On the Defensive- Part 2

In keeping with my need to distance myself, somewhat, from matters in the world that have any real import or impact, I’ve decided to spend a little time getting back into the writing habit by engaging in the defense of a couple o’ few relatively unimportant things/people/circumstances that have come under attack lately. I’m hoping this exercise will help deal with the sensory overload I’m experiencing- and the knee-jerk reversion back to ancient myths- and the doctrines they support- as an ever-growing and ever-more politically and socially acceptable means of dealing with our collective problems that is in evidence EVERYWHERE.

Part 1 was about U2’s misunderstood generosity- and briefly outlined the psychological concept of defense mechanisms. Pop on back there and have a read, if you’re so inclined. It’s a bit wordy (even for me), but I was introducing a new paradigm hereabouts- the ‘non-reactionary defense’ or ‘mature defense mechanism’- so it required a bit more background. Hopefully this one will be more succinct. No promises though. Once I get on a roll… Or a Rock and Roll…

Green Day. In 2015 they will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.


For some reason, this is making people very angry. At first glance, the growliest detractors seemed to be Smiths fans- who were upset that their particular whiny heroes hadn’t been the band to make the cut. (Full disclosure: I LOATHE Morrissey. Always have done. I get that Johnny Marr is pretty damn brilliant, and that the Smiths had some songs that had a fairly substantial impact back in the day- all those retro-80s compilation albums can’t be wrong, can they?-  but Moz makes me want to remove my ears. Just in case you were wondering.)

I saw a number of general complaints about Green Day’s inclusion back when they were first announced to be on the ballot, and the murmurs became full roars once they actually made it onto the inductees list.

While there may be a person or two on the list of 2015 inductees that is a wee bit confusing to me (not sure what Ringo- on his own, not as part of the Beatles- is doing there), overall, I’m not sure I can find much fault. Lou Reed? Not a question. Especially in light of the fact that we lost him a little over a year ago. His contribution should be highlighted- and, perhaps, acknowledged by a new generation.

Assuming, of course, that the newer generation(s) place any sort of value on induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I’m not sure that they do. At all. It kinda seems like the people getting their knickers well-twisted are of a more *ahem* seasoned demographic. MY demographic, to be accurate.

I don’t get the fuss. I don’t get the amount of energy and ink (metaphorically speaking) used to declaim the assertion that Green Day has no business being in the Hall o’ Fame.

That I disagree, should be obvious. Why else would I be writing a defense, after all? I’ll get to that in a second, but please, just let me reiterate the fact that people of intelligence and influence are expending brain cells and time complaining about something like this. While real stuff is happening. Bad stuff. Stuff that should be talked about. And read about. And understood. So we can do something about it. (Want a list? Check out any of a number of my other posts- or posts that I’ve linked to- there a whole lot of smart people here in WPWorld talking about a whole lot of important things)

(And I don’t mean stuff like recapping the Walking Dead on the facebook. Just so’s we’re clear.)

Anyhoo. Back to defending Green Day. I like Green Day. A lot, in fact. In the wasteland that was the early 90’s- what with the rise of grunge and a bunch of inexplicable (to me) HipHop MCs- they were pretty much my go-to for music that didn’t make me want to tear off my ears (Moz wasn’t the only one who made me feel that way). Some good came out of Seattle, certainly (Dave Grolh has proven to be a pretty remarkable guy- and an innovative musician. Plus, I like drummers. But enough about him- he’s already in the Hall of Fame), but I was most definitely not a fan of the whole grungy dealio.

Dookie came along just in time, IMHO, to save us all from the faux-angst generated by Kurt Cobain’s suicide. It is also, in and of itself, a great freakin album. InsomniacNimrod and Warning (a folkier Green Day than had been heard heretofore) followed, and were all pretty solid offerings.

Breaths of fresh musical air in my least-favourite music-producing decade.

And then came 2004, and American Idiot.

