Friday, July 10, 2009

Crash Course and required reading

I just finished watching Chris Martenson's The Crash Course (h/t to Nate.) This is the required reading Derrick Jensen's The Culture of Make Believe, James Howard Kunstler's The Long Emergency, and finally Alan Weisman's The World Without Us. Watch Martenson's Crash Course. Next time we meet for dinner, bocce, drinks, or to run, we are going to talk about what we need to do. Then we will keep talking about it. Now, you tell me what I should be reading.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Coming Night

Those that know me know that I've wrestled with how I can best apply my efforts to either make the world a better place or simply benefit my community. In the end, I took the path of least resistance, stayed in the trade that I know, and the result is that I spend my hours, which stretch into days and months, running a bar. Before I continue too far down this path, I must offer the following caveat: I am proud of what I do. I work hard and have created a place in the neighborhood for people to come together, imbibe, and enjoy each others company. That is it. I work at what I know and I am good at what I do. Some friends are carpenters, some teach, and some push papers. I make cocktails. It doesn't change the world, but it does give people a bit of respite in the face of an increasingly ominous future. It is this future that concerns me this morning.

James Howard Kunstler over at Clusterfuck Nation does good work. His book The Long Emergency is a must read. Kunstler writes about how our Culture of Leisure and Happy Motoring is predicated upon easy access to cheap energy. This is going to end sooner or later (all signs point to sooner...), at which point what happens to the suburban sprawl, planned obsolescence, and the general toxins and detritus left behind from 60+ years of rampant consumerism? Look around you at everything that is plastic. “Except for a small amount that has been incinerated...every bit of plastic manufactured in the world in the last 50 years or so still remains.” (The World Without Us, Weisman) This plastic, a large portion of which ends up in the ocean, concentrates pollutants in the environment and as it degrades enters the food chain at the smallest levels. Now, just so we are clear, these are compounds that have a shelf life greater than the Pyramids of Giza and the Roman Aqueducts. These tiny pellets and everything that we make out of them has an expected life that is measured in terms of a geological scale. Say 100,000 years. To put this in perspective, 100,000 years ago we were living caves; we were far from the only bipedal hominid; and (although still contentious), we (as Homo Sapiens) began our mass exodus from Africa. Your cell phone, plastic bag from Safeway, and potentially the majority of the buried newspaper in landfills, could be around long after our art, philosophy, and science have been reduced to dust and ash. Our great legacy will be sun bleached plastic and garbage that has reduced to the size of krill food and, the elimination of biodiversity that is being called the sixth great extinction, the Holocene extinction. This anthropogenic event promises not only to be a dark legacy of our over-consumption, but also promises to make it much more difficult for us to return to a sustainable way of living. Even after we kill each other in the streets as we run out of energy, fresh water and food; even as the coastlines rise and displace or kill millions; as the era of mass production ends and we are left with a wide swath of aggrieved, unemployed peoples looking to scapegoat someone (always the Other...); even after desertification, floods, malnutrition, AIDS, obesity, and cancer wipe out large portions of a soft, artificially-supported population; there still might not be enough for those who are left. Those that live into the Long Emergency may look out upon a world that resembles more McCarthy's The Road than Mad Max. Those left will rummage through the great wastes of the 20th century culture looking for things that will help them grow or catch food, capture or filter water. I-pods, digital cameras, laptops, 20 pairs of shoes, and $12 cocktails will be revealed for the decadence and luxury that they are. History will not look kindly upon us as we rearranged the deck chairs on the Titanic whilst talking about how to resist as the world around us ended. Already we enjoy too much at too small a price to us and too high a price to everyone and everything else. Our sporting events, muscle cars, personal electronics, fast food, and Cult of Convenience come at a price. That price is the degradation of environment, the loss of biodiversity, the subjugation of peoples half a world away, and endless background noise of wars that we no longer (or ever did) understand. Our enemy is the Other (be it the Terrorist kind or the Faceless Government Bureaucrat); we wonder why they hate us or why they send poor, brown children to kill and die for us as we listen to NPR podcasts on our techno-fetishist accoutrement while riding our ridiculously expensive bicycles (because we're Green!) to political rallies protesting the cause du jour or the bar to get drunk, get laid, to be seen. In this way, the literate, angry, rational among us are worse than the fat, burger-eating, nose-picking, reality show-watching, shuffling, gray mass of humanity; we have a moral responsibility not only to affect change directly and to resist constantly, but we have a responsibility to lead our lives by example. We have no room for laziness or excuses like, “Progress, not perfection!” How many people have died in the name of progress? How many die each day as we assuage our guilt with the petty, insignificant acts that have come to define resistance? Eat vegetarian, ride a bike, go to a protest, plant a garden. These First World choices are not enough. Do more and get ready, for night is coming. Watch the unemployment rates around the country, especially in impoverished areas. Watch what happens when a country that has moved from manufacturing “things” to a “service” based economy reacts to contraction that is permanent. What is optional resistance now will be a matter of survival soon. It will start with people pissed off because they can't have the Blue-Ray deluxe edition of the new Michael Bay explosion montage and end with people pissed off that they can't cheaply procure white fish (or any other sort of fish, which should be a luxury item) that was caught in the Great Lakes and processed in China. I fully believe that our way of life is so unsustainable and will end so abruptly that I'll dispense with the rest of this rant about broken I-pods, green Chartreuse, and the regular reoccurence of these fits in my life. We all read the same books and listen to the same podcasts. You know what has gotten me particularly agitated. I'm going to go finish my book, take some valerian root, then fall asleep with the tenuous hope that tonight is not the night that my neighbors kick the door in or simply burn my house down. Tomorrow I'll think more on how resistance is no longer an act of self-congratulatory idealism, but the groundwork for survival as the lights dim.

