I am somewhere south of the Liffey, Donnybrook presumably. Morehampton Road. I am at a bookstore, a bookstore with a deep blue painted wooden shopfront, its name in blocky white lettering stretched across the front above the entrance. Something like Tarzan, or Tarzana.
I go inside. The store is low ceilinged but large, badly lit but sparsely furnished with lots of space for the daylight to penetrate, to move about in. It’s not very busy. I don’t take much notice but there seem to be at least a handful of other patrons browsing the shelves. It’s also quite dusty. Sawdust, it smells like. The flooring is comprised of plywood sheets that bend underfoot, giving a spring to the step.
At the rear of the store I find a plain makeshift-looking table, topped with books on special offer. I focus on a stack of five or six glossy trade paperbacks, with a dust-jacketed hardcover at the bottom. The price is displayed on each with a round, bright orange sticker. Yann Martel’s The Life of Pi for only €3. I examine the books one by one, checking for creases, for smudges, for dog-ears.
I pick the one that seems to be in the best physical condition, and take it to the counter by the left hand wall. There isn’t much of a queue at the till. The man behind the till has an American accent. He looks suspiciously like Dave Eggers.
At the counter a voice enquires: “Are you Dave Eggers?”
The man behind the till turns toward the voice, nods slightly and replies: “Yes, I am.”
I don’t remember anything after this, unfortunately.
On Kottke’s weblog today, there’s a post comparing manufactured pseudo-punk Avril Lavigne to her supposedly less phony pop-punk genremates, with a link to an interesting rant by Dave Eggers about ‘selling out’.
The Eggers rant is interesting, yes, but also lazy. Isn’t it just playing into the hands of the puritans and the naysayers?
Personally, I’ve always taken the term ‘selling out’ to mean compromising one’s artistic integrity for the sake of popularity and/or financial profit. By this reasoning, therefore, just because one becomes famous and makes a lot of money from one’s art does not necessitate that one is a sell-out.
Regarding the Avril Lavigne thing however, and the obvious attempt to show that the line between ‘real’ and ‘phony’ is blurry at best — well let me give you another example:
Some time last year, Puddle of Mudd were guests on a BBC music show called Re:Covered, where bands play two songs to a live studio audience; one an original piece, the other a cover. Puddle of Mudd began with a cover of an old Alice In Chains song, Brother. It was a stunning rendition, beautifully performed, resonating with emotion. Alice In Chains were obviously an inspiration to them, and it showed.
Then they played one of their own songs. And they were fucking awful.
I guess the moral of this story is, just because you can play a song well doesn’t mean you’re any more ‘real’, or any less ‘phony’. If music is more important to you than the superficial appreciation of a well-played tune, the differences _do_ matter.
I haven’t been eminently vociferous with regard to the situation in Iraq as of late. My comments might even seem conspicuous by their absense, considering my previous writings on the matter.
I could lie, use the old chestnut that anything I could have said would have been put better by others elsewhere.
Yet the truth is that the dissipation of the conflict (or war, or whatever you want to call it) came as a big surprise to me last week. Not that I didn’t think the Iraqi people would welcome the coalition forces with seemingly wide open arms once the Ba’ath party was out of the picture, but I honestly believed that Saddam Hussein would have put up more of a fight, or done something spectacularly catastrophic and despicable, as the allied troops rolled into Baghdad.
Personally, I did not support the action that was taken because — whatever the consequences — there _were_ ultertior motives at stake, not to mention my belief that one should not be eternally grateful to a superpower that sees fit to pick and choose its enemies and yet defend its actions on moral or humanitarian grounds. Despite this, no one can say that they weren’t happy for the people of Iraq when they took to the streets en masse to celebrate the demise of his crumbling regime and let the world know what they really think of him. (Of course, this _may_ all have been an act: the Iraqi people have been conditioned to give devout allegiance to their rulers for a long time now; this is something to keep in mind.)
My fears may have been allayed somewhat. Even when it seems that 1,000+ alleged Iraqi casualties don’t even trump a single American one, I could shrug it off as ‘something to be expected’. Others, however, are only now coming to light.
