Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Werner Herzog: The Pursuit of Madness (Part One)

The first annual Herzogathon, hosted at Studio Six in Bristol, PA on January 1st, was a modest success. Although the turnout was small the response was emphatic. It’s no easy task to sit still and in one place for twelve consecutive hours of anything, let alone the work of a director whose cinematic preoccupations can politely be described as idiosyncratic. But the films of Werner Herzog are unique. Special. His is a cinematic language that transforms a world once familiar and renders it new, alien, bizarre but often awe-inspiring, populated by people better suited for a back-alley slum, traveling circus or asylum than the big screen; a world observed with such a level gaze and reverent sincerity it’s impossible to turn away from once under the director’s peculiar spell. Even those who dislike him never forget having seen (or endured) one of his films.

This sense of the spellbinding is no coincidence. Herzog once hypnotized an entire cast for Heart of Glass (1976), the story about a small Bavarian village whose economy relies largely on the work provided by a local glassmaker and the production of a precious and one-of-a-kind “ruby” red glass. When the secret method to the glassmaking is lost with the death of its inventor the town slowly falls into despair, despite the warnings of a prophet who lives in the hills and implores the townspeople that they must seek a pragmatic solution to their crisis or face the destruction of the community. Herzog believed that by having the cast perform under hypnosis he could accurately convey the sense of mysticism surrounding the reclusive glassmaker and his unique creation, the power of an esoteric craft when introduced to a society unable to understand it and the cult that it can create as a result. He also expressed a desire to have himself appear onscreen before the start of the film to perform the same process of hypnosis used on the actors on the audience. But this, Herzog ultimately reasoned, was perhaps taking the idea a bit too far, even for him.

If there is a unifying theme to the program that was exhibited (other than that the six films shown are personal favorites) it’s the idea of the individual or group driven so completely by the single-minded pursuit of something so unattainable that the mere attempt to attain it leads to madness and extinction. This certain “something” can be a physical object but in Herzog’s universe it’s often ideological; he has little use for the materialistic. Now this is a very general description of a large body of work that is both adventurous and prolific, and Herzog finds elements of his fascination with the megalomaniacal, the outcast and the mad, in many different places. In Even Dwarfs Started Small (1970), the first and perhaps most challenging film of the series, a group of dwarfs detained in some kind of institution or forced-labor camp (it’s never specified) rebels against their captors and sets about wreaking havoc and destroying everything within the confines of their prison; the individuals formally in control of this unidentified place presumably have been forcefully overthrown, detained or killed.

Herzog seems less interested in the causes of the revolt in the film than the specific details of the characters run amok. There are virtually no scenes involving the directors of the institution or the display of force and repression that might justify and help us better understand the reasons for the dwarfs’ campaign of carnage. Instead there are extended scenes of stone throwing, plant burning, animal cannibalism and a crucified monkey marched in a makeshift procession around a littered and torched courtyard that make up most of the film’s ninety-six minutes. A passengerless truck endlessly drives in circles and seems to be the film’s central metaphor, an image Herzog repeatedly refers to. Not knowing what the characters are fighting for we’re not quite sure what they achieve, if anything. But perhaps chaos and destruction are what liberate the eponymous dwarfs from a life of oppression and limitation (their final crazed and desperate stand for independence), even if not forcefully imposed by some external authority but inherent in their condition simply by nature of their own debilitatingly small statures. This is a world that has no place for them so they set about making it uninhabitable for anyone (or anything) ever again. The film ends with the main character Hombre, the smallest of the small people, laughing maniacally at a camel unable to stand on its own four legs. Whether paralyzed because of a physical injury or paralyzed by fear we’re not sure, but it’s a painfully sad impairment that Hombre can’t seem to get enough of as the beast towers over him and he very nearly cackles himself to death.

Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1972) can be seen (in a way) picking up where Dwarfs leaves off, as a group of displaced people wander aimlessly through a foreign and hostile country in which they are ill-equipped to survive. It is the 16th century and an army of one thousand Spanish conquistadors descends from the mountains (with armor, canons and sedan chairs in tow) into the wilds of the South American jungle. This is one of Herzog’s most striking and memorable images. He opens his film on a cloud of fog, faint and indistinct, and slowly as the camera pans down to reveal the jagged contours of the mountainside, out of the mists walk single-file the members of this doomed expedition, dotted like ants against the extraordinary grandeur of the surrounding landscape. If the dwarfs started small then these adventurers are at an even greater disadvantage: lost in an inhospitable world, they desperately try to gain control of a situation that was hopeless from the outset.

Their mission is to locate the city of El Dorado, rumored to be located in the heart of the Amazon jungle, and claim it in the name of the homeland. The expedition is led by Gonzolo Pizarro, who elects a small reconnaissance team to break from the large group and explore the regions surrounding the Amazon River. Don Pedro de Ursua is chosen to lead this auxiliary team, with Don Lope de Aguirre as his second-in-command. Ursua and Aguirre are instantly at odds, and Aguirre very quickly betrays his secret ambition to be the one in charge. When a third of their party gets stranded on a raft in a whirlpool in the middle of the river and murdered by natives in the night, Aguirre seizes his opportunity for power, successfully convincing the men of Ursua’s incompetence and thus turning them against him. His idea is to set out for El Dorado on his own, seducing his compatriots with promises of untold riches: they will secede from Pizarro’s group altogether and when they find El Dorado claim it for themselves, free from the bondage of their home crown.

