All the Rage #9: The Pre-election celebration of dread

Too stressed to write any more. Here’s your playlist for the week.

Sons of Freedom, USA Long Distance

Sonic Youth, Youth Against Fascism
Lazertits, Boss Bitch
Mark Mills, Colonial
Primitive Calculators, On Drugs
Like a Motorcycle, Southern States
Casper Skulls, Love Brain
Z!K, Write Away
Pale Lips, Rock N Roll Dipshit
Straight Arrows, Turn Me Off
Lié, Truth
New Fries, May Poppins’ Pockets
Parading, Butterfly
Orange Glass, Starving for Days
Randy Newman, A Few Words in Defence of Our Country

All the Rage #9: The Pre-election celebration of dread

Sonic Youth – Youth Against Fascism

Election song of the week #2: Sonic Youth, Youth Against Fascism

In which I try to process my dread over the upcoming election into something useful. Two of five.

This song was released in 1992, some 24 years ago. How fucked is it that a song attacking Nazis and fascism is more relevant in 2016 than it was when it was recorded? Back then, the target was the Bush I Administration, and while Bush (and Reagan, and Nixon, and the Republicans in general) have been engaging in coded race-bating and appeals to white supremacy for decades, it’s only now, in the Era of Trump, that it’s 100% unarguably clear that Republican politics have descended into uncoded, straight-up white nationalism/white supremacy. White supremacy’s gone mainstream, and Youth Against Fascism is no longer a call to deal with the racist remnant of America, but a battle call to deal head-on with the existential threat of American fascism in full bloom.

Anyway, it’s also notable because Ian MacKaye plays guitar on it – it was the first time he’d appeared on a major-label project. Dude sure can pick his moments, can’t he? It’s a fierce barely contained guitar assault that does sound like Sonic Youth jamming with Fugazi, as it should. A battle song for wartime.

Damn, I hope Hillary wins on Tuesday.

Sonic Youth – Youth Against Fascism

USA Long Distance

Election song of the week #1: Sons of Freedom, USA Long Distance 

In which I try to channel my dread over the upcoming election into something positive. First of five.

The world has a love-hate relationship with the United States, don’t we? Everyone blames the US for doing lots of shitty things – to be fair, more often than not, they deserve the blame (choose your wars of choice over the past century) – but the reality is that they’ve also been a formidable force for good in the world in the 70 or so years since the dawn of what will one day be known as the American Empire. You like human rights? Well, the US was the driving force behind the creation of the UN. The ocean’s shipping lanes don’t patrol themselves. And culture? Well, I’m steeped in rock and roll, the preeminent US art form. 

What I love about this great Sons of Freedom song is the way they capture the complexity of the United States’ messianic relationship with the world, for better and worse, based in both violence and hope:

The first time I saw her, she was a black marine 

Fighting for justice, a part of the team 

Handing out bibles and sharing a dream 

The first time I saw her, she was a black marine 

It’s all there, the best and worst of the United States – respect for other countries, promoting a (mostly positive) ideology, and the potential for racial harmony, with the US represented by the military. You don’t get to spread your view of the good life unless it’s backed by force. 

More problematic in 2016 is what the band conjures as the other side of the US image: The next time I saw her, she was a drag show queen Which I always took to be a signal of US decadence and moral decay, since it’s followed soon after by the line, “You should’ve seen her; there’s nothing obscener.” 

It didn’t register at the time, but of course there’s some problematic gender politics going on there, right? One of the marks of good art, though, is that it can stand multiple interpretations. And it certainly is true that much of what the world considers to be progressive in terms of individual rights, including related to sexuality, comes from Americans and America, even if it takes the actual government too much time to actually catch up, and even if some people in 2016 still haven’t gotten the memo. So, since I like Sons of Freedom and I’m feeling charitable, in my 2016 interpretation of the song, if the soldier represents strength, the drag queen is a positive representation of freedom. In my reinterpretation, “You should’ve seen her; there’s nothing obscener” becomes not a definitive comment about US decadence, but a comment on how sometimes others (including other Americans) see moral progress as a form of immorality and moral violation. Until they don’t (see: same-sex marriage). 

I’ve been thinking about the role of the United States a lot these days. If Donald Trump wins on Tuesday, there’s a good chance that the American century truly will be over, taking all the positive aspects of the United States – belief in individual human rights, acceptance of other cultures, promotion of democracy – with it. I think Hillary Clinton will win, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t terrified of what will happen if she loses. And even if she wins, US politics are so dysfunctional that a Clinton presidency will only buy the US a bit of time to try to put the United States back on the tracks.   

Musically, this song, from 1991’s Gump, is a beast. The of late, great, Sons of Freedom’s rhythm section – bassist Don Binns and drummer Don Short – are unparalleled in terms of heaviness and ferocity, and USA Long Distance is no exception. It’s a small tragedy that they didn’t last longer than they did.

USA Long Distance