After the master tracks for their album Cigarettes and Valentines were stolen, the boys in the band opted to start all over, rather than attempt to recreate the lost songs. What resulted was a well-crafted concept album that offered up a pretty stinging social commentary on the State of the American Union.

I was teaching my first course (‘Myth and Symbol’) at Carleton University’s College of the Humanities when the album was released. Surrounded as I was by really smart and engaged young people, I still associate the album with that time- and that group of people. A lot of my students got the album- they felt it spoke to them of the disarray in the post-9/11 world. The reactionary (and ridiculous and unfounded) politics of the American government (and of certain of its allies) and the mass-hysteria propagated by the ever-growing new media forms? All these things were acknowledged- if not adequately addressed. You can cut them some slack, though. They’re musicians, not policy-makers or community leaders, after all.

Billie Joe, Mike and Tré used this album to register their discontent- discordantly- based in the electric, albeit simple, chords inextricably bound up with their Punk roots.

Ideologically, I agree(d), wholeheartedly, with their political critique (who didn’t hate on Dubya, in those days?), and I love(d) the way they played with religious imagery/(sub)urban culture in the characters of Jesus of Suburbia and St. Jimmy.

There’s actually only one song on the album I don’t much like- Wake Me Up When September Ends. I’m not entirely sure how it ended up being one of the singles or how it’s meant to fit into the larger conceit of the album.

The rest of it? Pretty damn sublime, IMHO. It it pompous and it is glorious. And it’s a whole lot of fun, as well.

They followed it up with 21st Century Breakdown, another concept album that continued the themes of American Idiot quite well, while not quite living up to its example. It isn’t as cohesive, somehow, and the plot lines become a little muddled and convoluted.

But it’s still pretty great Rock and Roll.

American Idiot was turned into a stage musical combining songs from both albums. I’m still not 100% sure what that was all about. I’m guessing that it was an attempt to emulate The Who’s Tommy– and to attract a different audience- but… The book, written by Billie Joe and Michael Mayer, is weak and sort of meandering. I’m not sure I liked it. It certainly wasn’t Punk Rock. But as Broadway musicals go, I enjoyed it more than most.

The bottom line in all this? This band continues to consistently create interesting and innovative music- at times when the rest of the ‘industry’ seems intent on over-produced and/or derivative drivel. While there is great- often-independent- music happening all around us, the stuff that gets played in the mainstream these days (and I have to include things like late night talk show appearances, gigs on SNL and the like in this category) is TERRIBLE. There are exceptions that prove the rule (that Bruno Mars kid, for example, continues to impress me- not really my style of tunes, but you can’t deny the talent there. And he’s cute-as-a-button, to boot), but, generally, I have to actively search for new things that are worth a listen.

Green Day, somehow, manages to remain true to their Punk Rock roots (their cover of the Ramones’ Outsider, from the We’re a Happy Family tribute album IS worth a listen. THAT one you should google) while pushing the limits of the genre and incorporating different styles and themes into their work. And they seem to have a great time with it all. Still. After almost 30 years together. Through all the angst and righteous anger, they can take the piss and offer up a laugh or two along the way.

It’s a solid, clever, often-insightful, sometimes-complex, fun catalogue of music.

I’m not on the selection committee, but those things alone seem like pretty legit criteria for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Do you know the enemy?
Do you know your enemy?
Well, gotta know the enemy

Violence is an energy
Against the enemy
Well, violence is an energy

Bringing on the fury
The choir infantry
Revolt against the honor to obey

Overthrow the effigy
The vast majority
Well, burning down the foreman of control

Silence is the enemy
Against your urgency
So rally up the demons of your soul…

The insurgency will rise
When the blood’s been sacrificed
Don’t be blinded by the lies in your eyes

I’m not entirely sure that I can recognize an enemy, these days. Particularly when ideological attacks seem to be all over the place and, too often, to come out of nowhere.