The ransacking of Iraq’s historial treasures, for one. Both the National Muesum and the Koranic library are reported to have been destroyed irreparably. And the fact that this ruination could have been prevented by coalition intervention leaves a very bitter taste in the mouth. (Other weblogs such as Antipixel have been tracking these events throughout the week; read Jeremy’s posts here, here and here.)
The freedom of the people depends at least in part on their identity, and their collective assertion of it. Collective identity is often both defined and derived through historial artifacts: cultural, _textual_ testimonies; works of art in the broadest sense. Without a preserved, tangible connection to their history, the collective identity of the Iraqi people might lack a solid foundation.
Sure, on an incidental basis the loss of the material might not compare to the loss of the corporeal. But the impact of the former is often far, far greater in significance.
Think of the people of Afghanistan under the regime of the Taliban. Think of the citizens of North Korea under the iron fist of Kim Jong-Il. This is what happens to people when their history — their ability to _shape_ or affect their own history — is taken away from them.
In the western world our material connection to history (to our successes and achievements, our mistakes and regrets) is taken for granted. Without it, we would be very little if not nothing. We — and the United States in particular — should be setting a better example, not standing idly by while priceless knowledge and heritage is lost in flames and ruin.
*1. What was the first band you saw in concert?*
I remember when I was very young, like 5 or 6 years old, at some free music festival in St. Anne’s Park. The Lark in the Park or something like that. A band called Spider Simpson was playing. I don’t remember them per se, just my aunt Kathryn talking about them. Apparently they were named after a character from Prisoner: Cell Block H.
Skipping forward a few years, I really wanted to see Soundgarden, who were headlining Sunstroke in the summer of 1995. At the time Soundgarden were like my favourite band in the world, ever. But my mum wouldn’t let me go. In hindsight it wasn’t such a big deal, as Soundgarden were notoriously shite live. At the time, however, it was like my soul had been doused with caustic soda.
Three years on, and the first gig I paid to get into was a show by a really bad Northern Irish band called Watercress. I just didn’t like their music whatsoever — mandolins are good and all, but not in the context of sugary-sweet fey pop rubbish — yet I was there for someone’s birthday, so I kinda wrote it off.
After that, I can’t really remember. This is a period of my gig-going life that I disown, to be honest, so that’s probably a good thing. I think I saw The Offspring at the SFX sometime around then; I had the last vestiges of a really bad flu-like bug and spent the show clinging to a sweat-drenched wall, just wishing I could go home.
There’s a big blank space in my memory from then on until the Bouncing Souls matinee show I saw at the tail end of 1999. This was when my decisions started getting better. Not quite there yet, but almost. I wish they’d been better that summer though: Fugazi played here and I was completely oblivious.
So, in answer to the question, (I wish) the first band I saw in concert was Zen Guerrilla, who supported Man Or Astro-Man? at an awesome gig in early 2000. As far as I’m concerned now, the line starts here.
*2. Who is your favorite artist/band now?*
At the moment I’ve been digging The Blood Brothers. Their latest album was released just a few weeks ago; the production is quite weak and hollow, it must be said, particularly compared to the lush majesty of last full-length. But the songs — oh, the songs! I just can’t get enough!
*3. What’s your favorite song?*
It is, and most likely always will be, Search by the Minutemen. I even remember the first time I heard it. I almost didn’t feel worthy to hear it.
*4. If you could play any instrument, what would it be?*
I would love to master the bass guitar. I have one, but I don’t have an amp. Yes, I know that doesn’t make much sense.
*5. If you could meet any musical icon (past or present), who would it be and why?*
I’m not sure. Before I would have said Mike Watt, but he’s not so much an icon to me as someone I really and truly respect as a musician and a human being. Sure I’d love to meet him, but not in the manner that this question implies. Actually, now that I think about it, I wouldn’t like or want to meet anyone in that manner. I get very starstruck, you see.
