Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Story of Crass by George Berger

In the fall of 1999 I was a senior in a rural high school outside of Albany New York. My friend from high school, who had previously graduated the year before, was coming home. He was the other punk in town. I picked him up from the greyhound bus station. His large glue encrusted mohawk barely fit into the car. He put the tape in and that's when I first heard Crass. The discordant muck was jarring enough for me to classify it as punk and the righteously indignant lyrics fit my understanding of what it meant to be political.

Ten plus years later I don't listen to Crass much. I prefer the more melodic songs of Morrissey, Bronski Beat, She Wants Revenge, and a slew of others who attained more than a modicum of skill with their instruments. While my musical preferences have changed my interest in who and what Crass were has not. When I saw a copy of “The Story of Crass,” by George Berger at a recent Gilman show I picked up the book.

The book is composed of interviews with the members (sans one) of the band and include the voices of Gee Vaucher, Joy De Vivre, and Eve Libertine. The predominant voice of the previous media about the band mainly centers on member Penny Rimbaud, no doubt due to his proclivity for writing (Shibboleth, The Last of the Hippies and The Diamond Signature). Hearing from the others of the band fills out the picture of Crass, although Rimbaud's voice is still prominent with the author often referring to Rimbaud's “The Last of the Hippies.”

The beginnings of Crass start with, gasp, art school. Gee Vaucher, a working class girl, met the middle class Penny Rimbaud at a local art school they both attended. Later Rimbaud would move into the Dial House located in the rural landscape of England. Rimbaud points to the importance of the Dial House when he says:

“The place was, and is key and central to Crass. I don't think Crass would have had the physical environment in which to be created, it wouldn't have had the background on which it based its creation.But not only that, the very fact that it was a very secure environment which had minimal upkeep and costs, which had sufficient room for a large number of people to live for bugger-all made it central. It was, and remains, a central facility. (p. 165)”

Rimbaud and Vaucher would go on to join the Fluxus inspired artistic theatre group Exit. In recalling Exit Gee Vaucher said “We were part of the Fluxus movement. And before that we were affectedby the Situationists. We were affected by street theatre – by the idea of taking something out of the four walls and off the canvas. (p.33)”

The backbone of a art gave the band a helping hand in the design department. Their infamous logo was made and soon became stenciled everywhere. Along with their iconic logo was the artistic collages of Vaucher. Each album was put together not only with a pre-fixed price record but a long booklet which included the ranting of Rimabaud and the poster art of Vaucher. As if that was not enough the band also began to dress in all black, defining an aesthetic that would separate them from the rest of the punks. This separation was taken further when they were deemed by the punks, and the critics, as living up to the ideals to which they spoke. The Dial House was communal, their diet vegetarian and their shows were often put on as benefits for various far left causes. The members of the band subsumed their individual desires for a collective existence as Crass, for better or for worse.

The band's coherent aesthetic still contained problems. Talking later of “Yes Sir I will...” Steve Ignorant says “I hate that fucking record – that and Ten Notes on a Summer's Day are just two piles of garbage. The fun had gone, but I didn't know how to say it. Because we were Crass, and because Crass lived together, it didn't ever stop. So your personal life was part of Crass, and Crass was part of your personal life – it's all intertwined. So the way that you were was Crass and the way lived was..., you could never switch off. Even if I went to the pub or a gig, I was always careful not to get drunk in front of people cos it might backfire, I might get seen. So, yeah, it was quite a restriction and it stopped being fun. (p 244)”

While it was the style of Crass that made them popular it was the very same style (that pervaded their everyday life) that led them to breaking up, and becoming stagnant as a group and amongst themselves. Penny Rimbaud states how Crass' opposition to the status quo, to their static position as an alternative authority caused , can become inadvertently crystallized.

“When creativity is in opposition to destruction, inevitably destruction prevails. To a very small degree, that was one things we initially didn't realise. The moment creativity falls into the trap of being in opposition, it's becoming defined – the whole purpose of creativity is that it's channeling and describing undefined areas – its bringing form from formlessness. The moment the form is defined (by auhtorities, by the state, by the schools, by parents, by the church) then we're no longer in a creative situation.”

