Letter from America 2

Letter From America: Still Screaming
By Tim Napalm Stegall


“There have been unbelievable changes for the better in politics and in the economy. But back in the Sixties, people had a sense of hope. I think we’ve lost that. Something died in America in 1968, and we haven’t been able to bring it back. Many of us believe that good and right will still prevail, but we don’t have the same spirit.”
– Georgia congressman John Lewis, 2008.

Greetings from the colonies, where we not long ago celebrated the odd holiday we call Thanksgiving. I won’t go into the aspect of gluttony and watching American football on TV to commemorate a feast that the first immigrants held with the natives at Plymouth Rock once our first colony was settled here. Nor will I go into whether we raped the people later erroneously called “Indians” for their land and ghetto-ized them onto reservations or not.

I will go into a remark heard over Thanksgiving dinner, however.

As many of us loosened our top trouser buttons, engorged on roast turkey, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, etc., the subject of Occupy Wall Street came up. I can’t remember the exact wording, but the contents of the remarks amounted to the Occupations becoming a fashion for some, and a better place for homeless crusty punks to stay than the streets. The commentator added that maybe it helped swell the numbers, but did it really get the message across? Or did it just cheapen the impact?

There have always been, in any radical action, a certain number of bandwagon jumpers. Seeing Jane Fonda enter the ’80s marketing exercise tapes (with Jerry Rubin becoming a Republican-voting stock broker) certainly underlines how this happened in the ’60s. Certainly, there must be people Occupying because it’s The Happening Thing. But it certainly does appear that more are Occupying because it’s The Right Thing.

At the instant, Occupy Wall Street is at a hell of a moment. Since I last checked in with you, OWS went from being something that amused the mainstream media (if the media noticed at all) to being the media’s darlings. This has certainly been helped by the protesters remaining non-violent and staying on message even as they are being attacked by police forces across the country. (And as Naomi Wolf recently noted in The Guardian, there’s a curious symmetry to the crackdowns.) This seems to have brought more public support to the movement, even as the right wing thugs at Rupert Murdoch’s propaganda service Fox News stumble all over one another to declare the Occupiers the very wreckers of civilization as we know it. (Of course, Fox pundits would believe that, being the lapdogs of the very 1% the Occupiers are protesting.)

Okay, so now the 99% have the attention they need and deserve, and are delivering the necessary message. Currently, they appear to be taking the winter off (except in warmer climates like Florida), wisely avoiding Occupying public spaces in this freezing weather and plotting their next moves. But what next, exactly? How will they deliver the necessary blows against this empire? The Occupants managed to get Americans normally not given to such thoughts talking about who are the slaves and who are the masters, which is no small feat. But now the 99% need to move beyond camping in financial centers and getting bulldozed and tear-gassed by the police. (Which, incidentally, was also the ultimate fate of the last instance in which civil disobedience tackled American economics: 1968, when the SCLC attempted continuing Martin Luther King’s planned March Against Poverty in Washington, which also became a tent city that got bulldozed off the front pages after a point.)
So, what now, OWS?

Shocking to see the media so friendly to the 99 Per Centers, considering the rest of the time they appear so eager to suck the collective dick of every GOP contender ready to take on President Obama during next year’s Presidential race. Every Republican candidates debate and know-nothing utterance from the other side gets reported with all the breathless ardour of a 1950s school boy masturbating to a centerfold in a shoplifted copy of Playboy. The way they fawned over Barack Obama in 2008, then rushed to become a clearing house for Tea Party types, you’d think the American media was the NME and the President was last week’s Next Big Thing.

Still, as that corrupt old ”˜90s symbol of Republican strong arm tactics Newt Gingrinch seems set to run his own bulldozer into the GOP presidential nomination, most sensible Americans are scared enough for the media to report President Obama’s approval ratings are rising. Which is interesting, given how many people been have expressing their disappointment for the past three-some-odd years that Obama’s administration has hardly been the fount of Hope and Change his campaign promised. Yes, Candidate Barack Obama stumped as a progressive wet dream in the face of the wreckage that George W. Bush’s administration made of America. But upon getting into office, President Barack Obama has proven more to be the best moderate Republican president we’ve had since Bill Clinton. This should not be surprising at all. This is what politicians do, always: Toss out a modest amount of bones to the people, then do their best for the corporations and the wealthy. And make no mistake: As intelligent, charismatic, and eloquent as he may be, Barack Obama is a politician. He’s just not the scary Darth Vader or proud ignoramus that the Republican Party always seems to favor.

In any other time like this, rebel music would be thriving like a bottled water concession in the Sahara. Sadly, that truism is as over under sideways down as anything else. Few are out there, truly smashing guitars and screaming the unspeakable. Thankfully, some things manage to sneak through whatever membrane is in place. Case in point, The Jim Jones Revue making their American television debut on Late Night With David Letterman back in September. Up to now, I’ve never seen a band I love as I do the JJR divide opinion so much ”“ you either seem to think they’re saving rock ‘n’ roll or they’re some sorta contrived oldies apparition. But as you can see in this clip, they whipped up a wayward, reckless energy the Ed Sullivan Theater hadn’t seen since a certain Hillbilly Cat was shot from the waist up there in 1956.

Suddenly, I had cynical old-timers e-mailing or calling me, telling me they feel like they’ve seen the second coming of either The Clash or The Blasters.

Wonder what they’d say if Letterman featured OFF!, America’s best punk band? Keith Morris’ new outfit rolled through Denver one month after that Jim Jones Revue broadcast, on their latest two-week tour through America. And what us mile high denizens witnessed was a precision wrecking machine firmly in the tradition of those bands Morris famously fronted in the late’70s/early ’80s, Black Flag

Tim Stegall with OFF!

Tim Stegall with Keith and Steve McDonald from OFF!, taken by Adams Pinkston, Denver, CO. October 2011!

and the Circle Jerks. But there was not a whiff of nostalgia in the air: This was a potent scream of frustration that was way too Here And Now to grow neither mold nor mildew. Morris assures me the new material he and his bandmates are currently brewing is less classic hardcore and “more MC5.” I bet it’ll still convey rage better than any other band alive. Can you say “explosive?” I think you can.

This post, incidentally, was written to the tune of one of your nation’s finest young bands: The Computers, who hardly live up their name and sound like their producer John Reis’ old band Rocket From The Crypt rocking in an abattoir.

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