Last summer I was lucky enough to start what became a long form exchange with one of my favorite musicians, Matthew Grimm (Hangdogs, and with The Red Smear, @grimmreality). For years he has been a fresh, articulate punk voice. Due to personal reasons however, the entire interview was never posted. Here, finally, is the collected interview.
Out of respect to Matthew for his time investment, all responses given have been presented here. This results in a particularly long read, but worth the time invested.
Random questions first; your website says that you are a Star Trek fan, which Trek is your favorite flavor? You also mention playing Civilization 4, do you just play games about geo-politics and religion, or are there others you occupy yourself with from time to time?
Grimm- Original series, I guess. A lot of metaphors in that hamfest shaped the way my brain developed. And Wrath of Khan. A lot of the stuff that came after, I loved that it came after, but it was mostly garbage. TNG is unwatchable now. Loved it then. DS9 got better the darker it got and by Voyager, I lasted like two or eps and clapped out. Just trite wank and I untrekkified. And at that point, other people were doing better things. Babylon 5. Farscape. I mean, Bab5 is garbage-y episode to episode but its story arcs were BIG. Farscape was just sheer optimization of television storytelling.
But then storytelling’s just gotten better, hasn’t it? It’s a function of shedding the shackles of censorship for “wide audiences” that broadcast TV monopolies and basic cultural puritanism impose. Creators free to create without worrying about some dumb gaggle of churchy assholes gasping just make better stories.
As games go, I’m (into) first-person shooters and Civ style strategy games. I think I got up to Civ6, which is addictive as shit, but then I stumbled into Medieval: Total War and now I kind of feel cheated if I can’t array an army on the battle field to settle shit properly with those dick Germans or Byzantines or whichever. FPS – or third-person – are probably more fun, though. The Borderlands series was off the hook, and hilarious on top of it, and the Saints Row series just got funnier as it went along. And the Fallout series is just training for a few years from now so that’s important and, my dear sweet Jesus, Bioshock Infinite. That was a story. Great game but the story, the performances, the characterizations – and the chance to shoot these shithead All-American Klan-y proto-Nazis in their New Jerusalem in the sky – that was the first game I ever played that when it ended, it was like a great novel ending: You were sad that it was over and you sort of missed the characters being in your life on the regular.
Your site also states that you worked as a business journalist in the early 2000s. Was that something you had gone to school for or had you always had an interest in business? How did that background feed into the formation of the Hangdogs?
I started out as a really entry-level editorial assistant at a small business magazine. It was a weird placement since I came out of college a raving lunatic leftist (not a seminarian, no, but I was raised very religious in an extremely conservative town in Iowa, and a lot my worldview is shaped by my early, zealous vestment in that garbage fraying and eventually falling to pieces). But I’d done an internship with the editor back in my college days and he basically headhunted me and, well, back then, $20,000 starting salary for entry-level journalism wasn’t bad, even if it was poverty-level. But I was a kid from a lower middle-class family and had a bunch of friends, I wasn’t clubbing like an insane B&T twat, it was a mass-transit city, I taught myself to cook — there are offsets. I figured out a Golden Mean of a sort. I wound up becoming a reporter and later the news editor and then top editor of that magazine, way too young, and a case could be made I wasn’t very good at either. Don’t really know, in hindsight, why I stayed there so long.
The idea should’ve been get a decent clip file and take it to another mag or newspaper that I actually WANTED to work at. We covered marketing and advertising shit of big corporations. The goal was to break news in major categories every week and really beat the majors, the Wall Street Journal, the Times business page, Ad Age, so it was a legit news vehicle, but honestly, it was an exercise in learning how the shitty brainwashing sausage was made. Double-edged sword for a Red, I guess. And, I don’t fucking know, there’s this predisposition sort of intrinsic to my family — ALL of us do it and it’s weird — where we lodge in a certain groove and, if it’s good enough, we don’t really go seeking more fertile fields. I was making a decent living. I’d learned a lot of shit about these awful monolithic monsters called corporations. I had enough money to do all the other shit I wanted to, more than enough, because I’d learned to live so frugally. I didn’t even take vacations the first few years I was there and eventually they forced me to.
Now, the flipside to that is, I sort of flamed out at one point. I think when I was 27. Some of it had to do with the job. Some of it had to do with realizing a few people in my life were racist assholes and it was devastating. I had what was not a clinical breakdown but a pretty acute break informed by depression and, ummm, for lack of a better cliche, crisis of meaning. I went on a long drive with my friend Mike, like cross country, through the South, over to ABQ, up to Denver. We got a book on tape of Campbell’s Hero With A Thousand Faces, if you can believe that shit, and listened to through a lot of the drive. At a certain point, we hashed over the basic dumb kid question, Well, what the fuck do you WANT to do? How can you put in motion doing that?
Again, if I’d just tried to parlay my shit over to The Nation or someplace, that would’ve been less of an issue. I should’ve. In hindsight, I would’ve done better work and given more of a shit about it. But anyway, I’d just started writing some songs, not particularly good ones. But I liked doing it and I liked singing, and I could play very basic tenor guitar. I was the dumbfuck at the party who late at night, if Mike was drunk enough and someone had a guitar, he would insist I do some songs, covers then, and you do it because, if I’m honest, maybe someone, at that point in the the night, will dig your voice and have sex with you. So the epiphany (blugh) or whatever we came out of the trip with, I was gonna figure out how to record my songs and sell them. Maybe in Nashville. They were sort of country, if not really by the contemporary country standards, but I thought that’s where I’d maybe have a shot.
This was in that period, early 90s, just coming off that insurgent country scare of Dwight Yoakam and Steve Earle. That’s the shit I was maybe emulating, maybe riffing on, but in my mind I was more hoping to introduce a Midwest prole sensibility to the genre. So the next step was getting some people together to instrument a “demo,” though I don’t even remember if I knew to call it that at that point. I really hadn’t had any musical aspirations to that point. Like at all. The closest to being in a band previously was one summer during college, I went back to Iowa, and a few guys I knew had a cover band and I sang for them for a few shows. It was fun but nothing serious. And even in college, I became one of those alt.music snob nutbars, y’know, hitting the Record Collector in the weird musty space over the pizza shop every Friday after classes to see what was new, tent poling your whole schedule around who was coming to town. Punk rock, hardcore, roots rock. And I liked to sing but I never really saw myself doing it because I wasn’t really A MUSICIAN. I sang. I played drums in high school band. I wasn’t particularly great at either.
Any memorable finds from your Friday trips to the Record Collector?
I still have some of those vinyls from the Record Collector right here, with nothing to play them on. Jason & the Scorchers – Lost and Found Dead Milkmen – Big Lizard Little Steven – Men Without Women & Voice of America Rainmakers – eponymous Del Fuegos – Smoking In the Fields and Boston, Mass haha I’d completely forgot about this one an ep by a band called In Pursuit – When Darkness Falls. I remember I saw a video for the single, “Losing Control,” on 120 Minutes and flipped my shit. Weak record but that song kicks ass. Miracle Legion – the Backyard. Social D – Prison Bound.
