PLAYING DEAD: Ed Halter on how protest is entering the (video) game of war — plus, a brief history of video games and the Pentagon (Arthur, 2006)

Playing Dead

How protest is entering the (video) game of war

by Ed Halter

Illustration by Geoff McFetridge

Art direction by Yasmin Khan and Michael Worthington

Originally published in Arthur No. 23 (July 2006)


Like millions of others around the world, Joseph DeLappe spends multiple hours each week logged into online multiplayer games. His current game of choice is America’s Army, the squad-based tactical shooter produced and promoted by the real US Army as a tool for PR and recruitment efforts. America’s Army has been available for free download from AmericasArmy.com since July 4, 2002, and in its three-plus years of existence has developed a devoted global following; if nothing else, it has successfully enhanced the Army’s brand by associating it with something engaging, cutting-edge and youth-friendly. Millions of users who might not otherwise have a personal connection to the American military have found one through playing the game: they’ve gone on missions based on realistic contemporary scenarios, learned to fight together using official Army protocol and rules of engagement, and even had the chance to play alongside real US soldiers, who signal their participation via exclusive insignia worn by their online characters. While deadly and chaotic wars in Iraq and Afghanistan fill the headlines and TV screens, with reports as intimately gruesome as HBO’s Baghdad ER, America’s Army has provided a counter-image of the military that is as idealized as a textbook, as thrilling as a Hollywood movie, and as addictive as any commercial video game around. It is a paradoxical media object, mirroring its eponymous nation’s own divided consciousness: a game that celebrates realism through a carefully constructed fantasy that omits more than it reveals. In America’s Army, characters don’t end up with brain damage, missing limbs or post-traumatic stress disorder, or have to deal with an administration that sent them to a war that most back home don’t support, and then slashed their veteran’s benefits to boot—because none of that would be any fun at all, compared to the high-adrenaline, deep-strategy game-time of make-believe battle.

DeLappe, however, chooses to play the game rather differently than most. His virtual warfighter—whom he has named “dead-in-iraq”—logs onto America’s Army and simply stands there and does nothing. DeLappe nevertheless takes part in the game in other ways. Drawing from publicly available rosters of US casualties in Iraq, DeLappe types out the names of killed servicemembers into the game’s text message chat window, entering one name per line. For example, during one of DeLappe’s missions of virtual conscientious objection, some fellow America’s Army players saw this appear in their text message scroll as they organized for battle:

[US Army] dead-in-iraq messaged: JONATHAN LEE GIFFOR, 20, MARINES, MAR 23, 2003

[US Army] dead-in-iraq messaged: JOSE ANGEL GARIBAY, 21, MARINES, MAR 23, 2003

[US Army] dead-in-iraq messaged: DAVID KEITH FRIBLEY, 26, MARINES, MAR 23, 2003

If his dead-in-iraq character gets killed in battle or is voted off the server by fellow gamers (a procedure typically employed with players who aren’t taking the game seriously and thereby inhibiting others), DeLappe logs back on at another time and continues where he left off. He started this text recitation in March 2006, and by the middle of May had typed out the names of over 350 war casualties. He’s inputting the names chronologically, from the first casualty onward, and intends to type out a complete naming of the military dead. DeLappe says he will continue this online memorial until there are no more names to memorialize—in other words, until the war stops producing American corpses in uniform (and at the time of writing this article, that means he has more than 2100 names to go). So DeLappe has found his own way to play America’s Army, creating an experience that owes less to Quake than it does to the Quakers.

Continue reading

“A Better Way to Cool Off” by Molly Frances (Arthur, 2006)

Originally published in Arthur No. 23 (July 2006)

The New Herbalist
By Molly Frances

“A Better Way to Cool Off”

As spring fever’s eager blossoming inevitably withers into the summertime blues, we seek quick relief among the abundance of icy blended concoctions that our advanced civilization offers us. Unfortunately, though that iced coffee provides a momentary respite on a balmy day, it will also quickly return you to a state of dehydration and turn up the heat of your internal thermostat.
The ingredient for the most soothing and refreshing of summer drinks is probably already growing in your garden. For a deeply cooling drink, brew up a tasty pot of mint tea.

A handful of the fresh herb plucked from your garden and tossed into a carafe of hot water will have you living the good life in no time at all. Be sure to include the stems of the plant. This tea may be served cold as well, but resist the temptation of pulling out your blender. Frozen drinks and ice cream will hold heat in your body and freeze digestion. To really keep extra cool this summer, avoid your freezer and enjoy your summer beverages without ice.

For a truly sublime experience, serve your friends a pot of Atay bi Na’na’. Made from boiling water, fresh mint, a small amount of green tea and honey to taste, Morocco’s most popular drink is consumed all day long. Usually served in ornate silver pots and small decorated glasses, it is customary for three servings to be offered by the host, who pours the tea from a distance of up to several feet above to aerate the brew and show off his skills. Practice this before the guests arrive.

In addition to its cooling properties, Mint tea settles the stomach and digestive disorders, eases migraines, and helps draw out infection upon first signs of a sore throat. The powerful antiviral properties of peppermint are due to its main active ingredient, menthol oil, which opens and heals sinuses, bronchial tubes, and vocal chords. It is also said to create a mentally stimulating and relaxing vibration that reduces stress and anxiety.

So what have we done to deserve this magical leaf? As the legend goes, Hades, god of the underworld, was busted by his wife Persephone in mid-frolic with a hot young wood nymph named Mintha. Persephone, who had been somewhat rudely snatched down to the underworld by Hades in the first place, was in no mood to overlook this infidelity and stomped the little nymph underfoot, transforming her into the plant we know today as Mint. In a gesture of atonement to Mintha, Hades would endow the plant with its sweet and unmistakable aroma.

Persephone may have extinguished Mintha in the flesh, but her spirit has lived on in this most promiscuous of plants. There are few lands that the wildly propagating mint has not traveled to, and few cultures that she has not seduced. As 16th century herbalist John Gerard declared, “The smelle rejoiceth the heart of man.” From Egyptian temples to Roman baths, Mint has been used for all varieties of healing and pleasure. The Pharisees even paid their taxes with it, as revealed by this scolding from Jesus: “Woe to you, Pharisees! You tithe mint and rue and every edible herb but disregard justice and the love of God.” Ouch!

While perhaps more prized for its pleasure-inducing than medicinal properties, the mint julep has been the preferred drink of the Southern Aristocracy. Accept nothing less than fresh mint, water, sugar, and Kentucky bourbon. As one of its key proponents, S.B. Buckner, Jr. warned in 1937: “A mint julep…is a ceremony… a rite that must not be entrusted to a novice, a statistician, nor a Yankee.” He instructs, “Go to a spring where cool, crystal-clear water bubbles from under a bank of dew-washed ferns. In a consecrated vessel, dip up a little water at the source. Follow the stream through its banks of green moss and wildflowers until it broadens and trickles through beds of mint growing in aromatic profusion and waving softly in the summer breezes. Gather the sweetest and tenderest shoots and gently carry them home.”

As Mintha clearly gets around, she has crossbred into hundreds of varieties including chocolate mint, basil mint, ginger mint, Persian mint, Corsican mint and Pineapple mint. All this intermingling frustrated one ninth-century monk, who declared, ” I would rather count the sparks in Vulcan’s furnace than count the varieties of mint.” The most popular forms are spearmint and peppermint, the former most often used in cooking but the latter more medicinally potent.

As Buckner proclaimed, “bury your nose in the mint, inhale a deep breath of its fragrance and sip the nectar of the gods.”

BAD GUYS: JOHN PATTERSON on “The Road to Guantanamo” (Arthur, 2006)

Originally published in Arthur No. 23 (July 2006)

Bad Guys
The Road to Guantanamo is a thoroughgoing demolition of the lies and unlimited incompetence of Powell, Bush and Rumsfeld says John Patterson

“We are Americans. We don’t abuse people who are in our care.” Thus spake Gen. Colin Powell in reference to the United States’ grotesque and immoral confinement of “unlawful combatants” at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. Those remarks would have been news to the prisoners who committed suicide there recently, but also to the three kidnapped and incarcerated young Britons of Pakistani descent known as the Tipton Three—if they’d had access to news of any sort at Gitmo. It turns out that, having also been deprived of access to lawyers, the Red Cross or even their own families, the Tipton Three knew as little of the outside world for two-and-a-half years as the outside world knew of the goings-on inside Guantanamo’s gruesome Camp Delta.

Not any more. Thanks to co-directors Michael Winterbottom (24-Hour Party People, In This World) and Mat Whitecross, the Guantanamo genie is forever out of its bottle. Using interviews with the three men, who were finally released from Gitmo in March 2004, interspliced with harrowingly persuasive recreations of their journey to Guantanamo via Pakistan and Afghanistan, and of their terrifying experiences in US military custody, The Road To Guantanamo constitutes the first corroborated witness account of America’s Gulag to stand a chance of being widely seen in the United States, whose populace has hitherto seemed disturbingly content to snore its way through the progressive dismantling of its Constitution.

The shattering experiences of Ruhal Ahmed, Asif Iqbal and Shafiq Rusal – which included being abducted by Afghanistan˙s Northern Alliance and sold to US Forces as Taliban members (for a cool $10,000-per-head bounty—this is where our money is going?), solitary confinement, torture, 5-on-1 beatings, hoods, shackles, blinders, sensory deprivation and being witness to extrajudicial murders—make for a thoroughgoing demolition of the lies of Powell, Bush and Rumsfeld. American viewers, long accustomed to our child president˙s characterization of Gitmo inmates as “bad guys,” may find themselves asking how their own military could be so fascistic, so cruel and, most dispiriting of all, so fucking stupid.