Aguirre appoints a proxy through whom he commands with the reliable tactics of fear and intimidation. They draft a declaration of independence, signed by the hapless Don Fernando de Guzman, the titular new king of the future nation of El Dorado. Guzman weeps, but soon enjoys the benefits of his new post. Ursua is hanged, despite being granted clemency by Guzman when Aguirre orders his death, while Guzman himself only survives a few days longer after consuming most of the expedition’s food and abandoning their only horse (an alien beast in the wilds of the jungle and very valuable because it frightens the natives and as a last resort can be consumed when no other food rations remain); an offense that gets him assassinated. As their situation becomes increasingly dire, Aguirre pushes the crew on, driven by greed and lust for his daughter with whom he hopes to establish the purist of royal dynasties. Silent arrows fly from the thick of the surrounding jungle and pick off the men one by one. Most die or simply disappear, but Aguirre remains, steadfast in his madness and fevered dreams of a golden kingdom that is always just around the next bend of the great river.

It is impossible to discuss Aguirre without mention of its star, the incomparable Klaus Kinski. This is the first of five collaborations between Herzog and the oft-rumored volatile actor, and arguably the best. Kinski has the uncanny ability to convey authority, menace and desperation in a single glance, all of the qualities that make Aguirre the compellingly deranged character that he is. When he speaks, it’s often softly as he stalks about his company like a snake that always seems ready to strike but never does. The power is all in Kinski’s eyes, his curious limp and the way he carries his deformed body so that one arm always seems slightly longer than the other. Despite the stories of his over-the-top character and legendary on-set rants, his performance here is surprisingly low-key. It’s Aguirre’s silence that makes him scary: he speaks and acts only when he needs to and when there’s nobody else around to do it for him. It was the poster art for this film that first drew me to it (still one of my all-time favorites) and the shot of Kinski’s face. Having never before heard of Herzog or Kinski the film was an incredible gateway into the extraordinary worlds they created together and their infamous working relationship that eventually became the subject of its own film (more on My Best Fiend will be discussed later in the essay).

In Klaus Kinski Herzog found the perfect instrument for his stories about madmen set loose upon a world they try and recreate in their own images. If Kinski was by definition a method actor, then his method was megalomania. A perfect match. With Bruno S., the subject of his film Stroszek (1977), Herzog plays in an entirely different key. Semi-autobiographical, Stroszek follows Bruno upon release from prison and chronicles his tortured attempt to reacclimate himself to society. The son of a prostitute who abused him as an infant, and in-and-out of various mental institutions for most of his youth, the real-life Bruno S. was a street musician in Berlin like his character in the film (he’s basically playing himself). Herzog first spotted him in a documentary about musicians and hired him to play the lead in another film called The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1974), or as it’s alternately titled, Every Man for Himself and God Against All. Stroszek, written in just four days, was specifically tailored for Bruno.

It’s not essential to know the backstory of the film to understand and enjoy it. However, like most Herzog productions, the stories about their making are often just as fascinating as the films themselves, often blurring the line between fiction and reality; this has the inevitable effect of provoking the audience to question the validity of what they are seeing. Herzog is notorious for using this approach in his documentary work as well. Not content to simply distinguish between what is truth and fabrication, he constantly mixes the two to get at what he likes to call the “ecstatic truth” of a story, dismissing out of hand the mere “accountant’s truth” by way of banally recounting a list of facts about a person or situation. To continue the music metaphor, in Herzog’s hands the facts are used as notes that are often rearranged, modified or amplified to serve some greater philosophical purpose.

Most of the performers in Stroszek are non-actors, from Bruno’s ancient and frail old neighbor Clemens Scheitz to the pimp Wilhelm von Homburg, who torments him and his friends. The only seasoned performer in the mix is Eva Mattes, who plays Eva the prostitute. Eva and Bruno are friends, and she seeks refuge in his apartment from the seemingly daily beatings at the hands of the “Prince” of Homburg. Bruno spends his days busking in the streets and back-alleys of Berlin. Accompanied by an accordion and glockenspiel, he sings the story of his life. When the trouble later follows Eva home Herr Scheitz, Bruno and Eva decide that their situation is no longer safe and they must flee before one of them gets seriously hurt. Herr Scheitz has a nephew who lives in Wisconsin where they are invited to live. He owns a garage where he works as a mechanic. Scheitz convinces them that it’s a good idea: Bruno can work as his nephew’s helper and Eva can find a job as a waitress at a nearby truck stop. The great new world beckons them and they’re soon off to fulfill the promises of the dream life it offers.

