My Friend is Dead

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Here’s a thought that has been repeating in my head all day today: “My friend is dead.”

The following are a bunch of words (completely inadequate) that amount to the best I can do to make sense of that bizarre fact:

Monica Van Laer and I have been friends since high school, which, for those of you keeping score at home, was a long fucking time ago. About 17 or 18 years. She was killed yesterday by her ex-boyfriend and I have spent the day crying and not knowing what to do. Earlier today, I gathered with some friends so that we could cry and not know what to do together. We looked at pictures and shared memories and laughed a little and still none of those things changed the inexplicable truth:

My friend is dead.

And, as if that’s not enough: my friend was murdered.

Christ, it gets worse: my friend was murdered by someone who has set foot in my home.

Fuck.

Let me tell you about my friend Monica. She was fucking awesome. Monica convinced me to act in a Christmas play my junior year of high school. I got to be Scrooge in A Christmas Carol and my love of theater was born out of that experience. She helped me learn to play a wind instrument (trombone at first, which didn’t work so well, and then clarinet which [let’s be totally honest] only worked slightly better) so I could join band my senior year because most of our friends were also in band. I am a better musician because I knew Monica. She was an insanely talented musician herself – she played the flute and the baritone sax. She could act, direct and stage manage and she never used her skill to make anyone else feel like shit about their own abilities.

Monica was the youngest person I knew who owned Pink Floyd’s entire discography – when we met, I thought their first album was Dark Side of the Moon. She insisted on making me listen to earlier cuts like “Fearless” and “Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving with a Pict” (that’s a real song – Google that shit). For a high schooler in St. Helens, Oregon, pushing Ummagumma on her peers was a move of unbridled and audacious geekery.

When my sister got a heart transplant in 1997, Monica came with me to the hospital and spent the night there waiting with me and my family through the surgery. Monica, like my sister (who is also dead), had a huge heart and was always there for her friends. Monica, like my sister, was an amazingly strong, generous, kind and inspiring human being. I have watched all day as people I’ve never met have taken to Facebook to share their love for her and their astounded grief that her life should be cut short in such a brutal fashion. I know that, as word gets out, more people will share their love and gratitude for having known her.

She was a truly beautiful person who made life seem more beautiful – and she was also an incredibly goofy person who loved fart jokes and dumb humor. When we attended a production of Pirates of Penzance recently, Monica’s laughter at the repetition of the word “duty” (shared by me and all of our deeply immature and wonderful friends) threatened to disrupt the whole show. We laughed to the point that I started laughing about how funny we all thought “duty” was. (Say it out loud a few times. “Duty.”)

I am now a little too experienced with people I love dying young so I know that a thing people say when someone dies is that they will live on in our hearts. This is true as far as it goes and sounds very nice, but right now, my heart is completely broken. I tell people who get to know me a bit that the friends I met in high school literally saved my life; Monica was one of those friends and I am going to regret for the rest of my life that it was impossible to return the favor.

Monica, these words are useless and I’m going to stop trying to make them useful. Here are just a few more:

Thank you.

I miss you.

I love you.

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This One’s Not About Music

Death Valley

This is just a picture of a desert. I don’t know why it seemed so fitting but it does.

 

I started writing this post around Valentine’s Day.

It all started with Dylan Farrow’s open letter from February 1st.  You’re probably aware of it and Woody Allen’s response and you may even have an opinion about who is telling the truth and who is lying. I do too, but that’s not what this is about either.

It’s about something I never talk about – my family doesn’t talk about it – that happened to me when I was a kid. From the age of seven to about the age of ten, I was molested by my cousin. My brother and sister were as well and my sister’s courageous attempt to actually do something about it led to the three of us being pulled out of public school to be “home schooled” by our mother, who was as qualified to educate us as I am to build rockets.

Being a survivor of sexual abuse is part of my identity, but it’s part that I don’t often share. It’s hard to – you can’t walk up to people at parties and say, “Hi, my name’s Matt and I was molested by my cousin. Pass the dip.” But Dylan Farrow’s letter has stuck with me because it reminded me that my sister tried to tell the truth and was forced to tell an attorney that she made the whole thing up even though she didn’t.  The message was loud and clear for all of us (as it is for many victims of abuse): “No one will believe you.”

But it happened. For years.

