Does the word that just popped into your head show up here? Find out:

29 February, 2012

The Other White Album

There will be no image for this post. Imagine an old-school album cover, a canvas of slightly over one gross of square inches where record companies could visually present their product. If this worked, or if dumb luck smiled up a string of hits, then the band could do a Concept Album, complete with specially commissioned airbrush art.

So imagine a young punk's joy at flipping through a bin at Plan 9 and eyeing an album with no damn art at all. Imagine your fingertips treading to the Beatles' "White Album"  (blessed occular nerve relief from Sgt. Pepper's Gaudy Arts Club Band).

Now imagine that you are some lame old longhair, and that in another section of the store is some punk kid looking at a real white album. No words. No fucking advertisement for the band, and sure as shit no critics coming along later and using this marring of White Album-ness pretentiously, as in "Only the original vinyl was thus embossed. Other pressings are worthless...except for the music I suppose."

Furthermore, this blank expanse of non-ink contained within it more or less the legendary album (even when the Sex Pistols were only stale, not historic) "Never Mind the Bollocks." The punk boy knew this because the counter guy said so. So it was a bootleg! Young punk boy didn't know much, but he did know that buying a legit album would just hand money to wankers. Neither he nor the record store, I think, ever figured out that selling certain albums in unmarked sleeves would incentivise insecure customers' purchases.

The vinyl did not disappoint. Banter not on Bollocks (he did know that meant balls or something) appeared on this disc, and at least one song from the album (that grand old abortion ballad "Bodies") had gone missing. The quality was probably shittier than the commercially real thing. Most of the songs sound different, and young punk boy convinced himself that he had real recordings of the band, and not the over-produced crap in the House of McCLaren album cover. 

And so said album was not hidden in shame, culled, nor abused so badly that abandonment remained the only course. This week, that punk boy (now incapable of a mohawk) rearranged some things in the garage, got the phono simultaneously spinning and plugged in and not scratching the hell out of records. It had been two out of three the last time, but that was a crazy set-up on a table saw. Now turntable rested on a heavy slab o walnut on foam strips atop a surprisingly vibration-free freezer, an elegant blend of opportunism and mechanical physics.

He listened with dulleder ears than he had when this smudged and patina'd album was new, when digital recording was unheard of, groove ruled, and once you done scratched, ain't no going back. He cleaned the vinyl, and it looked pretty good, but antiquity popped, wowed, and fluttered through each side. Which was intense, in that fuzzed up preservation of something rough to begin with adheres to the ethos more than a digitally manipulated (is that a redundant phrase?) version available at vendors these days. 

Alas, it was also untense, slack and slow by the hardcore that supplanted American punks' British fadscination by 1980. Johnny Rotten's relentless tooth-hamming remained audible, sneering clearly after all these years while the bass was hard to pick up anymore, but maybe that just what happens to punk boy's ears after standing in front of PA stacks too much as a kid. 

Even if he cannot hear it right, the Sex Pistols canon is preserved, historicized (I've never seen so many notes on a wikipedian entry: 238 as of today), and curated. The Sex Pistols refused canonization by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame a few years ago, but they do still manage to cash in on their old man music. Meanwhile, God saved the Queen for a 50th and now 60th year of her reign, while Lydon still mugs for the camera for a few quid. 

Lost luster and ironic subsequencies didn't ruin the listen, though, and when the arm swung back to it's resting place and the turntable drifted to a stop, punk boy was a little less old man than he'd been half an hour earlier.

11 February, 2012

42 Day

I don't have a shot of 42 Day. Here's Hippopotamidae instead.

42 is the answer to life, the universe, and everything, according to a wildly popular series of books whose author says it was spur of the moment choice, that the number utterly lacks significance or meaning. 

Predictably, readers who are conspiracy theorists, inclined to religion or mysticism, or left-handed will act all sly and reply, "He's lying...He's a prophet (whether he knew it or not)...He's given us a game...42 really does mean something."

One of those afflictions is why I celebrate 42 Day, faithfully falling on the 11th day of February every year the earth keeps whirling round yon sun and the European calendar prevails. No Eastery shiftlessness, asserting its arbitrariness by refusing to be held to some solar or lunar anchor, 42 Day stays tucked safely in February before a Leap Day can throw it off. 42 is solid.

And yet shifting, un-pin-downable. A day for celebrating the joys of contradiction. For flouting devoutly. It commemorates all and nothing. However you may choose.

