Half Awake In a Fake Empire

Stay out super late tonight
Picking apples, making pies
Put a little something in our lemonade
And take it with us

Were half awake in a fake empire
Were half awake in a fake empire

Tiptoe through our shiny city
With our diamond slippers on
Do our gay ballet on ice
Bluebirds on our shoulders

Were half awake in a fake empire
Were half awake in a fake empire

Turn the light out, say goodnight
No thinking for a little while
Let’s not try to figure out everything at once
Its hard to keep track of you falling through the sky

Were half awake in a fake empire
Were half awake in a fake empire

I’ve been listening to The National’s album Boxer as it was suggested to me by a friend.  Knowing what little I know about The National, being an indie band from New York, you could see the song as a critique of hipster culture, or one of those songs that is about the age when partying starts to lose its luster.  However, I couldn’t help but think of American exceptionalism while listening to it. Although there have been a couple big wins for sanity in the last week, we still are a country that has an absurd divide between rich and poor.  We are still poisoning the only earth we are ever going to have.  Yet we constantly distract ourselves with a mainstream culture that is largely a wasteland, a senseless circle jerk.  Fame without talent or accomplishment, facts without context, people that talk constantly and yet seem to say nothing.  What good is wealth if it is created at the expense of others?  What good is fame if it is not married with any value outside of itself?  What good is knowledge if it is just the accumulation of board game trivia answers, a collection of the useless?  What point is speaking if it is only to spread misinformation?  Who cares how someone looks if their brain is full of spiders?  “We’re half awake in a fake empire…”

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The Soul Man Who Walked Away

The Soul Man Who Walked Away

I became explicitly aware of Bill Withers through working with Kevin Russell in Shinyribs.  (We have covered two of his songs throughout the years.  We just played one this past Saturday.)  I had no doubt heard some of his material, but was not overtly familiar with him.  He is still someone more on the periphery of my vision.  Everyone in Shinyribs is older than me, so perhaps it is just an age thing.  However, there is so much music in the world that is easy to let something, even something important on occasion, slip past you. 

Anyway, the above Rolling Stone article is interesting if you are a fan or not.  Apparently Withers is one of the few people who retired from the music business willingly at the top of their game.  The article dives into why Withers made that decision, among other things. 

Ruined By Tweet and The Din of the Senseless

How One Stupid Tweet Ruined Justine Saccos Life

It ain’t a privilege to be on TV
and it ain’t a duty either. – Neil Young in Grandpa’s Interview

Whenever I think too deeply about what is going on in our culture I get the urge to slither into the shadows and never return.  I often think about that Neil Young quote above.  Earlier this week I was watching the absolutely brilliant movie Birdman.  There is a scene in the movie where the character that Michael Keaton plays is accidentally caught running through downtown New York in his underwear.  A video of it gets online and becomes popular.  His daughter tells him that, “Believe it or not, this is power”, in a scene that is both funny and sadly condemning of our times.  I am aware that modern fame is as much a dumb joke as anything.

Earlier today, thanks to my friend JR, I read the above New York Times article, a fascinating read, about how one person’s tweet, they made an off-color joke, lead to them being fired.  The author, I think rightly, comes to the conclusion that everyone, from the person that put the tweet up, to those that are condemning her, are part of a modern trend where everyone is performing for audiences that they can’t see.  A sample:

But perhaps she had now come to understand that her shaming wasn’t really about her at all. Social media is so perfectly designed to manipulate our desire for approval, and that is what led to her undoing. Her tormentors were instantly congratulated as they took Sacco down, bit by bit, and so they continued to do so. Their motivation was much the same as Sacco’s own — a bid for the attention of strangers — as she milled about Heathrow, hoping to amuse people she couldn’t see.

Yet here I am in a band, writing a blog.  I can’t help but feel conflicted at times.  Sometimes I feel like I’m wasting my fucking time.  However, I know how much writing, art, and music have meant to me.  I know that I might not be sane if not for it.  Part of the reason I started this blog was to try and create a platform where I could hopefully lead some people to things that I am passionate about, that I believe have value, in the din of senselessness that so often is our culture.  Books, albums, movies, and various forms of expression have been my armor in this world.  I must keep going, because this stuff is in my blood.  However, if I’m helping or hurting, only you can be the judge.

Being a Star is Meaningless

Being a star is meaningless.  I say this because it seems like there are so many stars these days and so few of them have anything resembling real talent.  Stars are created and destroyed by the entertainment industry.  If someone puts up the money to film and promote you, and if you are shameless enough to let the worst side of your nature shine on, you too can possibly be famous. 

That is not to say there are not real stars where talent, looks, and charisma come together.  Even detractors of Elvis would probably admit there was something special about him.  I have seen Morrissey several times and it was almost like seeing a living work of art.  I can’t describe it more than that, but his mere presence was captivating.  And I don’t say that because I am a fan of his music.  I have seen plenty of my heroes in the flesh, but this was something different. 

I am talking about this today because I have been listening to the band Helmet lately.  They are an alternative metal band that was most popular in the 90’s.  I like them for their staccato riffs and their take the paint off the walls noise solos.  Being part of a rhythm section, I appreciate their unique and influential approach to rhythm. 

Every time you read about them there is a comment about the fact that they didn’t find more success because they lacked charisma.  They had short haircuts and dressed like clean cut average joes.  I admit if I were to run across one of them in the streets I wouldn’t recognize them.  Also, if we are being honest, lead singer Page Hamilton had a functionary voice, but not a great one.  However they were a decent band that at the time made their own unique stamp on music.  They clearly were influential in the metal genre. 

But every time I read this comment that they didn’t find more success because of lack of charisma I find it to be more urban legend than reality.  There are so many times when writers are lazy and repeat the same fact over and over because they are cribbing off one another.  I am a firm believer that anyone can be famous if they receive the proper corporate media support.  Our TV channels are littered with the untalented, and quite often uninteresting, famous.   

It is unfortunate how too many of us judge something by how successful it is in the moment.  This band created records that I, and I know others, still listen to.  Meanwhile the superstar highway is clogged with the corpses of those who are now mere trivia questions and whose work no one can remember.  What lasts is the only thing that matters.  All else is just noise.