Social Anthropology

Know what I really want to go away? What’s that? George Bush? Yes, him too, but I was actually referring to the didgeridoo. Yes, that fucking drone-monster blunt substitute that every bonged-out backpacker with a hippie fetish and craving for half-assed spiritualism buys when passing through Nimbin, Australia, in search of cheap dope ( make a left at the third ‘roo; ask for Barry) and/or God. I want the didgeridoo to go far away, for it to return to the sunburned, inhospitable plains of the Australian outback, and I want all the unwashed undergrads with their big, wooly hats from whence protrudes their oversized sideburns, their tie-dye shirts, their baggy pants and their Birckenstocks who insist on playing their didgeridoos in public (ie. anywhere near me) to join their groan-sticks on their journey to that distant place. Because when I go to open mic-night somewhere, or to the park to read a book, or pass the campus to ogle girls, that’s really what I want to hear: endless, monotonous droning (granted, that’s describing a lot of genres of music right now, but I digress), sounding like the drawn-out dying groan of a hyperventilating baritone with throat cancer and a bad cold wheezing his way through a nasty bout of hay fever. Fucking bliss. What’s with this “I’m in tune with the earth” hippie shit? Do some fucking research; there’s a ton of pre-Christian pagan cults and religions in your own cultural backyard to revive; what’s wrong with worshipping the sun, for example, or a snake deity? (Frankly, if it’s good enough for Alan Moore…) What’s that? You need to assert yourself as an individual? Here’s some advice, then: Take up the fucking tuba! Nobody, I mean nobody, plays one of those anymore. How’s that for originality? But then, you can’t blather like this, can you? “Hey, look at me, I went backpacking in, like, Australia, then I got this totally huge instrument, and now I’m like, in harmony with the Earth Goddess Gaia and stuff and I can totally relate to the aboriginals, you know?” Finally: don’t refer to it as a “didj”, asshole. You appropriate somebody else’s cultural expression to suit your own needs and you can’t even afford it enough respect to refer to it by its full name? Fucking colonialist!

UPDATE:
This piece generated my first – and so far only – piece of hatemail. The venerable mr/ms. Ilukens sent me this lovely message:

Hey Asshole
Bite my Big Yidaki

Cheers, mate!

15.02.2003 • Permalink

(What’s So Funny ‘bout) Peace, Love & Understanding

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A great thing about the current protests is the recycled nature of it all: with even the presidency being second-generation, there’s not even any need to make new signs. Just grab the ones you have lying around from 12 years ago and you’re good to go.

The train ride was chaotic; there was no actual need to get a ticket at Ashby, as the kind people of BART had, by necessity, simply opened the turnstiles to let the torrent of rekindled political activism flow through. But I bought a BART card before I knew that, so I enjoyed waiting in the ticket line while a black man was screaming threats into the pay phone: “I hadda gun, I kill you, muhfuga! See, I’m a playa, knowusmayin’, muhfuga?” etc. Then he made some remark about “a bomb in his backpack” and all of us in the line pissed ourselves. Welcome to the New Year, same as the old year. No bomb went off, of course, but the sudden, irrational bout of fear brought on by your average whacked-out street bozo made me realize that it’s getting more and more difficult to embrace weary cynicism, roll your eyes and complain about the crazy world.

I brought my camera and freely admit that I went more for the spectacle of a genuine San Francisco protest rally than to make some deep-seated political statement. Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for the rally and I think it’s brilliant that there are still people who believe in letting their voices be heard. That, however, is not about to stop me poking fun at them. So lock up your Birkenstocks and hide your macrobiotic foodstuffs!

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The Embarcadero was awash with protesters. You could hear the drums and shouting from the subway. None of the people from the Ashby station had passes, as we had all just walked through. The BART personnel had only to hear “Ashby” in order to wave you through nonchalantly. They looked at the gaggle of placard-carrying protesters, commuters caught in the rush and the curious onlookers like myself with a weary melancholy. Alas, so many unsold tickets. Yet, what a meager price to pay to sponsor the dulcet ring of Vox Populi, eh?

You have to love the city of San Francisco. The liberal bastion of the West Coast, and arguably the entire nation, there is always something going on in this place. But on this glorious d
ay, even the beggars had switched their usual signs asking for spare change to peace signs. One bum I passed was busy being interviewed by a camera crew, patiently explaining the difficulties of the current situation as it pertained to the interests of the US and the world at large, given the negative curve of the economic climate and the subsequent re-emerging Reaganism.

Now, I’d have like to have seen this place in the sixties, when there were real protests going on. Berkeley, for example, still prides itself on being a hotbed of radicalism, though its glory days are long since gone. The fact that there is a Gap store on Telegraph that hasn’t been graffiti’d, much less torched, proves that quite abundantly. What greeted me was a mass of people, but orderly, cheerful and far too clean to be any real fun. No chances of things getting out of control, then. As it turned out, the real trouble would take place the next day, when the Oakland Raiders made it to the Superbowl and, by way of celebration, the supporters decided to riot and commit arson. As you do.

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I remember going to Paris in high school, as you do; I somehow wandered right into one of those student protests that the French do so well and seem to do whenever they run out of McDonalds’ to trash. You couldn’t tell before you were on the actual street. But all of a sudden, I was sandwiched between French riot police (the average French Officer Plod is bad enough; the Riot police are rumored to shave their teeth) and angry French students. Or maybe they were lorry drivers. Or farmers. Anyway, three guys on rollerblades started towards the cops. They were armed with hockey sticks that they rapped against the ground before launching off. I backed up against the wall, oddly exhilarated, and kept enough wits about me to snap a photo of the guys. I still have it, if you don’t believe me. A few yards away from the police, the Rollerbladers turned and headed back. The police took one step forward, as did the protesters. I decided to make myself scarce and went back through the alley from whence I came. Almost back on the other street, I heard a loud thump; I didn’t look back and that was that. There was no mention of the incident in the paper or on the news. To this day, I have no idea of what it was all about.

However, back to the present: There were banners everywhere decrying George Bush and the current administration, the perennial “US out of ____” placard; some anti-Israeli slogans for good measure and of course, that decade-old chestnut “No Blood For Oil” It was like time travel. I was back in junior high and frankly, I was thrilled.

