Friday, March 26, 2004

NOT THAT AGAIN. Oh, brother, Michael "Cracker" Graham is doing that "Liberals act all uptight while we Republicans loosen our ties and crank the Hootie tunes" number.

As one of the dubbed Japanese in "What's Up Tiger Lily?" muttered with exasperation when one of his colleagues hollered Banzai!: Could somebody tell him? You can start here.
A FAVOR TO A FRIEND. At OpinionJournal today, a chilling tale of the Orwellian persecution of a citizen accused of taking drugs: His lawyer tells how the brownshirts "raided drugstores near [his] home; seized his medical records without going through the required process... leaked false information... that he was about to plead guilty to a felony; threatened to make his medical records public unless he pled guilty to a felony he didn't commit... he, and I, worry about the precedent that's being set in this case. So should you."

I guess most of you have already figured out that the citizen suffering this Kafka nightmare is Rush Limbaugh. I mean, try to imagine any other celebrity drug user -- or, for that matter, drug decriminalization advocate -- getting this kind of sympathetic treatment at the nation's #1 right-wing rantskeller.

Just last June, OJ's Benjamin Ivory seemed close to retching as he noted that the French Ministry of Culture has honored "rocker Lou Reed, who wrote a hymn to 'Heroin.'" OJ was also hard on Reason editor Nick Gillespie for his alleged crimes against the drug war, calling his magazine "the High Times of the policy world," and accusing its staff of smoking marijuana at editorial meetings.

But let a friend of La Causa get caught in the noose, and on goes the libertarian mask. Brothers and sisters! When they came for Rush, I did nothing because I was not a millionaire blowhard...

Maybe next week, Rolling Stone will give a page or two to Courtney Love's lawyer... nah, they have some standards.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

JONAH GOLDBERG'S INTELLECTUAL METHOD ON DISPLAY:

1. "This reader (a professor) wants to know how it would be a slap in the face to Americans to get rid of the under God portion since it was only added half a century ago. Well, because it obviously would be."

2. "Like saying violence never solves anything, people understand what I mean even when in reality what I'm saying isn't true."

His Town Hall bio says he's "Generation X’s answer to P.J. O’Rourke," but I'm thinking more Professor Irwin Corey without the self-awareness (and, it goes without saying, the intentional laughs).
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MRS. JESUS & THE GENERAL. Were we following the "Shorter" format (invented by D Squared and prefected by Busy Busy Busy, I keep forgetting to mention), today's Crazy Jesus Lady sidewalk homily would reduce to, "The 9/11 Committee witnesses were poilte and collegial, proving once again that everything is Clinton's fault." Accusing Clinton of being a Very Bad Man has become Noonan's "Carthago delenda est," though while Cato hoped for and got the Third Punic War out of his non sequitur, I assume that with her charges of "moral retardation" etc., Noonan is only bucking for a clear view from God's cloud of Clinton being hurled into everlasting darkness at the Last Judgment. In the words of Madonna, it's like a little prayer.

That's why she shows no gratitude to the Commission for offering her yet another excuse for Clintonophobic coprolalia, declaring it should not have been convened. (What our government should be doing for us, she suggests, is "making sure every citizen has a CBN suit, a regulation gas mask and data on how to recognize and respond to a chemical, biological or nuclear incident." Is that to prepare for attack, Crazy Jesus Lady, or to qualify for employment in one of the Bush economy's few job growth markets?)

And she's not alone: General Ralph "Blood 'n' Guts" Peters also had enough of this consent-of-the-governed bushwa: "Democracy is, by far, the greatest system of government yet created by human genius," concedes the General (perhaps silently adding, "the greatest, that is, until the coming rule of the RALPH PETERS ZOMBIE MOLE ARMY!") "The problem," the General says, "is the elections." While in peacetime these little electoral rituals do "little lasting harm," wartime requires we be more honest about our contempt for the ballot box. "While many domestic issues deserve debate," says Peters, "the War on Terror demands unity of purpose from both parties. It is essential that our enemies understand that we're united in fighting terrorism." So zip it, Mr. Kerry, till the war is over (by Peters' own reckoning, "decades" from now, if ever).

Those of us who remember President Nixon, the bills you have to pay, or even yesterday, might point out that even during the Civil War and World War II, elections were held in which candidates addressed, sometimes vigorously, the conduct of those wars. Insubordination! roars the General, and what's all this talk about history? "The hearings in Washington are history lessons," he says, "...But America is about the future -- about turning our backs on the past..."

Ignorance of the past would be helpful in advancing the General's agenda, no doubt. And in a conflict designed to last many, many years, time is certainly on his side. Repeat it with me now: America has always been at war with Terra... It will come more naturally soon enough.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

SHORTER JOHN DERBYSHIRE. The white, straight man is the nigger of the world.