I never clicked with the Dead Milkmen, but they tended to be a big influence on the people they fit with.
The Milkmen aren’t a dropkick and there’s not a great case to be made for their transcendence, since they were more an eclectic comedy act than anything, but I love them. They were a continuum. You could get a whole record of just bizarre twattery that still had like one or two GREAT songs on it, AS SONGS. One of their most famous and quotable songs is just a guy screaming over a band riff for three minutes, but it’s goddamn hilarious.
How did the Hangdogs come together at that point?
So I knew Kevin Baier from Syracuse, he was a drummer, and he knew a guy where he worked, which was Titan Sports (aka the World Wrestling Federation), who was an ace guitar player, Slim Simon. We brought in a guy I knew from work to do bass but was one of those guitar players who COULD play bass but A BASS PLAYER, y’know? But we went up to Stamford, where Slim lived, and did some really basic demos on maybe six songs. We had a good time doing it. Those guys said let’s keep playing, so we did. We eventually really needed a proper bass player so we did an ad in the NYPress and JC answered it and we had the original four Dogs. The name, I remember just doing word associations in a notebook at Mooney’s Pub in Brooklyn… Hangmen Hanged Men Hang… that type of thing. We started playing the shitty starter clubs in NY and dear CHRIST it was miserable. Seven-eight bands a night, no shared back line, shuffle up, get as many of YOUR people ticked through the doors, after the first twenty, maybe you make a few bucks. Awful system. Don’t know if they still do it.
We weren’t really very good or really defined in what our sound was. We had a lot of energy, though, and had fun doing it and that was the spark that kept it lit. We were a punk band doing this rockabilly and country stuff and it was a weird animal. We only had maybe six originals so will filled out the set with obscure covers, like “Just Because” from the Elvis Sun Sessions, or Johnny Burnett’s “Standing on the Outside of Her Door.”
Eventually mustered up the bucks to do a proper recording of the originals at Mark Spencer’s home studio on the Gowanus in Brooklyn. It’s a fucking mess. We do a lot of the songs too fast, the instrumentation is pretty sparse (I’m still playing acoustic tenor guitar so my rhythm parts are anemic as shit). I can barely listen to it anymore. But it was good enough. Couldn’t get any labels interested so we self-issued. Kevin just whored the shit out of it, did a ton of research, figured out who the “alt country” shows were on progressive stations all over the country and slung it out there. This is pre-internet (or very early internet) so I don’t know how the hell he did it all. We got some airplay here and there. Managed to expand our playing radius a bit on the East Coast, Philly, DC, TRIED Boston a few times but never really found a groove there.
There were weird affectations. I wore cowboy boots and sang with a Southern accent in some of the songs and, years later, I don’t really know why and I guess it was just sort of Zeliging. We didn’t really define ourselves or our sound until the third record, when we started figuring out, consciously or subconsciously, that that garbage “alt country” thing was basically so much affectation in and of itself. Like we weren’t going to “redefine” country music to make it rock (verb) and thus not be shit. Country was always going to be country, lowest common denominator rubbish rigidly maintained and denuded by an oligopoly of smarmy coke addicts like any other genre of music.
And like any micro-trend or subgenre, the more dress-up affectations there were to it, the less actually authentic it was. The more it was a put-on. Hobbyists wearing yoked shirts and shouting “yee-haa” ironically.
Which is fine for your hobby.
It doesn’t help make good music.
Part Two: Same Old Story & East of Yesterday
Regarding that first album, ‘Same Old Story’, it had two songs that definitely stood out to me on first listen. “Same Old Story” just seemed to define the mold of the working band, the ones everyone loves, but doesn’t support. While “Don’t Mind” on the other hand was a lot more personal to me at the time due to issues I was going through with my now ex.
Grimm- …”Don’t Mind” That’s one of those songs that doesn’t hold up for me, just personally, and it’s fascinating to see it take on relevance in someone else’s eyes. I get it in context of your story. Funny how songs are such Rorschach tests. I did an all-request show for a fundraiser for KNON in Dallas a few years back and someone called that one out. I hadn’t done it in years. And in between the verse/chorus segments I sort of paused with the guitar still going, sort of like doing Elvis doing that poetry break on “Are You Lonesome Tonight,” and hashed over how, looking back, it was a pretty shortsighted butthurt narrative and that I would encourage the dumb kid who wrote it to get over himself and perhaps try living outside his own ass.
(Sidetrack) Could you tell me how/when you got into Woody Guthrie?
Sure. Woody Guthrie was late, to be honest. A lot of folky stuff with awful old timey production just didn’t clock with me in the years when I was a proper record-hunter/audiophile snob, just because it was hard to listen to, so a lot of that stuff I gave short shrift. Later gen, too, like Phil Ochs and Pete Seger, which was short-sighted (or -eared) but just sort of the way my mind worked. And still does to some extent, even though I’ve sort of shed those pretenses and audiophilia in general. But I can tell you there was a hard gateway to Woody Guthrie, which was, per this setup, a contemporary recording, which was Dave Alvin doing “Do Re Mi” as a part of that medley he used to do live with “Jubilee Train.” Because holy. SHIT. Then (I) went and looked into it and read the backstory and how it was calling out the corruption of cops exploiting the shit out of refugees haha GLAD WE FIXED THAT YAY AMERICA. When I started the Iowa band, that was one of the first covers we did to pad out the set, totally cribbing the Dave Alvin arrangement. Well, maybe a little more punk, but it was a pretty obvious crib.
Of course, “All You Fascists Bound to Lose” also became a personal favorite. Didn’t realize it’d have the opportunity to become so relevant again. I’ve obviously covered “Union Maid,” which was basically because I’d started playing that song at labor actions and that’s one that really gets people singing along on the choruses. One thing you learn when you start playing actions is the dynamic changes. You’ve gotta shed your intrinsic musician narcissism and, instead of playing FOR people to listen to, you need to start playing WITH people and basically being the orchestra conductor, because their involvement and galvanization is the point of getting together.
And this sort of became a theme with my affinity for folky stuff. If somebody with a rock sensibility pumps some octane into it and puts some real verve and creativity into a cover, it lights a fire in my brain. Which probably goes back to the Scorchers’ version of “Absolutely Sweet Marie.”
But Dave’s version sort of opened the doors on the Woody canon, because I guess by the late 1990s, I’m starting to realize, per aforementioned, songs written from up my own ass aren’t really what I need to be doing with this medium. Love songs, broken heart songs, bleh, Jesus Christ, not only have these things been done to DEATH, they’re boring as fuck and you can only turn so many phrases to keep that horseshit fresh.
Hah yeah, Joe Strummer said as much in an old Clash interview “the subjects been covered” or something to that effect. When I heard that and realized, one of the biggest bands in the world, wasn’t singing about heart break or love, but were instead focused on expressing their rage and fury about the world around them, which included themselves. Sorry, I try not to invoke Joe too often, but he is a personal favorite.
