Thursday, December 31, 2015

Greetings From (A Town Called Malice)

Better stop dreaming of the quiet life
'Cause it's the one we'll never know
And quit running for that runaway bus
'Cause those rosy days are few

And stop apologizing for the things you've never done
'Cause time is short and life is cruel but it's up to us to change

This town called Malice
The Jam, "A Town Called Malice"
Released in February 1982, "A Town Called Malice" ranks among the more durable 45s released during the Jam's so-called "soul mining" period (mind you, anybody with ears would have heard those influences from the start, but that's a discussion for another time). The song shot straight to #1 UK -- holding the top spot for three weeks -- and marked the Jam's sole US chart entry, too (#31 on Billboard's Modern Rock Tracks). "Malice" also won New Musical Express's "Best Single" award that year, as well.

The song has retained a strong foothold in pop culture, turning up in movies like National Lampoon's European Vacation (1985), Billy Elliot (2000), and The Matador (2005). You can also hear it showcased in TV shows like the sci-fi cop drama, Ashes To Ashes (episode 3.5), and the BBC cop drama, Criminal Justice (first and last episodes) -- plus the "Rock Band" video game.

All in all, not a bad return for a song that the Jam's frontman, Paul Weller, cited as a snapshot of his experiences as a teenager in Woking, and a play on Nevil Shute's 1950 novel, A Town Like Alice (though he claimed not to have read the book) -- which recounts a woman's struggles to bring prosperity to a isolated Australian outback town (using her inheritance as the springboard for its development). The novel, in turn, has been adapted for a six-part mini-series (1981) and radio drama (1997).

Rows and rows of disused milk floats
Stand dying in the dairy yard
And a hundred lonely housewives clutch empty milk
Bottles to their hearts

Hanging out their old love letters on the line to dry
It's enough to make you stop believing when tears come fast and furious
In a town called Malice, yeah

For my money, "A Town Called Malice" stands among the savviest statements of the Jam's later career. Built around an uptempo, fingerpoppin' guitar and organ groove, the song carries an irresistible melody that dares not to clap along -- until you stop and hear what it's actually about. It's an old songwriter's trick that works quite well, as this writer can attest.

However, it's also remiss to consign "Malice" to the that-was-then bin -- by writing it off as "the sound of the precints," or some such nonsense (as I recall one reviewer doing). Today's world bears an eerie resemblance to the one that Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and their free market acolytes drooled about -- corporate power left to wreak unrelenting havoc, thanks to a perfect storm of shredded safety nets, gutted unions and a working world that looks like a 19th century robber baron's wet dream of a permanently insecure underclass (ithe 99%).

More relevantly, "Malice" talks about the forced austerity that keeps people forever powerless and marginalized, simply becuase they don't have enough money to make everything right. For the Squawker and myself, the last six months have served up snapshots that feel all too familiar: pay this medical bill now, or buy a couple more packages of chicken? Put off the radiator hose another week, or pay the phone bill in full now, so they're not dogging us later? And so on, and so forth....wash, rinse, repeat.

Many people around the world are struggling with these issues -- as in Greece, where media coverage of the recent rioting there focused mostly on corruption and a social system that allows people to retire at 45. What went largely unmentioned, however, was that even the International Monetary Fund questioned the bailout loan terms as overly burdensome. If an agency like the IMF -- which is in no way a radical entity -- has problems with the arrangement, someone should listen, right?

No such luck, of course. And that's why the next Grecian riots are only a question of time, since the people know the austerity they're being forced to accept is one that will come solely off their back. For the people on top, the endless blur of country villas, imported foods and never-ending limo rides will roll on uninterrupted. For them, austerity isn't likely to enter the conversational equation any time soon. If ever.

Struggle after struggle, year after year
The atmosphere's a fine blend of ice I'm almost stone cold dead
In a town called Malice, ooh yeah

A whole street's belief in Sunday's roast beef
Gets dashed against the cop
To either cut down on beer or the kids' new year,
It's a big decision in a town called Malice, ooh yeah
Ooh, the ghost of a steam train echoes down my track
It's at the moment bound for nowhere just going round and round

Even then, no matter how carefully you plan, it often feels like some malevolent force is rolling the bones against you dream. The Squawker and I got that impression when an ice storm left roughly one-eighth of our county (31,000 customers, give or take) without electricity this week. Monday ticked by in a blur of "what the f#ck" decision-making: tough it out,, 'cause we don't wanna spend half our latest emergency stash ($100) on a motel? Or get a room now, where there's at least some warmth (and a bit of electrical current)?

So we  spent the night shivering under a heap of blankets, even as our apartment complex quickly took on the aura of a ghost town, once most of our neighbors reckoned the lights weren't coming back up too soon. Eventually, we gave up on sleep altogether, and drove around town....first, dining out at McDonalds, then cooling our heels in the hospital ER till 1 a.m.-ish, hoping that things might work out.