SHORTER TACITUS. I once dwelt among the Arabs of Cobble Hill, and saw they were the only people in New York who didn't drape themselves in the Stars and Stripes after 9/11 (why, even in Williamsburg everyone dressed like Uncle Sam for three months). Now that an Arab has been photographed mourning Yassin in some unidentified Brooklyn neighborhood, I see my blanket contempt for the lot of them was and is justified.

(Okay, it wasn't much shorter, but it always hurts a little more when you thought they knew better...)

I HAVE HERE IN MY HAND A LIST OF 57 ANONYMOUS LETTER-WRITERS! I see the sort of letters in which The Corner specializes -- dark stories about traitorous liberals, published without attribution-- have started turning up at Instapundit.

Here's the money shot:
I passed this news on to the editor, who was crestfallen: "Oh, no. I don't want anything good to happen for Bush before the election," was the reaction...
You believe that, don't you? Why. it's as verisimilitudinous as, oh, Dick Cheney crying aloud, "We've got to get into Iraq before the price of oil drops another penny!"

Give the Professor credit, though; he adds some new wrinkles. For one, his alleged correspondent prefaces his story by telling how he thinks IP is generally "dead wrong" about treason in the press corps. That's a good one! It adds a prodigal-son angle to the story, of the sort that has tickled the Right since the days of Whittaker Chambers. And it also means the author is not a neocon hothead, but one of those moderate fellers -- like Michael Totten, who bravely asserts his indepedence by saying something nice about gay rights every week or so -- and thereby especially believable when boosting the IP Agenda.

But the best, and I really tip my hat to him on this, is the feint at the end: IP says he only "assumed" the author wanted anonymity (meaning we were theoretically close to actually knowing his name; and, as any street scam artist knows, the idea of proximity -- "My bank is just ten minutes away!" -- enhances believability). But now he is glad he left the name off, because his correspondent has sent another missive, hinting that his Ninja masters would "blacklist" him if they find out he's been revealing their secret recipes. "Blacklisted by Big Media?" cries the Prof, throwing up his hands. "For wanting us to win the war? An appalling thought."

I get letters like that all the time -- "I was a major Bush booster, and even contributed to his campaign, before he crawled through my window and raped me; don't tell anyone, I can't afford to lose my job with the Texas Rangers" -- but they're all so sensational I don't think my cynical readers will believe them.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

A GOOD MAN IN A BAD TRADE. Check Roger Ailes and his commenters' nominees for The Corner's "Best Conservative Fiction" list. Among the glittering jewels: “The Lady of the Lake,” by Susan Smith; “Intruder in the Dust,” by Paul Bremer; "The Confidence Man," by Ahmed Chalabi; and “The Executioner’s Song,” by George W. Bush. They're so funny I won't bother to compete.

So I will only reflect on the sad case of Richard (Rick) Brookhiser, self-appointed proctor of this gang of unruly undergrads who wage culture war by spitball without the faintest idea of what culture is. RB started his career as a teenager, writing for National Review about the D.C. Vietnam Moratorium. Expressing himself mostly these days in the New York Observer, he is more often wrong than right, but he has had time, opportunity, and inclination to reflect upon greater matters than partisan uplift, and it is truly painful to see his better nature batted aside by noncognoscenti who reduce what should be a serious sector of our national debate to propagandistic parlor games.

Some people think every liberal has to answer for ANSWER, but I thank God every day I don't have to take responsibility for this lot.

GO PEANUT, IT'S YOUR BIRTHDAY. Sadly, No! is always worth a look, but today's pre-9/11 timeline, comparing mounting alarm over terrorist movements by some parties while the Bush brigades were playing patty-cakes, is so good it made me rethink my cynicism about the Clarke charges.

Also making me rethink that is Clarke himself on Charlie Rose's show, and the godawful screaming from the neocon shills in the press. Jesus Christ -- Nixon's people showed more sangfroid when Woodward and Bernstein were coming up their ass. Something must be up.

THE BOY IN THE BUBBLE. Professor Reynolds downplays the egregious Jack Kelley scandal by quoting Oxblog: "Does anyone consider USA Today to be the United States' paper of record and its standard-bearer of journalistic integrity? ...for all you bloggers out there: How many times have you linked to a USA Today story in the past six months?"

The first point implied in this misbegotten argument -- that it's important to beat up the New York Times, at which a young black guy screwed up small stories, but unimportant to chastise USA Today, at which a veteran white Pulitzer-Prize nominee screwed up HUGE stories, because us conservatives (snif) love and respect the Times so durned much -- is so transparently fake, only Andrew Sullivan could believe it. But I believe the self-regard evident in the second part is wholly authentic.