Joe Strummer is the shit. Invoke him all you want.
When did you start attending labor events, versus when did you start playing at them? Was there a specific moment/event that pushed you to action?
In terms of actually participating, it would’ve been Red Smear and after. Moving to Iowa shrank my sphere a LOT, both in terms of things going on and people I knew doing activist stuff. I participated electorally and some limited rank-and-file activism in NY. In Iowa, one of the only guys I knew in Iowa City when I moved there was with COGS, the grad student union just trying to get traction there. I met a bunch of people through him who have since become a sturdy spine of my labor friends, and, as social-justice-inclined grad students, they were obviously active in other stuff. Some of the Red Smear’s early shows were fundraisers, Students Against Sweatshops, COGS, I think we even did one for Dave Loebsack, who was running as a Democrat against like a 30-year incumbent. We never really found a groove as an Iowa City band, but one thing everybody knew I was always on call for was a good cause. When the floods hit us in 2008, I even went to United Way and organized a flood relief benefit with them and coordinated the show and all that. You can do that kind of stuff in a smaller pond.
And as my COGS buds graduated and went on to other stuff, they took my records to other people sort of across the labor spectrum, and that led to me doing more dedicated labor actions. I did IFL events, just solo. Did a rally for locked out chem workers in Keokuk, and some steelworkers who’d come up from S Illinois in solidarity asked me to come down and do a strike-fund benefit for them, that kind of thing. That was mostly post-Red Smear that I started doing that, as, by that time, I was fed up with trying to make a band work and was pretty much tailing off from being an active, hustling musician looking for shows.
The move to Iowa put the kibosh on The Hangdogs, which was a double-edged sword. It was a chance to sort of reboot what I was doing musically, in the direction my songwriting was going late-Hangdogs – which was more back toward my punk inclinations (if never really PROPER punkrock) – but it was also shedding the asset of an established band, which proved way more of a hit than I’d expected. We’d built up our own little groove of anemic pseudo-success and as little as it was, it was still 800% more than you have starting from scratch in a nowhere burg in the Midwest.
Which gives you an idea of the GAPING chasm between the economies-of-scale of “the industry” and just ungodly fucking odds of trying to build anything DIY. And gave me an idea of just how complete shit I am at managing and marketing. It’s not a thing for people bad at managing and marketing to do.
Let’s get back to the Hangdogs. You had a one year turnaround for ‘East of Yesterday’ (1998) from ‘Same Old Story’ (1997). How old were you at this point?
I guess I would’ve been 31-32 when ‘East of Yesterday’ came out.
“Speed Rack” struck me as a fairly mature track, about getting older, and not necessarily growing up. The songs that touch on relationships tend to pretty honest, in that, they aren’t about picking up your baby in your Chevy, and enjoying life while having a cold one at the creek during July. Sometimes they are happy, pissed, from her perspective, or about the absurdity of it all.
Well, a couple of those are Bruce Henderson songs. “Speed Rack,” fully belying any maturity on MY part haha, was all his. He’d recorded that on his Hearts & Minds record and we loved it and added it as a sort of signature cover. We’d met him playing shows out in NY and loved his shit and we became friends and wound up asking him to produce that record.
“Something Left to Save” is a great picture of a cold, impersonal city. “A soul only costs what a body’s worth, and the next one’s just as cheap” While the chorus still has that twang of hope, the social picture is still pretty bleak, “Down here we buy what they say we need~ if we could trade in our debt for our dignity, we could take back what was always ours.” Love that bit though, nothing like voluntary financial servitude to brighten up a culture. Was this more inspired by Brooklyn, or just any town USA?
This was New York, sure, and upstate cities like Syracuse and Binghamton that I’d spent time in, that were just being gutted by forces bigger than them, even if the agents of those forces lived golf-course adjacent in the burbs. NY was Giuliani’s NY at the time, and it was a real estate developer’s orgy, turning Manhattan into a mall even as he set the cops loose on “unwanted” elements and papering over the actual culture of the city. It was racist. It was classist. It was the heyday of the Rockefeller Laws, mandatory sentencing in confluence that odious fucking Clinton crime bill, bourgeois racism and classism, a generation deep into the utterly sociopathic fallout of the War On Drugs. True bipartisan fuckery at the highest level, even while the swells I wrote about at the magazine were gaily coring out the industrial base that had made these cities, and the solution, we were told, was good PR and beating down the casualties of neoliberalism and anyone who said it was bad. The 90s were the textbook definition of False Consciousness.
“I’d Call to Say I Love You”, appreciated this one because the guy has moved on. That doesn’t change the good times, but they are in the past. He might still think about her late on Friday night, but, well the title has it front and center. How many of these relationship songs were directly inspired by your experiences, or were you just going off of established situations? Or does that feed into “The Man with the Plan that Went Awry”?
I think the relationship songs were all MOSTLY inspired by my own shit. But probably not all. I think “Man With the Plan That Went Awry” more has to do with Kevin, because he’d fallen ass-over-noggin for an awesome young woman and whenever we were done with tours he’d insist we drive 24-32-hours straight in shifts to get home. I didn’t really have that kind of thing going on until maybe a few years later, but, mind you, a lot of this is hazy. (That’s one of the songs I don’t think really holds up, mind you, the lyrics are forced, my own affectation is on overdrive and stylistically it’s just kind of evidence we hadn’t really defined a sound yet; like “WHY ARE WE DOING A BLUES SONG?”) “I’d Call to Say I Love You” was about my own shit, I guess, probably the same cratered relationship that inspired “Don’t Mind,” but I think that was more an exercise of a good turn of phrase.
And maybe turning the convention of cheap sentiment on its head a bit? But I think you hear some of my own weariness with the workaday cubicle slave labor leaking into that, which, of course, yes, definitely informed “Something Left to Save.” I think one could probably make a case that was the first song that sort of defined our “voice” as a band and was kind of a directional as to where we were going. A left-turn blinker haha. I mean, the prole inclination had been there since “Same Old Story” and “Monopoly” but this was a big rock song that, like “Flatlands,” is hinting that the veneer is fake and that there is a caste system that keeps it that way even as (it) demands you accept it’s real.
“Hey Janeane” spearheads that destructive relationship anthem. “Ain’t it funny how we hate the same things…lets us get drunk, get bitter, and get mean, fall in love and make someone else doubt what they believe.” As the line about hating the same things repeats on the fade out, that’s the moral of the story for that would be relationship, they wind up hating each other, if on some level they always did.
I think I can probably say “Hey, Janeane” is sort of in that continuum, though it’s obviously one of our trademark “comedy” songs. That’s probably a “millennial” song before the whole millennials meme, except, in my case, it being “Generation X.” Which had a similar pop cultural ethos (cynical, adrift, poor, wayward) assigned to it but wasn’t quite yet inheriting the absolutely devastated harvest of shit economics and programmatic institutional grift millennials are. And obviously, generational “profiles” are all pretty broad brushes, I know, but just from what’s happened with the laissez-faire gaming of debt, ON TOP of that vast mortgage grift that almost ended all of us, if these kids and Gen Z decided to burn this country to the fucking ground and start with a blank slate, I wouldn’t blame them a bit.