The above quote smacks strongly of the idea of ressentiment, a Nietzschean term that depicts a sense of resentment and hostility directed at that which one identifies as the cause of one's frustration. In Crass' case their ressentiment was directed at the State and Capital, against society as a whole. With ressentiment there is a sense of weakness or inferiority and perhaps jealousy in the face of the "cause" which generates a rejecting/justifying value system or morality. Here we can see Crass' embrace of vegetarianism, pacificism, and anarchism. This set of morality attacks which or denies the perceived source of one's frustration. The ego creates an enemy in order to insulate itself from culpability, it allows one to have a righteous anger against the enemy, a forever feeling of victim-hood.

While I thoroughly enjoyed this book, the way it highlighted the art background and hippy values of Crass was ultimately very disappointing for me personally. I hate hippies, and its sad that one of the greatest punk bands were hippies. Working class member Steve Ignorant saves the day, (a little bit, even if he wasn't a hippy he sure did hang out with a bunch) when he said in reply to being called hippies; “That used to drive me up the right up the fucking wall! I hated that. … the hippy thing used to drive me mad because I never was a hippy and never will be. (p. 163)”

Phew at least one of them wasn't a fucking hippy.

The book is available from PM Press

Monday, January 25, 2010

Fly Colton Fly

In the forests and remote islands around Seattle, police are setting traps for a barefoot teenage outlaw who has eluded them for nearly two years.

Police say 18-year-old Colton Harris-Moore, whose escapades are turning him into a folk legend, is a one-man crime wave, responsible for 50 burglaries as well as stealing light aircraft, which he taught himself to fly from video games, and several speedboats.

He lives in the woods, shuns shoes and catches his own food. His only technological aid is a pair of thermal-imaging goggles to hunt at night and his weakness is pizzas, which he asks to be delivered at the edge of the woods.

For some Harris-Moore is a modern Butch Cassidy: a surprisingly agile 6ft 5in cat burglar who thanks his victims by leaving them notes and cheeky photographs of himself, which have sold for £300 on eBay.

Thousands subscribe to his Facebook page and his image appears on T-shirts with the logo “Fly, Colton, Fly!”. Local rock groups have penned songs about him.

Hollywood producers have lodged lucrative film deals with his family and offered to pay for lawyers if he gives himself up.

Raised in a caravan on Camano Island, an isolated community in the Puget Sound, Harris-Moore started living wild at the age of seven. He would break into holiday homes, steal blankets and food and vanish into the woods for days.

In April 2008, after being sent to a juvenile detention centre, he complained that the beds were too short for his lanky frame and went on the run.

Police believe he fled to Canada and then, a few weeks ago, came back across the border to Idaho where he stole a Cessna 182 and flew to Seattle. He crash-landed in a forest clearing and walked away with cuts and bruises.

Since then he has been accused of stealing other planes for hops around the islands in the Puget Sound, including another Cessna belonging to a disc jockey who vented his frustration on radio, saying: “He still doesn’t know how to land a plane in one piece.”

He evaded a police pursuit by crashing a Mercedes-Benz into a roadside gas storage tank, using the explosion as a diversion to escape back into the woods where, he says, he feels like a Native American.

This was followed by the largest manhunt in recent memory. Three dozen sheriffs, aided by specialist armed units and an FBI helicopter, fanned out across Camano Island but failed to capture him. “We saw him, we think, but it’s like he disappeared in front of our eyes,” said one sheriff.

His luck may be about to run out. During a recent sweep a rifle shot was fired at police, raising his status to “armed and dangerous”. His mother, Pamela Kohler, now fears that even if he did not fire the shot he will be held responsible.

Kohler said she was proud her son had stolen the aircraft because he had never had a flying lesson in his life. “I was going to send him to flight school, but I guess I don’t have to,” she said. “I’d tell him the next time he took a plane: wear a parachute and practise your landing.

“If he shot that gun, it was really stupid. I don’t expect him to come out of the woods alive.”

