Thursday, March 26, 2015

Don’t Don’t Don’t Don’t Report: The Unbearable Whiteness of Indie

By: Ben Johnson

The above image is taken from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, which is a white movie about white people. In this scene, hypochondriac worrier Cameron sits in his car, bathing in self pity, locked in a heated argument with himself about whether or not to meet up with his best friend Ferris. “He’ll keep calling me,” he says, “he’ll keep calling me until I come over.” I can identify with this. I am a white guy, first of all, and an introvert and a grump and a self-pityer, and I often find myself drawn out into the sunshine against my will and wishes to do things which actually might be good for me for all I know.

That’s how I feel about the urge to talk about a piece by Sarah Sahim called The Unbearable Whiteness of Indie which appeared yesterday in Pitchfork (of all places) and has now made its way into my social media radar. I am a white guy who would rather be in bed. But the urge will keep calling me.

I hope you’re not expecting me to get all huffy and puffy and Men’s Rights and Reverse Racism about this. I also hope you know me well enough to know that I would never ever want to defend “indie” music against any of the litany of very well justified criticisms it so richly deserves. I am a proud and loyal adherent to most of these, starting with the snidest kneejerk rockist aesthetic about how much “indie” music sucks and has been overrun by asskissing clowns in ridiculous clown costumes, including the more political and informed version of this criticism of “indie” music’s complete and obvious absorption by capitalistic profit-motive which still somehow eludes music fans to the extent that “indie” remains a word that is expected to mean anything, on through to more egregious nitpicking about how there’s no place to sit at these damn things. If somebody wants to say something about how “indie” music is also inherently racist in much the same way that all things are, I am going to agree with that wholeheartedly.

The closest I can get to being a whiny self-pitying white boy about the piece is to say maybe we can cut Belle and Sebastian a break. They’re Scottish. They don’t really have a lot of culturally available options other than to be just about as white as the surface of the sun for the rest of their lives.

Other than that, my only real axe to grind with the piece is that it does not, and maybe can not (?) due to the context of it, go far enough. Of course “indie” music, and the culture surrounding the production and reception of “indie” music is racist. Sahim adroitly points out that “indie” music (yes I am going to use those quote the whole time—deal with it) contains a particularly damaging brand of “who me?” racism which masquerades as open-mindedness. “I can’t be racist, I’m really into world music, and I love Kanye West.” And then no further investigation is necessary. Sahim rightly condemns this. But she stops short of the conclusion that indie music is also racist because capitalism is racist, because every dollar is a racist dollar, and because “indie” music, like all forms of popular culture, is formed within and in response to the economic landscape. In the case of “indie” music, we’re talking way more "within" than "in response to" these days. 

This is all implied in the piece, all a part of every discussion about race, but often gets lost as an explicit part of the conversation because serving the monetary interests of media outlets is a part of how information is disseminated. You can call Pitchfork racist in a piece which appears in Pitchfork, but within limitations and inevitably beholden to their ad revenue. You're not going to be able to call them rapacious moneygrabbers who are hugely responsible for the irreversible commodification of youth culture, or talk about how racist structures and hierarchies in culture are an inevitable result of that commodification process. You can only address the culture. Only that much and no more.

Motherfucking Pitchfork.

“Indie” music is racist because racist dollars have combined with technology (the development of which, let’s not forget, is also fueled by racist dollars) to make an economic landscape of musical production wherein fledgling artists get their big break more from getting a song on a Volkswagen commercial than from having actual human people call up a radio station and request a song (not that that ever actually happened). I realize this is a gross oversimplification which ignores the nuances of racial subtext as well as implies that the systems which govern production of "non-white" and "non-indie" music are somehow separate from "white" and "indie" (they are and they aren't), and also overlooks the extent to which the actually fiscally independent portions of the “indie” music “scene” may or may not be a training ground for white-targeted commercialism, but I have delved into that in the past.

Let’s just say, as a shorthand for all of the myriad changes that have happened to the economic production of popular music, that the “indie” music scene as a subset of music now more accurately represents “all those musical artists whose seeming aesthetic purpose is to produce the kind of music which would work well in a Volkswagen commercial” than “all those musical artists who are not unified by any particular aesthetic purpose but whose mode of economic production is out of necessity self-guided.” I guess I can stop putting quotations around “indie” now. We all know what indie actually means. It means the bands that Pitchfork likes. You War On Drugses. Your Vampire Weekends. And all of the unending echo chamber of other indie bands trying to sound exactly like them.

My god, do I ever hate the word indie. It is every bit as disingenuous an economic signifier of cultural production as the pervasive “I’m not a racist” racism which Sahim puts on blast. No, you are not independent of anything. Yes, everything is racist. Yes, you are therefore, by not being independent of everything, a racist. Say it. “I am not independent of anything. I am therefore a racist.” When viewed in this context, the word indie, by virtue of its constant misuse, means in addition to the aesthetic values of noticeable pleasantness and sonic experimentation of the still commercially viable sort, also that particular brand of “post-racism” racism in which racial contexts remain unexamined in whole or in part because, like, we’re over it, man. Which is why it drives me nuts to have the word indie appear in the title of a piece about the latent racism of the indie scene without it really saying anything about how the indie scene itself is a construct of structurally racist economic forces. Indie music is by and for white people not just because its white participants are inherently racist and exclusionary (although they totally are), but also, further, because the whole incubation of indie music and indie music culture is rooted in excesses which are afforded by privilege. Indie music is not independent. It is very much dependent.

Actually, “die music” sounds good. Pronounced “DEE” for dependent. You going to Pitchfork this year? I’m really into die music. It works on so many levels. “Die” as in to kill. “De-music” as in “to make less like music.” “Dependent” as in subsumed by capitalist interests on a skeletal level, an “us” without an actual “them” anymore, only varying degrees of “less us” as defined by the Leo Burnett music department head and corporate buyers at Urban Outfitters and other powers that be. You know, die music. Die rock. Die music.