Looking back I think people may have taken that line “…and how America forsook both you and me” as written somewhat ironically, coming from the voice of a “slacker,” such as the narrator was. Nope.
“Flatlands” just feels like a dark, windy night, like that night in Tombstone when Bill Paxton gets shot playing pool. What was the idea/inspiration behind that song?
“Flatlands” was a song he (Bruce Henderson) conceived as a sort of Southern Gothic horror tale and he called me over one day to do some co-writing. That was the one we really zeroed in on and became what you hear. His version, which was released on a solo record, was even creepier because he did it as this moody polka, believe that shit or not. I think the idea on the latter, if anything, is sort of the flipside of “Monopoly On the Blues,” that the veneer of sweet little small towns can be just that, and that for all that stoic, Salt-of-the-Earth, Godly, Real American-ness in the heartland, it is home to just as much horror-per-capita as anywhere. And, as we’re seeing now, maybe more so BECAUSE of its social disconnection.
Part Three: Beware of Dog & Wallace 48′
It’s the year 2000, ‘Beware of Dog’ comes out, my favorite of the Hangdog albums. It starts off with the crowd pleasing portrait of love in America,”The Gun Song”. That opening line was one of the most country lyrics I still have ever heard, it’s right up there with Cocaine Blues. The abusive, dysfunctional relationship quickly established, while the chorus is a depressing declaration, and the second to last verse where she shoots him, is just such a satisfying moment in a song. Rarely do you get that kind of ‘closure’ feeling in a song. Leaving the last verse to be a fitting end to their story, while perpetuating the cycle further. Well done all around man.
‘Beware of Dog’ always seemed to be the most cohesive Hangdogs album, how do you feel about it this far down the road?
Grimm-I think I mentioned before that ‘Beware of Dog’ is where we sort of self-defined. That’s sonically and in terms of purpose. Or I guess I’ve used the word “voice” for that concept. And if you look at some of those songs you mentioned – not all, of course – you see an undercurrent, which is something like, “We are not in control. And the people who are suck.”
This is eight years into a stark, cynical rightward/neolib shift on the part of the Democratic Party and we’re still living in the toxic sludge that produced. So, just to your point, a theme of “You are not in control” at that point was informed by something that had been happening for years. “Come the Night” is on that record, too, and it’s one of my older songs that I think holds up best. It’s about a guy who was utterly destroyed by somebody else’s shitty agenda.
‘Beware of Dog’ was the first Hangdogs album I’d heard, and as much as I loved “The Gun Song”, it was track 2, “Anacostia”, that locked in the album, and the band for me. I’d learned about the bonus march/town when researching influences for the original Fallout. Then with what happened to them by MacArthur and Patton, man, such a crazy story that none of my teachers EVER brought up. I was very surprised to hear such a clear and concise song about what it was, who was there, and how their country turned on them so violently (and against orders). What drove you to write this song?
What the hell was the Bonus Army other than a bunch of guys who were sold a bill of goods in the persistent, relentless grift that nationalism and were compensated in PTSD and institutional could-give-a-fuck? To do what? Prop of a bunch of banks’ investments in a calcified system of garbage exploitative economics. How is that different from a Vietnam vet a half century later?
I saw a documentary on the Bonus Army. The factoid that struck me, I remember, was, I had been raised on this bullshit myth of the “cavalry riding to the rescue,” and here I learn the actual last proper cavalry charge on American soil was done against unarmed veterans. And it crystallizes in my brain, THIS is a story. It’s not just that, as you say, they covered this shit up in the glossy cartoon history they spoonfeed us, it’s that just these naked moments of provable, immutable shit-that-happened – not interpretable, not “fake news” or my side versus theirs – are things that belie the myths, and in belying the myths they subvert that the current order is good and beneficent.
Which is an abstraction, a matrix of abstractions, meaning it’s dumb and removed from reality, but the people who ARE in control NEED those abstractions to maintain a society regimented to their liking, consuming and not troubling them with the ugly textures of facts and the inconveniences of actual problem-solving and redress-of-grievances. If you’re heavily invested in the status quo, you’re going to protect your investment, not least by coming up with shit sophist philosophy that encourage people to not look too closely, past the abstractions, at textures. And measurable cause-and-effect.
“Waltz this Waltz Alone” also summed up a few years of my life post-divorce. “This grown up world ain’t the utopia, the grownups all told us it was. And this glass keeps it focused, so it means even less than it does.” One of my favorite lines.
So there’s both rage and a kind of resignation in there. Or a sort. “Waltz This Waltz Alone,” and that line you cite, is a Zen paean as much as anything, but it also treads these lines, because the narrator’s worn down by dumb, template expectations – the kind we put upon everyone, just saying, This Is What It Means to Be An Adult American, which in itself is predatory and regimenting.
“The World is Yours”- Holy shit, such a great ‘climax’ for the album, and almost every line is a great lyric on its own. This song has resonated with so many I’ve shared it with over the years its crazy. It’s a great companion to “Kill the Poor” with it’s “consumerist plantations”.
“The World Is Yours” – I like the song, I’m glad I wrote it, but the wrinkle of it is, I’m not comfortable with the resignation aspect of it anymore. It’s all how you look at it, I guess, and it’s punk rock in that it’s tearing that scab off the abstractions, the regimentation.
But we’re neck deep in what we’ve ceded to the people it addresses. It’s not enough to disengage, if that was the message, and again – that’s arguable in the Rorschach sense. I’ve been working on a reprise. A 2.0, if you will, for the Grimm Reality Vol. 3. It’s not done, it needs some angrier guitars, but it sort of addresses this, um, disquiet on my part.
Three years later you released ‘Wallace 48’ (2003). When writing “Drink Yourself to Death”, I’m curious who you had in mind at the time? While it’s a fun little fuck you song, your line ‘Country’s just a bar you lay your weary head upon” always stuck with me.
Meh, the “Drink Yourself to Death Thing,” no, there were no specific targets. It was just everyone and everything involved. I think I mentioned way early in these correspondences, there was a point in the life of the Dogs where I realized that WASN’T our idiom and never would be. And that’s BECAUSE it was what it was, and we didn’t define it, and weren’t going to redefine it. Which, y’know, OF COURSE we weren’t, but angry spazzy zealous young men like to think they can do things they can’t.
You can really pick out anybody doing country now and go back to when that was recorded and find their doppelganger that fits each verse. That’s how universal it is, and how template assembly lined “creativity” works. And I think the song was just sort of how we made that realization manifest.