Monday, January 18, 2010

Down and Out

Recently I was at a party, all the attendees were tired and my lack of charm (if there is such a thing) precluded me from a bed. I was hoisted upon a futon. The cold of the night infused itself in my bones as I attempted to sleep. Several times I woke from being frigid. When I did manage to sleep I dreamed of others on beds with blankets, content, cozy, and oblivious to my plight. I cried out in my semi-consciousness, angered by my discomfort. A few moments would be spent attempting to warm myself but would give way to the inevitable harshness of cold. Hours went by between slumber and wakefulness, but the chill was always there. Poverty is much the same experience. A constant irritable distress, a feeling of never being in the right place and unable to escape a labyrinth of one's impoverishment.

Orwell in his “Down and Out in Paris and London,” depicts his days in Paris and London as an impoverished lumpen proletariat with unsentimental accuracy. In the first, and more interesting, part he describes his position as a plongeur in various hotels and restaurants. The dishwashing job was precarious, as he would be hired for meager wages and demanded to work to the bone. The job was also contractual, with a contract being made out for a day, a week, or at the longest a month. The long hours and continual days on the job precluded him from living a life outside of work. The moments away from work were spent in the escape of sleep, or in the temporary stupor of drunkenness.

The tales of Orwell's work in restaurants immediately made me recall the excellent booklet put out by www.prole.info, specifically I'm referring to their “Abolish Restaurants” piece, whose lay out is almost as excellent as their pointed critique of the service industry. For instance Orwell points out the ways in which the set up of restaurants pit employees against each other while also making the main emotional qualities of work swing from frantic haste to drudgery.

Hotel work is not particularly hard, but by its nature it comes in rushes and cannot be economised. You cannot, for instance, grill a steak two hours before it is wanted; you have to wait till the last moment, by which time a mass of other work has accumulated, and then do it all together in a frantic haste. The result is that at meal-times everyone is doing two men's work, which is impossible without noise and quarrelling. (p. 75)”

The authors of “Abolish Restaurants” extend the point made by Orwell,

Everyone who works in a restaurant is pushed to work harder and faster. The boss has an interest in getting more work out of the same number of employees or in getting the same amount of work out of fewer employees. … The stress of the rushes gets to everyone in a restaurant. Almost all the workers dip into the wine, whiskey, and tequila when the boss's back is turned. ...When we go to sleep we hope we won't dream about forgetting an order or being yelled at by a boss. (p.22)”

In the second half of the novel Orwell tramps it through England. Following other underclass men from hotel

lodging, to salvation army, to precarious work places, Orwell survives on a daily diet of bread (sometimes with margarine) and tea. What is most interesting about this period is how the tramps themselves imagine themselves as not being fully bottomed out. This is in direct contrast to one of Orwell's popular and striking quotes from the book.

It is a feeling of relief, almost of pleausre, are knowing yourself at last genuinely down and out. You have talked so often of going to the

dogs – and well, here are the dogs, and you have reached them, and you can stand it. It takes off a lot of anxiety. (p.21)”

What is implied here is an acceptance of one's poverty and state of being “down and out.” What actually happens though is both that admission of being truly at the bottom of the barrel and an attempt to separate oneself from that position, namely through creating an identity that is somehow different from one's peers in poverty. For example Orwell's companion Paddy tirades against other tramps, calling them lazy and that pointing out that the other tramps were scum. For Orwell:

It was interesting to see the subtle way in which he disassociated himself from “these here tramps.” He had been on the road six months, but in the sight of God, he seemed to imply, he was not a tramp. I imagine there are quite a lot of tramps who thank God they are not tramps. (p. 199)”

Here we see that poverty is not just a material state but also an ideological one. If one is able to separate one's self from the ideological being of poverty perhaps you somehow escape the plight of poverty, or at least the poor would like to think. Of course the material aspects of capital point to something different than the ideological notions of the underclasses.

