Archive for December, 2012

It’s been a few days since the horrific shootings in Connecticut and, since no one asked me, I thought I’d offer my own take on the tragedy.

Reactions from both the Left and Right have been predictable. The Left wants to ban guns, perhaps even repealing the Second Amendment. The Right wants to arm everyone, and bring the Bible back into the public schools.

Why is it, in this country, that we always look for a quick fix? We have become a nation of pill-poppers, that is, we think we can solve everything instantly. Don’t feel well? Take a pill. Losing your hair? Take a pill. Can’t get it up? Take a pill. So, why not apply that mentality to solving the issue of mass civilian killings? Why not? Because, it won’t work. The problem lies much deeper.

First, let me take issue with the Right, in particular over the moral decline and Bible issue. I was in elementary school in the early ’70s, and to the best of my knowledge, we never had Bible instruction, nor was God a part of the curriculum. We went to religious school for spiritual guidance (well, at least in theory…I spent my time in Hebrew School rebelling against it, but that’s a story for another time.) Funny thing, though, we never had to worry about some psycho waltzing into the school and shooting people randomly. Such a thought never entered our heads.

So, how did we come to this?

I think we have descended into the abyss because our society has become increasingly suburbanized and isolated. I grew up in the suburbs, but we knew our neighbors, had keys to their houses. We walked to school every day. I even remember walking home from school for lunch on occasion. No one feared that an evil predator might snatch us…because no one ever did.

After school, we played outside, unsupervised by our parents until dinner. We played in the street, on someone’s lawn, or rode our bikes down to the school fields. We played sports without adult supervision, and I can’t remember a single fight breaking out when we couldn’t agree on a call. If we reached an impasse, we just did a “do over.” We worked shit out on our own, without crazy parents fighting in the stands, or coaches screaming at us.

We have lost that connection with each other. Kids now spend their time either heavily managed with organized activities, or playing video games on their televisions or phones. I’ve seen it so many times…a bunch of teenagers sitting next to each other with their eyes glued to their phones as they furiously text each other. I want to say to them, “Hey, why don’t you fucking talk to each other?”

A few years back, I attended a history conference in Oxford, England. After the daily seminar, a bunch of us would go into town to check out the pubs. I remember feeling really good there, and it wasn’t because of the alcohol (although that helped.) We talked. We talked for hours. And I listened…listened to stories from people who have really lived. I loved it. No one stared at the giant flat screen TV, since there was none. No one texted the entire time. We talked. We interacted.

Gun violence reflects the nature of our suburbanized, impersonal society. Killing someone with a gun is an impersonal act. You can take someone out from great distances, as a sniper can…whereas to do it with another weapon, knife, bat, bare hands, requires close contact.

Think about when you drive a car, and somebody cuts you off. We yell (and I admit I’ve done this, since I’m not applying for sainthood), “Fuck you, asshole!” and the other driver flips us off. We have no idea who the other driver is…it could be a drug addict, it could be a family man with three nice children…but we’re isolated in our own vehicles. Such a confrontation will likely not occur on a train. Why? Are you really going to say, “Fuck you, asshole!” to the person standing right next to you? Probably not, because the two of you will figure out how to accommodate each other as you board the train.

So, what is the answer? No quick fix, folks. Instead, we need to get to know each other. Talk to your neighbors. Find out about what they like. Talk to them about dogs, cars, sports (but not the Eagles, please, I can’t handle that anymore), whatever. You needn’t be in everyone’s business, but take an interest in your neighbor. Once we get to know each other as human beings, the fear of the unknown will evaporate. Then, as we look out for each other, we might be able to detect warning signs when something in the neighborhood appears amiss.

Let me give you a quick example from an experience I had in my old neighborhood. I was good friends with my neighbors, and we always watched out for each other.

I used to take my dogs to the nearby park, and so it was on one rainy day. I let the two of them off the leash to explore, and the Cokes (my black lab) decided to mix it up with another unleashed dog. So, I ran over to pull her off of the other animal (she usually won her fights.) When I turned around, my other pup, the Bear (my yellow lab/goldie mix), had disappeared. I leashed up the Cokes and looked all over the park for him to no avail.

So, I decided to head home, figuring I’d let the Cokes in and drive around to find the boy. As I exited the park, I saw my neighbors Joe and Barb pull up in their car.

“Hey,” Joe said. “Are you ok?”

“Yeah,” I responded, “but the Bear ran off. I have to go home so I can drive around and find him.”

“Don’t worry about him,” Joe said. “He’s safely at home.”