Oh, there were so many of them: Former hippies, current hippies, Yuppies…old folks and young folks. It was quite a sight. I started snapping photos of the proceedings, moving alongside the great human tidal wave. As I mentioned, they were cleaner and more orderly than I strictly wanted them to be. The chants echoed of the surrounding walls and a couple of drummers kept a steady beat as the earth goddesses swayed somewhat in sync. A girl, late teens, maybe early twenties, was flagged down by a camera crew and asked about her feelings about president Bush. “BUSH SUCKS!” she screamed, and staring down the camera, she continued: “He’s such a mother—”. The camera crew seemed to enjoy themselves thoroughly as the air turned a deep blue around the passionate young lady, though I doubt the footage would ever make the news.

So where were we going? I had no idea, so I followed the stream. It took bloody ages to get from Embarcadero to Powell. I was getting tired if Birkenstocks and purple shawls. I decided to stop by Virgin Records. Hey, why not? Gotta stimulate that economy, you know. It was interesting to be in there. I could see the moving masses outside, but there was no sound, except for the usual bland R n’ B moaning on in the background. Should I look for Pete Seeger or something? Nah. Elvis Costello will do the job just fine. I paid and left. The sound of dissent hit me again and once again, the current swept me along. Having reached a saturation point (after all, there’s only so many pictures you can take of a bunch of people who aren’t even thinking of rioting), I decided to spend the last roll of film taking photographs of girls instead. It was less than successful. My lovely, yet unwitting subjects kept getting obscured by well-intentioned protesters.

At some point, there was a guy with a megaphone. There’s always a guy with a megaphone. He was getting properly worked up and I thought “This is more like it.” He sounded like a mix of Zack De La Rocha and Abbie Hoffman and made people sit down for some reason. Probably trying to incite some sort of civil disobedience. He handled the megaphone deftly, with the power and passion of the born rabble-rouser: “Let’s take the power back! Show the fat cats in Washington! We are not mindless sheep!” he shouted: “We are not mindless sheep”, replied the crowd in unison.

At long last, it became obvious that City Hall was to be our ultimate destination, which I should really have guessed. A veritable ocean of people had gathered there, so it was a total pain to move around. Vendors had set up shop, selling overpriced water and greyish hotdogs to hungry and dehydrated idealists. A group of people was sitting around singing “We Shall Overcome” while another bunch were meditating for peace, the sweet smell of pot hanging in the air. Most people wandered around aimlessly, though, many of them twirling their dreadlocks and looking generally confused.

The PA system started blaring and coughing. A guy (was it the same guy?) started talking whil

e everyone around started cheering; he sounded incoherent and bonged-out, so at least that was in the true spirit of the Sixties. After some mumbled exclamations, and some fairly enthusiastic responses, they managed to fix the sound somewhat and I got an comprehensible earful: “Please give it up for woman warrior poet Bonnie Raitt!” I had no idea if she was actually there or not, but she came on the PA and warbled about how the world could see that not all Americans were gung-ho types. (To be honest, most of us know whenever there is a large demonstration like this, since we read papers and stuff. Some Third World country papers have better foreign coverage than your average US one. No offense; it’s just the way it is.) The song that followed was an egregious, written-on-the-way-over number that went something like “Hey boy / The world isn’t your toy / There’s just too little joy / Waa-aar” It was every bit as rotten as Paul McCartney’s post 9/11-ditty “Freedom”. which is no mean feat. I love McCartney; worship the ground he walks on, as a matter of fact, but that song was just too far a slide into banality, even for me. Following that, somebody painfully respectable that I’ve never heard of came on and talked about fasting, Gandhi, and how fasting for a day and giving the money saved to the good cause could save lives and so on. Just thinking about this made me want to take off and go get a steak and a beer, which was what I eventually did. Joan Baez was apparently there, dancing with passersby: Sadly, I missed that. The march was over: I’d done my part. It wouldn’t change a thing, I suspect: The most perfect expression of social protest would be to overthrow the government, which obviously wasn’t going to happen that day. How would we all get to Washington on that short notice, for example? Still, an even dumber Bush in the White House is a sobering thought and the possible Armageddon even more so. The idea of Saddam Hussein with nukes is pretty scary, to be sure, but let’s face it: India and Pakistan having a few of those babies too isn’t much more comforting. Not all of us can count on being reincarnated, you know (although with the post-Armageddon options being either mutant or cockroach, why would you want to anyway?). “The world is nuts” will be my clever endnote. Then I left the crowds behind for the scowl of an Irish bartender who I apparently didn’t tip enough.

17.01.2003 • Permalink

The Original Unforgiven: The Man who shot Liberty Valance

When Eastwood’s Unforgiven came out, it was an instant classic, deconstructing (there’s that friggin’ word again) the Western genre and Clint Eastwood’s own familiar hero role, reducing Western archetypes from dusty opera to realism. Also, it was kickass movie, and funnily enough, a fusion of the stouter American western and the seedier Italian one. But never mind the ’90s. Liberty Valance, released in ’62 already commented on legend and myth-making. “This is the West.” says a reporter at the end; “when legend becomes fact, print the legend”.

Directed by the legendary John Ford, Liberty Valance stars John Wayne, Jimmy (sorry –James) Stewart and Lee Marvin. Even Lee Van Cleef pops up.

The movie gets off to a rather sad start. It opens with Stewart and his wife, Hattie, arriving to see John Wayne get buried. At the end, we glimpse that perhaps it’s not just Hattie’s roots that tie her to the little hamlet, but something else. Stewart must come to terms with living a lie of sorts.

Ford states that the law must be enforced with action. Sad as it may be, it’s true: one can hardly expect the criminals to show up on their own accord. By force, the West was won, and it’s a mostly unromantic view he takes of the frontier.

Marvin plays mean like only he can and does a great job of it. There’s a gleam in his eye that tells you he is bad right to the core. He has a druken swagger that you expect to explode into violence and a vicious mean streak boiling just beneath the surface. Ironically, he would send up this type or role with his turn in the Jane Fonda comedy Cat Ballou but a few years later.

