Wednesday, March 31, 2010

I can't stop listening to this album!

Jonsi's Go comes out April 6, but the entire album is available on the NPR music site for streaming until then. Jonsi is the lead singer of Sigur Ros, and his debut solo effort is infectious and delightful. Give it a listen!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

RIP Alex Chilton

David Byrne on Imelda Marcos

David Byrne's latest project about Imelda Marcos is about to come out, and I'm kinda fascinated by it. It's like a rock opera, but for dance clubs.

Here's how the project is described:

"Through a series of songs written by David Byrne, with musical contributions from Fatboy Slim (Norman Cook), Songs from Here Lies Love presents Imelda Marcos meditating on events in her life, from her childhood spent in poverty and her rise to power to her ultimate departure from the palace. In particular, the production looks at the relationship between Imelda and a servant from her childhood, Estrella Cumpas, who appeared at key moments in Imelda's life."

Byrne really couches the project in terms of power (see quote below), but of course the project seems so full of potential for analysis from a critical Filipino studies perspective.

“The story I am interested in is about asking what drives a powerful person—what makes them tick? How do they make and then remake themselves? I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be great if—as this piece would be principally composed of clubby dance music—one could experience it in a club setting? Could one bring a ‘story’ and a kind of theater to the disco? Was that possible? If so, wouldn’t that be amazing!”

I haven't listened to the whole album yet, but the Santigold track is pretty good. You can get a free download of the song on DB's site.









Monday, March 08, 2010

Wrong About the Right

An old (2005) but still very useful article analyzing the rise of the political right, from Jean Hardisty and Deepak Bhargava.

A Prayer from Rev. Billy of the Church of Stop Shopping

Aung San Sun Kyi, Nelson Mandella, Chief Joseph, Harvey Milk -- teach us! Revolution aint what it used to be.

Emma Goldman, Cesar Chavez, Leonard Peltier, Sojourner Truth --teach us! The President used the word “change” to stop it. The change we seek couldn’t be clearer, but it is mimicked by Presidents and corporate marketing. By the time we shout “Justice” we’re in a commercial selling underwear, perfume, votes…

Revolution aint got the same song. Paul Robeson, Woody Guthrie, Joan Baez, Public Enemy, Joe Strummer -- please pull our songs into a new valley, a new union hall. The songs we thought would change everything become Muzak before they get to the elevator speakers. And the words. If we read the words in a library our reading room is privatized before we turn the page. We look down and logos cover our feet like leeches in the 18th century.

Che, Subcommandante Insurgente Marcos, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Judi Bari from Earth First -- teach us! The change we seek is clear to the reactionaries too, and they discovered the disguise of scale. On the one hand they remove mountaintops and change the climate. So our citizenship is a slow state of shock. Then they go tiny, too. The corporations search for the DNA that makes us shop. They want to throw that switch. They look forward to the deletion of any mental dissent.

Walt Whitman, Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King -- please prepare us for the strangeness, the mystification of entrenched power. The killers hide in the air that we breathe and lurk in the dreams of our children. Where is the dirty coal executive? Where is the banker? Who do we push against? We swat at the pixels that buzz at our eyes like flies on the eyes of corpses. No, not corpses – consumers!

Could we be as brave as the heroes from revolutions past? We are facing a different foe. The powers-that-be are shape-shifting constantly. Consumerism and Militarism are so ambient, so plastic, so media-become-real. Resistance itself must be re-invented, in the sense that each of these heroes we’ve prayed to – each was a creator. Angela Davis‘ strategy for change was different than that of Bernadette Devlin, or the students in Tiananmen Square, or Toussaint L’ouverture.

Isn’t another name in revolution’s hall of fame -- the Earth? We can pathologize all of these recent natural disasters as feverish seizures of a delirious planet. Then sometimes the earth seems coolly intelligent, as media-savvy as any video-taped underground movement – in its response to the poisoning from its human species.