Of course it’s racist.

What are we going to do about it? I have no fucking clue. None. I guess just talk about it? Shame each other into perpetual mediocrity using some arbitrary set of reactionary aesthetic guidelines which can also be easily replicated by any idiot with a guitar? Strike some ridiculous pose that can then immediately be exploited? Stop listening to pleasant music that sounds good? None of that will work. We’re stuck. We didn’t beat them. We joined them. And now we have to bear our share of the blame for things like racism. And we have to do it better and more thoroughly than can be discussed on Pitchfork, because Pitchfork is a business. It’s a gigantic fucking colossus of DIE MUSIC. I advocate having nothing to do with it, though I can't tell you what to replace it with. So far my only plan is to be a grump and to stay in bed and to purchase a bunch of jazz reissues. The Black Saint And The Sinner Lady on vinyl is every bit as good of an experience as advertised. I know this is not an actual plan, but it's been working okay for me. Petulant mansplainer that I am.

I did not want to do this. I just get agitated whenever I see a conversation about race that appears to not also be about money. Reminder: racism is an economic phenomenon. It's not just some effete Scottish guy with a retro haircut crooning about horse dreams. That's about what my urge to say something boils down to, although totally right on for saying that effete Scottish guys with a retro haircut crooning about horse dreams are painfully, painfully white. They're, like, Fairport Convention white. Like Peter, Paul And Mary white. Absolutely. Just read the Sahim piece. It's good. She's good and she's had to put up with way more than I ever have. What the fuck.

I'm sorry this had to happen, you guys. He just kept calling me. And now I've decided I'm gonna take a stand. Who do you love? You love a car. You love a Volkswagen commercial. Aw Jesus. This is bad. I could have just said "right on." She said all of this pretty much already. Jesus. What a mess. Next time I am for sure staying in bed. I need to stop being friends with Ferris. He is not my friend. He is an asshole.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

An Emotional Review of Sufjan Stevens' 'Carrie & Lowell'

By: Kelly McClure

More and more people are coming out of the closet as Sufjan fans. There was a time not too long ago when I'd be made fun of for my open love of him (and equally so) his music, but now people know better

I think that for the most part the common frump finds it embarrassing to have emotions. Unless they're ironic emotions. Crying along with Taylor Swift about how she leaked through her tampon is one thing, but singing along to someone's song about their dead mom is another. I get it though because, just like Sufjan, my own estranged Mother died recently. Just one of the many things that Sufjan and I have in common, aside from being complete soul mates.

(The title of this post should really be: All the Different Ways I Can Make This Be About Me.)

I first learned of Sufjan many years ago when a track of his was included on a VICE compilation that came sealed in an issue of the magazine. They used to do that for awhile and it was a great way to learn about bands without having to hunt and peck all over the internet. I still very much value a "thing." A physical "thing." I can't remember the exact track, but it had something to do with blood and wasn't "You Are the Blood." Maybe someone can remind me, because it was a really great song. It made me immediately love him in the intimate way that only a person singing a song can be loved. There's a special kind of love reserved for music, and I've felt that love for Sufjan Stevens for awhile now.

I've since gone on to write about him in a million different ways. If you Google "Kelly McClure Sufjan Stevens" you get THIS. I've seen him perform in multiple cities, multiple times. I'm moving to New Orleans next month and have already bought tickets to his show there in May. All signs point to his being the first show I go to on my new home turf. I've gone to his Christmas shows. I've yelped with joy over his theatrics and balloon drops. I've yadda yadda yadda. He's mine. He's MY thing. I feel pretty intense about it all.

When I started reading news bits about his new album, Carrie & Lowell,  I couldn't wait to hear it - and immediately pre-ordered it - but it also became the only album in the history of albums that I feared listening to. The album is about the death of his estranged mother three years ago and since my Mom (also very much estranged) died on October 31, 2013, I knew that his new songs would be nothing less than extremely beautiful repeated punches to the gut and face.

My pre-ordered album is probably floating through the air to me as I type this, but it's available for streaming on PITCHFORK (and other places) as of this past Sunday. I've been putting off listening to it, for obvious reasons, but now I'm gonna let 'er rip for the first time and probably cry until the neighbors call the police or I turn into a salty mist and cease to be.

So here is a track by track review of each song and how it made me feel and what it made me think about my own dead Mom because, again, this post is all about me.

"Death With Dignity"

I was very much afraid of being around my Mom when she was alive. Her mood could turn on a dime. We'd be driving along going to Target or something, laughing and having fun, and then I'd drink the last sip of her can of Coke and she'd turn into a monster. But now that she's gone I look for her everywhere. I see her in every little blonde woman who passes me on the street. I think she's trying to deliver me messages via birds I see, either out the window or when I'm walking around. Every shadow in my apartment is her ghost. One time I smoked a cigarette in the kitchen and put my hand up against the wall and pretended I was holding her hand. Almost every member of my family has had some profound dream about her but me. On the day before this past Halloween, which marked the one year anniversary of her death, I had an appointment booked for a seance and was really excited to maybe get the chance to hear from her, but the seance lady cancelled and I took that as a sign that my Mom didn't then, and still doesn't, want to talk to me.

"Your apparition passes through me, in the willows, and five red hens, you'll never see us again."

"Should Have Known Better"

Almost two years ago I wrote my Mom a letter about how I'm full on gay and met the love of my life and was about to get married and wanted her to be a part of my life. Weeks went by and I didn't hear anything, and then my mom died. She died about three weeks after getting that letter. It was my last, and greatest attempt at having the kind of relationship with her that I had always wanted, and nothing came of it.

"I should have known better, nothing can be changed, the past is still the past, the bridge to nowhere." 