Named for the West Midlands town where they grew up, the three young men flew to Pakistan, the home of their parents, to attend the wedding of one of their number, but also to enjoy a holiday in their land of origin, in the aftermath of 9/11. Foolishly, they took a side-trip into Afghanistan, where they were caught up in the US bombing of Taliban bases and cities, and then captured in the confused retreat from Kunduz.

Accused of consorting with Bin Laden and the Taliban, the Three in fact had watertight, easily verified alibis. Two of them were—and how hard is it to check this out?—on police probation in Tipton for petty criminal acts, the other had a full-time job. That wasn’t enough for their captors, gut-wrenching proof that American military xenophobia extends not merely to hated enemies, but also to valued allies. Unlawful combatants: meet unlimited incompetence.

The imagery confronting us in The Road to Guantanamo suggests that the United States has abandoned its sanctimoniously proclaimed fealty to such secular gods as Jefferson, Madison and Hamilton, only to replace them with Orwell, Kafka and Koestler. Two years of nonstop torture, interrogation and physical abuse—stress-holds, strobelights, earsplitting death-metal, enforced silence, isolation cells —strongly recall Gestapo or KGB information-gathering techniques, Room 101, Darkness at Noon. All that is lacking are electrodes, waterboards and clocks striking 13. And Big Brother? He’s already here. Learn to love Him.

C & D: Two guys reason together about some new records (Arthur No. 23/July 2006)

Originally published in Arthur No. 23 (July 2006)

Ethan Miller of Comets on Fire onstage at ArthurFest, 2005 (photo by Jeremiah Garcia/IceCreamMan.com)

C and D: Two fellas reason together about some new records

C: We resume not far from where we left off last issue. Only without D, our lovable excitable German, who has vacated the rumble seat to return to Der Fatherland to observe the World Cup. In his place, quaffing D’s beers for this issue only, ladies and gentlemen of the court, may I present to you: F.
F: Happy to be here, C. Those are big shoes to fill.
C: Relax. After three beers and the proper auditory stimulation, your feet will swell to fit.

Comets on Fire
Avatar
(Sub Pop)
F: After five seconds of this record, I can confidently say: Comets on Fire, you made an excitable German out of me. Pummely stuff.
C: This blasts off from where their last record left off: frequent flyer acid rock mentality, virtuous verses and choruses, oodles of audible poem lyrics, spry jams, and serious assblasting. A couple songs are slow burners…
F: …that put the power back in balladry.
C: The album-opening epic “Dogwood Rust” slithers into a Hawkwind-Ash Ra Tempel-Stereolab-Oneida locked groove around the six minute mark, then ignite into dueling guitar spirals, then some Von Harmonson echotronix. Plus the kind of casual avant garde move that’s so natural you almost don’t notice it: the electric birdsong at end of “Jaybird,” a nice fresh-air breather.
F: A muscle-relaxer for the brain.
C: For me, this album plugs back into what their labelmates Sleater-Kinney did on their most recent album: laying sweet waste to the center of Ted Nugent’s mind by power tripping from the top of the randiest redwoods. This is the Comets’ answer record, at least in my personal universe.
F: I grok that. Fight fire with Fire! Those dark noontide chimes at the beginning of “The Swallow’s Eye,” and the chorus guitars on “Lucifer’s Memory”…it’s crystal clear: Cosmic soul rock kills pain dead.
C: And it arrives just two months after the Howlin’ Rain album. Howlin’ Rain, of course, is the new band spotlighting Comets on Fire singer-guitarist Ethan Miller’s songwriterly aspect, which leans to the Allmans/Dead/Faces side of the highway. And just a few months after Comets guitarist Ben Chasny’s latest Six Organs of Admittance pan-cultural acid-folk stunner, The Sun Awakens.
F: Not to mention Comets pianist/drummer Utrillo’s nuevo Elton John/Bill Fay song project, The Colossal Yes.
C: That one 11-minute song on the Colossal Yes album? Wow… [listening to “Holy Teeth”] But back to the album at hand. This is total High Rise/Acid Mothers Temple/Kiss destruction boogie.
F: A strange thing about “boogie” is it’s been Not Cool for a period about ten times longer than it was Cool. [standing up from the couch] But it never left my behind!
C: [averting eyes, mumbling] Christ, F. Boogie if you must but please do it where I don’t have to see it. This one [“Sour Smoke”] is like keyboard-driven Fela Kuti meets Television. Can a band be this good?
F: Felavision: I wish they had that on the Dish.
C: Call your cosmic cable company…
F: To paraphrase Foster’s: Comets on Fire—it’s American for rock.

Vetiver
To Find Me Gone
(diCristina)
F: The second album from San Francisco’s haziest, gentlest canyon-folk drifters, Vetiver.
C: There’s a bucolic feel to this I love.
F: True, but what’s up with the word “bucolic”? The sound of words should correlate to their meaning, and there’s something about “bucolic” that always makes me think of a baby with a wet, hacking cough.
C: Whereas this music would more likely cure a baby of such a cough.
F: Readers with babies might let us know how it works…
C: Vetiver’s music evokes all those little phases or episodes along a dayhike in the country: the initial entry into the wilderness…the part where you’re making serious headway, alone with your thoughts…the moment when the senses are overwhelmed by the nature stimuli, the dew and the sap, the sun’s heat and the insects’ hum…when you finally you stop for water by a brook, and take a nap in the shade. When Andy Cabic sings, “I climbed so high/the sky dropped down to teach me,” he’s tapping into the naturalist in all of us.
F: I heard somebody say you could call this kind of music ‘naturalismo.’
C: I also heard somebody say that the real reason music originating from the West Coast underground—all the aforementioned bands, Brightblack Morning Light, etc etc etc—is so beautifully gone right now is because of the high potency of the marijuana out here.
C: While I am not stoned at this time, I swear I just looked out the window and saw a burrito fly past.
F: Yeah, that’s Vetiver, working the California tradition: Flying Burrito Brothers, Neil Young, the Mac of course, the original Charlatans from San Francisco…
C: And of course the late under-lamented Beachwood Sparks, whose final EP had some of this same swooshy nature euphoria and next-afternoon melancholia. Not that this is mimicry. Cabic’s songwriting here goes beyond recidivist texture gesture. It’s a very subtle, tricky thing Vetiver does, mellowing the harsh but resisting the corn. They use violins instead of fiddles.
F: Whoa, this song [“Red Lantern Girls”] is amazing! It’s like a horse just trotting along, and then alluvasudden, this squalling and sustained one-note electric guitar solo [courtesy of guest Brad Laner (Medicine/Electric Company guitarist-composer)] kicks in and the band breaks into a gallop.
C: Vetiver: cures coughs, cleanses palates. Use hourly.

Awesome Color
Awesome Color
(Ecstatic Peace/Universal)
C: Whoa!
F: Yowza!
C: These guys get on that train and ride it back to Cincinnati 1969! Total Stooges in Iggy’s-Got-the-Peanut-Butter-Again mode…
F: Yeah, but even more than that— Sound of Confusion-era Spacemen 3, especially on this track “Dinosaur”: that’s the sound of a band refusing to learn more chords or grooves because they already found the best ones.
C: Concentrating on tone and psychotic drive, like all the greats, like our national treasures The Cramps and Tav Falco and of course the 13th Floor Elevators…Awesome Color are…uh…awesome.
C: I’ve got to admit that my inner adolescent thinks this is the coolest shit possible.
F: I hope they’re all under 18, and there better be some brothers in this band.
C: This song [“It’s Your Time”] features some actual choogle.
C: Which brings us to the question that has haunted many a rock fan: what, exactly, is the difference between the boogie and the choogle?
F: Would that be choogie or boogle?

