Just a few nuggets from the news and the history archive. I’ll let you connect the dots. First from the news:
And then there’s this fact:
First, according to an analysis by the Cato Institute, between 1975 and 2015, foreign nationals from the seven banned countries killed exactly zero Americans on U.S. soil. Yet none of the four countries from which the 9/11 terrorists originated – Saudi Arabia, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, and Lebanon – are subjected to travel ban.
And now from the history folder: Today’ is the birth date of Fred Korematsu (he’s today’s “Google Doodle”… never would’ve heard of him otherwise).
Fred Korematsu died of respiratory failure at his daughter’s home in Marin County, California, on March 30, 2005. One of the last things Korematsu said was, “I’ll never forget my government treating me like this. And I really hope that this will never happen to anybody else because of the way they look, if they look like the enemy of our country.” He also urged others to “protest, but not with violence, and don’t be afraid to speak up. One person can make a difference, even if it takes forty years.”
I don’t normally read Rolling Stone, but when I’m waiting at the dentist’s office with my kids and my choices are limited to:
A. a two-month old “Hot List” issue of Rolling Stone OR
B. a Highlights magazine where some dirty rat has already circled all the hidden objects in the picture puzzle (damn you to hell!)
I’ll go with the former. Their November issue featured Bruno Mars on the cover. Notice he’s holding a cigarette.
And in the photo spread for the Bruno Mars article, again he has a cig.
OK, so Bruno Mars is a smoker. Sad, but true. But turn a few more pages and you find a glossy photo of someone named Tinashe. (I’m so out of the pop music loop I don’t even know how to pronounce her name… Tina-SHAY? Tuh-NOSH-ay? TIN-ash?) And the pop princess is seductively sporting a smoking cigarette (say that 3 times fast).
But wait, there’s more. Turn a few more pages and you’ll find “Hot Actress” Haley Bennett, and yes, you guessed it, she’s smoking a cigarette also.
So the four largest, most prominent photos in the entire magazine feature people holding or smoking a cigarette. If I were the cynical type, I might strongly suspect that one or more cigarette companies (a.k.a. Merchants of Death) might’ve arranged an off-the-books, under the table sort of product placement deal. We all know that print is dying, so Rolling Stone certainly might be tempted to take some cash in a quid pro quo deal… or maybe Bruno, Tinashe and Haley got a wad of cash for holding a wad of tobacco. Certainly it would be a way to circumvent the tight restrictions on tobacco advertising in print… and make it seem “cool” to kids because all the “hot list” folks are doing it.
But no, Big Tobacco would never do something as insidious as that, right?
I recently finished reading the book Under the Big Black Sun: A Personal History of L.A. Punk by John Doe (of the band X) and Tom DeSavia.
The book features several chapters written by John Doe, interspersed with single-chapter reminiscences from many other luminaries from the L.A. punk rock scene of the late 70s, including his bandmate and ex-wife Exene Cervenka, Jane Wiedlin and Charlotte Caffey of the Go-Gos, Henry Rollins of Black Flag, Mike Watt of the Minutemen and Dave Alvin of the Blasters. I thoroughly enjoyed the entire book, but the penultimate chapter from writer Kristine McKenna (one of the first mainstream journalists to chronicle the early L.A. scene) really sums things up nicely:
By the time the Sex Pistols released their first single, “God Save the Queen,” in May of 1977, the LA scene was already percolating, so we found our way to the mountain without a map. We weren’t copying anybody else, and from the start there were things that distinguished LA’s punk scene from the scenes in other cities. The first generation of LA punk was literate and really smart, for starters, and each band had its own sources of inspiration. Much of the punk that came in its wake wasn’t very smart at all, nor was it particularly original. A tremendous amount of diversity coexisted under the rubric of early LA punk too, and there was a surprising degree of parity between men and women—it was not a sexist scene, and women were treated as equals. Latinos and gays were welcome too, as were old people: your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be? It was that way for a brief spot in time.
Later, she points out a key difference between a “scene” back then and now:
All kinds of people materialized, and anybody who’d gone to the trouble of showing up had a right to be there. It took a while for all this to start cooking, though, which brings me to the scourge known as social media. LA’s first punk community took a while to get up to speed because things didn’t “go viral” then. The jungle drum of word-of-mouth was how information got around, and measured against the lightning speed information travels today, LA’s first punk community coalesced at a glacial pace. People had to physically be in rooms together and talk to one another to learn about things then, and that world was intimate and tactile and visceral in a way texting can never be.
And I loved the way she described the innocence and optimism of youth:
We’re all like trees, and the leaves that are the people we love flutter to the ground one by one. Time is a brutal, devouring force, and until it’s begun to do its handiwork, it’s impossible to comprehend how very beautiful it is to be young, how privileged and innocent it is. You may think you know the score when you’re twenty-four years old, but you never do, for the simple reason that you can’t: life lobs curveballs that are unimaginable at twenty-four. We believed we were dangerous and subversive back in the day, but in fact, we were babies, yet to rub the fairy dust from our eyes. Time takes a heavy toll on ideals, and looking back, it all seems unbearably idealistic and sweet.
She does end on a redemptive note:
So the scene is gone, and many of the people who created it are gone too, and I suppose that’s how it’s meant to be. Great art is immutable and eternal, though. I recently attended an X show where I watched young people—yes, they were young—crowding the lip of the stage, mouthing the words to “White Girl” and “Year One.” The music continues to mean something to those who need it, and those who need it will continue to find it.
If you’re an oldster like me who enjoyed (and still enjoys) bands like X, The Blasters and The Minutemen, this book is definitely worth a read.
Japandroids have a new album coming out in a week, and NPR is streaming it now.
David Prowse (drums/vocals) and Brian King (guitar/vocals) of Japandroids
I love this guitar-and-drums duo from British Columbia, and thought their last album, Celebration Rock, was a pure, unadulterated burst of brilliance and the best album of 2012. (If you disagree, you’re wrong.)
The new album showcases a more expansive sonic palette, but it still rocks. Put your ears on it now, and pick up Near To The Wild Heart Of Life when it comes out on January 27th.