"All of Me Wants All of You"

I could be wrong, but it seems like this song is about how Sufjan turned to empty sex to cope with parts of his grieving process. I didn't personally go that route. I was in a committed (soon to be married) relationship and, although it did take a bit of time, I functioned normally - sex wise. I did definitely start drinking every day at 11AM though.

"I'm just a ghost you walk right through."

"Drawn to the Blood" 

Earlier on in my writing career, when I still lived with my parents, I'd try to share my stuff with my Mom and she'd say something like "I don't need to read it, I know what kind of stuff you write." But then when I flew to Illinois after her funeral to help  my Dad clear out her massive piles of stuff, I found stacks of magazines that I had written for, and newspaper clippings from all throughout the years. My Dad lives alone in that house now and it's all but empty. Every time I talk to him on the phone he says he just walks around saying "unbelievable."

"What did I do to deserve this? Now, how did this happen?" 


One time when I was about eight or ten I went to a Cubs game with my parents and a few other members of my family. My Mom burnt my right wrist somehow with her cigarette and called me a spoiled brat. I can't remember what I had been doing. The memory fluctuates between the burn being accidental, or on purpose. I still have a very visible scar from it and I like looking at it now. The memory of it has changed form that of fear, shame, or pain to being more like a souvenir of her. You can make the saddest memory into a happy one after someone dies.

"Remember I pulled at your shirt, I dropped the ashtray on the floor. I just wanted to be near you."

"Fourth of July"

My Mom had this way of self sabotaging things she was excited about. Holidays, graduations, all the way down to a day at the mall. It was like she'd spend so much time thinking about a thing and planning how to make it perfect, that there was no way she felt she could live up to her own expectations for it, so she'd just act nuts. I'd always feel so bad for her. There was always a pit in my stomach waiting for that moment when her forced smile turned into a frown.

"Did you get enough love, my little dove, why do you cry?"

"The Only Thing" 

One of the semi-not mentally healthy things I've taken away from the experience of losing someone so immediately close to me is that life and death are both completely ridiculous and meaningless. The fact that you can go from living so many years, worrying about so many things, to one morning not existing at all really proves that we all worry about the stupidest shit. I feel each day as a separate thing now, and not just a solid ruler of experience leading from here to there. I worry about much less, but am also terrified because I know that I'm gonna die and that feels real now. My Dad walked into an emergency room with a wife and walked out without one, and that's it. That's life. It's the snap of fingers.

"Do I care if I despise this? Nothing else matters, I know. In the veil of great disguises, how do I live with your ghost?" 

"Carrie & Lowell"

My Dad likes to tell me this story about how he and my Mom danced and kissed all the way through the song "Knights in White Satin" at some event or school dance (I forget) that they went to. Thinking about happy memories like that feels like an anchor around your neck when such great potential for a happy life all went to shit.

"Like a dead horse, meadowlark drive your arrow."

"John My Beloved"

My Mom was a cheerleader all through school and was very blonde and very beautiful.  My Dad will talk endlessly about how he just couldn't believe how pretty she was when they first started dating. Not that he thought she got less pretty, but he says it as though he felt really shocked and honored that she would have chosen him out of all the other guys she could have had. She used to bleach my hair when I was really little in an effort to make me, I don't know what, more like her I guess. I know she thought I was funny and smart, but I always got the sense she was disappointed that I came out looking more like my dad and less like her. I have the same movements and gestures as her though. I carry my body like she did. And I like that now. I'm conscious of it sometimes and it reminds me of her and makes me feel like she's around.

"Such a waste, your beautiful face." 

"No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross"

My family has never been outwardly religious, aside from a few members, but it's safe to say that we all believe in "something." Some sort of higher power. That being said, when I think of my Mom I don't think of her as a "religious person." Nothing about her reminds me of religion in any way. Her memory isn't tied to that. For her funeral service we just kept it really small, only immediate members of the family. There was no official person there to say any words for her, so my Uncle took it upon himself to get up at the front of the room and read some religious stuff from his phone. It didn't evoke any emotions from me at all and didn't seem to  have anything to do with her. I think he tried to make himself cry at one point. I just sat by my Dad and stared at my Papa's burial spot that was behind him. I would much rather have heard stories about her life because I really didn't know much about it. I cried really hard at one point and made a snorting noise and felt embarrassed, and then felt stupid and selfish for feeling embarrassed.

"There's blood on that blade, fuck me I'm falling apart." 

"Blue Bucket of Gold"

My Dad and my Aunt and Uncle and I drove together to my Mom's service and my Dad put on a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young CD because that was one of my Mom's favorite bands. Listening to "Wooden Ships" and looking out the window at the Yarn Barns and DQs that pepper the scenery of this particular section of suburban Illinois my Dad lives in was my favorite part of the whole service. Favorite in the sense that it had the most to do with her.

"Raise your right hand, tell me you want me in your life. Raise your red flag, just when I want you in my life." 


The Actual Local's Guide to Washington, DC (For Locals)

By: Josh Hutcheson

So there I was, sitting in Zengo, enjoying a nice brunch of dim sum and antojitos and reading the latest issue of LunchBox. There was a fascinating piece comparing the prices and tastes of a Ricky in Chinatown versus a Ricky in NoMa (one locale prefers the more traditional bourbon, whilst the other favors the more plebian gin. Natch).

I continued reading the magazine as I hopped onto the Green Line --while jamming out to some Rare Essence, of course-- past the Borf mural, down to U Street for a quick little nosh at Ben’s Chili Bowl. Following that, I snagged a conveyance from the Bike Share and made my way to Anacostia to pick up an eight ball of Hinckley and a quart of mambo sauce. With those tasks completed, I wandered over to the Hawk ‘n’ Dove for my shift running the glory hole in the men’s room.

The magazine article that really caught my eye was about living like a native in this fair city. The places to go, the places to be seen, the things to do and eat, what to wear, what to do, what people to hate and the myriad other things that differentiate living in this particular city from any other city in the world.
And it was all the most egregious of bullshit.