In Wisconsin things barely go as planned. Eva finds a job as a waitress but hardly makes enough money to support the three of them. Bruno is hopeless as a mechanic and instantly falls into depression; away from his home and music and not able to communicate in the new language or express himself in any way he becomes sullen and more withdrawn. They very quickly fall behind on the monthly payments for the brand new 40-ft mobile home they purchase, and unable to understand or negotiate the terms of the mortgage it is soon repossessed by the bank and resold at an auction. Eva returns to prostitution, finding plenty of new business at the highway-side restaurant, and eventually hops a ride with some truckers to Vancouver.

Bruno, displaced and alone, doesn’t know what to do. His performance is haunting because it tragically conveys his worst fears about himself, society and his lack of place within it. Bruno is either out of step with the world, or the world is out of step with him. It doesn’t matter. He has his own interpretation, and when he holds up a small twisted sculpture to Eva and explains his inner torment by saying, “here you see a schematic model I have made of how it looks inside Bruno. They're closing all the doors on him, and oh, so, politely", it’s about as clear and precise a statement as anybody has made about what has happened. Herr Scheitz on the other hand suspects that there is a conspiracy against them and decides to act. Bruno goes along with it. What else can he do? With shotgun in hand they drive to the bank that has taken their home. When they find it closed they run into a neighboring barbershop and hold up the owner for a few bucks. Then they run into a food market across the street where Bruno buys a turkey with the stolen money. The police quickly seize upon the store and arrest Scheitz. Bruno, hidden in a different aisle, gets away

Bruno drives on. With no clear destination he winds up at a bizarre roadside American Indian-themed tourist park. He sets his truck ablaze and to driving in circles (just like the dwarfs did in the earlier film). Bruno hops onto a ski lift and rides it around and around, alone. The movie ends with an image of a dancing chicken, started by Bruno through a coin-activated machine that forces the chicken to hop in place because of a vibrating metal plate at the bottom of its cage. Supposedly the film’s crew was so repulsed by this contraption they refused to participate in shooting it. So Herzog had to film it alone (or so he claims) believing that the dancing chicken was a “grand metaphor” and the perfect image with which to end his film. A metaphor for what you might ask? He’s still not sure.

To be continued…


Editor’s note: Every once in a while, it happens to all of us. We’re sailing along through life, happily pointing out how people can be very rude, selfish and downright dickish when: BAM! We find ourselves acting like dicks. Well, I’m pretty embarrassed to note that, in regard to this piece, I acted like a dick by continuously allowing it to fester on the backburner while its author, the very well-spoken and insightful Mr. Chris, waited patiently and silently for me to post it. This is unfortunate for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it is quite good. I hope that our readers enjoy it as much as I did and that we will see some more of Chris’s writing in the future.


Monday, June 13, 2011

This Is Not A Review, Or why You Should Let Syrrah Stick Their Tongue In You

All too often, going to see a friend’s band play is an exercise in polite restraint if not outright deception. As anyone who has ever had a few musician friends can attest, to be friends with someone in a band that is somewhat serious can often bring friendly support to a whole new level of trying. It’s not that we don’t want our friends to succeed or to feel supported, but that the very process of growth for a rock band is one that often entails playing the same 5 to 10 songs over and over again, until they are finally correct and the band has mastered their timing, sound and image. To make matters worse, these shows are often held in places that are less than optimal in terms of acoustics and, often, involve travelling to out of the way bars and other forgotten venues. Over the years, I have grown to actually hate seeing friends’ bands play.

This is not the case with Levitown, PA’s own Syrrah.

I first encountered Syrrah by way of a highly awkward and confusing first date with my current partner. I had been aware that one of our mutual co-workers was in a band who played locally quite a bit, but was hesitant to see them for a number of reasons, not the least of which was my aforementioned hatred of having to politely lie to my friends about their musical aptitude and stage presence. However, as is often the case, the fastest way to a young rock fan’s ear is through her libido and I committed to seeing Syrrah play at a center city Philly bar as a way to hang out with a potential love interest.

When I first arrived at that early show, I was amused to find a mustachioed young man mingling in with the crowd in a pair of daisy dukes so short that they would make Jessica Simpson blush. Little did I know that this was Righteous Jolly (his real name) of Syrrah and that the short shorts and waxed facial stylings were an earnest part of his personality as well as one of the keys to Syrrah’s larger than life stage presence. This became striking apparent to me within a few seconds of Syrrah taking the stage as Jolly engaged in a series of theatrics which were both amusing and gratifying while the band delivered a relatively tight metal and prog infused sound which contrasted nicely with the half dozen neo-hardcore acts that also performed that night.

This was nearly two years ago. So, why am I just now getting around to talking about it?

Well, to begin with, the band has finally completed and released their very first CD, a seven song work which can be heard in part at http://www.reverbnation.com/syrrah and purchased directly through the band. While I suppose that this is the part where I am expected to review the CD itself, I’m not going to do that. Partially because I haven’t listened to it enough to have a lot to say about it, partly because it is good enough that my review would be less than interesting, and partly because I find reviews boring and, often, unconstructive.