I know there are people out there who are inclined to ask why victims seem to recall or at least talk about childhood sex abuse years after the event. As I mentioned above, one reason is probably the feeling that you will not be believed – certain (former) members of my family made sure to cultivate that feeling in me, my brother and my sister.  There are probably lots of reasons people wait to speak out and I’m not going to pretend my reasons are universal. The most obvious one that comes to mind: when you’re a kid, you don’t have the vocabulary to say, “Hey, by the way, cousin Billy is molesting me.” I didn’t learn until much later how to talk about what my cousin did to me. Two things about that: 1) I’m still learning how to talk about it and 2) I’m really fucking lucky; some of us never develop the ability to speak about our abuse and that can lead folks (human beings, deserving of love and happiness) to pretty dark places. My brother has struggled most of his adult life with what happened to us (this is how we talk about it – “what happened to us” or sometimes just “what happened”) and I know he’s often felt unworthy of love and dignity because of the abuse he suffered – abuse that our mother and her family covered up.

I’ve tried to write about this before, with very little success. For one thing, it’s really goddamn difficult – I started writing this 2 months ago and have doubted ever since that I would ever actually publish it (I actually sat down at my computer tonight to play the new X-Com DLC, but started doing this instead).  I’m talking about a part of my life when I had no control and only one person (who is now dead) was brave enough to speak the truth. My dad believed my sister and, for his trouble, he was treated like shit by my biological mom’s family (and they in turn commanded my siblings and me to treat him like shit, which we did. I try not to treat my dad like shit now and I’d like to think I do an okay job, but that’s for Dad to judge).

So why bring all this up now?

It’s important for me to speak up now because I can speak up now.  Because I’ve managed to beat back enough of the shame and anger to articulate the facts. Because if I talk about it, maybe it will help my brother (or anyone else who sees this) talk about it. I’m not worried about being called a liar; I long ago stopped talking to those most likely to call me one. I’m a person who values the truth more than I value being comfortable or popular and the truth is that I was molested, I survived it (mind you, not without some serious issues about my own body and the unique ability to become massively freaked out about the power dynamics of sexual desire) and it wasn’t my fault. There are thousands of people like me and my brother and sister all over this country and some of them are probably feeling the same awkwardness about saying the truth out loud that I’m feeling even as I type this. Thousands. How many were called liars? How many have famous, beloved abusers?

This is hard to think about. It’s hard to write about and it’s really fucking hard to talk about. But it’s time to start talking and this is as good a place as any.

 

Thoughts on the Music I Heard This Year (Part Two): “The Music Industry is Lying to You”

You might get the impression that a lot of music pissed me off in 2013 and while it is true that lots of music (and many other things) got my ire cranking during the last year, there was a lot of really great music this year and I’m happy that I got to listen to some of it.

This is not a countdown of my favorite albums of the year because I hate those. I don’t believe that nine or nineteen or 49 albums are measurable and precise intervals worse than my favorite album of the year and I think it’s silly to pretend they are. How the fuck do you calculate that, of all the albums released on the planet this year, How to Stop Your Brain in an Accident is precisely the 72nd best? You don’t, because that would be silly.

Yes, the new Future of the Left album is my favorite album of 2013 and my other favorites are all albums that, like How to Stop Your Brain in an Accident, thrilled me to the point of distraction. So rather than some artificial countdown, think of this as “If you only had to hear six or seven albums from 2013, these are my recommendations.” But think of it with the following grain of salt – you might totally fucking despise the things I like and that is absolutely your right.

So what do I love so much about How to Stop Your Brain in an Accident? First off, I love how it came into existence – Future of the Left announced a PledgeMusic campaign in the spring which, understandably, hit its goal in short order. I was able to send some money to the band so they could make this album and in return, I got a signed copy of the album, a T-shirt, and a digital copy of their Love Songs for Our Husbands EP. The band asked for help from their fans and then made an excellent and sincere show of gratitude. Oh yeah, and they made an album full of all the things I like from Future of the Left – sarcasm,  yelling, pounding drums, crunchy guitars, and kazoos. Okay, the kazoos are new but they really tie “Things to Say to Friendly Policemen” together:

The Pitchfork review of this album pointed out How to Stop Your Brain‘s implied critique of macho asshole behavior but then kind of chided the band for providing “no model for a better society” which I find a little bit odd. This is a website that chose the new Vampire Weekend album as the best album of 2013 and if there is a vision for a better society in that band’s music, I haven’t heard it. Forgive me, but I don’t see how a society where everyone endlessly plagiarizes Graceland is any better than the one we have now. Besides, Future of the Left has never been what you would call “solution-focused” (unless you count their suggestion that we “re-imagine god as just a mental illness” on Travels with Myself and Another). Andrew Falkous’s sarcasm, wielded with a skill and precision that cannot be taught, is probably indicative of a certain amount of hopelessness. Mind you, I don’t know the guy – maybe he’s a wide-eyed idealist like me but I doubt it. So why would a guy like me listen to such (on its surface, at least) negative music? There’s a certain catharsis inherent in the sharply barbed wit of Future of the Left’s music and what I love about How to Stop Your Brain in an Accident in particular is that the two minute bursts of catchy-yet-snide stuff (“There’s nothing like a military coup,” sings Falco on “Johnny Borrell Afterlife” before adding, “The clothes are great / and everybody loves a curfew”) are occasionally offset but things like the opening line to “I Don’t Know What You Ketamine (But I Think I Love You)” which goes like so: “One day/ Soon/ Let’s talk about love/ like we talk about food: Generously/ and then/ without irony.” Cheeky title notwithstanding, the song opens with an honest (and, to my mind anyway, laudable) sentiment. Plus, I’m just generally in favor of doing things without irony. 

Obviously, Future of the Left isn’t for everyone but you probably didn’t start reading a music blog called Bollocks! to hear about stuff that might be for everyone. That said, I’m pretty sure most people who like music and/or joy will find something to love about Janelle Monáe’s The Electric Lady. 

One of the great things about life now is that, if you have the privilege of access to the internet and leisure time, you can find the music of pretty much anyone that your friends recommend to you. I read about Monáe when her first full-length, The Arch-Android, came out in 2010 but didn’t get around to listening to her until this year. I tend not to describe a lot of music as being “a revelation” but that’s what The Electric Lady is – it’s a truly thrilling, surprising slice of science fiction-infused soul. All of Monáe’s recorded output of which I am aware takes place in this sort of alternate reality (maybe the future?) where androids are marginalized and abused by mainstream society. But they are led in resistance by Cindi Mayweather, the ostensible alter-ego of Janelle Monáe. In 2011, Monáe told the London Evening Standard“I speak about androids because I think the android represents the new ‘other’. You can compare it to being a lesbian or being a gay man or being a black woman … What I want is for people who feel oppressed or feel like the ‘other’ to connect with the music and to feel like, ‘She represents who I am’.” 

I can’t, as a heterosexual white guy, connect with Monáe’s music from a standpoint of marginalization – just like I can’t connect with, say, Bikini Kill or Curtis Mayfield in the same way that women and people of color do. It would be dishonest, not to mention a bit foolish. Where I strongly connect to Monáe’s work is as 1) someone who loves a good R&B record (and The Electric Lady is a great R&B record) and 2) someone who can quite easily imagine a world where people aren’t chronically fucked over because they are viewed as “less-than” in the eyes of the dominant culture (indeed, I can quite easily imagine an end to “dominant culture” – I told you I’m a wide-eyed idealist). Like a lot of the music I love (Mayfield, Bikini Kill, Le Tigre, Bratmobile, Public Enemy – I could go on), The Electric Lady offers ironclad proof that we never have to choose between style and substance. We can have music that is aesthetically astounding and demands liberation at the same time. Isn’t that what all good art should do?

Writing about and thinking about Janelle Monáe and Future of the Left all morning (it takes me longer to write this stuff than it used to) has led me to a pretty happy conclusion – these are probably the two albums that I have listened to the most in 2013 (and they both came out in the last half of the year) and they both suit different sides of my personality. How to Stop Your Brain in an Accident is loud, sarcastic and (somewhat) diagnostic while The Electric Lady is bombastic, stylistically diverse, and (somewhat) prescriptive. In terms of hopelessness and hopefulness, they kinda balance each other out in some way. It may not work for you, but it does for me.

Those are only two of my favorites from 2013 – I guess you’ll have to wait until 2014 to read about (if you want to, that is – we don’t force anyone to read blogs around here) some of the others, which include albums by Neko Case, Aye Nako, Hilly Eye, The Julie Ruin, and probably some others I’m forgetting.