Wayne is the real hero (duh), even though he’s part anti-hero. It’s Stewart’s film; Wayne may be get the top billing, and his role more substantial than it looks. You know he’ll come through in the end. He lets Stewart take the “glory” of killing Valance; he willingly lets Hattie go, because he knows she loves Stewart more than him; if only a bit. He dies in penury (Stewart has to tell the undertaker to bury Wayne with his boots on), while Stewart, “the man who shot Liberty Valance”, gets rich and famous. And yet, Wayne knows what he gives up; he could easily take the credit for the killing, but he wants to be left alone; he is of the past, a loner of the frontier range, while Stewart is of the future, statehood and bureaucracy.

The movie is surprisingly brutal in places; when Valance whips Stewart and the editor, for example. All we see is Marvin’s enraged, starkly mad face and his arm coming down, down, down…suggestion still works great, and we flinch in horror. Even his men are uneasy, and Lee Van Cleef must restrain his boss on both occasions. Like in most old westerns, there’s less wild action than you’d think. The guncraziness that came later was mostly thanks to the Italians. Tempo-wise, it’s more High Noon than Django; a lot of talking, deliberating and then a brief moment of violence. Westerns can be quite the philosophical vehicles in the right hands. Like I said, the movie is as much about myths and legend as it ois about telling a cracking good story of a man who refuses to budge. You probably have seen it already, but if not, you should.


  • Director: John Ford
  • Cast: John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Lee Marvin
17.01.2003 • Permalink

The Beast that Shouted Love at the Heart of the World

08.11.02,
The Booksmith, 1644 Haight Street, San Fransisco

It was the end of a frankly hellish week. Having spent the previous eight hours staring blankly at the computer screen, I hopped the BART and fled Berkeley. The Haight was shiny with recent rain which had seemingly washed away the acid casualties and chased the bonged-out white rastas from their stoops. I entered the store.

I was about half an hour early, so I took my time with choosing which cover I wanted for my version of “Dangerous Visions”. I paid and took my seat; it was still reasonably empty, save for a few diehards. I felt out of place. Slowly, the Booksmith started filling up. I didn’t notice it was full until it was about to start. There was a commotion at the back; then, a short, portly shape blurred past us:

“Jesus, it’s like a fucking church in here!”

Ladies and Gentlemen: Mr. Harlan Ellison. The fantasist’s fantasist. 68 years, 5 feet, 5 inches and a good potbelly’s worth of of ideas, of words, of attitude. Most importantly, some would argue; of genius. The man who told Bradbury “You’re not so much”. 76 or so books, screenplays, teleplays and 2 cardiac arrests to his credit.

“First off: Is there any old business?”

It took less than a minute: A guy my age, mid-twenties, at the back asked about Ellison’s involvement with “The Terminator”.

“I’m sorry, could you repeat that, miss?”

“Um…”

“Oh, SORRY! It musta been the hair”

The impish grin. The fan smiled; hey, it’s Harlan! And he’s just like you’ve heard! So what followed was a spectacular putdown of mr. James “asshole king of the world” Cameron. Anne Rice got a thrashing too. Somehow he get her mixed in with Judith Krantz. Oh, my friends, it was truly wondrous to behold. At one point he even interrupted himself to ask if he was being too offensive:

“You know, I’d be offended by me.”

After getting worked up enough, he talked about his ongoing lawsuit to outlaw copyright breaches on the web; for three years, he said, he’d been tied up in litigation with AOL in order to not to implement, but siimply to uphold the copyright laws. The copyright laws that they have already implemented. For some reason, he’s pissed off with people stealing his livelihood. Then again, if you took my paycheck from me , I’d be pretty angry too. He went on about the CD-burning generation.

“I’m sorry, but you’re thieves. You’re fucking thieves. This generation…for some reason, they think the world owes them everything, that the world in fact owes the anything.”

Matter-of-factly. Can’t really argue, can you? Something about music, movies…we don’t care so much. We’re getting fleeced, right? Fight the power. Death to corporate domination: Defeat the soul-killers, the machinery of consumption, manufacturers of consent. Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me! But the writer? No such luck. Nobody reads much, so the word gets shafted. Not enough to make it worthhile pursuing, perhaps? Imagine what kind of overhead you have in order to let something like that slide. Not to mention your willingness to feed off yourself. I started feeling bad.

“And I’m talking about YOUR generation, boy!”

said Harlan, and pointed at right at me, eyes asmoulder. Oh boy. I felt the weight of a hundred disapproving eyes in the room; I threw up my hands and tried offer a sufficiently contrite countenance, but which I am terrified looked like smugness. A nuclear glow emanated from my cheeks; a mild Chernobyl, in fact. I could feel it. I often blush, I’m told, though I’m still quite surprised when people tell me this, as I’m usually not aware of it, it just happens. But this time I was very aware of it. Oh, very, very aware. Harlan went on to relate typical late-night phone call from the average bonged-out dorm jock who needed to tell him he was uncool for totally whaling on his right to partake of the work and how information is free etc.

“Information: yes, creative endeavours: no!”

It’s a mystery to me that more people are incapable of grasping that distinction.

“This guy was calling from Exeter…What the fuck? It costs something like 83 million dollars to even get in there and you’re telling me you’re too cheap to pay for a fucking CD?”

So: on to the story. I will not divulge secrets. Harlan would undoubtedly chase me down and cut my balls off, so suffice it to say it was offbeat and funny, very Harlan Ellison. Indubitably so: If you’re curious, buy the next edition of McSweeney’s. Half the joy was in the narration: No dull recital, this. He clowned, he lived in the words; we laughed; he had us in the palm of his hand, and he milked us for all he could.

After it was over, we dutifully got in line for his John Hancock: It took time. People had multitudes of things for him to sign. He knew half of them, spoke to them and inquired abour recent events: He may be lippy, but he cares. Then I was up. I handed him my copy of the book. He smiled slighly, probably because someone had actually purchased something rather then lug old shit over for him to sign. I said nothing, though it burned inside me. Look, no downloads here. I kept silent. He recognized the guy behind me and started talking. I stood there, helpless, my book in his hands, waiting for the nib of his pen to mark the white of page. He realized I was there, signed the book and gave me a sceptical look before returning to the conversation at hand. Who is this guy weird, quiet guy? I thanked him, even though he wasn’t listening.