In tone the novel is similar to Miller's Tropic of Cancer. In Miller's tale of semi-poverty in the 1930s in France, Miller is constantly on the hunt for free food, wages, and alcohol. Of course the hedonistic Miller is oft preoccupied with whoring. An occupation that alludes the characters in London's “Down and Out.” The tramps in london are “condemned to perpetual celibacy.” Orwell points out that women have a commodity that men don't, their sexuality, thus men are more prone to bottoms of unemployment as “...any presentable woman can, in the last resort, attach herself to some man.(p 204)” Women use their sexual bodies to escape the dregs of poverty and “...there is no doubt that women never, or hardly ever, condescend to men who are much poorer than themselves. (p.204).

Along with the voice of Miller, the book also echoes the style of B. Traven's “Death Ship.” In “Death Ship” we see a lumpen proletariat, Gerard Gales, without hope cast onto a death ship. His life consists of constant work and looming death.

While the voice of the novel is common amongst early 20th century writers, we find fewer contemporary writers who write journalistic or realistic fictional characterizations of work. Is it because work no longer bothers us that its drudgery no longer touches popular culture? There are of course movies such as “Office Space,” “Waiting,” and the popular sitcom “The Office” which depict work but they ultimately tie themselves back into the spectacle of modern capitalism.

That said Orwell, himself doesn't do much to punch a hole out of the 20th century for escape. He offers reformist solutions for improving the condition of the lower classes. For the tramp what “is needed is to depauperise him, and this can only be done by finding him work. (p 206)” Orwell goes on to outline a socialist scheme of making boarding houses self sufficient through the labor of the tramps, who instead of roaming would stay put and grow food. Of course the boarding houses would need other assistance, thus Orwell relies on the state to provide the other means. What is needed for the tramps I would argue is not full employment but full lives, and that can not be done with the alienating effects of capitalism. What Orwell does lend us is not a particularly capable solution to the plights of poverty but an accurate description, and a poignant illustration of life under capitalism is always a condemnation.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


"So what are you majoring in," I asked her.

"I'm getting my graduate degree in 'blah, blah, blah," she said. As soon as she started talking I realized how boring the conversation was.

Most of our conversations in life, especially when people are just getting to know each other are insanely banal. I remember I was out at this club recently and this girl was hitting on me, she asked me questions like "Where do you live," and "What do you do for work." Now if I was a dude asking some babe those questions she'd think I was a total dud. Boring! Boring! Boring! I can't say that I'm always super on it with coming up with great conversation ideas but I thought this one was alright.

"How many times a month do you think you have this conversation," I asked her.
"At least four or five," she replied.
"Let's talk about something else. How about you describe yourself with three adjectives."
"Uh..." she said. After a minute of idling she went on, "I can't do that."
I sighed out aloud. "Alright well what do you think that guy does for a living," I asked pointing out a disheveled forest kid I knew.
"I bet his in grad school," she said.
"Grad school no fucking way, guess again."
"Well maybe he's a lawyer."
"Eeerrrn wrong. He's just a bum. Alright that thread didn't go so well." I paused for a moment. "What was the last landscape you could recall. It could be from anytime and anywhere."
"Hmmm... that's a good one. I'd have to say it was this picture on my screensaver on my computer at home. The picture is in a valley and its of an uncompleted chinese dam. There are no people in the picture. Its just tons of concrete and steel."
"That's a good one," I said.
"What about you?"
"This morning I went running up Broadway in Oakland towards the hills. As I was coming up the hill the highway, I think it was the 580 cut across the horizon meeting the top of the hill. To my right was temescal park and behind me was a driveway with lion statues outside. The lions were on these big ass pillars and were laying lazily on the columns. The sun was rising casting a light purplish haze on the sky."

Evidently this list is supposed to have some great conversational start ups. I might go out tomorrow night to an acquaintance's birthday party. Which ones should I use?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Music round up

I put my art show up! For more info click here.

Last night I went out to the cat club with a few friends to celebrate a birthday. I've only been to the Cat Club in SoMa a few times. The club event was called "Gossip" and in the front room was goth while in the back was 80s pop. When I first got there I felt terribly awkward, but not as awkward as the old weird people petting the air looked. The average clubber last night must have been at least fifty, and their age/oddness was accentuated by their clothing. The good thing though was some of the music. My friend told me about Bronski Beat a gay 80s pop band that evidently met as communist youth. The video below chronicles the tale of a young boy who is gay bashed.