Zizek! dvd
(Zeitgeist)
C: Dude, I’m trying to play this DVD, but you totally messed up my system while reconnecting the TV to the stereo so you could watch the World Cup in surround-sound.
F: I think that D, absent as he is, would’ve approved. Anyways, it was worth it to hear the Mexican TV commentators hollering so sonorously.
C: Okay, here we go… This is a documentary about Slavoj Zizek, the Solvenian philosopher who’s known as “a one-person culture-muncher” and “the Elvis of critical theory.”
F: He looks more like Klaus Kinski. Or Yakoff Smirnoff.
C: Blame it on the beard. Zizek’s basically this super erudite dude who is also a willfully contrary polemicist commentating on everything under the sun as he goes. As he says, “The duty of philosophy is to redefine problems, not to solve them.” Here he is on a tour of colleges…he sees a girl carrying some Evian and remarks, “Water in a bottle —it reminds me of socialism.”
F: This guy’s great! Reminds me of the biting, death-obsessed comedy of the late great Brother Theodore. I believe Zizek speaks as a friend although he expounds with fiendish fervor.
C: Fiendish fervor is right. Zizek is a pre-postmodern man. He was raised in Communist Yugoslavia, but when that all went to bloody hell, he became a Christian atheist.
F: I knew I dug this guy. He’s got some zingers, like when he talks about being “up to your shit in ideology.”
C: Zizek cuts through the tripe. Here he is watching an old televised broadcast of Lacan giving a lecture. Lacan is one of Zizek’s primary influences, but he is not in awe of Lacan: “I find his emphasis and gestures ridiculous…. I’m a total enlightenment person, I believe in clear statements.”
F: Like Zizek says: “I always tell the truth. Not the whole truth, because one can’t.”
C: My favorite part about this film is where Zizek proudly shows us that he keeps his clean laundry in the kitchen cupboard.
F: You’ve got that much in common…

Beavis and Butthead: The Mike Judge Collection, Volume 2 DVD
(Paramount)
C: Meanwhile, at the other end of the philosophical spectrum…
F: Beer me!
C: Y’know, there’s so much product that comes out these days, so many records, DVDs and CDs, but I still feel like there’s a void Beavis & Butthead left that remains unfulfilled.
F: Hey, Zizek’s doing his best.
C: Hard to imagine Zizek calling Lacan a “dillhole” though. It would be so cool if they made a new Beavis & Butthead movie, like, checking in with them ten years later…
F: In the meantime, creator Mike Judge is putting out these super-packed DVDs, and it’s amazing to watch the classic cartoons uninterrupted by erase-your-blemish commercials.
C: The titles alone are remarkable: “Wet Behind The Rears” — “Premature Evacuation”—”Here Comes The Bride’s Butt.”
F: “Bang The Drum Slowly, Dumbass.”
C: I love when the screen goes dark, right before the show starts, and you can only hear their immortal “hunh-huh-unh” laughter. Ohmigod, I love this one, where they go in to the plastic surgeon to get their “thingies” made bigger, but [uncontrollable laughter] instead the doctor gives them boobs! [falls off the couch]
F: Settle down, C. How many brownies did you eat?
C: I dunno. Is the baggie half full or half-empty, buttmunch?

Phi Ta Khon: Ghosts of Isan dvd
Directed by Robert Millis
(Sublime Frequencies)
F: Feature-length film about a weird three-day street festival in Thailand, sometimes referred to as “Mardi Gras from Hell.” Whoa. Talk about awesome colors.
C: You see, this is what America should have learned from pre-Katrina New Orleans. All this industrial technology and computer whatsits and the Intervoid is so much unnecessary fuzz. To coin a paraphrase, what the world needs now is less competitive work-laboring and more communal partying.
F: Preferably in blazing demon masks made from cocount husks.
C: Yes, decadence on the cheap. Whiskey drinking at dawn and total second-line parades featuring guitar-and-flute ragas on flatbed trucks, amps powered by car batteries, people waving hand-painted papier mache phalluses with strange tips. When the grid crashes, this is how I hope we’ll party. Of course we’ll probably have to wait til then. You’d never be able to get a permit for something like this in public in America, home of the so-called free.
F: I like the Sublime Frequencies approach. They stand in awe of this planet’s inhabitants’ strange beauty: they bear witness. They just say LOOK, they don’t even try to explain—well, not much—what’s going on. Their approach is, This shit is so deep you don’t even have to know anything about what it is you’re seeing to receive some its power. It’s that rich. They’re busy grokking. They’re feeling fascination.
F: They are the real human league.

Continue reading

BULL TONGUE by Byron Coley & Thurston Moore from Arthur No. 23 (July 2006)

first published in Arthur No. 23 (July, 2006)

BULL TONGUE
Exploring the Voids of All Known Undergrounds
by Byron Coley and Thurston Moore

It’s nice to report that Sickness has the most goddamned great locked groove we’ve heard in years. As good as any of the 500 locked grooves on RRR’s classic 500 Locked Grooves omnibus a few years back. It’s on the Sought for Slaying LP freshly minted by Hospital Productions (not to be confused with the Graveyards cassette on American Tapes with the same title which is only available in the Hospital store on 3rd Street NYC). Sickness has a sewer full of grey life noise releases and is linked to the most ferocious and panting of compadres in that scene. One dude killing it with gore stench tabletop and loving it.

Speaking of Hospital Records, Prurient master and store proprietor, Dominick Furnow, has finally opened the amazing Hospital store in NYC. Brian from Mouthus has been keeping us up to date with every nail he pounded into the bins of this basement bordello. It lies below a reggae record joint called Jammyland and not only does it serve up a sweet load of blackness, but it is very very neat. It is also the best art gallery in a city which prides itself in such things. Unbeknownst to the art scene in NYC, this space has the most absurd and arcane objets de fetishisme we’ve ever encountered. Beautiful box frames containing such brain zapping items as Hair Police Mike Connelly’s torn shirt guitar, Dominick’s first broken-to-screaming-shit microphones, Emil Beaulieau’s button down sweater! We picked up the Ash Pool first taste of slaughter cassette on Public Altar, which is Dom’s black metal duo with Kris Lapke (dude who plays drums on Purient’s Black Vase CD). Dom explains Ash Pool as a “black metal sound with more of a ritualized abusive/obsessive sexual theme of demise vs. the usual satanic garbage.” We would have to agree definitely—pure hell vibe straight to the core with no time for comic books.

Only other metal we’ve let pass through the Bull Tongue gate is the weirded-out lung slime of Bone Awl. Two fucking insane bastards from Novato, California who go by the names of He Who Gnashes Teeth (vocals, guitars, bass) and He Who Crushes Teeth (drums). We haven’t heard their Bog Bodies/Magnetism of War LP on Goatowa Rex but if it’s anything like the miserable mung heap of their Up to Something tape or the split tape they did with The Rita (Canadian noise freaks who we wrote about last issue), then we’ll fly to Novota and prostrate ourselves, tongues lagging on hot suburban cement, to get just a taste. Shit is downright brutal with its amplified pain.

Also intriguing, in a blackened corpse kind of way, is that which is Montreal, Quebec’s Akitsa. These dark dream mugs issued a cassette years back called Soleil Noir on a Montreal label (Tour De Garde), which made many a noir metal enthusiast’s butthole pucker. It’s just been reissued as a pic disc on German rotting carcass label, Raging Bloodlust. As far as this shit goes, Akitsa has an endearing capacity to fall into hypno-stasis repeato-relentlessness with dead simple crunge n’ blunt trauma riffing. The cult of Akitsa is strong enough where Raging Bloodlust has issued Aube de la Misanthropie, a double LP of demos, comp tracks and way limited CDR heaviness, which really gives you a primer into what seems to be Akitsa’s nefarious perception of Quebecois nationalism. Go figure, but go get it for true underground hell-sludge goodness.

Chuck Dukowski is a goddamn legendary figure in terms of American undergroundism. His work with Black Flag, SST Records, Wurm and whatnot have earned him a permanent place at some kinda special table. Anyway, that’s our take. Chuck’s take is that he has this new band, CD6 (aka the Chuck Dukowski Sextet) and they’ve now released an actual CD after a couple of CDRs. Eat My Life (Nice and Friendly) has a cool, strange feel. Dukowski buckled when we called it hippie music, but it’s got a real free flow, and the graphics (by vocalist, Lora Norton—check her site for examples) look like Japanese hippie space manga to us. The first half of the album is pretty great—loose, weird rock moves with almost-‘mersh female vocals and aggression hidden in the smoke. The jazz bits that pepper it make me think of an updated version of the ‘60s band, Womb, or something. The latter half of the album is more jazzbo-specific, meaning that it’s a lot less reliant on riff primacy. And when you’ve got somebody who plays bass like Dukowski, we’re not sure that’s the ultimate best choice. But hey—it’s his band. It’s just nutty to hear “My War” played without that insane bass barrage. Anyway, it beats the shorts offa SWA, and Lora’s images have a real bizarre way of sucking you in.

A most exciting music book is The Sound of Squirrel Meals: The Work of Lol Coxhill (St. Pauli Druckerei) by Barbara Schwarz. Coxhill’s fantastic arc as a genius of the soprano saxophone (and other brain/mouth/finger hybrids) is dealt with here in loving detail. There are reprints of interviews, articles, fliers, photographs, record covers. There’s an exhaustive annotated discography, a chronology, a list of film/TV appearances, and just a whole pantload of information and wonder. Miss this one at yr own peril. Another fascinating research document is the William S. Burroughs Literary Archive catalogue from the rare book dealer, Ken Lopez. This is a detailed look, with historical context, about a very important cache of Burroughs’ letters, manuscripts, recordings and paintings that was recently sold. Not everyone’s cup of jiz, but a great thing for fanatics. Lovers of frozen oink should also check out Verksted #4/Sonic North (Office for Contemporary Art Norway). This issue of the journal is a compendium of facts and opinions about the state of the noise scene in Norway. There’s a good overview and discography, plenty on Rune Grammofon, Lasse Marhaug, Fe-Mail and more.

Mouthus have been simply RAMPAGING from burg to burg, releasing Mouthus and related jams (such as Canada’s Cousins of Reggae) on their own Our Mouth CDR imprint. And Important Records released their The Long Salt CD, which absolutely kills from start to finish. We began investigating the actuality and whereabouts of Mouthus way back when our first lead came from Michael Bernstein, who said his groovy group stroke Double Leopards shared a rehearsal space or some such thing with ‘em. As it turns out, the Brooklyn community of Double Leps and Mouthus has continued to expand particularly to the UK and particularly to Double Leps’ Marcia Bassett rockin n rollin with Matthew Bower of Sunroof! under the aegis of Hototogisu. Follow? Anyway what we’re getting at is there’s a new 2LP, Crippled Rosebud Binding with one side each from Double Leopards, Mouthus, Sunroof! and the 4th side a collab between ‘em all. Sounds like it could be a lotta pudding to digest but this monster goes down juicy. Sunroof!, augmented by Bassett and Vibracathedral Orchestra’s Mick Flower, absolutely stuns with a raw dimensional take on some tune called Cortez the Killa. The record is on Music Fellowship and is the fifth installment in their triptych series where they pair three distinctive mofos to mess your dick around. Don’t sleep, this baby is already out of print and getting hard to track down.

