Saturday, June 08, 2024

Nuclear Fallout

Driving down Commonwealth Ave. in my '79 Caprice Classic while listening to late night alt-rock on WERS 88.9 FM broadcasting from Emerson College and spinning tunes from Mission of Burma, O Positive and Christmas into the aether via electromagnetic radiation. The brown 4 door sedan was affectionately named "the mud shark" at that time (1986) - later, after a Trompe L'oeil Marbling by my sister it would be called "the slab" - and it drifted atop the bumpy Back Bay streets as a reckless predator searching for a parking spot. The DJ was jabbering between songs about new music, upcoming shows and whatnot before wrapping with the admonition, "If these guys ever come to town be sure and find yourself ticket because their drummer Roland is amazing" and then he put the needle down on Big Black's "Bazooka Joe."Steve Albini starts barking about some guy named Joe, Roland (the drum machine) jumps in with an uptempo beat and after a good long while the guitars wash over the song like a wave of mutilation - It's been almost 40 years and I can recall this auditory life moment like it was yesterday.

The next day I was at Newberry Comics purchasing my copy of Atomizer on vinyl and listened to it relentlessly for weeks. It's impossible for anyone who reached R&R awareness post-Morning In America to fully appreciate the novelty of this sound in its quintessence because, as the cover art of the album implies, Big Black nuked the Rock 'n' Roll world from orbit and what survived has been contaminated with the fallout from that 50 kiloton blast ever since. The life span of Rock and Roll as a particular art form originated in 1956 Chicago by Ellas Otha Bates (AKA Bo Diddley) on the Chess record label and was obliterated in 1986 Chicago by Steve Albini on the Homestead record label. It was a devastating 30 year run that started with a supernova of primitive magic, passed through various permutations of desire/decadence/debauchery and finally collapsed into a Big Black hole of nihilism. Oh, music is still played and, in fact, the record I'm discussing spawned countless imitators and inspired several genres of regurgitated amplification. The past four decades of popular music have been an elaborate derivative oscillator repackaging songs that were created long before Steve Albini doused them in Kerosene and set the pile on fire.

The particular quality of Albini's sound (unique and unprecedented at the time) was paired with themes highlighting a devoured American Dream that foreshadows the Alt-Right attitudes that metastasized into the body politic over the ensuing decades.

1. "Jordan, Minnesota" - A pedophilia cult/conspiracy in small town America.
2. "Passing Complexion" - The downside of miscegenation does not go unnoticed.
3. "Big Money" - A police force will abuse its power absolutely. 
4. "Kerosene" - Burn it down.
5. "Bad Houses" - "I hate myself for my weakness".
6. "Fists of Love" - Sadomasochism and "fisting" is consensual sex.
7. "Stinking Drunk" - Alcohol abuse is just another thing.
8. "Bazooka Joe" - There's a place for a murdering psycho in our town.
9. "Strange Things" - Strange things happen.
10. "Cables" (Live) - Industrial farming as entertainment.

Who wrote this shit? QAnon? Nope, the troubadour was just another shitlib from Chicago by way of Missoula who bewailed the system, ridiculed the pious and drew ridged friend/enemy distinctions but, at the end of the day, was perfectly comfortable with the rancid squalor he chronicled. Not only was Albini resigned to a world with child rape, rainbow stew, fascism, arson, debauchery, S&M, alcoholism, assassination and slaughter but he actively opposed any person, place or thing that rejected these "lifestyles" as bad choices. Born in middle of the JFK cusp (1960-1964) between the Baby Boomers and Gen X, Steve Albini lived through the Rock 'n' Roll apocalypse that was unleashed upon America and he thrived in that wasteland. He followed an independent moral code unique to his worldview which, ironically, included taking orders from the government - and that mindset killed him.

The phenomenon of unintended consequences that haunt a creator who's work of art is misinterpreted or (even worse) fully understood and delivers the exact opposite "message" to the intended audience is a fixation of the KOTCB. Often the artist spends the rest of his life self-flagellating over a youthful creative act that gets "picked up" by cleaver enemies and used in memes or blogs like this one to ridicule ideology or moral precepts favored by the originator. Examples: 

Peter Fonda - Easy Rider w/expletive
Quentin Tarantino - Boycott this blog post
Charles Webb/Mike Nichols - The Graduate (was your college professor)
Jerry Casale/Mark Mothersbaugh/DEVO - Blue Devils and Yellow Cowards
Jonny5/Flobots - We Are Winning
Roger Waters/Pink Floyd - In the Flesh?
Def Leppard - "Too Late For Love"
Stan Ridgeway/Wall Of Voodoo - Muro del vudú
Plato - No Cave

