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I’m still uncertain about the new Old Crow Medicine Show album — there’s some good, catchy tracks on there, no doubt, and its not as if the gents suddenly turned into Florida Georgia Line (I just learned who they are, and they’re amazingly God-awful). Still, the production is oddly unsatisfying and feels sort of heavy. Their maligned 2009 Tennessee Pusher I tend to enjoy and defend as a style experiment; and because I listened to it during my travels, so it’s very 4 a.m. in a Baltimore Greyhound station. It’s moody, and has some lovely, lonely, eerie tracks, as well as some good fleeing from the po-pos with weed fiddle jams. Compared to that,  something about Remedy feels unfinished, yet overly glossy at the same time.

I’ll delve into that later, though. The final track on Remedy is the only one with Gill Landy vocals, and it’s a sad prison tune called “The Warden.” It’s pretty on the album. And it sounds better still live, near-a capella with five-part harmonies.

Except, listen to that mother fucking crowd murmur.

And then read this glorious Gothamist rant from last week, “Why Can’t You Ever Shut Up During a Concert”. Author John Del Signore is my spirit animal.

I don’t usually feel any homicidal urges at punk shows, for obvious reasons. But any kind of show with any kind of quiet or pretty song brings them up, because people cannot shut the fuck up, and they really can’t shut the fuck up when the song is quiet enough that their equally interesting friend can hear them prattle on without them needing to put their lips inside that friend’s ear drum.

I neglected to review the Willie Watson show I attended in May, but I had long feared that I would want to slaughter the entire crowd when I saw him, because there are just too many Youtube videos with background buzz blocking out the ridiculous Watson vocals. Thankfully at the show, I was squished up enough the stage that I mostly just heard Watson, who is an amazingly dominant player for someone with just a guitar, banjo, and occasional harmonica. When he got real quiet, though, there was the obligatory “I don’t give a fuck about shutting up, because I paid 15 dollars to come here and drink beer and ruin everyone else’s enjoyment” people.

They are everywhere. But every now and then even they can be silenced. That almost — but not really, but almost — makes the rude people worth it. Sometimes someone is so good, they can silence the drunk idiots. Watson managed it for nearly all of “Rock Salt and Nails.” And, possibly in response to my fervent prayers, Ralph Stanley did it with “O Death” last year. When your playing can win a hush from the drunken, loud, self-absorbed buffoons in lawn chairs for even three or four minutes, you have done good, son. But I still wish they would stay the hell home. You can buy beer from stores, people. You really can.

IMG_2789I am not sure when it happened and which flailing body part gave me the bruise, but it currently sits very brown-yellow-purple on my upper arm, looking for all the world like a piece of stage makeup because it’s a little too perfectly oval.

Last Monday night I mostly stayed out of the Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo Bay School of Medicine mosh pit at a sparely attended Mr. Smalls show. Biafra — looking a little grayer than he did back in 2010 when I saw him last — did as he always does, which was sing newer songs which provoked polite, if sincere appreciation, and then the occasional Dead Kennedys number which brought about a more enthusiastic, cheerfully violent response.

In between songs, Biafra slipped in plenty of topical, geographically relevant rants. Former PA Sen. Rick Santorum got a reference. So did Gov. Tom Corbett. Fracking repeatedly came up. So did the Tea Party in general.

Biafra’s rants are, as always, bracing and amusing in their formulaic way. He calls the Tea Party racist, fascist whatevers, and my face takes on a bemused expression and I imagine — the the spirit of the old Conan O’Brien worst chant ever skits — yelling back instead of “yay!” something like “Yes, many Tea Party members are theocratic creeps, but some people like Rand Paul and Justin Amash have some Tea Party affiliation and they have fought for many good causes, most prominently in opposition to drones and the NSA! Furthermore…” [Booooooooo!]

Or: “I am uncertain of the science behind fracking, but human society demands trade-offs, one of which is energy that pollutes! I believe that knee-jerk opposition to fracking is making the perfect the enemy of the good! Certainly further research…” [Boooooooooooo!]

