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.