One more lovely, oversized, English language literary/art magazine has emerged from Eastern Europe. Blatt, based in Prague, has a bit more sexual energy than some of its confreres and is all the better for it. We are none too conversant with much of the material presented, but the prose and poetry and photography and art are all top flight. The format is goddamn elegant as well. And Michael Jackson’s head looks so cute on a deer’s body you might well rethink his whole, uh, “situation.” Also, sexy as always is the latest issue of Lauren Naylor’s Pretend I Am Someone Else. Dreams, fantasies, poetry and collages, all collide in the shadow of Leeds’ largest orgone generator. Contributors include the immortal Val Webber, and Lauren introduces a series of Titcat postcards this time as well. So write her today. One of the sharpest U.S. ‘zines to come along lately is O Sirhan O Sirhan. The debut issue has a sorta lo-fi look, but the contents are “boobs” as hell. There’s an excellent piece on Henry Flynt’s anti-racist protests of ’64, a photo essay of Deerhoof relaxing, a Devendra Banhart sketchbook, a long interview (and accompanying CD) by sound artist Jorge Boehringer, and even more. Excellent peeks!

The fabulous Memoirs of an Aesthete label out of England has released a fabulous cassette by the fabulous Melanie Delaney who is part of the fabulous Ashtray Navigations. We always thought that these days AN might be pared down to just founding member Phil Todd, but it seems that Melanie is indeed a primary ingredient of that outfit’s contempo primo bliss hiss. Add to that, the fact that this cassette has Melanie partnered with the ultra-fabulous Bridget Hayden of Vibracathedral Orchestra and sweet jesus, you know the unfolding will envelop and save your rotten tongue. We can assure you. The cassette is entitled Ground Zero Celebration Pessary, it is lovingly spraypainted and it moves forward with frozen sun guitar/amp melt-zone with an incendiary ALIVENESS. Nice shit m’lady.

Brother JT is best known for his musical madness, but he has long been a writer of immense talent as well, although his work is usually available only in fits and starts. His latest booklet, The Jesus Guitar, may actually get reprinted by Bastet at some point. Which would be cool, ‘cause this is one of JT’s best. It’s basically an extended essay on his idea of transcendent guitar playing and drugs and records and a lotta other good stuff. Definitely worth some squinting. JT has another volume out as well. Nine (Whatisit? Press) is a lovely collection of poems about music, Greg Shaw, D.A. Levy and T.L. Kryss. JT has a beautiful way of connecting interior dots, and observing his journey is a real pleasure.

Tom (T.L.) Kryss himself is well-served by The Search for the Reason Why (Bottom Dog Press). This is not exactly the “Collected Works of Kryss” we all deserve, but it is a great sampling of new and old work, both poetry and prose, with a smattering of Tom’s rabbit drawings thrown in. It’s a lovely collection—Kryss’ writing can be as “street” and real and anyone’s, but he also possesses a clarity of spirit that allows him to write about simple beauty without resorting to cliché or tired imagery. The smell and weight and feel of Cleveland (and environs) permeate the text, but we don’t think you’d wanna have it any other way. Anyone serious about reading poetry should be reading Kryss. Now.

Continue reading

“The sound of sweat, hallucination and revelation”: Gabe Soria meets BELONG (Arthur, 2006)

Originally published in Arthur No. 23 (June 2006)

HEAVY AIR
An Orchestra of Feedback and Humidity, Courtesy of New Orleans duo Belong

Text by Gabe Soria, illustration by Arik Moonhawk Roper

There’s a ‘round-the-clock environmental buzz everywhere in New Orleans if you’ve got the ears to hear it. It’s a deep, almost sub-sonic, earth-drone that’s especially evident during the wicked days of summer. It’s in the awesome silence of the baking, deserted streets at noontime; it’s in the deafening biological volume of the wild, tropical greenery and of bugs reproducing insanely; it’s in the groaning of the cracked sidewalks, ancient houses and crumbling cemeteries; it’s in the LSD-like intoxication produced by the common cocktail of casual drinking crossed with 100 percent humidity and three-digit thermometer readings.

October Language, the stunning debut album from New Orleans drone guitar-duo Belong, is a de facto impressionistic field recording of the ineffable and beautiful noise that permeates the city. Miles away from the jazz, funk and bounce hip-hop that defines New Orleans music to the world at large, October Language still manages to be as genius an expression of the soul of the city as Professor Longhair’s “Tipitina,” Juvenile’s “Back That Azz Up,” Dr. John’s ” Right Place, Wrong Time” or Irma Thomas’s “Ruler of My Heart.” It’s the sound of sweat, hallucination and revelation, and every cat who’s made it through a couple of New Orleans summers can dig that.

Belong is comprised of New Orleans natives Turk Dietrich, 28, and Mike Jones, 27. Dietrich—lanky and gregarious, possessor of the strange New Orleans accent that sounds strangely Southern and Brooklyn-esque at the same time—is the talker of the two. Both came back to New Orleans a few weeks after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, and both plan on staying for the forseeable future. Both are the type of guys who you want to knock back beers with all night with in a smelly bar, fellas you’d want to have on your side in a fight. Having heard snatches of their brilliant debut scant days before a second trip to his old habitat of New Orleans inside a month [the last being a Mardi Gras visit detailed last issue], your correspondent made a few phone calls and tracked Belong down to a bustling coffeehouse on Magazine Street for a quick talk. Decompressing from a recent U.S. tour with Ariel Pink and preparing to embark on a European tour, the band was eager to jaw about video games, the peculiar habit of some New Orleans residents of beginning evenings out at midnight, and plans to attend work parties to help Ms. Antoinette K-Doe repair the fire damaged Mother-in-Law Lounge. We also managed to talk about music a bit…

Continue reading

How to Subvert Institutional Authority Through Graffiti and Other Tactics in 13 Steps

Applied Magic(k): Sigils, Logos and Lucky Charms
by the Center for Tactical Magic

Originally published in Arthur No. 23 (June 2006)

One of the first lessons of magic(k) that we learn as children is that words and symbols have power. Abracadabra. Hocus Pocus. A five-pointed star. A four-leaf clover. As we get older, this primary notion quickly degrades and often becomes the source of one of the first dismissive tendencies towards magic(k) that arises amongst adults. Too many hokey movies and failed attempts to levitate with an utterance conspire against us. Soon the lesson is forgotten; magic(k) words and the power of symbols sneak away to party with Santa and the tooth fairy.

But words and symbols continue to work their magic(k) regardless of whether or not we believe in them. Look at the recent outcry against Madonna singing from the cross or riots in response to Mohammed cartoons and we begin to see that the power of symbols is anything but make-believe. For those who insist that religious sensitivities are an easy shot, consider this secular example: For over 150 years the United States had a Department of War. During much of that time U.S. foreign policy consisted of “neutrality” and therefore the DoW did not lend any direct military support in foreign conflicts. World War II put a definitive end on U.S. neutrality once and for all, and in 1947 the DoW was renamed the “National Military Establishment” or NME (pronounced “enemy”). Realizing the error of their acronym, politicians again changed the name in 1949 to what we know today as the “Department of Defense.” More than half a century after “war” became “defense” the DoD sits deep within the Pentagon planning “pre-emptive defensive strikes” while waving a flag with 50 pentagrams on it.

Okay, so spin-doctoring isn’t exactly the same thing as witch-doctoring. Still, most performing magicians (conjurers) won’t deny the power of language. And few will debate the fact that word choice makes a difference when presenting a trick. Many will even insist that the “patter” makes or breaks the illusion. More to the point, the strength and efficacy of a trick is often closely tied to the audience’s ability to relate both specifically and abstractly to the overall illusion. This is precisely why magic with money tends to hold people’s attention more than tricks with handkerchiefs. Money is already a loaded symbol, whereas how many people revere a silk hanky? If you still maintain your doubts, try first performing card tricks over lunch and then later in the middle of a poker game. Any guesses on which audience gets more riled up when you magically produce four aces from up your sleeve?

Admittedly, the ability to make a scrap of green paper covered in Masonic symbols disappear doesn’t quite live up to our childhood expectations of magic(k). Perhaps this is especially true because we become adept at making dollars disappear all the time. As we grow older, we become initiated into the Church of Consumerism. It is here that we become increasingly distrustful of anything “magical” since we quickly find the mystique tarnished by a barrage of commodities gilded in glitz. Yesteryear’s potions, spells, and apparatuses are hawked as today’s energy drinks, pharmaceuticals, and hi-tech gizmos. Finding ourselves surrounded by “magic” cleaning supplies, “power” tools, and Lucky Charms, it’s easy to concede that there’s no such thing as “real” magic(k). Yet, ironically this is where some of the oldest forms of magic(k) still thrive today.

