“Pull on your tights…” Andy Waterfield responds to Frank Miller’s recent comments on the “Occupy” movement.
“The “Occupy” movement, whether displaying itself on Wall Street or in the streets of Oakland (which has, with unspeakable cowardice, embraced it) is anything but an exercise of our blessed First Amendment. “Occupy” is nothing but a pack of louts, thieves, and rapists, an unruly mob, fed by Woodstock-era nostalgia and putrid false righteousness. These clowns can do nothing but harm America.”
So begins Frank Miller’s recent blog post about the “Occupy” phenomenon. For those who aren’t familiar with his work, Frank Miller is a comics writer and artist of some considerable standing. While critical response to his more recent work is varied, his work in the 1980s, and, to a lesser extent, the 1990s, is considered by many to be one of the most important bodies of comics literature of all time.
His run on Daredevil: The Man Without Fear, beginning in 1979, redefined the character, and his cinematic style, heavily influenced by film noir, invited a new generation of creators to rethink what could be done with the medium.
His Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, produced in collaboration with Klaus Janson and Lynn Varley is a compelling and evocative character study, examining the motivations and methodology of an aging Bruce Wayne, determined to reclaim his city and the world from corruption and crime, even it means sacrificing himself in the process. It is by turns a work of masterful adventure storytelling, a biting satire of the “talking head” political commentators of our time, and a beautiful, often genuinely stunning, work of art.
I could go on a lot longer, imploring you to consider the subtle tensions in Batman: Year One, to those familiar with the work, clearly a key source of inspiration for Christopher Nolan’s incredibly popular film, Batman Begins. Or maybe I could talk about the use of contrast in the oppressive and claustrophobic violence of Sin City?
I’m not going to do any of that, because that’s not the point of this piece. I just wanted to make it very clear that I have been a fan of Frank Miller’s work, or much of it, for quite a while, and while I have problems with some of it, I can appreciate that he is a master of the craft of comics storytelling.
None of that matters here, because here and now, in this most recent tirade, Frank Miller is quite simply wrong, and I intend to explain why.
Firstly, Miller appears to be labouring under the misapprehension that “Occupy” as a phenomenon, is exclusive to New York and Oakland, or at the very least, he appears to be implying that it is concentrated primarily in those places. While these expressions of the phenomenon are almost certainly the largest, “Occupy” exists in a great many places, across multiple continents. The Guardian’s Data Blog has an interactive map charting the brood brush strokes of “Occupy” in terms of attendance estimates and locations. Without putting too fine a point on it, the map speaks for itself.
Miller claims that Oakland has embraced “Occupy” “with unspeakable cowardice”. He doesn’t back up that assertion, but maybe he doesn’t feel he needs to. I’m certainly not prepared to put words in his mouth, but I will say this: Miller grew up in Montpelier, Vermont, and while he spent much of his early career living in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen, I think it’s fair to say he made a significant amount of money in the 1980s, and has made fair bit since, given the continued success of his most famous comics works, and the success of films based on his creator owned work.
What I’m getting at, is that Frank Miller may have known poverty at certain times of his life, and he may recognise it in others, but he is no longer of poverty himself, if he ever was.
The US Census Bureau provides vast amounts of free to access data gathered under it’s American Community Survey. The five year estimates for 2005-2009 suggest that Montpelier city, Vermont, the town in which Miller grew up, has 11.9% of individuals living below the poverty line. This is below the figure for the US as a whole, which stands at 13.5%. The ACS gives a margin of error of +/-3.1. Now, Miller might very well have been living in poverty during his younger days, but unless Montpelier has been on the up and up since he lived there, it’s poverty levels more broadly are fairly average.
Now let’s take a look at Oakland. According to the exact same data set, 17.5% of Oakland’s population live below the poverty line. This time around, the margin for error is +/-0.6, so the ACS is a damn sight surer of these figures. In addition to it’s high levels of poverty, when compared to the average across the US, Oakland also enjoys a high level of ethnic diversity, unsurprising since so many African Americans moved there for work in the post-war period.
