The Fest, day 3

All day I heard different accounts of the “riot” that happened at the house show the night before. From different accounts I heard that people tried to tip over cars. I heard that some people tried to rough up a cop, that someone got tazed by a cop, that the cops got surrounded only to have the people surrounding the cops surrounded by more cops. “There were like 20 cop cars there,” told one storyteller. I wasn’t there so I don’t really know what happened or who was ultimately responsible for things ending up such a mess. In the end, it sucks that people got arrested, someone got tazered, the cops came away frightened with any stereotypes they had completely confirmed.

I’ve never thought of the police as an institution that helped me or made me feel safe. Assy lectures and power trips when we did get caught skateboarding, or the mixed thrill and anxiety of evasion when we didn’t galvanized this as a teenager. Hearing stories about the Fraternal Order of Police having a legal defense benefit for the Chicago detective who killed two young men while driving intoxicated or seeing the billboard advertising the FOP-sponsored gun show on the way to the Fest don’t help this. Still, I’m convinced that the vague cops vs. punks rhetoric that is so familiar does more to excite us or think of ourselves as in a certain cultural space than it does to change anything about the way police operate or the role they have in our society. Thinking of cops as a homogeneous enemy hinders accountability from both directions. First, it takes away the personal responsibility of a cop for her individual actions. She does what she does because she is a cop, not because she chooses to do something that is hurtful or unjust. Second, it overlooks the larger structural problems about how cops are trained, what motivates or forces someone to enter into a career in law enforcement, the values that our culture ties to positions of power, or the fear and separation that make the police intermediaries for resolving social conflicts.

I did see a few good sets at the Kickstand. Tubers were great. Ever since we played with them last year in Santa Cruz, I’ve really enjoyed how they make heavy, driving yet interesting music. I’m a sucker for parts that kind of drone or groove on and then break into a different part, like your head breaking through the water after you’re floating at the bottom of a pool. Theo and others had mentioned being stoked about P.S. Eliot, so I decided to go to their show. I think I enjoyed it the most of any of the sets I saw all weekend. There was just a sense of everyone in the audience being engaged in what was going on. It felt like a mutually shared experience, which is nice because the Fest always feels so impersonal to me.

While at the Kickstand, I ran into a friend that I met in Brighton when we were on tour in the UK this past spring. I told her that I was going back to school for journalism, and she mentioned that she had taken some journalism classes and was frustrated by the fact that her professors advised her class to write attention grabbing headlines that she felt distorted the story. Coincidentally, Patrick just wrote about something similar on his blog.

Everyone in Defiance, Ohio met up to eat together at Reggae Shack and I ordered the jerk tofu which was one of the spiciest things that I’ve ever eaten. It was so hot that it was this intensely visceral experience. I felt lightheaded and sweaty. It was pretty strange. After dinner, we went back to the Kickstand and tried to navigate around the huge line of people that were queuing up to get into the space. A few bands before us, the people at the gate weren’t letting anybody in and it made me feel stressed out. It was one of those situations where we couldn’t really do anything and it was probably equally frustrating for the people at the door and the people trying to get in. This was the second show we were playing and playing it to make sure we got to play an all-ages show and it was frustrating to think that people might get denied twice: for age and capacity.

When we played it was pretty fun and energetic, despite being really crowded. A bunch of stuff got knocked over, of course, and people were all over each other. I don’t know what can make this exciting in one context and stupid in another. I think the difference is about engagement. Is being at a show about a personal experience or a collective one? Is it about singing along together or being the person who sings the loudest? Is it about talking to the people who end up getting smooshed around them, or about being the person who gets to be at the front. I want to see this change somehow. I ‘m trying to not discount people’s excitement, but I want to feel comfortable myself and feel like everybody involved in a show is going somewhere together.

Oh yeah, I want to give a shout out to folks in Good Luck and Bomb the Music Industry for letting us borrow their stuff.

Photo of Tubers by Nicole Kibert via Flickr.