Continue reading

An all-nighter with BRIGHTBLACK MORNING LIGHT in Joshua Tree (Arthur, 2006)

Country Life
For the beatific country-soul musicians of Brightblack Morning Light, there’s no place like Nature
By Daniel Chamberlin
Photography by Eden Bakti

Originally published in Arthur No. 23 (2006)

When they weren’t slumming it with us youngsters at the all-ages hardcore shows, the older dudes at my Indiana high school would spend their weekend nights going “country cruisin’, reminiscin.” They’d all pitch in on a six-pack, score a dime-bag and then pile into somebody’s old car—preferably a late ’70s model sedan with stained plush upholstery and bench seating in front—and drive slowly down the deserted gravel roads and empty dirt tracks that criss-crossed the corn and soybean fields that spread for miles in every direction from the small town we called home. Though I never went on these sentimental rides—I was too young, pot-phobic and already knew that drunk driving was trouble—I was in love with their soundtrack: long-form blues from the Allman Brothers and heartbroken redneck ballads from Lynyrd Skynyrd.

These days, I score my drives back from walks in the San Gabriel Mountains north of my home in Los Angeles with the same music, maybe a bit more Neil Young and Fairport Convention in the mix. It sets the tone for the silent trekking to come and eases the re-entry into the urban landscape on the way back down. The Grateful Dead’s American Beauty and Will Oldham’s Ease Down The Road are ideal albums to soundtrack trips to the deserts and mountains. I’ve added Brightblack Morning Light’s new album of organic wilderness soul to the list of music perfect for such peaceful expeditions.

The two core members of Brightblack are Rachel “Rabob” Hughes, 29, and Nathan “Nabob” Shineywater, 30. Their self-titled debut for Matador Records has the dense harmonic blur of My Bloody Valentine but the music is made with the kind of instruments you’d expect to find the world famous session musicians—the Swampers—of Muscle Shoals putting to good use behind Aretha Franklin or Mavis Staples. (The album actually features two of the Staples Singers along with a trombone player from Nashville, Andy McLeod of White Magic on bongos and Paz Lenchantin—the Argentinean-American multi-instrumentalist known for her work with A Perfect Circle, Silver Jews and Entrance—on guitar.) It’s perfect for coming down from the mountains, and custom made for coming down on Sunday morning. It has an almost gospel feel—since soul music is just gospel without as much god—that invites comparisons to the lonely space-age-blues of Spaceman 3 or Spiritualized. But where Jason Pierce put opiates on the altar formerly occupied by the Holy Trinity, Brightblack has placed a respect for nature, an amalgam of environmental convictions and Native American spiritual practices. Which is sort of obvious from song titles like “A River Could Be Loved” and “We Share Our Blanket With The Owl.”

Their live performance is as quiet and intimate—maybe even more so—than their album. The most recent incarnation of their touring band includes Oregonian Elias Reitz on congas and tablas and West Virginian Ben McConnell behind the kit, with their friend Mariee Sioux, who Nabob is careful to identify as a full-blooded Paiute, opening each show. They often bring sticks and other woodland artifacts onto the stage, erecting small lean-tos or tipi-like structures. All of it swirls and refracts in the rich, resinous sound of Rabob’s Fender Rhodes organ. The vocal harmonies are chorus of whispers, while the brushed percussion is more of a sparkle than a clatter. The instruments are so quiet that cash registers at the bar interrupt the spell. Nabob’s slide guitar work hangs in the dim lights of the stage, glowing and vibrating in the air. On his instrument, a wolf cub suckles at a woman’s breast.

Continue reading

John Patterson on radical filmmaker PETER WATKINS (No. 23/Oct 2006)

Originally published in Arthur No. 23 (Oct 2006) Layout by Yasmin Khan and Michael Worthington.

An Optimist on Two Fronts

The little-seen, oft-suppressed work of dissident filmmaker Peter Watkins challenged not just the political status quo but the form itself

By John Patterson

In the late 1960s, a series of British filmmakers arrived in the United States who all offered new and vivid ways of looking at America with freshly peeled eyeballs. John Boorman turned Los Angeles into a Pop-Art, Technicolor Alphaville in 1967’s Point Blank; Dick Lester (the expatriate American director who hadn’t been home in 17 years) and his cameraman Nicolas Roeg fell to earth in acid-laced San Francisco, whose discontents they depicted (in 1968’s Petulia) far more bleakly than did the habitués of Haight-Ashbury; “Swinging London” chronicler and beat-documentarian Peter Whitehead captured exploding America between the Tet Offensive and the early ‘68 Primaries in his poetic but hardly-seen The Fall; Peter Yates transformed the look of the urban crime thriller a year later in Bullitt; and John Schlesinger offered a sleazy, misanthropic look at America’s urban flotsam in Midnight Cowboy.

None however, produced so searing and angry a denunciation of the New World as Peter Watkins did with 1971’s faux documentary Punishment Park [pictured above], with its invocations of political concentration camps on American soil, police death-squads executing activists and dissidents, and the media’s inextricable complicity in both. Whereas most of the other newcomers’ visions were welcomed, Watkins’ was rejected out of hand. Punishment Park played for four days in Manhattan. PBS said outright that they would never show it. And so it vanished into a twilight world of occasional campus screenings—usually with Watkins in attendance—before vanishing utterly for 35 years. Apparently 1971 was the wrong time for an Englishman to diagnose, however sagely, the discontents of Vietnam-era America.

Time has either been very kind to his films or very cruel to us, by making the world so ugly and violent that Punishment Park‘s recent re-release on DVD has occurred in the most propitious environment imaginable. Abu Grahib and Guantanamo are fresh; the Patriot Act and the NSA wiretapping program hang menacingly over us all; war is back with a vengeance, and dissent against said war has metastasized, along with a profound disgust for the complicity of the corporate media in all the doings of Dubya. Where critics roundly abused the film—when they were not ignoring it—back in 1971, many are now roused to feel that Peter Watkins’ vindication may be at hand. And with the gradual release by New Yorker Films of nearly all his major works over the last year, Watkins can finally be reassessed—or assessed for the first time—on his own terms.

Watkins seems to have been born fully-formed as an artist. He studied at Oxford and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, becoming interested in radical politics and cinema. His second short film, a full-scale reenactment of the Budapest uprising of 1956, was shot entirely on the placid streets of his hometown of Canterbury. It won him a place at the BBC where his first commission, in 1964, was an adaptation of historian John Prebble’s revisionist account of the Battle of Culloden in 1746.

Culloden, which saw the defeat of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s invading army by King George II’s brother—known ever after as “Butcher Cumberland”—was the last battle fought on British soil, between two armies composed of aristocratic officers and feudally indentured English troops and Scottish clansmen. Watkins twisted the material by allowing his collective cast of performers to address the camera directly, to tell their own bitter stories and even, on occasion, to reach out and tell the crew to get the fuck out of the way. Watkins is narrator, providing context, facts and figures, and the future destinies of the participants, outlining class relations between Generals and cannon-fodder. In the brutal aftermath of the rout, the British regulars are seen hacking women and children down on country roads and beheading the dead. Culloden is a no-budget masterpiece of mocked-up war footage that puts Saving Private Ryan’s opening half-hour to shame (in addition to his other talents, Watkins is a world-class director of kinetic action footage). Culloden was also made in full awareness of what was beginning to unfold in Vietnam. It pulled no political punches, but its ecstatic critical reception was offset by angry complaints from right-wing MPs and military figures.

The fact that Culloden, with its heavy emphasis on political revisionism, was made for the documentary department of the famously “objective” BBC is indicative of certain tensions inherent in Watkins’ approach to drama. His next film, The War Game, was a fake documentary, albeit using realistic scenarios and public information about the likely effects of a nuclear attack on southern England, but was made within the Plays Department of the BBC, a cauldron of radical productivity that David Thompson, with little exaggeration, has dubbed “the Last Studio” (it also produced pioneering ’60s and ’70s work by Ken Loach, Dennis Potter, Steven Frears and Mike Leigh, among dozens of other filmmakers).

At 48 minutes, The War Game was too hot for the BBC, and even more so for the politicians of the time. Using available statistics and government documents, Watkins showed that Britain, faced with the possibility of atomic warfare, had settled for the illusion of security in its aftermath. Watkins illustrated the effects of nuclear firestorms, mocked duck-and-cover safety drills (a child’s eyeballs melt down his face), and finished his highly unnerving polemic with the nightmarish image of British bobbies interning political protesters and mercy-killing the victims of radiation sickness with a bullet. The corporation pulled it before broadcast, claiming it was too disturbing for the public. Although it won that year’s Best Documentary Oscar (the closest Watkins ever came to mainstream success) The War Game was not shown on British TV for another quarter-century, during which period it was established that it had in fact been suppressed for political reasons, not matters of taste—just as Watkins had always claimed. In addition Watkins had stood athwart the line separating fiction from documentary—it is the necessary place to be for an artist denouncing the latter as merely a variation on the former—and this only added to the discomfort of the powers that be.

A brief and unhappy flirtation with Paramount Pictures produced Privilege (1967), an intermittently successful satire on rock-n-roll as a means of codifying dissent (it features the GI rock band The Monks playing “Onward Christian Soldiers”!) before Watkins left England for Scandinavia, his base for most of the next decade. There he put together The Gladiators (a/k/a The Peace Game, 1969), perhaps his weakest film, in which wars between nations are settled by small bands of warriors on an internationally broadcast TV show. Privilege never really found an audience, and The Gladiators was not widely shown, though both received some respectful reviews.

