Sunday, October 08, 2006

Old, Old School

Admittedly, I am a dinosaur, and few incidents illustrate this more than the following.

On the morning of Nov. 3, 2004, I arose after a night of fitful and miserable sleep. There was nothing that could help, nothing that could relief the burning malaise — no, make that fury — in my soul.

I went to work as always, newspaper in one hand, iPod in the other. I wore a dress shirt, slacks, my usual gnarly shoes and twelve-year-old set of undergarments. But there was once difference. Instead of the Beatles, the Stones, or the Starland Vocal Band, the only tunage I could stomach that morning eminated from those San Francisco punks, The Dead Kennedys.

Specifically, one song in particular, the greatest song ever written about Republicans, "We've Got a Bigger Problem Now." Dated in its mid-80s references, the song had special import that morning:

Last call for alcohol
Last call for your freedom of speech
Drink up — Happy Hour is now enforced by law...

The song moves from a lounge singer parody into a punk frenzy:

Die on our brand new poison gas!
El Salvador or Afghanistan
Making money for President Reagan
Making money for President Reagan
And all the friends of President Reagan!

California Uber Alles
California Uber Alles
Uber Alles California
Uber Alles California

Perhaps you need to actually hear it to understand. Still, on the morning after President Bush was re-elected to office, the DKs was the only thing that could soothe my tired, angered self.

The DKs first two releases, the EP (remember those?) "In God We Trust Inc." and "Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables," comprised a manic cri de coeur, slamming greedy Republicans, hateful Moral Majority members, evil plutocrats, Nazi punks, stupid get the idea.

The DKs railed against the closed-mindedness, political apathy, and general ignorance of the nation. You might be able to fool all of the people some of the time, but that's enough to allow democracy to crumble; and, after our great nation elected to its highest office a draft dodger and war criminal over a war hero, they were the perfect vehicle for my unlimted anger.

Me so angry

This extended reflection on a now-defunct punk band is not intended to be a rallying cry to fight the evils the DKs dispised (though, given the state of our the United States, it should be). It's more to show that the only music that gave me solice on that awful morning was over 20 years old.

Is it that there hasn't been music as corrosive since the DKs, or have I become a dinosaur, listening to ancient and defunct rock bands, watching black-and-white movies, and, most disturbingly, reading novels by dead white people?

Wife has commented to me that I have an "old soul," usually because the only concerts I attend anymore involve a conductor, a spate of violins, and an average audience age of 74.2 years. But as a writer, I've always neglected following the latest and greatest, trying to keep up with whatever Important Astonishing New Talent is shooting across the atmosphere.

Zadie Smith, Jonathan Safran Foer, Nell Freudenberger, et. al. have one thing in common: I haven't read any of their work. Wife bought me Gary Shteyngart's "The Russian Debutante's Handbook," and I still haven't cracked it open (though she read it and reported on its OK-ness).

I'm drawn to Hardy, Dickens, Brontë(s) and the like. Even among the living, I'll read relatively old fucks like Philip Roth or Margaret Atwood. Mick Jagger said not to trust anyone over 30 (an age he passed, like, 120 years ago) but I don't trust any writers under 30.

Is it that the classics or the old-reliables are just that much better than contemporary fiction by writers young enough to get kicked out of bars?

Or is it that my blood starts boiling like vats of hot oil when I see all the fame, fortune, and recognition these talented (I admit) young writers are getting while I stew and fume, discharging my anger on blogs lest my brain explodes like one of the dudes in "Raiders of the Lost Ark"?

It's obviously a combination of these two things. When I pick up "Return of the Native," I'm pretty much assured a great read — after all, it's a classic, baaaaaby! — but I don't have to worry about the specter of Thomas Hardy appearing in Poets & Writers or in the NYT Book Review.

Little Mister Sunshine

What I've come to realize is that being a writer is more about learning from other writers, not being jealous of them, even if they still have zits or are making $1021 on their next book or movie rights. Realization is easier than action, however, and it almost takes a force of willpower to read someone under 30 years old.

If you're reading this, Jello Biafra, be glad you have 40-somethings who love the DKs. Otherwise, you'll be as forgotten as yesterday's Bookfraud.