Now, I should stress that my picture of Oakland is amassed from what I’ve garnered from news reports over the years, accounts of the place in music and film, social science resources like those featured above, and the autobiography of Huey P. Newton, Revolutionary Suicide. I don’t know this town, but then how well does Frank Miller know it? Perhaps he’s deeply familiar with Oakland, it’s history, and it’s people, and therefore has a firm foundation on which to base his assertions about it’s people, and their relative levels of courage. We can’t know that, but what I know is this. Given it’s history, it’s economics, and it’s relative poverty, it doesn’t look like the type of place to be apathetic about economic injustice.
“”Occupy” is nothing but a pack of louts, thieves, and rapists, an unruly mob, fed by Woodstock-era nostalgia and putrid false righteousness.”
This is almost certainly the single most malignant sentence in Miller’s piece. Note that he is not merely saying that there are “louts, thieves, and rapists” within the “Occupy” movement. Indeed, for any body of people of that kind of size, we could very well expect some of them to be thieves and rapists (an unfortunate, but very well documented phenomenon, to which progressive movements are unfortunately not exempt). However, Miller isn’t saying this. He’s saying that the people who make up “Occupy” are “nothing but” these things, “an unruly mob, fed by Woodstock-era nostalgia and putrid false righteousness.” Miller doesn’t back this last assertion up with any evidence. Considering how frequently I myself am asked what the Hell I’m talking about, when I make reference to some aspect of this era in conversation with my peers, I’m loathe to believe that “Woodstock-era nostalgia” is some far-reaching or defining quality of my generation, though I could be wrong. Either way, we might want to steer clear of the brown acid.
““Occupy” is nothing short of a clumsy, poorly-expressed attempt at anarchy, to the extent that the “movement” – HAH! Some “movement”, except if the word “bowel” is attached - is anything more than an ugly fashion statement by a bunch of iPhone, iPad wielding spoiled brats who should stop getting in the way of working people and find jobs for themselves.”
It’s here that Miller gets dangerously close to having a point. The “Occupy” movement is undoubtedly clumsy, and has been poorly-expressed at times. This, however, is the nature of a fledgling movement, attempting to veer away from hierarchy and dogma. Plenty of people, within the movement and without, have acknowledged these points. That it’s an attempt at “anarchy” however, is a shaky assertion indeed. From what I can gather, the “Occupy” movement is composed of individuals from a range of backgrounds and political ideologies. There are, undoubtedly, Anarchists in this mix, but there are also socialists, social democrats, and others, all with their own particular perspective, and, one must assume, their own particular views on the best way for “Occupy” to proceed. Painting such a grouping, across many nations and continents, as some sort of ideological monolith is simply absurd. Indeed, seeking to portray Anarchism as a monolith is ridiculous too, but that’s much of a muchness here.
There are accounts all over the internet from people involved with “Occupy” who have gainful employment of one kind or another (you can search for those on your own time, chums), and while there are certainly valid questions about the relative class privilege of a proportion of the protesters, you can all make up your own minds as to whether every last “Occupy” protester is weighed down by a rucksack full of Apple products. I’m not even going to dignify Miller’s apparent contempt for unemployed youth with a response.
“This is no popular uprising. This is garbage. And goodness knows they’re spewing their garbage – both politically and physically – every which way they can find.
Wake up, pond scum. America is at war against a ruthless enemy.”
It’s here that Miller takes something of a shift in the direction of his bile.
“Maybe, between bouts of self-pity and all the other tasty tidbits of narcissism you’ve been served up in your sheltered, comfy little worlds, you’ve heard terms like al-Qaeda and Islamicism.
And this enemy of mine — not of yours, apparently - must be getting a dark chuckle, if not an outright horselaugh - out of your vain, childish, self-destructive spectacle.
In the name of decency, go home to your parents, you losers. Go back to your mommas’ basements and play with your Lords Of Warcraft.
Or better yet, enlist for the real thing. Maybe our military could whip some of you into shape.
They might not let you babies keep your iPhones, though. Try to soldier on.
Are we to ignore economic injustice simply because Radical Islamist Terrorism is a thing? Apparently so, if Frank is to be believed. On this point, I’ll refer you to David Brothers’ extremely well executed critique of Frank Miller’s Holy Terror. You’ll find it in book shops all over the place. I know I have. Holy Terror that is, not David’s review, more’s the pity. The following is an extended quote from David’s article, which you can find in full here.
