Friday, November 17, 2006

Hey Starbucks, 1983 texted, it wants it's baskin robbins back


I feel a bit uncomfortable in my knowledge of the DC punk scene. Though I was in close proximity for years I never really "got it" because of DC's impenetrable wall of politics that bundles the music in sharp turns, stop and go traffic, and dissonance dissonance dissonance. Don't get me wrong, I love me some Black Eyes, but the scene there is so prickly with politics that, like the city, its hard to crack open and taste it's gooey, delicious, punky marrow.

But this washington post.com article makes me feel even more uncomfortable. I'm all about documentation, as this blog proves, especially documentation of a scene that flourished, flourishes, flourishing. Something about a documentation that takes the form of a tour, an inscribing of memories into a cellphone into the earth into a tourist into a Starbucks, seems to be adverse to something, something...something.... in my brain.

There is a plaque in Zurich that says, and I paraphrase "the cabaret voltaire was here." An example of contemporary labors to wikipedialize or charge for everything of importance and less than important importance. Guy Debord would call it the Spectacle. Contemporary Marxist critics would call it reification.

I feel the same way about historicizing Dada, punk's granddaddy, as I do about historicizing the DC punk scene. Though Dada is dead (to a certain extent) the historicizing of it's accomplishments was inevitable, flawed. Dada was meant to destroy the gallery, the inherent classist politics of sheeny marble buildings with gilt and security guards and baby-strollers out front. Plaqueing it and stamping it and rolling it in a bun is not what Hugo Ball or Tristen Tzara wanted for their actions. Actually, saying they wanted anything at all is a kind of heresy to the house of Dada.

So flash forward to 2006 where the sheeny marble building has been squished into a couple of zeros and ones. The notion is still the same but it is a dissapearing of walls; the museum has dissapeared and covers all the ground that Cell Phone signals can cover. It is an attempt by businesses to reify an event, a culture, by tricking people to think that they are not actually bourgeoise, but hey, while you're at this trip down history lane why don't you stop in at Starbucks for a cup of punk rock coffee! I'm being facetious and contrived but the point is this: memorialization of the DC punk scene like this effectively "ghost towns" the musicianship still occuring there today (as emily so adroitly put it). Its not about remembering what was once in that storefront where a hip seagreen Starbucks now resides, it is about proactively seeking new sites of progress.

Coupling this phone phenomenon with memorializing films will ultimately make the groundspace into a kind of sculpture, indecipherable from the thousands of other sculptures in the city. But this memorialization is an avatar reserved only for the community of those people who look and pass. Turning the sites into factoids removes them of their political importance at the same time it "celebrates" their musical importance.

If there is one thing DC punk is about it is political discourse. Inscribing a site into a digital medium neuters the potential discourse one might find in a band that once existed there and, because of the incestous nature of music, neuters the current bands that exist there.

The music happening in DC has always been about community. A distinct community that, unlike most music scenes around the country, has been outspoken in its attempts to include potential audiences in a dialog rather than exclude. Fugazi regularly plays free or cheap as free shows, Q and Not U would play political festivals when they were together, a majority of the music orbits the political climate; not always moonly orbiting like McKaye's The Evens, but cometing around issues of importance with bands like Del Cielo or Beauty Pill or The Paper Dolls (there ya go Talia) .

8 comments:

Alex said...

I'm not sure that I precisely agree with your wariness about historicizing, primarily because I don't think that historicizing is always a packaging (what you seem to think it is when you bring up reification) nor do I think it is always an erasure (what you seem to think it is for contemporary bands). For that matter, I'm not even sure I fully understand how you are using reification as an organizing concept for this Punk Walk, which is not to say that you are wrong so much as I'm a little drunk. I guess what I really want to know is what precisely the "It" of "it is about proactively seeking new sites of progress" is: is "it" what should be our motivating factor? is "it" a rapidly absorbing marketing system? Just confused is all.

Also, I kinda fundamentally disagree with you about historicizing Dada as a flaw -- and I'm giving up some of my cards here -- because I think that historicizing Dada is absolutely, utterly essential to really understanding what it is about. Without some process of historicization you run into the problem of treating groups, theories, and events like eternal solutions, you see what I'm saying? This is actually the problem with something like avant garde studies, which constantly tries to reinvigorate the same figures and the same ideas in slightly different ways -- like painting the walls, or shuffling around the furniture, but never getting out of the same boring neighborhood. What is crucial to historicizing something like Dada is to see what it erases or to what it fetishizes itself: i.e., Tristin Tzara's weird, madman colonialism or Richard Huelsenbeck's "negro poems." And this is all to say that historicizing does not necessarily have to be an obscuring or capitalizing enterprise; it can (and I would argue frequently does) uncover what our favorite critical hobbyhorses got wrong in the first place. That and it also keeps us from treating theory like a blunt weapon that we repeatedly smash into every new practice (something I regularly see and do in grad school). It might be nice to consider historicization as a tool that better hones our ability to recognize cooptation for what it is, how it operates, and how we can critique it.

