ONLY NOISE: With A Bullet

Last week, after publishing “Don’t Take Your Guns to Town,” I took the train across the East River to see a movie. A bit of distraction seemed necessary in that moment, even if it was in the form of a demonic clown named Pennywise. Sitting on the Manhattan-bound C train, I noticed a man in a grey flannel suit to my left. He, like most modern passengers, was fixated on his smart phone. The glow of its screen did not reflect Candy Crush, Snapchat, or Instagram, however, but a P.O.V. shooter game. The tap of his thumb did not cause hearts of affirmation to burst with confetti, but rather, launched bullets from a high-power rifle, bumping off “bad guys” one by one. I watched as my well-dressed neighbor selected guns, tightened his scope, and fired and rooftop gunmen.

At that moment, it had only been four days since the mass murder of festival goers in Las Vegas, and seeing any gun, whether real, toy, or two-dimensional gave me a swift kick of nausea. It goes without saying that the events that plagued Las Vegas on October 1st still plague us today, and will continue to do so – and it is because of that lasting sickness I write on this topic again.

There were a lot of things that didn’t make the final draft of last week’s Only Noise, in part because I felt there was a hierarchy of importance with certain details – namely pointing out the arcane excuses for assault rifle-ownership in America. What I did not have the word count to include, were profiles on the scores of musicians who have had the guts to protest groups like the N.R.A., and ideologies which uphold the mass armament of US citizens with little to no discernment.

Artists like Harry Nilsson, who, after his best friend John Lennon was murdered by a crazed fan with a .38 revolver, became the official spokesperson for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence (CSGV). In 1981, a year following Lennon’s death, Nilsson told the L.A. Times, “I’ve never been an activist before, but when I was one of the people who had to hold Ringo’s hand after John Lennon was shot, I became involved. I said to Ringo one night just after the shooting, ‘If I could take this from you, I would. But I can’t.’ I was helpless, and that was the worst time in the world for me.” Nilsson’s life work became twofold: music, and gun control. Eventually he became National Chairman of a campaign called End Handgun Violence Week, which ran between October 25th and October 31st in the early 1980s.

247 people have been fatally shot in this country in the 10 days since the Route 91 Harvest Festival. Perhaps the CSGV could bring back End Handgun Violence Week, although the public faces far more frightening weaponry than just handguns these days.

Despite her recent op-ed in The New York Times, Roseanne Cash is no rookie to the gun control debate. Her activism traces back twenty years. She spoke out in 2015, when a gunman at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon killed nine people. This tragedy coincidentally occurred on the first of October as well – two years to the day before Stephen Paddock wreaked death on Las Vegas. The day after the 2015 attack, Cash urged citizens to sign a petition to reinstate the 1994 federal ban on assault weapons. “If you are as sick of gun violence in this country as I am,” the country artist wrote on her Facebook page, “then let’s stop talking about it and just do ONE simple thing.”

Unfortunately, this ONE simple thing has not appeared so simple to lawmakers. The 1994 assault weapon ban was never reinstated. Assault weapon opposition does continue to grow, however, especially after so many lives were lost at the Route 91 Harvest Festival. Guitarist Caleb Keeter of Josh Abbott Band was one of the first country musicians to completely alter his stance on gun ownership in this country, after the massacre in Las Vegas (he was at the festival when the shooting occurred). “I’ve been a proponent of the 2nd amendment my entire life,” Keeter wrote on Twitter the day following the shooting. “Until the events of last night. I cannot express how wrong I was.” He added, “We need gun control RIGHT. NOW.”

Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a long list of country musicians who have done a 180 on their firearms position since the massacre – but a few do seem to be distancing themselves from the NRA. On October 2nd, the artist roster on the website for NRA Country (an organization linking upcoming country artists with the NRA brand and lifestyle) shrunk from 39 names to 37 – the slots for Florida Georgia Line and Rhett Miller had suddenly vanished.