Life on Earth -- teach us! After all the heroes and martyrs and risings-up of the people, we sometimes feel as if we’ve gotten nowhere. The power of the corporations grows every hour and we don’t seem to have a response. You, the Earth where we live, you are responding. We sense that you are making your move, feverishly rising, interrupting, killing some of us and saving us all. Amen.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Blog From the Vault: Whatever Gotham Needs

I just noticed this draft from 9/27/08 - a little over a month before Obama was elected - that I never posted. It's an interesting read 1+ years into his presidency... I'm leaving it in its rough state here, so that I don't insert hindsight into what I wrote almost a year and a half ago.


Batman: I’m whatever Gotham needs me to be... Because sometimes truth isn’t good enough, sometimes people deserve more. Sometimes people deserve to have their faith rewarded...

Hearing these words in the final few minutes of The Dark Knight, it finally dawned on me what Obama-mania is really about. Not faith, exactly. The answer was staring me right in the face from those incredibly compelling posters:

That's it. Hope.

People want and need so badly to have someone to pin their hopes on. The 21st century doesn't yet have our own Che or Malcolm or MLK. Mumia, who perhaps wore that mantle pre-9/11, has faded from view. For some, the breaking of the "curse" by the Boston Red Sox may have encapsulated their hopes, but the magic has been dissipated with the inevitable departure, one by one, of Johnny, of Manny, and the others. Hard to pin your hope on a free agent.

So along comes a man, an unlikely man, an interesting man, who captures the national imaginary. Who dares us to shout in unison "yes we can!" (neveryoumind the conspicuous plagiarism of the United Farm Workers' rallying call of "si se puede!") A friend of mine even wrote a paper recently examining the way Obama's primary speeches drew heavily on American Myth.

So I think it doesn't matter to people, ultimately, that Obama uncritically supports Israel. That he says we must capture and kill bin Laden. That he favors attacks on Pakistan. That he's not actually going to bring the troops home from Iraq, certainly not without leaving permanent bases behind. This is by and large the Obama we saw in the first debate. Sure he was still making some grand but politically unrealistic gestures about funding early childhood education, and raising taxes on businesses and the wealthy. But mostly the debate turned on petty political minutiae. But this is not the Obama that people want to elect. He's not the one they're phone banking for, throwing house parties for, wearing t-shirts for.

No, it's the one on the posters, promising "Change You Can Believe In" and then, "The Change We Need."

Gordon: Because he’s the hero Gotham deserves, but not what it needs right now. So we’ll hunt him, because he can take it, because he’s not our hero. He’s a silent guardian, a watchful protector, a Dark Knight.

Celebs in the Hood

During our first trip to our excellent local theater, The Black Dahlia, last night, we sat in the intimate performance space with Jack Stehlin, known to me from his recurring roles in Weeds and Buffy. He was with another guy that I recognized, but can't place. And by the way, it's so nice to have a night out in LA that involves a walk of less than 3 blocks!

Friday, March 05, 2010

My Beautiful Ideal

You've probably all seen a t-shirt at some point sporting this quote attributed to Emma Goldman:

"If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution."

Nice sentiment, but turns out she didn't say that. Not exactly. I recently did a little research to find out what she did actually say that prompted the apocryphal quotation. Here it is. Not t-shirt pithy, but pretty inspiring, nonetheless.

from Living My Life (1931):
"At the dances I was one of the most untiring and gayest. One evening a cousin of Sasha, a young boy, took me aside. With a grave face, as if he were about to announce the death of a dear comrade, he whispered to me that it did not behoove an agitator to dance. Certainly not with such reckless abandon, anyway. It was undignified for one who was on the way to become a force in the anarchist movement. My frivolity would only hurt the Cause.