USA Today has the largest circulation of any newspaper in America. Let me repeat that: the largest circulation of any newspaper in America. To think it's unimportant because bloggers don't link to it is insane. It's like saying the most important choreographer of the 1990s was the guy that came up with the Hampsterdance.

Elsewhere at the Professor's, we learn that he bought some grilling equipment with his tax cut money, and his wife is voting for Bush. "I wonder if this effect is widespread?" he asks. I hate to fuck with his heat-sealed reality, but here's a link that suggests it may not be. The Professor may want to run it through Technorati to see if it's worth reading. Alternately, he could try getting out of the house more.

Monday, March 22, 2004

POMOCONS? David Frum joins his colleagues on Clarke Patrol, telling us that the "former Clinton counter-terrorism official" is too old-fashioned in his thinking because he suggested getting the people who actually did the attacks instead of bombing Iraq.
The huge dividing line in the debate over terror remains just this: Is the United States engaged in a man-hunt -- for bin Laden, for Zawahiri, for the surviving alumni of the al Qaeda training camps? -- or is it engaged in a war with the ideas that animated those people and with the new generations of killers who will take up the terrorist mission even if the US were to succeed in extirpating every single terrorist now known to be alive and active? Clarke has aligned himself with one side of that debate -- and it's the wrong side.
It's been a while since this came up, but I still think it's amazing that these guys keep asking us to get behind a war that pits us against no specific tangible enemy, but against concepts: evil, terror, etc.

It's practically postmodern. The objective correlatives to the concepts with which we are at war are totally fluid, and we can only follow, without completely trusting, the authorial "I" (or, in this case, "W"). We dismiss the architect of 9/11 as an irrelevance, yet spend billions and blood to capture a dictator who had nothing really to do with it. And Saudi Arabia, a malefactor Frum specifically names in his article, we have not threatened with so much as a single missle!

No wonder so many of us stodgily cling to the old, discarded certainties.

Frum's idea of a "war with ideas" is more sinister still. A cursory look at the history of mankind shows that wars against ideas, as opposed to wars against physical adversaries, tend to go badly for their instigators. Ferdinand and Isabella successfully fought the Moors out of Spain, for example, but the Inquisition did a lousy job of the David Frum part of the operation, that is -- enforcing the worldview that the grand thinkers of the time felt was the really important part of the struggle.

Of course, being Americans, we tend to think the Inquisition ultimately failed because it was wrong and the proto-pluralists the Inquisitors tortured and burned at stakes were right. But think about it: the Reyes Catolicos subscribed to a perfectly lovely worldview called Christianity. We can today criticize the Inquisition without being presumed anti-Catholic, but in their time, this was not really an option. So the faultless ideas of Jesus Christ became associated with a reign of terror.

In other words, it is possible to have the right idea and still do things so wrong that good men will stand against you.


BLOGGER BURNOUT. Pray forgive the recent paucity of posting here. Alicublog recently celebrated its first anniversary in this format (after a year as an alicubi webmag featurette), and contemplation of this milestone induced in me an overwhelming sense of fatigue. Pissing into the wind as a long-term enterprise will do this to even the most muleheaded practictioner.

I find myself unable to get exercised over the scandals of the day: the Clarke charges, for example, strike me as a non-starter: after decades of botched Middle Eastern and terrorist policy, what's so outrageous or unexpected about Bush's malfeasance? In the context of our current poisoned discourse, it just seems like a means of protecting the Democrats against the inevitable election-year claims of weakness and irresolution. 9/11 has turned into a bloody shirt grabbed at each end by opposing parties, each furiously wrestling for control of the right to place blame, while small countries react to violence by engaging in less spectacular but possibly constructive measures to reduce chances of a recurrence. Someone's got their eye on the wrong ball.

Well, this too will pass. I could always go to The Corner and cherry-pick idiocies for a boost. Apparently they're still pushing the affirmative action bake sale strategy, thus convincing white teenage students that black people get all the breaks. Well, at least they get cookies out of it; the Two Minute Hate came, as I recall, without refreshments.

And there's always Lileks. Dear, reliable Jimbo continues to hunt traitors, this time at anti-Iraq-war demos. He snarls about non-support in the Village -- meaning, I suppose, that he'll boycott Cafe Reggio next time he's in town to flog a book. He says the idea that "the personal is the political" makes his blood run cold, a puzzling sentiment from someone whose daily recreation is tying world events to shopping trips with Gnat to Target.

And Instapundit is back from vacation. Plenty of laughs coming there, for sure.

