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PO Box 26632 / Richmond VA 23261-6632

Some Thoughts #82

    I have been trying to minimize my stuff, and simplify my life for years now.  I am a pack rat by nature, so this isn’t something that comes easy. I grew up in a family of pack rats, so while it runs deep, I’ve also been aware of, and fighting it my whole life.  The first time I moved out of my apartment and packed a bag to travel the country, the bag I packed was huge. Year by year, road trip by road trip and flight across the country after the next, I have tried to reduce the amount of crap I haul along with me. It’s always a good idea to be prepared, but a time does come when you realize you don’t need all that much. I’ve got my bag packing down to a pretty good formula, and if it weren’t for the damn camera I’d be a pretty decent free agent.  But the camera, and the flash, is already basic and cannot be pared down.  It is heavy and bulky, and a pain in the ass.  On my most recent trip to San Francisco, I thought I had done pretty well, with just my messenger bag filled with camera and essentials. When I met up with Dug and Karoline at the airport, Karoline had more stuff than me, but Dug had only one small, child’s sized backpack.  And even that seemed to be half empty.  I was even more jealous of him as we were walking up the SF hills, and my bag got heavier with each and every block.  But what impressed me even more than the light and empty bag, was that Dug was totally a free spirit.  He had no sleeping materials.  When it was time to sleep, he pulled up his hoodie, laid down in the middle of the room on his back, crossed his ankles, folded his hands, and that was that. Not only did Dug sleep soundly and easily, but also he had no planned agenda.  He had some friends and some old haunts to visit, but he just let the day take him where it would.  The minute we starting talking about what was going on that weekend, I was making lists and plotting schedules, and this was a mello and relaxed trip for me.  I can make fun of myself for it.  After all, it’s why I not so jokingly say, “I will do it all,” and usually manage to do come pretty close to that.  But being that “stuff” is such an issue for me, I figure that I should take some cues from Dug. I do like my stuff.  And I like to hold on to things, save them, archive them, stack and resort things, and file and rearrange things.  It’s really a matter of trying to conquer it and keep it from getting overwhelming, cause it’s easy for that to happen.
    While in the Bay Area the predominant topic of conversation amongst people I was hanging with, was the cost of housing.  Most of the people that I know are up against the wall with wanting to buy a house but the houses there are beyond affordable.  It’s incredible to hear the amounts of money that people spend on rent for homes, let alone warehouse space. I don’t envy that lifestyle, in fact it’s one of the clear cut reasons why I never let that place charm me into moving there, cause I knew there was no way I was going to be able to afford the cost of living, and still manage to take in and enjoy all the things that I do while visiting.  When I’m here at home in Richmond, I have a hard enough time doing the fun things that I did when I first visited here, and this is a pretty affordable, laid back, easy town.  I think more people should come here and take advantage of the cheap rents and get productive in the smaller cities and say, “forget you and your high rents” to the big cities.  Much as I loved my time in the Bay area, when I got home, I was actually happy to be “home.”  When I walked into my little house with the book-lined walls, plant-lined windows, the nest-ready couches and the dancing dogs, I was actually happy to “be home.”  And that has been a long time in coming. I have made peace with the town, finally.  I’ve watched so many good friends move away, and even watched some of them come back, or be charmed into the idea of coming back.  But even without some of my good peeps, Richmond and me are friends now.  I can drive down by the train tracks at sunset listening to “West Wye” by Avail, and just think “fuck yeah, I love this town.”
    I lamented on the finances of the zine in the last issue, and the outpouring of feedback and general support has been great! S&L will continue on down the road for some time. But times are definitely tough. I’ve received some donations, and know of at least one benefit compilation CD in the works (thank you Mike Straight), but none the less, the financial crunch is pretty severe.  The photo business is going out of business, and the zine is no longer self-sustaining.  I noticed recently that normal businesses don’t talk about it when things are going poorly. Sometimes when I find one of these cool small business that seem like they must struggle, I’ll ask about how it goes for them, and I almost always get no indication that things are rough and that it’s hard to make ends meet.  And then the next time I got by, they’re closed up and gone.  I guess this is the business model that is passed down from corporations on—to not admit defeat, lest people pull out.  But to me it seems like it should be the opposite, and I’m sure that is the punk in me talking.  To me, if you’re having a tough time, you say so, and then in turn people would be more likely to support you or help you out.  It seems obvious enough to me, but I seldom have seen that in practice in “real life,” about town.  Then again too many people would rather support a big company than the little guy, and that always boggles my mind.  I feel like I’ve gotten more feedback since I got all desperate with the zine, and I am appreciative of feedback. Day by day, it will get sorted I’m sure. 