The Fixer nabs a terrorist and calls him “Mohammed,” because “you’ve got to admit that the odds are pretty good it’s Mohammed.” They call him “Moe” throughout the rest of the book. The terrorists are viewed as something sub-human. One page contrasts Americans watching a Transformers-style movie on a big screen with Arabs stoning a woman buried up to her neck in the dirt while calling her an infidel, slut, and whore. A generic man in a suit takes his wife, wearing an Afghani Burqa, beats her, and then leaves the house. And finally, when Natalie infiltrates a mosque, she thinks, “the night wind blows away seven centuries.”
The constant bashing of Islam as a throwback to the Dark Ages is stupid, ugly, and tiresome. It’s also factually incorrect. While Europe was in the midst of the so-called Dark Ages, the Arab world was in the middle of what was essentially a golden age of enlightenment. They made vital discoveries and advances in science, math, medicine, art, architecture, and several other areas that had a profound impact on the rest of human civilization.
Al-Qaeda is treated in the text as something that is representative of Islam, rather than something that is a twisted, rotted off-shoot. Conversely, the Ku Klux Klan are terrorists are nominally Christian, but they’re never portrayed as representative of Christianity or whites. Again and again, Miller hammers home outdated and bigoted assumptions. The Fixer and Natalie Stack approach torture with glee, Natalie sends a terrorist off to his “seventy-two black-eyed virgins,” and on and on and on. They’re fighting Islam, not Al-Qaeda, and the book suffers greatly for it.
I strongly suggest that you take the time to read the full text of David’s article. It really is a great piece, and examines the relative merits and deep and troubling shortcomings of the work in an even handed way I don’t believe I’d be able to muster myself.
Somewhere along the way, as an avid comics reader, I stopped reading what Frank Miller had to say in interviews, and a short while later, I stopped reading his new work altogether. Over the years, I’ve wondered whether parting ways with such a gifted creator was the right tack to take, but at this point, I’m sure that it was. I have no interest in supporting this man, or his work, while he continues to hold what I take to be deeply troubling political beliefs. I sincerely hope he changes his mind.
There’s a sequence in Miller’s sequel to The Dark Knight Returns, The Dark Knight Strikes Again, where Batman stands in front of a huge mass of confused but righteously angry young people, and entreats them to turn their anger into a positive force for change, and ultimately, for justice. It’s a sequence I’ve gone back to over and over again, and when I hit upon the idea of donating money to Oxfam each time I spent money on comics, and inviting my comics reading friends to do the same, putting a name to the enterprise wasn’t much work.
It’s also the spirit I believe lies behind this enterprise.
So it’s with this quote that I leave you, and I’ll stand by it, even though I’ve left the man who wrote it, Frank Miller, to his thoughts. I hope that it inspires you, whether you’re involved in “Occupy” or not, to do your bit to work toward a more just world, in which the boundless aspirations of the seven billion or so of us who make up this clumsy, ambling, but ultimately hopeful species, are matched by a wealth of opportunities and capabilities to achieve those aspirations.
“CHILDREN, PULL ON YOUR TIGHTS—
—AND GIVE THEM HELL.”
Andy Waterfield is the founder/curator of I Live Sweat, and a News Editor at Punknews.org, and when he isn’t thinking about punk rock and comics, he’s probably thinking about the films of Terry-Thomas, social science, or Marmite. He has a couple of degrees in the social sciences, if anyone fancies giving him a job. Not that he’s unemployed at present - sorry, Frank!
“What can you contribute? What will you create that’s new?” Max Stern of Signals Midwest, interviewed by Andy Waterfield
(Andy’s note: I’ve embedded a Bandcamp player below so readers can listen to Latitudes and Longitudes as they read, should they be so inclined. I highly recommend it.)
(Photo by Aaron Feeder)
ILS: Hi, Max. Could you tell our readers a little bit about yourself, Signals Midwest, and what part you play within the band?
Max: My name is Max Stern. I just turned 22 and I live in Cleveland, OH. I play guitar and sing in Signals Midwest. I go to school and work as a graphic designer, but most of my free time is dedicated to writing songs, booking/playing shows, and generally obsessing about music and all things related. I don’t sleep enough.
ILS: Sleep is for the weak, mate. As I understand it, Signals Midwest have just released your second full length, and your first material as a four piece, Latitudes and Longitudes. Do you fancy telling us a bit about that?
