The life of a political observer, part 2 — stasis

Three months back I talked about the distinct problem of facing 2008′s election cycle with a key problem I couldn’t escape — namely that my vote will almost likely mean nothing. To reiterate the key points there: California will almost certainly vote for the Democratic candidate by a strong margin, there’s no gubernatorial or senatorial races happening and my local representative is a lock to return, much as I would like otherwise. It’s not that I won’t vote — rather, as someone who is not a member of any political party, I will have no part in selecting any candidate, so that rules out the basic primaries. This will leave local candidates and state and local issues — all of strong importance, as should be the case with any voter. It’s not just about the presidency, vital as that is.

Three months of observing has left me feeling all the more bored and impatient — I don’t necessarily want time to speed up (I’m one for enjoying each and every day as one can — even when I’ve been sick, as was the case the last few days!), but while I’m fascinated by the forced acceleration of the political calendar, I’m pretty damn tired of the slog we’re all going to have to get through to reach its resolution. We’re still talking about a year away, just, and frankly if all the candidates and talk and everything just dried up and went away, the vast majority of us would heave a sigh of relief. (I’ve heave it even more if I actively watched TV and was stuck seeing political ads — now THERE’S something I’ll never miss.)

The core election is set by the Constitution, though, so until and/or unless someone changes that around, roll on next year. Even if there’s a completely bitter battle in the primaries for the victor — something I easily see happening, more so on the GOP side — it’ll still be resolved to all intents and purposes fairly early on next year. And after that we…have…to…wait…..

Of course, this presumes that there’s nothing which will go on right this second that will take up time and energy to concentrate on, and there’s plenty of that. The slugfest that’s been this year on a national level will probably just grow grimmer, and personally the clock I’ve been keeping my eye on more than anything else is the end of the troop rotations to Iraq overseen by Petraeus and the administration. Meantime plenty of wider issues are starting to slough their way forward — economically, I gotta say right now I’m kinda glad to have no debt, no major purchases to be paid off, some savings, a steady civil service job and no dependents. I’m not a doomsayer as such, nor a specific predictor of the future, but I look at things with the American and world economy now and conclude that my accidental path in life might actually have been one of the smarter decisions I’ve made.

We’ll see, I could be entirely wrong (for a wide variety of reasons I hope I am — in the same way that nobody with any sense wants death and mayhem to continue in Iraq, nobody with any sense wants troubles that could impact not just the fortunes but the lives of relatives, friends, those close to you), but I have a feeling this time next year things are going to be looking really ugly for a lot of folks — and you can bet that’ll play into the election results, even if, as I also suspect is the case, all the politicking in the world can’t change what might occur.

But again, there’s little to be done in all this — watching, waiting, commenting, observing. Stasis, as I said in the title to this post, and what stasis is need not always mean being frozen into place. There’s lots to consider, almost too much, and it’s no surprise that the temptation to withdraw and focus in on the small things is greater than ever, or alternately that one can feel like simply taking in information, as opposed to questioning it or challenging it, is all that one has to do, especially if one’s settled on particular sources of information without variation — and that can mean getting all your news from Rush and O’Reilly or getting it all from NPR and The Daily Show, as I told a friend today (and with the writer’s strike, that last option isn’t even an option!). Keeping oneself informed on a broad scale is wiser than ever, delving beyond the usual daily rigamarole and not only letting that information which tells you only what you want to hear. There must be MORE.

In the meantime, there is at least one election about to happen of interest to me — Australia’s. The imminent federal election there is likely to see the fall of John Howard’s government, by all accounts not a moment too soon. (To give you an idea of what they’re trying to do in a last ditch effort, consider this.) It’s hardly the case that as goes Australia, so goes America — different countries with much different pressures, despite a shared colonial heritage and growing ties over the past century — but given the geopolitics of the last few years, it’s still interesting to watch. Because, again, there’s not much else to be done at the present time.