This morning while reading a book review by Howard Zinn from the late 1980’s (Plato: Fallen Idol, from The Zinn Reader, Seven Stories Press, p.457) regarding a work in critique of Socrates and Plato’s writings by I.F. Stone which had been causing some controversy at the time (although, to be fair, _any_ critique of such a philosophical bastion is bound to stir up trouble in some academic circles, even now), I was reminded not only of my own past experiences discussing Plato and his treatment of Socrates at university, but also of something I found on the web last night, a dialogue of sorts (c/o Textism) between a ‘warmonger’ and a ‘peacenik’ debating the current crisis in Iraq.
Zinn, who admits in his introduction to his piece that he himself “had fun with Plato”, is quite candid in his appraisal of Stone’s near evisceration of the Socratic dialogues, in particular Crito — who, in the hands of Plato, is rendered helpless by Socrates’ apparently dazzling skills of argument — and the Apology, where Socrates proclaims that “[the] unexamined life is not worth living” yet goes on to mount an argument in defense of blind obedience to government. One of the stronger points made here is that the Socrates we know today is only the Socrates that Plato wanted us to know. Despite being his mentor, would it really have been beyond Plato to put his own words into Socrates’ mouth, for the sake of giving weight to his own beliefs? It’s not like Socrates would have known about it, having been dead long before many of Plato’s dialogues were composed.
While the Socratic dialogues are, for the most part, an entertaining read and certainly appear at face value to be what one might describe as potentially _deconstructionist_ — cutting through layers of rhetorical membrane to reach the meat of the matter — it must be said however that they are, at root, suspiciously loaded, one-sided arguments. The critic of Socrates is never really given a fair shake of the whip, as Plato gives his mentor the oratorical analogue of Muhammad Ali’s legendary ring skills, floating like a butterfly with a flurry of seemingly irrefutable statements that leave his opponent breathless, and stinging like a bee with his conclusions, delivering a knockout blow to his critic’s position. Looking more closely, it appears that every critical statement has been set up like a fly for Socrates to swat; here is Plato, not only putting words in the mouth of his mentor, but also those who would disagree with him.
Are the Socratic dialogues of great philosophical value, even in the present day? Of course they are; that much, as well as Plato’s lauded position in the annals of modern culture, is not disputed. But are they representative of the essence of true dialogue? No, not really.
Which brings me to A Warmonger Explains War to a Peacenik. Even that title alone tells you which direction this particular dialogue is headed. While it does, in fairness, make many valid points against the Iraqi incursion and the motivations behind it, highlighting in particular the continuing hypocricy of the American government, the bias of the format doesn’t do this position any favours. The ‘peacenik’ is obviously the same voice as the anonymous author of the piece; the points made by the ‘warmonger’ here are merely those that the ‘peacenik’ wants him to make. Whether these points have been made before by various people in actual dialogue is irrevelant: the fact is that _here_, in _this_ case, the opposition hasn’t really been given a chance to defend itself, nor on the other hand be defeated convincingly. The most that this dialogue achieves, if it achieves anything, is an accurate sense of the anti-war leftists’ exacerbation in the face of the (predominantly American) pro-war lobby’s almost labyrinthine contrariness.
The big mistake the author makes here is in closing off the discussion with a flippant remark about the prevaling climate of anti-French sentiment, and a final quip of “I give up!”. First of all, the bold-faced racism displayed by the (again, mostly American) backlash against France and everything French is much more significant than such a treatment gives credit for — in fact, it is symptomatic of the general American lowest-common-denominator attitute towards foreign cultures, even within its own borders, which is undoubtedly a driving force behind support for the conflict. Secondly, _why give up?_ To shrug your shoulders and throw your hands up in frustration while simultaneously giving a knowing wink for sympathy for your cause is not just glib, but arrogant.
Until both sides of the divide can sit down and truly argue on equal terms, ‘dialogues’ such as this are pretty much meaningless. Not that I don’t agree with the sentiment — the pro-war lobby is in serious need of a good dressing-down — but when you put words into people’s mouths, _especially_ those on the right, it merely serves to reinforce their self-righteous indignation. As a rehearsal for the real thing it might be good exercise, but no fight has been won here; this is nothing more than boxing with shadows.