Anti-Flag

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I wasn’t sure if I was going to write about the controversy involving the Confederate Flag. Every news or media outlet that had someone with an opinion threw their hat in the ring. I had some discussions with a couple of my best friends whose viewpoints were both vague indifference: that they had too many other problems in their real life to really care. I took that as a slight frustration by being inundated with yet another controversy for people to be outraged by. The PC police had run amok…again. I can empathize with some of their frustration considering how many “false flag” (pun intended), “boy who cried wolf” outrages over Don Imus, Alec Baldwin, or Tracy Morgan saying inappropriate things. In my gut though, this was different. I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

The truth is I never thought anything would ever change about a certain sector of this country’s infatuation with the stars and bars. I knew the real history. Or most of it at least. If I saw someone displaying it out and loud, it made me a bit uncomfortable. But that was rare; I lived in New Jersey for Christ’s sake. I remember seeing  the flag in a well-to-do kid I went to high school with’s room in semi-rural New Jersey. To me, it always seemed daft to see a northerner with the flag of the south. I mean, you could just move down south if you wanted to. What exactly are you pining for?

Over time, it just faded into the brush of Americana. I didn’t take it personally. I guess it was maybe a racist thing to some people. But I just took it as a redneck thing. I don’t love using that word, but I’d imagine if someone was proudly sporting a big ol’ Confederate flag, they probably don’t shy away from self identifying as a redneck. That might be presumptuous, so sorry if I’m wrong. But I just took it as one of those things that southerners, self-identifying rednecks, and maybe a some white supremacists would just have forever. Like guns or perpetual war. They aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. I’ve just gotten used to it.

I was extremely surprised when there was a public and political push to remove the flag from state grounds across the south after the massacre in Charleston. I’m cool with it, but I can understand how southerners and republicans would be freaked out.  There’s a black President, gay marriage just got legalized, and now your favorite flag is being marked for obsolescence. Like I said, it’s kinda like guns for me. In a perfect world, I’d love people to maybe not have so many guns, but with that whole “from my cold, dead hand” bit, I understand how attached to them you are. I’m just gonna concede that one. I mean, you gotta gun. Hang on to it. Don’t mind my idealistic ass.

I have to let people vent, but I saw this on my Facebook timeline.

Racist Meme

First, I was confused. Then, I was angry. Then, I just got sad. Maybe that’s what being offended feels like. Just being really hurt in your heart by something. I’m never really offended, so I didn’t really know.

It should also be said that I guess no one ever thought for a second that these black people could physically excrete American flags from their butts, which would basically make them the most patriotic people in the country. National treasures, really. In all seriousness though, this meme is like Rorschach test for the deeply racist and dimwitted. It’s misdirection is simultaneously ingenious and paradoxically stupid. This is a powerful piece of propaganda. Let me break it down:

1. Misdirection: The oldest trick of propaganda. To get you to stop thinking about one issue, they present a completely different issue with the lie that they are connected. If you already have a distrust of black people and hate lefty flag burners and anti-patriots, then alarm bells are going off. It’s red meat for the hungry.

2. False choice: No where on the meme does it say you can dislike both. Like most things involving this kind of thinking, it lacks grey area or nuance. “If you’re not with us, you’re against us!”

3. Breakdown of Logic: You can’t say the above symbol is not racist, or at least that the way you use it and what it means to you is not racist, and then CLEARLY choose a picture of 2 idiotic black people as your example of villains. Meme maker, why did you choose these examples? I’m sure you could have found white people desecrating the American flag. I hate to say it, but at least racist people back in the day had the balls to be honest about it. (By the way, I get that black people can be racist. We all have the capability)

4. Breakdown of Logic #2: You can’t insinuate people wiping their ass with the flags  are “traitors”, and not label the entire Confederacy trying to leave that country “traitors”. How is that not the most obvious thing in the world? I mean, is this thing on? You can’t call yourself a patriot for the USA when you are more loyal to the part of the country that didn’t want to be part of the country. Thinking about the lack of reasoning that goes into that thought process is literally making me dizzy. It’s cognitive dissonance, and complex mental compartmentalization in it’s purest form.

