Alex Mathews

Alex Mathews – writer, bared naked dude blah blah blah

I Don’t Like Mondays

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Prison rape. Gang rape. Forcible drowning in piss. How ’bout a school shooting, too? No, this isn’t an attempt to draw certain kinds of traffic to the blog. It was the happenings in the Sept. 10, 2103 premier of Sons of Anarchy. I was told by so many people to avoid watching television, and to stay away from pop culture as a subject matter, but both are really hard to avoid. I don’t even try to resist television. I try really hard to avoid pop culture, though. But man is it hard to do.

In 1979, Bob Geldof penned, “I Don’t Like Mondays” with the Boomtown Rats, a song about a 16-year old girl named Brenda Ann Spencer, who went to school and killed two adults and injured eight children in San Diego. The song title was taken straight from Spencer’s explanation of why she did it. Back then, this was the sort of incident that was a fringe oddity, perhaps worthy of an Irish new wave band’s song. It helps to contextualize and file away such a disturbing event, perhaps. My response was to approach the faculty at my son’s school. I asked my son’s teacher if she watched television.

“In the classroom?” she asked with appropriate alarm. I could see she assumed I was the head of the local Kill Your Television chapter.

“No, at home.” She looked at me as though I was hitting on her, or I had asked about some intimate detail about her sex life. “Did you see Sons of Anarchy last night?” I continued.

“No, I didn’t. Is that a good show?” She stepped back a foot, waving her wedding ring.

“There was a school shooting in it. It was really disturbing. Please tell me why you think that won’t happen here.” I knew I had crossed over at this point.

“Oh, well we have drills we do for things like that, and the gate’s are locked most of the time.”

“But this was a student. Would you be able to see if a student here was exceptionally disturbed?” This is why television is bad for you. It depicts reality but people sometimes think it is reality.

“Well, we have great counselors here,” she said.

I think I was particularly disturbed by the show because the school uniforms were too similar to the ones my son sports. And plus, these shootings are happening all the time. I actually asked the head of the school to review with me the security measures in place to keep a crazed gunman off the campus. I did it apologetically, adding that it’s so strange that we have to worry about this nowadays. So, the lunches… are they any good? Does every classroom have a smartboard? And by the way, how many snipers are positioned on the campanile?

The subject of violence has basically become webbed into the fabric of political and social discussion, and truly, that makes it a subject I try to stay so far away from, mostly because once a topic becomes socialized and politicized, that’s when all the idiots come out of the woodwork. And yet, here I am. And it goes to the top ten lines of discussion on American society today, where elections are decided on a candidate’s ability to pander to his constituents the best. Gun control, violence, taxes, sexual morals, health care, corporate greed and foreign policy (read: violence on a larger but more acceptable scale). Pick a side.

If you take any relevant social issue, and attempt to solve it, you will have to travel the vine to the causes. Infant mortality, for example. Without any stats or research, I would guess that our infant mortality rate would be improved by ensuring that pregnant people take care of themselves while pregnant, along with improving certain environmental factors, and then by possibly making sure that pregnant people have a nice place in which to give birth. The vine is going to take us to the main points that drive any election: poverty, education, health care. Recently, a guy named Michael Brandon Hill went to shoot up a school in Atlanta. He was, of course, a quiet and friendly guy until the silicone chip inside his head got switched to overload. I was astounded by the fact that people held to the idea that this guy was fine until they started messing with his meds. He was fine when he tried to set fire to his family. He just needed more aderall. For a country that complains about its health care system, we sure love to give drugs to people.

And the video games. The week following the SAMCRO debut, Rockstar Games released Grand Theft Auto V, which grossed $800 Million on the first day. They will likely sell 25 Million units of a game that will, presumably, encourage 25 million people (mostly males in school-shooting age demographic) to kill hookers and policemen with video game impunity.

Following the vine may get difficult, like uncoiling all the wire behind the tv console, but parenting seems like a good place to start. I can do that. But I can only do it for my children. I have to hope that the other parents do it, too.

Fuck, I don’t like Mondays.

Moses Come Ridin’

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Gizah Light And Sound

Grateful Dead Play During Lunar Eclipse in Egypt

Not to distract from the continuous release of the portions of the part of the book I wanted to have published with Rhino records (which I’ve discovered makes no sense when put out in sections), but I can’t help but to appreciate the heaviness of what happened in September of 1978. Really. First of all, you have to get with the idea that the pyramids of Egypt are heavy already. I know, the stones are so big, they’re super heavy. But I mean heavy in the hipster sense, although I learned that Hipsters today are all about being nonplussed and basically apathetic to anything. It’s their whole identity. So I mean heavy in the ‘far out’ sense, like that is so far out there that matter is leaden with weight. The pyramids of Egypt are certainly heavy, and yet there is all sorts of conspiracy theory about them, too, like they were totally built by space people to instruct our race about all the stuff that was beyond our mental and spiritual capacity, so they gave us these mathematically significant structures that challenge your ability to figure out how anyone could have moved a single stone, let alone piled them up to form these perfect pyramids. In fact, it is likely the pyramid existed only on sketches, until the space people came and laid them all together, and said, “Here, this is what we’re talking about. This is a pyramid.” So you look at it and go, “Oh, yeah, I see it. That’s what you’re talking about.” And furthermore, think of all the secret messages written in them, and how they are laden with insight about celestial observation, and how the Egyptians seemed obsessed with the journey of the dead soul in the afterlife, that these massive structures were basically space-traveling coffins.

Yeah, that’s heavy. But I’m talking about the Grateful Dead playing in front of them. It wasn’t an easy gig to book, I’m sure. There was all that Israeli-Egyptian conflict going on that the Carter administration felt the oblige (say with a french accent) to mediate. In the midst of it all, Sadat would surely say, “You guys have some hippies that want to come desecrate our national treasure? Sure. Visas for everyone.” It was an odd diplomatic corps, led by Phil Lesh, who went to the State Department to get hooked in with the right people (read: get high with Washington politicos), and ultimately it was Sadat’s wife Jehan that made this thing happen. She sat in the front row on the first night. The history of mankind is full of events (come on, man, seriously?). But it’s the coinciding of events that creates a special moment in time. Space people land and build massive structures to remind us that we’re small and alone. Beat slackers get together and drop acid made by the CIA for mind control experiments, forming a musical entity. Nations war against nations in the name of all kinds of stupid shit. The First Lady of Egypt takes a liking to a slender bass player with perfect pitch (ear, not mouth), and we’ve got a Grateful Dead show at the most far out place on the planet. Oddly enough, the shows were scheduled for September 14th and 15th, with a third night added for the 16th. The Camp David Accords were signed on the 17th, which led to the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty in 1979, scoring Begin and Sadat the Nobel Peace Prize. And the whole thing happens during a lunar eclipse. When I start to lose all faith, it’s the coalescing of events like this that makes me feel like an idiot for forgetting that the cosmic mechanisms are way heavier than I could ever fathom.

In keeping with the rule shared by sitcoms and rock albums that a good title has to have a double entendre, the Dead recently released Rocking The Cradle, capturing the best moments of that run at the Sound and Light Theater at Gizah. I can’t help but enjoy the interlude with the Nubian choir and oud player Hamza El Din that goes into Fire On The Mountain, and watching a younger Jerry Garcia clad in pigtails moving with exuberance and joy, for in truth, it would be a few months before a certain Persian export would get its claws into the man.

I still can’t get past the heaviness of the whole thing.

 

 

Beat It On Down The Line

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The second track, a Skjellyfetty arrangement of Jesse “The Lone Cat” Fuller’s “Beat It on Down the Line,” is an example of the Dead’s interest in a continuum of music and its roots, and their arrangement continues the adventurous spirit, born perhaps of the struggle with the mundane and the desire to find happiness. Escapism, adventure and the quest for happiness is captured in the Dead’s up-tempo arrangement. The destination for the singer is happiness, so escapism is not for avoidance, but a reverie of somewhere else, somewhere ‘down the line.’ Fuller was an odd phenomenon, known as a one-man-band, and inventor of a foot operated percussion bass named the fotdella by Fuller’s wife. Folk and blues ballads were often the inspiration for the Dead’s selection of songs, and here they draw from a contemporary whose song is reminiscent of the tradition. While a simple tale, it is just simple enough to let the simplicity speak to something as basic and vital as the quest for happiness. It is also a simple tale of an American character and his desire—the urge to escape toil and find love, while universal—Fuller makes an American story, where iconic elements of the railways offer the promise of going home:

Yes and I’ll be waiting at the station when that rain pulls on by,
Bye, I’m a goin’ back where I belong
I’ve gotta sweet love and she’s waiting there for me.
That’s where I’m gonna make my happy home.

“Beat It on Down the Line” is a song that would remain in the Dead’s repertoire for their entire career. It was recorded as the Dead’s jug band incarnation as Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions (recorded in 1964, released in 1998), so in a sense it can suggest the idea that the Grateful Dead are responsible for carrying on with a long standing tradition of music, of honoring the past and continuing to carry the torch. Singing about suffering, toil, misfortune and the quest to find solace and redemption around some corner, along with the adventure of getting there, embodies the Grateful Dead.

Click here to continue reading Listening for the Secret.

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