But sometimes the asylum inmates just aren't that much fun to watch.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

THE PARTY'S OVER. NRO Frat-Boy Emeritus Jonah Goldberg asks, why does Baba Booey hate America so much?
From the people who firmly believe in South Park Republicanism (You know who you are), in the wake of Howard Stern's new campaign to unseat George W. Bush. I used to be a fan of Stern's, but it seems that when he's forced to choose between winning the war on terror and having a more hospitable climate for dirty jokes, he'll choose the latter.
Harsh, dude! I thought conservatives were supposed to be the fun kids. Only a few years ago they were warming to drug law reform and playing at a Republican Party Reptilianism that was woefully (and, one imagines, willfully) self-contradictory but at least, you know, sounded kind of fun.

But now look: these days the Right Guard is down on gay people, rock and hip-hop music, even swearing ("Their language would have shocked my grandmother"). And they seem by common consent to have begun a mass retreat from any advocacy of freeing the weed; when a NRO masthead columnist claims that Rush Limbaugh's addiction to drugs means "his attacks on drug use and drug legalization resound more powerfully than ever," what sort of message does that send to our young hacks?

About the only outre activities they seem to endorse are showing snuff films to kids -- eh, not my thing -- and strong drink -- which enthusiasm I share and commend to them, knowing that, if this is the face of conservatism for the near future, they will need many barrels of it to get through.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

DON'T BELIEVE THE SNIPE. From the Basque paper Berria on the incoming Spanish prime minister:
As Zapatero said, his first objective will be "to call on all the parties to fight against all kinds of terrorism." From the start of the campaign he stressed that there was "a need to restore unity and consensus in the antiterrorist sphere," and that it was also necessary to prevent that sphere from turning into a source of tension...

Zapatero yesterday confirmed his "commitment" to pull Spanish troops out of Iraq before July 1, but stressed that this plan had existed before the Madrid attacks. "The intervention and occupation of Iraq has been a huge disaster. Spanish troops will return [from Iraq]."

"Tony Blair and George Bush will need to engage in some reflection and self-criticism; you can't bomb a country just in case; you can't wage war with lies."
Zapatero may be prevaricating, greatly or slightly, but I thought you might want to hear some of his actual words, rather than subsisting on the simple characterizations of cowardice and pro-terrorism applied to him and the whole Spanish nation by the more simple-minded among us.

Definitely not one of the simple-minded is Ezra of Pandagon, who floats the idea that "a terrorist attack delays an election by two months automatically." Though I admire his seriousness, I must disagree.

Remember the first post-9/11 New York mayoral election? That almost didn't happen as scheduled. After the attacks, the thugs Murdoch and Giuliani tried to get the election postponed in the interests of "order," leaving Giuliani as some sort of extra-democratic ruler for a period of time ("three months, or six, or 12," proposed the Post) till who knows what authority considered the coast clear for democracy.

The Democratic primary had been delayed for purely functional reasons (it had been scheduled for September 11), so Giuliani summoned the chief combatants, Mark Green and Fernando Ferrer, and told them the deal. Green, the schmuck, was willing to go for it; but Ferrer, bless him, told Rudy to stuff it. He was the least powerful man in the room, but he said that the will of the people should prevail despite the near occasion of terror.

And you know what? He was right. He was so right that he got his way, despite the awesome power arrayed against him.

We got a shitty mayor out of that election, true, but what a blow our souls would have suffered had we decided (or allowed others to decide for us) that any times are too perilous for democracy.

Sunday, March 14, 2004

BACK TO POLITICS, ALAS. Well, here I am in my own overpriced (but at least, compared to English abodes, well-heated) Brooklyn apartment, thumbing through the local dispatches. The Madrid bombings, I see, are serving as fodder for the Bush campaign. Some operatives have begun to refer to them as "3-11" -- as if Europeans had heretofore no experience of terrorism.

Yet the Spanish anti-terror demos, which I followed in the English press, make a wonderful contrast to the internecine fist-shaking bullshit our native pot-stirrers favor. Imagine how the neos would respond were the Spaniards' gestures of defiance to terror adopted here! The raised-palm salute, the cries of "a people united will never be defeated" -- hey, where have I heard that before? And they seem to call for unity in the face of attack, rather than for bluestate-redstate enmity. Surely Karl Rove would, in a similar situation, dispatch legions of columnists to correct the situation.

As it is, the cons respond with a head-spinning conversion to multilateralism. Aiming, one supposes, to distract from Bush's maladministration of American affairs, they urge us to vote not for our own interests, but that of our allies: "Think how the world will interpret a vote by America throwing Bush out of office," says Roger L. Simon. "Think of the Kurdish people. Think of the students demonstrating today in Iran."