See, I live in the Washington D.C. metro area. I was born in the city proper and grew up right outside its august gates. As far as I can tell, there are at least three separate D.C.s:

1. There’s the touristy portion, full of free --or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, needlessly expensive-- museums, national monuments, hot dogs cooked in toilet water and crappy tee shirts stitched together in Indonesian sweat shops.

2. The political side of D.C., which is anything around Capitol Hill, (or just “The Hill” as smug, self-important assholes call it).

3.  And the actual, honest-to-goodness locals, the groupings of which can be divided into sub-categories, ranging from the scared white people in Georgetown, to the scared black people in South East.

4.  The group that tends to lead the charge when it comes to these stories about being a local and fitting in to the area, is the second group mentioned. More specifically, the people we call “transplants.” These people are usually political staffers in their 20s and early 30s who amble into town for a few years and irritatingly mandate what’s “hot” and “in” around here. Then, after the transplants have left as annoyingly as they came, we locals wash their stink off of us, have a good laugh at their expense and continue to do whatever the hell it is we do. I think it has something to do with driving like insane people.

For years, I would occasionally see these stories pop up on the laziest of “news” websites. But over time, I noticed that those kinds of pieces were appearing more and more frequently, and not just for D.C. but for all major American metropolitan areas. And even non-metropolitan areas. Which makes no sense. I don’t mind that I’m not a native of Abingdon, West Virginia. I certainly don’t need to know the proper local etiquette for asking my first cousin out.

But back to the D.C. articles; I would quickly look over their checklists of local behavior to see how I measured up, and I often found myself wanting. I would panic, because I felt that I wasn’t living right. Yet, like an addiction, I would feel compelled to read about how I was a failure as a native Washingtonian. I would pick up a newspaper, --or, more likely, click on a link, because we live in Buck Rogers times now-- and thick, sour rivers of sweat would pour down my face as I read about the restaurants and bars that I’d never heard of, but everyone was going to, including my loved ones and family pets.

I was forever baffled. I couldn’t understand how I, as an indigenous dude, had missed the double-decker tour bus on all of these wonderful things that absolutely everybody I’ve ever known had been doing for years. And then it hit me: these lists aren’t written by, or meant for locals. They’re written by outsiders. The unbidden. Those who have weird geography identity issues and are OCD about classifying humans. And, on top of that, the lists are so esoteric as to be meaningless to anybody who reads them beyond a two block radius of the author’s pretentious coffee house of choice.

You see Washington D.C. is a large city, using land appropriated from more than one state. It has about nine dozen distinct neighborhoods and a population of “oodles” according to the US Census Bureau website. The point is that the day-to-day life of a citizen in Tenleytown can be the polar opposite of that of a resident of Ward 8, but they’re still both inhabitants of the same city. Just two different parts of this multicolored, patchwork quilt we call The Former Murder Capital of these United States.

Anything I have done as a local is automatically something that a local does. It’s one of the simplest truisms to ever make itself known to me (the other being Pimpin’ Ain’t Easy). And it’s one I wish I was famous enough to abuse. Because then I’d be constantly walking around town in footie pajamas, walking my pet llama on a dental floss leash and eating only pineapple rinds, making sure that all the tourists got a good steaming gawk at me. And then, when I was sure I have everybody’s attention, I’d scream at the top of my lungs “Welcome to the Nation’s Capital! I’ll be your guide!”

I can see it in my mind’s eye. My “Living Like a Local” tour would be a smash hit. Buy your tickets now. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

I Started A Joke That Started The Whole World Crying

By: Ben Johnson

I felt like bitching and moaning about AT&T. That’s how it started. There was a minor problem with my cell phone autopay, and my bill wasn’t going through. So I called a service rep to have them fix it, and the service rep told me that I could avoid having to call a service rep ever again if I’d just download the “MyATT” app and manage my own account on it. It made me upset in the way that I am always upset whenever the thought occurs to me that all corporations, everywhere, especially ones the size of AT&T, are constantly thinking of new ways to make all of us work for them instead of the other way around.  

I’ve been to an AT&T call center. I spent two weeks back in 2006 doing goofy “improv-based” corporate training sessions at a call center out in the suburbs of San Diego. An AT&T call center is a sad place in most of the ways you’d expect. The outside is a large hot parking lot full of various not very good model cars with various bumper stickers about honor roll students and Jesus and sloganeering from various masculine-sounding gearhead clubs and corporations which boil down to Not Having Fear, overflowing outdoor ashtrays with the sand long gone, utilitarian striped reflective glass buildings designed with two 135 degree angles at the corners rather than one 90 degree angle, the architecture’s only reluctant concession to the whimsical nature of the humans which regrettably must inhabit it. And the inside, all bright fluorescent lighting and gleaming linoleum and gray cubicles with troll dolls and giveaway AT&T stress balls and big gulp cups full of whatever fuel is needed for 9 straight hours of sitting and talking to whiney people. The break room a gallery of thousand yard stares, decorated with updates about Pam’s son and something about time sheets featuring a clip art stick man with a puzzled question hanging over his head. You know, the necessary monetary feeding tube of the current brain dead life support incarnation of the American Dream.

Having their lives thus humanized by visiting their doorstep, I get feelings for call center reps whenever I notice something like AT&T’s apparent requirement that they tell all customers, day in and day out, via a plug for the MyATT app, about their looming obsolescence. These people have to breathe that amount of atmospheric disrespect in and out for every shift they work in every working day of their lives, and had to even before some hot shot came up with the MyATT app, but now as ever even more so, increasingly until they burst of it. "Did you know you could further deleverage any negotiating power I might have with my employer? It's as simple as a click!" and on to the next caller, and on and on until today's double shift is over and my dad's leg surgery is a little closer to paid off. That kind of a thing.
So this particular customer service experience occurring on a Saturday when I was not busy, and due to the fact that I am doing just fine and therefore all of my fairly large supply of rage is almost totally impotent, I sat and tweeted some boilerplate snarky anticorporate vitriol. That’s when the @ATTCares Twitter Account stepped in.