Of course, more opposition has come from musicians outside of the country bubble. Artists like Lady Gaga, John Mayer, The Chainsmokers, and Vic Mensa have all spoken out on social media, demanding gun control. Ariana Grande, who has seen her fair share of concert-targeted violence, tweeted, “My heart is breaking for Las Vegas. We need love, unity, peace, gun control & for people to look at this & call this what it is = terrorism.”

Moby posted a meme on his Instagram reading, “MAKE IT STOP” above an assault rifle graphic. Below it, the artist wrote, “How many more mass shootings will it take? How many more lives ended? How many more families destroyed? We need sane, rational, sensible #guncontrolnow. The @nationalrifleassociation and every Republican who opposes gun control has so much blood on their hands. Mass shootings are evil, passing legislation that enables them to happen even more so.”

One can only hope that players in the country music scene – the scene most affiliated with the NRA and gun ownership – will eventually put aside the political demographics of their fan base and speak out. Perhaps country artist Will Hoge put it best when he spoke to Marissa Moss for Politico Magazine:

“Will this be the thing where all of a sudden every conservative artist comes out and supports gun control? That’s an unrealistic idea,” he said. “I do think this is the point where country artists are going to have to take long hard looks in the mirror and ask, ‘What’s more important to me: maintaining success at commercial radio, or doing what’s right?’”

I hope there are plenty of mirrors in Nashville.

ONLY NOISE: Don’t Take Your Guns To Town

Last Saturday, while performing at New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom, Marilyn Manson was crushed by a falling stage prop. The assailing object was not a steel cage, nor a neon pentagram, but a sculpture of two massive handguns affixed to scaffolding. Manson was rushed to the hospital with undisclosed injuries.

Though it was a frightening incident (and one that led him to eventually cancel several upcoming tour dates), the knowledge that Manson was not in critical condition allowed a bit of black humor to creep into the scenario. Not 10 days prior, Manson pulled a toy gun on The Guardian’s Alexis Petridis during an interview, and later told him that, “the Columbine era destroyed my entire career at the time.”

Manson was of course referring to the 1999 Columbine High School shooting at the hands of teenagers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. The post-Columbine news media, eager to blame the violence on anything but America’s lax firearms policies and clueless approach toward disaffected youth, found a horned scapegoat in Manson. Countless pundits and members of the religious right made reference to his devil-worshipping ways, as well as his messages of “hate, violence, suicide, death, drug use, and Columbine-like behavior.” In the late ‘90s, Manson became an even greater pariah than he already was. If, before Columbine, his name evoked satanic orgies and platform shoes, it was now irrevocably linked with one of the most terrifying acts of gun violence in American history.

Knowing all of this, it’s hard to imagine Manson – whose wry and dark sense of humor infiltrates most of his interviews – didn’t at least smirk at the irony of two giant handguns pummeling him onstage. I must admit that after learning Manson did not suffer any serious wounds, I smirked, too. Until Sunday, that is.

The very next evening, across the nation from The Hammerstein Ballroom, a lone gunman opened fire on a country music festival in Las Vegas, murdering at least 59 people, and injuring over 500 others. I paraphrase The New Yorker journalist Adam Gopnik when I say that, the word “injured” is not commensurate with the scope of physical harm and psychological scars inflicted on those 500. Acknowledging the dead dozens doesn’t mend the phantom limbs nursed by their families.

Suddenly, one catastrophic weekend fanned the ever-burning flame of America’s gun control debate, and this time, the music world felt the heat. Country artist Rosanne Cash came forward with a powerful op-ed in the New York Times on Tuesday, imploring musicians – especially country musicians, who are so heavily burdened with the identity of the gun-toting American – to stand up against the N.R.A. and the armed culture of this nation:

“I encourage more artists in country and American roots music to end your silence,” Cash wrote. “It is no longer enough to separate yourself quietly. The laws the N.R.A. would pass are a threat to you, your fans, and to the concerts and festivals we enjoy.”