The solution is obvious: let us eject Bush from the Presidency, and nominate him for Secretary-General of the U.N.

On the lighter side, Peggy Noonan is still nuts. "Could a Republican please say something interesting?" Crazy Jesus Lady asks. "GOP senators and congressmen... need a little spirit of 1994: 'We'll make the very dome of this Capitol vibrate with our energy.'" One imagines Newt Gingrich cranking his mimeograph machine and sneering, "She can talk -- she's still got a job."

Friday, March 12, 2004

ENGLAND FIVE. The Nottingham show was at another smallish venue, The Maze at the Forest Tavern. Lach had a cold so,to preserve his voice, he skipped sound check and had our driver pick him up just in time for the performance, coming into the club as the openers finished with his sweatshirt hood fully over his head like a prizefighter before a bout. When he performed you couldn't tell he was sick. Whatta pro.

In contrast to the generally very flat Midlands travel, Nottingham is very hilly, with some streets just absurdly graded like those of San Francisco or Glasgow (thank God it wasn't raining). Around the club we saw a surprising amount of graffiti and a number of home alarm signs. Steve says Nottingham has the worst crime rates in England. Well, that's what happens when do-gooders like Robin Hood start weakening people's sense of personal responsibility.

On our day off, Lach went into London by train for his solo show to save the cost of keeping van and crew there overnight, so Bill and I knocked around Lincoln and finally made it up to that Cathedral we'd been threartening to visit. It's at the top of a steep hill and, unlike a lot of European cathedrals I've visited, serves as the architectural centerpiece of a really posh neighborhood -- with little shops (not tourist shops, but clothiers and chemists and so forth) and obviously upscale residential addresses nestled in narrow streets. Apparently the volunteers who run the Cathedral were not working, so Bill and I couldn't get inside the place, so we circled it to take in its mass, which is considerable. Again, that much carved stone in one place puzzles the modern mind: you have to believe in permanence a lot more than most of us do to fashion a thing like that. Unable to get at the guts, we went to a very nice pub called the Magna Carta and had a few pints of Banks's Bitter. The pub was quiet and the light was fading; through the windows the little buildings fell into silhouette and a nearby medieval wall -- this kind of thing is all over the place, apparently -- was smacked with floodlights from the ground, and the deep shadow this caused across its top made it seem like a large piece of theatrical scenery standing in front of a dark blue scrim.

That night we watched some of our Lincoln friends rehearse their band, and haunted with them a few more pubs. I was still not over this cold but I reckoned I'd be fucked if I'd let some germ prevent me from having pints with the good people of our English hometown.

The final show in London was at Barfly, the closest thing to CBGB I've seen around here: black walls, hard light, tiny dressing room with walls thick with graffiti. It was harder, I noticed also, to elbow your way through the crowd here: the punters stood their ground like New Yorkers. We smashed through the set in true urban-marauder manner, using manic energy to override fatigue, and received plaudits; a gaggle of girls made much of us and one of them kissed my cheek as I lugged the bass drum down the back steps, constituting my entire ration of road sex for this tour. Later we were invited to the apartments of another band to yammer about music and bang on guitars and drink, and that was something else I wasn't going to miss, tired as I was.

This is Friday and I am taking it easy. We're going home tomorrow. I have no urge to scrape up extra thrills. For the next eighteen hours or so everything around me will be London and my mind, being osmotic, will soak a good portion of it up and carry it back with me to New York.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

ENGLAND FOUR. Last night was Oxford. Now there's something I don't see every day, so right after load-in I took a long walk. Liberal education, foreign travel, and life in New York can somewhat innoculate you against overawe at European landmarks, but Jesus Christ: this University was founded in the Tenth Century. A lot of the buildings are far, far older than our Republic. All those spires, crenelations, and scarred oaken doors in one place! Yet the students are thoroughly modern in dress and manner. I thought they'd all be wearing green robes and mortarboards, and talking in Middle English. They do still favor bicycle travel, though: I must have seen eight hundred bicycles in a 90 minute walk. The Bodleian Library was closed but I accessed its courtyard through a five-foot-high opening in a tremendous wooden gate that seemed built to repel Barbarians. Oxford makes Columbia and Yale look like midwestern agricultural colleges.