It turns out that having a @BUSINESSNAMECares Twitter account is a thing that some companies are trying these days. Basically what they do is Twitter search themselves, apologize, and offer help. Regardless of context. Any time anybody mentions the company by name.

I don’t know how something like this happens. Probably some mixture of outsourcing to non-English-speaking countries, mandating a script, underfunding, undersupporting, overworking, undervaluing a staff, and resultant or just accidental rank incompetence of a latent, organizational sort. In the above exchange we witness a large computer manufacturer and retailer just assuming, probably more accurately than not, that the most prudent action is to immediately apologize for having done something wrong any time their name is mentioned. "We hear your frustration." Do they, though? Do they really? Who is “they” anyway? Probably a suit in a Wall Street office being frantically operated by a team of mice.

The irony is that whoever’s at the switch at @ATTCares is employed in just as tenuous a manner by just exactly the same corporation as the call center employees whose plight I had been so deeply moved by as to post a dumb thing on Twitter. @ATTCares, as a Twitter account, does not generate revenue, and its effects on customer service perceptions in the marketplace are measurable but not demonstrable, because social media is nothing but screaming, hissing noise in a way which corporations, repeatedly, can’t quite understand. If you can measure it, it’s not noise, they reason. Corporations feel the same way about money, although a huge portion of that is noise as well. All they know is Bill Gates is worth $80 billion dollars and One Direction is trending. If they ever figure out how little either of those things actually mean, the music’s turning off and the poor sucker pulling the levers at @ATTCares is going to sit on an invisible chair.

But to some extent, as some people keep saying, we’re all brands now. So I decided to launch my own @itisbenjoCARES Twitter handle, on the logic that this would free up my regular twitter account to behave as rapaciously and as disrespectfully of basic human dignities as a large multinational corporation.

It went okay. @itisbenjoCARES was at least responsive to complaints. 

The complaints were documented. There was a visible display of some noncommittal (in a legal sense) contrition which hinted at a larger organizational accountability. It might only fool an idiot, but you can’t aim too high with these things.

This is the kind of general service perception traction I was hoping to get with the @itisbenjoCARES Twitter Account. Unfortunately, this uptick in general public goodwill towards my Twitter brand could not demonstrably offset the considerable cost of running the project. There was some organizational turbulence within the @itisbenjo brand which leaked out into the public sphere, as happens sometimes when there is sufficient distrust between management and labor.

Of course I was paying that money to myself (under the table, without any documentation), and also there is no such person as Erica, but I figure the other guy doesn't need to know that. The essential secret of the labor marketplace is that you're only worth as much as you have the power to negotiate for, and I am not above pulling out all the stops against myself whenever my theoretical livelihood is at stake.

Well, guess who won THAT little argument. It was management. Rather than scrap all the perception momentum generated by @itisbenjoCARES, which at that point had swelled to 7 followers, including at least one porn bot, I instead launched @itisbnjoFINANCE with the idea that it might be more successful on the revenue side. Twitter only allows 15 characters for a handle title, but nobody noticed the missing "E" in "itisbnjoFINANCE," and if they had I figured it could stand for "E-commerce" or something buzzy like that.

Unfortunately, my social media staff, consisting of me, was not as well versed in finance as they were in customer service. But they (meaning me) soldiered on gamely nonetheless, opting for a "shotgun" approach to Finance Twitter wherein tweet volume was emphasized at the possible (?) expense of tweet quality.

This yielded mixed results, but did generate some degree of positive response among several actual-seeming Twitter users in the actual-seeming Twitter Finance community. For example, after Tweeting several relevant finance based hashtags at the Irish embassy Twitter account on St. Patrick's Day, the surely existent Finance Twitter Press took notice.

This seemed like success, but I did not want to rest on my laurels. Also I had not actually seen dime one yet. I decided to pivot my Twitter branding subsidiary yet again to a potentially more high yield market. Global finance is nice and all, in theory, but the tech sector offers higher returns. I figure people invest millions and millions of dollars in various tech startups every single day without ever knowing what the hell they are actually doing or why. I wanted to get the @itisbenjo brand at the forefront of THAT market, because I had a hunch that not knowing anything at all about what I might be saying would be less of a hindrance in the tech market. Boy was I right. Enter @itisbenjoTECH.

Just take a look at that murderer's row of extremely important and quite real Tech Twitter luminaries. Flexsquare? Gav L. Brining?  Tech Law? The "Data Is Beautiful" subreddit? Those are presumably some heavy hitters in the world of technology, for all I know. It became immediately clear that @itisbenjoTECH was the grown up big boy of @itisbenjo twitter subsidiaries. You know how you're not supposed to choose a favorite child, right? Well, @itisbenjoTECH was by far my favorite child. It delivered the goods time after time. So many great favs and retweets and list adds and follows. So much connectivity. Such immense market presence.

Unfortunately, this led to a conundrum all too common within the world of large brands, which is that the subsidiary was in apparent danger of outstripping the original brand's popularity. I found myself more and more dedicated to tweeting about #data and #innovation as @itisbenjoTECH and less and less capable of tweeting about my actual human farts I was smelling as @itisbenjo, and that's not good. You don't want to lose sight of who you are in this world, even at the price of raging success in the tech sector as represented by the accounts on twitter who really like it when you say something, anything, about #bigdata.

And so I decided to discontinue @itisbenjoTECH. But what happened next, as they say, shocked me. I found myself emotionally attached. Like actually. Like in real life. Like I am not being sarcastic whatsoever right now. I became emotionally attached to a fake twitter handle. It was just so perfect, and could have kept going forever, and did not want to die or stop, and did not know what was happening to it, that it would become a dead husk of data floating out into the horizon of the internet like some kind of a @FinanceWeekly. It was like a call center employee of my own, just as doomed, except also, tragically, unaware of its fate, whereas Fran at AT&T knows she can always call up her creep brother an law and get a job at the Dress Barn to tide her over for a couple of months if things at AT&T ever head south. No, with @itisbenjoTECH we were talking about an actual, or at least digital, death. Of a joke rather than a person, true, but a joke that is especially dear to me.