She went on, “This is a moment in American history that can’t be met with silence. According to PolitiFact, from 2005 to 2015, some 300,000 people in the US were killed by gun violence. That’s roughly the population of Pittsburgh.”

Fellow country guitarist Caleb Keeter, who was playing at the Las Vegas festival that weekend, met Cash’s challenge of squelching silence; the artist’s opinion on the second amendment is now altered forever.

“A small group (or one man) laid waste to a city with dedicated, fearless police officers desperately trying to help, because of access to an insane amount of firepower,” Keeter wrote. “Enough is enough.” In another sick twist of irony, the shooter, 64-year-old Stephen Paddock, bought most of his artillery at a shop so innocuously named, “Guns & Guitars.”

One might think that the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history – as the Las Vegas massacre has now been classified – would move N.R.A. lobbyists and politicians to the same extent as Mr. Keeter. Instead, the N.R.A. is silent, and President Trump claims that the gun control conversation is, “not for now.”

But the President and the gun lobbyists weren’t at the Route 91 Harvest Festival. They didn’t spend Sunday night dodging hundreds of rounds of ammunition fired from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel by Paddock. They weren’t there to suffer the carnage, and yet they continue to uphold laws which legalize the very implements that allowed Paddock to fire so relentlessly; namely, the easily acquired bump stock, which makes rapid-fire rifles out of semi-automatic ones, and can be purchased for $99.

Considering the coincidence that Marilyn Manson was once again in the news at the same time as a domestic mass shooting (though this time, not as a scapegoat), I couldn’t help but revisit Bowling For Columbine, Michael Moore’s 2002 documentary about America’s relationship with gun violence, in which Manson is interviewed.

When Bowling For Columbine hit theaters, I was 13. It was the first time I’d seen Marilyn Manson portrayed as a human being; sitting patiently in a chair and not writhing in fake blood or riding a potbellied pig. I was struck by his intelligence – by how articulate and gentle this agent of Satan could be. When Manson sat down with Moore, he spoke of Columbine and the media’s subsequent blame game.

“The two byproducts of that whole tragedy were violence in entertainment, and gun control,” he said, “and how perfect that those were the two things that we were going to talk about in the upcoming election. And also, then we forgot about Monica Lewinsky, and then we forgot about: the President was shooting bombs overseas, and yet I’m a bad guy because I sing some rock n’ roll songs,” he continued. “And who’s the bigger influence, the President? Or Marilyn Manson?”

Manson’s 15-year-old point is particularly sharp today, as conservatives strive to foist the responsibility for Las Vegas upon anything but the true culprit: the ease with which almost any American can waltz into a Walmart, and walk out with assault rifles, ammunition, and accoutrements that were never intended to hunt deer, but rather, humans. And for what?

Ask any Libertarian, member of the N.R.A., or gun-owning uncle why they need their AK-47s and TEC-9s, and they will all say the same thing: “for self defense!” But there are many flaws in that answer. First, look at the cold, hard facts about home invasion and “self defense.” Last year, the FBI released its 2015 crime stats, which proved a 7.8% decline in burglaries nationwide. Moreover, in 2010, the Bureau of Justice Statistics released data that in only 7% of household burglaries did a household member experience some form of violent victimization. That 7% is not to be scoffed at, but it also begs a few questions: 1) wouldn’t it be more difficult for burglars to victimize household members if they too, could not readily access firearms? And 2) Does having guns in the home ever truly make you safer?

According to figures from, no. From 2005-2010, almost 3,800 people in the U.S. died from unintentional shootings. Over 1,300 victims those shootings were under 25 years of age. Additionally, a 2001 study by Miller, Azrael, and Hemenway reported that regardless of age, people are significantly more likely to die from unintentional firearm injuries when they live in states with more guns, as opposed to states with fewer guns. On average, states with the highest gun levels had nine times the rate of unintentional firearms deaths compared to states with the lowest gun levels.