In the meantime, here’s a link to “Dance Apocalyptic” from The Electric Lady: 

Happy New Year!

Thoughts on the Music I Heard This Year (Part One): The Year of Accidental Racists

The Paisley

Another year is coming to an end, which means I have spent a good part of the last month trying to convince various horrible readers’ polls on the internet that Future of the Left’s How to Stop Your Brain in an Accident is the best album of 2013 and “Singing of the Bonesaws” is the Very Best Single of the year. Although it wasn’t technically a single, I operate on the assumption that we live in an era where every song simultaneously is and isn’t a single.

There’s a lot we could talk about looking back at 2013 but for some reason, my mind keeps coming back to “Accidental Racist” by Brad Paisley (featuring L.L. Cool J). I thought about adding it to my ongoing list of The Worst Songs I Have Ever Heard but 1) I’m not even sure I can do that feature anymore and 2) it would just be too goddamn easy. To address the first point first, part of the reason Bollocks! has been so infrequently updated over the last two years is because I was finishing a master’s degree but another part is that I’ve spent a lot of time looking back at what I’ve written over the last few years and honestly, I don’t like much of it at all. There’s some stuff I’m kind of proud of  but there’s mostly a lot of jokes that seem too easy, not to mention enough ego to swallow a music industry awards show whole. A surprising amount of people (i.e., “any people at all”) dug a lot of that shit and that’s fine. But for me to keep doing Bollocks! it’s gonna have to be different. Better. More on that as it develops.

But as for “Accidental Racist” being too easy of a target for being one of the Worst Songs I’ve Ever Heard, here’s what I mean: it is most certainly one of the worst songs I’ve ever heard. It’s lyrically embarrassing and musically banal but so is most modern country music these days. Like a lot of white guys, I find the reaction to this song kind of shocking. Unlike a lot of white guys, I mean I find it shocking that my fellow crackers were quick to give Paisley points for trying and thereby brush off accusations that “Accidental Racist” is (accidentally, of course!) racist. One writer suggested that this was the “first time ever” that a song had sparked a national dialogue about whether or not the Confederate flag is racist. Essentially, a lot of defense of “Accidental Racist” wants to give Paisley points for trying and shush up all the meanies who dare to suggest that being racist by accident is still being racist. 

This is the point that a lot of people – including Brad Paisley – seemed to miss. That whole “accidental” part doesn’t stop racism from being racism and to suggest that hey, I’m just an earnest white dude in a Lynyrd Skynyrd T-shirt trying to do my best in this complicated world is to suggest that I’m not accountable for my acts of racism. And points for trying? I’m sorry, but fuck “trying” – it’s not good enough. When it comes to eradicating racism, the stakes are incredibly high. The disparities nonwhites experience at the hands of our so-called justice system, from our police, in housing and employment are literally matters of life and death. In the face of all that, for a white person to expect points for trying is, I would imagine, pretty goddamn insulting.

Similar defenses have been deployed to defend Miley Cyrus’s current nonsense and Katy Perry’s dressing up as a geisha for some goddamn awful performance (the American Music Awards, maybe?) – these white folks weren’t trying to be racist so it’s definitely not racist, according to (surprise!) a bunch of white people. My fellow white folks, we have to do better than that. Ask yourself: doesn’t it seem a little too goddamn easy to dehumanize an entire segment of humanity (by accident or design) and then, when they speak up about it, call them over-sensitive? Doesn’t that seem a little fucked up to you?

So I know I’m rambling a bit but I feel like it’s not just that “Accidental Racist” is awful music (please do remember though that it’s really awful music) – it’s that the rush to defend it based solely on the perceived intentions of the singer is a symptom of how pervasive white supremacy is in our culture. It’s so pervasive that a lot of white folks I know tend to misunderstand the definition of racism, often seeing it as a Southern stereotype with a Confederate flag on his shirt shouting the n-word. Let me take a stab at clarification: our just-mentioned Southern racist is being prejudiced by shouting the n-word at someone. But let’s say (just hypothetically, of course) that he’s from Florida and he doesn’t ever say the n-word, but he, absent of all evidence, makes the assumption that (just for instance, mind you) an unarmed African-American teenager in a hoodie is engaged in criminal activity. Now let’s say our Floridian gets away with murdering that (again, unarmed) kid by claiming that he was in fear for his life – that’s racism (if our Floridian’s jury is made up of mostly white folks, the entire defense is predicated on racism as it asks the white jurors to find it completely understandable to fear for your life from unarmed black teens). That’s prejudice with the power to enforce it broadly to the disadvantage of an entire group of people. It’s what makes it seem acceptable to certain reporters to talk about Renisha McBride’s blood-alcohol level when writing about how a white man shot her when she was seeking help after getting in a car accident, as if to suggest that the fact that she was drunk means she deserved to die.