We returned to a still-dark, still-freezing complex -- which we braved a few hours more, till 7 a.m. -- and finally agreed that a warm motel room beat the hell out of whatever we were enduring now. I called a friend, who agreed to fund a second night, if needed. As it turned out, the power came back up at 9:20 p.m. Tuesday, just as I was gathering more pillows and blankets for the Squawker...who was (finally) getting to sleep off the ill effects of the previous night.

Just then, the kitchen lights kicked back on, and the TV revved up for another mindless volley of infomercials, past-their-prime sitcoms, and God knows what else. We ended up finishing out the night, and dragging ourselves back home Wednesday morning. Between food and lodging, we spent roughly $150 that we didn't really have, which meant I'd come up short on two bills -- the car registration, and the phone -- whose deadlines loomed only a week away.

So i called a relation who was willing to lend a hand this time, which meant that I could pay the basic monthly bills (electricity, Insurance, Internet) without a hitch. This is the struggle that plays out daily in every Town Called Malice, without pause, without missing a beat -- and will continue to roll on, for the short run, until some previously unseen social force or collective expression of popular will finally changes the tide.

For now, at least, we're finally grateful to have gotten a few days of peace and quiet. So goes life in this Town Called Malice. --The Reckoner

Playground kids and creaking swings
Lost laughter in the breeze
I could go on for hours and I probably will
But I'd sooner put some joy back in this town called Malice, yeah ooh
In this town called Malice, ooh yeah

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Punk Rock Poetry Corner: Haikus 2009 (By Don Hargraves)

<Haikus 2009>

Goodbye to the year
    that never should have become
        the year we went through:

The Stock Market Dropped
    and a woman's life turned into
        noisy agony
    and is now held together
        by Valium Eucharists

Jobs came and jobs left.
    I held onto mine closely
        As millions lost theirs…
    My wages didn't move down
        For which I am SO grateful…

Promises were made
    which in the end were better
        left aside broken
    but pride forces shit along
        that should never have been done.

Deaths came fast and thick
    as the year came to an end;
        ugliness followed:
    One came with middle fingers
        another: bad memories.

And through all of it
    a striving that seemed finished
        only to cut off:
    I watched the rich hoard like hell
        and the poor were forced to pay

So I say goodbye
    to a year that should never
        be mentioned again...

                    --Don Hargraves

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Faces Of Hunger (Take Five): A Tale Of Two Dinners

<A Slightly Different Take On Thanksgiving...>

As the above image suggests, not everybody waves their arms in the air and salutes when Turkey Day comes calling. Those who know their history understand the darker reality that's often masked, sidestepped or whitewashed by all those benign depictions of that first Euro-Native American there's no need to rehash it here.

Suffice to say, the red man soon came down with some serious regrets after the white man crossed his path, as the Gang Of Four summed it up -- so famously, and so eloquently -- on the key graphic that highlights their classic first album, Entertainment (1979): "The Indian smiles, he thinks that the cowboy is his friend. The cowboy smiles, he is glad that the Indian is fooled. Now he can exploit him."

No less distressing, of course, is the orgy of materialism that's become tied up in America's mass gobbling of the turkey...including Black Friday, the by-now obligatory commercialistic blowout that we've (briefly) chronicled on this blog. Squawker and I get a constant, nagging reminder when my brother-in-law calls to brag about whatever he's just purchased with his (presumably) overtaxed, overextended pieces of plastic....he's the only chap I know who actually buys new monitors for his fleet of computers. But I digress.
Thanksgiving can feel equally hollow when your cupboard is nearly empty. That's how Squawker and myself wound up at one of our little town's trendier "happening" churches on Tuesday night. lining up for its second-ever free Thanksgiving know the drill by now: all comers welcome...everybody's entitled to one fairly hearty plate of turkey (with all the trimmings) need to get up, necessarily, because an army of volunteers is ready to serve you...and, by the way, you may want to check out those services some time (just sayin').

Last year's gathering, as the minister noted during his opening comments, drew around 100 people; tonight's affair, on the other hand, verged closer to 300, which required the church to add a heated tent on the left-hand side to accommodate all the extra traffic. Thankfully, Squawker and myself arrived early enough to avoid that particular option. We ended up at the main table near the entrance, sitting practically elbow-to-elbow with our fellow diners in an extreme case of Sensory Overload Theater (as Squawker suggested).

Needless to say, intimacy is hard to come by in such a massive setting, though the minister and his assistant (I presume) did their best to inject the personal touch...but it didn't really work. How could it? At one point, the minister said, "Turn around to the person who's sitting next to you, and say, 'I'm thankful for you.'" The gestured dutifully completed, all concerned turned around to resume chatting with the people they already knew, or those who'd turned up with them...including Squawker and myself, hand on heart.

The phenomenon repeated itself when two women began playing and singing on electric piano and acoustic guitar, respectively. Now, I enjoy live music and events as much as the next person...but not every occasion needs to be truned into a quasi-concert, because such intrusions (real or perceived) tend to make the punters cranky. The women tried their best, but the crowd kept on talking to itself unabated.

We decided not to stick around for the dessert.