I tweeted the @itisbenjoTECH death throes, and found them endearing and touching and sad.

Little guy fought like hell, and loved me, and loved to tweet about #bigdata, until the very end. Some of those last tweets were still being favorited and retweeted by very important tech business insiders such as Gaultier Laperche (Co-founder of OctoBat, skiing is his favorite side activity) and Outwit Consulting. It was, and again my tongue is nowhere near my cheek on this, actually heartbreaking. The joke did not want to die. The joke wanted to keep going forever, and the universe, as represented by the tech bots of Non-Twitter wanted that for the joke I made as well.

But I am a human. I cannot continue to be a bot on Twitter who blasts nonsense about tech-related things out into the ether for other bots to fav and enjoy. That is death, of a kind, for me. And I accept that to live I must accept death. Both my own, and my fake Twitter subsidiary's.

The last tweet actually made me cry. My own actual face tears:

R.I.P. @itisbenjoTECH. You were a very good joke. And I think you had a point. I know I did not want you to end. No man can speak any higher of a joke than that.

The next time I find myself getting worked up about some shitty thing AT&T is doing to its employees, I can remind myself that one day AT&T too will die, and its death will be final, and infinite, and more so because it, a corporation with no thoughts or feelings of its own, will never know it is dying, and will never know it is dead, and thus will never enjoy its existence. It will be like a confused animal not knowing why its body is stopping, and not a nice animal either, and nobody will mourn it. Not like I will mourn this joke I started. Not like the AT&T employees who have to tell me about an app I can get to displace them will be mourned when they go. That's what we get, us people here being sucked dry by these entities. We get to be people. We get to be cared for. When we die nobody's going to fight over our assets. They're just going to cry.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

I Dreamt And Then Ignored The Future Of Rap

By: Pete Johnson

The Wu Tang Clan made a new album, and it is possible no one will ever get to hear it. They are keeping it super secret, and will eventually sell just one copy of it off to the highest bidder. I read a thing about how they let people come to a museum in NYC to look at the fancy box they put it in and hear 13 minutes of it, and how 'it was a cool/funny experience, but it was kinda just another Wu Tang album.' Of course that. I love this idea, but in the end it will probably end up being just another Wu Tang album that we all get to hear after some awful corporation buys it. I mean, probably a pretty good Wu Tang album, but still- once everybody hears it, and it doesn't somehow have Old Dirty Ghost Bastard rapping on it, novelty lost.

The ideal outcome is that some filthy rich guy buys it and shoots it into space before anyone can ever hear it. Actually the ideal situation is some filthy rich guy buys it, and shows up at a your birthday party and plays it in full, and the next day everyone who was there says it was AMAZING but was too drunk to remember any of it- and then he shoots it into space. One time I went to see Jon Lovitz do stand up with my law school roommates, and the next day all we could remember was laughing our asses off the whole time. We were drunk, and not one out of the four of us could remember a single joke. It's kind of beautiful when you think about it without realizing how sad it is.

Other things I hope happens with this album that probably won't because even RZA's artistic genius is no match for corporate assholery:
Rich person buys it and:
-Shoots it into space
-Donates it to science
-Fake me out shoots it into space, keeps it and only plays it for Kanye West, who is then murdered for secrecy
-Takes it on tour of US and world rough neighborhoods, and no one whose net worth is more than 'poor' is ever allowed to hear it
-Only plays it for babies

Jackass record label/phone company/ExonnMobil buys it and then:
-CEO fumbles it down a sewer drain
-Bag check guy named Big Vince steals it and only plays it for his poker buddies, who all hate it
-It is played for the first time at a once in a lifetime lavish corporate event for billionaires, and it is so good everyone in attendance kills themselves out of joy
-It is just 90 minutes of the members of the Wu Tang Clan shouting "Hahaha FUCK YOU, you rich dummy!"

Obviously some company is going to buy it and then find a way to make the most money possible off of it, because America. Even if that happens and the mystery is lost and the album is just ok with a couple real solid Ghostface verses, I gotta respect the hustle. It is a new and cool idea that no one but Wu Tang could really pull off right for the first time. It might be the future of rap for the small percentage of rappers who are big enough to try this move and have anybody give a shit. The more likely future of rap is way more boring, but not an hour ago I woke up from a dream that might help fix it.

It is getting harder and harder to make money from just selling albums, so a lot of artists make their bank by going on tour. This is a problem for rappers, because rap concerts generally suck. I once went to a Ghostface Killah show, and even though it was great because Ghostface Killah is great, the show itself was a mess. There were a hundred useless guys on stage, the sound quality was bad, and at one point Ghost said 'Ay I'm sorry the mics is fucked up, what y'all wanna hear?' Ghost is more of a showman than most, and I respect the sentiment of wanting to make it up to us, but I sided more with the guy in the crowd (hopefully the sound guy) who said "That's because only two of you showed up to sound check!" Plus, that motherfucker never played Fishscale.

In this dream I had, I was at the beginning of a weird but awesome Wu Tang concert. The stage was set up so that behind the actual stage area was kind of a sunken pit, so that we could see all of the Wu Tang members and their entourage (Redman was there too!) standing in it at around shoulder level and above. It was clear that whoever was actually rapping on a given track would be on the stage in front of them, but we would always be able to see the posse in the sunken background. Method Man and Redman would pop up and do their hits, then RZA would pop up and do his. It was going to be glorious. I wish I could tell you that I saw the whole thing and it was seriously so great, but right before they went on stage I started lucid dreaming.