I went to get my bag from behind the counter. The girl with looked up from her book. She gave me a smile:

“Sorry, just spacing out”

Quick, think of something.

“Don’t we all?”

Ugh. Both of us holding my bag now, justa smidgeon too long. A voice:

“Hey. John Constantine…you in the trenchcoat there…didn’t you hear me up there? Carpe the fucking diem, willya! It’s painful to watch you two.”

I looked at her, realizing I was blushing profusely, as was she. Oh, hell.

“So…would you like to go out sometime?”

“How about now? We close in twenty minutes.”

I blinked, the dayfream faded. But not her stare. Do something. I turned slowly and walked out the door. Ellison was yelling something, followed by copious laughter. In San Francisco, the rain stopped, again.

10.11.2002 • Permalink

Realer Than Real

The point of “reviews” on the web is obviously to pretend to wax lyrically/blabber about something that interests you and that you feel everybody else should know about, ostensibly making connections and sharing a field of interest with other fellow fetishists, while in fact you are waxing lyrically/blabbering about something you find far more interesting, namely yourself. I admit it freely: I will surely be guilty of the same. A random anecdote seems far more pointed if it’s presented along with something seemingly substantial. That’s how it works on the world wide web, for better or (mostly) worse.

Anyway, like many boys growing up in the 80’s, I had a major crush on Belinda Carlisle. And Susanna Hoffs (all of the Bangles, actually, except for the big, tall one), but that’s a different review for later. I never liked Madonna much, so there you go. As anyone can tell you, Belinda Carlisle is a major babe. While Samantha Fox rather forcefully dragged us into puberty in the mid-80s with Touch Me, a track only slightly subtler than Je T’Aime, Belinda represented something slightly more sophisticated, making impending adulthood less frightening. I won’t divulge any secret fantasies I had (and still have) and I am convinced you, my dear reader, will be all the better for it. Belinda obviously had two monster hits with Circle in the Sand and Heaven is a Place on Earth. Suddenly, after slogging around the early ‘80s punk scene with the seminal Go-Go’s, and overcoming the usual addictions, she was a major star. She followed that album with Runaway Horses which in my humble opinion is a MOR masterpiece. Sure, it’s overproduced, but it’s still great. Leave a Light On even features the late, great Dark Horse himself, George Harrison, MBE, on slide guitar. Then followed her third solo album, Little Black Book aside, a relentlessly dull affair, completely lacking in songs, a rather jarring problem for any musician (unless you’re like Fugazi; too hard for tunes). As I remember it, it didn’t do much for anyone, myself included, and sank quietly. Myself, I was busy discovering AC/DC, Metallica, Jellyfish and the like. A greatest hits compilation followed, a perfectly servicable affair, but ultimately begging the question “can songs be this nice?”.

Then, in 1993: Real. Welcome!

Yes, Real is still MOR, AOR, ETC; this in itself is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s a myth perpetrated by indie bands lacking sales, production values and, frequently, tunes, that accessibility is bad. No, what really makes MOR rock bad so often is the frequent lack of wit and passion, indeed of any kind of vivaciousness. Take Oasis’ debut Definitely Maybe, as an example; it was a spirited affair, hungry and rough, but firmly rooted in a retro vein, lifted (mostly) from the Beatles. Of course, after half of Bolivia’s GNP disappearing up their noses, a promising artistic (note: artistic, not commercial) career fizzled out in a few notoriously torpid and dull albums.

But I digress. Real is a gem, power pop mined from the same vein as classic Cheap Trick, Big Star, the Ramones, the Go-Gos (duh) et al. It’s full of memorable choruses and soaring melodies. The then-current grunge wave seems to influence somewhat the slow verse/loud, big and in fact, FUCKING HUGE choruses. The first thing to strike you is that it’s less orchestrated, opting for a more straightforward guitar pop sound. Belinda’s voice was always a force to be reckoned with and here it’s displayed prominently, as is right. This is a good thing: She pushes her voice far beyond the climes she inhabited on her last solo effort and on some of the songs contained herein, she pushes her voice to a throaty rasp that you just can’t argue with. Check out her wail on Windows of the World, for example, or Here Comes My Baby, where she effortlessly extricates herself from the overwrought stylings of the Celines and Mariahs of the world. And when she’s not busy shattering glass, she delivers her lines with a lazy, near post-coital drawl.

The most profoundly important change was, of course, the songwriting team. Production/writing team Rick Rowley and Ellen Shipley were swapped for (former) Go-Gos Jane Wiedlin and Charlotte Caffrey and some ex-Bangles, among others. The garage-pop edge shines through all the way. Lay Down Your Arms and Wrap My Arms (Around the World) have the sort of soaring choruses that grab you by the throat; it’s custom-made for your car stereo. Man.

Some Go-Go’s show up to play, the odd ex-Bangle, and for some added hipness, guitarist Pat Smear, briefly of Nirvana and Foo Fighters. I have a feeling this album was sort of a warm-up for the reasonably successful Go-Go’s reunion that followed a few years later, when they were finally acknowledged as an influential voice on the LA pop scene. Here, Belinda sounded like a rock chick again, and more importantly, as if she’s having fun.

Real did rather poor business, and is currently out of production, I think, but all the same, I wanted to pay tribute to its inherent great popness; it’s become a minor favourite of mine, resting comfortably among my Semisonic, Teenage Fanclub and Jellyfish CD’s. So now you know. And knowing…is half the battle, says Duke.

22.08.2002 • Permalink

The Big Sound from the Little State

I was introduced to Imprint by my friend Heather, who incidentally dates Chad Maggs, the bassist of the band. I saw Imprint in concert three times and got to meet the band and hang out a bit. Chad was the only member of the band who I spoke to at length; we also emailed, which was how the actual interviews were conducted. I am extremely grateful to him for taking the time to reply to my questions and offer up information. The same applies to Heather, whom I also interviewed a few times. She offered insight to the band from the perspective of someone close to the group without being actually part of it.