On Thanksgiving Day, we drove 10-15 miles in the opposite direction, ready to partake in yet another "come one, come all" community dinner that we needed to stretch what little remained of our food budget. As I've reported here already, things have gotten tighter and tougher since the local welfare authorities whacked our food allowance from the upper $200 range to the princely sum of $16 per month. Put another way, we've had our creativity tested like never before as the end of the month approaches.

This time, however, we found ourselves in the middle of the country...far from the stiff upper lip stodginess, the stolid rigidity, the stultifying snobbishness and stubborn allegiance to old social codes that has left Squawker and myself seeking (if I may quote the Cramps) "some new kind of kick." This particular dinner marked the first of its kind for this local restaurant and winery...we'd only learned about it a week and a half ago on Facebook.

Unlike Tuesday's megachurch-style affair, however, the vibe here felt a whole lot more relaxed. Instead of waiting (and waiting, and waiting a bit longer still) for the same plate that everybody else got, the venue had set out a buffet....where you got in line, and could take what you wanted, as much as you wanted. All comers were welcome, but had to call ahead and RSVP, so the venue would know how many people it planned on serving. Makes sense, doesn't it?

About halfway through the proceedings, one of our mates...whom we'd met at the local disability book club group...turned up, to our surprise, and delight, which jump-started a suitably entertaining conversation about the experiences we'd shared since we last met. At various points, a little girl (one of the owners' or staff's daughters, I reckon) asked if we needed anything, or came to take whatever plates we'd just finished. The whole thing had a down home vibe that both Squawker and I have sorely missed...and, to be honest, rarely experience in our own hometown.

I got up to contemplate the possibility of seconds, but...for safety's sake...decided to pop the question first: "Can we go up again? Is that okay?"

The manager looked at me as though I were kidding: "Of course! It's Thanksgiving, man! If you can't do it here...." He flashed one of those shucks, why are you even asking? sorts of smiles. "When can you do it?"

"Agreed," I said. "Great to hear, thanks!"

Both Squawker and I are used to more controlled settings and situations...where the ringmasters pick and choose what you can bring home. and you don't get a vote in the matter (unless you're obviously allergic to something or other). I'm glad that didn't happen here.

To top it all off...due to a lower than anticipated turnout...the management sent us home with takeout boxes...with white meat, stuffing, rolls, corn, and chocolate cheesecake....which helped answer today's question: "What's for lunch? We're not sure how to fill in those blanks yet."

But, honestly, it felt good to experience this kind of a gathering. People actually talked to us, and treated us like human beings...instead of robotic automatons fit solely for the purpose of scrambling up the social ladder.

In short, this occasion definitely combined "thanks" and "giving," with all the positivity that implies. Now, if Squawker and I get to experience that vibe in our hometown, and not just on a one-shot basis...we'll definitely be happier campers. Time will tell. I'll keep you posted. --The Reckoner

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Faces Of Hunger (Take Four): This Time We Didn't Wait In Line...


If you ever make it to Britain, you may hear somebody pooh-pooh or dismiss an idea by exclaiming, "F#ck this for a game of soldiers!" (More polite souls may opt for: "Sod this for a game of soldiers!") In a nation adept at coining colorful phrases, this one probably ranks near the top...but what does it mean, exactly?

I'll let our friends at the Urban Dictionary provide the honor of an explanation:

<Historically soldiers were notorious for becoming engaged in silly and most times (e.g. the game of the "bisquit") non-sense games to kill the time, practice that over time gave them a poorly credible connotation and stereotype. Hence this old fashioned colloquialism (the original version was Sod this for a game of soldiers) compares the foolishness of a certain action/thing with that of "a game of soldiers".>

That phrase practically rolled off my lips this week, when the Squawker and I decided to pay our Friendly Neighborhood Mobile Food Truck a visit. As usual, I was waiting for somebody-or-other for my latest scrap of contract editorial light of that issue...we decided it might be wise to augment our latest dwindling nutritional stockpile.

The truck happens to be the project of a local Lutheran church that also provides a free monthly community dinner to all comers. You just basically sign your name, address and household size, and that's're good to go. It's a pretty straightforward affair, unlike other gatherings of this type that we have attended. I've interviewed the woman who runs these programs, and she seems passionate about what she does. The staff and volunteers are also generally kind and responsive.

So, on this particular Thursday afternoon, I'm not sure what happened...because when Squawker and I pulled near the parking lot, we saw a line that snaked all the way from the church's HQ (which occupies a separate building across the street from the chapel itself), to the edge of the road, and further down the sidewalk.

We did a quick headcount -- there must have been 100-plus people standing there at 1:30 p.m., waiting for the doors to finally yawn open, so they could sign up, and receive a paper ticket to claim their place in line for the truck. it goes without saying that you want to show up as early as possible, since the people with the lowest numbers (generally, from 0-50) get the best stuff first. If you've got a higher get what's left, but the result isn't pretty.

The Squawker and I glanced at each other uneasily.

Thursday's temperature allegedly stood at around 30 degrees...but the windchill felt much, much colder. And there was a good chilly breeze knocking about, as well.

"I'm not sure if I can stand here this long..."

I surveyed the line more intently. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" I wondered. Just how long have these folks been standing out here, anyway? Looks like it's been awhile...

