Columns

No More Bad Future

I steeple my hands with palm fronds. The plant does not speak back. I remind myself I wasn’t talking out loud so I’ve no right to be annoyed. Back in Sydney after seven months in exile in London, or is it the other way around? Tropical rain is still rain. It would serve you well to re-examine your notion of home. It’s gauche to say it because wow, what freedom and what luck to leave where I was born and to make homes in other corners, but two lives in two cities is maybe too much for my big hot heart! Opening my throat again at a reconvened band practice to feel the full weight of old songs, seems like the heavy weight was ballast, after all. What’s more, these are tiny, unregistrable sadnesses on the Great Scale of Pain. It’s on this that the world’s traumas constantly have to recalibrate to account for how much worse it can get. 

I’m refreshing the news right now because a man has taken guns to a mosque and he has written things he read about on the internet onto those guns and then he has shot those guns at the people inside and now his bullets are under their skin, mangling the insides of them, the delicately held together parts that their mothers built so they could live. I absorb this information and I then go to the gig and drink three beers and an espresso martini. 

Nobody mentions it. What has happened has happened insomuch as I have read about it on the internet. They need volunteers to wash the bodies. Now someone has thrown an egg at an elected fascist and it feels good. We run towards the good feeling. How are we going to overcome this? 

CHRONOPHAGE’s album is called Prolog for Tomorrow. Make sure you eat up the sensation of being joyfully blindsided when something this good slides on by you in the sewage river of contemporary sounds. You’ll wanna venture a finger in the sludge to save this one, seemingly output from a totally complete genius universe. On this recording, you can hear the room and there are mature roots growing around all the amps. Everything, and I mean, everything, is sprouting. You don’t need glue to hold it all together just some fuzz and a prayer. These are the spiritual inversions you need as the world outside folds in on itself. You face them down in the sewer to thank them but they shake the nub end of a rubber crucifix in your face and turn away. Grinning. 

SOOT, from Brisbane, have a tape called Pockmarked with…Soot! There is yelling and clanging and you spin and you win the demented tombola when the horn hits. The siblinghood of the bent notes. It almost stops completely at points. Three hatched brains slurping up the albumen. “I can’t speak when I feel this way.” Open your whole throat to the world and laugh as you gag and let your neon bile get all up in the global urethra. Soon you’ll be lost in the boy-girl goy-birl sing song, taken out totally by an incessant glockenspiel. Then, after all that, they chose to cover “Give Me Back My Man” by the B-52s. In the recently moments when I have been struggling, adrift, totally confused, I have put on the original on repeat and zoned out to Cindy’s wail. The SOOT version is like a detuned, heard-through-a-wall echo of the original, i.e. exactly how it sounds when I sing along. Perfect. 

Did you know Fred Schneider was in BONGWATER for a minute there, too? Have you heard this group? Absolute mid-eighties nut job sounds from which test the limits of what could reasonably be categorized as “song.” There are monologues set to half- heard psych out of space and out of time, wild yelps towards the light. These dream journals set to mental journeyed rock but the joke is deadly serious, too many words in one line and no regard for anything like a tune. Their best songs are led by sardonic get-it-out- of-me rage of Ann Magnuson, evidently a renowned performance artist and East Village legend who consorted with Keith and Jean- Michel. It figures that this scene held hands under the banners, too. B-52s were much more than “Rock Lobster.” BONGWATER sang about assassinating Jesse Helms. The single-minded preoccupation of exposing the galling hypocrisy and saving their friends’ and lovers’ lives and that undergirded so much of the first and second waves of AIDS Activism has a cool inverse in the free wheeling yet still laser focussed art and music connected to it all. Everyone was doing their part. I re- watched the ACTUP documentary called How to Survive a Plague recently, where you see Keith Haring and many other non-famous people at meetings. While there is much to discuss about that doc in regards to who is not shown, whose stories are followed and not, it’s an incredibly moving document of how to change the world.” If you are my age maybe you remember films and TV that side- eyed at the crisis, referenced it in evermore subtle ways, subtler still until it was all gone, forgotten, a historical nugget. No. We owe it to everyone who did not survive to look at what happened during these times through the eyes of those who were there and those who did not make it. Schulman’s Gentrification of the Mind revs this idea up further. What are the stories we tell ourselves about these disasters? That they have ended? That PrEP is just a random science miracle? Every inch crept towards humanity has a corresponding death toll and an arrest count. If our planet does not, somehow, burn up to a crispy husk in the next ten years, this will be why. 

I had a vivid dream last night about a room full of lamps. I had to choose one to take but the bulbs kept flickering out. We are hot fuses who cannot leave each other in the dark. This is my last attempt at flinging observations for print towards the counter-institution that changed my life. Ten years deep. Damn. I hope it’s okay. I hope you’re okay. 

In lieu of the advice column I never wrote, a couple of commandments from me to close us out: Never suck the dick of someone who acts like they deserve it. It’s also okay to be inscrutable, illegible to the squares, a total shapeshifter. You don’t have to lock yourself down with a fixed identity if it doesn’t serve you to do so, and if you do, the lock combination is yours alone. The statistical chance that you will find all your people at the punk gig is honestly close to zero, so make sure you speak to strangers. Open the windows and doors of your alienation palace and air it out, remembering what Assata said: “A wall is just a wall and nothing more at all.” Be suspicious of anyone who takes joy from pulling other people down. That will to silence, wherever it comes from, is a will against the sputtering engine of a fairer future world, our only hope, the last word: solidarity.