Joe and Barb explained to me that they were looking out their front porch and saw the Bear walking down the street by himself. He tried to get into my fenced back yard to no avail, so they went over and let him in my house (I gave them a key), and then went looking for me, figuring something might be wrong.

That’s what we need. We need to look out for each other. Let’s start with that, and go from there.



Well, we had a blast, but all good things must come to an end. (I hate that expression…like, what does that mean? That all bad things go on forever? It’s right up there with “everything happens for a reason” in my book.)

We began with two presentations: Mikaela told us about the Manchester, UK scene of the ’80s and ’90s (also called “Madchester.”) Then, Jordan followed with Florida boy bands of the ’90s. Since a lot of the class grew up with that stuff (Backstreet Boys, etc.), they really dug the trip down memory lane.

We then talked about the last chapter of my book called, “After the Gold Rush,” which is nowhere near as good as the Neil Young album of the same name. In any event, the writing deals with Seattle and the world, post-Nirvana and post-grunge. The students seemed most interested in Kurt Cobain’s reaction to the massive commercial success of Nevermind. In my book, I quote the late Ben McMillan (Skin Yard), who recalled congratulating Kurt when Nirvana’s second record went gold. Kurt’s reaction, per Ben: “I don’t wanna fuckin’ talk about it.” The students seemed to believe Cobain was genuine in his feelings (I believe he was as well), but they couldn’t quite grasp the downside of selling millions of albums.

I also had the students listen to the following ’90s alt rock songs:

Guided By Voices: “I Am a Tree;” Bikini Kill, “Rebel Girl;” Built to Spill, “Reasons;” and Pavement, “Conduit for Sale!”

The class reacted favorably to these songs (save for the Pavement selection, which of course is my fave of the four). They pointed out the ability to hear lyrics in these selections, versus some of the Seattle stuff they heard earlier. In addition to the above, I gave the students the option of listening to the following songs from independent bands I’ve been digging recently:

The High Dials: “Morning’s White Vibration;” Kinski (Seattle band!): “The Wives of Artie Shaw;” The Shins (Sub Pop band!): “Pink Bullets;” Silversun Pickups: “Well Thought Out Twinkles;” and Vampire Weekend: “Campus.”

They seemed to like the above more accessible stuff (save for Kinski), and in particular appreciated the Shins and Vampire Weekend.

We closed the semester discussing the merits and deficiencies of the course. The students seemed to enjoy themselves, and I complimented them for contributing to our various discussions. Then, after they threw various objects at me, some of them gave me a little insight into what they liked and what they didn’t. In regards to bands, it appears the Young Fresh Fellows appealed most to them…one also mentioned Minneapolis’ Replacements. The U-Men (my fave from Seattle), not so much. One young lady said the U-Men’s “Dig It a Hole” has scarred her for life…which I think is the point.

So, after much mourning and gnashing of teeth, we said good-bye.

It’s funny…I’ve found that when a class really clicks, it never feels like work. Maybe for the students, but not for me. I put in a ton of time into this course, not to mention the efforts of our six guest speakers…but it was a total labor of love. I was also blessed with some honors students who willingly gave of themselves and honestly expressed their opinions on the music and that goofy, eccentric music scene that was Seattle.

Below…Kinski plays the Sub Pop 20 anniversary fest, July 2008.


Tomorrow will be our last class, and we will focus on the post-Nevermind world of popular music. Once Nirvana blew everything up in 1991 and 1992, the major labels discovered alternative rock could actually sell. So, they made the music into a commodity: play loud, turn up the distortion on your guitars, and have your good looking lead singer (preferably blonde) scream on key. Voila! You now have your next big ’90s alt rock band.

With that, I am having my students listen to ’90s bands that actually remained underground, or at least upheld the spirit of what alt rock represented pre-Nirvana: “I Am a Tree,” Guided By Voices; “Rebel Girl,” Bikini Kill; “Reasons,” Built to Spill; “Conduit for Sale!” Pavement.

Our planned schedule…

1:40 to 2:05…Presentations: Mikaela talks about the ’80s/’90s Manchester, UK scene; Jordan presents on Florida boy bands of the ’90s.

2:05 to 2:20…Samantha S and Sarvie lead the discussion on chapter 8 from my book (“After the Gold Rush”) and the musical selections.

2:20 to 2:40…Class summation. I will lead the discussion on what my goals were for this course and how I think we faired. Then I will ask the students to tell me what they did and didn’t get out of the course…what they liked, what they would have done differently, what bands really did it for them, which bands they hated, etc. This section will be their opportunity to open up on whatever course-related topic they’d like to chat about.

2:40 to 2:55…Students will evaluate me.

Below…Guided By Voices.