If you're not familiar with lucid dreaming, that's when you realize you are dreaming in the middle of a dream, and then you go try to fuck something. Most people who don't lucid dream say it sounds amazing and that they would fly around and do fun things like play real live mario cart on the moon, but that has not been my experience. I still remember the first time I lucid dreamt- I was about 11, and I tried to fly around and did an ok job until I woke up. The very next time I had a lucid dream, and I think every single time since, I have spent the entire dream trying to find girls to have sex with and sometimes having sex with them.

This probably says a lot about me, specifically that I am a lot gross. Keep in mind that while I lucid dream a decent amount (probably around once a month on average, but it comes and goes), I'm still not great at it. It is tough enough just to keep yourself from waking up, and learning to control the dream without waking up takes a very specific kind of weird sexy dream zen mind state that is very hard to perfect. I started lucid dreaming right at the boobs start giving you boners age, and have never gotten good at anything but trying to get to Bonesville. That prepubescent instinct is so strong that even with an amazing Wu Tang show about to go on in front of me, the second I realized it was a dream I still started looking for sexy times. The sexy times got going a little bit, I thought to myself "sexy times at a Wu Tang show!" and tried to look up at the stage, but that's when it all went out of focus and I woke up.

Before I realized it was a dream, I was SO excited by this concert format and that I was going to see it. Lucid dreaming is great when it works, but my favorite dreams are the ones where I don't realize it's a dream. I was once having a normal stress dream where I was working in my hometown supermarket, when I was called to the front of the store and thought I was in trouble. Instead, popular rappers T.I. and Big Boi had pulled up in the parking lot in two private planes, and Big Boi hopped out and silently handed me a cell phone. It was my twin brother's voice on the phone and he said "T.I. and Big Boi are going to take you to Trinidad and Tobago now." Then Big Boi took his phone back and without a word handed me a lit blunt and motioned for me to follow him. That is my favorite dream. If I had started lucid dreaming, I probably would have spent the whole time looking for the produce section, because that's where the hot girls hang out.

Friday, March 13, 2015

How I Got the Term ‘Penis-Birthed Motherfucker’ on to

By: Bonnie Scott

In my room at work I mostly listen to NPR. I keep a clock radio on my desk and just let that shit play all day long, rather than pipe in any of my personal music selections. I’ve made this decision because at the moment, the majority of music on my phone consists of songs I’ve looked up on Shazam while in the grocery store or Home Depot. Think about what that means: think about walking in on someone really getting into Caribbean Queen or some Chaka Kahn or whatever. You are not going to be able to leave without wracking your brain for some sort of funny comment to make about it. “Haha what the fuck are you listening to, is that Michael Mcdonald? What decade are we in now hahaha." I’m trying to save everyone else some trouble. No one argues with NPR, in fact, no one has anything to say about it at all.  

So with the way things have been going, I am now far more informed about current events than I have been for years, sort of. I’m aware of the names of current events. Every day I hear about the Ukraine, and Greece, and Chris Christie, Hilary Clinton’s cell phone problems, the fucking Apple Watch, shitty cops and Syria. Things are tough all over.

ISIS sure is a problem I wish someone would do something about. Sure. Is. A fucking. Problem. And despite the amount of time I spend sitting in a room with the news, I still can’t contribute to a conversation about the Islamic State beyond telling people how it feels as a white, American, off-hand observer to casually absorb the facts of its brutality. The words from the news that actually hit me are cartoonishly awful and visceral to the point of abstraction. Orange jumpsuits in the desert, masked giants cutting off heads, some fucker sitting in a cave editing DV footage on a Power Book from 2008.  

When the video of James Foley’s execution dropped last year I spent one whole evening hard-Googling for the complete package. I wanted to see a beheading in action. I had the same impulse when I heard there was a video out of Saddam Hussein’s hanging whenever that was (I will say that that one was easier to find and, though not without merit, had lower production values). 

I don’t know why I felt the need to hunt down these documents. I have no tolerance for violence--you can easily catch me weeping in terror at movies. The time I saw Poltergeist comes to mind, or that goddamn Daren Aronofsky piece of crap whatever it was called, or oh Jesus the fucking scene in Monster where that guy rapes what’s her face with a broom handle ugh..

The difference is, these execution videos are true. They show what happened to a certain human body in reality, and a limit that was reached before the subject expired. Somehow that veracity drives me--I am interested in things that are real. I mean at some point I guess I was. I don’t fucking know.

These days, I’ve had enough with a lot of shit but in particular, the story about the guy locked in a metal cage broke whatever perverted interest I had left in bearing witness to what is going down out there. I slumped in my chair at work and listened to someone talk about a guy being locked in a metal cage and burned alive. Later on at home I saw photos online of the guy in the cage, and had a good long think about how many more years I want to participate in a species that does this sort of thing to itself. 

You hear the one about the 21 Egyptian Christians who were knelt in a row by the ocean and beheaded? I heard that one the other week. It’s not very funny! The punchline is the guy they interviewed on NPR who was the brother of one of the guys who were murdered. The guy saw a video of his brother getting his throat cut and was able to tell a reporter this about it: "I heard him calling, 'Oh Jesus,' as he was beheaded. I'm happy and I'm proud of him. He is a martyr for Christ."

“Oh God” I thought, slumped in my chair, listening, “when I say oh Jesus its because I’m cursing at something. ‘Oh Jesus I forgot my fucking keys;' ‘Oh Jesus they’re out of fucking wheat-free crackers again;' I might even say it if someone told me I was about to be killed.” And I felt even worse than usual about this beheaded Christian guy, because now it seemed like my casual expletive use added up to a lack of respect for some dead innocent people that could be felt around the globe. 