5. False equivalency: If you think going to war to maintain keeping black people as property and decades of Jim Crow oppression is an equal sin to a couple jackasses wiping their ass with the flag, then I’m…speechless.

The person who I saw post this, I’m not gonna name. I’m not gonna unfriend you. But I hope you read this. I hope you know that this made me sad and confused. I’d rather have people with whom I disagree in my personal sphere. I know we don’t disagree about everything. You are angry, so you want to lash out. If hurting people is what you wanted, then it worked. Vengeance works sometimes, but know these public forms are supposed to be amongst “friends”. That’s not how friendly people behave.

I’m gonna wrap up my opinion on the Confederate flag in one anecdote:

One time in 2010, I was having lunch with my friends Tommy Vext and Jenn City to talk about some band stuff. I casually used the word “gay” to describe something. Jenn called me out. Jenn is a lesbian. She called me to task. “What did I mean by ‘gay’?”  I didn’t have a good answer. That’s just the way we talked. My brother and I, guys in the band. “Damn. Taco Bell is closed. That shit is gay.” “I am broke is fuck. This is gay.” Never once had I thought about actual gay people when I said it. I grew up as liberal as can be, and still even I had a blind spot. At first, I was a little annoyed because I meant no harm. But, my friend was hurt by this.

Over time, I broke the habit. For me, not to use the word, is a small thing. But for my friend, not to hear the word used in that way, is a really big thing. There’s nothing politically correct about being courteous and respectful to my friend; it’s just correct. It’s the right thing to do, because I give a shit.

And, it’s the same way with the flag. I’m sure most the people who flaunt it aren’t racist. It probably does mean heritage and southern pride and good ol’ boys and all that stuff. But compartmentalizing what it means to you, and ignoring it’s origins, and ignoring how it makes other people feel…is just a purely selfish act. You don’t want to change. I get it. It’s part of your identity. Being told virtually over night that it’s not kosher is jarring and disruptive. I’m not saying people shouldn’t sport the Confederate flag. This is America. Americans are free to express themselves however they want. Just understand that others who don’t see eye to eye with you on the flag will now look at you with that much more discomfort when it is in sight. It will make certain people sad, confused, scared, and angry. I hope you can live with that. I hope you are ok with the fact that freedom of speech does not grant you freedom from criticism of that speech.  These events have polarized us even more, and that saddens me even more.

What surprised me most is what Phil Anselmo from Pantera, Down, and Superjoint Ritual whose bands sported the Confederate flag on more than one occasion, said, “These days, I wouldn’t want anything to fucking do with it, because, truthfully…I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t want much to fucking do with it all, and personally, you know I never…The way I feel, and the group of people I’ve had to work with my whole life, you…You see a Confederate flag out there that says ‘Heritage, not hate.’ I’m not so sure I’m buying into that, you know?”

If this man, a man who has a somewhat checkered past when it comes to racial politics, can evolve to a dramatically self aware place on this topic, than what does it say about us all? When the dust settles, think on it, allow your soul to search. These symbols shouldn’t matter. Like my friends, I should have better things to do, but I can can’t stop thinking or soul searching. Now if only this fucking dust would settle.

Sour Grapes

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Sometimes, you reach a point when you realize you’re just….done. And now, I’m just plain done listening to musicians complain. Amateurs complain about how people don’t support the “scene”, or woefully contemplate why they aren’t breaking through when the truth is that they aren’t contributing anything special or innovative. I am done hearing mid-level bands bitch about how band “X” is inexplicably selling tons of records and selling out shows, but they can’t even land a decent support slot. “That band sucks! We crush them! I don’t get it.” Damn right, you don’t get it. I am really done listening to rich rock stars of yesteryear’s glory days whine about downloading and how kids today have ruined the music industry.