"I grew furious at the impudent interference of the boy. I told him to mind his own business. I was tired of having the Cause constantly thrown into my face. I did not believe that a Cause which stood for a beautiful ideal, for anarchism, for release and freedom from convention and prejudice, should demand the denial of life and joy. I insisted that our Cause could not expect me to become a nun and that the movement would not be turned into a cloister. If it meant that, I did not want it. 'I want freedom, the right to self-expression, everybody's right to beautiful, radiant things.' Anarchism meant that to me, and I would live it in spite of the whole world — prisons, persecution, everything. Yes, even in spite of the condemnation of my own closest comrades I would live my beautiful ideal." (p. 56)

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Cover Me

I'm a sucker for a good cover song. You know what I'm talking about - when a singer or a band utterly makes a song their own, in the process allowing you to hear the song in a completely new way. The Folksmen doing the Stones' "Start Me Up," Michael Andrews' version of "Mad World" by Tears for Fears, and The White Stripes doing a heartbreaking version of Dolly Parton's equally heartbreaking "Jolene" are just a few examples. I have no patience for so-called cover songs that do nothing but replicate the original. 

I was excited, then, to hear two excellent covers right in a row, courtesy of NPR's Song of the Day. (If you're not already a fan of NPR's online musical offerings, check out their site right away. Daily song selections, weekly All Songs Considered podcasts, frequent live concert podcasts, and generous "first-listens" of new albums, not to mention my best friend-to be Carrie Brownstein's Monitor Mix blog, will keep you happily swimming in good music.) The Hotrats doing "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)" is a Beatles-esque melodic revelation, while Bonerama's "When the Levee Breaks" gives this blues (and rock) classic a New Orleans brass band treatment, which rings all the more poignant post-Hurricane Katrina.

While we're on the subject, what are your favorite covers?

Monday, March 01, 2010

March 4 Day of Action to Defend Education

I'm sure many of you have followed the protests that have been happening on University of California campuses since the fall, including major protests of 32% fee hikes in November. Following is a statement I wrote with 3 of my colleagues at UCLA to mark the national Day of Action to Defend Education, which is being taken up in a big way in California.

The Graduate Student Organization of the department of World Arts and Cultures at UCLA joins with students, staff, and faculty from K-12 schools, community colleges, CSUs, and UCs across California calling for a strike and day of action to defend public education on Thursday, March 4, 2010. Accordingly, we will neither teach nor attend classes in Kaufman Hall on that day.

Since September 2009, the WAC GSO has been part of the struggle to defend public education while also holding Chancellor Block, President Yudof, UCLA administration and the UC Regents accountable to a transparent budgeting process that prioritizes quality education – not capital improvements – and honors democratic participation and shared governance.
On March 4, we come together to say: “NO BUSINESS AS USUAL!” We mount our protest as one day of action in our ongoing struggle. As artists and scholars, we mobilize our creativity to
  • mourn cuts that have already resulted in loss of jobs for students and staff, and threaten to further diminish diversity among the student body
  • resist cuts in funding and student support services that lead to larger classes and lower standards of educational excellence
  • model a collective form of non-violent demonstration that builds community as it works toward the common good

Keeping in mind these urgent realities, we stand in solidarity with the long-term demands made by a broad coalition of students and educators from across California:

  1. Free fully funded education from pre-school through graduate school for all.  No privatization.
  2. No faculty and staff layoffs, furloughs and pay cuts.  Living wages for all workers.  Rescind the cuts.
  3. End of wars, bailouts, mass incarcerations.  Expand education, jobs, health care and social services.
  4. Democratize educational governance.  Students, workers and community control over the educational system.

We also support the program of the UCLA Fights Back Movement (covered today in the Huffington Post)

Homos for Homo Sapiens, Or a Possibility for a New Politics

Recent overtures from the Obama administration that indicate that the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy will soon be overturned has meant that the issue of gay men and lesbians openly serving in the military has become a topic of national conversation in a way it hasn't been since the early Clinton administration when the “Don't Ask Don't Tell” policy was adopted as an odious compromise to Clinton’s campaign promise.