Bronski Beat-Smalltown boy

Flock of Seagulls- I ran

Ministry Revenge

Sunday, January 3, 2010


"The lost traveller, after all, has a consolation that the country around him is constantly changing, and with with every change is born a new hope of finding a way out." Soren Kierkegaard The Seducer's diary

"Our live is a journey, in winter and night. We seek our pasage..."

She'd just moved up from LA. She had no relationship drama, and intended to keep it that way. The best about her day was a free cupcake she had acquired from a nearby bakery. She was saving it for her new year's breakfast. I asked her how far it was from the shop. She said about 2000 meters. I asked her how many steps that would be from her desk. She didn't know. I suggested she count. "Just 70 more steps til my cupcake, I'm calling my friend to tell them that I'm only 60 steps away from the dessert...."

I rode into the alley and saw only a few people that I knew amongst the crowd.
"Mariko, I know you," I shouted.
Mariko stood by the door of the gallery her small body mashed in by a hoard of hipsters all attempting to move into the building. Her body bobbed up as she was smashed in, the pressure of the bodies pushing her upwards.
I locked my bike down the alley and went back looking for the buoyed girl, her friends, or some acquaintance. I wandered around the crowd, nervously looking for a connection.
I saw a girl that I admired and conspicuously avoided her, wanting nothing more than to bring in the new year's with her in my arms.
Mariko and I stood near each other. I made fun of disneyland, which upset her and we worried that we would be shot down by bottle rockets. The crowd counted down to the new year and I felt the anti-climatic change of years, much like the passing of night into day. I rode a crowded bart home.

Last night I dressed in my vest, gray slacks, a black tie, and my ray ban glasses. The club was one third full and I saw the usual suspects; the asian guy that dresses as a pilgrim, the tall red haired guy that wears a suit wherever he goes, the small asian woman that djs every event. I also saw this girl I took on a date once. We met at a club. We danced and I got her number. A week later we met at Golden Gate park. I read a short story to her, Honey Bear, by Haruki Murakami. She loved it. We ate fruit and drank juice. I couldn't remember her name last night. I never called her again. I could feel her eyes on me as she danced with someone. I had my back to her.

And so, one night, I'd like to sneak,
When the darkness tolls the hour of pleasure,
A craven thief, toward the treasure
Which is your person, plump and sleek...
And most vertiginous delight!
Into those lips, so freshingly striking
And daily lovelier to my liking -
Infuse the venom of my spite
Charles Baudelaire

Friday, January 1, 2010

Humanism all too Human

"Proletanisation is not the loss of some prior existing thing, but the exploitation of human capacity. ...What the proletarian loses every day is not a strip of some eternal nature, but a force of life, a social capacity which the beast of burden does not have at its disposal, and which is thus a reality internal to wage relation ( 94)." Endnotes.

The above quote by Duave, a prominent anti-state communist was recently argued by my friend as being humanistic. Rereading the statement I would have to disagree. What the conversation led to, however, was a brief discussion of what humanism is. I'd never heard the term before, but quickly picked up on the argument. Humanism is a philosophical stance that regards humans as having innate characters, rights, dignities, and other muck.

Early writings by Marx have a humanistic slant to them. Under alienation there is a human who is disenfranchised by her labor, she becomes less human due to her job. While Duave, it was argued, has a humanistic slant I would disagree that this quote is humanist. I think it points to a more constructivist position (a view point that I agree with more as well). A constructivist postion views the individual as made by the society in which he lives. When the society changes so to does the individual, there is nothing (or less of an emphasis on individual essence). innate about the individual that can make him not change when the society changes.

Going back to the original quote, I liked it because I felt it was constructivist. Humanity can simply do more with their time if they were not wasting their time with work under capital. Capital emphasizes both waste and crisis (which produces more waste).