Nuance of this kind is completely antithetical to the Jello Biafra spirit. The appeal of the Dead Kennedys lay in the killer buzzsaw/surf rock guitar riffs from East Bay Ray, the solid basslines, the weird warble of Baifra’s voice, and the very existence of songs with titles as direct as “Let’s Lynch the Landlord” and “Nazi Punks Fuck Off.” Subtlety, even later Clash era variety, was not their forte.

Arguably, an exception is the best Dead Kennedys song, and one of the finest punk songs of all time,  is “Holiday in Cambodia.” “Holiday in Cambodia” is a blistering, (comparatively) subtle condemnation of both Pol Pot’s slaughter and fashion radical, whining lefty college students.

It’s also the only time on Monday that I didn’t fear the mosh pit.

I’ve been at country shows too long. I now have even less pit stamina than I did at age 17, when I first stared in fear at the squished together youths going nuts for the tubby old profane Irishman Jake Burns and the rest of Stiff Little Fingers (yes, I love me some old punks). I enjoyed that show. I kept my elbows up and kept my eyes out for people bouncing out of the pit and flailing into me — and then when I heard the opening guitar for “Suspect Device” I found myself joining the joyful masochism of the pit without much thought.

Since that day, at all punk shows, this same feeling never fails to happen, provided I love the music enough. It is difficult to dance to bad music (one reason I’ve never been to a club in my life), and it is much harder to mosh to music you dislike, or even are indifferent towards. The fearless, foolish mosh urge cannot be faked or summoned at will.  Moshing is a fucking stupid activity, and it is wonderful one. And it simply is or is not. I had a hint of the desire to move with everyone else for “Chemical Warfare”, a solid tune off the Dead Kennedys’ first album. I bumped a little on the edges of the pit. I tried my hand at the non-douchey, non-punching people in the face version of hardcore dancing, but that was all.

And then, after more over the top rants from Jello, more pleasant, but unknown solo stuff, there came the familiar notes of “Holiday in Cambodia.” It was all over. I jumped in. All worries over broken glasses, gimp legs kicked, or teeth knocked out vanished in an instant. All was happy screaming along with drunk, disgusting strangers. All was the highest form of musical joy that music exists to bring us all. We smashed together, my friend A. — tiny and blind, and a better mosher than I am — and I tried not to sexually assault Jello Biafra when he crowd surfed on our hands. (A drunk girl asked if I believed her when she said she had groped the man in an unfortunate place. I did. I think we all did. But unlike my youthful grabbing of the leg of Eugene Hutz from Gogol Bordello, I did not intend to do so. It was more an earnest effort to prevent him breaking his face.)

I used to be bothered that punks and certain leftists thought I was a ring-wing scumbag — that I was never, ever going to be one of those black hoodie and Municipal Waste t-clad people at the Roberto Project, or Gilman Street. I had so many happy experiences with these strangers, and if they knew me, I would never be one of them. The music wasn’t enough, but it felt like it should be. I knew some left anarchist kids in Pittsburgh who tolerated my occasional presence, but I was not in solidarity with them. Nor did I want to be, even then, I suppose. I have been a libertarian since I was 13. (Since I realized George W. Bush was full of shit when he said he knew everyone executed under his watch was guilty. But that didn’t translate into leftism, unfortunately for my teenage social life.)

I can put my fist in the air in shameless emotion, arms around sweating strangers, in a painfully earnest Defiance, Ohio pit, and then the next day go back to my internship at Reason to rake in those David Koch dollars. And as I grew older, I could laugh about that dichotomy more.  It might be more satisfying to be “part of” the scene, than to feel like I alone had that secret joke, but the more “liberty movement” (for all its flaws) I found, the less that alienation from the motivation for this music I love mattered to me. (Plus, after hearing horror stories about the East Bay anarchist scene from T., I once again think I am good. I am not a punk.)