3,800 doesn’t seem like such a high number for a five year period…when you compare it to the 30,000 gun deaths this country witnesses annually. In 2010, 20,000 of those gun deaths were suicides  – suicides committed by people who didn’t have too much trouble procuring a gun.

I wonder if gun enthusiasts could use their “self-defense” logic on the victims of Mandalay Bay: could the concertgoers have protected themselves if each and every one of them was packing? No. When someone is shooting from the 32nd floor of a high-rise building, there is nothing you can do except run and duck for cover. Shooting back would do no good from the festival grounds – the man in the tower will always have the advantage. And yet, according to the logic of a Michigan Militiaman who was interviewed early in Bowling For Columbine, Paddock’s victims were ‘neglecting their obligation to be armed.’

“It’s an American responsibility to be armed. If you’re not armed, you’re not responsible,” he said in the film, struggling to buckle his belt. “It’s your job to defend you and yours,” he continued. “If you don’t do it, you’re in dereliction of duty as an American, period.” I wonder if that Militiaman could bear to accuse the Mandalay Bay victims of being “in dereliction of duty” as Americans,” today.

To me, passing legislation that allows citizens to purchase assault weapons and their vicious accessories; passively arming millions, and silently watching this happen again, and again, and again, is far more derelict of American duty than not owning an assault rifle. Raising our children in a culture that applauds and abets the “recreational” use of firearms is far more psychologically questionable, than going to town without your guns.

When the “self defense” argument doesn’t add up, gun-loving Americans turn to the Bill of Rights. “The Second Amendment says: I have the right to bear arms!” they shout. Well friends, there’s a big fucking difference between a musket and an AR-15. The fact of the matter is, most of the weaponry sold today didn’t exist when the Bill of Rights was written in 1789, and therefore should not be protected by it.

It is a nonsensical argument veiled in false patriotism and practicality, as if these trigger-happy citizens need their M16s for Fourth of July marches and weekend pheasant hunting. Their entitled cry that it’s “my right” to own an assault rifle bears the same insipid selfishness as a teenager trying to overthrow their parent’s household rules because they just turned 18. “Yes, legally, you may be an ‘adult,’ but you’re still in my house, eating my pot roast,” that parent might say. It seems that clinging to these weapons like toys and brandishing an irrelevant emblem of “freedom,” is more important to anti-gun control lobbyists than human life.

When Bowling For Columbine was first released, the wound opened by Harris and Klebold was still fresh and bleeding. The atrocity of Americans shooting scores of innocent people seemed at the time like a societal outlier. Now, it has become the hideous norm. And while Marilyn Manson will recover from his gun-inflicted wounds, I sometimes wonder if this country ever can.

LIVE REVIEW: Ryan Sambol @ Manhattan Inn

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Is Ryan Sambol half in the bag? It’s hard to say. The at-ease Texan and former Strange Boys and Living Grateful member could be over the eight, or perhaps just relaxed.  Since I last saw him at Cake Shop in 2015, Sambol has sprouted a substantial mustache and taken to wearing an all-you-can eat cowboy hat – but I suppose that’s fair play when you hail from the Lone Star State. At Manhattan Inn last Monday in conjunction with LPR Presents, Sambol charmed the audience with his laid-back persona and oafish delivery.

The “stage” at Manhattan Inn is truthfully a sunken square surrounded by a seated audience. The artist almost appears like a gladiator or a prized Doberman in a dog pit. Sambol seemed at risk of being swallowed by the instruments around him…or perhaps by his hat. His set was sandwiched between Brooklyn’s Swoon Lake and Sam Cohen, but the Texan stole the show in my opinion, despite his rakish appearance and minimal instrumentation.