After failing to put together a project about the Little Big Horn in Los Angeles, Watkins found the backing for Punishment Park. Filmed in the Mojave Desert in 1970, under the wide, black shadow cast by Kent State, the Chicago 7 Conspiracy Trial, the illegal bombing of Cambodia, and the insidious process by which the Nixon White House sought to arrogate ever more power unto itself, the movie showcases as well as any of Watkins’ films the essential method which has served him so well over his career.

Unfolding in a half-speculative, half-satirical timeframe that one might call “the recent future,” Punishment Park takes elements from the contemporary political ether, stretches them to their plausible limits and then builds a searing, sun-scorched drama within that context. It is 1973. The Clampdown on political dissent has already occurred, under the draconian terms of the anti-communist 1950 McCarran Security Act. Interned dissidents are transported to the Bare Mountain National Punishment Park. When guilt is established, defendants have a choice: a lengthy prison term or Punishment Park. The latter requires a group of prisoners to cross 50 miles of desert without food or water. Survivors can go free; more likely they will die of dehydration or be shot by organized bands of police, highway patrolmen and National Guardsmen.

Watkins cuts between the grueling desert ordeal—think: Survivor with real guns and bloodshed—of the condemned prisoners, and the show-trial of the next batch, which is consciously modeled on the proceedings against the Chicago Seven. As always, the cast is collective, not focused on individuals. All the actors are amateurs, cast for the proximity of their political views to those of their characters: words and opinions are their own. Antiwar activists, feminists and union organizers play the prisoners. Right-wingers, cops, and political “moderates” play the judging panel and the murderous enforcers of the last shreds of the law.

With this 360-degree environment in place and the figures within it all set to run and play and suffer and die, Watkins adds his distinctive pseudo-documentary overlay. All the major media companies are here to film all proceedings in Punishment Park. Watkins, as in all his films, acts as narrator and interviewer, and is always behind the (usually handheld) camera, eliciting raw anger from the prisoners and blithe and arrogant fuck-you-so-whats from their uniformed oppressors (the camera was operated by Joan Churchill, who has since worked extensively with Watkins’ fellow BBC alumni Nick Broomfield. Cinematographer Haskell Wexler says he lit the tent scenes for Churchill.) As the ordeal in the sun becomes ever more blood-soaked and viciously punitive, Watkins’ “objectivity” steadily dissolves and he is finally reduced to screaming, “Stop it, you fucking bastards!” as, within sight of the prisoners’ objective—an American flag—troops methodically beat and massacre the last few remaining prisoners.

No one makes it. (This is a Peter Watkins movie.)

Watkins’ films always fight on two fronts: against the political status quo, obviously, but also, and perhaps more importantly, against the media itself, its owners, its place in the political economy, and its formal and cultural shortcomings. In his early work, he merely made the process of filmmaking evident to the viewer, but after his experience with The War Game, the craven nature of conventional media coverage and broadcast institutions became one of his overarching themes. He has since worked to overthrow conventional ideas about running times—his antinuclear epic The Journey (1987) lasted 14 hours—and notions of who is qualified to make movies—his Strindberg biopic The Freethinker was written, performed, photographed and edited by a Swedish high school class Watkins was teaching in 1994. Subsequent experiences have only deepened his antipathy toward the institutional media, which has sometimes hobbled his career in TV. After all, if one of the cornerstones of your aesthetic and political method is an abiding distrust of, and contempt for, the very mechanisms by which your work will be made available for public examination, you may soon find that the phone stops ringing. It’s a testament to Watkins’ stubbornness and determination that he ever made another film again.

Watkins addressed the issue in his most personal and lyrical film, Edvard Munch, a polemical biography of the pioneering Norwegian Expressionist, made for Oslo television in 1973 and released to international acclaim in 1975 (naturally, its backers hated the film and did whatever they could to stymie its success). Here was an artist identifying totally with his subject: like Watkins, Munch refused to countenance any limit or compromise to his bleak vision, no matter how much insult and false recrimination he endured from the artistic establishment of his time. This intense sympathy between biographer and subject may also explain why Edvard Munch is among the greatest portraits ever created of an artist’s life and work

In the lean years between such projects, Watkins has established a parallel persona as a media theorist at his website (http://www.mnsi.net/~pwatkins/), decrying the prevailing hierarchical media approach he has dubbed the Monoform. He condemns the topdown imposition of political conclusions, the absence of any entry-point for the passive, excluded spectator, and the reliance on optimistic, hero-centric narrative forms, as well as the institutional corruption and dishonesty of most state-backed or corporate media outlets. It is a coherent, compelling and highly persuasive diagnosis, but one feels it would require a revolution to bring it all down.

Which brings us to La Commune (Paris 1871) which alongside Edvard Munch is probably Watkins’ masterpiece. Six hours long, filmed entirely in swooping SteadiCam takes lasting up to 15 minutes, it attempts nothing less than a recreation of the revolutionary Commune that ruled Paris in the aftermath of France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian War. This story is still so incendiary that most French schools simply do not address it in history lessons, and Watkins is anxious to show how those in poverty and deprivation were able, with no outside help, to articulate and put into practice many of the revolutionary ideals—feminism, equal pay, popular democracy, free state (i.e., non-religious) education for all, collectivism, etc.—that would sustain the political Left throughout the century to come.

The result is perhaps the purest embodiment of Brecht’s theories of Epic Theater ever committed to film (Brecht himself once wrote a play called Les Jours de la Commune for his Berliner Ensemble). Deliberately adding the creative anachronism of two TV news teams—one right-wing (and disconcertingly like Fox-News) and another that’s politically engaged with the communards—Watkins puts the innards of the filmmaking and newsgathering machinery on full display, and while we are never allowed to forget that we’re watching a manufactured, albeit committed polemic, he also enables us to feel great anguish when these flawed, but optimistic utopian idealists are finally massacred, in their tens of thousands, by Monarchist troops in a Parisian park—another Punishment Park.

Before this happens however, Watkins has also made us feel—through endless discussion, argument, violence and peacability—the sense that it is possible and desirable to tear the old world down and rebuild it anew, according to fresh and equitable precepts that encompass the dignity and worth of every man and woman. Such radical ideals have been eroded and scorned into meaninglessness of late, and Watkins’ great achievement is to make them intoxicating once again. And, to answer Watkins’ critics, that is not what pessimists do. It is what optimists strive for.

Somewhere deep in his despair, Peter Watkins, a man who truly has no home but the struggle, is an indefatigable optimist. His work awaits you. Seize it with both hands, because it will change you, and it will make you want to change everything else.

"Everything Must Go": Q & A with Derrick Jensen (2006)

From Arthur 23/July 2006.

One day in 1987 Derrick Jensen was browsing the public library when he came across a book that changed everything.

The Natural Alien by Neil Evernden exploded my worldview,” says Jensen, on the phone from his home on the Northern California coast not far from the Oregon border. “There’s a great line in there where Evernden makes an impassioned defense of some creature and somebody says, Well what good is it? And Evernden says the only response you can give is, Well what good are you? Not to make them feel bad but to show them that if you judge something solely by its utility to you, you ignore most of its being.

“It was the first book I ever read that talked about the basic stupidity of the utilitarian worldview.”

In his new book Endgame, Jensen argues that civilization—the utilitarian worldview put into practice—is not only stupid, it’s terminal. All forms of human civilization have historically worked to steadily exhaust the planet’s non-renewable resources, he says; therefore, no amount of technological ingenuity, no amount of political reform, no amount of Al Gore documentaries or carpool lanes or farmers’ markets or solar credits or biodiesel vehicles or Daryl Hannah in a tree will ever adequately replace what civilization has consumed in order to sustain itself, much less invert its fundamental imperative to use up the planet.

These are tough, hard-to-swallow ideas, the kind that we’ve heard in recent decades via controversial figures like Ted Kaczynski (aka The Unabomber), University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill and anarcho-primitivist theorist John Zerzan. But there’s a reason Jensen has gained a sizable following through his books, talks and interviews. What he brings to the table is a passionate directness, a command of the facts, and most of all, an ability to make a personal, poignant appeal not just for action, but for a mercy killing. He’s clearly a guy who won’t just let it go because he can’t let it go; he’s stayed up all night, doing some serious heavy lifting on all the inconvenient truths—the hopeless doomsday statistics, the possibility of imminent system crash—that the rest of us try to forget as we stumble to bed.

Of course he could’ve saved himself some of the trouble; at 900-plus pages, Endgame is far too long and rambling to be the definitive anarcho-primitivist text that its title and scope suggest. Still, it’s packed with provocative ideas that can explode your worldview, and so, in late April, I talked with Derrick about the ideas in Endgame that had provoked the most discussion around the Arthur office.

ARTHUR: Why does civilization need to be brought down now?

DERRICK JENSEN: A few years ago, I began to feel pretty apocalyptic but I didn’t want to use that word because it’s so loaded. And then a friend, George Draffan, said, ‘So Derrick, what’s it gonna take for you to finally use that word? Give me a specific threshold, Derrick, a specific point at which you’ll finally use that word. Will it take global warming? The ozone hole? The reduction of krill populations off Antarctica by 90 percent? How about the end of the great coral reefs? The extirpation of 200 species per day? 400? 600? Will it take the death of the salmon?’ And I thought about that. Salmon were once so thick around here that you couldn’t see the bottom of the river. You could hear the runs coming from miles before you’d see them. People were afraid to put their boats in the water for fear they’d capsize. And now, when I go out to Mill Creek, I start crying because I see two salmon spawning.