Oxford had the smallest room we played, upstairs at a pub called Port Mahon. The pub is quite nice, warm maroon walls and a gas fireplace and Greene King IPA, and pretty quiet. Even in the side room with the pool table and the jukebox, sound didn't bounce and bang as it does in the bars I'm used to: I don't know if this is an acoustic function of English interior decoration, or just its psychological effect upon the patrons. Shaggy elders gathered at the wooden tables and some of them crouched over pints and books in the dim light and posed for my mental cliche image of British academic life. Showtime was early but last orders came mid-set, so Billy and I asked Steve from the stage to bring us pints; Lach told the band to stop playing and the crowd to freeze in place when he reentered; Steve, bless him, simply zipped through the surreal scene, deposited the pints, ran back to board, and shouted "Right, carry on." Small as the venue was, the crowd was attentive and Lach played them well. It could have been a rec room in America. No matter, all shows are special.

Billy got into the Scotch on the ride back. He told the radio, "Stop talking over the music, bitch." He challenged at length my assertion that the earth does not revolve around the moon. He was more agreeable when we got home and we watched together a bizarre film called The Journey, with Deborah Kerr, looking rather peaked, trying to get out of resistance Hungary against the amorous and outsized desires of a hardass Russian officer played by Yul Brynner. Bill's quite good at spot-the-actor so we discussed the careers of E.G. Marshall, Anne Jackson, and Robert Morley, among others. We should have gone to bed earlier -- Nottingham today -- but such moments make these tours even more fun than they should be.

Sunday, March 07, 2004

ENGLAND THREE. To cite Joe Strummer, London's burning, it seems from our vantage (that is, our van), but not with boredom now. Saturday night as we rode home to Lincoln from the third gig we observed tons of nightlife spilling out of or into bars, clubs, and pubs. The streets of Central London are for the most part not so brightly illuminated as New York's, giving the impression of a dark carnival: folks of all ages (but mostly young-looking at least), dressed either in impeccable gladrags or presentable yobwear, chatting animatedly, at cellphones or one another, and gravitating between glowing entryways. The ancient buildings that house these posh new places add to the air of mystery. If you saw Gangs of New York, and remember the candlelit blind tigers and music halls peeping out of the darkness, you have some idea. The interiors and some facades here may be thorough modern and colorful, but the sooty stone of London reaches back to Samuel Johnson.

We thought our show at the Arts Cafe at Toynbee Hall would be a dead loss. The room was small and part of some sort of Wilson-era council-funded complex for social improvement in the East End (the courtyard featured an especially ugly statuette of Jane Addams). It brought to mind the youth centers I'd played in the Netherlands, which were usually terrific; but this neighborhood (near Whitechapel) looked so bleak, stacked with grimy working-class housing projects and nearly depopulated at load-in, that I assumed in England these places were more like the youth centers popular in 1970s America: drop-in joints behind which one would smoke weed and plot a more exciting time somewhere else.

But it got interesting: there was a great assortment of bands -- one country-fried acoustic group, another with a cello and proper singing, a hilarious geezer-rap duo called Milk Kan ("I shot a man in Aldgate just to watch him die"). Their members were enthusiastic and encouraging to us; we applauded each other's sound checks! The room was packed and my friend and fellow NYC blogger Margaret, in town on holiday (Like the way I said that? "on holiday"? Don't I sound English?), showed up. We played hard and loose and the crowd was on our side. Most of them were really there for Bifteck, a terrifically powerful young groove-oriented band whose fans howled and mini-moshed for them, but they knew quality, by God, and gave us a fair hearing, bless them.

My favorite compliments are backhanded. "Saw you at the Borderline last time," said an industry guy. "I didn't like it. Too uptight. But this was brilliant."

Or maybe my favorite compliments are surreal. "Was he in Yes?" asked a young skinny feller, pointing at Lach.

"What?"

"Me mate told me he was the guitarist in Yes."

"No. Someone's having you on. Lach was never in Yes."

"Me mate told me he was! I'm going to smash the cunt's face!"

He was smiling as he said this, I should note.

Not all is gravy. My cold is hanging on, and casts a mild pall on my normally ebullient self. Billy is tour-cranky, and became enraged this morning when I "stole" his bathtown. (Steve had given us each towels of the same color.) I'm played Leicester before and I can't imagine our Sunday night there will be super-exciting. But we're bringing the Rock to the Kids, and to that noble end some sacrifices must be made.

Saturday, March 06, 2004

ENGLAND TWO. I caught a cold, but other than that things are fine, thank you (or, as the shopgirls round this way say, n'kew). Our first show was Thursday night in Lincoln at the Bivouac, a venue upstairs from the Duke of Wellington (a pub, not a peer). Spent the hours beforehand wandering around the town. As previously described, it ain't Paris, but people are friendly and I finally got a nice steak and kidney pie. I can't tell why I like these things, except that they taste good with a pint of bitter (we're on Tetley's in Lincoln).