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Music success stories, decades after the fact

Or at least one. Here’s the deal, and a further reason why I love the Net:

  • On ILX, Scott Seward starts a thread on a very obscure album from 1974. Released on John Fahey‘s Takoma label, Granfalloon by Laser Pace was a near total mystery album — for sale for huge prices here and there in its sole vinyl pressing, played every so often on stations that would keep an ear out for it (thus this WFMU playlist from earlier in the year). Scott described it thus:

    punk prog noise. intense space mellotron stuff. electronic fx all over the place. tons of synth/electronics in general. but also awesome guitar action. the only guitar listed is maureen’s and if she played all this stuff then she should be on some list of gods. she sings a little like Anisette from the Savage Rose. But her vocals are also heavily processed for maximum whatthefuckness. some of the electroprog moments remind me of Ubu in a big way. this was recorded in 1973. D.Distorto on bass. The drummer used to be in the garage band The Opus 1. he mentions the record in an interview on-line:

    “Doug Decker has had a very successful career doing recording engineering working with Johnny Cash, the Beach Boys, Band of Gypsies, Roger Miller, and John Fahey among many, many others. Today he is doing sound for the “Win Ben Stein’s Money” TV show. Doug and I have worked together on and off for the last 30 years. We did an album with his wife Maureen O’Connor in the early seventies for Takoma Records called “Granfalloon.” The group was called Laser Pace — very experimental, lots of electronics.”

    the bass playing is so Ubu too. There is an awesome instrumental on here called “Scatter” that sounds like King Crimson + Can + PIL. Until it turns into freeform jazz piano/sleighbell/electronic nod-out acid jam. then it becomes something else entirely.

    my fave lyrics:

    “Cherish and hold the time
    scrape off the cream
    it’ll be so clean
    as you glide into a void so strong
    vessels bursting from the shit
    you brought along.”

  • Various characters (including me) go “MUST HEAR” and after a bit, from Scott and other sources, mp3s are put up on the thread. There’s a bit of unclarity still about what exactly was ripped and shared but the point is, we can all hear it, and are quite happy with what we do hear.
  • ILX poster dow contacts Anthology Recordings, a fine little label that has put out some good quality reissues over time (they’re currently distributing the sole album by Satwa, which Time-Lag had earlier reissued to great attention and appreciation), suggesting that they might want to investigate.
  • Seemingly out of nowhere, Laser Pace’s drummer, John “Chris” Christensen, discovers the thread and pops on to say hello. It’s determined that since the album’s totally out of print that he doesn’t mind the mp3s being shared for the time being, and responds to many questions from Scott and others about the creation of the album and the existence of the band.
  • Having been prompted and with contact info in hand, Anthology contacts Chris, and (very initial!) discussion is underway for a possible reissue down the road.

See, stuff like this just makes me happy — there’s no other word for it. Everything can find its place, and music from out of nowhere (or film, or art, or whatever you like) can be appreciated in ways its creators maybe never intended or expected. The fact that there’s a niche label like Anthology out there to reissue such a thing is even better, because in the talk about the music industry’s collapse (which I think is more and more certain by the day), there’s plenty of room for the small stuff to thrive.

“The Torments of His Dreams” — chapter 21

Continued from here:

Thompson prided himself on his editorial skills. He prided himself on his ability to handle reporters, most of whom thought too highly of themselves. And he prided himself on making the most of opportunities as they arose.

With McMahon, though, things were starting to get strange, and he had to make that clearer to him. Not that they were getting impossible or he was suddenly getting out of hand on things, but he had to be brought back more into line.

“See, McMahon, you’ve done a wonderful job with your stories. Every new one you tell gets all the right people outraged and makes all the other right people thrilled. They’re already imagining how it’ll attract more people there in the future, maybe even now. Their cuts are bigger than ever, skimming off from the saloons and whorehouses and gambling and all that.”

He spoke in his casual voice, as he understood it – low-key, persuasive, he hated having to shout. And why should he shout with McMahon? Best reporter they had. None of this whining about ‘proper’ journalism, just good red meat, the redder the better. He did exactly what he had hoped he’d do when he first appeared in the City, cover the scandals without making it clear that there were ways to fix them. Let the saps who bought the paper try and figure it out. If they didn’t, no worries, they’d still keep buying papers and pretending to be outraged. He loved it.

