Author: Marc

Agitprop for Bedtime

Let’s just assume that if you’re curious about a book called Agitprop for Bedtime, you have a half-decent sense of humor and will be okay with a very short textual reimagining of the Kama Sutra titled “Laurel and Hardy Have Sex.” On the other hand, if you’ve ever wondered why you don’t get an erection the moment you hear the opening notes of the national anthem, then many of the pieces in Charles Holdefer’s latest collection of miniature polemics, story problems, and humdingers might cut a little too close to the bone for your comfort. For everyone else, it’s a jolly, twisted, phantasmagorical romp through the American psyche.

As with Holdefer’s Dick Cheney in Shorts, this latest collection has a decidedly political edge, with a wide range of targets that include gun rights, healthcare, for-profit prisons and blind patriotism. In many ways, he’s depicting the cartoonish landscape that programmers at Fox News would have their viewers believe lies just beyond the safety of their gated communities. It’s an America where Nancy Pelosi and Diane Feinstein trudge dutifully from house to house like errant trick-or-treaters taking fire-arms from gun-toting citizens while lonely white men on diving boards leap to meaningless deaths in empty swimming pools. It’s a weirdly bleak vision of a nation divided, but a hilarious one as well.

The proceedings, laugh-out-loud funny as they may be to a particular type of reader, offer more than just slapstick comedy. They’re also surprisingly nonpartisan—or at least as nonpartisan as a book of this nature can be. The funhouse-mirror version of America that Holdefer depicts is one that implicates us all. Nowhere is this more apparent than in a short piece titled “Here Lies a Myriad,” which finds a young couple perusing the menu of a fine-dining establishment whose delicacies, served by heroes, include air strikes, naval destroyers, and infantry while what goes on in the kitchen remains (mercifully?) out of view. Our ignorance, it turns out, is as purposeful as it is central to our continued comfort.

Stylistically, Holdefer is not afraid to take risks and play with form. Plot and character in his short works are often implied and arguably Rorschachian reflections of the reader’s psyche. Personally, I can’t help reading “Kickstart Me Harder, Harder” as a knowing critique of my own (shameful, shameful) past dalliances with crowdfunding and the icky feeling that the practice engenders, while “Love Kit” reads like a work of art-by-instruction gone horribly wrong. Fun, in other words, for the entire family.  

At the end of the day – which, as the title suggests, is arguably the best time to read this collection – Agitprop for Bedtime is a real humdinger that dares to ask the eternal question: Is hell other people, or is it just the coffee shop where they all hang out?

Music Review: Nothing In Your Eyes

The latest offering (after a seven-year hiatus) from the reclusive electronic music producer known as N Pa is a haunting track titled “Nothing In Your Eyes.” Instrumentally, the song has a frosty feel. The opening guitar riff and synth pads, provided by Glaswegian guitarist Gloom Is Okay and N Pa respectively, envelops the listener in a sonic snow globe while the pleading vocal from singer Marcie Joy provides a flickering spark of warmth and hope: “Give me one warm thought, Just one warm thought. I’ll make it last through colder nights, I’ll make it last through lonely times.” The pathos in these lines is palpable, and the remainder of the song swirls cinematically with drums crunching underfoot and an icy synth line from Android Invasion lingering in the air like frosty breath. All told, a two-minute odyssey into the darkness of a love gone cold.

The Scene That Would Not Die

If you fancy yourself a historian of all things punk, then you’re going to need Ian Glasper’s The Scene That Would Not Die on your bookshelf. Published by Earth Island Books, it’s the fourth and final volume in Glasper’s loving, meticulous, and exhaustive chronicle of the UK punk scene(s) beginning with 1980. Following The Day The Country Died: A History Of Anarcho Punk 1980-1984, Trapped In A Scene: UK Hardcore 1985-1989, and Armed With Anger: How UK Punk Survived The Nineties, Glasper’s latest tome covers that last twenty years of punk and ends in the present day. It’s a history that bears witness to the dawn of social media and the early days of music streaming and finds contemporary musicians continuing to play the music they love while anxiously pondering its future in the shadow of Brexit and COVID-19.