Understand something, please: we all have prejudices, every single human does. But not all of us have the ability to institutionalize our prejudices – in the U.S. of A., that dubious privilege falls to white people.  Some of us may not like it, but guess what? Not liking it isn’t enough either. We have to stop seeing a level playing field where there isn’t one and we have to own it when we fuck up, which we’re gonna do.

You came here to read about 2013’s musical highs and lows and you got this. I’m not sorry. This is what’s on my mind when I think about picking up this blog again in any kind of regular capacity – I still want to write about music, but it has to connect to all the other shit that’s out there because everything happens in context. And my context has always been that Bollocks! has to matter to me in order for it to continue. And it matters to me to look at the context in which music is made.

Here’s a thing bell hooks wrote that I like: “One change in direction that would be real cool would be the production of a discourse on race that interrogates whiteness… Many scholars, critics and writers preface their work by stating that they are white as though mere acknowledgement of this fact were sufficient, as though it conveyed all we need to know of standpoint, motivation, direction.” I think about that a lot as something to bear in mind when I’m writing even something as seemingly frivolous (and certainly meaningless) as a music blog. Is Brad Paisley interested in interrogating whiteness through the prism of country music? Time will tell. If he is, he’s never gonna get there without learning how to be held accountable for fucking up, which is a really hard thing to do (I’m not, by the way, trying to claim that I’m an Enlightened White Person who never trespasses on folks – I fuck up as much or more than the next person).

Next time, we’ll talk more about music. Unless I wanna talk about something else.

Sky Ferreira and the Dubious Math of the Sexiest Man Alive

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I am listening to Sky Ferreira’s Night Time, My Time album right now and trying to figure the math around Adam Levine being voted the Sexiest Man Alive. I didn’t even get to vote and nobody else I know voted either. I’m no statistician, but it seems to me to be pretty fucking unlikely that, of all the men alive on the planet, the sexiest one alive would be American, let alone white, let alone (again) famous, let alone (once more with feeling) Adam Levine. I mean, what are the odds? Ms. Ferreira opens her album by opining that boys are a dime a dozen, which is how I tend to feel about frat-pop hucksters like Adam Levine but I’m still baffled by his ascension to the sexiest man throne. One would almost begin to think the exercise of choosing the sexiest man alive is as pointless as, well, reading People magazine.

Almost.

Why am I thinking about Adam Levine anyway? Someone mentioned him over the holiday weekend and I got all irritated because I found myself wishing they’d mentioned Curtis Mayfield instead. Every time I get to the end of a Curtis Mayfield album, I just want to listen to another Mayfield album. Or the same one again. I say it all the time and I will continue to do so until everyone agrees: Curtis Mayfield was a goddamn genius and your kids should be taught about him in school. If People wrote more about people like Curtis Mayfield than it does about people like Adam Levine, the world would be a better place.

So but anyway, this Sky Ferreira album is pretty good. It’s a shame she’s stuck opening for Miley Cyrus’s Minstrel Show (I mean, um, tour). Questionable taste in tour mates aside, Ferreira has a clear knack for 80s pop and rock; Night Time, My Time makes the obvious nods to Madonna, but you also get a whiff of the Runaways and the Pixies throughout. The melodies are catchy and the songs don’t hang around any longer than they should. I have no idea how this album is doing on the charts (do we still have charts? If so, why?) but it is worth hearing.