I haven’t heard word of a new album from Sambol, though the slew of unfamiliar songs in his set would suggest one. He played a handful from his 2015 solo debut Now Ritual, most notably “Dinner Where I’m Staying” and “Amazing Rain,” for which he hopped on the Inn’s shining white piano.

Throughout the gig, Sambol would accompany himself by elbowing the crash cymbal on the headliner’s drum set with stooge-like technique, almost as if he didn’t notice there was a kit next to him at all. He has a voice that can’t get out of bed in the morning but manages to be beautiful in its own hungover way. Sambol’s compositions seem like lazy cowboy takes on Harry Nilsson, late ‘60s Dylan, Randy Newman, and Van Dyke Parks, and that ‘aint a bad thing at all.

I could be mistaken, as the question mark in my notebook suggests, but I’m fairly certain that at one point between songs Sambol mumbled something like, “self is the only hell;” perhaps a more lyrical take on the Henry Van Dyke quote, “self is the only prison.” Not sure if that’s true, but I’d like to think so. Ryan Sambol surely is an odd little bird, but one with more to him than he tends to let on. I look forward to hearing what he does next.

ONLY NOISE: Pop Of The Tops: Extended Remix


With Father’s Day around the corner, Madison Bloom revisits her dad’s record collection.  A version of this article originally appeared on the site in 2013.

My dad has more records than your dad. Roughly 4,000 of them. And as the former owner of a record shop located in Eastern Washington, he used to have many more to his name. The Chelan-based shop was only his for a few years in the late 1970s, and it was aptly titled: The Music Store.” Among other fads, like men shopping in the women’s section to find the coolest threads, my dad also predicted titular minimalism before it hit the mainstream. Or perhaps the moniker was a nod to the simplicity found in his favorite band’s name: The Band.

Dad used to stock The Music Store with stacks of pop/rock, country, bluegrass, jazz, folk, blues, and countless sub-genres. A large portion of his inventory was accumulated secondhand, as he would peruse thrift stores for rare finds as well as record discount sections, then known as cutout bins due to the rectangular chunk punched out of the LP’s sleeve. He’d buy milk crates full of albums for a few bucks.

To this day the cutout bin records are my dad’s scapegoat of choice when defending ownership of such releases as A Flock Of Seagulls’ 1986 release Dream Come True, and a surprisingly large body of the Huey Lewis and the News discography. “Must have been a cutout bin!” he always says. Yet the crates and bins were also responsible for some of the most strange and obscure gems. Take for instance my dad’s album of whale songs, narrated by none other than the late and great Leonard Nimoy. Or perhaps Ambrosia’s 1982 release Road Island, which, although sonically terrible, boasts a Ralph Steadman illustration on the cover. He also has an original pressing of A Tribute To Uncle Ray, an album released by (Little) Stevie Wonder at age 11, in which Wonder performs the songs of Ray Charles in his signature, sugar-sweet voice.

Giving the milk crate hauls and cutout bins all the credit would be unfair. The truth is the majority of my dad’s collection, in all of its diverse excellence, is due to his shameless, unrelenting love of music. It’s the reason he has everything from Todd Rundgren’s Runt to Marlene Dietrich Returns to Germany, an album of the starlet singing in her native tongue over Burt Bacharach’s orchestra. It’s the reason he has Tom Waits’ first seven albums, and T-Bone Burnett’s first two. He owns every record Harry Nilsson released, and as much of The Kinks’ output he could locate. He has an unopened copy of an interview with The Beatles, which could probably pay a few bills here and there if he could part with it, as well as a sealed collection of speeches from the 1934 Olympics, featuring monologues by American gold medalist Jesse Owens, and Axis leader Adolf Hitler.

As lucky as I feel to have this massive archive essentially at my fingertips, I have earned the access.  In the span of ten years my dad and I moved that hulking collection five times.  With each move the records would be put in orderly boxes, keeping their alphabetical ranks and genre-specific confines. A box for Christmas LPs, a few for country, soundtracks, jazz, etc.  The collection was always the first thing I wanted to unpack, as our new house never felt like a home without that tower of vinyl watching over.