"Yeah, maybe we should go home," Squawker agreed. "Our number will probably be somewhere in the lower 100s...and the good stuff'll be gone by the time they finally get to us."

"You'd think, though, that they wouldn't force people to stand outside for so long, on such a rotten weather day..." I sighed. This is getting complicated, I told myself. I've got conference calls to transcribe in a couple hours...but if we stay here that long, we'll both turn to icicles.

However, when you lack resources, such ritualized waiting games are par for the course. You can hear the unspoken dialogue bouncing around in your head, and the blanks you fill don't feel terribly comforting: Why are you standing here doing this? Because we can make you, that's why...even if we say "ask you," which sounds so much better on the record. 
The unspoken punchline isn't far from your mind, either: why do you stand here, freezing with your hands crammed in your pockets? Because you must. Otherwise, you don't get the help. Take what we give you, simple as that. 

"Yeah, it's bullshit...what do you wanna do?" Squaker asked.

And that's when the magic phrase spilled out of my lips: 

A Game...Of Soldiers!"

<cut 'n' paste for future reference...>

And then, under my breath, I said: "Tell you what...let's spend twenty of thirty bucks on food to get through the weekend. I've got better things to do today, and so do you."

On that note, we left. 

But I'll see what happened, because -- unlike a lot of other churches that Squawker and I have patronized -- you don't get the usual snotty vibe that makes you feel like something that crawled off a bent coat rack ("Oh, you poor thing, it's you again? Let's show our community how wonderful we are for helping you to macaroni 'n' cheese and never-ending cans of tuna...ah, no need to thank us, dear. Pshaw, pshaw, it was nothing, really.")

If I get a straight answer, I'll let you know. I hesitate to pass judgment on people whom I know fairly well -- maybe it comes down to some overly officious volunteer who hadn't seen the weather forecast (ergo, keep the door locked until somebody says otherwise).

But there's an easy way to remedy the situation...if you're not ready to take people's info, that's fine. However, at least find another entrance door that you can open in the building, and give people a chance to get warm (however briefly). That's called Common Sense 101, which can go out the wnidow these occasions.

Then again, it could be least I had $30-odd to drop on food this weekend. We'll see what Monday brings. --The Reckoner

Saturday, October 31, 2015

A Different Take On Halloween (Via Collage Art & Joe Meek)

<"All Systems Go">

<"Sky Men">
Halloween 2015 is slowly ebbing away as I write...but it's been cold, windy and drizzling all day in our fair little town. So I reckon there haven't been as many flying squads of children trick or treating as you'd normally see on the holiday. Then again, we at Ramen Noodle Nation Towers wouldn't know, since I don't believe our complex's management allows that sort of thing.

However, Squawker and I have done our bit to partake of the usual pleasures associated with Halloween -- notably, bits of complementary KitKats and candy corn-flavored Hershey bars (basically, white chocolate with an underlying kernel of corn flavor)...which the corner gas station was handing out. We then scurried home, having shopped a few odds and ends of food (made possible by leftover proceeds from a friend's instant lottery ticket). Now that I'm home, another pleasant surprise drops into my inbox: a $30 bonus for my latest bit of transcription work.

All these images are a long way away from our traditional view of Halloween, which -- pop culture-wise -- is often associated with the likes of Alice Cooper, Marilyn Manson, and so on, and so forth. But my Moddish mindset tends to associate Halloween with the likes of Screaming Lord Sutch, and Joe Meek...who worked together on several classic '60s-era singles, such as 'Til The Following Night," and "Monster In Black Tights," which seem a lot closer to the creepy crawly feeling of dread that we associate with Halloween. (Just check out the lengthy intro that opens the former track, and ask yourself which soundtrack seems nearer to getting under the skin -- Marilyn's and co.'s current pantomime, or...Sutch's volley of shrieks and moans. Yes, I've concluded, the man named himself well. Judge for yourself!)

Of course, what else needs to be said about Joe Meek (1929-67)? I'm currently re-reading -- yet again, for the umpteenth time -- John Repsch's epochal biography, The Legendary Joe Meek: The Telstar Man...which I bought in London in '89, right when it came out...and the whole story still takes my breath away. On one hand, it's a tale of resourceful brilliance, of a man using techniques that people only take for granted today -- from close miking, to his signature heavy washes of echo and compression, direct recording of instruments, even early forms of sampling, you name it -- which he achieved with a fraction of the equipment (and often homemade equipment, as well).

On the other hand, it's also hard to separate the man from the undercurrent of tragedy that caused him to shoot his landlady -- and then, himself -- with a shotgun on February 3, 1967, which coincided with a sea of financial problems from which he was struggling to extricate himself...including a general drying up of his fortunes (his last big hit had come three years earlier, with the Honeycombs' "Have I The Right")...piling up of debts, and back taxes...and a lawsuit filed by an obscure French film composer over "Telstar."

Although Meek eventually won the suit -- escaping with the princely judgment of 108 GBP (Great British Pounds) -- he never earned a penny for composing "Telstar" in his lifetime, as Repsch notes...which makes his untimely end all the more tragic. It's a fair bet, too, that not many committed music fans know that the Tornados -- who recorded "Telstar" -- were the first British band to get a US #1, a full year before the Beatles pulled it off.