The existential problem surrounding us all those years is, what WERE we? I’m sure you’ve heard this from a million idiots over the years, but it was always a problem in selling ourselves. When the alt.country thing happened, we sort of embraced it because it felt like, hey, maybe we BELONG somewhere. But, again, it was really just a hobby for whoever googled that term, and for the rest of us, well, there’s breakthrough room at major and even minor labels for maybe FIVE fucking bands. And we weren’t one. Probably owing to our own definitional problems, spoken of previously, so that’s not necessarily on anyone else. It was a problem in re reviews and booking. But by the time we self-defined sonically (hahahaha this is the joke), who gave a shit? And I think there was some clarity in just declaring, if only for one or two records, we are a rock band. “But what about that old song and this twang part?” Doesn’t matter. Shut up. We’re a fucking rock band. We play rock shows. We will not open for Pat Fucking Green and Pat Fucking Green would never have us open for him. We’re little people. We’re antiwar leftist Yankees. We will not be the thing anyone once hoped we might be, including US.
Or, I should qualify, this sentiment may have been shared to some degree, but I personally had had my fill of twang and all the fake fucking folksiness of the sub-genre. It MAY WELL have been an issue going forward. If you’re talking 2002-2003, the fake fucking folksiness had basically become the conscripted agent of the enemy.
“Waiting for the Stars to Fall” -“Remember when you figured out that dreams leave scars, that you’d never reach the stars, that it was all just a ride.” Wallace ’48 has some great lines sticking with familiar themes, and slipping in a little appropriate Bill Hicks bit there I think?
Def a Bill Hicks ref. Unapologetically. “Waiting for the Stars to Fall,” to embellish, was a goodbye to and a cleanse of a lot of shit, in and of itself. It was a war song and an anti-war song, a Sept 11 song and a this-shit-badly-rationalized-empire-is-complete-bollocks-and-the-American-Dream-is-a-lie song. And a putting-away-your-toys song. It’s the end of youth.
“Memo (from the Head Office)”- “When we’re hungry, when we’re cold, there’s always shit that we don’t need.” “dangling tickets to heaven on Mastercards, seems debt transcends but unconditional love’s got strings.”
“Memo (from the Head Office)” – well, that held up pretty well, didn’t it? 15 years writing covering Corporate America teaches you some shit. A LOT of cynical shit. That very serious, very well educated, vastly influential people pass off as MEANING when it is, in fact, grooming. Conditioning. Predation. I know a lot of people, even if they recognize the problems with capitalism, just write them off as aberrations. “Well, people just went too far in that ONE case.” Jesus Christ, the dissonance of that. I can’t beam everything I’ve seen into someone’s brain, press release after conference presentation, of people using the nicest, fakest words to just butcher civility and basic decency to carve out on a few cents more per share on their quarterly report, the sheer depth of the layers of artifice.
“Goodnight, Texas” always stood out to me over the years, sonicly and lyrically. Did you know that was going to be the last Hangdogs album when recording, or was it the Iowa move a bit later?
At this point, we had a lot of turnover in the band. I was the last OG touring. There were, Christ, eight or nine of us at this point, like when there were two Harlem Globetrotters teams. There were definitely some creative differences. In particular with one of the Gen2 guys, who, one way or the other, I wasn’t going to play with anymore after W48.
I’d quit my job in ’99 to go freelance and be able to tour, because Shanachie signed us, so, once Kevin bowed out of the touring operation, booking, marketing, management, PR shit, all fell onto me, then moreso when the Shanachie experiment went to shit. And I was bad at it. That didn’t help rosify the lens I was seeing everything through.
We pretty quickly went from, okay, we’re a touring band and will dedicate more time to this with the support of an actual proper label for the first time, to holy shit, we’re this weird amalgam of guys and I need to do all this shit alone and am pretty shitty at it. I found John Agnello and put together that whole W48 recording session and I think we got some great shit out of it. I also think, in the process, it suggested that The Hangdogs either had to become something different or it wasn’t going to be a thing anymore. I may have thought, on one side of the coin, “Well, if I’m writing and singing, whoever’s doing it with me is ‘The Hangdogs,'” but I also thought, “That is hubris, and, no, that cannot be.”
That’s an admission. I’m remembering weighing those two things for the first time in years. I’m not particularly proud of thinking the former thing. But I did. Or, to be clearer, I’m remember, for the first time in years, weighing those things. (It’s been a fucking while.) All this goes to your question, did we know if it’d be the last record. And probably not overtly, like we didn’t go into making the record thinking or mulling that, but there were rifts and fraying that was going to have to be addressed, however that turned out. You can hear it, to another of your points, in “Waiting for the Stars to Fall.” That’s where we were going. Or that’s where I was going. One of the two. I think in pre-production or maybe even in post, we had a discussion as to whether that song belonged on the record. I thought it didn’t. I thought it was a “next record” where THAT sound would be THE sound.
“Goodnight, Texas,” now that I’m thinking about it, is a lot more simple and sentimental, but it’s also speaks directly to “Drink Yourself to Death,” that, in spite of all these miles, we’re sort of dead-ending here. I just hahaha remembered it CITES “Same Old Story” hahahahahaha there’s some fucking hubris for you, but I guess it’s appropriate, cuz it’s the bookend to that song, right? Holy shit, maybe I DID know and just didn’t know I knew. “When we were something better than we are.” Jesus Christ, that is fucking sad.
Part Four: Dawn’s Early Apocalypse
Earlier you talked about The Hangdogs, and only really finding your sound near the end, and with The Red Smear it seems like you firmly embraced the ‘fuck it, play what we want’ attitude, dropped any sense of pretense, and went for it. It’s that attitude throughout that made ‘Dawn’s Early Apocalypse’ (2006) one of my favorite albums of all time.
It opens with “Christian” a BRIEF line about a woman being asked by an evangelist if she’s a christian, and she replies that he’d have to ask her neighbors. The exchange works so well on a micro/macro (the woman/America) level, and brings religion into the ring before the first chords have even been played. Where did the idea to start that way come from? Did you get much resistance from those involved, or was everyone on the same page?
Grimm- The idea for “Christian” comes from an anecdote someone told and I’ve shamefully forgotten where I heard it. Someone’s mother, I think, when asked by someone else who was PROUDLY Christian and looking for tribal affirmation. Which of course, if one is to go by Matthew 6:5 is anti-Christian. The noisiest American Christians don’t actually read the book they think makes them better than everyone else so they wouldn’t know that. And that’s why they advertise everywhere they go doing everything they do. I liked the story because it’s, in a little nutshell, an affirmation of what universalist Christianity is and at the same time a condemnation of its peculiar, tribal American iteration. Most anyone who insists you KNOW they are a Christian is pretty likely a bad person. For the exact reason Jesus said.
If you’re asking if there was internal debate as to the content or sharpness of Dawn’s Early Apocalypse, no, because there wasn’t any internal at this point. This was just me now. I moved back to Iowa in kind of hurry. There’d been no plan to it. My dad was sick. My mom had dementia. I didn’t know permanent it was going to be. They just needed some help. I didn’t really know how I might restart doing music, but I moved to Iowa City, which is small but a university town close enough to the little burg I grew up in to help my parents out. Being a college town, there were some places to play, and a decent little aggregation of musicians there.