And now, here is as complete a list as I can come up with of the ways I employ the word “Jesus” in order to express my exasperation with just about anything on a regular to daily basis:

Oh Jesus
Sweet Jesus
Jesus Fuck
Sweet Buttery Jesus
Jesus Christ
Fucking Christ
Motherfucking Christ
Jesus Fucking Christ
Goddamn Fucking Christ
Fucking Christ on the Cross
Jesus Fucking Ass Christ on the Cross

I could probably stand to do a better job about the way I talk. I don’t know for who, exactly. The world at large? Little children? Whenever little children happen to be around me for some reason, I use curse words like normal and don’t think about it until its too late. Then I cover my mouth and apologize while thinking to myself that by now, it’s probably legal to say “Fuck” on regular, non-premium TV anyway so who cares. I rationalize my use of profanity by telling myself that it’s humorous, and also inescapable, like a rising, motherfucking ugly tide within common discourse. 

My mom swore endlessly, ceaselessly, and I really learned a lot from her teachings. Especially a lot about how shitty other people are. She drove holding the steering wheel with her right hand, while her left kept busy forever brandishing her middle finger, just perched up on the dashboard like that, like the bird that it was. I hated the onslaught of profanity, but I loved the taste of power so in arguments with her from ages… I don’t know, 6 through 12? I would spell out adult words at her while loudly explaining my side of a situation. 


I’ve been trying hard for a while to accurately recreate the dialog of one of these arguments, I just can’t remember enough about anything we yelled at each other over to cobble together a script. All I remember fighting about is how I was failing as a figure skater. There were also the fights about how I was failing school, but in neither case do I recall enough verbal detail to really give an accurate picture. I could just say “all I remember fighting with my mother about is figure skating” and let that be the joke, because I think it’s pretty funny. When I texted it to someone, I laughed.

At age 13 I gave up the cumbersome spelling and no one even blinked. I don’t remember exactly what I opened up with, but I hope it was a nice combo/creative use of repetition like “Fuck this fucking shit, Mom."

“Oh Jesus, fuck” might have been what she said into the phone when someone called in the news that her own mother had died suddenly of a heart attack, on the couch, in front of the TV. After hanging up, mom got in the car and drove upstate to deal with everything for 48 hours, while I stayed home and kept my own kind of vigil: playing Pokemon Pinball on my 1989 Game Boy for two days straight without sleeping or turning the lights off. I was eighteen at the time, out of high school and living at home, deeply entrenched in what I was already calling my “lost year:" twelve plus months characterized primarily by reading comic books, declining admission to Bennington and losing my virginity to my supervisor at the bookstore where I worked. 

My grandmother’s last words were “No, I don’t want any sandwich." I predict my own will be either “Oh shit” or “Go ahead and do it, you fucking pussy." According to the subtitles over that cell phone video of Saddam Hussein’s execution, the man’s last words were “God is great” and “Palestine is for the Arabs." I remember thinking “Huh. Well I can’t say I disagree” when I saw that. And then a trap door flips out from under Saddam Hussein, and he dies hanging from some scaffolding in what I think is a barn, and the men who were surrounding him make noises. 

Considering the number of people who’ve been locked in a cage and burned alive in recent memory, I have to update myself a little on my agreement with Saddam. God isn’t great. He, or it, is at best a negligent dip shit Dad who probably should not have penis-birthed a bunch of retarded puppies like the human race into the Universe, and then scooted off to play space golf for the rest of time with Steamboat Willie and popular characters from the Bible. Had I the opportunity to discuss my views with an omniscient God, I might, out of simple fear of its all-consuming power, tone down my normal verbiage and say something like this:


(Actually, keeps rejecting my entry. I'm going to try re-writing it until something gives.)

PREVIOUSLY: Genius of Love

Monday, March 2, 2015

Everything You Can Learn About (Juliette Lewis) in Fifteen Minutes

By: Kelly McClure

Juliette Lewis is in a new TV show called Secrets and Lies and it's amazing. I mean, it's not. It's just another show that maybe you watch one morning on your laptop while having your coffee and then get sucked into continuing on with because "who did it?" Or "what's gonna happen next?" But I will probably keep watching this show for different reasons. I will most likely spend 40 minutes a week watching Secrets and Lies because Juliette Lewis is in it and plays a detective whose main tool of investigation is making a stern stink face at everyone. I honestly do love it.

Here's a brief synopsis of the first episode of Secrets and Lies. Oh yeah, I guess I should also mention at this point that Ryan Phillippe is in this too. Remember him?

Ryan Phillippe: "What!?!?! No! What!?!?! No!"

Juliette Lewis: *Stink Face* "You're trash, sir"

I missed seeing Juliette Lewis in things, so this is nice for me. I used to go see her band, Juliette and the Licks play just so I could be like "hey, Juliette Lewis." But now I have this. 

Let's re-familiarize ourselves with Juliette Lewis. Here's everything we can learn about her while doing fifteen minutes of extremely lazy research:

1) She was in Cape Fear and, if memory serves, had to suck Robert De Niro's finger in it. 

2) She was in Natural Born Killers, a movie that meant a lot to me in high school, and which contains a scene that I co-performed in my drama class causing me to really embarrass myself.

3) She has a brother named Lightfield who was in the show The New WKRP in Cincinnati, which I did not know existed. 

4) From 1990-1993 she dated Brad Pitt. If you're interested in seeing what they looked like as a couple, they looked like THIS. They were in the movie Kalifornia together. 

5) She was in my all-time favorite movie about a girl with a mental handicap called The Other Sister. At one point in this movie she gets her own apartment and I referenced it a great deal internally when I moved into my own apartment after having lived with a girl and her mentally handicapped boyfriend for a few months. Her boyfriend wasn't really handicapped, but might as well have been. 

6) She's a Scientologist, which means that she believes she'll die one day and live on the moon.

7) When you Google "Juliette Lewis fight" THIS comes up.

8) When you Google "Juliette Lewis hamburger" THIS comes up. 

9) This is her most recent Instagram:

And that's it.  *Stink face*

Previously: ROSE BYRNE