The above collage, named after the Honeycombs' 1965 LP (All Systems Go), is similar to those done by my mate, Chairman Ralph....and is offered in tribute to the era's go-for-it giddiness -- when it was possible for mavericks like Meek to craft a signature style, working from a home studio that he'd specially built above a leather goods shop at 304 Holloway Road, in north London...which coincided with the onset of a dizzying array of technological innovations...of which the Telstar communications satellite that fired up Meek's imagination was only one.

Sky Men, on the other hand, takes its name from the 1963 Meek-produced single by Geoff Goddard, who wrote or co-wrote many of the early hits that put Meeskville on the map (such as "Johnny Remember Me," and "Just Like Eddie," to name two). Goddard's final single did nothing at the box office, marking an end to his career as an artist, but I really like it -- since it coincided with a major stirring of interest in alien phenomena that arose during the '60s... although, judging by its lyrics, the little green men in this song are simply out for a stroll, or perhaps a night of spot-the-homo-sapiens:
As I was walking out one night, me and my darlin' We saw in the sky a flashing light, me and my darlin' And as it hovered overhead And as the Sun was turning red We heard a voice and that voice said... "Children of Earth, be not afraid, for we come in peace"

There's a solo piano version of this song floating around on Youtube. Find it if you can, as it adds a whole new dimension to this track -- apparently, it's a home recording from '74 (even if the hissy-fit sound of the tape places it closer to the previous decade).

Funnily enough, I've tried taping
All Systems Go to the hallway wall, but it simply wouldn't stay up. A case of Joe's spirit pottering around, refusing to allow such a thing?

Perhaps, given his well-documented interest in paranormal matters...which prompted him to prowl around graveyards with his tape recorder, hoping to catch a spirit or two on tape...and calling out the spirit of Buddy Holly in seances. (His suicide coincided with Holly's birthday, a date that -- as Repsch remarks -- would never have escaped such a committed Holly-phile's attention.)

So I've stuck All Systems Go, and its companion, Sky Men, back up on my desk shelf for now. (Well, as of 11/21, actually, I've tried sticking 'em back up again -- we'll see if Joe or some other paranormal force interferes with the proceedings!). But whenever my own inspiration flags, I reach for that book, look up at those collages, and find new inspiration to carry on with whatever I'm doing. So, in that spirit, check out the links below for your own specially ghastly soundtrack...

...oh, and one more thing: Happy Halloween. What's left of it. --The Reckoner

If you are ever out at night, you and your darlin' And if you see this flashing light, you and your darlin' Don't be afraid and run away For soon there's going to come a day When all the world will hear them say... "Children of Earth, be not afraid, for we come in peace"

<"All Systems Go">
Original photo...snapped just before the battery 
ran out, when I originally started this goes 
life in our dreary little technocracy, eh?

Links To Go (Hear 'Em,
And Scare Yerself Plain Silly):

Joe Meek (Productions & Compositions)
I Hear A New World: An Outer Space Music Fantasy:

Geoff Goddard: Sky Men:

The Moontrekkers: Night Of The Vampire:

The Tornados: Telstar:

Screaming Lord Sutch
Jack The Ripper:

Monster In Black Tights:

Murder In The Graveyard:

'Til The Following Night:

Friday, September 25, 2015

Notes From The Floorboards: Give This 'Zine A Look...

[courtesy of:]

One of my favorite passages in Glen Matlock's memoir, I Was A Teenage Sex Pistol, concerns his take on the punk movement...that, for all the sociopolitical readings that John Lydon's /Johnny Rotten's lyrics got..."As a lyricist, John was always more Dostoevsky than Tariq Ali. He was just generally right out there on a limb, sending up notes from beneath his own floorboards."

What a lovely description, isn't it: "notes from the floorboards." Well, any DIY endeavor serves that purpose, doesn't it....especially 'zines, which seem to be making something of a comeback lately (the paper kind, I mean). It's reminiscent of the recent comeback of vinyl, as well, which the mainstream media is passing off as a fanatical clique's fancy -- though I suspect that it's more directly connected with a hunger for tangible objects to hold in your hand again.

Anyway, our co-conspirator, Chairman Ralph -- whose writing shows up here from time to time -- recently wrote in, asking me to review his new 'zine, Desperate Times. He describes it as "a mixture of music and commentary," which seems clear enough when you've got articles like "New York Dolls Stories," and "The Red-Headed Stepchild Says Something: Hanging With My Kind In Northwest Indiana," jostling for space with "The Secret Life Of Hemliga Bosse" (whom I've never heard of, but that's nothing new -- the indie and punk fields are crammed with the bodies of many, many little one-off savants).