Music is more important than politics, and I wish my politics could be translated into kick-ass song, but at the end of the day, the baggage that goes with these ideas belongs to me for two hours at a show, and then I drop it. It’s not about growing out of it. Or that those shows don’t matter. It’s just…compartmentalizing. Metal fans don’t get to go home and be wizards or orcs. I don’t get to go home and be a punk. It’s a costume — an exaggeration that feels meaningful, and comes from real anger but maybe also is pretend the way “Let’s Lynch the Landlord” or “Fuck Tha Police” is a portrait of a feeling, not a photograph.

I try to explain to my mother the joy of the mosh, but she never quite gets it. I remember distinctly a girl who was my year at Chatham trying to tell me once that she was too old for pits. She was actually two years younger than I was, but that wasn’t even the point. My annoyance stemmed from the fact that this was water from the wide river of grow the fuck up, wear business casual and heels. Certainly the mosh is not everyone’s cup of tea — and again, I don’t believe it can be forced — but the teenage perfection of it, which still feels holy, and mad, and necessary, and not political, is not something to grow out of.

Last week, I chatted with Zach Fountain and Seth Wilson about our favorite country music, libertarianism, why music is better than politics, the drawbacks of explicitly libertarian music, and how they became libertarians themselves.

There are lots of important other songs I should have referenced more specifically, questions  should have asked, but I was distracted by the fact that I had just broken a lamp, and my general excitement over the real life existence of Zach and Seth!

Next time maybe we’ll talk about Bigfoot.

Seth Wilson: blogger at cultwestern.com; @TheJackalopeTX
Zach Fountain: songwriter, blogger at rushmorebeekeepers.com; @rbeekeepers

Zach’s libertarian and otherwise picks:
Hayes Carll – “KMAG YOYO”
Jonathan Richman – “You’re Crazy For Taking The Bus”
The Carter Family – “Single Girl, Married Girl”
Bascom Lamar Lunsford – “I Wish I Was a Mole in the Ground”
Kacey Musgraves – “Follow Your Arrow”
Steve Earle – “My Uncle” (Gram Parsons cover)

Seth’s libertarian and otherwise picks:
Corb Lund – “Counterfeit Blues”
Corb Lund – “Gettin’ Down On The Mountain”
Corb Lund – “Expectation and the Blue”
Ian Tyson – “Ross Knox”
New Riders Of The Purple Sage – “Henry”
Merle Haggard – “Big City”
Wayne Hancock -” Johnny Law”

Lucy’s libertarian and otherwise picks:
Steve Earle – “Copperhead Road”
Asylum Street Spankers – “Winning the War on Drugs”
Bob Dylan – “Masters of War”
Old Crow Medicine Show – “I Hear Them All”
Old Crow Medicine Show – “Alabama HighTest”
Jim Jackson – “Bye Bye Policeman”
Peter Rowan – “Ruby Ridge”
Johnny Cash – “Folsom Prison Blues”

Last week, I was so ready to write a thoughtful, invariably inside libertarian baseball response to Jeffrey Tucker’s piece in the The Freeman. Or I was going to write about horrible police brutality for the various outlets who enjoy that sort of thing. But then my Montana-dwelling aunt called, and we discussed the imminent spring, and the greatness of the Coen Brothers — with me evangelizing about Ralph Stanley, and both of us agreeing that the Greenwich Village-style of folk was not the platonic ideal, being a little too earnest English balladish, and not high and lonesome enough.

And then of course politics faded from my soul, as it does. I subscribe to the Tucker and the Radley Balko school of politics (and, really, most of the Reason writers agree) which says that it is a vile thing, and the victory of libertarianism would mean an ability to ignore politics without feeling as if you were betraying your imprisoned and oppressed fellow man. I just wish I knew how to channel a career into dissecting how Ralph Stanley sounds, as opposed to how endlessly sick the prison state makes me.

I had a lovely birthday on the 8th. I had lovely people come to visit me and gather around. But before I went to my own party, my mom and I went to a church down in Pittsburgh that was doing their monthly shapenote singing sing.

