Bullies: A Friendship by Alex Abramovich

I absolutely loved this. The book started when the author reconnected with one of his childhood bullies, who had grown up to lead a motorcycle club in Oakland. They get to know each other again, and their complicated friendship is the center of the story. Abramovich and his girlfriend moved out to California and he gets involved in this scene.

I love how human relationships are woven through the history of the city, demonstrating how these things must be put in relationship to each other. The way we relate to other people is connect to space and location. It starts as the story of an odd friendship, it grows to be a portrait of a scene, before expanding to take on larger ideas of gentrification, history, and the occupy movement. It’s one of the best accounts of Occupy that I’ve ready, capturing the promise, frustration, and whimsy.

It’s wonderfully written, and gives you a lot to think about. It manages to hold on to a sense of scale incredibly well, always centering people in order to maintain perspective while looking at larger things. It’s about how people change and grow, and how Oakland is changing, and how these two journeys interact. It’s a really wonderful book.

The Hopefuls by Jennifer Close

I am not entirely sure why I read this book? It was recommended somewhere, probably on Vulture, and something about the description made me add it to my list of library requests? Whatever the write up was, I’d like to complain about being mislead.

I was hoping for a political adventure. After watching seven seasons of The West Wing in about a month I needed new exciting ways to think about politics that aren’t as depressing as following the election would be. The premise here — two young couples trying to get involved in politics, and their friendships — sounds promising enough? I was hoping for something witty and civically minded, something that would make me feel smart and in tune with the world.

The problem is that the politics never go anywhere past nice quiet liberalism, and the relationship aspect is a real drag. It’s a boring straight people book, which kept on making boring straight people choices. Sometimes it’s fun to be able to see ahead of a story, to anticipate what’s coming next, but this was depressingly predictable. Also the ending was terrible. The ending made me feel worse about the world, and not even in an interesting way. The depressing part wasn’t about the political process, but about interpersonal politics, and the terrible forces of heteronormative patriarchy.
It isn’t actually bad writing? It’s just dull? I understand why someone else might enjoy it, but I also suspect that if you’re into this book the two of us won’t get along. It isn’t terrible, but not actually worth time or thought. Skip it.

the summer of 2012 all I listened to was frank ocean and fiona apple. they both put out new albums that spring, and i listened to those two things over and over, one after another, again and again, all summer. that was the summer before my sweetheart and I really started dating. we kept on doing incredibly romantic things together, but I didn’t ask her out until the end of august. we listened to those two albums and held hands and lay on my bed told each other stories.

august was hard. she was out of town, then i was out of town, then she was out of town again. i think we got one afternoon together between all the family vacations. when she was in the boundary waters without cell service i was basically in hell. that suffering was bad, but it helped convince me that i really had to do something and tell her how much i cared. it was worth it to get us here.

i’m not good at augusts. there’s usually a point where i feel absolutely miserable. i don’t think it’s come yet this summer, but i’m waiting for it, and maybe that’s making things worse. or maybe things aren’t great already.

my insomnia’s been bad, worse in a way that i’m not used to. and i haven’t been writing as much as I like to, which bothers me. things have been slightly out of sync all month, maybe longer.

soon enough it will be september, and then my birthday, and i’ll have an excuse to be outrageously happy. for now i just need to make do, muddle along. there’s a new frank ocean album to listen to, and that’s making everything better. having the right soundtrack for your melancholy is incredibly important. i’ll always remember what the summer of 2012 sounded like, those two albums again and again, and i figured out what to do about falling in love.

Normal by Warren Ellis

Last week Warren Ellis’s serialized novella Normal wrapped up. It was an absolute blast, and one of the best things I’ve read all summer.

Serializing this story was really effective. Every chapter gave you a little bit more, kept on asking new questions, and ended with a need to find out more. I haven’t taken the time to sit down and read it all in one go, but I’d bet it works as a tight concise thriller. It’s only four chapters, and doesn’t wander very far.

Ellis quickly builds the world of Normal, a facility for futurists who have gone mad. It’s an asylum full of the rightfully paranoid, a perfect setting for a locked room mystery. A lot of exposition is needed at the start, but it’s all doled out by wonderfully setting the scene and introducing us to the ensemble.

It’s a perfect story to read in the summer of 2016. The whole election season has made me want to reread Ellis’s stupendous Transmetropolitian.  But while Transmet’s political vigor feels very relevant to current events, it’s still a gonzo science fiction story set in a far future. The remarkable thing about Normal is that it’s set now, and all of the technological advances seems horrifyingly plausible, something that believably exists that we just haven’t heard about yet.