I told the good Chairman that I'll hold off on a review, for now, as it's only the first issue..."so let's see how you fly," I wrote in my response, "and we'll go from there. If you've got a couple more issues, then it may even look like a trend." To give you a better idea of what he's playing at, here's all the basic info you need:

And here's a link, from what I gather, to a soundclip from that first issue itself (it's "The Secret Life Of Hemliga Bosse"):

Naturally, the Chairman wanted a review, but I told him this approach might get him in the frame a little bit Squawker and I have to spend so much effort focusing on day-to-day survival, we don't really have loads of time (or wherewithal) to become full-time reviewers...mind you, doing this blog takes a fair amount of energy, as well.

However, if that admonition encourages you to try, contact us, and we'll sort something out -- tell us what you're doing first, however, so we can see if it's up our street. If you read this blog regularly, you already have a fair idea of the drift, and what moves us -- so there you go, then.

All the preliminaries aside, though, it's great to see interest growing in DIY culture and products, whether it's chapbooks, music, 'zines, or what have you. I always think of it as weeds growing through the cracks in the sidewalk, no matter how hard anyone tries to stamp them out...or maybe it's just a case of notes from the floorboards. Time will tell. --The Reckoner

Friday, September 4, 2015

Sickening Ways America is Criminalizing The Poor

It's absolutely disgusting. The no-sit laws affect the elderly and disabled too. It is horrifying too when they want to ban sleeping in cars too. A homeless person with a car is far better off then one without. So how do they find a job and become un-homeless. They need to provide options for people instead of just making laws to fill the jail cells. Being poor alone can turn a person into a criminal. Can't pay a fine or a fee? Instant criminal!---The Squawker

The Message


The Message

By Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Grandmaster Flash
It's like a jungle sometimes
It makes me wonder how I keep from goin' under
Broken glass everywhere
People pissin' on the stairs, you know they just don't care
I can't take the smell, can't take the noise
Got no money to move out, I guess I got no choice
Rats in the front room, roaches in the back
Junkies in the alley with a baseball bat
I tried to get away but I couldn't get far
Cause a man with a tow truck repossessed my car
Don't push me cause I'm close to the edge
I'm trying not to lose my head
It's like a jungle sometimes
It makes me wonder how I keep from goin' under
Standin' on the front stoop hangin' out the window
Watchin' all the cars go by, roarin' as the breezes blow
Crazy lady, livin' in a bag
Eatin' outta garbage pails, used to be a fag hag
Said she'll dance the tango, skip the light fandango
A Zircon princess seemed to lost her senses
Down at the peep show watchin' all the creeps
So she can tell her stories to the girls back home
She went to the city and got so so seditty
She had to get a pimp, she couldn't make it on her own
It's like a jungle sometimes
It makes me wonder how I keep from goin' under
My brother's doin' bad, stole my mother's TV
Says she watches too much, it's just not healthy
All My Children in the daytime, Dallas at night
Can't even see the game or the Sugar Ray fight
The bill collectors, they ring my phone
And scare my wife when I'm not home
Got a bum education, double-digit inflation
Can't take the train to the job, there's a strike at the station
Neon King Kong standin' on my back
Can't stop to turn around, broke my sacroiliac
A mid-range migraine, cancered membrane
Sometimes I think I'm goin' insane
I swear I might hijack a plane!
It's like a jungle sometimes
It makes me wonder how I keep from goin' under
My son said, Daddy, I don't wanna go to school
Cause the teacher's a jerk, he must think I'm a fool
And all the kids smoke reefer, I think it'd be cheaper
If I just got a job, learned to be a street sweeper
Or dance to the beat, shuffle my feet
Wear a shirt and tie and run with the creeps
Cause it's all about money, ain't a damn thing funny
You got to have a con in this land of milk and honey
They pushed that girl in front of the train
Took her to the doctor, sewed her arm on again
Stabbed that man right in his heart
Gave him a transplant for a brand new start
I can't walk through the park cause it's crazy after dark
Keep my hand on my gun cause they got me on the run
I feel like a outlaw, broke my last glass jaw
Hear them say "You want some more?"
Livin' on a see-saw
It's like a jungle sometimes
It makes me wonder how I keep from goin' under
A child is born with no state of mind
Blind to the ways of mankind
God is smilin' on you but he's frownin' too
Because only God knows what you'll go through
You'll grow in the ghetto livin' second-rate
And your eyes will sing a song called deep hate
The places you play and where you stay
Looks like one great big alleyway
You'll admire all the number-book takers
Thugs, pimps and pushers and the big money-makers
Drivin' big cars, spendin' twenties and tens
And you'll wanna grow up to be just like them, huh
Smugglers, scramblers, burglars, gamblers
Pickpocket peddlers, even panhandlers
You say I'm cool, huh, I'm no fool
But then you wind up droppin' outta high school
Now you're unemployed, all non-void
Walkin' round like you're Pretty Boy Floyd
Turned stick-up kid, but look what you done did
Got sent up for a eight-year bid
Now your manhood is took and you're a Maytag
Spend the next two years as a undercover fag
Bein' used and abused to serve like hell
Til one day, you was found hung dead in the cell
It was plain to see that your life was lost
You was cold and your body swung back and forth
But now your eyes sing the sad, sad song
Of how you lived so fast and died so young so
It's like a jungle sometimes
It makes me wonder how I keep from goin' under
--The Squawker

Resilience is Futile

Resilience is Futile: How Well-Mean Non-Profits Perpetuate Poverty

"We all began speaking in her language: protective factors, asset based organizing, personal resilience. We started to absorb this woman’s idea that changing people’s behavior was the solution to their problems, which meant absorbing the idea that people’s behavior was the source of their problems. But I knew at the core of me this was false. The problem had never been that I didn’t know the right number to call. It’s a lack of resources that produces a lack of resilience, not the other way around."