Max: We’d been playing as a 3-piece since September of 2008. My friend and I took a cross-country road trip in June of 2010, and we happened to stop in Kansas at the same time that Jeff (guitar) was home visiting his family. We ended up staying out until like 6 in the morning, and had a serious heart to heart about music and Star Wars, and he joined shortly after I got back from my trip. We wrote most of L&L with him and it allowed us to branch out a lot musically. I didn’t have to worry about filling out a sound as much, and it allowed us to do things that we never could have done otherwise. Something that comes to mind specifically is the second half of the song Construction Paper - there’s a section where Jeff and I are doing this crazy, jagged trade-off riff that turns into this big instrumental guitar solo thing. That, amongst many things on the record, would have never happened were we still a trio. The direction of our band changed drastically once he joined, and I’m really happy with it. We definitely went outside of our comfort zone, and I think it’s paying off.
We came home from tour this past August, having just released L&L on CD, and we decided to contact Will from Beartrap PR to do some press work for us. I knew he was part of Tiny Engines, but it didn’t really cross my mind that we could ever be a part of the label - seeing releases from Tigers Jaw, CSTVT, Restorations… It just seemed out of our league. Anyway, we had made a little bit of money on tour (which surprised the hell out of us), and we were all ready to send out like 50 CDs and a check, but the night before I was about to send all that stuff out I got an email from him that said “Hey, hold off on all that stuff. We want to do a vinyl release for this on Tiny Engines!” I got the email at like 1am and barely slept that night. I was a wreck at work the next day, but I was so happy!
So yeah, we’re working out the details right now and shooting for a late November release for the 12” version of L&L. We’re exploring a bunch of cool packaging ideas, and are gonna do some limited edition vinyl colors and screen-printed posters for the pre-order too. It’s all the stuff I’ve wanted to do with a project, but have never had the means to. Chuck, Will, and Jeff have all been so nice and communicative and open about the whole process. It’s really exciting.
(Photo by Donna Baluchi)
ILS: A Serious Heart to Heart About Music and Star Wars needs to be the title of a song, an album, or maybe even a memoir! Also, stoked to hear you’ve had such a good experience working with Beartrap and Tiny Engines. I’ve had a fair bit of dealings with them through I Live Sweat, and they’ve always come across as hard working blokes with a deep and sincere passion for what they do.
I’m also glad you brought up the guitar style on the record. I grew up on Queen records and the Bill and Ted films, so I’ve got a soft spot for bands who aren’t afraid to let shredding guitar parts take centre stage from time to time. There are a lot of great guitarists in punk, but there aren’t too many who give me that sense of power and freedom that comes with a sprawling solo. Matty Pop Chart and D. Boon are obvious examples for me, but who are your favourite guitarists in that regard? What kind of stuff did you grow up with, and do you feel that’s come out in your style now?
Max: I grew up on the Beatles probably more than any other band (thanks Mom & Dad!), and to this day George Harrison is still one of my favorite guitar players. He was the first guitarist I really noticed that could simultaneously play lead and rhythm at the same time, and what always got me was how effortless his riffs sounded, but how complex they actually were. That constant up/down motion while changing certain notes in a chord (see Here Comes the Sun for my favorite example) contributed hugely to my growth as a guitarist, and it’s a style I see echoed in one of my other favorite guitarists, Ted Leo. That combination of percussive picking style, but maintaining a focus on melody, was something I was attracted to very early on. I also had a big Hendrix phase, which led me to the Red Hot Chili Peppers and John Frusciante, who’s also another one of my favorites. All of those players inspired me to maintain chord shapes and find melodies within them, rather than draw a hard line between rhythmic chords and leads. That isn’t all I like to do, but it’s a big part of it.
I guess for my development in playing punk rock, Weezer’s first two records were a huge influence. The sparse use of acoustic guitars coupled with tons of fuzz and solos is something that stuck with me a lot. NoFX was another huge one. When I was 13 or 14, I had a solid month where I played along to all of The Decline every day. In terms of Signals Midwest (and especially for our new record), Matt Embree and Steve Choi from the RX Bandits were a huge influence. Once they got past their ska band days they wrote really progressive, melodic punk records that contained a ton of interesting ideas. Their riffs are poppy and catchy, but super technical, and play off of each other very well without each one directly following the other. There’s also some awesome guitar work coming from modern bands like Good Luck (I know you mentioned Matty Pop Chart earlier. Dude is so good!) and Algernon Cadwallader, but I think in terms of guitar work, RX has influenced me the most.