He looked up from where he’d been reading over yesterday’s issue, reminding himself of certain points, and considered McMahon. Quiet today. Strange but no stranger than other things he’d done. Looking tired. Spending more time at his favorite place, maybe. Whatever worked for him – Thompson was happily married and found his wife more than enough, so long as McMahon kept up his work, he could spend every evening screwing every woman in the City as far as he cared.

McMahon wasn’t smoking his preferred cigars either, that was even stranger. Suddenly caring about health? He wasn’t minding Thompson’s own cigar, for whatever reason. McMahon still looked neat and presentable – he liked that in his reporters, the less sloppy they were the more likely they were going to be able to present themselves well to people who could be caught off guard. In many ways he was just as he should be, but Thompson could tell that McMahon still didn’t seem like he was at his best – as if the story yesterday couldn’t say that already.

Thompson snorted, folded the paper to a particular story and slapped it down on his table. “You dreaming there, McMahon?”

“Mm.” McMahon shook his head a bit and blinked, looking as if he had indeed dozed off briefly. “Sorry boss. Had more on my mind lately than I figured, I think.”

“Well that’s no matter so long as you don’t let it take over your work, but here’s a question about this part.” He held up the article to read it. “Now I’m used to letting you do your thing, I can rely on you. I let this go through yesterday without a comment because honestly I barely noticed it. Now I’ve got a couple of messages here, even a phone call, which tells me you went a step too far. I know it now, at least, and you’re going to know it.”

McMahon, Thompson noticed, didn’t take his eyes from him and followed along with occasional nods and interjections. He approved – too many writers looked elsewhere or tried to pretend the conversation wasn’t happening. Conversation, hell – monologue, he knew that much about himself, at least. Thompson found the part he was looking for and read it through out loud, McMahon focused on him as he did so.

At the end, Thompson coughed a bit through his cigar smoke and leaned forward towards McMahon. “That’s almost libelous, mentioning someone like that.”

“Almost, boss, not quite libel itself.”

“Not something that anyone who follows the City is going to miss though.”

“Boss, you say yourself that everyone knows already, and that others aren’t going to catch it when that’s referred to. What makes me mentioning who’s really behind a good chunk of the Coast so different from that?”

“Gotta open your eyes, McMahon. All of a sudden the do-gooders are getting more powerful around here, and elsewhere. Seems like they’re going to try and ‘clean up the City’ or whatever else they’re using as a slogan. All hogwash, of course, but maybe you not working as much at City Hall might have made you miss that a bit.”

“Mmmf.” Thompson was a bit surprised at McMahon’s non-committed reaction, usually that would have been the type of thing to make up get up out of the seat with anger. The editor frowned a bit and continued:

“Anyway, keep up with the stories, just give me more lead time so I can double check them, and talk more with our boys here so you know what’s going on. Look, I don’t think those ‘progressives’ or whatever they call themselves are really going to change anything here, but if they do we don’t want to be on the hook for it, and you know that there are people out there who would love to see us out on the street.”

He paused and then frowned even more heavily at McMahon, who now seemed to be looking right past him at some spot on the wall. This was getting ridiculous.

“McMahon, you paying attention?”

“Yeah, boss, you said I should keep up on more things, give you the lead time more, explained why.”

“Huh, okay.” Thompson scratched his chin and stubbed out his cigar. “Gotta say, McMahon, you seem a bit more…no, scratch that, a bit LESS yourself. Something’s gotten into you, and I’m no priest for you to confess to, but if you have something on your mind, better get it out. I’m not one to read minds or any of that nonsense.”

“I’m sorry boss.” McMahon suddenly seemed more focused, which Thompson did appreciate. “Just turning things over in my head a bit – did you know I saw Ephraim the other day?”

“That old character? God love him, bit of a freak but he knew how to cover this city and the people in it. He’ll die with all the secrets even I don’t know about. What, he wasn’t sharing some with you, was he?”

“No, I wouldn’t expect to him ever do that – at least not the real secrets. He’s got too many of his own he’ll never want to tell any way.”

“Good quality for a journalist, to know that about yourself – makes digging up the secrets of others more of a challenge. So you saw Ephraim and he was his usual self, and you drained some more of his brandy collection dry, if I know him and you. Anything else?”