The reason I decided to write about Imprint is the fact that I used to be a metalhead in high school, near a decade ago. Frankly, it seemed fun to revisit the scene and see if I could still belong, and more importantly, see what was happening musically nowadays. I still listen to my collection once in a while, but I haven’t purchased anything new for years.

Metal for me was a bit of acceptable rebellion. I was never a deprived child, nor was I particularly angry about much. Resolutely middle-class, I led a safe life. For me then, metal meant something else. My first interests were Iron Maiden (“Can I Play with Madness”) and AC/DC (“Thunderstruck”), though I quickly moved on the Metallica, who were releasing their eponymous album around this time. Metal always seemed somewhat apolitical. It was about demons, personal or otherwise, and as such seems a logical point of interest to the hormonally supercharged young man. Metal was and is (although less so these days, is my impression) the prime domain of the male. This is indisputable: It’s an essentially macho culture; music built on hormones and aggression. Metal was more musically adventurous (in theory, at least) and to a certain extent, it was an offshoot of prog rock. I lost interest in metal after a while; my long locks were shorn, I started wearing clothes in other colours than black, and so on. Punk took over as my musical adrenaline kick. Perhaps it was more accessible ultimately…still, you change as you grow and you move on. So, what’s metal now? Well, it all sounds the same, so I guess I’m old. Part of punk fused with metal and this nu-metal was made. Trailblazers were Korn, preceding Limp Bizkit and after them, a veritable deluge of angsty extreme sports freaks. Another part of punk decided that the Buzzcocks were the Way to God, and so power pop somehow ended up being renamed punk, making Cheap Trick the godfathers of punk, if I understand it correctly. The Sex Pistold reformed, for some reason or other; and some factions of stalwarts with no sense of humour whatsoever remain in their dank cellars and pogo.

The Met Cafe, Providence, 01-31-02
The Met Cafe was only a third full or so. Without the throng of bodies that might enliven it, it looked rundown and tired. Chad, the bassist and prime songwriter, met us at the door. We shook hands and I dutifully went to buy beer. The relative emptiness could also be explained by the hour. It was fairly early, and the band was still setting up on stage. Imprint were not headlining, but supporting punk stalwarts Murphy’s Law.

There was laughter and conversation in the room. I felt out of place; I have no piercings, visible or otherwise, and I was dressed in regular jeans, sweatshirt and sneaker. No cameo slacks, no army boots, tattoos or any heavy metal trappings. I had not been to a metal show for some years, unless you count the Ramones’ farewell tour. I once had long hair and donned black for every occasion, but my teenage rebellion extended to that, and although some of my love for the music remains, I have mellowed considerably. The aimless energy of my adolescence is redirected. It has been long enough for a stylistic shift to occur: no longer seen is the long hair and spandex of the 80’s. Nirvana effectively killed hair metal, and Metallica took Heavy Metal to a new level, where the scariest things were no longer Hammer horror trappings, as exemplified by Iron Maiden, but rather the demons in your own head. For an older audience member, the introvert tendencies of present metal is somewhat cloying; it used to be about anger, hormones and confusion, perhaps, but it was still something of a catharsis. Ultimately, it was about rebelling, an “us versus the world” mentality that in fact exists in just about every musical scene. Today, metal seems to have merged with the shoegazing of the indie scene, and punk is more indebted to the power pop of Cheap Trick than the might fury of the Sex Pistols.

The band started playing, after my second beer or so. A few lone souls took it upon themselves to create an impromptu mosh pit up front, but to no avail. There simply weren’t enough of them. As the band played their first songs, the vocalist clutched his mike in a firm grip, not unlike Hank Rollins, and moved broodingly back and forth, head bowed, eyes fixed downwards. He let forth shredding vocals. Heather, who had invited me in the first place, nudged me and said: “He’s really sweet and laid-back off-stage”, as if to assure me. I grinned and wondered if he’d approve of this disclosure of information.

Some of the songs sounded by-the-numbers to me, but a few of them rose to another level, typically those in which they attempted something different with the orchestration. One song had Chad keeping a driving rhythm going on a seriously overdriven bass, while Gary, the guitarist, plucked out a shimmering arpeggio as a counterpoint. It was most pleasing, and while hardly baroque, the effect of the contrast not only added an intuitive melodiousness, but also revealed the implied skill that tends to separate dilettantes from real musicians. (I later learned that Gary studied at Berkelee) Actually, there was nothing understated about the number; it thundered along like the four horsemen of the apocalypse and their extended family, but it did make me listen more closely to what they were playing.

Murphy’s Law took to stage later; a hardcore group of fans, basically everyone in the audience, excepting Imprint, who took a well-deserved break in the back, stated moshing and crowdsurfing in the seriously limited space. The band seemed fairly drunk, chugging Jagermeister and sharing the bottle with their rabid fans. (I was fairly drunk as well, realizing I’d blown over 20 dollars on Foster’s oilcans. I swayed, true, but to no beat but my own.) The riffs counted three or thereabouts, paced to an unerring 4/4 beat and I stood at the back of the room, wondering if my eardrums would start bleeding soon, if they weren’t already. The evening concluded wonderfully, as the vocalist exclaimed what a nice day they’d had in Providence: “Isn’t this weather we’re having great?”, he said; “yeah”, replied the crowd in unison. “No, it’s NOT great,” he shouted back “It’s the END OF THE FUCKING WORLD!!!” The wag.

The Met Cafe, Providence, 02-23-02
The second gig was even better. My critical sense was to be honed further my second time around. It was also to be the night when I decided whether to attempt to write about Imprint and the surrounding metal scene. Low on time and non-mobile, I was resigned to the downtown Providence area. My other choice would be the Irish music scene, little more than an excuse for me to go to the Irish bar on Sundays, which I didn’t need (the excuse, that is), but could perhaps make me feel less guilty about spending time away from studio.