Too many poverty programs claim that "good behavior" will turn people rich. They are wrong. Sadly there are entire programs being written where they claim the poor are poor from something they are doing "wrong" instead of being poor simply because they lack money. --The Squawker

Monday, August 31, 2015

The Punk Rock Alphabet (Take III)

<Be Seeing You...>

Too Much…
  a) Monkey Business
  b) Posse
  c) Pressure

  Waiting For…
     a) My Ship
     To Come In
     b) The Light
     To Change
     c) The Great
     Leap Forward
   a)…& Dumb
   b)…Fast &    Scientific
   c)…Loud & Snotty
<The Reckoner>

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Punk Rock Alphabet (Take II)

a) In The Flood
b) In The Supermarket
c) On The Freeway
M      N   
     a)The Only Available Restroom
     b)The Nearest
       Traffic Lane 
      c) Wall Street
      a) …And Survive
      b) Who, Me?
      c) What For?

a) ...A New 
World Record
b) ...The State

c) ...The 
<The Reckoner>

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Punk Rock Alphabet (Take I)

Anarchy Burger...Hold:
a)The Lettuce
b) The Pickle
c) The Government
a)At Joe's
b) Fast, Die Young
c) The Rich
  Honey, They’ve Shrunk…

a)...The Kids

b) ...The Politicians
c) ...The Pensions
Kick Out:
a) The Jams 
b) The Bosses 
c) The Congress
<The Reckoner>

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Michigan Kisses Off Its Creative Community: No More Film Incentives


A couple summers ago, a friend and myself had the opportunity to become film extras for a day: the fruits of that labor is posted above. We spent a sweltering summer day at Sparta Community Airport, of all places, as Secret Service agents for our big scene -- in which a band of Indian terrorists ambushes a U.S. Senator on his arrival. I ducked out of the machine guitar fire into a nearby office, while my friend had his throat cut. His scene stayed, mine got cut; such is life.

I had one other big moment, as an airport mechanic. I felt confident enough to make a suggestion -- "How about if I'm doing something? Maybe I can push this dolly across the concrete floor."  Unfortunately, the sound mixer said that the dolly rattled too much, and she couldn't get a decent level, so I had to do without it on take two. Such is life.

As you'll probably gather, The Spirit Of Mumbai is an old-school, bare-knuckled action picture, featuring a Bollywood actress (center poster shot) being hotly pursued by the bad guys in question. Along the way, you also meet a detective whose loyalties seem quite divided, to say the least -- I don't want to spoil the rest of it for you, so you'll have to find a copy for yourself. More importantly, though, The Spirit Of Mumbai was a true DIY independent effort. As I recall, the director said that he'd spent two or three years working to bring it to fruition.

Many of the actors were already battle-tested veterans of similar productions -- such as the gentleman playing the U.S. Senator, who came from Detroit, where shows like "187" were being filmed at the time. I came away impressed with the energy and commitment of the people who worked on the production. For a fleeting moment or two, I told myself on the way home: Maybe I could make a few extra bucks. Maybe...

However, it doesn't look like there will be too many more opportunities, now that Michigan's terminally tone deaf legislature has killed off its film incentives program. Public Act 117 of 2015 bars the Michigan Film Office from running such a program, or directly funding the costs of production and personnel. To top it all off, the law directs that whatever money is left from the Michigan Film Promotion Fund after the current fiscal ends (September 30, 2016) goes back into the general fund...where, presumably, the Republican-led legislature will happily redirect it to the big businesses who have gotten the lion's share of tax breaks under Governor Rick Snyder's "shift and shaft" approach...but I digress.

Not surprisingly, this action has taken the wind out of Michigan's film community, as small and passionate as it is. Some of my friends are making plans to leave the state, for places like Georgia and Louisiana, which apparently have the best film incentive programs -- who'd have thought, right? The Deep South, so often stereotyped as the land of Bible Belt bangers and bad teeth, apparently gets it: activity breeds activity. So does New Mexico, where two of my favorite all-time shows ("Breaking Bad," "Better Call Saul") were -- and are -- filmed.

Is this any way to spend an afternoon?
A key scene from "Better Call Saul"

According to the Albuquerque Journal, a long-awaited new study suggests that New Mexico's film incentive program pumped $1.5 billion in total economic activity into the state, created 15,848 full-time jobs -- I'll repeat, full-time, not the no-benefit, no-future McJobs that seem destined to dominate Michigan's economic landscape -- and generated roughly 43 cents in tax revenue for every incentive dollar spent between 2010-2014. Funnily enough, that's well below the 60 cents estimated by the Michigan Film Agency -- or, as a news release from State Senator John Proos's office puts it, "only 60 cents of private sector activity". We all should feel so unlucky, right?