Instead, I will tell you that, in the nearly two years since I first saw them, Syrrah has managed to take their theatrical slant and somewhat over the top sound to a new level of tightness which keeps them interesting and fresh even after nearly half a dozen witnessed performances, including a wonderfully nostalgic Halloween show complete with covers of Rocky Ericson’s catalogue. In addition to continuously amusing me via their live shows (which is no small fete as, admittedly, I’m an asshole about live music), the band has created and maintained a sense of artistic community in an environment that is often not as conducive to collaboration as it is to competition.

They have done so in a number of ways which, while mutually beneficial to all parties, are a rather rare thing. From allowing a local artist to draw along with their set, to holding fundraisers for local production companies, Syrrah are willing to put action behind the often heard lament that the Philly area does not foster support or community for new bands. In addition to being willing to share their time with local artists and other bands, Syrrah can be seen in the delightfully funny Fugue Films web production “Gemini Rising”, playing a 70’s era rock band on the brink of both insanity and fame. It is this sense of community, along with the aforementioned sense on theatrical presence and over the top style that makes Syrrah transcend tolerable local band status to being worth seeing over and over again.


Syrrah are: Matt Fischer, Righteous Jolly, Evan Scheerer and Brian Mazzarini.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

How To Be A Dick: Show Edition

One of my favorite leisure activities is attending rock shows. I, along with thousands of like-minded individuals, will attend almost any show if the chance presents itself to me. As such, I have been to hundreds of shows in my lifetime. This expertise has allowed me to compile a comprehensive list of ways in which you can elevate yourself from an average show goer to a total dick. Enjoy.

1. This is the first and easiest step to complete as it can be accomplished before the show begins. In fact, you don’t even need a ticket to pull it off. Since most concerts are held in metropolitan areas, there is a good chance that the one you attending will be in an area that is both residential and full of businesses. Before you go to your show, you can score major points by treating the surrounding neighborhood as though it is a dump/toilet/frat house/whatever. Once you park your car, be certain to yell as loudly as possible. Drink some beers and leave the empties anywhere you please, after all, you don’t have to clean it up so why should you care? If you’re white and middle class, be certain to complain loudly about poor people and minorities while you make your way to the venue. If you encounter a homeless person, get major bonus points for taunting them with the fact that you are unwilling to give to them. Claim that you are poor too, completely ignoring the fact that you’ve already spent at least $50 just to get into the door of the event. (This step can also be completed or even repeated after you’ve left the event.)

2. As you wait in line to enter the venue, continue editorializing about the state of the location. Loudly bemoan the fact that you had to walk on a dirty sidewalk, near homeless people, to get there. Complain about the trash and debris littering the area, as though you had nothing at all to do with it. As you get closer to the doors, and the inevitable security check, make loud jokes about rent-a-cops and pretend that you are concealing weapons/bombs/roofies. Threaten to sue the security guard for frisking you as you snidely look down your nose at him or her for daring to fulfill their duties. If you’re attempting to smuggle in some sort of illicit substance and get caught, yell at them for violating your rights until they are forced to call the police and have you arrested. Not only will you succeed in being a huge dick, but you will also provide endless amusement for those in line behind you, as well as a welcome distraction for local police.

3. Once you get into the venue, try to gain entry to the designated 21 + areas without showing ID. It doesn’t matter if you’re actually of age, just refuse to show your license. Shout “But I’m twenty-twoooooooooooooooooooooo” at the security guard with the hand stamp as a means of showing your maturity. When this doesn’t work, groan loudly and make huge show out of retrieving your wallet. Extract your ID from said wallet with the most exaggerated motions possible before shoving it so close to the checker’s face that they couldn’t possible see it. Then get angry when you’re asked to move it. Once you’ve proven your legal right to be a drunk dick, proceed slowly into the desired bar area while complaining about the hassle of having to prove your age. There will probably be quite a line for drinks at this point, so just shove those assholes out of your way until you’re belly up to the bar. Once there, wave your arms frantically until the bartender notices you. Once they come over, ask them the prices of every possible drink combo on the planet. Ignore the clearly printed price list in front of you. Finally, once they have repeated every price, order the first thing you asked about.

4. Once the bands begin to play, the real fun begins. This step is not for beginners, as it requires a real commitment. Once the music starts, regardless of how heavy or mellow, how fast or slow, start flailing around like you’re an epileptic on speed. Alternate between swinging your arms wildly from side to side and rapidly fist pumping to the beat. Try to start a mosh pit wherever you are by pulling and pushing others into you. If someone gets hurt, you’re doing it right. Respond to any and all protests by declaring that those complaining are total pussies. Alternately, if you’re in the back of the venue, you can attempt to push those in front of you closer to the stage as though you are trying to compress them. Basically, at this point, the rest of the crowd is your enemy and you must defeat them at any cost in order to reach the foot of the stage. Bonus points for crowd surfing. Remember, nothing expresses love for the band like forcing their other fans to choose between holding your hulking frame aloft and taking a size 13 Doc Martin to the face!