I do, however, know that three guys out of Berkeley most certainly aren’t the enemy. Not these three guys, anyway. They get that silence- about things that matter- isn’t acceptable. I can appreciate that. They have Voices that say (or shout, depending on your perspective) things that matter- and that manage to get heard above some of the detritus that passes for music in some popular conceptions of such things.

Congratulations on the induction-to-come, Boys. Well-deserved.

Gives me some hope that 2015 might well be pretty cool. Perhaps even três cool.

Happy New Year, everyone! Celebrate well and safely.  Thanks for hanging about and chatting with me in 2014. Hope to see even more of you in the years to come!

Hype Hype Hooray?

I know, I’ve used this graphic before (this one is smaller and a different colour, though).  And I do admit to a little fatigue with the whole ‘keep calm and…’ thing, but hey, when something works…

Is anyone else having a whole lot of trouble getting remotely excited for these Olympic things that are about to start over there in Russia?

Is it just me?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m as card-carrying and flag-waving a Canadian as you’d ever want to find- and winter is kind of our milieu if you will.  Last time out?  All those Golds- and on home soil/snow/ice?  What was better than that?!  The day the gents won the hockey final turned into an impromptu party that ended with me and a friend up on Yonge Street yelling our fool heads off with the rest of the city.  It was a totally spontaneous expression of happiness and pride.

Even the summer games in London got me pretty psyched- although, in that case, I have to admit that most of my enthusiasm was for the spectacle that went along with the whole shebang.  The UK is the source and home of so very much of the music that I adore and count on to keep me sane and human- so the opening and closing ceremonies were something I am happy to have experienced.  I’m sure some sports events happened in between, but that honestly wasn’t high on my list of must-see television viewing.

This time out?

Seriously couldn’t care less.

Part of it has to do with the constant barrage of criticism (not that criticism isn’t warranted) about Russia- be it due to dangerous political policies and legislation regarding the LGBT community, the outrageous costs and demonstrated evidence of corruption, the fact that Sochi is a summertime resort area (palm trees, anyone?) and therefore not exactly appropriate for the winter games… the list goes on and on.

But really, my cynicism/indifference (the degree of my ennui about the Games depends on the day) stems from some things that I’ve spoken harped about here in the past.

I usually begin my days (weekdays, anyway) with CBC Newsworld’s morning show.  Lets me know what happened overnight, gives me an idea of what newest polar vortex/snow hell seasonally appropriate weather I can expect to experience over the course of the day.  Today I had to change the channel.  It was all Olympics, all the time.  It was more commercial than news program.

And.  I.  Just.  Don’t.  Care.

I appreciate that the athletes work reallyreally hard to take a stab at the podium in the international spectacle that is the Games.  I get that the Olympics has been used, historically, as a means of shoring up national enthusiasms in times when less-than-fun things are happening.  I totes understand that all of that requires a certain amount of money and marketing and such like things.

But the increasingly cynical/exasperated/discouraged me is really feeling like the spectacle and materiality and unbalanced (in every sense of the word) emphasis placed on events like this (with their hyper-emphasis on competition and us vs. them) have become less about ‘bringing the world together’ and more about aiding and abetting the collective numbing of the masses to the realities of our global/national/local situations.

Pessimism?  From me?  I know- not my usual way of approaching things.  But I’m really, well, FED UP is the first descriptor that springs to mind.

Too many things, lately, seem to be little more than constructs meant to distract us from issues of genuine import and things that emphatically need immediate attention.

I mentioned in my last post (which was oh-so-long-ago- and refuses to link.  That whole time thing is getting to me again) that I had a discussion (for want of a better word) with a close friend regarding the inherent and vital importance of education- and Humanities education in particular- that increases with each passing day.  We are increasingly exposed to TOO MUCH information- and SO much of that information is erroneous, biased or politicized to the extreme that it bears no resemblance to anything remotely like rational, examined truth.  (Please don’t let’s start about the relativity of truth right now.  I’m too tired to argue abstracts when I’m attempting to reiterate the point I made about dialectic vs. debate a little while ago).  Too many people don’t have the critical thinking skills to assess the bombardment of information that comes at them constantly.