Of course, Proos's release -- which a friend from Southwest Michigan forwarded to me -- is the usual blend of Republican half-truths and sophistry (we'll get to that momentarily). To be fair, Michigan has quite a ways to go in catching up with the likes of New Mexico, though a strong film scene is emerging in Traverse City -- where Michael Moore, like him or not, has staked out a presence -- and South Haven now hosts the Waterfront Film Festival, which is emerging as a notable showcase for all stripes of indie filmmakers. Detroit will likely continue to host productions, although on a low-key scale -- given its notoriously fearsome city bureaucracy -- and Grand Rapids has a strong cultural scene, as well.

Still, the 60 cent estimate cited in Proos's release seems like an ample return on Michigan's incentive experiment ($494 million), at least when you compare it to New Mexico, whose program is far more robust. But now that Michigan's pulled the plug, we'll never know. One flaw in Proos's reasoning is that, by nature, incentive programs aren't intended to exact a strict one-for-one return. The underlying rationale behind any incentive program is that activity breeds activity: once people see what's happening, they're more likely to spend time and energy in a state, city or town that puts out the welcome mat. When you create such programs, it's simply not possible to predict or foresee all the direct and indirect benefits that occur. (If you could, the debate would be irrelevant.)

Look at all the mileage that New Mexico got from "Breaking Bad," where its lead actors (Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul) ended up buying homes. Whether people liked the show or not, that type of investment is good for the state -- not to mention more bizarre tie-ins, like the "Breaking Bad Candy" (see links below). If you're an actor, director, or techie, where do you go?  Where the action is, not where it isn't. And right now, Michigan isn't it.

Incentive programs also make it possible for people who aren't established to bring their visions to life. That seems like a better model than the one constantly touted in the mainstream media, which you'll see when it chooses to highlight an area that it deems as "hip," or "happening." Unfortunately, in most cases, that activity involves hipsters with deep pockets, who spend most of their time perpetuating themselves, and keeping out the riffraff (read: anyone seen encroaching on their turf). Before long, most of the resources (read: grant money) flows in their direction, as well...hardly a rising tide that lifts all boats, right?

But the oddest part of Proos's release is the philosophical justification he expresses for ending the program: “We must come up with additional funds needed to fix our roads. In light of that important task, I cannot justify continuing the film credit program. Before we unnecessarily burden our citizens with new taxes in order to pave our roads, we must cut programs that do not produce results.”  This statement is truly bizarre, if we recall how long Michigan's roads -- long the butt of late night comedians' jokes -- have been neglected on the Republicans' watch.

Recall the example of Governor John Engler's "Build Michigan" program, whose Rube Goldberg-ian mixture of borrowing and bonding imposed a far steeper long-term obligation on the state's pocketbook than, say, a simple one-time tax increase would have done. But we all know how Republicans feel about that one. As I've said here before, Erich Honecker would have admired their pig-headedness.

Your future (if you want it): McJobs, McJobs, McJobs

Of course, one obvious takeaway from the demise of Michigan's film program is that anyone working in the creative arts should think twice about letting their futures ride on the whims of politicians. Still, when it works, the results are impressive, as New Mexico's example shows. We can go further back, if you like, to the 1960s -- to that famous photo of Britain's Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, posing with the Beatles. "Love Me Do" or "Ticket To Ride" may not have been part of Wilson's daily listening diet. But he was savvy enough to appreciate the benefits of an association, however fleeting, with the cuddly moptops whose music did so much to soundtrack Britons' lives. As for John Proos? Harold Wilson, he ain't.

Another takeaway, from my standpoint, is that creative people need to do a better job of telling their own story. All too often -- and I'm speaking from experience -- I've heard political hacks of all stripes dismiss the creative arts as a luxury or a frill that's not worth supporting...whether it's gutted from school budgets or state budgets makes no difference. However, the skills that you do acquire -- including the discipline of honing your craft, learning to work well with people from different backgrounds -- are transferable to other work environments. Even no-benefit, no-future McJobs.

But my feeling is, unless creatives get meaningfully involved in the political process, these types of decisions will happen over and over and over again. And I don't just mean, "Vote Tweedledee or Tweedledum," or, "Give 'X' amount of dollars to Tweeldee or Tweedledum's campaign." If you think that type of baseline activity is all it takes to change things, you're not getting the whole story, period.

We need to start marching and raising all types of holy hell to change things -- because, as the political and professional classes all too often demonstrate, they'll never do it on their own when you leave them to their own devices. Still, I can take one small upside from the demise of Michigan's film incentive program: my friends won't be available to work all those McJobs. Then again, we also won't have the benefits of their collective energy when we'll really need it most. But I digress. --The Reckoner

Links To Go (Grab 'Em Before
The Hipster Tribes Shove You Aside):
Albuquerque Journal:
New Mexico Film Impact Estimated At $1.5 Billion:

Los Angeles Times:

Visit Albuquerque:
Breaking Bad In Albuquerque