ILS: On the lyrical side of things, how is that worked out? Do you write lyrics as a band, or as individuals?
Max: There are a few instances where the other guys have told me to tweak things a little bit, but that’s mostly me. I’ll be at the grocery store or driving back from school and I’ll get an idea, text it to myself with some ideas for a chord progression, and sit down with a guitar and a notebook once I get home. I can never write all the lyrics, or all the music, to a song separately - it’s always done with a guitar in one hand and a pen in the other. Lately I’ve been trying to write from other peoples’ perspectives - there are a few songs on L&L like In Tensions that I wrote from the perspective of my grandparents, and I’m trying to further that with our newer songs. John K. Samson (from the Weakerthans) is amazing at putting himself in other peoples’ shoes and writing lyrics from their perspectives and I truly envy his lyrical ability. I think I’ve cross-sectioned my life through music enough to the point where I should probably look for other subjects too. Who knows, though…
ILS: Was the song Family Crest written from your own perspective? What’s that one about? I was just listening to it now, and the references to mental states and dreams piqued my interest.
Max: I wrote the shell of that song in the basement of my girlfriend’s parents’ house in rural Ohio, at about 2 or 3am while everyone else was asleep. I remember whispering the first two lines over and over again because I didn’t want to wake anyone up, but I also didn’t have any sort of writing/recording device and knew I’d just have to remember it later on. It was written at a strange and transitional point in my life - I was in between schools and jobs, in a city and a house I’d never been to before, in a relationship that was still pretty new at that point, and was definitely having a bit of a crisis of conscience. That, and my phone was dead, and I couldn’t find the fucking light switch, so I was just kind of sitting there in the dark freaking out a little bit, wishing I could just go to sleep and slow my brain down for a moment. I suppose the song is about grappling between personal and professional lives, and the forces that drag us towards focusing on one or the other. Trying to make well-thought-out and informed decisions for the future, while not sacrificing personal aspirations; trying to figure out a legitimate way to pursue both, I guess. It was written over two years ago. If I wrote a song about all that now it’d be a lot different - maybe more cynical, more cautious. I’m not really sure - maybe I’ll give it another shot.
(Photo by Christine Froggatte)
ILS: I think that’s something a lot of us have to grapple with, especially within punk/hc, because it’s so common for us to grow up with ideals and aspirations that don’t always find an easy fit in society at large. Sometimes I think it might be a generational thing. Probably a bit naive, but sometimes I feel like our generation are going to take a huge hit for the easy credit the baby boomers enjoyed since the ’80s, and we’re barely even starting out. What do you think?
Max: What’s scary to me is that I think that “huge hit” is starting to affect our generation even now. What you’re talking about plays in hugely to what’s going on right now with Occupy Wall Street (and pretty much every other major US city). Not just in a punk sense, but in a general living and well-being sense. One of my best friends just dropped out of school to go join the occupation up in New York, and he’s got a lot of reasons - debt, student loans, and finding employment after leaving the academic bubble. It feels like we’re being groomed for a system that should have been restructured years ago.
It’s a strange time to be young. Maybe three of my friends know what they’re doing after they graduate college. When people from a more “professional” walk of life ask me what I want to do after I graduate, I just tell them I want to live in a van and play music for the rest of my life. It might not be how I feel in 10 or 20 years, but it certainly avoids conversations I don’t want to have.
ILS: Exactly. I graduated with my BA three years ago, went home to pay off my overdraft, and by the Autumn the economy had gone up the spout. Spent a year in a warehouse, then got my MSc in Social Research, only for the new Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition Government to cut funding to all social science courses two months later, so now I earn minimum wage in the daytime, and work on I Live Sweat in the evenings, in part to try and distract myself from the huge question mark where my future used to sit.
I used to think the idea of working for half a century was really scary, but, as I see it, it’s a lot scarier to have no idea whether you’ll even be able to do that.