Fest 8 Day 2: Kickball and Costumes

I started my second day at the fest playing kickball. I know that plenty of people have traumatic experiences with sports from their youth and that, even with punks, its easy for things to turn ugly, but I do love the feeling of big groups of people being involved in something together. As Bepstein was explaining the rules of kickball and basic baseball strategies, I realized that the rules of real sports are every bit as arbitrary as the ones that you make up for games as a kid.

After the game, I checked out a new Gainesville-based music streaming service that seemed to have a nice interface. I was disappointed that it didn’t really seem to offer anything new beyond the traditional promotional model of music. There has got to be a narrative for music that acknowledges that people get excited about it and that there is a need for artists to be supported by their work that doesn’t come off as soulless and cynical as “we offer to bands the ability to place themselves behind similar more established artists … Which means more loyal fans.”

I spent a lot of time eating and wandering around before we made plans to meet up back at the hotel for practice in the early evening. We decided that we would try to do costumes for our show so Bz, Theo, and I set out to find some thrift stores. I think I ended up having more fun checking out parts of Gainesville away from the campus and strip mall fashion stores (Citi Trends was amazing) than I would have rushing between venues or standing in lines. It was slim pickings for costumes for six, and we passed up soccer team for something that ended up being less Halloween costume and more Halloween-inspired frumpy-glam outfits. The core of the costumes were a set of holiday vests that you would remember from a few of your older elementary school teachers. Coupled with short-shorts that were definitely not sexy, I hope the goofiness of the costumes was a sort of antidote to all the skimpy Halloween costumes that have sadly become the standard. We bought purple lipstick that became face makeup at a liquor store, and the cashier there seemed to be enjoying himself at a job that could be really annoying. He even wrote happy Halloween messages on all the brown paper bags for the liquor purchases which was such a fun, sweet thing to do.

I feel like it’s hard to really watch a band when I have to get ready, but Good Luck seemed really energetic and like people were feeling it. Things sounded a little crazy, and the heat and lack of practice made playing a little challenging, but the show went pretty well. I got the sense the that for both us and the crowd, everything was a little muted from the heat of the venue and the long day. I could hear Bz’s violin parts really well which is nice. Rather than feeling vulnerable, play, in costume and makeup always makes me feel more natural so I think it was a good call. Good Luck looked really good in their matching postal worker outfits and I heard that the Max had awesome mad scientist costumes and an atomic bomb pinata. The Vena Cava looked good in costumes that I couldn’t really identify but made me think gang member from the “Beat It” video. In general, it didn’t really feel like Halloween (I really miss the Bloomington cover shows), but I’m glad that some bands made the effort.


I get to the hotel where we’re staying for the fest and start paging through the dense, brightly covered booklet that describes the bands playing and other events over the course of the weekend. Bz tells me, “just read the first sentence of the description,” and I do. It says, “Welcome one and all to the biggest punk rock, shirts off, stale beer smelling, bear hugging, cheap booze swillin’, high five greeting, coosie totin’, family reunion, holiday, circus of fools we lovingly embrace simply called THE FEST.” It’s cheesy and frankly, I have a hard time feeling myself in those words, but I’m here. Amidst the amped up party atmosphere, there are some great people, and their great bands. Playing fewer and fewer shows with Defiance, Ohio has made being together and the shows we do play seem more special, which is kind of exciting. It makes it feel like this year, the show we play will actually be special instead of the anticlimax that comes with it being just another show, albeit a hyped one.

It is really nice to see people. There is a comfort in being reminded of the things that you know deeply about people, but sort of forgot. The hotel room table is covered in stacks of books from various authors and I remember how hyper-literate my band mates are, yet we’re still able to indulge in America’s Next Top Model marathons. There’s the ability to be goofy as we take videos of our own top-model style commercials for the fest. We take turns making sultry eyes at the mobile phone camera and end with our best “I love to fest.” Whether it was the last-minute, homemade togas the last time we played in Bloomington or these videos, the ability to make weird, theatrical things for our own enjoyment has been one of the most pleasurable experiences with my friends over the years.

We heard that the Max Levine Ensemble was playing a house show, so we wandered around Gainesville for a while until we found the house. It’s easy to spend a lot of at the fest wandering around and getting lost, but the walk felt nice and I like not feeling stuck on University Avenue.

