Category Archives: Chick Riffs

Update on Life, International Relations and the American Boycott

This is the pre-brutal-summer look.

It’s been a while since I’ve written about my real life, and since my daily experience influences my perception about music, I thought I’d give a brief summary of goings-on and announce a few changes in blog content for 2020.

It’s been one hell of a year.

Dad’s Surprise

One common characteristic my family members share is phenomenally low blood pressure. I usually clock in at about 95/61; maman 98/70 and dad averages about 105/75 (please note that the person with the highest blood pressure is a non-smoker).

So it was a great surprise when Dad went to the doctor for shoulder and back pain only to learn that his blood pressure had risen to 180/110.

The doctor was puzzled herself, as Dad had led her down the path of looking for some kind of muscular tear or tendon snap. He insisted that the pain started after he’d been doing some remodeling work and twisted his upper torso trying to align a drainpipe. Based on that lead, the doctor ordered up some x-rays but found nothing wrong with his shoulder. Because Dad had described the pain as shooting pain, the doctor wondered if Dad had just happened to schedule his doctor’s visit on the day he was planning to have a heart attack.

I could have told her that was impossible because (as I have mentioned many times before) my father is the unluckiest person in the universe. My dad would have been the first astronaut to have a heart attack, and he would have had that heart attack while orbiting the far side of the moon, out of touch with and as far away from Mission Control as you can get.

The mystery was quickly solved when the doctor looked at his back and discovered a sea of red blotches on the upper right side of his back. “Ah, vouz avez un zona,” she told him. Dad got “vous” and “avez” but hadn’t heard the word “zona,” so he asked for a translation. “You have the shingles,” she explained. The medical team hooked him up and started dripping antivirus medication to attack the shingles and painkillers to try to get his blood pressure down. Because his blood pressure wasn’t coming down fast enough for the doctors, they gave him the gift of an overnight stay in the local hospital.

Once dad had the diagnosis and was stretched out on a hospital bed, he admitted that he was in much more pain than he let on. “Imagine a spiked python wrapped around your chest—that’s what it felt like.” He only stayed one night (total bill for all charges = 145 euro), but the experience triggered thoughts of mortality, and people do get weirdly sentimental when they think they’re about to croak. In Dad’s case, he expressed a strong wish to spend his waning years in the home country—not the States (shit, he wasn’t delirious), but the Emerald Isle.

At the time, maman and were united in our response: “No fuckin’ way, dude!” Although they’ve recently loosened up a bit on same-sex marriage and abortion, Ireland is still a very Catholic place—and on my many trips to Ireland over the years, that presence has given me the creeps.

As it turned out, I wound up spending half the summer in Ireland and loved it.

Climate Change

For as long as I can remember, the weather in Nice was pleasantly predictable, the kind of temperate Mediterranean climate that avoids extremes. The climate has changed noticeably over the past three years with brutal, humid summers and torrential rains in the winter months. Last summer it was so bad I couldn’t stand it anymore and my partner and I temporarily moved our base of operations to Ireland (Skerries, to be exact).

It was rainy, foggy, drizzly, cold and gray—completely delightful. We could fuck in leather again without sweating like footballers.

The weather in Ireland is closer to the weather I grew up with in San Francisco, so that aspect of Ireland is very appealing. Although I still have serious reservations about making the move, I’m more open to the possibility now, because there are few things I loathe more than hot weather. We’re going to wait and see how the Brexit thing plays out, as it is expected to have a pretty significant impact on Ireland, depending on the fine print in the final deal.

Here’s the summer cut after going stark raving mad in the heat and humidity. The sweater should tell you that I had escaped to cold, drizzly, heavenly Ireland.

Brexit, Boycotts and the Blog

I’m almost as pissed off about Brexit as I was about Trump, but it looks like Boris, Putin and the racist rich will get their way and the UK will leave the EU.

I thought briefly of a British Boycott, but the consequences would be staggering. Though I could switch to writing reviews in French tomorrow, the demand for rock reviews in French is close to zero. No matter what their native language, countries outside of the United States are more likely to embrace multilingualism, so producing reviews in English is essential to the blog’s survival. And despite the American Boycott, my audience is still overwhelmingly American. Here are the top visitors by country:

United States 62.85%
United Kingdom 12.40%
Canada 7.13%
Australia 3.60%
France 2.90%
Germany 2.66%
Brazil 1.98%
Italy 1.93%
Netherlands 1.67%
Spain 1.47%
Argentina 1.41%

In case you’re wondering, Ireland came in at #17, probably because I refuse to review U2 records.

Although I love to write about non-Western music, my reviews that involve lyrics in languages other than English are among my least-read reviews. The bottom line is if I were to boycott both the Americans and the British, my playing field would shrink like a dick on a cold winter’s day.

And I have to admit that I’m very frustrated with the American Boycott because there is a lot of great American music I want to cover—especially jazz. So, though I had very good reasons for implementing the boycott (such as preserving my mental health), I have to admit that the reason I found the actions of Trump and the GOP so disturbing is that I didn’t want to believe it was happening. I have now come to accept that the United States government is a racist, misogynistic, authoritarian, ignorant, fake-Christian criminal enterprise and that the American people either support that enterprise or lack the will and courage to change it (to me, they’re the same thing). That shouldn’t stop me from reviewing artists who have produced great work, especially those who had to surmount endless obstacles because of the color of their skin or lack of a penis. The truth is America has always been a racist, misogynistic country, and many of the great artists from United States possessed the courage to overcome those barriers to realize their artistic visions. Those people should be honored, not boycotted, for they are the real American heroes.

So, I’m lifting the American Boycott as of January 1, 2020, and will continue to cover music from the UK (even if it fractures into something less than a united kingdom).

Taking a Rain Check

It hit us both at the same time.

Dad and I were watching a game between the Braves and the Red Sox on a slightly rainy Sunday afternoon in Nice. It was about two p. m. when we tuned in; the game had actually taken place a couple of days before. Since we don’t know anyone in Nice who gives a fuck about baseball, we can watch the season at our leisure without worrying about anyone spoiling the experience by telling us how a game turned out.

It was the fifth inning, Braves up 5-4. Both starters were gone after a pair of less-than-thrilling performances, but we weren’t expecting a pitching duel anyway. We chose the game because we had no idea how the hell the Braves wound up in first place and wanted to see what they had to offer.

Not much happened in the fifth inning. Neither team scored, but what was remarkable is that neither of us said a word. We usually have something to say on nearly every pitch—snarky remarks about a weird batting stance or pitching motion, frustration with the progressive blindness of the umpire or extending congratulations to someone who made a nice play. But this time, there was stone cold silence.

Dad broke the ice. “This doesn’t feel right.”

“What?”

“Watching baseball.”

I had the same feeling but I didn’t know why. “Yeah. What do you think it is?”

“I’m seeing things differently.”

“How?”

“When I see Mookie Betts—the best player in baseball this year—all I can think about is if he gets into a run-in with a cop, he’s dead meat. I see blue state vs. red state. I hear the fans cheering and I think ‘What do you motherfuckers have to be happy about? Why aren’t you out in the streets instead of stuffing your faces with hot dogs?'”

“Maybe they want life to be normal. Maybe they just don’t care. Or maybe they’re okay with what’s going on.”

“And that’s the killer. We all operated under the belief that the struggle was worth it, that progress would come, that even when things got tough, history was on our side. Everything we fought for—civil rights, the right to choose, peace on earth, the environment—destroyed. Wiped out in what, a year and a half? A half-century of progress—gone.”

He grabbed the remote and turned off the TV. “I can’t watch this anymore. Let’s get your mother and go for a walk.” He put his hand on my shoulder. “There are better things to do than watch baseball—it’s time to move on.”

I could feel the tears coming but managed to hold them back. Baseball had been part of the family experience as long as I could remember, a cherished ritual that provided a few hours of bonding in a safe space. Some people have church; we had baseball.

But dad was right: it was time to move on.

*****

A little backstory for those who missed it: I left the United States because of Sandy Hook. The non-reaction to that horrific event told me that Americans cared more about protecting the right to weaponize than they did about their children. I was frightened and no longer felt safe there. When the opportunity for a job transfer to Europe fell into my lap, I grabbed it. I couldn’t have imagined that America could get any more dysfunctional than it was when I left, but I underestimated the depths of greed, hatred and violence in the American soul. After the Russians and racists put Trump in charge, I renounced my citizenship.

However, it’s one thing to turn in a passport and another thing to break the emotional bonds to the place where you grew up. I’ve stayed in touch with my friends in the States and have continued to monitor the news from the homeland. Reading about what’s going on in America has become a depressing and frustrating experience: a flat-out fucking drag. You have a situation where the political party who holds the power in all branches of government is deliberately working to destroy democracy and establish an authoritarian state. The end game for the Republican Party is an autocracy run by the rich and white where women are little more than property, and the masses remain dumbed down by a state religion based on Evangelical Christianity and by an education system that denies the existence of fact. America didn’t have much of a social safety net to begin with; now the strategy is to destroy it altogether to create a Darwinian dystopia where only the fittest (i.e., white) survive. This has been the strategy from the beginning—what that disgusting man Bannon called “the deconstruction of the administrative state.”

They’ve already made a lot of progress, if you want to call it that: The Economist has already lowered the U. S. rating to “flawed democracy.” Americans can still shout “We’re Number One” because they lead the world in many areas: #1 in obesity, #1 in the consumption of anti-depressants, #1 in military spending and weapon exports, and easily #1 in gun deaths. The health care system ranks last among industrialized nations, environmental ratings are plummeting, and—if you want to talk “progress”—Americans can take pride in the fact that they’ve finally entered the prestigious Top 10 list of most unsafe countries for women. Trump is in the process of destroying long-standing relationships with the western democracies, abandoning the long-standing American commitment to human rights, applying a wrecking ball to environmental protections, and cozying up to repressive, brutal dictators in Russia, Turkey, Egypt, North Korea and The Philippines. His regime demonizes immigrants, kidnaps their children and throws them into cages. They vilify POC and LGBTQ and are gradually working to destroy all legal protections for those marginalized groups. Like Hitler and Goebbels, they’ve mastered the art of the big lie and are completely unafraid to use it to attack any who dare to challenge their god-given authority. This is no joke, folks: Trump and his sycophants are doing all they can to transform America into a dictatorship—a violent, aggressive and very dangerous authoritarian state armed with enough nuclear warheads to create hundreds of Armageddons (biblical reference intended).

While there are Americans who have expressed outrage at these developments, the loose coalition referred to as “The Resistance” has been stunningly ineffective in stopping the runaway train. They seem like well-meaning people trying to go through proper channels when the opposition doesn’t give a flying fuck about proper channels. They place their hope in a “blue wave” this fall, dream of impeachment and predict a future where the entire Trump family is safely behind bars, all of which is highly wishful thinking. Nothing has been done to prevent election hacking, stop voter suppression, or limit campaign contributions, so there’s no reason to believe that the same widespread fraud and structural bias that resulted in 2016 won’t happen again in 2018 or 2020. Robert Mueller? I’m sure he’s an honest, upstanding professional, but everyone knows that the American legal system is massively dysfunctional and any charges against Trump and his mobsters will get tied up in the courts for years. Trump has spent a lifetime working around legal hassles, and he has the Supreme Court in his pocket. As for the Democrats, they’re doing what they always do: nothing.

The biggest problem with the opposition forces is that they are united in only one thing: denial. When I scroll through my Twitter list of resistance fighters, I constantly run into the claim, “This is not America” or “Dear Europe/Dear Canada/Dear World: We apologize for our idiot president but please be assured that this is not who we are.” BULLSHIT! Read the lists! The United States is a militaristic, violent, gun-loving, racist, male-dominated culture and has been for years! You ARE Trump! Americans need to move past the denial stage and face the ugly reality of who they have become, or things will continue to devolve. Here’s your new inconvenient truth: Trump is the United States personified. He is the perfect embodiment of American culture.

And here’s another inconvenient truth: most Americans don’t give a shit.

If Americans really cared about democracy and their responsibility to the world, they’d call a general strike and shut down the whole fucking country. That won’t happen, of course, because Americans would never do anything to intentionally damage their precious economy or skip a few  paychecks—even if it means sacrificing “cherished values” and ending the “great experiment.” And even if Trump and his cronies are sent to the hoosegow, I doubt very much if Americans have the stomach or the courage to begin to face the deep-seeded problems of racism and misogyny that led to Trump in the first place. As the incredibly insightful Propane Jane wrote on Twitter a few weeks back, “America is chronically ill and thoughts and prayers won’t cure it.” She said this in the context of the latest school shooting, but the disease has spread beyond the fetish for violence. Bred to believe that “We’re Number One,” Americans can’t possibly accept the fact that their flaws are all that serious.

I now understand that when I was growing up in the United States, I lived life in a bubble. The San Francisco of my childhood and teens was a tolerant, open place that celebrated sexual and cultural diversity and had a vibrant arts scene. When I visited other parts of the country and encountered less tolerant, more traditional ways of life, I just figured they were behind the times and eventually they’d get up to speed. Raised by parents who instilled the value of constant learning in me, it never entered my imagination that there could be people who actually cherished their ignorance.

The deteriorating situation in the United States has seriously impacted the pleasure I take in writing about American music. I choose to explore popular music history, where a major consideration is lasting relevance. This invariably involves comparing past to present. When I cover American artists, I have to deal with the difference between what America was and what America is today, and spending any time dealing with current events in the United States is very stressful for me. I don’t like spending my time feeling miserable, especially when it involves a situation that I cannot change or influence, so the best choice for me is to avoid contact as much as possible. It’s time to move on.

So, even though visitors from the United States make up 57% of my audience, I’ve decided to stop reviewing music by American artists. This is an act of self-help grounded in the acceptance that I am no longer an American and have no power to influence the situation. It also recognizes the fact that Americans are hyper-sensitive to any criticism from “foreigners,” and I am, after all, a citizen of France and the European Union. The change won’t be all that noticeable to my readers; of the 389 reviews I’ve written, only a third cover American artists. It will give me the opportunity to explore that appallingly-titled genre “world music” more than I have in the past, so prepare yourself for some artists who may not be household names.

I’ll publish my last review of an American artist on the Fourth of July, when I cover the most American artist of them all, Frank Sinatra. I’ve been meaning to do some Sinatra for years, and now the time feels right.

I really hope I’m wrong about all this, which is why I’m referring to this decision as a “rain check,” leaving me an opening to reconnect with American artists once the storm passes. Americans have tremendous potential to be a force for good in the world, but through a combination of apathy, misogyny and racism, they’ve chosen a very dark and disturbing future. Americans created this mess and only Americans can fix it. I gave up the right to participate in the fix twenty months ago, but I wish with all my heart that there are still enough good people around who can save the day.

To end this tale on a happy note, Dad just told me that he figured out how we can watch baseball without getting depressed! Nippon Professional Baseball! I’ll have to get used to players treating umpires with due respect, but who cares? It’s baseball! Go Toyo Carp!

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