Maybe 7 people will read this post, and I wish you all a Happy 42 Day. May you enjoy it, and maybe again next year, but then forget it. To be too dedicated is against the spirit of the day, and procastination and lapsing are no prob. Although many people search "42" on the internet, this blog is snugly buried on results page 7 or 12 or 13 (or 42), and won't go viral. We need not fear that someone will take this seriously enough to get all religious about it. 

But just in case, I'd like to speak to zealous readers: I am neither devotee, disciple, nor prophet. 42 Day is just me messing around, and you should read nothing into it should you discover that Feb 11 was the very day I was born, or the Day We Fight Back Against Mass Surveillance. Don't invoke 42 Day to whip up fervor, to separate the world into the faithful and infidel, to ascribe martyrdom and sainthood. And for Darwin's sake, don't worship hippopotomi. Try not to lose this last paragraph. 

05 February, 2012

Menehune Action

A recent discussion at Olyblog got me to thinking about civic responsibility, the roles of government and the private sector, and common sense. It started when someone said that the city had told them it was fine for folks to pick up wood from trees being trimmed and felled in the aftermath of a big storm. Then they posted again, saying that no, the City had informed them that this is not the policy. I chimed in with the opinion that it probably boils down to liability, and that city government must officially say no, lest every joker who hurts themselves comes looking for a big payoff.

But what really interested me was the next comment, from a resident of Legion street, where some beautiful but doomed oaks were damaged. Under normal circumstances, she said, the city crew would cut, and the neighbors would then come through and salvage the wood. But this storm hit too many trees, and a contractor was hired that proceeded to block access to locals, while allowing someone from out Delphi Road way to come in and load up with prime firewood. The commenter said she called the City, which said that no, the contractor was not entitles to the wood.

Yet again, we see how transfer of a government function to the private sector can devolve to piracy. I don't know whether the load of firewood is destined for the market, or just heating some guy's house. But I do know that putting up barriers and preventing the neighbors from getting a share is wrong. I also see that when all is said and done, private entities will have lined their pockets with government funds, even if they are not ripping off firewood, for work that some of the neighbors would have done for free.

When I lived in Hawai'i, and worked for a chronically cash-strapped government, we sometimes relied on neighbors. Sometimes they formed a group, and signed an agreement, and became official curators of a place. But just as often, they pitched in, doing at least some of what needed doing. This kind of work came to be known as "menehune action," a reference to the menehune, ancient Hawaiians known for getting big jobs done with amazing speed and prowess.

In modern tourism-dependent Hawai'i, the menehune have been cutesified and co-opted, turned into grinning big-eyed munchkins and pressed into service selling everything from keychains to bottled water. (Disclosure: Menehune water was my favorite, but more because I knew it came from deep below Halawa Valley than for the logo.)
Long ago, Hawaiians themselves mythologized the menehune to some degree, noting their strangely short stature and ascribing to them incredible feats such as building fishponds and other massive public works in a single night.

I don't doubt the power of a determined group of hard workers unfettered by red tape, but there is at least a little of the phenomenon in which elites unaccustomed to manual labor exalt the physical ability of their laborers. The word menehune derives from Tahitian for commoners, the people who worked for the chiefs. Hawaiian lore, however, enriches this relationship with some complexities. For one, the menehune are often described as being the first people, or at least the ones who were in a place before the big Hawaiians and the bigger south sea chiefs. Also, no matter how high a chief, mistreating the menehune or ignoring their demands to work in privacy, led to them disappearing and not completing the job.

The secrecy of their work, often under cover of darkness, usually without tolerating non-menehune, survived in some of the menehune action I knew of. Where the state insisted on complicated and onerous work rules, volunteer labor sometimes evaporated like water on hot lava. Where the menehune saw something really needed to be done, and the officials were oblivious, it would sometimes mysteriously happen. Some of these officials knew exactly what was happening, their blindness was really just a long wink at their menehune partners.

Like the city guy who said take the wood. No City Official will say in print that people can come with saws and wedges and work in a right of way, but plenty of city workers know the deal, and wink or turn the other way as they drive past our own northwest menehune, cleaning the land and getting firewood.

The subject is rich, and I could go on, but it seems like now is a good time to go get some wood. The chiefs don't often work on Sundays, so I won't be bothered. I suspect that they'll be happy on Monday, judging from the number of other menehune I've seen this weekend.