After The Max played, we saw the Hot New Mexicans who were really good. I’ve seen them play a lot, but since we haven’t played many shows this year, I feel like my attention span for shows is so much longer. It’s nice because it helps me really enjoy seeing bands, even ones I’ve seen before, and notice new things about their music.

When their set finished, Bz, Sherri, and I went over to see 7 Seconds. The last time I had seen them was at a Warped Tour when I was a teenager. Unlike Bz, they weren’t really a band that I listened to a lot when I got into punk, but the first time I heard them, I realized that they were a huge influence to so many of the local hardcore bands in my home town. As, I get older, I’m inspired by people much older than me continuing to play music. We have a narrative of people touring and playing music until they burn out and self destruct or dropping out into a more conventional life, but there are many people who have decided to have families, or maybe careers who struggle to strike a balance with still being involved in punk music and I think their stories often go unmentioned. Kevin Seconds is an engaging performer, and a good storyteller. After performing for a few decades, its obvious that telling stories or connecting an old song with current events comes more easily, but not without sincerity. It’s so important to me, and one of the things that drew me to punk initially, that the songs come from somewhere, that there is such a direct link from experience or perspective on the world to lyrics and performance. It was interesting to hear the story behind the classic song Walk Together. Apparently, it was written after a show was canceled due to fear of metalhead vs. punk violence. It’s nice that their response was to write a song celebrating unity rather than a call to kick some metal ass.

Punk can be so contradictory, at once macho and positive, crucially critical and irrelevantly divisive. Listening to the radio and reading Billboards, I realized how conservative Florida can be. There was one stretch where there was an anti-choice billboard with a giant fetus every few miles. After seeing the preserved fetuses at the You: The Experience exhibit at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, the billboard seemed even more manipulative because the fetus next to the text “My heart beats after 18 days didn’t look like the 18-day-old embryo that I saw at the museum. This is besides the point, though. For me, the debate isn’t really about what constitutes “life” at a certain stage of prenatal development, but about a consistent cultural desire to control the bodies and lives of women and a lack of support for health care for women and children as well as support for families that don’t fit the one mom, one dad, 2+ kids model. It’s just scary to think about all the energy and resources that went to put giant embryos beside the highway.

I also saw a billboard advertising the Fraternal Order of Police’s gun show and I just don’t see how encouraging people to buy guns helps ensure safety or order. The kicker was to hear a commercial for a conservative “Black Tie and Blue Jeans” event that said, “Conservatives, come eat MEAT while those liberals are eating their granola and driving their hybrids.” Note to progressive punks, snark and irony won’t change anything. The reality of talk-radio-style conservatism is so ridiculous that it will be more bizarre and gross than any parody. It really feels like there is a culture war, and I don’t want to fight in it. It feels like a test of faith, that there are enough people, coming from all different experiences, who want to be connected and empathetic to other people, who want to really solve problems, who want to base their perspective on things that are external to their experience on a careful, comprehensive discourse. I don’t want to “win” over people or organizations who promote ideas that I think are really harmful. I just want there to be a critical mass that makes them irrelevant.

Defiance, Ohio Northwest Tour Day 1

I’m going to try to write about tour this time.  It comes and goes so fast that sometimes all I feel is left are these “remember when …” snippets that come up between people I’ve been on tour with that are nice to remember but alienating to everyone else in the conversation.

I told Florence and Oona that I had to wake up yesterday at 4AM in order to get a flight that would put us in SC in time to play the show that night.  Florence just rolled her eyes and said  “That’s crazy”, which is funny because she’s had enough long, early-morning flying in her life that it’s not unfamiliar.  I think for her, and maybe other people, the idea of going on tour remains abstract enough that it adds this additional element of “craziness”.  The flights all went okay in the end, even though Theo flew separately and had 2 layovers and had his accordion stuck in SLC for a while. Bz, Ryan, and I got to play pinball on our layover and managed to sneak our instruments on as carry-on.