Shapenote singing was a 19th century method of teaching folks who couldn’t read music how to do four-part harmony. There are some great modern and older recordings of it on the internet — One of my favorites, from the famous Harry Smith anthology of folk music, is below:

At its best, shapenote singing has am unpolished eerie quality that undermines and delightfully clashes with its stodgier sort of choral aspects. Instead of just beauty, it has roughness and resonance. Like the voice of Ralph Stanley (who grew up in a Primitive Baptist Church, which bar instruments) sometimes does, the strongest shapenote singers have this quality that can only remind me of bagpipes. It just has this huuuugh gut thing.

Mom, who used to play the saxophone and plays piano and guitar, knew enough music to be baffled. I didn’t know enough to know where to begin or how to follow, plus read, plus hear other people, plus hear myself.

In our post-O Brother Where Art Thou?, post-Mumford and Sons world, I was not surprised that the demographics of the singers were middle age nearing old age and younger, scruffier types. I was not the only singer with a pierced nose, for Christ’s sake.

There was someone who swore, and people who seemed devout Christians. The most powerful, ceiling plaster-endangering singer was a middle aged woman with long brown hair who came from God Only Knows, Alabama. She was all down home encouragement and June Carter sass.

Here’s a more recent kind of shapenote singing — less weird and ancient, more just loud:

Though the traditional text, The Sacred Harp, contains mostly songs about Jesus, and other folk I don’t know well, shapenote singing is so perfectly American and strange, and I think it’s wonderful. It is not mine, but I like to borrow it.

My birthday party had a cacophony of people I love very much talking too loudly in too small a space. It was fun, but the diminishing returns of socializing were lurking at its loudest points.

However, S.T. and J.K., musical friends from Richmond and Baltimore respectively, decided to crash and give me musical celebration. When they play together, they are called the Dirty Mallards. I drank my first moonshine in their presence one summer day in 107 degree Richmond weather. From them I learned that “Tommy” without clarification means Tommy Jarrell, the great North Carolina fiddler.

S.T. and J.K. are more libertarian than not. J.K. is more personally conservative, but he has recently attempted to go off the grid, internet-wise, and I have to assume the National Security Agency is a big reason. When I first met S.T. he seemed to have stepped out of the pages of Tony Horwitz’ Confederates in the Attic, for all that implies about his views. And that’s not all wrong, but it’s not everything about him. He’s a student of history — and some of his conclusions I might disagree on — but he’s incredibly well-read, as well a an instinctual, leave me alone libertarian. They are both good people who provided with with the best birthday present since my cousin T. got Jello Biafra to insult capitalism just for me.

Now, my one association with Jeff Tucker is that he is endlessly optimistic about the non-state. Culture, markets, music, fast food, all of these do and will continue to bring freedom and choice to people. All of this is beautiful and chaotic instead of planned from above.

So when Tucker uses his “brutalist vs. humanitarian” libertarian metaphor in The Freeman essay, he almost pulls it off. The brutalists stripped down architecture to its cold, practical essence. Brutalist libertarians do the same with their liberty. They say, I have my freedom to be as awful as possible, you have yours, we need not encourage social goodness and kindness and need not discourage racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. within libertarianism.  If it ain’t the state, who cares! Is that really what he thinks will happen in Libertopia? Is that what he thinks will happen without an implied litmus test? Does he think that defending pure liberty is implicitly saying we desire to live in small, mean tribal societies? If Tucker truly believes most, or even a lot of people would pick that, he is not the optimist I thought he was.

Though Tucker does not say as much, and his version of this question is better than any of the ones I have seen recently, the artificially of the two camps still gives me a moment’s pause. Are libertarian J.K. and S.T. and their politically incorrect jokes humanitarian or brutalist? How about my conservative-leaning libertarian father? My an-cap atheist friend who professes to hate feminism, who I recently saw defend the Duke porn star from another Facebook commenter who was calling her trash? My Christian an-cap friend with whom I disagree about gender roles and religion, and who has argued with me about that long into the morning?