This civilization is killing the planet. They say that one sign of intelligence is the ability to recognize patterns. I’m gonna lay out a pattern here and let’s see if we can recognize it in less than 6,000 years. When you think of the hills and plains of Iraq, do you normally think of cedar forests so thick the sunlight never touches the ground? That’s how it was before. The first written myth of this culture is that of Gilgamesh deforesting that area to make cities. Plato complained that deforestation was drying up springs and destroying the water quality in Greece. The forests of North Africa went down to make the Phoenician and Egyptian navies. We can go north and ask, Where are the lions who were in Greece? Where are the indigenous of Europe? They’ve been massacred, or assimilated—in any case, genocide was perpetrated against them by definition because they’re no longer there.

If you start asking questions, the questions just keep moving back and back and back. This is a pattern that’s been going on for a long, long time. This culture has been unsustainable from the beginning. On a finite planet, you would think that we would think about that. You can’t exploit a planet and live on it too. At this stage, since there are no new frontiers to exploit, the planet’s falling apart.

So you genuinely believe the planet is nearing death?

Well, what measure do you want to use to determine the planet’s health? The climate is changing. 90% of the large fish in the oceans are gone. Phytoplankton populations are collapsing. Each summer a dead zone covers 8000 square miles in the Gulf of Mexico. Another blankets Chesapeake Bay. Another the Baltic Sea. Altogether, there are almost 150 dead zones, places where the water contains too little oxygen to sustain life. This number has doubled each decade since the 1960s. The cause? Industrial agriculture. Seabird populations are collapsing off the UK. American chestnuts are gone. The cod are effectively gone. Passenger pigeons used to fly in flocks so large they darkened the sky for days at a time. Same with Eskimo curlews. They’re gone. And do you know why there are no penguins in the northern hemisphere? Because they were eradicated. The great auk. Prior to the arrival of this culture they were present in unimaginable numbers. One of the early French explorers commented that you could fill every ship in France with them and it wouldn’t make a dent. The last one was killed in the nineteenth century.The grizzly bears that are on the California state flag, they’re essentially gone. I mean, somebody could certainly say, There’s still a tree standing, obviously things are okay. But that’s obviously an insane position. Nonetheless people keep taking it. That’s why I keep saying, Give me a threshold. At what point will you finally say that the oceans are getting hammered. If it’s not 90% of the large fish gone, is it 93%? 95?% 100%? How acidified does it have to get? What percent of the coral reefs have to die before we admit there’s a problem, and more importantly, do something about it? Give me a threshold.

We can choose whatever measure we want, and we find that stuff is falling apart. That shouldn’t surprise us. It’s just like any other relationship. If you have a girlfriend, do you believe you can sort of mercilessly exploit her and beat the hell out of her and cut her up and then expect for her to be able to maintain a relationship? Of course, given the rates of domestic violence, there are a lot of men who believe this too.

Why is it bad that certain species go extinct? Is it because all species have an inherent value and right to existence, or is it because they are useful to the ecosystem, and it’s their utility that we’re losing?

Well, it’s all of those. First, obviously salmon and sturgeon and smelt and migratory songbirds, they all… It’s simply WRONG to exterminate them. They are beautiful and wonderful beings on their own. The purpose of salmon is to be salmon. The purpose of forests is to be forests. That’s really critical. Second, forests suffer tremendously without the existence of salmon. Salmon provide a tremendous influx of nutrients into the forest. They put on about 95 percent of their weight in the ocean, and carry this weight into the forest and die. When the salmon come in, it’s time for a feast. In the Pacific Northwest, 66 different vertebrates eat salmon. Between industrial fishing, dams, industrial forestry, and the other ways the civilized torment and destroy salmon, and rivers in the Northwest starve: they only receive about six percent of the nutrients they did a century ago. Natural communities can only undergo so much stress. After that they collapse.

And yet civilization keeps chugging along, despite the deforestation and extinctions. People seem to believe that everything will work out via new technology or the system balancing itself out, even if they don’t know exactly how.

There’s something called carrying capacity, which is the number of any given species that a certain area can support permanently. Certainly populations can overshoot carrying capacity—you can have an island that can support a thousand deer forever but if you put 10,000 deer on it they’re gonna eat too much vegetation, they’re gonna cause erosion, they’re gonna permanently reduce carrying capacity. You can temporarily exceed carrying capacity, which is clearly what’s happening here.

There’s a machine image that Paul Ehrlich or somebody was using about how you have this airplane and you have rivets popping off the airplane. You keep saying I’m not worried about it. Well, eventually enough rivets are gonna come off that the wing’s gonna fall off and the plane is going to go down.

This way of thinking, that if we just ignore the problems, things are going to be okay, is really really easy, and it’s one of the things the Nazis used to great effect. At every step of the way, it was in the Jews’ rational self-interest not to resist. Because they kept pretending that things couldn’t get worse. So, would you rather get an ID card, or resist and possibly get killed? Do you want to get on a cattle car or do you want to resist and possibly get killed? Do you want to take a shower, or resist and possibly get killed? At every step of the way they could talk themselves into not resisting. Zygmund Baumann has this great line, this is a direct quote, that “rational people will quietly meekly go into gas chambers if only you allow them to believe they’re bathrooms.” It’s the same thing. Rational people will go quietly and meekly to the end of the world if you’ll only allow them to believe that the salmon don’t matter.

So your argument is that the sooner civilization falls, the better—not just for animals and plants, but for humans.

If someone had brought down civilization, whatever that means, 200 years ago, people who live in the eastern US could still eat passenger pigeons and Eskimo curlews. People in the West, in the Northwest, could still eat salmon. I live on Tolowa land. The Tolowa Indians lived where I live now for at least 12,500 years if you believe the myths of science. If you believe the myths of the Tolowa, they’ve lived here since the beginning of time. When this culture arrived here a couple hundred years ago, the area was, as was true of so much of this continent, just ridiculously fecund. The indigenous peoples could have lived here essentially forever, so far as we know—12,500 years is long enough for me to call it ‘sustainable.’ If civilization had come down 200 years ago, the people who live here would still be able to support themselves. But if it comes down in another 30 years, 50 years, 60 years, a hundred years, 10 years, whatever, the people who live here —who live in this place right here—won’t be able to eat salmon. At some point the current system is going to crash, and there are going to be people sitting along the banks of the Columbia, which will be glowing from the radiation at Hanford, and they will be saying, “I’m starving to death because you didn’t remove the dams that were killing salmon. God damn you.”

So, even from the purely selfish human perspective, yeah, it would be good for civilization to end. The sooner this civilization goes the better, because there’ll be more left.

Can you honestly tell Joe and Jane Sixpack that they’d be better off if this civilization were suddenly gone?

My audience is generally people who recognize that the system is really messing things up, and I want to push them harder, as some people have pushed me harder. That said, I guess it depends on how “Joe Sixpack” defines himself. I used to have this habit of asking people if they liked their jobs. About 90% say no. Most people work jobs they don’t love to buy stuff they don’t want to live lives that are pretty unhappy, etc etc. This culture is killing the planet, and it isn’t even making most of us happy. Also, I often ask people at my talks, How many of you have had someone you love die of cancer? Usually about 70-80% say yes. The air in Los Angeles is so toxic that children born there inhale more carcinogenic pollutants in the first two weeks of their lives than the EPA (which routinely understates risks so as not to impede economic production) considers safe for a lifetime. In San Francisco it takes about three weeks.

Of course cancer is a disease of civilization, made far worse by the toxification of our entire environment. I have Crohn’s disease, which is a disease of civilization. I know people who have MS, which is a disease of civilization. My mom has diabetes. That’s another part of my argument against civilization: it’s toxifying our own bodies. There’s dioxin in every mother’s breast milk. It’s not just salmon. It’s all of us.

Yes, but couldn’t you say the same civilization gives us medicine and modern, miracle-working health care? Don’t civilized peoples, on balance, come out ahead of pre-industrial hunter-gatherer societies?

I have a bunch of responses. The first is that modern medicine—available to the rich, not the global poor—is horribly ironic, in that industrial health care is one of the most toxic industries on earth. It produces PVC medical devices to treat someone’s cancer, then puts them in the hospital incinerator to send back out and give someone else cancer. Or uses mercury in thermometers in the hospital, then send that up the incinerator to be deposited in fish and to eventually give more children—human and nonhuman—brain damage. Where does this make sense? Modern industrial medicine cures the cancer of some rich American who became sick because of the toxification of the total environment, and these processes lead to even more toxification, causing yet more poor people—and nonhumans—to die. The real wonder of modern medicine is that the poor buy into this at all.

There’s also some sleight-of-hand there. Part of that is there’s a really high infant mortality among wild humans, as there is among a lot of wild creatures. If you make it to 4-5 years old in the wild, you make it a long way. Read Health and the Rise of Civilization by Mark Nathan Cohen, a forensic archaeologist.