We rented this crazy, new-car-smelling, Hybrid car.  It’s pretty surreal, but fun.  It’s a small thing, but hopefully it saves us some money and makes the ecological footprint of touring a little less.  I don’t know how to calculate that.  A bunch of folks drove up from S. California for the show last night because we’re not making it south of Santa Cruz.  It’s awesome that people are willing to do that, and I have fond, fond memories of the concert road trip.  At the same time it just seems so costly.  I guess I take it for granted that I get to see a lot of good bands without having to travel far.

My totally uninformed, knee-jerk reaction to Santa Cruz is that it is a mash-up of Beverly Hills and Eureka.  As we rolled into town, stopped at a spotlight, I saw two guys yelling at each other and waving blunt objects.  One guy had a hammer and another had this cane.  The windows were rolled up so it was really surreal to see this scenario play out on mute.  I had this sick feeling of being trapped, just waiting for someone to get really hurt.  It would be easy to dismiss the two dudes as just being fucking crazy, but I think that lifts a lot of the accountability from their shoulders.  One of the guys kept starting to walk away, then the other guy would walk away, then the first guy would turn arond and say something and the other guy would start following him again waving his hammer.  It was so obvious that either of them could have chosen to just end it and walked away and saved themselves from getting really hurt and a lot of motorists from witnessing two guys bludgeon each other.  But, they felt like that had to keep provoking each other to keep their dignity intact.  It’s definitely a very gendered interaction, and I’ve felt it, though not involving such an immediate threat of violence.  I hate feeling like there is this trade-off between feeling like the choice is between avoiding violence and just escolating a stupid situatin and having your dignity and not feeling like you’re getting trampled on and letting a person who isn’t very nice or respectful “win”.  Not saying anything feels like you’re resigning yourself to a world dictated by violence and intimidation, but escalating conflict seems like it just hastens the worst realization of that world.

Playing the show was hard because we didn’t get to practice with Will, but I think it went okay.  People seemed stoked, even though we got completely squished.  When I tried to adjust to make more space for Bz or Theo, I feel like I ended up just bumping the other one more.  Punk is such a participatory medium, it’s hard to imagine people not wanting to be so close and get jostled, but there are times when I just can’t sing or play from getting jostled too much and it feels like the musical aspect is just lost.  I guess it’s reductve to separate people dancing and feeling part of this collective mass from the music, but it’s still frustrating.  It’s uncomfortable to feel like we’re scolding people when we ask for more space.

I enjoyed watching the bands that we played with more than I have in a long time.  Black Rainbow was great and dealt well with playing first in a sort of akwards space.  I liked Fischer a lot and how their music just sounds good without being overworked, labored, or trendy.  I had seen a bunch of the folks from St. Augustine’s bands before, but I think I might like Tubers the best.  They just looked like they were feeling what they were doing completely.  Dichotomy was totally good and also seemed really immersed in playing which somehow seems to make such a difference.  I’m excited to be playing shows with them this week, though the social coordination of 10 people is probably going to be really challenging.

Re: Your Music

Someone e-mailed Defiance, Ohio with some questions for a school project that produced this brain dump on the Britney Spears, the band, digital distribution, and media-based economies.
They wrote:

I know that big artists (for example Britney Spears??) are angry because of course they want the money, but I was wondering, do you think it’s more grey for less famous artists? Although maybe a smaller artist might miss each dollar more, do you think they mind less? Do you think the love for the music overcomes the ‘need’ in today’s world for the money? I know that sharing music without paying for it is a really great way to be heard, so what’s your opinion on that?

It’s hard to answer these questions directly, for Defiance, Ohio, and maybe for most artists, because I’m not sure if we have ever seen our options as starkly as “participate in the mainstream music scene or be an independent artist” or “have a larger fan base or make more money?” Certainly, some of the decisions we have made have had elements of those questions involved and some of the things we have done that didn’t feel like decisions have ended up having results that reflect on those stark questions.  However, to provide what feels like a complete and honest answer, I feel like I need to reframe the questions.

The first part of your question that I want to address is the idea of big artists, and Britney Spears in particular, being against file sharing and technologies like torrents.  I’m not sure if if Ms. Spears has ever spoken out specifically against file sharing, or if she even understands the technology, its implications, and the implications of enforcing copyright.  If she has made statements about it, it’s likely that she is articulating the standard response of many in the mainstream music industry that file sharing is harmful to artists and the industry, which, to a degree, is true since the music industry has been really slow to adapt to the reality of how people listen to, use, and produce music.

