Friday, April 25, 2008

I'm Too Old To Rock And Roll

What’s really weird is that nobody thinks I’m old but me. Or maybe that’s wishful thinking and I’ve become one of those people that young people feel the need to reassure with “but that’s not old,” either out of pity or terror that one day they too shall become me. Maybe they think I’m pretty cool for 37, and while its great that some people think I’m still cool, I’m not one of them. And I couldn’t be happier.

In the middle of celebrating my 32nd birthday I realized that I was actually 31. This was devastating in a way that perplexed pretty much everybody I knew, who would have thanked whatever they prayed to for an extra year. Well maybe if I told them, that is. The truth is, I was always in a rush to get old, largely of course because I thought that when I got older things simply had to get better than this. It did, but it also got worse too, now that I was responsible for everything. I’ve never understood this obsession with youth, this denial of aging, the most inevitable thing that can happen to you. Youth may be wasted on the young, but fear and nostalgia is wasted on the old. I’ve never understood men and women who lie about their age, as if anybody believes they are 27 when they say it. For one, no woman who is 27 feels the need to declare her age. When someone says so, we already know she is lying.

I’m 37 and have begun to relish in my uncoolness. I love that I was the last generation to dial a phone number. To use the word “irony” properly. Just minute ago I was on Facebook looking at the 667 strong “Petition for a Real Rock Band to Come to Jamaica” Group and realized that I do not want to become a member. One of the reasons of course was that they were bringing some group called Paramore, a band I’ve never heard of nor wish to know. I couldn’t relate and far from being depressed, I was relieved. My friend Brian goes batshit over Breaking Benjamin, Seether, Incubus and all these bands that I once called the sensitive side of asshole rock, but I couldn’t care less if a plane crash brought them down. And I even know the lead singer of Breaking Benjamin’s Dad. I knew I was leaving the rock scene when I realized that Jamaican rockers would rather take cues from Bush taking cues from Nirvana taking cues from The Pixies and when Gas Money, one of Jamaican rock’s brightest hopes played Alterbridge in concert, a move tantamount to playing Journey then calling yourself a bad motherfucker.

I’ve become the very curmudgeon I dreaded becoming when I was their age. Just as how my brother rued the day when Gangsta and Native tongues, usurped B-Boy era hip-hop, I find myself becoming a sarcastic Rolling Stone critic, who in my day bitched that Duran Duran was no Roxy Music. Nowadays I say the Maroon Five is no Duran Duran. It’s not just that I feel my music is better, but I’m at the age where I not only know, but also no longer have to prove it. If you grew up in the eighties than you’re the last for whom rock and roll was an active experience. Maybe it was because we got so little of it back then, but rock and roll was a dirty secret especially after high schools made us watch that Rock and Roll is devil music documentary, “Highway to Hell,” a program that rather casually suggested that every black created music form was actually hatched by the devil. Kids today may bristle at me saying that they are passive, but I’m not sure they know how to listen to an album anymore that I’m sure that only Radiohead knows how to make one. Nick Drake's Things Behind the Sun, reduces me to tears nearly every time I hear it but I don't know if music ever does that to young people. Everything I hated about myself before I heard David Bowie, the Smiths and The Cure became everything I loved after, but I don't know even though I really hope that a legion of misfit teenagers are having mini-epihanies in their bedrooms as I write this. But who are they listening to? I realize that this paragraph confirms that I’ve become exactly the person I hated talking to when I was young but that’s cool with me. I’ve even gone back to vinyl, but that’s another blog.

Two years back, the records I was most excited about where the Stooges and Funkadelic Reissues. This year it’s The Replacements and Mission of Burma. Only two weeks ago I saw X in concert and nearly wet myself. Love’s Forever Changes just came out (again) and both Madonna and Duran Duran recently dipped into the Timberland/Timberlake pool only to come out smelling funny. And old. Madonna is now old enough to have given birth to Justin Timberlake.

I saw this coming a mile off, way back when I was 19 and my friend Damon lent me Sergeant Pepper. I pretty much confirmed it when I realized that not only had I fallen out of love with hip-hop but that I was supposed to. Hip-hop is a music of perpetual adolescence and pretty much everybody I know who still swear by it are people who for want of a nicer term, refuse to grow up. Russell Simmons showing up at a formal dinner in trainers doesn’t say badass, it says immature. Even Dr. Dre knows that there are certain things that he simply cannot do anymore.