That my friend seems to think that people are incapable of paying attention to anything long enough to see the value (let alone the necessity) in learning these skills, is quite out of keeping with my usual faith in humanity and our drive to do better and be better- just because it’s possible (and not because we’re looking for a big cash payout).  We have this discussion fairly frequently (he’s a science-type-dude) and he genuinely thinks people are too lazy- by nature- to want to put that much effort into anything that doesn’t have demonstrable and instant personal payback.  I’m unlikely to convince him otherwise, and, honestly, his perspective is frequently supported by the bulk of the evidence.

Distraction.  It’s everywhere.  If you don’t think that you are being actively distracted- at pretty much every single turn- I’d love to hear from you about exactly how you are managing to avoid such things (unless you’re living off the grid in the wilderness somewhere- which would make it unlikely that you’d be reading this to begin with.  And ‘off the grid in the wilderness’ is neither a practical nor attractive option for me at this point).

I admit that I was distracted earlier this week- in part by a brutal cold/flu thing that knocked me off my feet for a few days- but mainly by a couple of books that I picked up a few weeks back.   I used the opportunity of the dumping of snow and total disinterest in the Super Bowl, arrest(s) of Justin Beiber and comparable ‘happenings’ in the world to catch up on some reading.  I might talk about those books later, but in all honesty they still haven’t ‘settled’ enough for me to figure out if I enjoyed them or not.

Getting back to work- and to figuring out just what form my next classroom might take- I’ve been bombarded with reasons (as if more were required) why any classroom in which I choose to participate MUST be one in which the dialectic is permitted to reign.  I’m done with debates (did you see that whole ridiculous debacle between Bill Nye and the Creationist?  And the plethora of follow-up idiocy?  How was that even a thing?  How?!?  And the first ‘mayoral debate’ was held here in TO.  And he’s being talked about on Jon Stewart AGAIN tonight.  Plus ça change…. Sigh).  I will not seek to engage with those who are looking only to ‘win’ as a furtherance of agendas that benefit the very few.

And please don’t take that to mean that I’m agreeing to disagree.  A young woman, captured on the wonderful photoblog site, Humans of New York (look for them on the facebook, if you’re into such things- truly lovely photos and subjects), said something that resonated with my feelings of futility lately: fighting can be useless.  If people want to be stupid, let them stay stupid and move forward (I’m paraphrasing here).

Just as closed minds can’t be forced open, many of those people who are constantly and willingly distracted by the media and the commercial trappings of society are unlikely to be looking to actually learn anything that goes against their already-established beliefs.

Is this a terrifying reality?  Yep.

Is it irreversible?  I hope not.  I’ve lived my life trying to demonstrate that this needn’t be the case.  Laziness- physical or intellectual- is a learned, nurtured behaviour.  If we feel we don’t have to think for ourselves… this is very much to the benefit of those who hold power and control our economies.  This has always been the case, of course.  The institutionalized church is probably the most famous employer of this tactic to keep the masses doing what they oughta and keeping the status quo all status quo-ish.

We are told to pick a side and stick with it.  Moreover, we are told that the ideas behind the side we choose do not need constant re-evaluation or a deeper delve into the origins and the reasons for the perpetuation of these ideas.  Those that express a differing view are the enemy– and to be treated as such.  Polarization is the norm- and anything like a middle ground is seen as wishy-washy or non-committal.

It is a means of social control.  People choose to ignore the fact that they are being controlled by the information that is approved and meted out according to schedules.  We are content to absorb and repeat the information we are fed because thinking about it and coming to our own conclusions take more effort than many of us can handle expending.  The reasons for this are myriad- and some are almost excusable.