It was a CD release party, again at the Met Cafe; Imprint was not the only band there, they shared with two others. We gave the first band, Soulshed, a miss, since rumour had it they were pretty bad. Dedset was the other. The bands had achieved that great coveted goal of releasing an actual album. This time around, the Met Cafe was sold out. At first I felt even more out of place, but then realized I was not the only “civilian” there, although I was in the minority, surrounded by the spiked hair of punks, cameo slacks and combat boots. Again, I mused at the way fashion had become such a seeming hybrid of punk and metal, two genres that used to be so separate.

Dedset were enjoyable; professional and driving, they delivered a solid set. The mosh pit was fairly frenzied. I got too close to it. I hadn’t experience a mosh pit in years, either, and wondered about it all. What was the appeal? It seemed so…brutal. Logically, I know that the pit is simply the spirit of the music made action; it’s the act of venting. For most, it’s a better way to release pent-up energy than fighting. In a sense, it is fighting, but it’s more a ritualistic aspect of it. The intention is not to hurt or get hurt, although bruises are inevitable. Even at the most brutal gigs I’ve been to the mosh was never intentionally dangerous: when someone fell, people were quick to create a circle and help the person get up. That was the aspect that appealed to me, though it has taken me a few years to vocalize it. And it seems to work the same way for everyone.

Heather: I’ve always felt that metal and hardcore boys tended to be more well adjusted than other boys because they get out all their demons and aggressions through their music, and have no need for it to be anywhere else in their lives.

Imprint’s gig this time around was more focused, though they had abandoned the sonic experiments, somewhat to my disappointment. In truth, they sounded a bit more like Dedset, with more streamlined riffs and musically less “crunchy” and brooding than last time. They did, however, deliver a great show. I walked home in a light drizzle, a major beer haze and crossing the bridge, nearly fell in the river.

The New Wave Cafe, New Bedford, 04-19-02
The New Wave Cafe is a pretty small place, a low-key bar sporting a garish red neon sign, located in one of those pedestrian-hostile, cars-only places that America seem so fond of. My girlfriend and I entered, asking the doorman if we’d missed Imprint; no, he replied, they just started. He motioned to my camera bag; I’m with Imprint, I said, I’m taking photos. Ok, he said and shrugged without much interest.

Imprint was playing on a bill of five bands. They were third, right in the middle.

The actual bar was pretty tiny; there can’t have been much more than 30 or 40 people in the room, nor did the locale seem capable of more than 150, at most. As we entered, they finished a song; Chad, the bassist, saw me, and I raised my hand in greeting; he waved back, looking slightly incredulous that I’d actually come all the way to New Bedford. We sat down at the bar and ordered a few beers. I dug into my pocket and donned some earplugs. “Do you want a pair?” I asked Amie. “No, I’m fine”, she started to say, but then Imprint tore into the next number, and she quickly changed her mind.

The crowd seemed more eclectic than the last times. It was still a predominantly young audience, but less defined visually, i.e. fewer of the blatant “metal uniforms” abounded. There were more girls there as well, it seemed, none of which looked remotely “metal”; as such, I felt less an outsider at this gig than the other ones. Amie, an old patron of the establishment, pointed out some people who were regulars; one guy even played in a Hootie & the Blowfish-type band which occasionally performed there. Thus it seemed fair to assume that some of these people were regular bar patrons who came more for the bar than the stage. From the look of it, this was a correct assumption; they stayed mostly at the back, some of them chatting and nursing their drinks. They also seemed slightly older than the people following the bands. One of the few older folks to venture close to the stage was spectacularly mulleted.

The set Imprint played seemed more indebted to the vibe they had at the release party than the very first time I saw them and I began to wonder if I’d actually imagined that evening’s arrangements. (I hadn’t: Heather later told me that Imprint tend to play less complex stuff when playing with punks, so as not to diverge too much. Essentially, dumbing down the music.) There were differences: Perhaps it was the small venue, but the band seemed more relaxed on-stage than when last I saw them. They smiled more and seemed to be more lighthearted. There wasn’t much of a mosh pit to speak of, but a few bodies jumped up and down vigourously. “OK”, announced Jaymz, “we’re going to do a cover song. You all know this one”, and at that point they tore into a song I have never heard before in my life. (Chad later told me it was the Deftones’ “Roots”) By this point, the mosh had expanded a bit, at least doubling in size. All of a sudden during the song, Gary, the guitarist, jumped off the stage and joined in the mosh, to everyone’s delight. It was interesting to witness; the stage was only raised a foot or so off the ground, but this breach of procedure, this act of performer/audience solidarity somehow became a moment of bigger symbolism; it was the defining moment when they seemed to win over the crowd. I may have put too much into it, but place someone on a pedestal, no matter how small or big, and nothing can elevate them more than by their descending from it. I took a few photos (most of which did not come out, including, to my great consternation, Gary’s venture into the crowd). A guy looked at me as I was shooting, and I took the opportunity to ask him why he was there; “for the bands, man”, or words to that effect. So what was it about the bands that he liked? He eyed at me somewhat suspiciously and shrugged before returning his attention to he music. A girl with an Imprint sticker on her ass was cheering enthusiastically, and so, I tried asking her the same thing. Despite my camera, she seemed to think I was making a pass at her, but she replied, if somewhat huffily, that she knew one of the band members, but looked away, and I didn’t get to confirm whether said band member was in Imprint or one of the other bands. One thing I did deduce, from observing the crowd, was that it seemed to consist largely of band members, friends and girlfriends. It seemed that a lot of the crowd knew each other, from the look of it (many greetings and “how have you beens”) and as the following band, Liquid Destruction(?) took to the stage, they simply came from out of the crowd and set up on stage. Their vocalist laconically remarked “Drink more —the more you do, the better we’ll sound.” It proved to be a fairly accurate statement; they were ridiculously loud, to the point that I felt a dull ache in the back of my head. We decided we were far too poor to be able to drink what was required to make them sound reasonable, so we left. Outside, I spoke to Chad briefly and complimented him on the show. For some reason, I didn’t tell him that I thought they were far better than Liquid Destruction, probably because he seemed very enthusiastic about them. I personally thought Imprint was on a much higher level.