Even in Tucker’s Libertopia, I would not surround myself only with the angels of tolerance who are always saying just the right things. So, I certainly don’t want to discount flawed creatures before we get to that free land. We live now in a world in which minorities of ALL stripes are put upon by the state: Religious weirdos, the peaceful, bunker-dwelling racists, the cultists, or for fuck’s sake, just the people who maybe don’t want to use college liberal terms to filter the world. I want them all in my tent as well. I want them if only because more people than any libertarian would wish think they are right-wingers — inherently suspicious, likely bad, for wanting less or no government at all.

Libertarianism and friendships both have a sort of Miller Test. Or, rather you “know it when you see it” — know the good people you want in your life, or in your fight for freedom. I can’t tell you who they are for you, and you can’t tell me either.

I think I know good people who are are not PC and who are also a net gain for liberty in the world. This is not to say that we can’t say, as individual libertarians, or as groups, say we prefer tolerance of gay people to not tolerance. This is only to say that the divisions between libertarians, like anywhere else, are rarely as purely simple as paleo vs. cosmo, conservative vs. liberal, or humanitarian vs. brutalist.  Tucker is, again, incredibly deft and fair in his piece. He doesn’t seem to be trying to kick out anyone at all. But the two camps idea still didn’t seem real enough to justify it as an exercise. There is a danger in making people, even just libertarians, seem that A) or B).

I wanted to write a political response to Tucker’s piece. I was distracted by the pleasures of voluntary culture, and life, and music instead. Hopefully that’s still the point.

Staunton, Virginia

Staunton, Virginia

In honor of the topical terrors of a new Cold War (thanks, Vlad), I offer this unsubtle — it is folk punk, so that is nearly redundant — 58 second tale of how “everybody just forgot about” nuclear weapons after a while. But those bombs are still there, and somebody might use them someday. So sleep well.

I was alive when the Berlin Wall fell, but I don’t remember it. And though I know the situation — and how the Wall came down, partially through bureaucratic error — was more complicated than just joyous people streaming through the holes their sledgehammers built, that footage never fails to bring a tear to my eye. So little world news is happy news. This was. When I build my time machine, I will definitely watch the USSR and the GDR crumble. (And again, being entirely antiwar and anti-empire doesn’t mean I can’t extra object to countries that, if nothing else, do not let their people travel freely or leave. That tells you all you need to know about a country, apologist lefties. If you can’t leave it, it’s a bad place.)

Did you fear the Russians when you were younger? And do you remember stopping at some point? It’s hard for people who don’t remember it to suss out how all-encompassing the anxiety really was, but popular culture and history so often suggest it was everywhere all the time.

Welcome to The Stag Blog’s new series dealing with portrayals of the end times through movies, novels, docudramas, documentaries, instructional pamphlets and films, songs, and and memories. The focus will mainly be on nuclear fears during the Cold War, but we may branch out into some asteroids, aliens, or plagues. Let’s keep it loose.

Guests posts are particularly welcome on this subject — give me your best nuke movies, your memories of hiding under desks, or your childhood (or adult) worries over alien invasion.

Do you fear this man’s invention
That they call atomic power
Are we all in great confusion
Do we know the time or hour
When a terrible explosion
May rain down upon our land
Meting horrible destruction
Blotting out the works of man

There are a lot of songs about nuclear war, more than I realized — a few of them passed by in nuclear war documentaries, and my Cold War history class senior year of college. But the first I heard, and so far the most epic is Alabama country-gospel brotherly duo the Louvin Brothers’ original composition “Great Atomic Power.”

There are two versions. Above is the more bluegrass-tinged one.

This song is awful, and wonderful, and creepy-Christian exploitative. It says the times are scary and uncertain, we might get nuked at any moment by the dirty Ruskies, but good news, there’s Jesus. Jesus will have your back, come mushroom cloud or nuclear winter. Indeed, that’s the only option available for those who want everlasting life free of the horror of man’s latest bad idea:

There is one way to escape it
Be prepared to meet the lord
Give your heart and soul to Jesus
He will be your shielding sword
He will surely stay beside you
And you’ll never taste of death
For your soul will fly to safety
And eternal peace and rest

It’s certain, it’s even cheerful, but then it ends with:

When the mushrooms of destruction
Fall in all it’s fury great
God will surely save His children
From that awful awful fate

It’s got the subtlety of Bert the Turtle singing “Duck and Cover.” It’s got the soothing spiritualism of  Jesus Camp, and is just as likely to traumatize the children. 

