for the media to get traction with that story after building him up decade after decade, hyping his books and his TV show… It’s the media who sold us on Trump’s bona fides, now the media wants to say otherwise, in an era where the media establishment is pooh-poohed and seen as untrustworthy.

Which brings us to Fox News. We’re supposed to have sympathy for Megyn Kelly, a beautiful anchor who’s on TV. Roger Ailes plays hardball and then wants those on the other side to pitch softballs? Give Trump credit, he doesn’t take that from anybody, he’s willing to call b.s. And like a country song before Nashville morphed into seventies rock we’re all looking to tell our boss to take this job and shove it.

We live in an attention economy. Where it’s about being recognized and known as opposed to veracity. Too many eggheads are sitting at home talking to the TV not realizing nobody’s listening. They’re afraid to jump into the fire, endure the maelstrom, take the heat. Have you been on the internet? The Trump blowback is experienced by anybody with an opinion online. He took the jabs and carried on.

The Donald nailed Jeb’s personality instantly. Bush was boring, sans charisma. Used to be artists triumphed by speaking the truth, in this case it was a politician.

As for Cruz and Kasich, the former didn’t realize that followers were everything, that a megaphone is meaningless unless you have acolytes. And the latter is that doofus in high school who refuses to see the writing on the wall.

And Karl Rove is that principal who loses control of the high school.

And Peggy Noonan is that aunt always saying “I told you so.”, who you’re sick of listening to, the one who lives in an alternative universe where all her opinions are right, even though it does not resemble the real world.

And Bernie’s fans are pissed off too.

But Bernie faced a viable candidate. Hillary has experience. Although even the most dyed-in-the-wool Democrat would refuse to fall asleep around her. You see Hillary does what’s expedient, tells you what you want to hear as opposed to what’s true. That’s so last century. Today light shines everywhere, and those who refuse to acknowledge what is seen have a hard time garnering belief.

So now Trump runs to the center, makes light of his wacky positions just like he just patted his enemy Cruz on the back. And when he attacks Hillary…

She’s vulnerable.

But the news media says he can’t win. That women and Latinos want nothing to do with him. The same media that said he had no chance. The same media controlled by the holier-than-thou who believe we should fall in line.

It’s every man for himself in America today. It’s a coarse country where you work ’round the clock for meager rewards. Sure, there’s a carrot out in front, but it can only be bitten by the same people who tell us to get in line, the one percenters who control corporations and education and are keeping us down. And it’s not only Republicans, but Democrats too.

So Bernie is done. The alternative is gone. Who are you gonna vote for if you’re mad as hell?

Certainly not Hillary. She’s the kind who will invite you to a party and leave you stranded when she gets a better invitation.

So everybody saying Trump can’t win…

He’s not as dumb as he looks. And he performed jujitsu, he knows half of what he says is b.s., but he’s the one in the driver’s seat, he’s the one with the nomination, and the people put him there. Because they’re sick and tired of being lied to, manipulated by those with money. And Trump may be rich, but he acted like a rich person as opposed to adopting the humble shtick most politicians shroud themselves in. Rich people feel entitled, to be heard, to get more. They have contempt for the little guy. They believe what they say is the law. Who doesn’t want someone who’s a wolf in wolf’s clothing to do their dirty work?

The rank and file did not screw up this great country of ours. No, the Larry Summers and the Timothy Geithners and the George Bushes and Dick Cheneys did. Those who knew better than us, who saw the country as their plaything. Do you really think people are eager to place their faith in another one of a long line of these people?

Maybe.

P.S. No, I’m not gonna vote for Donald Trump. I’m far to the left of Hillary. But I love seeing the establishment shaken up. I’m sick of hearing that these people know more than me, as they pull shenanigans behind closed doors that screw me.

P.P.S. People want jobs. Manufacturing ain’t never coming back to the U.S., that’s a left wing canard. So what is Hillary gonna do to help us? Sure, the Donald may have insane ideas about reducing taxes on the rich to drive up the economy, but he’s got more new ideas than Hillary and he’s more believable.