I think it’s important that we don’t get stuck in villifying big-name artists, even though they certainly have made choices, and make choices in terms of their music’s content and business choices that I wouldn’t make.  Simplifying the position of artists in the mainstream music industries as only being concerned about money has the a number of negative impacts.  First, I think that many artists, despite making very commercial content, are genuinely talented performers who love performing and making music and would likely be performing in some capacity (religious services, county fairs, amusement park shows, cruise ships, etc.) even if they weren’t as successful in the record industry.  Second, I think that it overlooks the fact that many artists come from backgrounds of limited economic mobility (certainly this was the case for Ms. Spears) and that their choice to participate in the mainstream music industry is a pragmatic decision given limited options.  Ms. Spears’ career, even from the time she was a young child, has been mediated by the mainstream, big-media industry and model of making music.  So, the choices that she makes in terms of things like file sharing, are largely dictated on her dependence on this industry.  Had she been a performer who didn’t fit as easily into the archetype of successful child performers and eventually female superstars, she may have instead chosen to work outside of the mainstream music industry to continue to perform and may have made different choices that would effect everything from the content of her music to her use or (dis)approval of file sharing.  Finally, defining the ethics and intentions of artists based solely on their orientation around mainstream corporate media is dangerous because it artificially inflates the ethics and intentions of artists who choose to participate in an subcultural, less corporate, or do-it-yourself music economy rather than examining their musical content and practices for what they are.

None of this has really answered your question, but I feel like it was important to talk about in order to develop a framework for answering your questions.  We need to move beyond the dichotomy of the greedy but soulless superstar vs. the starving but artistically vibrant independent artist that I’ve also been guilty of relying on.  In the case of Defiance, Ohio, I think that each of us will always make, play, or perform music in some way, for the rest of our lives, because we do love it.  However, I think that we would all love to be able to have the making of music be something that supports us financially rather than something that makes our lives more difficult or more stressful in terms of money.  I think we also want to do this in a way that supports our beliefs, ideas, friends and communities.  One of the biggest drawbacks to participating in the mainstream music industry is that money made from one’s music might go to support the release of records with homophobic lyrics, or artists who pressure working-class youth into joining the military.

Similarly, making our music widely available and available to people regardless of whether they have a good local independent record store that stocks less-well-known records or whether people have lots of money to buy records has and will continue to be important to us.  I also think it’s important for our music to be available for posterity.  Making music available as free downloads has helped serve all these needs.  However, it would be great if people recognize that making the songs that we release for free takes time, energy, money for instruments, time off work to record and practice, and lots of other resources.  As a culture, I think we’re struggling to assign costs to lots of things that reflect their complete value and hazards (electricity produced from coal, for instance).  Music is no different, so I think that Defiance, Ohio continues to struggle to assign a monetary value to our music, shows, and other “products” that strikes a balance between reflecting the resources that go into making them, not being greedy, and being realistic about what people are willing to pay.

Ultimately, I think it’s hard to say how free, digital distribution of our music has affected Defiance, Ohio since it’s something that we’ve always done.  We don’t have any data about whether most people heard about us through downloads or touring, word of mouth and mix tapes or through our releases on independent labels.  Also, we did it without too much forethought about the potential implications of using this method of distribution.  I’ve always liked emerging technologies, so when we started recording, I wanted to experiment with making our songs available through new media.  I think that when we started playing, we were also interested in sharing what we made with friends or like-minded people across the nation, and freely downloadable files helped make this possible.  Finally, I don’t think we imagined that there would ever be the possibility of assigning any kind of monetary value to our songs outside of the few dollars we charged for our demo CDR and first CD on our initial tours.  That said, I can’t deny that making our music widely available has helped us to have people become interested in our music enough to tour around the U.S. and the world and to have people willing to help put out our records or go to benefit shows or otherwise support projects we believe in.

Getting your music heard is pretty important to many artists for personal gratification, ideology, and financial success and file sharing or other methods of digital distribution are one tool that can be used to achieve this.  I don’t think it’s any more or less legitimate than other old and emerging methods.  I think the parallel music economy of hip hop mix tapes is really interesting as is the migration of these “tapes” to CD and now digital downloads.  I think that there’s still something awesome about the intimacy of music getting distributed between friends on mix tapes or CDRs (and probably now through social networking sites and peer-to-peer file sharing systems).  I think that community, college, and pirate radio are still important means of sharing music and that podcasts are a new medium for similar content.

In the end, the question of whether digital downloads and file sharing are good or bad for artists or music industries is becoming (has already become?) a moot point.  Alternative distribution methods are already being used by artists with varying degrees of success.  They are also destabilizing a mainstream music industry that has traditionally treated artists unfairly, ignored or fetishized cultural diversity, and been otherwise slow to change.  The important question is what do we want our media environment to look like?  How do continue to create vibrant culture while compensating makers for their work?  How do we make space for minority voices in media?  How do we connect across our different experiences and situations through media?  As traditional manufacturing jobs are disappearing from the economy and many youth have fewer and fewer opportunities to do work that offers them an interesting, dignified life , can we create new, media-based economies the give new economic mobility to communities facing economic depression?

“Oh, Susquehanna” and the geography of race

In the Defiance, Ohio song Oh, Susquehanna, I always envisioned rivers and the Susquehanna, familiar to me from where I grew up, as a metaphor for organic connectedness and aknowledgement that our lives have implications on our neighbors.  The metaphor is imperfect since, when used for our means, rivers become not only connectors but barriers.  As I recently read in James W. Lowe’s Sundown Towns:

Unfortunately, open housing came too late, after suburbia was largely built.  Across the United States, whites had kept African Americans out of most suburbs throughout most of the twentieth century.  By 1968, suburbs were labeled racially.  Once in place, these reputations were self-sustaining.  Desegregating them was an uphill struggle, a mount that we are still climbing.  Like anyone else, African Americans don’t want to live in a place where they aren’t wanted, and one way to deduce that they aren’t wanted is to note that no African Americans live there.  Today, just a little steering by realtors suffices to keep sundown suburbs nearly all-white.  Here is an example from Pennsylvania.  Whites and blacks refer to the suburbs across the Susquehanna River from Harrisburg as “the white shore.”  A man who grew up there wrote me:

I can tell you that there were (are?) sundown towns in Central Pennsylvania.  You were right about the “white shore.”  I have no objective proof at all.  However my mother grew up in Enola, and my uncle live in Camp Hill.  It was common knowledge that African-Americans would not be sold a house in those towns and those that surrounded them.  It was indeed a “white shore.”

By August 2002, when a new black employee moved to Harrisburg to take up her new job with the State of Pennsylvania, the pattern was in place.  “The realtor told me I could live on the west shore, but it’s really called ‘the white shore,’ so I’d probably be happier somewhere else.”  She bought in Harrisburg.  Such steering is illegal, but it goes on every day.

Michael Chabon on entertainment

I love this statement from The Best American Short Stories 2005 :

Yet entertainment – as I define it, pleasure and all – remains the only sure means we have of bridging, or at least of feeling as if we have bridged, the gulf of consciousness that seperates each of us from everybody else.  The best respone to those who would cheapen and exploit it is not to disparage or repudiate but to reclaim entertainment as a job fit for artists and for audiences, a two-way exchange of attention, experience, adn the universal hunger for connection.

It helps me deal with the questions/conflicts I have as a performer.

awesome punk rock shows, kids, and change

For more than a decade, I’ve identified with and invested myself in punk music and subculture.  As I get older, I struggle with feeling like punk as I know it can be a little too much like Project Runway, “one day you’re in, the next day you’re out”.  Perhaps that’s overly cynical, but I do feel like my standards of what makes an ideal show have changed since I first got into punk.  If I can trust my memory, I think what made for a good show as a teenager was feeling like shows were a space made by and made for youth (without being mediated by adult regulation or supervision) and feeling part of a group of people who I knew and who could identify as separate from the dominant youth culture of my community.   The absence of violent dancing wasn’t a huge part of my standard for a good show, nor was equitable gender dynamics.  Both are things that I notice and agonize over now.  These days, I think a lot about who is encouraged to be in and who, by neglect is pushed out of punk subculture.

What is hard to reconcile is identifying with a subculture that rejects adult authority and now feeling like some of the people I most respect are parents or teachers.  It was never this cut and dry, of course.  My first introduction to a diferent way of making and experiencing music, one that was exciting then and remains endearing now, was at the hands of two teachers at my high school, Mr. Nagle and Mr. Barnes.  They formed the Alternative Music Club  and through this club helped students set up shows featuring bands from my school, nearby schools, and friends of the teachers during the club period of the school day and after school.  I still see this as an awesome and totally appropriate collaboration between adults and youth where the adults shared what they knew and loved without totally mediating it for their students.  This, I would imagine, was not an easy line to tread for Mr. Nagle and Mr. Barnes.

Living with kids and meeting  more and more parents in the last few years has made me realize a changing standard that I have for punk music.  One thing I’ve always liked about punk music, and live performance in particular, is that it has been a fun or celebratory expression of shared politics or values.  One of my greatest wishes for the music I’m involved with is for it to be a fun, excitng space that I can share with people with whom I have shared politics or values, even if they don’t have any affinity or history with punk subculture.  I see the comfort of people coming to shows with kids as one of the ways of judging how close we’re coming to this goal.  Most of the people who are my punk peers don’t have kids and most of my friends with kids don’t identify as punk.  When they come together at a show it’s obvious that there is a huge barrier between navigating the distance between the concerns and responsibilities of people who have kids and the absence of any of those considerations for many who don’t.  Furthermore, I see people with kids struggle to break out of an identity centered primarily around their role as parents (whether they’ve chosen this for themselves or had it imposed on them) and engage with people without parents as another person and not just as a person identified as a parent.

Will tried really hard to set up the last show of Defiance, Ohio tour in a way that might break through some of these dynamics.  We had it start early, made it a pitch-in, and had it in a picnic pavilion at a park near some nice hiking trails, a creek full of wildlife, and a bumpin playground.  Most notably, he put ‘kids welcome’ on the flyer.  These efforts had mixed results.  More people came with kids than most shows I’ve been to in Bloomington.  People seemed to enjoy eating together and it was nice for kids to have a place to play around the show, or to watch and listen to the show where it wasn’t so loud.  One friend’s middle-aged mother who was in town visiting came to the show and hung out and rocked out.  Unfortunately, the show was pretty slow to get started which tried the attention span and bedtimes of many kids and their parents.   There was also a noticeable division between the people who usually come to shows and people who brought kids, though this probably has more to do with people not knowing each other because the parents didn’t come to shows often.  Still, its something that needs to be worked on.

Its nice to know that others are thinking about this too.  I read an interview with Zegota in a recent issue of Give Me Back and one of the band members said that he evaluated shows on whether or not his mom would b comfortable going to them.  Also, my friend Josh wrote this about an adult and kid friendly show he’s setting up in Ann Arbor:

hey everyone! I’m sending out this mass e-mail to a whole bunch ofpeople to let you all know that this Saturday Sept 13th will be thesecond ROCK N’ ROLL FAMILY PICNIC/POTLUCK.     for those of you thatdon’t know what this is let me explain. the idea is to give parents andkids and friend of parents and kids a day to hang out in the park andsee some bands and do some art and play games and hang out in a kiddiepool and ride on a slip and slide and eat  some food. you know funstuff like that.  since it’s hard to go see bands when you have to paya sitter now you can bring the kids to the show.  the bands are notnecessarily going to be kid bands, but they will be bands kids can rockout to, if you understand what i mean. (like there bands that playaround town for adults but kids could get into them.)  so far PatrickElkins and Charlie Slick are signed on to play as well as a fewacoustic acts and hopefully one more rock band.