But we don’t have to listen- or engage with those who mindlessly spout the nonsense they heard on Fox News on any given day.  We can choose to ignore the rhetoric- and certainly the attempts to influence our actions and decision based in spurious arguments without basis in fact.  We can avoid subscribing to the insidious sleight of hand that politicians, lobbyists and business leaders employ (often through the use of popular media) to keep us distracted.

We also can try to keep from feeling frustrated with those who refuse to acknowledge the manipulation as we decide to change the paradigm.  As we decide to stop with the debates and approach our common issues using reasoned discussion and evaluations of all perspectives- objectively and sincerely- without concern about towing any party lines or protecting our personal assets (such as they may or may not be).

Instead of sitting glued to our television sets/mobile devices watching our athletes demonstrate the power of doing something, we can choose to actively participate in the decisions being made in our names by getting off our collective rumps and thinking for ourselves.  It’s a stretch- but I know we can do it.

Don’t want to be an American idiot
One nation controlled by the media
Information age of hysteria
It’s calling out to idiot America

Welcome to a new kind of tension
All across the alien nation
Where everything isn’t meant to be okay

Television dreams of tomorrow
We’re not the ones who’re meant to follow
For that’s enough to argue

None of us need be idiots- American or otherwise.

Failing that, we can all decide to just keep on believing that sunsets happen because ‘their (sic) acts of god.’

PS- All that said- best of luck to all Canadian participants in Sochi (and those competing from across the world as well, but hey, I am CANADIAN) and thank you for the positive ways in which you always represent our home and native land.  And while I am on the topic- can someone please explain to me- once and for all- why professional hockey players are permitted to compete in amateur Games?  And also- why is curling a sport?  (ooh- that’ll cause some stir.  Almost as bad as admitting to not caring if the Leafs ever win the cup or holding firm to the opinion that Tim Horton’s coffee suuuuucks.  I’m sure they’ll arrive to revoke my citizenship/passport any day now).  Apparently it actually stipulates in the official rules of curling that the victors of the bonspiel HAVE to buy the vanquished beers post-competition.  IN.  THE.  RULES.  Not sure I get the ‘sport’ aspect of that particular game (although it’s not the only one that keeps me bemused.  Golf is a close second…)

Packing it in

As of yet, anyway.

The other day I mentioned that I had 13 unfinished drafts in the queue waiting to be finished/polished/fully started.  As of this morning it was up to 15.

See, I tried this week.  I really did.  Had some ideas (some great ones, too!) and started getting them fleshed out, but then something else would come along to get in the way of the creativity/coherent thought.

It has not been my favourite week.  Been having a lot of those (not favourite weeks) lately.

Last night I spent the evening packing.  I am moving house in less than a month (!)  and the anxiety/stress about the coming chaos finally got me off my butt to start the procedure in earnest.  It’s not so much the packing I don’t like (though the packing is hardly fun), but living surrounded by boxes and being unable to find something that just might have been boxed up accidentally?  Crazy-making.

I don’t do well with chaos (an understatement, if there ever was one).  I am a 21st century BCE old fogey at heart.  Like our Mesopotamian forebears I am FAR more affected by the dichotomy of order and chaos than I am by the good/evil that the monotheists started on about later.

But I’m not going to talk further about the whole externalization of evil nonsense at the moment.  I honestly don’t have the energy right now. 

Moving- even if it’s for a happy reason- is never a fun process.  Add in the crazy logistics of contemporary life- cost of trucks & storage, shifting all the billing addresses, cancelling all the no-longer needed services, changing the driver’s license/health card, booking the time to DO the moving…


The packing isn’t always the worst part.  It provides a good opportunity to purge the life trappings that have become unnecessary and the chance (awesome for a lover-of-order like me) to shore up the awareness that there is a place for everything and everything CAN be in its proper place.

The last time I moved house I packed in a fairly robotic frenzy.  I had experienced a major life-change (one that was forced upon me rather than reached through mutual discussion and any semblance of respect) so things went into boxes with only the most minor attempts at purging.  Unless it was truly rubbish, into a box it went.