The years since the policy was enacted in 1993 have seen a significant shift in American attitudes toward gays and lesbians in general and open service in the military in particular. Here I intentionally use the identity terms gay and lesbian, as opposed to political terms like queer or LGBT because those are precisely the terms on which these cultural debates have hinged, and are the terms on which the mainstream gay and lesbian movement have based their strategies and agenda. The gay marriage debate, in particular, has rested largely on an assertion that same-sex couples are “just like” heterosexual couples, with the exact same desires for companionship, family, children, tax breaks, and health insurance. The questioning of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” from the highest levels  of administration extends this “just like” logic to a desire to serve one’s country.

When my friend Debra Sweet over at World Can't Wait turned me on to this guerilla bus shelter ad in San Francisco, I was powerfully reminded of not only of my own formative days of direct action activism - inspired by groups like Act Up, the Guerilla Girls, and the Women’s Action Coalition (WAC) -  but also of the terms of the debate that have been sacrificed over recent decades. Key here is the slogan at the bottom of the poster, “Assimilation [does not equal] Liberation,” with the mainstream Human Rights Campaign’s equal sign logo significantly crossed out. The word liberation of course signals the history of the gay rights movement, which began alongside other key movements in the late 1960s and early 1970s with a call for gay liberation.

I’m not advocating a return to a rhetoric of liberation – the postmodern world no longer allows us to imagine such a simple before/after operation – but rather an attention to the terms of the debate and the desires that were left behind when such slogans were abandoned for more politically expedient – and winnable – goals. At the time of the 1993 debates on gays in the military, I remember reading a particularly cogent article by Michael Bronski in the Boston Phoenix. Though I now can’t find the exact article I was looking for, this quote from a 1994 speech gets at the ideas I remember Bronski eloquently articulating:

“One of the biggest changes over the past 25 years has been the cultural and political shift from arguing for ‘gay rights’ based on behavior to arguing for ‘gay rights’ based on identity. These two concepts are, of course, intertwined but quite distinct. After Stonewall we were fighting for the right to behave homosexually--to commit homosexual acts; the right to a sex life. Now the organizing tactics have shifted: we are now arguing for the right to identify as homosexuals…If we are fighting a battle that will grant us the right to identify as gay but not the right (and the protections) to act this way we have failed completely. If we are going to accept social policy that refuses to admit that our identity does not create a desire or propensity to engage in sexual activity, we have failed completely. If we think we can gain acceptance, or even toleration by hiding the fact that our sexual desires and actions are important, vital aspects of our lives we have failed completely.”

Of course the AIDS crisis, which in 1993 was still raging without the hope that protease inhibitors would give just a few years later, was a major reason behind the decision to subsume an oppositional sexual desire to an assimilative identity. At the same time, the categorizing tendencies of 1990s identity politics led to a proliferation of parallel movements and agendas that pursued their own interests, rather than a cross-issue solidarity that was inherent to the early gay liberation movement. As Bronski writes, “The words ‘Gay Power’ were a re-visioning of ‘Black Power.’ The phrase ‘Gay Liberation’ was a tribute to the already existing cultural power of ‘women's liberation.’ The energy that erupted on Christopher Street that night [of the Stonewall Riots] was prompted by the energy of rock and roll and the drug and street culture.”

The guerilla “Do Ask! Don’t Kill!” ad, then, to me signals a reemergence of both sexual desire and solidarity as potentially viable terms of 21st century activism. The ad questions what queer priorities might look like over and above a narrow focus on “just like” civil rights. Moreover, the ad posits queer concerns as inseparable from a movement to challenge the Obama administration’s continuation and escalation of war in Afghanistan. While the parallel of homos to homo sapiens could ultimately play out as an absorption of queer desires into a human rights framework, I am encouraged in the short term by this attempt to disentangle the expected (and justified) overturning of a discriminatory military policy from a truly progressive stance.


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