5. Believe it or not, the post show time frame is just as important as all of the others. Here, you can really shine. Once each band finishes playing, you should loudly begin complaining about how the band(s) didn’t perform as well as they have the 10,000 other times you’ve seen them. Start declaring that this venue was far too large and you’ve seen them in tiny corner bars, small local clubs, your best friend’s bar mitzvah, whatever. The point is that the band sucked tonight and you, the super fan, have seen them perform much, much better. As you’re doing this, loiter until you’re just about the last person there. When the security staff inevitably asks you to leave, yell at them some more about their fascist techniques and lack of understanding about how you pay their salary. Continue doing this as they toss you out on your ass. Don’t forget to repeat step 1 for extra points.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Record Jacket: 25 Favorite Album Covers (20-16)

20. Deftones – Deftones

Traditionally roses have symbolized beauty and love, while, skulls, have signified death and mortality. The cover seems to hint at the beauty of death, or even the idea that the beauty in life lies in the love and acceptance of the fact that it will one day end. The Image is more comforting then disturbing. It calls to mind the appreciation for the dead that we might encounter with the vibrant colors seen in Day of the Dead Imagery. Provoking in us the naturalist, and far from fatalist ideal that, death, is part of the life cycle, and should not be feared.

19. Songs About Fucking – Big Black

The last hurrah of Big Black, and only one of the many incarnations of musical genius Steve Albini, makes Songs about Fucking a classic noise-punk album, with a classic cover. When it was released the album's title was commonly blanked out. The cover featured the head of animated character sweating during sex, followed by a brutish white hair middle age man, finishing with some good old doggy style on the back cover. These images encapsulate the relentlessness of a great, no holds barred band. As CD Times Eamonn McCusker once wrote, "as brutal as that cover is, the music is even more so". I Couldn’t have said it better myself.

18. The Power to Believe – King Crimson

Now I know that most people would probably pick In the Court of The Crimson King, but I'm not most people. As iconic as album cover get, I don't think it captures the same power, as the images from, The Power to Believe. The painting on the cover was painted by P.J Cook, an artistic masterpiece called Fin de siècle, which means "End of the Century". The album was released during the early stages of our current "War on Terror" and with it dark ambiance, c the coupled with sporadic addition of more uplifting moments in tracks like "Eyes Wide Open", it allows the album cover to capture the spirit of the album and the intentions of Cook's painting. Before the image was used on the album, Cook wrote this about her painting," The infant here is not only making reference to the infant Christ but also symbolic of the new century and the world which is under constant threat. Not only the threat of war and famine but also degradation by pollution and overindulgence,... and the disregard for our natural resources, wildlife and our fellow Man. "

17. By All Means Necessary – Boogie Down Productions

A powerful album brought to you by the self-proclaimed "teacher", KRS-One. During a time in black culture when crack, Aids and violence where plaguing the inner cities across America, KRS-One does everything he can to inform African Americans across the nation of the entirety of their struggle, in an attempt to prevent his culture from destroying its self. The Album cover attempt to recall the, now famous, photo of Malcolm X, and the punctuating word of a pivotal speech, which was given by Malcolm X before he was brutally murdered,

" We declare our right on this earth to be a man, to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary."

Many of you may remember that Nelson Mandela recited this at the end of Spike Lee's Masterpiece Malcolm X, but refused to say the last line, "by any means necessary" on camera, fearing that the apartheid would use it against him if he did.

16. Daydream Nation – Sonic Youth

This Magnum Opus comes from, arguably, one of the most influential bands of the 80's underground, Sonic Youth. The aptly titled "Daydream Nation" features a painting entitled Kerze ,or “Candle”, by German Photorealist Gerhard Richter, and a similar painting entitled Zwei Kerzen , or Two Candles, that is featured on the back. The LP's 4 sides and the CD itself featured four symbols on the disc, said to represent the four members of the band. The symbols featured are an infinity symbol, a female sign, an upper case omega, and a drawing of a demon/angel holding drumsticks. The flame of the candle lies just beneath the word "Nation" in the title, which almost ,inadvertently, symbolizes the rude awakening America has faced then, in 1988, and now while the world crumbles just slow enough to not disturb this zombified nation. And if the world is slowly ending, at least this classic has a chance to be preserved in the ruble of the Library of Congress, since it was added to the National Recording Registry.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Libya: Arm'em then Bomb'em!!!

In the area of the world that the Bush administration and the G8 have labeled the “Greater Middle East” civil unrest has grown uncontrollable, at least in the eyes of many absolute monarchies and military dictatorships that litter the landscape. The unprecedented chaos which has arisen out of a growing strife in 21 countries in a 4,800 mile region; which is home to over 425 million people. It is not only interesting, but also disheartening, that our government and mainstream media have deliberately chosen to focus on Libya. It is also frustrating that the humanitarian focus on regions like Libya, and to an even greater extent with the tragedies in Japan, has been downplayed, while fear mongering is in full effect. As usual, in traditional American journalistic fashion, our paltry pundits refuse to ask genuinely pressing questions, and have elected to rephrase political talking points spewed from the President's administration, and which have been passed off as “real” journalism.