At that point, I didn’t like the “optics” or whatever of just becoming a “singer/songwriter.” Especially because, I guess, the songs I was writing were going where they were going. They needed a rage element to them. They needed a band to convey that properly on stage. In hindsight, it’s probably a daft quibble, but to my mind I at least needed to PRESENT as a “band” to convey what was coming out of my brain. In reality, there wound up being, what, 12 different guys who were the Red Smear, and I don’t know if that’s even counting the guys who played on the first record, who were AMAZING studio musicians Pete Anderson and Peter Lubin put together out in LA.
I’d saved up a LOT of money, relatively, by never really living The New York Life when I was in New York, and Lubin, a very decent dude from the Old School major label era, convinced me we could do something of a “breakout” record and establish my name as a solo artist. So I flew out there, we did the whole nine, really incredible learning experience. But the industry had shifted and, well, it wound up being a BIG investment with not much of a return.
But back to your point, I presented as a band but this started my solo period. I paid guys who played with me. There wasn’t any democracy to this particular enterprise.
“Kill The Poor” has gotten all too real in the past few years. Again, almost every line is spot on, and it sounds good to boot. Out of all the great lines, the one that kept ringing the most is “Repave our cities as consumerist plantations. Turn the cops into a martial force of occupation. Mall of America, pristine and sterilized, woe to those who can’t afford the price.” Sad it takes something like Ferguson to make people start to realize, holy shit, why do small town cops have armored personnel carriers, war time riot gear, and are a phone call away from sonic sci-fi weapons? This all comes back up in “Armies of the Lost” later on, and it’s part of the thread through the entire album.
I think, thematically, you detected something about it that I may have thought about in putting that body of work together. That the gloves are off, so to speak. No more fucking around. We are five years into this abominable, wayward, dickward shift in this republic and all the self-appointed agents of morality and decency have proven themselves to be complete cunts, their words and admonishments are poison and they can fuck off forever.
This is an “artistic” response, of course. It’s not necessarily wholly rational, but it is in defense of the rationality that had our folksy, decent, God-fearing neighbors had vented out the exhaust port into deep space, in favor of blithe mitigation of war crimes and a pointless war that killed a million people who didn’t do anything to deserve it. Dark times and destructive orthodoxy are tough to look at without having some kind of response akin to “this is complete horseshit and people are responsible for it.” And, as we’ve previously discussed, it wasn’t received well in some quarters.
Now, to be fair, some of this stuff originated in the Dogs period. “Kill the Poor” was originally Kevin Baier’s idea, though sonically, arrangement-wise, it was a much different song. I wound up using some of his original words so it’s a co-write. “Hey, Hitler!” originated in those late stages, though I can’t remember if we ever tried it out, but “Honea Path” we definitely did a few times before I left for Iowa. It begs the question as to whether those would’ve BECOME Hangdogs song, if we’d moved in that direction, and I don’t know the answer. I mean, “Honea,” sure, definitely, cuz it’s in that dirgey history groove that we kind of shared with the DBTs. The others, not so sure. Well, “Kill the Poor” in its current form, anyway. “Hey, Hitler!” might’ve been a bridge too far. A few years after ‘DEA’ and even ‘Ghost of Rock & Roll‘, we were talking about doing another record, if we could ever manage to all be together anyplace and work out the logistics, and we sort of put some new songs into the kitty, just sort of prepreproduction mulling. Some of the ones I threw in wound up being on ‘Songs In the Key of Your Face‘, but there seemed to be a quiet consensus that they “weren’t really Hangdogs songs,” and we never really moved beyond that on the idea.
I’ll play with those guys any time we can make it happen, to be clear. When we’re able to get together, we’re great and locks it like we never stopped, doing the old shit. BUT it’s just not easy to do. That’s what a goddamn BAND is.
‘Slut’ was an unexpected track, that still fit in perfect with the album’s themes. What place do ancient puritanical views have in a modern ‘free’ society? It kind of dovetails into “Nothing to Say” in regards to how relationships are viewed. “You know all those pretty words you waited for some boy to tell you, you damn sure won’t hear them from me. I’m insensitive and surly, full of liquor, wings, and rage, the farthest thing from some prince charming down on bended knee.”
“Slut” and “Nothing to Say” were arguably my last “love” songs but the point of them was, this whole convention is trite rubbish so let’s smash this dumb fucking trope, should we?
Demonizing sex. Ostracizing people who like sex. In the late 1960s, you couldn’t be an interracial couple and kiss in public in 30 fucking states without getting arrested. This is the exact same thing. The weird medieval clutches of moralist arbiters of “decency” who have been proven categorically wrong about every historical point of contention throughout history. They burned “witches” not because they were witches but because they were Anabaptist women who got woke and decided not to accept being a slave their entire lives as just a hum-drum everyday social stricture.
But haha “tradition.” Keepers of tradition can eat my ass. I decided to make it a Phil Spector-esque song because it ran against some of those WONDERFUL but also horribly dated girl-group songs, the ones where “oh no, Bobby flirted with Suzy at the drive-in and MAYBE IT’S THE END OF THE WORLD.”
Which is also “Nothing to Say,” as that was a song for my very real girlfriend at the time, but the target is really this idiotic convention of “foreverness” just beaten into our consciousness from the first fairy tale we see. “Happily ever after?” Fuck you, man, who the HELL can live up to that kind of expectation. And trying to do so buggers up the metrics of the rare instances when you really click with someone. I was with a young lady for maybe a year a few years ago, but after that blissful honeymoon period, it was constant measurement of “where are we going” and that conversation BECAME the relationship, instead of, y’know, doing fun shit with someone you’re attracted to who makes doing fun shit more fun. It’s pathos, and it’s conditioned, and all those “how-to” relationship articles and books have to be fucking up more people’s lives than they those they do any good.
And I’m at an age now where, Jesus, the amount of time you waste on this shit when there’s meaningful work to be done. And I don’t mean to be a dick about this, I KNOW it’s hard, and conditioning IS conditioning, that shit gets wired in – as per “One to Grow On” – but maybe the thing we need to liberate ourselves from is dumb fake sophist wisdom that, in fact, MAKES THINGS WORSE. It’s Heisenbergian. You change the outcome by measuring it.
“One to Grow On” certainly plays out like the after school special that kids young and old need to hear, it has that kind of kindergarten cadence to it at the start. At two minutes 28 seconds, it’s one of the shortest tracks on the album because it quickly delivers its message, directly and with little embellishment. “You are special TV shows say, you are the dawn of a brighter new day, but you’ll discover far too late, that everything you know is wrong. Brand names do not make you cool. Cool kids are twits and tools, fitting in is the worst thing that you can do, cause everything they know is wrong.”
“Honea Path” calls back to other historically focused songs like “Wallace ’48” and “Anacostia”, this time focusing on a textile worker’s strike in South Carolina 1934, which left six strikers dead. It’s imagery again conjuring up an oppressive police force, suppressing the voices of the workers, before opening fire on them.