That uncertainty and fear is at the root of Normal’s broken futurists. The world is terrifying, so what is anyone one going to do about it? And if the world is terrifying now, it’s only going to be more so later on. So what is there to do?

Drink your juice, take your pills, try to live in the world? Or break apart, try to skip to the ending? But if that doesn’t work, if the machine of modernity is too big to allow early exits? I don’t know, and Ellis doesn’t give an answer.

But he is asking those questions, and facing those fears, and his characters aren’t giving up. They might be crazy, this world might have damaged them in remarkable ways, but they’re still trying to solve problems in their weird ways. That’s comforting on some level. Or at least I’m going to hold onto that.

important Queerness

Last night I saw Grant Hard play in Loring Park, and it was really amazing. At the start of the show he kept on interrupting the Current DJ who was introducing him, being a punk, mocking the sponsor. He told the crowd that the popcorn was free — it wasn’t. He had a conversation with someone up the hill about rent in some building in Saint Paul. He sounded really good.

When I got home I was still having a lot of feelings, so I decided to start on the biography of Hüsker Dü that I’d picked up awhile ago. I got about three paragraphs into the introduction before I had to put it down in a rage. In Hüsker Dü: the Story of the Noise Pop Pioneers Who Launched Modern Rock Andrew Earles very straightforwardly explains what he’s trying to do, which is to cement Hüsker Dü’s importance. I’m there for this argument, I agree. But then he writes, “The fact is Hart’s and Mould’s sexuality has absolutely nothing to do with why this band is important.”

Fuck that.

The fact that Bob Mound and Grant Hart were queer men in a punk band through the 80s is incredibly important. Their very presence in the macho hardcore scene is worth remarking on. While they weren’t loudly out during this time, they weren’t deeply closeted either, it wasn’t a secret. Throughout the 80s queer people became increasingly visible, but often as stereotypes. Hart and Mould are a reminder that queer people look all sorts of different ways and act all sorts of different ways. Some of them like disco, some of them create revolutionary punk bands.

Hüsker Dü were revolutionary. There is an argument to be made for their importance that looks at the music and nothing else. Adding the songwriters’ sexuality to the mix is just another layer to their importance and their legacy.

Earles argument seems to be that Hüsker Dü’s influence needs to be recognised (though he may be headed somewhere else, I only got three paragraphs in). He cares about their legacy, and the people they inspired. To say Hart and Mould’s sexuality doesn’t matter is disregarding a huge part of their legacy.

I love Hüsker Dü for their music. And I love that they’re from my cities. And I love that they’re queer.

It is incredibly important to me, and a lot of other queer people, to see queer singers in a punk rock band. If they were straight I wouldn’t love them as much. Sexuality isn’t a huge part of their music, but it’s a part of how their audience engages with them. Maybe not as much when they were an active band, but today their sexuality is an important part of their legacy, and to write it off is near sighted and near insensitive.

Hüsker Dü didn’t really make music about being queer, but they were. “Whatever” is embedded in the concept of Zen Arcade, but it feels like a song about being a queer kid talking to their parents. There’s a queer reading present in their music, which I am not interested in ignoring.

I understand the point Earles was trying to make. He was explaining that it wasn’t going to be full of juicy gossip or speculation of whether anyone slept together. He was explaining that he was going to stick to the music, not the interpersonal drama, which apparently sexuality is to him.

I don’t know, but I bet Earles is straight. Sexuality doesn’t seem important when yours is never remarked upon. Sexuality doesn’t seem important when you can assume all the singers in your favorite bands have the same orientation as you.

Grant Hart was in a revolutionary punk band, and has a fascinating solo career — his most recent release was a long concept album about Paradise Lost, which sounds like a terrible idea, but is actually fantastic. Last night he played some old Hüsker’s songs, and stuff from different eras of his solo career, and it was all great, and it would have been a fun night of music no matter much. But it meant more to me because Grant Hart is queer like me. His legacy isn’t just about punk rock, not just about the Minneapolis music scene, it’s about his queerness.

Watching Grant Hart play in Loring Park last night was an incredible experience, in part because Loring Park is a queer space. I was sitting on a hill, watching my idols play music, in the same park that hosts Pride. It meant a lot to me as a queer young person to sit on a hill listen to an older queer person play music. That there is a history to Loring Park, a legacy of queerness that Hart is a part of, and so am I. That is so incredibly important. More than importance, it makes me feel better about the world.

I’m going to read the rest of the book, eventually. I’ve heard good things about it, and I really do love the band, and want to learn more about them. There’s a fair chance I stop being mad at the author. But wow, that was not a good note to start on.