Thirdly, people who think bringing down civilization would bring mass misery are ignoring that this is what’s already happening! It’s just that most of us don’t see it. There are people dying right now, starving to death in India, now, because of the global economy. Seventy-eight percent of the countries reporting child malnutrition export food. During the much-publicized famine in Ethiopia during the 1980s, that country exported green beans to Europe. During the infamous potato famine, Ireland exported grain to England (and part of the reason the potato blight took hold in the first place was that the Irish were pushed to the poorest land). The famines come a lot of the time because a) people have been dispossessed, b) the land they were on is now used for cash crops for export and c), the water’s been stolen for semiconductor plants or aluminum smelters or whatever. The current system is already enslaving them and exploiting them. Several years ago I asked Anuradha Mittal, former executive director of Food First, if the people of India be better off if the world economy disappeared tomorrow. She laughed and said, Of course. One of the examples she gave is there are former granaries in India that now export dog food and tulips to Europe. These are people who are dying right now.

Water is a great example of the world economy killing people. People say the world’s running out of water? The thing is, 90% of the planet’s drinkable water is used for agriculture and industry. People are dying of thirst in India right now because the groundwater is being used to make Coca-Cola. This whole lifestyle is based on exploitation.

So what I’m really talking about when I’m talking about bringing down civilization is depriving the rich of their ability to steal from the poor, and depriving the powerful of their ability to destroy the planet. I don’t think there’s many people who would not be behind that. Then everything else is just tactics, you know? The question becomes one of targeting.

In Endgame, you talk about specific actions that can be taken by individuals or small groups that could bring civilization down immediately. You discuss E-bombs: devices that destroy electronics, cause no harm to humans and, according to the September 2001 issue of Popular Mechanics, can be built for $400. Are you really advocating the use of these weapons?

Before we go there, I have to say that my emphasis is not on technologies or on particular tactics or actions. My point is that we need to recognize that this way of life is killing life on the planet, and we need to stop it. After that it’s kind of like the old line by JFK about those who make nonviolent revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable. Let’s stop this by the most peaceful means possible. But in the end let’s stop this, because there is nothing worse than planetary murder. Nothing.

We also need to recognize that those in power are not going to give up their stranglehold because we ask nicely. They won’t stop exploiting the poor and deforesting because we circulate an online petition. We need to recognize that. And we need to recognize that Harriet Tubman carried a gun. Now that she’s long dead she can be a hero, but if she were alive now she’s be wanted for theft (“stealing” slaves) and terrorism. Geronimo had a gun. Tecumseh had a gun.

I’m not saying that people should willy-nilly pick up guns or that everyone should go drop E-bombs everywhere. I’m saying we need to have our seriousness called into question. What do we want? Do we want smaller clearcuts, kinder clearcuts, fewer clearcuts? Do we want the Giants to win the World Series and oh, by the way, it would be nice if we still have a world? Do we want to keep our cars and computers and lawns and grocery stores even at the expense of life on the planet? More to the point, do we want to allow others to keep their cars and computers and lawns and grocery stores even at the expense of life on the planet, which of course includes at the expense of poor humans? Even more to the point, do we want to allow those in power to perpetuate this system at the expense of the poor and life on the planet.

Bringing down civilization is not a monolithic act. It’s a billion different acts done by a billion different people. First, it’s recognizing that this culture is killing the planet. Next it’s realizing we can do something to stop it. Next it’s finding what you love. And next, it’s determining to act to defend your beloved. Everything after that is tactics.

And every different action has a different morality. It would be outrageously immoral to set off an E-bomb at a hospital. But on the other hand I think it’s almost impossible to make a moral case against taking out cell phone towers, which kill between five and 50 million migratory songbirds every year. If one cares about migratory songbirds—or if you care about not having the jerk at the next table yammer on about his latest financial conquest while you’re trying to eat, or if you care about the EMF waves which might or might not be dangerous—then it’s impossible to make a moral case against taking out those towers.

If E-bombs are so easy to make, why hasn’t one been detonated since Popular Mechanics put them on their cover?

I have no idea. That’s a good question. Except of course they have been detonated: by the US military, which tests and produces them.

I wonder that about a lot of things. Years ago—and before I say this I have to make absolutely clear that in no way am I even in the slightest advocating this—I was talking to a genetic engineer who said it’s really a piece of cake to make genetically modified diseases—all you really needed was three graduate students and a $100,000 laboratory, which is no big deal. He was stunned that it hadn’t happened yet. Once again, both of us are opposed to this, and were surprised no one has done it yet.

Another important thing to say about taking down civilization is that even before we get to the E-bomb stage there is a lot of other work to be done. And a lot of this work is not tremendously dramatic. A guy at one of my talks said, “I wanna go to China and take out a dam but I can’t do that ’cause it’ll kill villagers below.” Of course that comment ignores the villages destroyed by the erection of the dams. I responded, “Look before we even talk about this, of the two million dams in the United States, probably three-quarters of a million of them are tiny, illegal, not serving any economic function, and the only reason they’re standing is because of inertia. Nobody’s bothered to take them out. If you want to take out a dam, go take out one of these. Not even the cops will care.” The point is that we can get all excited about doing underground illegal stuff, but there’s a tremendous amount of entirely legal work we’re not doing.

The whole reform vs revolution question is bullshit. I used to teach creative writing at Pelican Bay, which is a Supermax security prison. I fully recognized that every time I walked in to that prison that I was participating in the biggest, most racist gulag on the planet. You can’t get much more reformist than teaching creative writing there. But at the same time many of my students said that the only thing that was keeping them sane was our classes. So in that moment any sort of belief I had in reform vs revolution question just fell apart, because once again: we need it all. That’s one of the great things about everything being so fucked up, that no matter where you look there’s great work to be done. If your call, if where your heart leads you is to work for battered woman’s shelters, wonderful. Wonderful, wonderful. If it calls you to write for Arthur and to push a perspective that is anti-authoritarian or whatever: wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. If it pushes you to do a timber sales appeal: wonderful also. We need it all.

But your book is about bringing down civilization—it’s not about filing timber sales appeals.

True, but I don’t exclude that by any means. I talk about the military strategy of hammer and anvil, a strategy used by Lee at the battle of Chancellorsville, where you keep a large part of your army back as an anvil, as a defensive force, and you send the rest of your army around to act as a hammer, an offensive force. Defensive work is incredibly important because if we all wait for the great glorious revolution, there’s not going to be anything worth saving left anyway. But at the same time if all we do is this defensive work, this culture is gonna just keep grinding away at everything, and there’ll be nothing left then either.

It’s like any revolution. The Black Panthers said this, the Zapatistas said this: 95% of any revolution is non-violent. A lot of it is education. A lot of it is this other stuff. And yes, of course the situation is desperately urgent, and yeah, dramatic stuff needs to be done. But I don’t even see, for the most part, people doing the less dramatic stuff. That’s what I find the most horrifying.

Having said this, that’s not an attack on most people because I understand… I’ve got friends who have two kids and are working jobs that they and their partner are making seven bucks an hour and they’re trying to raise two kids: “What, you actually want me to do something for the fairy shrimp in addition? Are you out of your mind?” I’m not judging my friends or other people for that but I also know that a tremendous amount of time is wasted watching television. I’m not saying anything against downtime either. I like to play online poker or whatever. I’m not saying that we need to spend every waking moment pushing and pushing. But we need to start doing the work. And we need to start doing it soon.

I kind of make fun of ‘fair trade’ but I gotta tell you, I think ‘fair trade’ is way better than ‘slave trade.’ But the problem I have is that’s not sufficient. Timber sales appeals aren’t sufficient. Working at battered women’s shelters isn’t sufficient. That’s really the whole point: what we’re doing isn’t sufficient.

You’re just talking about re-prioritizing.

Thank you! End of interview, you know? Every cell in my body wants for us to have a voluntary transformation to a sustainable way of living, where we would voluntarily have a softer landing, where we would recognize that we’ve overshot carrying capacity, that our way of living, which is based on the use of nonrenewable resources, won’t last. But I don’t think that’s going to happen.

If your concern is for the well-being of the humans who will be alive during and immediately after the crash, then what you need to do is start preparing people for the crash. Because it’s gonna come anyway. And if you don’t believe it’s gonna come, then we really honestly have nothing to say to each other. We can talk about what do you think about JD Drew for the Dodgers this year. What the hell’s wrong with the Angels? But if you do believe that a) there’s going to be a crash and b) it’s going to be messy and c) the current economic system is dismantling the ecological infrastructure of the planet, which means the longer it takes, the worse things are going to be, what that means is what you need to do is to start finding out what local plants can be used for antibiotics. What are local water purification systems you’ll be able to use. How are you going to build shelters. How will you pull up parking lots to make gardens. Learning self-defense and forming committees to deal with the additional violence that might (or might not) break out. Getting to know your neighbors, both human and nonhuman. How’s that for a start?

In the end, I think the primary measure by which we will be judged by those who come after will be the health of the landbase. Everything else builds from there. The people who come after aren’t going to give a shit as to whether we voted Democrat, Republican, Green, anarchist, or none of the above. They’re not going to give a shit about whether we were pacifists or not pacifists. They’re not going to give a shit about whether we signed or didn’t sign online petitions. They’re not going to give a shit about how hard we tried. It’s no good to live in a groovy eco-socialist utopia with free love if the planet is toxified. Those who come after are going to care about whether they can breathe the air, whether they can drink the water, whether the land can support them. Everything else comes from that. This seems so obvious I’m embarrassed to have to say it, but this culture is so insane it needs to be said. And it needs to be lived.

(From Arthur 23/July 2006..)