“Armies of the Lost” is the emotional peak for the record, with a haunting account of protest. The dialogue is more directly personal with the cop, before the focus of the song widens to the protesters family, and then eventually America. Was there a specific contemporary event that inspired this, or is it sadly another timeless American experience?
We had half a million people in the streets of New York in early 2003, saying that war was bullshit. It was WRONG. And, in being wrong, it would be throwing away a bunch of lives not to solve problems but to DO DAMAGE, and thus CREATE MORE PROBLEMS. There were 12 million people out that day all over the world. LA. London. SF. My friends and I marched. Giuliani tried to pull the permit late and gunk everything up, but we marched anyway. Imagine what half a million people looks like. Cops tried to abbreviate the route, direct us here, shut it down early, but the route had been planned and they moved when they saw the column wasn’t going to stop. It was entirely peaceful, but it was LOUD. At the end of the march, I heard this meatball NYPD whiteshirt talking to a blueshirt as we crossed a street, and I just heard a short clip as I passed, him saying in the most drippingly condescending tone you can imagine, “Nah, we gotta make sure we don’t violate their ‘RIGHTS.'”
In such a way as to indicate that NOT beating people was counterintuitive.
That was the seed of “Armies of the Lost” – because it was like, fuck you, you didn’t even LISTEN when the BETTER INFORMATION was presented to you. Loudly. By people who had done their research. And thus knew better what would happen. And turned out to be right – and this is important – BECAUSE they had done their research. Because they knew how to perceive the world as a place with textures and nuance and complexity where you can’t just blow up problems because it’s a bad solution that creates more problems. This shouldn’t be fucking hard.
But, y’know, apparently it is.
If there’s one song that deserves air play in this bizarre alternate timeline we are living in these days, it’s “Hey, Hitler”. A poppy, cheerful number just as at home at the beach or in the backyard grilling hot dogs. Another song that’s perfectly quotable from start, to finish. “If there’s a hell you’re burning, like a billion white hot suns, but take some balm in PR people, country clubs, and patriots with guns.”
The country had gone off the fucking rails. It had realized the vast potential of everything awful a dumb, short-sighted, linear-thinking, idiot-managed, late-capitalist empire could be. “Hey, Hitler!” wasn’t a just a bunch of metaphors and oddly ironic happenstances drawn up to show parallels – as we’ve found out in the crystallization of that line of thinking in the last two years, THAT is where this shit orthodoxy leads, wars of aggression, implicit or (now) explicit notions of masterrace. How anyone says “American exceptionalism” and it doesn’t scare the fucking spine out of any rational person hearing it, I don’t know. You don’t get to be wrong and imperial and racist and get away with it just because you were born on the right patch of dirt and get Pavlovian tingles when someone trots out an abstraction like a Lee Greenwood song or the flag.
The vile genius of the Roves and Bannons and Mercers and Luntzes is they’ve figured out how to marshal people’s worst, most fascistic inclinations without the explicit wares and optics of Naziism, because, on the flipside, OF FUCKING COURSE they’re not going to do that. It’s not good marketing. Doesn’t mean the YIELD is not the same. You can do the most odious crimes imaginable with utter impunity in this country and never get caught or brought to justice, walking between raindrops, as long as you are wealthy and white, even as you’re gutting the basic infrastructures that make everyone else’s lives marginally livable. If that’s not a goddamn master-race, I don’t know what is.
There’s a dumb linear-thinking meme facile people trot out in the wake of every fuckawful thing either they participated in or someone else did that they want to think aren’t bad people for whatever reason. It’s that, “Well, people didn’t KNOW then. It was a DIFFERENT time.” Slavery, American apartheid, the Red Scare, the Iraq War, the civil rights movement, ad nauseum. “Well, things were different. Those people fought tooth-and-nail the basic advancement of the species for GOOD INTENTIONS and they just didn’t see the bigger picture we have now.”
And the response to that always needs to be, were there people pointing out, reasonably, that they were wrong? There almost always were. And if there were, you can’t fucking SAY they didn’t have access to better information. They did, and they CHOSE to rationalize the status quo because conservatism is intrinsically fucking lazy. It’s “self-examination is hard and I really don’t want to be bothered so this garbage system is good as it stands.” Usually because of [ABSTRACTIONS: God, natural order, flag, tribe]. So let’s not bother to solve these problems rationally, legislatively because in recognizing problems, it belies the abstraction du jour.
Part Five: The Ghost of Rock and Roll
‘The Ghost of Rock and Roll’ definitely continued the focused social dissection that ran through ‘Dawn’s Early Apocalypse’.
“Wrath of God” has a great juxtaposition between Sunday School dogma about all of god’s love with a few real world examples of said love, and those who would receive it. “God’s love lives in the flowers and the trees and the rain in the storms that drown whole cities. In the toxified corpse strewn wards where angels fear to delve” “God is merciful, except all the times that he’s something else.” “You can pray for sinners who deserve their fate, while you’re living in a house made of clear plain hate, loving your crosses and waiting for the rapture to be televised.” The toxicity of passive religious superiority is still alive and well in every small town, wherever two or more are gathered.
Grimm-“Wrath of God” was my Katrina song but it coincided, not long after, with the 2008 floods in Iowa. It wasn’t nearly as bad as being in New Orleans, of course, but I sandbagged days before the surge came down the river and the whole town was just bone-exhausted by the time it hit. There were a few days where we were cut off in every direction except the west. My dad lived 40 miles away and to get to him, I would’ve had to have driven to Des Moines, up North, over the highway 20 and back down, all jammed with detoured semi traffic, so it would’ve been a five-ish hour drive to go 40 miles. I was gonna take him out for Father’s Day but I had to put it off, obviously.
Poor me, a minor inconvenience, I was on high ground, none of my shit got washed away, like in Katrina, just that feeling of, shit, you’re at the mercy of something bigger here, just you and your neighbors, there’s nothing you can do about it. Imagine that but you’re city’s gone and there’s this whole shitty economic orthodoxy that says saving you, making your city livable, making your city safe, is something we just can’t afford. There’s a war to waged. It’s a zero-sum game, you either want to dump 5 trillion dollars into some lie-constructed imperial pigfuck or fix shit like Flint’s pipes or help poor kids not go hungry or restore power to Puerto Rico. Obviously, these people have made their choice. Most of them have done it in Jesus’s name. It’s a destructive, mean dogma, like it’s deconditioning people from empathy. Which is entirely the point when you need people to cloister off in their shitty paranoid tribes. American Jesus says fuck your neighbor, let him sandbag his own shit. Like learned sociopathy.
“Ayn Rand Sucks”, this album’s bombastic answer to ‘Dawn’s Early Apocalypse‘s “Hey Hitler”. I managed to dodge Atlus Shrugged in High School, and it wasn’t till BioShock came out that her name started to resurface more often. The song felt a bit personal, had this grudge been a long time coming, or a more recent development around 2008?