For some reason, Night Time, My Time reminds me a bit of EMA’s album Past Life Martyred Saintsespecially on the title track with its lumbering beat and dour atmosphere. Both Erika Anderson and Sky Ferreira share a sense of adventure musically – they’re not afraid to be a little dissonant here and there and yet you can’t find one of their songs that lacks a hook. And both Ferreira & Anderson demonstrate a skillful synthesis of their record collections into music that is at once familiar without being hack work. I was gonna make a Miley Cyrus joke there, but she’s transcended your usual hack shit and gone on to brazen racist appropriation (and if you think it’s impossible to be racist just because you’re trying to be flattering or nice, you need to understand that impact matters more than intent, Brad Paisley). I’m probably gonna talk about that more later (I think it intertwines with the lie, especially popular among white fans of Led Zeppelin, that all music is theft of some kind and so it’s okay for white musicians to steal from musicians of color and get rich doing so) but for now (I have to get up in 5.5 hours!) I’ll leave you with the thought that Sky Ferreira’s Night Time, My Time is lovely and it only makes sense for her to open for Miley Cyrus in the sort of irrational universe where Adam Levine is considered the sexiest man alive.

Fuck Violence. Listen to the Mynabirds

Laura Burhenn is sick and fucking tired of war. And gay-bashing assholes. And a lot of other things of which I am also sick and fucking tired. Lots of folks are probably sick and fucking tired of war (unless they work for the companies that profit from it), but what Burhenn did with her exhaustion and outrage is instructive:

She made one of the best albums of 2012 with it.

I know it’s only September and I know I’ve already made much of a certain Future of the Left record, but the beauty of refusing to rank things by number is that I can say that The Plot Against Common Sense and the Mynabirds’ Generals are on fairly even footing for me (along with Ugly by the Screaming Females).

Here’s the thing: Burhenn and her Mynabirds could have settled for a capable rehash of the old-timey, gospel-tinged loveliness of their debut. It probably would have been a consistent, listenable, slightly forgettable affair, but no more or less than your average She & Him album. Instead, Laura Burhenn, in a voice that is approaching Neko Case levels of beauty, decided to take a long, hard look at her country in 2012 and ask it just what the fuck it thinks it’s doing.

“Karma Debt” sets the tone by pondering what sort of colossal positive effort could possibly offset the damage done by our two (two and a half? I’ve lost count) wars over the last decade. The refrain contains one of the album’s themes in the kind of direct language I love: “I’d give it all for a legacy of love.” See, Burhenn doesn’t wanna kill the dumb motherfuckers (men, mostly) who perpetuate violence around the world; she’s pleading, sometimes demanding, that they see the folly of all this macho-asshole stuff and just knock it off.

But the genius of Generals is that it isn’t just the finest anti-war album of the current century (you didn’t really think it was American Idiot, did you?); it is also a righteous, impassioned cry against all violence. “Mightier Than the Sword” is an achingly beautiful (on a par with Andrew Bird’s “Hole in the Sky”) letter to a gay man who is considering suicide. The first time I heard it, in my car, I thought it was about a soldier returning from war. But then I put my headphones on at home and listened to the words (“Love who you love/ no matter what”) and it hit me like a ton of bricks. Now I cry every time I hear “Mightier Than the Sword.” For fuck’s sake, folks: it’s bad enough that we have a government that, no matter who’s in the White House, seems hell-bent on killing brown people around the world. But we also have people in this country who will commit horrible acts of violence against a man or woman simply because they love someone of the same sex. We’ve got assholes shooting up movie theaters and racists shooting up temples and people who think the solution to both problems is more people with guns. When is it gonna be enough? As Burhenn sings (on “Disarm”), “We won’t surrender a thing by disarming.”

When the prophet Joe Strummer sang, “Let fury have the hour/ Anger can be power,” he was probably talking more about rioting for justice than about singing for peace. But I’m gonna make the educated guess that he would approve of what Laura Burhenn has done with her anger. Listen to this record, kids. And keep the violence in yer video games where it belongs.

Love who you love

No matter what

No matter how hard it may come

And I promise

You’ll be loved, my love

No matter what

You’re mightier than

Their sword-sharp tongues

 

The Future of the Left, Pitchfork, and Fair Fights

Well, first there was this, which I found a little disappointing and a lot unsurprising. But then there was this, which is everything Andy Falkous says it is in the pre-script (“lame, self-serving, and immature”) but is also spot-fucking-on and hilarious.

What we’re talking about today, if you have not been able to guess, is the best album of 2012 so far (and probably the whole year): The Plot Against Common Sense, by one of my favorite current bands, Future of the Left. There’s not much for me to say about the album itself; I was predisposed to love it and, true to form, I love it. I love it more every time I hear it. I love it on a level somewhat approaching my affection for London Calling and if you’ve read this blog at all over the last four years, you know I do not make that statement lightly (an odd aside: a classmate of mine at the School of Social Work once opined that it was “boring” to say that London Calling is your favorite album. At the time, I didn’t know what to say to that because London Calling is genuinely my favorite album. I kinda get where he was coming from – there are like five or six records that people always say are their favorite and that can get tedious. But if saying London Calling is my favorite album is boring, I’m boring. I never claimed to be otherwise).