I’m definitely seeing what looks like a huge ground swell in political activism from our generation, on both sides of the Atlantic. Neither the US, nor the United Kingdom, seems to have a genuinely progressive opposition party, with the weight of influence, or the sheer brass neck to stand up to the various powerful financial interests at play.
Max: I can agree - I’m definitely seeing that “ground swell” as you said. Sometimes I feel like focusing on the things that I do (music and design) is downright selfish, and that I should be doing something more productive and on a larger scale. My most political days were at age 12-13, listening almost exclusively to Anti-Flag and spray-painting “Goodbye America” on my Fruit of the Loom T-shirts that my parents bought me from Wal-Mart. I admit that I wasn’t really able to grasp the concept of irony at that point.
There’s a Frank Turner song called Photosynthesis that I’m starting to relate to immensely as I get older and plays in hugely (in my opinion, of course) to this conversation. For anyone who reads this, look up the lyrics. That guy can write the hell out of a song.
ILS: I’m definitely getting to the point where “the latest music fads all pass me by”, but I’d hope that I Live Sweat is testament to my refusal to grow up and shut up.
I dunno. Sometimes it feels like there’s something in our culture that is constantly telling us to sit back, shut up, and choose between the options prescribed to us. I think that’s a lot of the attraction of DIY music and culture, in that it feels genuine, and the transparency and modesty of the means by which it’s produced give it a feel of authenticity that a lot of people are looking for. Who knows?
(Photo by Christine Froggatte)
Max: I mean, people are attracted to DIY music for all kinds of different reasons. What you described is exactly why I was drawn to it, but I think the fact that you used the term “feel of authenticity” is something to be noted. Sometimes it is just a “feel”, and isn’t actually authentic. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are tons of people in DIY music who are kind, genuine, and overall great people, but I also think that there are people on both sides of the fence that don’t really get it. There are bands that posture as DIY, but just use it as a front to gain followers and make money, and there are people who think the world can just exist in basements and info-shops, and that bands that play big venues or 21+ shows, or license their music for something, are somehow morally reprehensible. Neither is the case, at least in my opinion.
To me, DIY means doing it your own way. Doing what you want to do and making your own decisions. It’s as simple as that. Just because you play in a basement, get some tattoos and sing songs about whiskey and cigarettes, doesn’t make you a DIY musician, and I think there are a ton of people that hide behind that. My question is this: What can you contribute? What will you create that’s new? How will you make things better for yourself and those around you, without being exclusionary? There’s so much going on that people just slap the “DIY” term on that just seems so counter-productive to me; stuff that’s just as limiting and unfair as the society that you’re supposedly an alternative to. It’s infuriating and creates just as many schisms and sects within a scene as there are outside of it.
Also, just to clarify the comment about 21+ shows, I will take an all-ages show over a 21+ show any day, but after having been on long tours and facing the prospect of either playing a 21+ show or having nothing at all, I’ll take the 21+ show. It’s never a first choice, though.
ILS: There’s a bit in the Minutemen documentary, We Jam Econo, where Mike Watt says something similar to the following, and I’m paraphrasing at best:
“What is to be done where you’re at, and how you gonna do it?”
That, to me, is the essence of the thing. A few years ago, I’d get really pissed off when bands I loved signed to major labels, particularly when Alkaline Trio and Against Me! did it, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve come to realise that real life doesn’t conform to our ideals all the time, and punk rock isn’t some seperate little utopia running parallel to the real world, but part of it. I’d still much rather bands were able to get what they want on independent labels, but I’m not shaking my fist at pictures of Tom Gabel anymore, know what I mean?
I think sometimes we can buy into the dream of this utopian road warrior thing, as fans, and when the reality of the thing hits us, like maybe Henry Rollins would prefer to sleep in a bed, or the Stooges fancy licensing some music so they can put some money by for old age, it feels like a betrayal because it’s undermining that thing we cling to during our nine to five lives. Like, as long as Against Me! are out there living this dream, we as listeners haven’t bought in to the system we find ourselves within? Does that make sense?
On the topic of 21+ shows, our drinking laws in the UK are a lot more relaxed, it being legal to drink with a meal at 14, and drink without at 18, so it’s not a huge jump, but bars, pubs, and clubs still dominate, and a lot of the time that’s just about economics.