Our road crew is changed from last time. Mick the driver has too many points on his license to work the tour now, so our chaffeur and chief lugger is Richard, a well-mannered young guitarist (if you can imagine such a thing). Merch, door, and odd jobs are handled by Sarah, a college girl who's getting class credit for this (talk about a school of hard knocks). They and the tour manager Steve are so nice to us that I'd be mighty suspicious had I not enjoyed similar hospitality last time. Of course, it could be just the first leg of some long-term scam...

The Lincoln show was energetic -- we tended to ram the fast tunes a little harder than usual. (That's one of the good things about playing a rock and roll show -- if you're nervous, you can mask it with a show of aggression.) The crowd was a mix of kids sticking around after their mates' warm-up sets, and regulars who actually know and like us (again I'm asking you to stretch your imaginative powers, but I know you're up to it). I was surprised to hear half the room singing along with us at one quiet moment.

Next day was London. During the three-hour drive there, we kept our rhythmic skills sharp by finger-popping, hand-clapping, and hamboning to the radio. You can tell it's early in the tour; over time silence becomes the preferred mode.

We played the Buffalo Bar, which is right next to the Islington tube stop. They tell me this is now an upscale bohemian nabe, and it seems in an early-Giuliani phase: yuppies strolling through a graffiti-scarred bumscape, sirens and "spare change?" singing outside the posh boites. I've seen how this one plays out, and I wonder if these Anglo East Villagers have an equivalent of Brooklyn to which they can retreat when the streets are cleaned and the rents are raised. (They tell me Tony Blair lived here before he became PM. That's like Clinton moving to the White House from Avenue A.)

The club was small but well-run and drew a nicely-dressed scenester crowd. It might have been an industry showcase: bottled beer, expensive haircuts, twixt-set DJs playing the old "Let's cross 'em up with some Bruce Springsteen" trick. One of our contacts explained that in London the energy had gone out of the dance halls and into the rock clubs, which meant that lot of the young folk were making or following bands. "Of course," he said, "that means they get bored quickly and a band will be big for a few weeks and then be replaced by another one." Ah, the circle of hype. Well, at least people with guitars are getting a little love again.

Tonight, some other club, someplace around here...

Thursday, March 04, 2004

MEANWHILE BACK IN THE STATES... Hate to interrupt the pleasant England blogging, but it seems every time I look in on the gay marriage obsessives, they get more fascinatingly mad.

Today's prize loon, and perhaps the decade's, is John Derbyshire, such a notorious homophobe that Andrew Sullivan named an award for intolerance after him, now insisting that, when not fantasizing aloud about the prison rape of his opponents, he's actually a very live-and-let-live sort of bloke, and uses as evidence previous writings in which he expresses pity for gay folks' "mismatched bodies and psyches." Wotta pal. Elsewhere he directs us to another tolerant fella, one Noah Millman. Millman is smoother than Derb (who isn't?). He makes all the expected sorrow-not-in-anger feints at reasonableness, then compares being gay to being a cat-strangler. Sound like a reductive analysis? I'm sure Millman would say so, too, but I've read the piece twice and that is definitely not an unfair summary.

Further down, Millman says the wages of same-sex marriages would be "female-headed families without fathers, where the men come and go, sponging from the women or seizing what they want, a form of family organization that appears to be incompatible with civilization itself." Again, this may sound like a misreading on the face of it: no one with any reputation, even in the too-forgiving blogosphere, can be getting over with this crap, can they? But he is, Blanche, he is: go look for yourself if you think you can stomach it.

Sometimes in this space I'm a little too free and easy with accusations of insanity, but in the cases of Millman and Derbyshire, clinical observation does seem to be indicated.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

ENGLAND ONE: LINCOLN. Flew Virgin. The inflight featured Love Actually and A Beautiful Mind, both crap. Liked the red-clad flight attendants; saw them at Newark Airport crossing the waiting area in matching cloaks, looking like female Cardinals. Got to Heathrow early Wednesday morning, met by tour manager Steve, his usual ebullient self. Took the long van ride to Lincoln, Steve's home and, for most of this tour, ours. Giddy to be on the other side of the world, away from my humdrum, again.

Happy also to be in Lincoln, an allegedly dull town in the Midlands. We've been here before, and I still admire the classic brick rowhouses stained with Industrial Revolution soot, and the narrow alleys in which pale kids shriek and play as one imagines such children have for centuries. The town is building up, though, and has added since our last trip a lot of glass fronts and fresh shop signs -- modern, but still English in their modest scale and style. Cobblestone streets now lead to Bauhaus malls. Change is good, but not always. My favored meat pie vendor, Fisher's Family Butcher, across from our lodgings on St. Andrew's, is closed. Sigh. Had tuna sandwiches and crisps for lunch.