So rather than repeating myself by counting the ways in which I love The Plot Against Common Sense or the Future of the Left in general, I thought I’d spend some time discussing Ian Cohen’s Pitchfork review, which I found kind of fascinating. I wholeheartedly disagree with Cohen about this album (and most albums) but, hard as this is to admit, I can muster a little empathy for the guy. Like Cohen, I vomit my opinion about music onto the internet, which can sometimes provoke a barrage of mean-spirited and often misspelled comments. It’s the price of doing business (a business for which Cohen is paid and I am not, a fact which somewhat mitigates my sympathy for that particular devil) and it’s fine, but it can get a little exhausting because it only rarely happens that several people provide you feedback because they also loved a record that you love. And by “only rarely,” I mean “never.”

But Cohen, apart from misunderstanding the meanings of several Future of the Left songs (point of needless pride: I had thought since first hearing it that “Polymers are Forever” was about oceanic pollution and, according to Mr. Falkous, I was generally correct in thinking so. Yay me), made a couple of statements in his review that I would have found funny if they weren’t so irritating. First, there is the assertion that Andy Falkous is engaging in “unfair fights” against various targets. Setting aside the fact that it is totally fair (and necessary) to take aim at Trustafarians (“Sorry Dad, I Was Late for the Riots”), I’m curious as to why Ian Cohen thinks Falkous should pick fair fights.

There is a brilliant instructor at Portland State University who, leading a workshop on anti-oppressive practice (that’s “AOP” to those of us in the all-powerful social work/industrial complex), pointed out that many young students, when they start to learn about ways to combat oppression and injustice, approach these issues with a hammer when they should be using tweezers. I wrote this down at the time because I recognize my own tendency to use a hammer when I should be more subtle, but I took the note like so: “When doing AOP, don’t use a hammer when you should use tweezers. When writing punk songs, by all means, use the fucking hammer!” Now, I’m not entirely sure Andy Falkous and his bandmates view themselves as a punk band, but it is my humble opinion that they embody that spirit better than pretty much every other band going right now (if you suggest to me, dear readers, that Blink-182 is a punk band, I will find you. And I will hurt you).

The point here is that Andy Falkous has no business picking fair fights, much less a duty. Hell, “Common People” isn’t fair and it was, according to the corporate-slick writers at Pitchfork, the second-best song of the 1990s (they were wrong about that, by the way: “Common People,” for my money, is far and away the best song of the 1990s). And, just like Future of the Left, I don’t want Pulp to be “fair.” I want them to use a hammer while I’m out there doing my job with the fucking tweezers! Jarvis Cocker, dog bless him, is still being wonderfully unfair and if he ever stops, I’ll probably stop listening to him. But it’s not like Future of the Left was all that fair prior to The Plot Against Common Sense. How fair is the suggestion that we “reimagine God as just a mental illness” (“The Hope That House Built,” from Travels with Myself and Another)? How fair is “Fuck the Countryside Alliance” from Curses? If you want “fair” songs, listen to John Mayer or Jack Johnson or any of those other hack white guys who can write you a thousand songs about how everything is going to be all right. But don’t bring your concept of fairness to my Future of the Left albums; I like them just the way they are.

The second thing Cohen did to piss me off was start a sentence with the following assertion: “It’s a shame Falkous is playing to the cheap seats on The Plot Against Common Sense.” Fuck you, Ian! Not everyone gets the VIP access at Coachella, you classist dickhole. Some of us can only afford the cheap seats (and, more often, many of us can’t even afford that so we listen to our favorite records at home or with friends, wondering what it would be like to have the same access to music that so-called indie luminaries like the good folks at Pitchfork enjoy) and your implication that music needs to be dumbed down for our (apparently) limited comprehension is equal parts smug and ignorant.

I read Cohen’s review before I heard The Plot Against Common Sense (there’s that ease-of-access thing again. I couldn’t quite snag an advanced copy from up here in my “cheap seat”) and my first thought was, “I will probably adore this album.” And here I am, adoring it.