Cap'n Guthrie said...

I agree with you, alex, when you blither on with your grad school garbage, about historicization allowing cultural hindsight. Without Dada being written into avant-garde scripture we couldn't rearview mirror it and change it's tenets around as the situationists did in '68 and, arguably, as the punks did afterwards.

my point is this: punks never claimed to be an art movement, maybe and aesthetic but not an art movement. The DC punks more so, their aesthetic in the 80s and on into the 00's was and is inextricably tied to their politics. Taking people on a tour of dead punk sites by virtue of cell phone text messages is an immediate classing. Cell phones are not nearly as ubiquitous as us upper crusters would like to think.

So you're on this train track to dead punk sites where neither the aesthetic nor the politics reside anymore and you're paying for the service: that sounds like reification to me. WhatI would like to know is whether this train track takes one by current sites of activism, I'd bet not. That is speculatory but my point still remains: what does an individual or the DC punk movement have to gain from this trek? The former loses money and gains trivial information about the aesthetics and politics of the spot the latter gains no converts to their activist mission and is nearly flatlined by a cell phone.

sarah said...

the best part about that article was that ian mckaye said he doesn't have a "text-message thing" so he won't be taking the tour.

also, seriously dudes, stop yr theorizing for half a second. you sound like textbooks talking to each other. now excuse me while i go push buttons and spin knobs and make expensive tiny coffees for the next 9 hours.

Cap'n Guthrie said...

Ian McKaye is a sexy sexy man

ryan said...

lol txtbooks talking to each other

Alex said...

The finer point of reification is that it is about production whereas the spectacle is about consumption (and production too, but less so), so, again, I don't know what you are on about with reification in this punk walk since the way you articulate is completely about consumption, right? And I'm far from championing this thing, nor am I making an argument that cell phones are like I don't know the automation that plants the revolution or some shit, nor am I even particularly interested in the actual punk walk (it sounds boring in the first place), so who precisely are you arguing with when you "blither on with your grad school garbage" yourself? Blunt weapons, indeed.

Also, there is the giant question of WHAT FUCKING DC PUNK SCENE, and what bands define themselves as DC punks today? Does Dischord even? And Jesus, is anyone honestly going on this thing thinking, "This is it! The Punk spirit, at last, let me forward this ahead!" Maybe the more pertinent question is: is anyone honestly going on this thing, period? And if anyone does go on it, why the erasure still? Like you presume sheep of anyone who might glance twice at this without brushing off Debord, but shit seems pretty trivial even to MacKaye. Maybe it'd be even more fucked up if they did take them to current sites of activism (which are where? The capital steps?).

Also, what is the fucking difference between an aesthetic movement and an art movement? Dude, this is a big one here that I'm not even remotely equipped to tackle (i.e., do you have to call it art for someone else to archive it as such), but your hard and fast distinction leaves me scratching my head (or my chin, I am in grad school).

Okay here's a question for you: what does any punk movement need to gain right now? Converts? To what? For what? By what?

roffle we should have this conversation through verizon, that'd make it pertinent.

Cap'n Guthrie said...

You're probably right, no one is taking this tour. I suppose these are my humble anxieties about the proposition itself, not on the actual execution of the thing.

Perhaps my fumbling of the aesthetic/art question is what my ultimate anxiety is. Like Dada the DC punks never claimed to be an art movement, but both had an aesthetic. When we look at them in hindsight we can classify and categorize that aesthetic into a gallery thereby, in my opinion, reading its eulogy and calling it "art".

but, DC punk isn't dead, it has merely transformed but the political message and the aesthetic are still in tact somewhere beneath all that Dischord. I'm not saying the texting tour should take people to sites of activism because that would be impossible, like you said, where are they? Rather, I'm saying that this tour omits knowledge that these sites exist. That the DC scene still exists. That the scene still desires political converts to its way of thinking as it always has unabashedly proclaimed.

Anyway. How is Chicago? you get them tweed patches on your jacket sleeves yet?

Alex said...

Chicago is (and now that I'm at the end, was) awesome. I had a couple complete dork moments that I'll tell you about when we get back, and a couple moments where I thought this academy thing was a giant mistake. But whatever, it was great.

Remind me to tell you about this dinner I had where, I swear to fucking christ, I think I was suddenly in a David Lynch movie.