After naps, the drummer and I wandered and had pints at Ye Olde Crown, an underpopulated local with the customary plush seats, gaming machines, huge taps, and gap-toothed regulars, and then at some bar/pub, the new thing for new people -- sandwiches and nachos if you like, a "family area," prominently displayed menu and corporate logo cards, the hustled feeling of an after-work drop-in-and-go. Sigh again. We had dinner at a local curry joint, and all the males I observed there had their hair ceremoniously coiffed and gelled. Every city has its style, and this one's seems assiduously copied from that of actors on the BBC.

First tour day, in other words, a blur, as usual. More later.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

ITINERARY. Well, I did my patriotic duty this morning and voted for Al Sharpton, New York's favorite son. Appropriately, this evening I'm leaving the country. Not for long -- just 11 days in England to play bass for this guy. I'll duck into every EasyEverything and internet cafe I can find along the way to keep you good people apprised on my progress.

IN RUSSIA, ART LOOKS AT YOU! There's some sort of thread (albeit a short, frayed one) at The Kerner, based on an apercu by the madman Derbyshire, claiming that Communist states were "uncreative."

Artists have of course existed at all times and in all places. Herbert von Karajan conducted for the Nazis, and Maurice Chevalier entertained the Vichy governors. At The Kennel, though, they are obsessed with painting the most horrific picture imaginable of the late Red regime, like medieval Catholics ornamenting Hell with new torments -- not only was it a failed economic system, they wrote lousy poetry!

It's as if they genuinely worried that Communism might make a comeback -- odd, when one observes how fulsomely these same guys extoll the health of capitalism.

One might as well ask how anyone could be creative in America. Our unnatural obsession with money, our worship of greedy scumbags, and the negative aesthetic value of the disgusting, demeaning, violent crap with which we gorge our eyes and ears would indicate to any disinterested observer a thoroughly anaesthetic society -- one that not only wouldn't recognize art if it saw it, but would actually be downright hostile to it, sensing on some animal level the threat art would pose to our perfect ugliness and invincible ignorance of anything more exalted than the main chance and the art of the deal.

Still we make art, sometimes. And if we can do it, so could the Reds.

Sunday, February 29, 2004

OSCAR III.So far the most majestic entrance is that of Maryann DeLeo, striding to the stage to accept the Doc Short award for Chernobyl Heart. I like her Mom, too, who took off her glasses for the camera. Errol Morris! "I'd like to thank the Academy for recognizing my films!" Tell them about the rabbit holes, Errol.

(I can't help it, I have to load The Chrysler again -- snide horror at Morris, weird speculation as to what the Beautiful People think of the Proles thinking of them, references to their college degrees -- ugh, no more shall I gaze.)

I like the tradition of presenters knocking the Academy President -- it's been going on so long since Robin Williams made Jack Valenti look like Margaret Dumont, now it seems fairly benign.

OSCAR II. Hey, something I saw (Master and Commander) won an award! I'm liking the Rings guy in the neo-Edwardian jacket who (as Art Director) paid lovely tribute to his childhood sweetheart and (as Makeup Guy) paid lovely tribute to the many many people who had to make, apply, and wear his prosthetics. In fact I like all the New Zealanders making good use of their stage time. Maybe I'll move to New Zealand someday. Nowabouts it seems good to consider options.

But here I am, acting like a culture-warring idiot. Must stop that.

I have to say it's weird to see Julia Roberts, who moves like a Dean of Men, paying tribute to Katherine Hepburn, who moved like grace itself. (Though the Barbara Walters anecdote was sweet.) The tribute films so far seem pretty perfunctory -- did they fire Chuck Workman? But no collection of Hepburn clips would look bad. This one made me want to see Rooster Cogburn, for Pete's sake. No -- for Kate's sake. She was a true priestess at the temple of art, God bless her.

OSCAR I. As of 10 pm, this is fun. Crystal loosened up quick. The Oscar Best Picture song schtick was at least as well-written as its previous editions. The Supporting winners are fine actors and acquitted themselves well. Every time they cut to Ken Watanabe, who has a natural "I kill you now" look, I break up. And they're right this minute giving an award to the sublime Blake Edwards, who is hamming beautifully.

I do peek in at The Kroener sometimes and think, how sad it must be to be a right-wing bloviator on Oscar night -- applauding a joke at Michael Moore's expense with no apparent awareness of the fact that Moore participated in the gag, which makes him rather a good sport (it's like hating on Bob Hope, honored here, and taking his self-deprecating humor as a point for Your Side). And freaking out that Messiah Mel is not present. Imagine politics being everything in your life! One almost feels sorry for them. Almost, but not quite.