So there’s some ‘unexamined stuff’ to go through.

Which means that this time out I’m finding all kinds of interesting things.  Some melancholy, some cool as hell.  Old letters from friends long gone, love notes best consigned to the trash, CDs I forgot I had.  Cassette tapes I forgot I had.

While packing up the shelves that hold the vestiges of my life in the ivory tower of academia (such as it was), I found those items left to me by my late mentor and friend, Papa Kaz.

As we cleared out his office for his impending retirement years ago, we reached the point where he had had enough and basically just bequeathed all that was left to me and my interest.  If I wanted it, it was mine.

Since I inherited the office itself for a time following his departure, and since I was pretty much done with the packing myself, a lot of it was just left there on the shelves where he had placed it all at some point over the 30+ years he worked at the uni.

When it was my turn to vacate the office, the unexamined things- plus those items that he had personally given to me- made their way to the study at home.  To be boxed up when the last move took place

I found a rather peculiar and interesting file folder in with all the articles about biblical exegesis and slides and maps of the Ancient Near East.  It has nothing to do with Religious Studies, and there doesn’t seem to be a familial connection given the cursory read I’ve made of the materials thus far, so I’m only assuming it came from him because of proximity to his other stuff.

When I have some time to relax I will have to do a little research on the contents and let you know what I’ve found.  It’s a mystery though.  And I love mysteries…

NO distractions!


Moving can be both a trip down memory lane (past the bad blocks and the good) and a period of catharsis as new things are set in motion.

It can also be a supreme pain in the ass.

Suffice it to say, in the next little while I won’t be contributing as many posts as has become my norm in the past few months.  Although writing is generally calming, so its therapy mightn’t be a bad thing when the chaos threatens to overwhelm.  Hard to say.  Will be here when I can regardless.

Packing it in has come to be used colloquially to mean ‘calling it a day’, finishing things up, stopping work on something.  In World War I it became military slang for being killed.  The idiom can be used imperatively as a command for someone to just quit it! and have done!

As much as I’d like to pack in the packing, that isn’t possible.  Once I get something started I tend to be a bit obsessive about finishing- especially if there’s a time constraint of any kind.  And, in this case, there is.  I’ll keep to it and pack up or discard the items and the memories- whichever the specific item/memory and common sense dictates- that the process brings back into light.

Why do I have so many books?  Seriously.  WHY?  Does one person really NEED eight copies of the bible?  And those are BIG books.  HEAVY books.  Granted, only three are in English, but COME ON!  It’s not like that stuff is my life’s work anymore.  Stay or go?  Toss or keep?  Stay, but store.  (This has been an example of the common internal/sometimes external conversations that will be the norm in my house for the next few weeks.  The cats- and likely my neighbours- think I’ve lost it.  This aside was brought to you by my brain).

I’ll ignore the feelings of overwhelming chaos that living surrounded by boxes instills in the deepest part of my core, and just get it all sorted and ready for transport and new beginnings.

I’ll allow the packing to displace the other crap that’s going around me, for a time, since it’s stuff I have no control over (in the main) anyway.  My focus, which has been divided in many directions of late, will be concentrated on the immediate task at hand.

But right now I have to go buy more packing tape.


This might be a little obvious and sentimental (and overplayed and commercial), but it remains a good song and it is about moving and such.  And Green Day’s energy is a good inducement to productivity.

Another turning point, a fork stuck in the road
Time grabs you by the wrist, directs you where to go
So make the best of this test, and don’t ask why
It’s not a question, but a lesson learned in time

It’s something unpredictable, but in the end is right,
I hope you had the time of your life.

So take the photographs, and still frames in your mind
Hang it on a shelf in good health and good time
Tattoos of memories and dead skin on trial
For what it’s worth it was worth all the while

Enjoy the rest of the weekend!