Michelle Cruz Gonzales (then known as Todd) played drums and wrote lyrics in Spitboy, one of the most important hardcore bands of the 1990s. Along with bands such as Grimple, Econochrist, and Paxton Quigley they were part of an explicitly political corner of the East Bay punk scene. With an all woman line-up Spitboy’s performances defied expectations of what “women and rock” and “feminism” were supposed to mean at the time. Gonzales’ new book Spitboy Rule: Tales of a Xicana in a Female Punk Band (PM Press) defies expectations once again. People of Color have been part of the punk scene from the beginning. Gonzales is part of a lineage that includes Detroit’s Death, The Bags (Los Angeles), Poly Styrene and Pat Smear. Spitboy Rule makes the invisible visible. It is both a walk down counter culture’s memory lane as well as a serious exploration of identity, gender and race.
The artist’s narrative conceptual “Red Mars” is a mixed-media installation of acrylic, coffee, meteorite dust, glitter, stickers, wheat paste on canvas, a telescope, LED sign and booklets. His fictional artist/character views the future of a colonized Mars through a backyard telescope. This character views freedom from a very different perspective, as he creates art and invents “Stories” that confront injustice and consumerism.
The sign, homemade, carried by a protester, reads “Ferguson to Gaza, Intifada, Intifada.” The slogan is more than a sentiment, more than a simple but powerful statement of solidarity. It is all of these things, but much more too. It is an explicit recognition of the world’s reality, far beyond Ferguson or Gaza.
"Apartheid" in today's world does not describe just a particular legal circumstance in this or that corner of the globe. It is, in varied and intricate ways, a fact of daily life under neoliberalism. Global capital communicates to us in any political, economic or aesthetic language it can muster: "This world is not yours, and you do not belong here."
There are a great many fun and entertaining ways one could celebrate the 150th birthday of Erik Satie. The Velvet Gentleman seems to cast such an omniscient shadow over modern music that he is almost invisible. This of course isn’t the only paradox he represented. Though Satie was indeed a unique eccentric who sought to explode musical convention, his philosophies resonate in even those most traditional, straight-laced and boring of today’s composers. In fact it is not far-fetched to say that his music is so universal in western composition that we often don’t even consciously identify it as his. Satie’s iconic Gymnopedie No. 1 was, after all, and in very stark contrast to his unorthodox predilections, used as a background lullaby in a BMW commercial.
It's midnight when you and your girlfriend, Elka, have your first fight since you moved in together. Words wound, tears flow, doors slam. You storm out of the apartment, not caring where you go as long as it’s far away from her. When you step off the front stoop onto the sidewalk, that's the moment when the newest version of me is born.
You get on the subway heading toward Brooklyn and ride until the train rumbles out of the tunnels and squeaks into a familiar above ground stop. The neighborhood isn't good, but a friend of yours used to live a few blocks away, so you know the area pretty well. At least you won't get lost while you work off the rest of your anger. You disembark, let your feet pick a direction, and start walking.
One of the problems of the weak avant-garde is in its tendency to reject the spiritual and existential origins of art itself. This dynamic can be found both among would-be “art entrepreneurs” and among progressive artists (who wrongly believe their role is to demystify art and all that surrounds it). Both, in the end, are the Thomas Gradgrinds of contemporary art.
The Austrian art critic and Marxist Ernst Fischer, building on Frederick Engels’ “The Role of Labor in the Transition from Ape to Man,” invoked art’s pre-history in his 1959 book, The Necessity of Art. Largely a polemic against the cultural policies of “communist” Eastern Europe, Fischer attempted to describe how the origins of art were “magic” – the product of a great leap forward in human consciousness. The mastery of tools produced in humans a social knowledge – the abstraction and generalization of the world.
Robert Wyatt, now in his 70s, is surely one of the most intriguing, distinctive and sometimes infuriating musicians born out of 1960s Britain. His musical output has been intermittent, not surprising for someone suffering depression throughout his life, as well as the consequences of an accident in 1973 that left him permanently paralyzed from the waist down. Yet his recorded output contains many wonders. The surrealist psychedelia of the early Soft Machine and Matching Mole, the intensely personal bittersweet Rock Bottom, the series of Rough Trade singles which include his forlorn interpretation of Chic’s “At Last I am Free”, his version of Elvis Costello and Clive Langer’s anti-war “Shipbuilding” about the Falklands War as well as an eclectic series of collaborations with musicians such as Bjork, the Raincoats, Carla Bley and Brian Eno.
In the face of profound social, political and economic tragedy, it has often been the case that popular musicians, out of a sense of solidarity, put out a song to capture the moment and inspire the movement. It is often the case, by virtue of historic specificity, that these songs don’t date well, their universality caught in the particularity of a given moment. There are a few songs, however, that have outlasted their origins and continue to resonate. Neil Young’s “Ohio,” Bruce Springsteen’s “American Skin (41 Shots)” and, most recently, in the face of the spate of police murder of Black youth, and in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, Prince’s “Baltimore.”
Reminiscent of mid-period Prince and the Revolution, it combines a funkish shuffle in a minor key with vaguely country/western sounding acoustic and electric guitars. The lyrics, while angry, are more sad and resigned than anything else...
I came upon a stinking field of muck
and saw, within its depths, a golden cup.
Nothing for it. I hitched my trousers up
and waded in, heartsick when my feet stuck.
It took three hours for me to pull them out.
By then I'd learned to coast upon the slime.
The strong images of the dominant culture offer no way out for the proletarian subject. Likewise the weak images of much of the academic avant-garde offer very little. The solution, for the class-conscious artist, is to connect weakened art and a weakened working-class to universal and totalizing aspirations. In my opinion the strong-weak image is the mode of the popular avant-garde. And historically it has come from outside the art world as often as within it – and sometimes both, in the work of the Wild-Style graffiti innovators of the 1970s and the punk rock DIY posters and zines of the 1970s and 1980s. Raymond Pettibon, highly influenced by William Blake and Goya, was central to the early punk visual aesthetic, producing art for his brother’s band, Black Flag. The tension between “weak” and “strong” inherent to his work was summarized by Pettibon himself when he argued, “I am really asking is for you to look at Gumby with the same kind of respect that you would if it was some historical figure or Greek statue.”