I realize that these are niche bragging rights, especially for someone born after the invention of the CD, such as myself.  It is true that I’ve been surrounded by more iPods than turntables throughout my life. But the objects of our childhood fascination rarely lose potency over time.  Mine just happened to have an “adult” application as well as a visceral one. Records, you see, were as good as my baby blanket. More than that, they were road signs for me all the way through adolescence, and they’re still guiding my infatuation with music today. In the same way I fervently rummage through my mother’s closet each year and find something previously overlooked, I spend hours in front of my dad’s massive library of albums during the holidays, eyeing each spine for a hidden pearl. Unfortunately, our steady rotation of house cats over the years has left most of the spines illegible and shedding their own skin.

Shamed as I am to say it, I have spent the majority of my eight years in New York sans turntable, and therefore have not allowed myself the indulgence of purchasing any vinyl for over six and a half years.  Then, one birthday I was gifted a flimsy little dollhouse of a record player; a 1980s suitcase model by Vestax that I refer to as “Fischer Price My First Turntable.” It’s no collector’s item, but it does the trick. Ever since then I’ve allowed myself the occasional purchase-an occasional purchase which has swiftly escalated to weekly purchases, a subscription to a monthly vinyl club, and the slow but steady transplantation of my original collection in Washington to my growing one in Brooklyn.

One time, while selecting some records to take back to New York from the small corner my collection occupies in my dad’s shelving unit, I noticed something amiss.  Dad had filed a handful of-go figure-my favorite albums in with his behemoth pop/rock section. As I started plucking my copy of Wire’s And Here It Is Again…Wire from the W’s he caught me. This immediately spawned an argument about whether the album was in fact mine, gifted to me by my mother, or his from before they were married-a promo copy from the Music Store days.  I was tempted to challenge pops to name five Wire songs as proof that he even liked them, but instead simply pleaded, saying it was one of my favorite records of all time. This ended up being far more effective.

When my parents separated 18 years ago the retrieval of records was a painful order of business. Was that copy of The Pretenders’ first LP mom’s or dad’s?  What about The Specials, or Hunky Dory? These disputes still surface, but I like to look on the bright side, which bears a simple fact: my parents have amazing taste in music. What if they were bickering about who ended up with the Kenny G record? Things could be worse.

He may not own a record store, or play in a country rock band, or wear navy suede cowboy shirts anymore, but my father has reintegrated music into his life in a whole new way. He never stopped writing music, or listening to music, or loving music, but now he nurtures the music of others in the restaurant-cum-club he owns with his wife. It has become a welcoming home to many Northwestern artists in its two years as a Bloom establishment. The bistro is just one more facet, one more excuse to talk about music, which we do more than anything, sending each other songs via email and watching the ever-impressive musical career of my older sister.

Recently I asked him what some of his most prized records are.

“Wow, that’s kind of a tough one,” he texted, responding almost immediately after with “of course my Harry Nilsson collection would come to mind. I also think my Mills Brothers collection and my collection of Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli are treasures.”  The former two were easy guesses, and yet I had no idea he even had Django Reinhardt or Grappelli on wax.  I suppose that is the constant allure of his collection.

A few months ago, my dad and I were on the phone, and I expressed to him a conundrum I often find myself in while record shopping.  “It’s like, I want to own Astral Weeks on vinyl, but I’d feel stupid buying it,” I said.   “Because you already have it, and then someday I will inherit all of your records, and then I will have two copies of Astral Weeks.” 

They will all be yours soon enough,” he replied, sounding oddly resolved.

“Hey!” I barked.  “Don’t talk like that!  Jesus.  I’ll just buy a copy!”

“Oh, no I don’t mean that,” he laughed.  “I mean when Sharon and I pick up and move to France one day.  I don’t want to move all that shit again.”