P.P.P.S. If this weren’t a popularity contest Arnold Schwarzenegger wouldn’t have defeated Gray Davis. And Arnold didn’t do much in office, and I don’t think the Donald would do much either. But he might appoint a right wing Supreme Court justice and that would be tragic. But he also might not play nice with the nitwit right wingers, the Tea Partiers and the establishment who have held this country hostage.

P.P.P.P.S. The Presidential campaign is more intriguing, more honest than any art this year. It’s out-Kanye’d Kanye. It shows the fallacy in “Batman v. Superman.” It truly is a jungle out there, and if you want to know what’s going on you watch politics, not some lame Disney production which puts money first and truth nowhere.

Dust

Dust – YouTube

Dust – Spotify

It comes through the window
It comes through the floor
It comes through the roof
And it comes through the door

Dust, that is. But that’s not what you’ll be focusing on first time through, the Dada-esque lyrics take a back seat to the pure sound of this record, its aural hooks.

On paper I hate Parquet Courts. Overhyped by the Brooklyn establishment today we despise bands we’ve never heard because of their hipper-than-thou acolytes hyping them.

But “Dust” is a revelation. A hit in all its minimalist glory. If this were 1981 and Rick Carroll still programmed KROQ, the Roq of the 80’s, he’d spin this and it would become a giant hit. You see back then being outre, being different, was a badge of honor, whereas today everybody’s music sounds the same and you only differentiate yourself via your social media statements.

Not that “Dust” is completely original. It it resembles in conception nothing so much as Kraftwerk’s “Pocket Calculator,” which was a progenitor. And the vocal is reminiscent of Jonathan Richman, when he sang with the Modern Lovers.

Still, “Dust” is a breath of fresh air.

HA!

Singing about dust?

Today it’s all platitudes, or endless statements on how much better you and your life are than those of the listener. But this minimalist statement is about the dirt and grime that piles up. Rust may never sleep, but dust ACCUMULATES!

Dust is everywhere
Sweep
It sneaks in ignored
It stacks up around

Devo-esque, with a hint of Frank Zappa thrown in. It’s when you don’t play to our preconceptions that you have a chance of hooking us, wowing us.

Still, “Dust” succeeds primarily on its hooks, which are broad and heavy, simple, like those of the Ramones.

You may not like it at first, with its cheesy, flimsy, trebly guitar intro.

But then the track settles into a groove that’s familiar but unremarkable and then…at 25 seconds in, there’s a guitar lick that catches your lip and drags you in.

And then at :35, there’s a change that grabs your heart.

And then at :45 the whole thing devolves into an instrumental with cheesy sounds playing lyrical changes and you don’t want to turn it off!

It doesn’t have to be about dust, it could be about anything, you’re completely enamored.

Just because you can fiddle endlessly to get it right, employ a zillion writers, buy beats from others, that does not mean you should. By breaking it down to the elements, by leaving so much air, Parquet Courts wins us over.

And the instrumental section that starts at 2:20 is an aural adventure akin to a guitar solo of yore, only this time the musician isn’t shredding, but adding digital sounds that are basic, but take you on an ethereal trip that is so enjoyable. You’re enraptured by music not on the hit parade, played by people who are almost committing a prank.

But we’re all in on the joke.

This was the genius of the Ramones, their music was the antidote to what was popular. While prog-rockers demonstrated their training in side-long opuses the Ramones purveyed a sound that was basic and compact, that lasted only a couple of minutes.

You can still get rich playing music.

But most people will not.

Thus, the early sixties have returned. The Beatles and the Stones never thought it would last forever. Today music is a lark, something you do for a few years before you get a straight job.

But since it’s not a career, you can take chances, you can turn the system on its head.

Which Parquet Courts has done here.

“Dust” should suck. Should be easily dismissed. Marginal talents selling indie rock.

But despite all that being true, the end result requires endless plays. “Dust” gets under your skin, it follows you everywhere, you’re in your own space, you don’t care a whit whether anybody else is listening, you just want to feel good.

Life is complicated, life is difficult to comprehend. As a result we fall for the work of those who sneak up on us, with work that is startlingly human in the way it affects us.

It follows, now swallow
You’re biting it now
Suffocate, suffocate

Is this the Silicon Valley titans talking to everyone? Imploring us to get on the gravy train without thinking, coughing up our personal data, because the future is so bright?