The same talking points that were used to sell the American public on not one, but two interminable wars in the middle east, which to their own credit haven't even been resolved yet, are not only frightening but reek of the globalist agendas of “stability” and “strategic interest”. Pundits and politicians talk about the threat Muammar Gaddafi is to his own people and his excessive use of force. But this discussion shouldn't be about what Gaddafi has done, but rather how he has done it. No one has made a case for the excessive force that Gaddafi has used, except for maybe Saudi Arabia, in the form of reflective action. Saudi Arabia, much like Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, has used excessive forces and bribes not only to control their marginalized and angered masses, but have sent troops to countries like Bahrain and neighboring Yemen to help quell protests there as well.

President Obama said in his speech, “
Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different.” In what way are we different? Our country, and its leaders, have been known in the past to focus on removing dictators of certain countries that have resources that we covet, while turning a blind eye to other humanitarian atrocities. Of course Obama also fails to address the fact that his administration approved 40 billion dollars in weapons sales to countries including Egypt, Bahrain and Lybia over the last two years, which have led to the cries of foul play when tear gas canisters in Egypt were labeled “made in the USA”. Almost all of the equipment approved in 2009 was aircraft parts and, in 2008, $1 million was approved for explosives and incendiary agents which the State Department claimed were used “In oil exploration”. To make matters even worse some of the main contributors to the European Union, specifically Germany, United Kingdom, Paris and Italy, which makes up a majority of the NATO military coalition, have supplied €834.5 million (roughly 1.5 Billion US dollar), in arms to Libya over the last 5 years.

So maybe the question that should have been asked isn't “Is Gaddafi dangerous and should he be removed?” but “Why, and how has Gaddafi attained the means of his absolute political and military power, and how can we prevent monetary contributions to these fiascoes in the future?” If this country is really the beacon of peace that political talking heads, specifically presidents past and present, claim it to be, then why do we always find that we've substantially contributed, at least monetarily, to the tools of oppression that are utilized by the very dictators that we then turn around and condemn, while we turn their countries into rubble? It's as if our leaders sell these weapons with little or no discretion, while allowing our military to be reduced to nothing more than some kind of demolition subcontractor for contractors, like Halliburton, looking to capitalize on any skirmish in the “Greater Middle East”.

In the speech he gave Monday night about Libya, President Obama stated that, “For generations, the United States of America has played a unique role as an anchor of global security and as an advocate for human freedom.” I have to admit that I snickered a little after I heard that as I said under my breath, “well... “Unique” is one way to put it,” especially if you’re an idealist high on your own bullshit. Realistically are role has drifted further from “an anchor of global security”or “an advocate for human freedom” and become more of a global enabler and prime offender of ubiquitous and violent fiascoes, which ooze uncontrollably with lies and hypocrisy. Rhetoric like this is nothing more than a reaffirmation of American imperialism, which more times than not is unjustified, and becomes more fruitless with each passing decade. As Obama rattles off an endless stream of talking points about a “strong and growing coalition”, which seems hell bent on doing anything to get their economies out of a rut, everything the president says becomes increasingly disingenuous. He also mentioned the “historic resolution”, which not only creates a no-fly zone, but also a no-drive zone that may be a precursor to ground troops in Libya. That being said, it should be no surprise that the same day Obama was getting ready to defend, not a war, but a “kinetic military action, Libyan rebels announced their intentions to begin trading oil for the first time in a month.

Once again another question, which is one that should probably be asked, though it might never be answered are about Gaddafi's opposition, who have merely been referred to by the media as “Rebels”. For instance, who are the rebel forces and what are they going to do with the money? Let us not forget about all of our past nation building attempts where the rebels minorities eventually became the oppressive majority. All you have to do is look at the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, Iraq and Cuba to see how our willingness to fund the opposition to a sworn enemy always seems to create new enemies in the long run. These “seeds of democracy” that we've been planting since World War II, and more frequently since the advent of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, have a history of producing more rotten apples. Which leads me to my final question...when is it going to end?

-The Dead Guy

Monday, February 7, 2011

Record Jacket: 25 Favorite Album Covers (25-21)

As a self proclaimed discophile album artwork has always intrigued me since I first started listening to music. The first albums I ever owned had some of the most iconic covers ever seen, like Iron Maiden's Killers and Van Halen's 1984. They were on Compact Disc, since it was the mid 90's and people had stopped listening to vinyl record once they're tune table belt snapped. My dad still had a stack in his old stereo entertainment center, just minus the record player and stereo system... sigh. Eventually, I began to realize that someone had to design these album covers, and I was eager to find out everything I could about the fine artists and photographers who created these iconic images, and the graphic designers that layout the final product. I never judged an album by it cover, but was always interested to see how the sound of the music tied into the images that I held in my hand as I gave my ear drums a stimulating workout. After earning an A.A. In graphic design and printing T-shirts for some of my friends bands at my screen printing job, my love and appreciation for ALL of the artists that contribute to these sonic masterpieces, and the entire art experience that comes with them, has only grown. So with the free time I had I thought I would compile a list of the 25 album covers that have continuously fascinated me since I first started listen to music. So sit back, relax and enjoy the first installment of The Dead Guy's 25 favorite album covers.