“We had a talk about a few things, gave me some advice – handy things to remember.”
“He’s good for that too. Be glad you have him as a bit of a mentor.”

“Always am.” McMahon seemed more relaxed to Thompson now, putting both on familiar ground. Maybe this would get them both somewhere so McMahon could concentrate on what he needed to remember about his work. “Boss, what do you think of this place?”

“This office? God knows it could do with some cleaning.”

“Sorry, I wasn’t clear – the City. What do you think of it?”

“What do I THINK of it? C’mon, McMahon, what kind of question is that? I live here, I work here, it’s the City.” Thompson felt almost angry at being asked this. Was McMahon turning into some kind of philosopher? The City was the City, it had its frustrations but that was to be expected. Good to leave it some times, always better to come back.

McMahon lifted a hand. “Boss, I’m sorry…let me try another approach.”

Thompson almost admired it, it was nearly another journalistic style from the one he was used to from McMahon. Perhaps he’d been finding new ways to talk to people with all his work down there on the Coast.

“So here’s an idea.” McMahon sat up fully his chair. “Is there anything that’s ever happened to you while you’ve been here in the City that made you look at it differently, see it in a new light?”

“Hmm.” Thompson drew his lips into a tight but not angry line. “Good question, actually….Well, let me put this way – you know I’m not originally from the City, right?”

“You said your parents came here in mid-century.”

“That they did, following some dreams – didn’t work out as they planned it but they did well enough, God rest their souls. Had to live by my wits for a while after they died, but I was young, had the energy, started working for other papers. But all that time, when I was chasing around the whole City, I always felt that despite all the murder and depravity going around – and it WAS going around, worse even than now, no matter what the bluenoses say – I felt that the City had something to it that I hadn’t felt anywhere else where I’d been before, not that I had much experience with that.”

Thompson smiled a bit. He hadn’t expected to go down this road, but didn’t mind now that he was on it. “A freshness, no that isn’t the word. Hell, my kids say they get that too from the City, and they’re young. No, it’s something beyond even whatever words I can come up with right now.” He shook his head. “You’ve got me dreaming here, McMahon! No time for that right about now, I think. Look, it did feel different, but I’m damned if I can figure out exactly why, or even if it was better or worse. Like I said, there was plenty of mayhem happening, the Coast was already a terror for most people. Enough was going on to make sure that people walked carefully at night, and I still remember the vigilante committees and the people they hung. Hell, I covered some of it.”

“Okay, so it was all a disaster back then.” McMahon’s voice was flat.

“No, no, McMahon, you’re missing all this. It wasn’t a disaster at all, it was rough, it was troubled, but it wasn’t the end of the world.”

McMahon scratched his ear. “Well, how about now?”

“Now?” Thompson was brought up short, unsure of McMahon’s point.

“Well, you’re saying it’s better now but maybe it’s closer to the end of the world?”

“McMahon, is that what’s been eating at you all this time? You’re going to start wearing a placard at this rate – make sure you follow in the vein of Emperor Norton, you’ll get some free food out of it.”

McMahon laughed, which pleased Thompson – at least that meant he wasn’t completely out of it. “No, nothing so bad. Boss, I admit that for me it’s so hard for me to put my finger on it that I’ve just been trying to gather reactions as I can.” He coughed, then paused. “Also I wonder if my work is starting to get to me more than I knew.”

Thompson’s eyebrows raised. “Oh? How so?”

“Did you ever cover the Coast yourself when you were younger?”

“Not if I could help it.” Thompson had some dark images cross his mind that he swiftly put down – he did not want to return there. “No. Did you want out? Most people I know don’t seem to last too long.”

“Not yet.” McMahon rose. “I almost think that there’s a bigger story out there that I’ve missed until now, and I think I need to be in the Coast for it if it breaks.”

Thompson nodded. “That sounds fine for now. Before you go,” he added as McMahon reached for the door. “You seem to have calmed down on some other fronts lately. Less boasting and all that.”

McMahon smile seemed wintry. “Maybe I just grew up a bit. I don’t know.” He left, leaving Thompson with his thoughts.

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