While not adding much knowledge musically, I must admit that after seeing this set, it was easier to connect the on-stage persona with the off-stage one; the seriousness that I saw at the past gigs belied the affable guys I met after the show. The music was the same, but their demeanor was different. Obviously, performance is just that, and some histrionics are to be expected, but I did wonder whether it was the size of the venue (and what I assumed to be audience familiarity) that allowed them to loosen up somewhat. It was an interesting change, and it made me wonder about how much of the anger was a pose and how much was actual conviction. To my great delight, they did play their big showstopper, the break that leaves the viewer thoroughly flabbergasted with the sheer technical skill at display.

Thoughts After Experiencing the Band Live
My overall impression was that none of them really seemed like rock monsters; they all seemed quiet and approachable.. Chad was easily the friendliest, no doubt because of my long friendship with his girlfriend Heather. Still, every time they went on-stage, I noticed a shift; they were certainly focused on the task ahead, and Jaymz especially seemed to recede into some other place, brooding and pensive. His vocals, somewhat obscured in the din of the music, as always happens in the face of strange PA’s and bad bar acoustics, were still powerful, and dare I say it, assured for a 22-year old. This sort of statement certainly paints me as a wannabe old coot, but he seemed to genuinely emote from that dark place. They seem like a real unit on stage, working within their (not insignificant) capabilities. They are skilled musicians and make no mistake: they know it. Above all, they are confident on-stage; there is a focused swagger to their step, so to speak, that in addition to their musicianship lends them an air of authority. I am frequently impressed with the clarity of the sound; for a small band playing small clubs, the sound is quite good. They seem very focused on what they’re doing. They play with each other, not against each other. One might argue that this might take some of the fun aspects out of it. (After all, Deep Purple all tried to outplay each other, which led to them hating each other, but also some great moments for the audiences)

Up there, they seem bigger: larger and more overpowering. As I described, Jaymz prowls the stage; the others also drop their smiles and replace them with expressions of great intent. They play hard and they play precise, just as you’d expect from a band growing up with the legacy of thrash and speed metal. Watching them set up, however, is a quiet affair. They are hurried, but not stressed. Nobody yells at anybody else, though there seems to be such ritual to it that they don’t need to talk much.

Off-stage, the band is approachable, affable and occasionally talkative. They do, in fact, strike you as somewhat shy. Heather pointed this out to me as well. “It’s so funny to see Jaymz on stage like that…he’s normally very quiet and sweet”. There seems to be no leader that stands out from the rest. Jaymz, as the vocalist, is the natural focal point, obviously. However, Gary, the guitarist, is the one who takes care of booking matters and so on. He’s listed as the contact person on their website (www.imprintmusic.com) and as such is the outward face of the band, at least business-wise.

This seemed interesting and when I asked Heather if there were any defacto leaders in the band, she indeed replied

Heather: I think Gary is really the leader, since he’s the organizational one, the one who plans the shows and such.

After the gigs, the guys were relaxing, dismantling the gear and slipping into a couch to wind down. It’s interesting to note that they do these things together, as a gang. They seem to gravitate towards each other. Of course, given that they have to be organized, they need to stick close together, but still…they are both a musical and a social circle.

The Interview
Chad: Imprint formed from the ashes of a band named Downshift. (A memory we’d like to forget) The remaining members kept going in search of a singer…we went through a few tryouts, then we met Jaymz and everything kinda fell into place. In the beginning we were doing just for fun, then we got serious about it. We’ve been working to do this for a living since 1998.

When asked about the songwriting process, which I figure is the big one in terms of power within a band, I am told that it’s a collaborative effort. Each member brings something to the stew, then structures are built and songs are created. Jaymz is the sole lyricist and up until now he’s only been concerned with the vocals.

Chad: Usually one of us brings a riff down to practice and we work from there so all of us have a part in writing the songs. All of us have part in the writing process: Jaymz takes care of all his vocals, we just give him advice (“that really sucks man, do something else”).

So the songs are democratic and grow organically, almost, from the Imprint “community”. And nobody seems concerned about Jaymz becoming the sole songwriter either. Heather backed up the statement.

Heather: They all write together; usually starting from something that either Chad or Gary comes up with, and building upon that….Jaymz recently bought a guitar too, so he can start writing riffs and such…He does all the lyrics.

(The lyrics, for the record, are rather dark and downbeat, although they are also fairly byzantine in their incomprehensibility. They can be perused on the Imprint website)

When revealing their musical interests, the band shows great diversity…it goes from Counting Crows to blues and jazz (Gary, in his bio, seems the most diverse: Like most guitarists, he likes Stevie Ray Vaughan but is also a Sonny Rollins fan. He also went to Berkelee) to the obvious metal gurus. But as Chad says: “Everything under the sun…” (Footnote: Drummer Chris Hayes instantly endeared himself to me when he sited famed Muppet drummer Animal as an influence.)

Chad: We play the music that comes out of us: It wasn’t a conscious decision.

In my headbanger phase, I was obsessed with “heaviosity”; the impression I gave off was that I listened to metal 24/7. This was not true, however: I could never give up my love for the Beatles any more than I could stop eating. For a self-professed metalhead, I was rather diverse in my tastes, and my one moment of realization arrived when I was browsing through some black metal fanzine to find a review of [sunshine pop band] Jellyfish’s “Spilt Milk”. I knew then that I was not the only one: I had bought it a few months before. Interestingly, this time was also the period when my interest in classical music was coming to the fore, particularly classical guitar, which I was learning to play myself.

Imprint’s musicianship, as I’ve noted earlier, is quite impressive. Their diverse music interests seems like a good starting point. The most interesting metal bands were always the ones with something more to say musically. (They were incidentally the ones to rise to greatness as well. Metallica early on included classical guitar breaks before blasting away; by 1998’s “reloaded”, they even had a hurdy-gurdy on an album.) Perhaps the diversity of the music does bring in a diverse crowd: They tend to “dumb down” their music when playing with the punk bands, which Heather pointed out they had to do:

Heather: Fellow musicians tend to like them a lot, since musically they really know what they’re doing and can pull it off live. I think that’s why punk kids aren’t so into them–[it] goes over their heads! (Remember that show we went to, where the other 2 bands were punk? That’s a good example). The little girls love Chad and Jaymz,

I also asked Chad about who the typical Imprint fan is:

Chad: Most of them are human, some girls, some boys… haha, just kidding. [A] good variety: We appeal to metal heads and musician types, but we also have poppy and acoustic songs that gets an older, more mellow crowd.