Whether you are in a local band trying to build any kind of audience, or in a signed, touring, established act trying to stay afloat in constantly changing times, or a millionaire dejected that music alone will not afford you that 2nd vacation home or 3rd Bentley, I’ve noticed that musicians do lots of fucking complaining. Maybe it’s a rock and metal thing. You guys love complaining so much, that people complain for me. After I wrote my piece about the demise of NWOAHM, several people scoffed at the idea that I postulated that maybe God Forbid wasn’t good enough. I didn’t say we weren’t, but just entertained the possibility that we weren’t. They have to assert a lack of fairness is built into the system so that the truly “great” bands will be periodically overlooked. That sounds like Conspiracy Theory 101 to me.

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This Is The End

Headbangers ball

“This is the end!” This is the emphatic, anthemic line in the God Forbid opening track from the album IV: Constitution of Treason, which was released during the peak of our powers in 2005. In fact, it wasn’t the end. The end came much later. At the time, it felt like we were invincible, destined for heavy metal immortality. And we were in the lower tier of the NWOAHM (or Metalcore or whatever you want to call it) in all metrics for determining the success or popularity of bands. If you look at album, ticket, and merchandise sales, Myspace friends, Youtube views, Facebook “likes”, or the ever mystical buzz on the street, God Forbid was probably never half as big as any of the rest of the Big 4 of Quitters (I should trade mark this) including Bleeding Through, Shadows Fall, and now Chimaira. Knowing that, even we felt invincible. That’s how intoxicating achieving any discernible success with your art can be. Shadows Fall and Chimaira hanging it up in the last couple weeks have brought an outpouring of sadness, shock and disappointment from fans. It seems like the end of an era, and maybe it is.

Hearing that these great bands are moving on makes me sad and disappointed, but not shocked. The truth is that amongst peers a good majority of our conversations have to do with figuring out how to stay relevant by finding new audiences, getting great tours, signing with the right label, writing the next game changing album, and more. Teetering on the edge of existence has been much of our collective realities for half of our careers. As the O.G. quitter, I’m here to explain why this is happening and why you shouldn’t be surprised.

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I May Be A Hypocrite

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My only real rule with my writing is to pursue a genuine sense of honesty and self reflection. This can be difficult in general throughout life because often, we lie to our selves. How can you truly be honest with others when you can’t even sift through the subterfuge of your own subconscious self deception?

With that said, I’m calling bullshit on myself for not following through with my own pep talk from my previous entry, “The Cookie Crumbles”, which details my thoughts on persevering through adversity. The article was quite rousing, if not self-helpish in it’s tone, and somewhat sanctimonious in hindsight. (I often find people giving other people life advice sanctimonious.)

Since the posting of that piece, I’ve fallen into what could only be described as some sort of depression. I usually don’t go see a doctor unless it’s a dire need, so in times like these, I tend to act as my own shrink. I always feel that there should be a logical reason for depressed thoughts and feelings; A relationship breakup, a job layoff, a death in the family, etc. Hence, there should be a logical solution to said problem. Whether it’s getting more sun or exercise, socializing more, or perhaps taking significant time to heal from a loss is the only answer. Logic aside, one caveat is that there could be just a chemical imbalance, i.e., clinical depression, but I would only want to try anti-depressants as a last resort. I had a horrible experience once after trying them for a few days. I would rather to go to the root of the problem, not reach for a band aid.

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The Cookie Crumbles

A Blue Ice Cream Cone Accident On Ezra Street
As a write this, I am doing my best to arise from a creative malaise. It’s no revelation to most of us “artists” that creativity is a muscle that weakens without consistent use. The blank canvas, empty page, or barren Pro Tools session can seem like a tall mountain climb when you haven’t produced in a significant period of time.

I’ve had several ideas floating around my head, but I haven’t written an in-depth blog piece in almost 2 months. Despite my intro, I wasn’t creatively blocked. I just didn’t have any damn time. As many of you know, I took a touring gig filling in on bass guitar for metalcore heavyweight champs, Unearth. The month before the tour was a whirlwind of busy activity. In addition to tying up loose ends with my new rock band (Vagus Nerve), cover band (Rebel Noise Group), picking up extra shifts bartending, teaching guitar at School of Rock and privately, and curating an educational performance for Tomato’s House of Rock in NYC, I still had to learn 14 Unearth songs in whatever free time I had. Thankfully, all of the tasks were completed, but I was left little time to be creative….in any arena.

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