25. Toxicity – System of a Down

Besides being probably the angriest, and most powerful anti-war albums in the last decade, which, ironically, was released a week before the events of September. 11th, it is also the only System of a Down album, not to feature the Parental Advisory label, even with the use of minor profanities. It has a particularity iconoclastic album cover, one which suggests at our blur between unreality and reality, which exist in our entertainment and news. This happens in some of the worst places, in this case it's Hollywood. With the words “System of a Down” replacing the traditional “Hollywood” in the Hollywood Hills, and the word “Toxicity” in sprayed in blood red across the bottom of the hill, you'd have to be a fool to think this might be mellow bong ripping album.

24. They Only Come Out at Night – Edgar Winter Group

This album, which was released in 1972, features Edgar Winter himself wearing lipstick, eye makeup, and a cheek stud on the cover. Unlike glam rockers like David Bowie, Winter’s facade has been altered with the addition of mutton chops and lacks those boyish good looks made famous by David Bowie, which makes for a much more interesting assault on the American public. There is just something about a man, like Edgar Winter, in drag that is deeply disturbing, unattractive and highly intriguing. This album cover epitomizes the glam rock scene that would help blur those pesky gender lines and stereo types that are just plain silly.

23.Nothing Shocking – Jane's Addiction

Perry Farrell created the cover image for Nothing's Shocking. Farrell said the image, like much of his artwork, came to him in a dream. Farrell had hired Warner Brother employees to create the cover sculpture, but after learning how to create sculptures by watching them closely, he fired the Warner Brothers staff and created the artwork himself. Farrell hired someone to help create a full body casting of his girlfriend for use as the sculptures. Retailers and PRMC talking heads like Tipper Gore objected to the album's cover, which 9 out of the 11 leading record store chains refused to carry, since and the record had to be issued covered with a brown paper bag. The brashness and beauty speak for its self, the surreal images of naked conjoined twins with their heads on fire, let's you know right away that you should be prepared for a face melting wall of sound.

22. What Am I Doing in New Jersey? - George Carlin

This is one of my favorite albums for two reasons. First, my family is from New Jersey, and I hate it just as much as Carlin. Secondly, it's one of the first album where Carlin treads into the topic of current politics. Carlin opening line sums up the political climate of the 80's with, "I really haven't seen this many people in one place since they took the group photographs of all the criminals and lawbreakers in the Ronald Reagan administration." The Album cover captures the price of industrialization in the most over industrialized states in the union, New Jersey. Standing in one of the many industrial parks that litter the great “Garden State” or as Carlin so eloquently puts it, “The Garden State? Sure, if you're growing smoke stacks!, This album captures America at the beginning of its decline into bad health and stupidity. The Cover captures everything that people around the world have hated about this country, and it's people since then. Who knew a single image could capture the disparity of “Reaganomics” and the trickledown theory, and the demise of the American Dream. It is also one of the few albums covers that features the World Trade Center, how apropos!

21. Given to the Rising - Neurosis

When it comes to iconic imagery look no further then Oaklands very own Neurosis, and their last record Given to the Rising. The simplicity of the overall layout in overshadowed by the very powerful image of a horse with antler armor. The horse in one of many statues in the famous Hosök tere, or Hero's Square. The Horse of Hero Square is symbolic of the sound of this album, and in general, the raw power of the very influential Neurosis.

-The Dead Guy

Monday, December 27, 2010

Distortion of Divinity: Avoiding the Game, and Attaining Spiritual Acquiescence

For quite some time now I've been contemplating this religious shit flinging that has taken place recently in the form of book burning. It always nice to see that the pious, monotheistic religions of the west have not allowed the purely materialist act of book burning go out of style. These people have obviously taken their eye off the ball when it comes to the spiritual well-being of the planet and its inhabitants. Religion can, in fact, be very beneficial to a society when utilized properly. The problem with institutionalized religion is the idea that the dogmas set forth by religious authorities, are not in any way shape or form, perversions of the doctrine, and that the doctrine being interpreted is divinely inspired, and thus an infallible guide to living life. Alan Watts was once asked by a radio announcer, "Don’t you think that if there is a truly loving God, He would given us a plain and specific guide as to how to live our lives?” he knew that the man was referring to the Bible and replied, “On the contrary, I think a truly loving God would not stultify our minds. He would encourage us to think for ourselves."