I’m not even sure what to say about Ayn Rand that doesn’t give her more import than she’s worth, which is the entire phenomenon that is Ayn Rand. I didn’t read her until later, like my post-academic ongoing studies, just to see what this burgeoning tsunami of assholes who signed the Contract With America was talking about. So I guess it’s a small favor that I’d gotten on top of my self-esteem issues at that point, even if they never went away. That shit was made to prey on dumb, soft brains in desperate need of validation, though how those same bad brains make it through that turgid rubbish, I can’t say. I couldn’t.
Most every social clique has it’s manual, whether the members understand it is another issue, which usually doesn’t seem to bother them in the slightest
There was a convenience to it, though, that’s outside her. She was a bad writer, conservative standard-bearers of the time even said this. It’s unreadable garbage with the most cartoonish, clumsy tropes as to make Old Hollywood look positively nuanced and textured. She was convenient to certain people. And it was people who desperately needed a new narrative, to recreate a myth of Great Men, who were INTRINSICALLY great and thus in need of liberation from the vile depredations of the masses and even the bourgeoisie. If you look at the time, these people forwarded this myth, it’s not hard to see what the hole was that they needed a new myth of Great Men to fill.
I don’t think Rand was a Nazi. But there’s a larger, older notion of, let’s call it, an ascendant order, or an order of ascendancy, that was around long before the Nazis and before her.
This is why it’s hard to analyze her without getting deeper into the phenomenon that gave rise to the Nazis and still informs this neofascist movement we’re seeing today. She’s a dumb asterisk on a beshitted orthodoxy that suggests, the nobles have everything in hand, leave them to be noble and enjoy the kibble off their table. This was ALL a reaction to the various paths of humanism and the Enlightenment itself. You can look at the defense arguments made at Nuremberg – and I learned this as a kid watching that movie, right? this is not complex stuff – that a lot of the legalism and pseudo-science of the Reich had seeds in the US. And that stuff grew out of the internal conflict with the Constitution that grew up with the country.
The Constitution and its built-in malleability were constructs of the Enlightenment. This came to be, necessarily, at odds with the feudal system entrenched in the South. The Enlightenment was specifically a tonic to the rapacious, shitty yields of the feudal economics, even if it was a bourgeois one trying to put off material violent revolution. Feudalism being as hard and as rigid an encoding of a “natural order” of ascendancy as you can imagine, right? THIS is your place. You are here to serve the system. The system does not serve you.
This goes right back to Bioshock Infinite, right? That war continued after Appomattox, just in different iterations and modes of conflict. William Graham Sumner. Thomas Dixon.
The pseudo-science, eugenics, Jim Crow, specific misapplications of Darwin to social dynamics, these were all apparatuses to maintain this conservative notion of an ascendant class, by preventing it from being answerable to anyone, much less an influx of people who’d only recently been the most vile reminder of the moral indefensibility of that “natural” order. Laissez-faire was just a dumb fucking pseudo-intellectual excuse to re-encode nobility, just without anyone called a “baron” or duke or king or whatever. But here is, of course, the 8 bajillion pound gorilla that the acolytes of the orthodoxy ignore, always, forever, which is it worked BADLY.
Do-nothing government that only bothers to DO anything when it serves to enrich a privileged class? That’s OLD shit, but that was the United States from 1965 through, what, 1901 or whatever, and even then, whatever proto-progressives instituted and whatever minor gains made by labor, was niggling compared to the power wielded by the Morgans and Rockefellers.
The utter suspension of empiricism involved in this absolutely breathtaking.
I’m dropping a lotta names. Dickensian. That works too.
But it’s breathtaking enough that we can’t be surprised when we look behind the veneer of cartoon history and see, even before Rand, who those people backed as a tonic to the more socialistic, humanistic reforms that grew out of the leftmost branch of the Enlightenment and hoped to realize it.
Of COURSE Dixonian White Supremacy and other American rationalizations of stratified society find their way into nationalist movements in Europe. It’s in capitalists’ interest that they do. Of COURSE American capitalists bankrolled the Nazis. They were a tonic to A) communism, sure, but B) the social democratic movement that MERGED Reds and bourgeois democrats and threatened to better realize democratic PRACTICE, and giving more people more power was a threat to their dumb, petty little zero-sum views of the universe.
Haha but this is what I meant at the beginning of this, it’s tough to analyze her as a thing without getting into the bigger, macromalevolence she was just a convenient show horse for.
Which goes right in with “White”. At that time what was the final push to write it? It could have fit into almost any of your albums, but why then?
Honestly, I wondered if I could pull off a hip hop breakdown.
“White,” not the song, “whiteness” is obviously seeded in all that mess. As I’ve yammered before, conservatism is fucking lazy. It accepts that the only real problems are problems to the tribe, problems to an inefficient status quo, because that lets you off the hook for solving real problems. If it’s Latino kids’ problems that their parents brought them here when they were two, well, it’s not “my tribe’s problem.”
The delusion of whiteness is that everything is fine, because it is, generally, for white people. Their biggest issues are bullshit. Pew, Ipsos, all these guys have done polling since the election about what is the actual meaning of the “cultural anxiety” that elected Trump, and, no surprises, they think white people and Christians are the most oppressed humans on the face of the planet. It’s just astonishing narcissism and delusion, but it’s MADE. It’s a socially engineered thing. These are the people bitching about “identity politics” and they’re active agents of the most fake, monumental “identity politics” construct imaginable. It’s, per Gramsci’s term, false consciousness, to a tee. I know a ton of white people who see through, of course, because I know smart people, but that’s kind of the point of the song, they’re not “white” people.
- Self-IDing AS the tribe is necessary political outcome of the social engineering project.
- For those running the project, obv.
And when I was younger, yeah, I was a big NWA, BDP and PE fan, so I thought a fun way to make that point was with that little hook.
“Cinderella” feels like a follow up to “One to Grow On”, staring down the fairytale stories sold by the truckload to little girls. The opening line sums it up, “does he know he might be the one, who saves you from being alone, with the grinding fear of a life of your own.” The line “Cinderella, in bridesmaid yella, went upstairs to eat ice cream and watch a dvd” always stood out to me, imagery man.
I like the imagery in ‘The Ghost of Rock & Roll’, that it is this spirit that can be dialed into with our analogue radio Ouija boards. Everyday people working our everyday jobs, scanning the frequencies to see if we can find her and get a taste of that feeling, however fleeting.
‘The Ghost of Rock & Roll’ was based on a real lady we met in Knoxville. She worked as a nurse and sort of late in life had picked up a late weekend shift on a local progressive radio station. Was a big Hangdogs fan, I guess. We only stopped through once, at her beckoning, just me and Mick doing a duo tour through a few Southern towns. Knew nothing about Knoxville, but she pointed us to an open mic the night we were gonna be in town – which tells you how anemic booking got to be even a few years into doing solo shit – and gave us a place to stay. I just sort of decided to turn her into a Twilight Zone episode.
I’d like to thank Matthew Grimm again for his time and energy.
You can find his music from over the years at the links below and more: