ONLY NOISE: The Day the Country Died

“Do not despair. You don’t have to leave. You don’t have to move to Canada. You may feel out of place in the United States today. You may feel like you’re surrounded by fundamentalist-church-going, gun-hugging, gay-bashing, anti-choice Bush voters. But you’re not.”

This was a portion of the cover Seattle’s culture rag The Stranger ran in November 2004 when George W. Bush was reelected. I remember it well. I remember it well, in part, because that cover page has been framed and hung on the wall of my sister’s house since. The remainder of the text encourages Seattleites by reminding them “Kerry got 61% of the urban vote…got 80% of the vote in Seattle,” essentially praising the power of the “urban archipelago,” which some might consider a flaccid pat on its own back. A warm glass of milk while the world burned.


I remember this well because leading up to that day I had followed my dad to every political event we could find. To a Howard Dean rally in the months before Kerry’s nomination, to speeches by Michael Moore, Jim Hightower, and the venerable Amy Goodman. I remember it well because it was the period of time I was more involved in and educated about politics than I have ever been. All hope was on Dennis Kucinich in our household, who seems now like an early, less successful incarnation of Bernie Sanders. I remember it well because in the years leading up to Bush’s reelection, politics had hit a lot closer to home.

We lived in a small town. My Dad owned a mercantile in an even smaller town – one of 97 people, to be exact. One of those people was Justin Hebert, an exuberant teenage boy with wheat colored hair and a wily smile. He used to sweep the floors of my dad’s shop as an after school gig, and I, from a young age, had a massive crush him. Justin, like so many kids in my hometown, came from meager economic resources and couldn’t dream of being able to afford college tuition, despite his enormous desire to attend university. So, he joined the army, which plied him with the lure of travel and $50,000 towards college upon discharge.

As his obituary reported in 2003, “his flight to basic training was the first time he was ever in an airplane.” Justin was 20. He was the 250th American to die in the Iraq War, and the 52nd to perish after Bush so hubristically declared the war was over in May of that year. You remember that “Mission Accomplished” banner, don’t you?

I do. Like it was yesterday. Because that was my induction into politics. That banner searing into my brain as I heard the news of Justin’s death. That was the turning point for me. I carried the newspaper clipping of Justin’s obituary in a little hardback book that listed the Amendments to school every day, and would use it as ammo when scolded for not standing for the Pledge of Allegiance. All I wanted to talk about was politics from then on, an unpopular pastime for a middle schooler. In eighth grade I wrote a paper (much to the pride of my father and chagrin of my teachers) entitled “The Day the Country Died” as a simultaneous nod to the Bush administration and a Subhumans record by the same name.

The paper is now lost, likely in a dusty box in my dad’s garage somewhere. It was written by a 13-year-old, and is probably not very good. But in the fallout of what has transpired with this week’s election – and I know that was a lengthy preamble – I am reminded of that seventh-grade sentiment. That burning, sickening and powerless feeling. This is perhaps the first time in my life I have felt history seemingly repeat itself…like I am slumped in a parallel universe across from my thirteen-year-old self, asking with a quivering voice how this could possibly happen again.

I am no political analyst. I am no sociologist. I am not even a political journalist. However, it would feel irresponsible and delusional to write about anything else today. So I will write about it, with as much knowledge, honor and honesty as I can offer.

In my years of being scorned for wanting to discuss politics, the past several months have brought me so much joy, because, for the first time in so long, people were willing to talk again. They wanted to shout, even. To see folks my age so thrilled to support the Bernie Sanders campaign moved me in a way I’d never felt before, and I will continue to revere that memory. But after Bernie lost the DNC nomination to Hillary Clinton, I saw a kind of regression within the allegedly “progressive” peers all around me.

I cannot tell you the number of people I met, who so arrogantly snorted that they weren’t voting at all. These were educated, middle class, privileged people, such as myself. One woman, whom I met at a bar in Brooklyn, haughtily blurted that her “morals were worth more than stooping to the farce this election has become.” This woman was an educator (guess what programs consistently get cut first by conservative administrations?). She then went on to describe the magical utopia that is Burning Man.

One thing I have consistently encountered lately is this misdirected idea of how things actually work. You can go to Burning Man all you want if you can afford it, but you still live here. In reality. In the U.S. of A. And as of this election, you now live under the Trump administration. And it’s important to say that, no matter how difficult it is to hear. Because burying our heads, drinking ourselves numb, doing molly, and thinking this is only going to be a four-year thing, is the last thing we want to do right now. We must remember that whatever force was summoned to try to stop Trump from winning this election, needs to be amplified exponentially to make sure it never happens again.

Of the 44 pre-Trump leaders this nation has elected, less than 12 have been one-term presidents. The model tells us that incumbents almost always win reelection. So I would like to encourage all of us, four years in advance, to remember that, and to never have the thought “there’s no way that could happen!” again. Because it can happen. It just did.

It is a harsh reality we face today, tomorrow, and beyond. But I will not leave you on this note. If you’ve been kind enough to read this far, you’re due a bit of optimism. Optimism is not the atheist’s game. Many of you may believe in God, in the afterlife, in reincarnation. I have never believed in reincarnation on a metaphysical level. But I do believe in reincarnation on a historical level. The movements left unfinished from one era recur in the future, hopefully, closer to achieving their original goal with each wave, each rebirth.

The Suffragettes (and I am HEAVILY paraphrasing) carved a path for feminists in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and so they did the same for the contemporary feminist movement, which, let us not forget, took part in getting the first near-win for a female presidential candidate ever. From the abolition of slavery to the Civil Rights struggle, to the Black Lives Matter movement – it is a continuum that is unfortunate but necessary to keep improving the quality of human life in this country, especially when those in control consistently deny that there is a problem to begin with. So while I say that today is “The Day the Country Died,” please know I believe in its eventual rebirth.

In addition to all of the things I am not, I’m no historian. But if I had to propose a historical theory of progress, it would be this:

Progress seems to me like a hamster ball, moving along a horizontal axis. We humans are the hamster, the ball itself being micro-history: the events that occur within a generation’s lifetime. The horizontal axis being macro-history, meaning all the events that have ever happened and will happen in this big clusterfuck we call human history.

So. I envision that as the hamster fervently turns its ball, producing a dizzying amount of rotations, it cannot tell that it is simultaneously moving forward along the horizontal axis. It feels only the wild revolutions, the ups and downs, the unrelenting cycle of positive acceleration and negative regression in our shared history. But in fact, in tiny, infinitesimal increments, it moves forward along that horizontal line. It cannot go backward.

So please. Wither not. Do not let your education, your influence or your rights fall prey to your own cynicism.

Let’s push things forward.

NEWS ROUNDUP: Parquet Courts, Bernie Sanders, & Animal Collective



  • Parquet Courts Debut New Songs

    The Brooklyn-via-Texas punks performed “Dust” and “Outside” on WFUV, and also announced an upcoming album titled Human Performance. “Dust” has a loping, cowboy Western feel, spacing tendrils of guitar riffs between suffocating lyrics: “It comes through the window, it comes through the floor/ It comes through the roof, and it comes through the door/ Dust is everywhere/ Sweep.” As you can see in the creepy video – which features dust personified- dust is a metaphor for the distractions of modern life. In a way, the song is a more subtle version of the band’s “Content Nausea.


  • Bernie Sanders Gets Musical Endorsements

    I’m not saying that anyone should base their vote on what celebrities think of the presidential candidates. But if they did, I think we know who would win; members of Vampire Weekend and Dirty Projectors  joined Bernie Sanders onstage to sing “This Land Is Your Land” during a Iowa City rally for the candidate on January 30th. If you live in Brooklyn, you may have also noticed a bunch of shows dedicated to raising money for Sanders. Meanwhile, Donald Trump has earned only the endorsement of Kid Rock, and the wrath of Adele and Steven Tyler for using their songs without permission.


  • Listen to Animal Collective’s “Lying in the Grass”

    On the cartoonish, slightly schizophrenic track, voices bounce around, occasionally running into a glitch or a saxophone lick as the song builds. Listening to “Lying in the Grass” is like following instructions to make an origami box, only to realize you’ve somehow made a crane. Maybe that doesn’t make sense, but it’s kind of pretty, which sums up the track. Check it out below:


  • Johnny Cash Lives On, In Arachnid Form

    Fourteen new species of tarantulas have been recently discovered in the United States, and one of those, Aphonopelma johnnycashi, has earned the namesake of the country singer Johnny Cash. Why? It lives near Folsom Prison, and is jet-black, the color that Cash was known for wearing almost exclusively. It’s almost too perfect.


RIP Maurice White

Maurice White founded the incomparable Earth, Wind & Fire. He passed away yesterday from Parkinson’s at age 74, six years after he was inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame. His band was one of the most renowned, universally liked musical groups- for a thorough obituary, see The New York Times.


  • Philly Musicians Bill to be Withdrawn

    Remember that bill we mentioned last week, the one that would require all performers coming to Philadelphia to register with the police? Maybe you even signed the petition to stop it. Well, a spokesperson for Mark Squilla, the councilman who proposed the bill, has said that he intends to withdraw it. That definitely falls under the category of “good news.”