That’s not to say I don’t listen to contemporary music. I think Mastodon is the greatest band on the planet. The new Earth album can move both planets and bowels at the same time (a good thing). MIA and Santogold have made the world’s streets far more interesting and as soon as Beth Ditto gets her shit together, she will out-madge, Madonna without losing a single pound to do so. And Robyn’s back. But I’d rather think about 1984 when I first bought Purple Rain and played it so much that my parents could recite the lyrics. Or the first time I heard Pixies screaming Wave of Mutilation and started screaming too. Or the first time I heard Sweet Chile O’ Mine, part of it anyway, right after Hurricane Gilbert pulled a Hiroshima on us, with the band muttering Where do we go? Where do we go now? Or the first time I heard The Cult’s Love Removal Machine in a dance club. Or when the Cure pulled me under deep blue with Disintegration. Or when Steve got that shitty video of Ministry playing So What. Or the time that same Steve gave me a cassette of Fishbone on one side, Bad Brains on the other and changed my life. Or driving to The Wanderer with Steve (again? WTF!) in October 1991 when he first played me this little band that we loved instantly but didn’t think would go very far. Nirvana they were called. Or remembering where I was when Kurt died. Yeah, I’d rather look backwards than forward, but I’m now at the age where I’d rather gaze at what I never left behind than hold out for what’s coming. Some would like to wait and see, but I'd much rather see and wait. Otherwise I’d be the post 35 year old either playing or screaming at a rock concert, willfully ignoring that some of the people in the audience are my friend’s kids. I always thought that the 40 year old at the nightclub was the most pathetic person in the room. I’m just glad that I checked out before I became him. Youth is for the young after all, and Tom Waits is for me. Just look at him. Was there ever a time when he wasn’t old?

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Abbot and Costello, Tom and Jerry, Sport and Politics

If nothing else, this year’s Olympics will not be boring. The torch relay has been both triumph and disaster in equal measure—but its in answering whose triumph and whose disaster that the question itself gets muddled. So as I write this, Gavin Newsom, perhaps America’s most liberal mayor has organized a security detail that would make a pre-unification East Berlin envious. This must be the first torch relay to have state and federal agencies patrolling the route, with an FBI agent specifically to guard Natalie Coughlin, the five-time Olympic medal swimmer. Visually at least, it will be exactly what it is, a Chinese Olympics: creativity in the midst of a harsh security wall to keep the people out, yet acting as if it’s for the people. Those who fear that the world is being remade in China’s image need look no further than of all places, San Francisco.

I hope the freaks come out in numbers. It’s been a curious time for the Chinese government, stunned and often hit off guard when protesters not only become vocal, but vocal without consequence. If you know nothing about the lives of writers, you may not think anybody is paying for this Olympics with their freedom, but take a look at PEN America’s website and you’ll see the parade of writers who have been detained and imprisoned since this Olympic campaign began in earnest, a crackdown that may not be a literary kristallnact, but is certainly as close to that allusion as one could expect. Many of these writers have not been locked up for any actual writing (yes, some people are still imprisoned for their words) but what they might write. It’s the Philip K. Dick present that the film, Minority Report mistakenly grasped as future. Future murderers may still have it free, but writers have been imprisoned what they might write for centuries now.

That’s because Science fiction has always been about the present. What has also always been with us is the marriage of sports and politics. The repeated calls on both sides of the Chinese political wall to keep politics out of sport smells of both moral hypocrisy and an ignorance of history. There has never been a time when sports have not been political. Anyone who thinks the 1936 Olympics wasn’t a political gesture has no grasp of politics or the Olympics. What about USA’s boycott of 1980? Mexico 68? The USSR’s boycott of 1984? Romania’s decision to ignore the 1984 boycott? Humanitarianism is itself an act of enormous political significance. What’s especially galling about the keep politics out of sport brigade is that they have no problem attaching political significance to an event post Olympics, such as taking some credit for Jesse Owens’ dazzling Olympics run, as if that played some part in the struggle for civil rights. Of far greater significance is that Owens had to race against horses to put food on the table and was charged with tax evasion.

Maybe you can afford to keep politics out of sport but we can’t. Too much is at stake, too many people are watching and too often, people do not change unless the world begins to see. A child abuser is less likely to abuse if nobody leaves him or her alone with child. So far, the Chinese government has tried the usual tactics—hide everybody from view before people start to miss their absence, but that did not work this time. Then there is the potential bloodbath of Tibet, carried about by a government not used to dissent and bewildered by being thrust on an international stage that they cannot control and having to justify their actions— even as they claim that they do not have to justify themselves to anybody. Suddenly, the idea of being true to the sport at the expense of politics has become as ridiculous as it always was, the last retort of politicians and businessmen with a stake in the outcome. By attending the opening and closing ceremonies, Gordon Brown and others are agreeing in public to go along with a sham, admiring the view from the ship’s deck and ignoring the horror of slaves below. They insult us all by remind us that this is ultimately about money and power, not the human spirit or the Olympic Ideal. That is as political an act as any protest.

What does it say about us that we are willing to put human rights on hold just so we can have something to watch on TV for two weeks? What do athletes say by deliberately blinkering themselves, ignoring what they are going into, as if it’s somehow nobler to represent some athletic ideal in a regime dedicated to crushing the human spirit? If you ignore what China is doing in Tibet aren’t you in some way responsible? Some people will support human rights in ‘spirit’ and yet see no moral dilemma in spending money at these games, money that may very well buy better weapons to do a better job on Tibet. When good people do nothing blood is on their hands.

I support these protests, I support free speech, I support Mia Farrow’s campaign and I support embarrassing people into change when nothing else will. You may think humiliating people into change does the opposite, but if you're reading this, chances are you're not the one suffering. You can stay on the sidelines or tell yourself that politics should not be in sports until it becomes a mantra, but if people die while we do nothing it’s partially our fault. I won’t be joining you for beers on your couch, thanks for asking. Because when the oppressors come for me, and one day they might, you’ll be the same person saying sorry man, I just want to watch the game.