Edit: I'll learn to like paragraphs when I learn to be coherent. First things first. Sorry.


Since the bar opened in the last week of March, I've been trying to take mental health breaks. These are generally constituted of me being out of cell phone range from an hour to a day. It is a good exercise in patience; I fret and pace about what is going on, but I have to let go and enjoy whatever it is I am doing. With that, here are some pictures from the weekend spent at Staircase and hiking Mt. Ellinore.

The first pic is from the ascent to the summit of Ellinore. Before we reached the ridgeline, there was this staircase that went straight up into the mist.

The next pic is on the same staircase behind us. At some point we were above the trees hiking through rocks. Given that we are all pretty soft, it was intense.

The next pic is of pea climbing through rocks where the trail had disappeared. Last year we tried this hike in June and the summer path was snowed over. We made it to the chute, but probably about a third of the way up we turned around. I was committed to making the summit this time despite there obviously being no view...

The last few pictures are from what can only be called a stroll after Ellinore. They are both of the Staircase river that flows into Lake Cushman. The last one is on a giant felled tree across the river from our campsite. Serene, beautiful, exactly what I needed.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Ah, music...

O dear Siren, I haven't heard your call in quite sometime. I stopped thinking about music before I stopped playing having been burned and hollowed by years of playing. I was exhausted; I had nothing left. I started playing not to become a rockstar, to play arenas and get blowjobs from groupies, but to play small venues with a devoted group of people who were into the punk rock, DIY thing that had me driving to Canada to watch Botch and Harkonen play in a cafe in the nineties. So I did what I did between Carmenzito and The Assailant and I haven't looked back (very much) since. Until this weekend.

It started at work when a couple of old Tacoma musicians sitting at the rail were geeking out about music. It started with one of the going on about how the music on MJ's Thriller was so fantastic. He was playing air drums while singing the guitar parts with (to be honest) a puerile exuberance. His friend humored him until it was his turn to geek out about Helmet's AmRep records. Eavesdropping on their drunken euphoria sent me spinning off into a Neverland where I started playing music again in a heavy, indie, noise-type band that was some hybrid of early Helmet and Jesus Lizard. The feeling lingered until the end of the night when a young kid who'd seen the assailant came in. We ended up talking music with the conversation coming around to the old Paradox (U-District, not Tacoma...) and The Edge of Quarrel movie. I went home sad and nostalgic that night...

So, tonight, Independence Day, I ended the social part of the evening talking for an hour or two in the kitchen with Liza's new bf, a nu-metal guy who vaguely understands DIY and hardcore/punk, but has toured and knows what it means to play loud music then get old. The night ended with K putting on 20 from Colera and Liza and her bf indulging us for about 1/2 the song. Nevertheless, I teared up as I thought about how it was the last song I ever played live. So, I'll try to avoid the semi-turgid prose and give you a few snapshots:

I honestly don't remember this show. We played so many at Camp Nowhere and eventually they were all packed to the rafters and some sort of nuts. It was so hot and close, these were the types of shows that got me into this. Maybe we influenced somebody there like Botch did at the Velvet Elvis did for me. It was what I wanted shows to be like. This pic kinda sums up the goofy, crazy energy that was at every show.
I want to say the funny thing about this pic is...but really there's so much. I'm drunk on a balcony in an apartment in the center of Paris in between the Iranian and Chinese embassies explaining to Rye where the bruise and knot on my head came from (basement show in the Latin Quarter where, packed to the rafters, Nate's drumset keeps moving and I held it in place as people spilled over me the entire set. At one point Jon cracked me in the skull with his head stock.) That same night in that same spot Ryan broke down crying because he was so happy. He couldn't believe that he was on tour and had just played an amazing show in Paris. All of these cute French girls crowded around to comfort him because they couldn't understand why he was crying...

Our last tour was rough. We did mas o menos 5 weeks with Elphaba around the country. As bad as it was (it's the only tour that does not shine in the flattering glow of memory), there were still great moments. We played an awesome show in Detroit, but really we played the same whether it was 10 kids freaking out or ninety. This pic kinda sums that up for me. It was a long day and not a lot of people, but I remember it because it seemed so quintessential...

I've talked about this show a lot this weekend. I didn't want to play it as I've always stubbornly resisted bar shows. I gave in to Ryan and Casey and I'm glad I did. It was the Akimbo record release show and one of our last. It was everything that I wanted out of shows. The place was packed, everyone had fun, and frankly, it reminded me of Europe.

I sit here now with a glass of bourbon reminiscing bittersweetly about it all. About how much has changed. How I work differently now. How my friends are half a world away or they work for me. About how I balance a checkbook and plan vacations. About how I worry about the future, my health, and my relationship. The Assailant was the apex of my youth where I didn't give a shit; I would quit any job or leave anything to play music, tour, to do it. Now, I work 60 hours a week running a business. Now I try to save money not to tour, but for the simple fact that I feel like I ought to have money in the bank. I don't write, I don't make music. All of my creative energy pours into the business and its management. My mental energy is drained by managing talented but willful personalities. I bring the same monomania to business that I brought to music, but with much different results. Ultimately, I am constantly exhausted and unsatisfied.