Except that it’s also pure poetry and strangeness. And that ending, well, Charlie and Ira sound convinced, but “God will surely save his children” sounds just a little hopeful, just a little desperate when you think about it. They believed it, but they were making damned sure all the same. This meeting of old-school fire and brimstone and new seemed a bizarre concept when I first heard it, but it works.

Any other favorite end of the world songs?

Photo by Lauren Pond/Washington Post

6.5) The Montana firefighter I heard of once who was named Charley Stillsmoking…

6) …who could ideally be combined with the story of another Montana firefighter  — the poor fellow was chased by a grizzly, he hid under a pile of logs, and the bear grabbed him and pulled him out by the legs. Mr. or Ms. Grizzly gave one slash with his mighty paw across the firefighter’s chest, then went on his way. This happened, by the way, right in the middle of his fighting a forest fire that endangered my family’s cabin. So thanks for braving those beasts, anyway. I’d like to reward you with a song if I knew how.

Actually, has anyone musically covered the tragedy of that Arizona hotshot crew yet? That could break some damn hearts. We may need to bring Johnny Cash back from the dead for this.

5) The story of the only pair of high heels I ever owned (less than two inches) — I bought them to go on Alyona’s Happy Hour. I wore them on RT probably three times and also to the White House Press Correspondent’s Dinner, then I accidentally left them the backseat of a 22-year-old jazz drummer’s car, a stranger who gave my friend and I a ride back to my home after we had drank whiskey sours with him, playing at being interesting older women who had done things like go to Russia (her) and develop opinions about Gene Krupa (me, those opinions being he was awesome and attractive).

There are an awful lot of songs about shoes, and I feel like those 40-dollar beauties who did so much in their short time on my feet are worthy of that honor.

4) Songs that namedrop other songs are usually terrible earnest, but — front row center at the Ryman Auditorium on New Year’s Eve, Matt Welch playing “Fourth of July” drunk (I’m sorry, it was a strange and memorable night, in spite of the bottle of wine), Bob and I singing Against Me! songs while driving through the backwoods of New Mexico on my first road trip, cousin T. and in our first moshpit together (La Plebe and Jello Biafra!), etc. Lots of possibilities in a life full of the perfect moments with songs.

Music on music can work with the proper amount of overly direct, earnest This Bike is a Pipe Bomb, Defiance Ohio, or Endless Mike and the Beagle Club spirit. (These songs need to be written by a scrappy, local level folk punk/rock band is what I am saying.)

3)

Or any American drug war songs — good try, Lindy, but you just don’t scan as well as you could. I love you to death, Steve Earle, but I want more than “Copperhead Road.”

Ballad of Cory Maye, anyway? Ryan Frederick? All too many cases choose from.

2) The woeful tale of my ancestor Anders Olson who was scalped by hungry, uprising Sioux in Minnesota in 1862. Poor Anders had taken the family to hide in a fort, so the story goes, but he went back to check on the livestock and that’s when they got him. I’m feeling an “El Paso” vibe from this one, at least lyrically. Going back when you shouldn’t and all that sort of thing.

1)  But most of all, give me a moving country tale of Pastor Randy Wolford — this guy — who died from a rattlesnake bite in West Virginia last year. Wolford was a snake handler, which is strange and stupid and fascinating enough without any deaths, but the detail that just kills in this case is that Wolford’s father had already died the same way — in front of him when the boy was just 15. Could be straight, sincere country, but something a little more subversive — that would include the foolishness, and the doomed quality of it all — would be better still. I’m looking at you, Critter Fuqua, Justin Townes Earle, Cary Ann Hearst, someone get on this.