Reported from the Defiance, Ohio site:

Two nights ago, at our show in Bloomington, I talked about why I’m voting in this election and why I’m frustrated that many of my punk and activist friends feel like not voting somehow changes all the things that are wrong in our world and all the things that are problematic about electoral politics. As usual, I didn’t feel like I articulated myself as well as I wanted to, but instead of trying to explain at greater length why I’m voting for Barack Obama in November especially in the presidential race, despite realizing all the problems with many of Obama’s policies and rhetoric and the shortcomings of electoral politics in general, I’d like to quote from Adrienne Marie Brown (who works with projects like the Ruckus Society, League of Pissed Off Voters, and Allied Media Projects) from her post i want barack obama to be the next president of the united states, but.. because she says it really well:

… i feel like two people watching sees this strategic, dynamic, mixed race man, skillfully touching all the bases on his way home to the white house. that self drinks the kool-aid as much as a cynic can, i am impressed by his grasp and execution of community organizing and mobilization, how he has crafted himself as king and kennedy and more. he seems to have been made for this moment, even for skeptics and community organizers. i lean in when he speaks, trying to disguise my own smiles at some of the lovely lines that slip in between the ones that hurt me, or disappoint me.

the other side sees the parts i disagree with, the special interests, the effects of a broken and at this point actively stupid and elitist, capitalist, empire-protecting system. i see how he has to say things that are morally reprehensible if he wants to consider being elected to this position, and god knows which of his values will have to be compromised once he’s in office, that place most distant from the people of the nation. i believe that we would need 50,000 baracks or people more radical than him running at the local level to experience any changes based on leadership like his. and yet…

what the rest of world will understand with this shift!

i am not on a fence between republican or democrat, i am not tempted by green at the federal level. i want a multi-party system with permanent records of voting (paper ballots), same day registration, a vote for anyone paying taxes, and proportional representation, but i don’t think the path to get there is by placing us in john mccain’s fragile, feeble, maverick hands by splitting the progressive vote. i specifically want barack obama to be the next president of the united states, in spite of all my doubts and cynicisms and fears. i like how he splits the difference on the hardest issues, i like his (or his speechwriter’s) ability to find a common sense middle ground, and i like that he is passionate and visionary at a time when the easiest space to occupy is debilitating and isolating anger.

and because it scares me to feel even slightly authentic in my excitement about a candidate, understanding what i do about the history of candidate failures, disappointments, flip-flopping or sheer incompetence, the broken system, the inherent flaws of humanity that makes us desire hierarchy so…i will not hit the streets stumping for obama, i will not start a little fundraising page for him that spirits more money away from the projects i work on 365 days a year election or not. i will continue to pour my energy into election protection, and raise money to support grassroots organizations who make sure candidates who are willing to listen have organized bodies to hear from.

but behind a closed door, rereading the transcript of his speech on race, delving into his organizing analysis from his early years in chicago, seeing parts of my story in his own, and wanting to debate him about those issues on which i deeply disagree with him, i confess: i want barack obama to be the next president of the united states.

I urge everyone to read the post in its entirety. What I love about it is that it shows that political engagement is not about a singular decision or moment, it is not about investing oneself fully in the promises or rhethoric of a candidate (or a grassroots movement for that matter). To me, politics have always been about the constant process of questioning and requestioning both the external and internal messages. It has always been about reconciling hope, fear, anger, cynicism, and accountability to my history, my family, my loved ones, my community, and the social work that I do.

go outside and play

We’ve been playing Oh, Susquehanna pretty much every night on tour.  In part it’s a song about how childhood mobilities have been affected by a changing environment.  But, as this editorial suggests, its not just the loss of natural spaces that is changing childhood.

From Remember ‘go outside and play?’ – Los Angeles Times:

Increasingly, American children are in a lose-lose situation. They’re forced, prematurely, to do all the un-fun kinds of things adults do (Be over-scheduled! Have no downtime! Study! Work!). But they don’t get any of the privileges of adult life: autonomy, the ability to make their own choices, use their own judgment, maybe even get interestingly lost now and then.

Somehow, we’ve managed to turn childhood into a long, hard slog. Is it any wonder our kids take their pleasures where they can find them, by escaping to “Grand Theft Auto IV” or the alluring, parent-free world of MySpace?

I think that this editorial definitely writes from a middle class perspective as youth in other communities definitely face different degrees of safety.  Still, even middle class culture restricts children out of concerns for their safety without taking on any of the root causes of the things that make us less safe.