I must pause here and restate an oft-cited hard law of this semi-secret society that Rob "Meathead" Reiner has been granted a lifetime pass on Clown Bell ringing due to his creation of the film "This Is Spinal Tap" and no matter what he ever says or does (and he says and does a lot) he will NEVER get punished for anything by the KOTCB. Having said that, I will now transition to an early Rob Reiner film titled "Stand By Me" (1986 - same year as Atomizer) which is an adaptation of a Stephen King semi-autobiographical story set in 1959. I recently watched this movie with my 13 year old son who is roughly the same age as the four young protagonists in this memoir and was reminded how based and All-American the King of Horror's childhood was - smoking in the tree house, telling fag jokes, stealing a gun and shooting it, collecting loose change (coins) to purchase food, camping overnight miles from home in the woods by themselves, finding a dead body near the train tracks. What happened to this guy?

Rock 'N' Roll is what happened - it's what happened to all the Boomers like Stephen King born in 1947 or Neil Young born in 1945 or, stick this in your pipe and smoke it, Donald Trump born 1946. All of these people were delivered into this world right after the creation of the nuclear bomb and their childhood coincided with the development and testing of bigger and more lethal explosives which must have filled their young minds with apocalyptic nightmares and free-floating anxiety. After 10 years of Armageddon advertising on television the metaphorical bomb (code name R&R) was detonated in Chicago and it ignited a raging fire that consumed America and the world. The movie "Stand By Me" (narrated by Richard Dreyfuss born 1946) is a fable about a civilization feeling the first blast of that meta-conflagration of a thermo-nuclear war that didn't happen materially - but it sure did spiritually. Boomers got nuked (that's why they're called Boomers) and the fallout from those bombs created the televised security state wasteland that Steve Albini grew up in and wrote songs about.

There's a cinematic series distributed on Amazon Prime titled "Fallout", loosely based on a popular video game of the same name, which I watched with my young teen right around the time Steve Albini kicked the bucket due to vaccine injury. As a rule, I don't watch these video game based dramas because most sci-fi doesn't interest me but my kid loved the show and I found it to be a validation of the concepts I'm attempting to illuminate in this blog post. Before I comment on the allegorical significance of "Fallout" I would like to recognize a few significant highlights of the show.
  1. The Fallout soundtrack is fantastic. This is the music that filled the air in the years leading up to the Bo Diddley/Eddie Cochran supernova from which every from of Rock/Pop/HipHop music is derived. These songs from the 1940's and early 50's are wonderfully nostalgic time capsules from a pre-Rock 'n' Roll culture that remind the listener what Vault-Tec was hoping to protect in secure underground bunkers.
  2. The production team of Jonathan Nolan/Lisa Joy (Westworld) + Todd Howard (Bethesda Games) fully captured the aesthetic of the Fallout games, which are really fun to play BTW, without plagiarizing old storylines or regurgitating set pieces - except for the vaults and the wasteland of course - so the story is new but the "look" is familiar. Most video game adaptations simply retell the existing story in a cinematic form for the broader audience of Boomers and women who aren't "palyas" but this show is game meets game from the jump.
  3. Walton Goggins is great as the Singing Cowboy Cooper Howard turned Ghoul bounty hunter and his transformation from Roy Rogers into Clint Eastwood captures the ethos of the Atomic Age.
I'm not going to get hung up on timelines, technology, iconography, the military/industrial complex, continuity, biohazard or any of the incredibly complex rabbit holes of the Fallout universe which can be explored at the official Fallout Wiki or the unofficial Fallout Wiki. My focus here is on Rock 'n' Roll and I will simply make the point that Fallout represents our world today if the nukes unleashed in episode 1 were symbols of Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard. in the 1950's a newly established National Security State built emblematic bunkers of civilization in government facilities, universities, corporations, country clubs and gated communities or super zip codes across the fruited plain. These "vaults" are selective by design and serve as a safe space for communities to survive the psychological end times that the very existence of thermo-nuclear weapons of mass destruction predestined. But just like in the show, these secure vaults of pre-blast naive society get invaded and attacked by ruthless marauders from the Rock 'n' Roll wasteland who's only desire is to rape, torture and kill. Unfortunately, for those of us still trying to hold on to civilization, the most robust and well defended vaults have been breached by lunatic psychopaths bathed in R&R Fallout who are determined to kill us all. Take note and act accordingly.

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Nuclear Fallout