So they definitely seek out the diversity of their own influences. While I don’t think they have mined it as much yet as they surely will in the future, it is there as an undercurrent to the music, and can definitely appeal to a broader audience once they explore it more. (Although I have only seen three shows, so I can’t generalize the audience yet)

So far, then, they adhere to the democratic ideal, which will empower them in their quest to take on the world. All for one, and one for all. No huge egos have surfaced in the band, and one can hope it doesn’t happen. The nature of the group is collaboration; from this springs originality and ideas. The band that plays off each other also pushes each other to rise to new levels. But though the songwriting process is a democratic endeavor, they admit to not always seeing eye to eye on musical ideas:

Chad: Absolutely: We fight all the time when writing. We just try it as many ways as possible and whatever feels the best, we go with.

Heather concurs, but offers up some additional info:

Heather: Oh yes, they argue while writing! But the cool thing is that they try everyone suggestions, no one is completely ruled out without trying it first. There are some songs they still don’t agree on…Chad HATES “Downgrade”, but Gary loves it, etc…

But with Jaymz buying a guitar to write more efficiently on his own, could there be a shift towards a more singular sound, as a result of an individual songwriter? Nobody seems to think so. And while there are some jokes about Jaymz developing “lead singer syndrome” (i.e. big head, not lifting things etc), his confidence as a frontman has increased tenfold since they first started out. Logically, this leads to better performances, which is ultimately in the obvious interest of the band.

While some bands are little more than a backup group for a vocalist (Crowded House, the Kinks, Wings, Blur, the Jam, the Police, Ben Folds Five, the Replacements, etc), the big difference is that for the most part these are a group of musicians and a single songwriter. In a band like Imprint, where all the members contribute to the musical “stew”, a democracy is easier to uphold, simply because the band as a whole doesn’t rely on one single person. The sound, which is what leads to success (or lack thereof) is a result of the various input. Bands who write like this often do well, U2 being a prime example. Bono writes lyrics but the rest of them write the music, instead of just being told to play.

Me: Do you see any egos in the band? They seem very democratic.

Heather: They’re democratic, definitely. Sometimes Chris jokes that he’s too good for them and should leave because they’re a waste of his time when no one is up to practicing and he really wants to. He doesn’t mean it though! They tease Jaymz about getting Lead Singer Disease (they never carry equipment, big head, etc…) but he’s really not that bad. He’s got a lot more confidence now, and that’s a good thing. You have to have a bit of an ego to be a musician, you know? To think that people actually would want to watch you play and listen to your music. But there aren’t any Vince Neils [Motley Crue frontman] in the band, thank goodness!

Chad: It’s a democracy. We all have our own responsibilities.

Me: What are the strengths of the band members? How does this show in the music?

Chad: One of the strengths of the individual band members are all the various styles of music [that] each of us bring to the table. Five years ago, Gary came from Pantera and Dream Theater and a bunch of jazz stuff; Jaymz loves most music that is ridiculously heavy; Chris loves Tool, Dream Theater Nine Inch Nails, Yanni (don’t ask me) and I came from Overcast, Integrity and all the older hardcore stuff…and I loved ska (go figure). As the years passed, we all grew to listen to more styles of music and our experience in playing has also helped us grow to listen to new styles of music

Heather: Gary is the man —he went to Berklee, so he really knows what he’s doing, and his strengths show through his musicianship. Chris is really aggressive when it comes to their music, so that comes across in how he plays…Chad is a thinker; he spends hours on a melody in his head until he comes up with something he likes (hence why their friend Matt calls Chad’s songs his “epics”) and Jaymz is continually getting better at singing and his frontmanship…he always could scream like a motherfucker though.

Paul McCartney remarked that all he wanted to do in the Beatles was rock…and as he pointed out in the Beatles Anthology (humbly, of course) “I always thought we were a great little R & B band.” Curious about their musical interests, I asked Chad if he thought Imprint’s future lay in metal.

Me: I saw in your bios on the web page that you all like a lot of different music…will Imprint stay metal in the long run? (Not that I expect you to turn into Santana or anything…)

Chad: We will just keep writing and whatever comes out, comes out. I’ve been listening to a lot of new stuff, mainly because Heather or someone at work got me into it (like Radiohead, Portishead, and Jimmy Eat World), so I’m writing a little bit more spacey and simple than I used to. Plus, all of us are eager to hear new good music and meet new people that will affect how and what we write, so it is possible that Imprint could write a Santana type song: As is, we have a bunch of acoustic songs that we keep in the closet. For the lighter shows, we are very versatile and just starting to explore new territory. So I don’t think we even fit in the metal genre where we stand now, and it is unlikely that we will grow into that [genre].

Conclusion
Imprint seems to be around for the long haul: They are driven and professional and they love what they do. I think that the structure of the band will enable them to stay a unit for a good while. It is of course impossible to prophesize anything, but as long as they stay true to their setup, they can stay strong and retain their individuality. One thing I can see in the future might be the addition of another band member: I can see them adding a keyboard player, for example, to create fuller arrangements in their expanding musical picture. Chad is realistic about their progress. They have come further than he expected and he knows that success is the result of hard work.

Chad: We didn’t think we would be where we are right now, but we worked our asses off and got here. We still have a lot of work ahead of us, but we are ready for it…we hope to be signed [two years from now] but we aren’t excepting it. We want to get to the level of playing in the band for a living with out record label help.

ENDNOTE
Imprint’s tour bus did make it all the way to California in 2003, but they disbanded in 2004.

01.05.2002 • Permalink

Elegy

There must have been
some purpose
to the easy rain,
the bodies in the river,

and the symphonic
blue lights;
a growing whiteness
behind the eyes

caps the sweet despair
of red bicycles on rooftops;
chrome among gulls,
winged elegies.

14.04.2002 • Permalink