First and foremost, The Scene That Would Not Die is a reference book. Explaining his decision to list the bands he profiles in alphabetical order, Glasper notes of his previous books that readers tend to “cherry-pick their chapters” and that “very few read the book from front to back.” Yet even though the book reads like an encyclopedia of bands whom — despite decades of dedication and, in many cases, by design — you’ve never heard of, the entries call out to each other like voices in the night as musicians cite their influences, jump from one band to another, or straddle multiple bands at once. What emerges is the story of a community bound as much by a love of hard-driving guitars and heavy, pounding drums as by a suspicion of mainstream culture and the trappings of a consumerist vision of success.

Not surprising, perhaps, is the fact that many of the bands featured in this volume are as dedicated to political issues as they are to their music; indeed, for most of them, the two go hand-in-glove. Veganism, anti-fascism, anarcho-syndicalism, and socialism are a few of the stances that the musicians profiled herein embrace. Nonetheless, as Justin Wood of two-piece anarcho punk band 51st State insists, the real joy of his brand of punk is that it’s “a little bit like a reset button that shakes you up from the consumerist negativity of our current culture and world.” What’s more, he adds, the punk scene on the whole “is a really broad church, and there is such a wide range of music within it… There is such a variety of bands, holding different views and politics, but all exist within punk, and this does mirror the broad scope of humanity in society; I think that even though this can be a frustration, it is probably human and it should be a nurturing and positive scene.”

The book also goes a long way toward replacing the shopworn Sid-Vicious-inspired stereotype of the punk-as-mindless-ne’er-do-well with an incredibly erudite and socially-conscious model. Take, for instance, the ruminations of Chris Dodd of Bad Breeding, who comes off as a cross between a scholar of Marxism and a character from a Don DeLillo novel when he discusses the future of not just punk but humanity as a whole: “For me, I’ve always seen a return to class analysis as the crucial tenet in pushing for radical deconstructions of the systems and frameworks that purport to govern our lives. This will become ever more apparent as the climate continues to rapidly evaporate and it becomes starkly obvious that our current economic mode runs counter to the existence of life on earth. There’ll be no time for navel gazing or liberal point-scoring when the earth is either ablaze or underwater.”

As the above and many, many other passages of The Scene That Would Not Die suggest, one of Glasper’s strengths as a historian is to let his subjects do the talking. When he does interject, it’s only to provide context so that the bands he’s chronicling can tell their owns stories, or to offer discographies and select-listening lists (including some very helpful URLs at the end of each entry). And while the ease of finding this music certainly signals the end of an era when to be aware of a band like Atterkop meant being neck-deep in a scene of like-minded individuals, the good news is that punk will never die. As unlikely as it may seem that punk can, in Glasper’s words, remain “relevant and meaningful to a risk-averse society in the face of such instant gratification,” the fact that the genre is always moving forward, “never past tense,” means that “as long as someone wants to stand up and ask ‘Why?’ or say ‘No!’ in a loud, angry voice, there will always be a place for this feisty subculture.”

Review by Marc Schuster

Music Review: 9 Minutes

The leaves are falling en-masse, there’s a tiny pear-shaped gourd on my kitchen countertop, and I’m listening to an extremely relaxing ambient music album by Akito Misaki titled 9 Minutes. The album’s ten nine-minute tracks offer a combination of soft electronic drones, the natural sounds of singing birds and running water, and/or slow-bubbling synths. Misaki also makes some interesting textural decisions throughout: chords briefly strain against others in some places to produce a pleasant dissonance while synths fade in and out like elements of an early-morning dream. The album as a whole feels like listening to a 90-minute sunrise. I want to listen a few more times to see what emerges.