Although it may be true that many of these writings contain some form of the teachings of Moses, Jesus or Mohamed, it is irresponsible to assume that the pen-holders did not inject some of their personal beliefs into the mouths of these men, or that some statements may have been distorted unintentional and lost in translation. All religious text from the Qur'an to the Bible and even eastern text, such as Hindu Bhagavad Gita or Buddhist Bardo Thodol (Book of the Dead), contain teaching that can help guide some to a more spiritually loving path. I find it really disheartening when individuals use the dogma of interpreters, such as St. Augustine, to condemn people as unfaithful sinners. All of these ideologies that have been handed down to us are rarely question. I would consider this a failure of moral courage, and a transgression on the human soul. I doubt Jesus would waste his time concerning himself with things such as “Original Sin” or the idea that accepting him as the son of God was the only path toward salvation. Many people consider me odd and eccentric, but I think my idea of of who Jesus was is closer to the true nature of Christ and his message to humanity, dogma and doctrine aside.

First, it is important to point out that many people are labeled non-believers by the so called “Faithful”, when they question the dogma erected in the name of Jesus Christ or any other religious figure, or what many consider to be messengers of God, or what I think is more appropriate “couriers of the Universe”. One thing that people seem to forget is that Jesus was quite the questioner himself. Many seem to forget that he spent a lot of time questioning Judaism, which is most apparent in narratives like the The Money Changers, where Jesus quotes from the Torah by exclaiming, "The Scriptures declare, 'My Temple will be called a house of prayer,' but you have turned it into a den of thieves!”.(Isaiah 56:7, Jeremiah 7:11) This seems to be a staple in the teaching of Jesus, which is the fundamental idea that materialism has no place in a temple, intended solely for communion with God. If anything it is the materialism that distracts us from uniting with the divine. Therefore, by allowing materialism into the temple, in the form of the merchants and money changers, a place where people went to commune with god, the leaders of the temple were undermining the basic spiritual function of the temple.

It is interesting to point out that the spiritual teaching inherited from many of the spiritual leader's that have presented themselves in the history of mankind, have epitomized similar spiritual tenets. From Jesus and Socrates, to Buddha and Gandhi they have all had similar underlying ideals. All of which, with the exception of Buddha, were killed subsequently. The disparity in this trend was pointed out by Bill Hicks when he said, “It's just a ride. But we always kill the good guys who try and tell us that, you ever notice that? And let the demons run amok … Jesus - murdered; Martin Luther King - murdered; Malcolm X - murdered; Gandhi - murdered; John Lennon - murdered; Reagan... wounded.” It seems that the western mind has a tendency to over value life, and fear death even though they are one in the same. There is a grace in these “preachers of peace” deaths who, as some would say, had a lot more to give, but I guess the universe thought differently.

I think the most profound teaching, that a person like Jesus had to offer humanity, was in his death, but not in the traditional way that we have been lead to believe. I think Jesus demonstrated his philosophy of anti materialism most profoundly in his self sacrifice. I don't see Jesus' death as a provocation of the sacrifice that Jewish prophecy predicted, or the idea perpetuated by an institution like the Catholic Church, that Jesus was dying for the world sins. Our body is what connects us to the material world and, as Gnostics believed, was the final obstacle in the way of our inevitable reunion with god, or more precisely the universe. It as if Jesus wanted us to know that we should never fear death, or we may forget to live.

I think the attempt of preserving the material body, as observed in the funerary processes of traditional Judaism and Christianity are a bit morbid and far from practical. It is an attempt to persevere a vessel, a mere shell of a person, in attempt to preserve the essence of that person, even though the essence goes much deeper then the skin and the body, and leaves after we die. Our body is animated by the energy, which may radiate from our soul, or true self, which many refer to as the “Spirit” or essence of a being. There is really no need to preserve the entirety of an empty vessel, unless you are materialistic. Furthermore, the amount of money spent on these frivolous ceremonies is just another aspect of this misguided materialism.

On the other hand, when compared to the funerary practices of eastern religions, which may be seen as morbid to the western mind, is far more practical and much more captivating. Of the many forms of eastern burials I find the sky burial most intriguing. This is a practice in Tibet wherein a human corpse is cut in specific locations and placed on a mountaintop, exposing it to the elements or the mahabhuta and animals, especially to birds of prey. A sky burial, or Jhator, is considered an act of generosity on the part of the deceased, since the deceased and surviving relatives are providing food to sustain living beings. Generosity and compassion for all beings are important virtues or paramita in Buddhism. I hope that one day my remains can be disposed of in this fashion, as George Carlin once said, ‎"If we're going to recycle, let's get serious!"

Materialism, in a nut shell, is a very narrow and bleak philosophy for simple minded people. It over values the external world, and neglects the internal world, or at least fails to unite body, mind and spirit in a more psychologically healthy union. Much like the great spiritual teachers before me, I view the material world as a world of illusion; inherit with the spiritual trappings of mankind. As Nikos Kasantzakis stated so eloquently in the Epilogue for The Last Temptation of Christ:

Within me are the dark immemorial forces of the Evil One, human and pre- human; within me too are the luminous forces, human and pre-human, of God— and my soul is the arena where these two armies have clashed and met.

The anguish has been intense. I loved my body and did not want it to perish; I loved my soul and did not want it to decay. I have fought to reconcile these two primordial forces which are so contrary to each other, to make them realize that they are not enemies but, rather, fellow workers, so that they might rejoice in their harmony, and so that I might rejoice with them.”

-The Dead Guy