(Photo by Ted Novotny)
Max: I’ve written a bunch of responses to that, but I don’t think I can put it any better than you just did. Especially the line about how if a band is out there “living this dream”, then we can essentially live vicariously through them because to us, they seem insulated from the system. Nobody’s insulated from it - it’s just how you choose to conduct yourself.
ILS: Yeah. I’m a great believer in trying to change the world for a better, but I think you’ve got to pick your battles just to get by on the day to day, especially if you’re not lucky enough to have a lot of money behind you.
Are you much of a reader, and if so, what kind of stuff do you like to read?
Max: I’m not gonna lie to you - between music and design I don’t find a lot of time to do it. I read constantly when I was younger, but as soon as I picked up a guitar it kind of took the place of everything else. I have a habit of picking up a book, reading it about halfway through, getting sidetracked out of my routine, and totally forgetting about it. Right now I’m about in the middle of Slaughterhouse V and I’m very determined to finish it - it’s my first venture into reading Vonnegut, and it’s phenomenal so far.
And if you’ve got any recommendations I’m definitely listening.
ILS: I’ve never read any Vonnegut, but I’ve got a mate who swears by him. My favourite novel is The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin. It’s philosophical sci-fi, and it examines a lot of the questions about ideology and utopian thinking that we’ve talked about here. Other than that, Human Punk and The Prison House by John King. For my money, he’s the greatest English novelist of our time, but a lot of people write him off without reading him because his debut novel, The Football Factory, was adapted into a feature film. The novel examined football violence and the surrounding culture from a range of points of view, and the film really didn’t, so he’s got an ill-deserved rep as a bloke who rights about, and for, hooligans, when he’s actually one of the most interesting and challenging liberal voices around. He’s also got a habit of standing up for working class culture, which isn’t particularly popular with our privately educated broadsheet journos, but whatever.
Max: I will admit that I like reading stories of adventure and travel a lot. I had a Kerouac phase, and I stumbled across this book called Exit 25 Utopia at a used book sale for $2 that basically chronicles the ’70s punk scene through the eyes of a few touring musicians based out of New York City. That era, and the crazy fusion of punk and Hip-Hop as they emerged in popularity, was awesome to read about. It makes sense that the books I like are related to music and travel, but I guess I need to broaden my horizons a bit. I promise I’ll check out your recommendations as soon as I’m done with SH5… so I’ll probably have them read by the time I’m 30.
ILS: That punk and Hip-Hop had strong roots in the same city in the same timeframe is a fact a lot of people miss. For my money, the basic philosophical tenets of the two are very similar, although they emerged from very different circumstances.
I think we should wind this up shortly, lest we natter about awesome stuff forevermore. Anything you want to plug, as far as Signals Midwest, or friends’ bands go?
Max: I grew up listening to punk and Hip-Hop, writing graffiti and skateboarding. It all served as an alternative and viable means of self-expression, and I definitely agree with you about the basic shared philosophy behind a lot of it.
As for plugs? Uh… our record comes out in November on Tiny Engines. They have been insanely cool so far. I think the pre-orders will be up in November, and they’ll ship early December. We’ll be doing some cool art prints, and colored vinyl and stuff, for the pre-order, so keep an eye out for that!
We also have two split 7”s coming out, one that we’re self-releasing late this month with our friends in Shady Ave. from PA and one in January on Solidarity Recordings with a killer band from LA called The French Exit. So we have a bunch of new music on the way. You can hear our whole discography at http://signalsmidwest.bandcamp.com.
One more thing that I want anyone who reads this to know: don’t sleep on bands from Ohio! There is so much great music coming out of this state and it’s amazing to be part of it. Check out every one of these bands: Worship This!, American War, Annabel, The Sidekicks, Reverse the Curse, Tin Armor, Andy Cook and the Wanderloons, Delay, Vacation, New Creases, The Fucking Cops, Two Hand Fools, Ultra Ultra, Gunnerson, Northwestern, Cherry Cola Champions… I know I’m definitely forgetting people, but the bottom line is that Ohio rules.
Thanks for the interview, this was super fun.
ILS: Already all over Tin Armor, and The Fucking Cops, but I’ll give the rest a go, too. Thanks Max.
Andy does I Live Sweat. You can find him… here.