No, this is artists, questioning the precepts. Which is what they used to do before they all dashed for cash.

Dust is everywhere
SWEEP!

Radiohead Disappears

Has it really been nine years since “In Rainbows”?

Then the issue was getting paid.

Now the issue is getting attention.

That’s what the greedy bigwigs don’t understand. If you lock it up behind a paywall you could end up broke, or hobbled. Think of how much money Prince would have made if his music was on YouTube, Spotify, et al.

But how do you get noticed on those services? How do you get heard?

By being already famous or getting on a playlist. We want to hear the work of acts we already know and although we also want to hear new music we are overwhelmed by the amount of product, we don’t know where to start.

Which is why the big get bigger, they’ve already got a name.

And that Radiohead does. Like Beyonce, it was built under the last gasp of the old system. When MTV still had power, when everybody could know who you were, and almost everybody heard your music.

Radiohead’s publicity campaign will far outstrip the number of people who ultimately listen to the music. Still, the U.K. band has played the modern era like a fiddle, kudos.

In an era where everybody is vying for attention, where all is revealed, Radiohead decided to pull back, not only not post but delete its presence, however slowly. They said scarcity was dead, but this is a new spin on the concept, if you’re there but then not we’re interested, for a while anyway.

And this campaign was very brief. A matter of days. Any longer and the project would get stale, people would lose interest. Once again, the long buildup is history, you announce and then you sell. You pounce when everybody is paying attention. Hell, Beyonce got it right. She did HBO and put out “Lemonade” and went on the road nearly simultaneously. And it’s worked, she’s got the whole world talking about her efforts, if not listening. She’s owned the music news cycle, for ten days anyway, and today that’s a very long time. Will the hysteria continue? Only if radio plays “Lemonade,” but still, we can see that Beyonce outdid Adele. Adele’s campaign was positively old school. Wherein you carpet bomb the media with the same damn stories again and again and then release the record for a first week sales burst that will also be news, in the fourth quarter to boot. But it’s not quite six months later and Adele’s name is rarely heard, and her music has no purchase on the public mind,
because she’s absent from radio and streaming services. Remove yourself from the arena at your peril.

But Adele is a party of one, the world’s biggest superstar. She gets to do it her way, the usual rules don’t apply. And in a business where people only care about the money, rash decisions are made that are fan unfriendly, and you never want to be fan unfriendly. But this has been the paradigm for eons. Remember when Tom Petty protested about being the poster boy for sky high album prices? That’s what windowing is today, that’s what refusing to be on streaming services is today, a way for the man to grab cash. The acts come and go, the companies remain. Performers who bitch about not making enough money have lost their stripes in the artistic wars, they’ve become denizens of our coarse modern society, believing that mazuma is everything when the truth is art rules.

And Radiohead is ruling today.

You see it’s all about conception. The idea. And there’s no revolution, no revelation in holding your music back, doing the aforementioned windowing. But this disappearing act is a revelation. It’s more than publicity. It’s a comment on our society. Furthermore, this is all you get. Old players would now give interviews, spread the word, explain, double-down on what they’ve done. Modern superstars hold back, what the hell is going on? How the hell should I know!

But Radiohead did use modern tools to get the word out. Not only did the band recede from social media services, it employed them when it reappeared, Instagram and YouTube. He who denies the modern world is left out. And never forget these tools are free. Bitch about that when you’re worried about getting paid.

So the whole world is watching. But then they won’t be. But this stunt will be remembered. As was the “In Rainbows” pay what you want one. The band has triumphed twice, demonstrating innovation and thought in a world where most pop acts just do what they’re told, which is an imitation of what came before.

But just like bands tried to imitate the “In Rainbows” formula unsuccessfully, if you’re sitting at home dreaming of replicating Radiohead’s vanishing formula, forget it. You can only do it once, successfully. And it can only be pulled off by an act with an extremely high profile.

But the paradigm remains, in today’s economy attention is everything. It’s what we all vie for, especially on social media, it’s fleeting, but it precedes monetization. In the old days distribution was king, if you couldn’t buy it, it didn’t exist. Now everything exists, how do you make people aware, how do you get them to sample?

That’s the question.