    The big stop the presses news is that I have joined the 24th century. I upgraded to a new computer and new cable Internet hookup.  I have actually been trying to do this for a long time, but it’s been so overwhelming.  I hate technology.  I hate electronic devices.  I hate that it’s all interconnected and inter-dependent.  You can’t get just get one new component these days.  In order to get a new computer system, you need a new printer, new scanner, new driver, new everything. I hate being forced to “keep up”, and so I’ve fought it tooth and nail for as long as I could.  And even once I did give in and take the plunge, it was not easy.  Nothing is easy when you have to have 3 power strips to run your workstation.  And so for me, the new computer was actually a month long project, that is still underway as I relearn everything I ever knew about my computer. My old computer was so slow that it took me forever to do the most basic checking of email.  Now, I can have my email checked before my coffee is made.  In the past, the idea of checking out a website was an impossibility, whereas now I can breeze around with this manic ease. I’m still a Luddite, but I can admit that the change has been an improvement. The thing that perhaps will have the biggest effect zine-wise is that I can now accept digital ads. I’m still not convinced that digital ad files will save the zine world.  I figure if someone can’t get an ad printed and sent in the mail, then life is pretty hard.  But I am starting to realize that people do not have printers anymore; or at least they don’t have laser printers.  Which is kinda weird to me, as an old-school graphic designer who started in publishing with typeset machines.  I learned the tools of the trade with an ex-acto knife and a waxer.  Then learned the ease of the computer and the laser printer.  Things have come a long way since then, and mostly for the better.  But something is also being lost in the midst of all of this, and that is a basic understanding of reproduction.  When people only see things on their computer screen, without ever seeing a printout, the final result once it’s output, printed and reproduced often doesn’t look quite like one would expect or hope.  Drives me crazy.  But hey, I’m in the modern world now and willing to play a long.
    Funny how it all ties in with simplifying.  Adding more monitors, hard drives, power strips, cords and plugs does not simplify life.  But it if gives me an extra hour or two a day to not be sitting at the computer waiting, then I’ll take it.  It was snowing here in Richmond earlier today.  Quite unusual for us, but it didn’t last.  It was in the 70s as the new year turned, so I guess I can’t really complain too much now at having to deal with winter.  That week in the Bay Area was such a treat, with unusually warm, sunny and dry days for January.  I quickly got spoiled, drinking in all the scents from the eucalyptus trees and conifers, and huffing on the sage and rosemary that was everywhere.  Back at home, everything is frozen, and that usually doesn’t happen at all.  But I’m pretty stoked on my neighborhood.  We have a Neighborhood Resource Center that opened up in what used to be the post office at the end of my street.  I’ve been watching the progress of this grass-roots neighborhood project for some time now, but from a far.  Everything about it said “Chris, get involved,” but as I’ve already got myself over-taxed and over-committed, I’ve been practicing knowing when to sit back, to recognize my limits and to even say No, if need be.  I hate to do all three.  But finally this place opened, and it was really exciting to actually get to meet some of my neighbors.  For all of my collective minded sprit, I’m kind of a private person.  I’m also really damn shy, so I keep to myself most of the time.  I don’t reach out and make small talk with anyone, not even my neighbors. Now I have a focal point with which to venture out. There are all kinds of programs and such getting started there, including a Saturday afternoon yoga class, where I met some artists and other vegetarian herbalists.  Who knew?  And this spring there are plans for a community garden.  I feel like all my active years have been spent in some one else’s neighborhood, and now finally I can put my energy into projects within my own street. As punks and activists, we tend to champion causes and fight for the underprivileged, and to attempt to better communities and neighborhoods.  We start info shops as a community resource, but more times than not the community that we serve is virtual much more than physical, and the people who come to these places are usually not from next door, but across town.  This is not to slight those places who really do serve as building blocks for community and neighborhood organizing, there are a lot of them.  But the punk spaces usually tend to be just that — punk spaces.  And this NRC is not a punk space, and I’m sure it never will be.  But as I sit on the east end of town in my little house that I originally rented partially because there was a post office on the corner, partly cause I liked the street name, and mostly cause the price was right and the yard was big—I’m glad to have a sense of my neighborhood developing right in front of me.  I’m proud of this little part of town, cause it’s cool, and still affordable, about the only affordable place that is this close to “downtown” where you can have a good sized yard and a free-standing home, and not be in the suburbs.  When I first found this place, people from town either said, “huh, where?” or “oh, you don’t want to go to that part of town.”  Well this part of town has stayed my own little secret for many years, although in the time that we’ve lived here I’ve watched friend after friend, after member of my husband’s band move to this neighborhood.  I’ve seen the development of an artists studio space, and now the NRC. Our neighborhood isn’t hip or cool, but rather it’s humble and honest. I’m kinda proud that it’s not my little secret anymore and the activist kids are coming to my neighborhood now. 
    So on the punk rock front, there was this manic burst of non-stop shows and weekends spent in Philly this past November, with Citizen Fish playing a somewhat surprise show at the beginning of the Subhumans Tour, then World Burns to Death and Uncurbed shortly thereafter. A week later I was back again for Neurosis.  It’s a rare treat these days to get to see Neurosis.  They played their 2 1/2 hour set, with Jarboe in the middle and that was intense (much better for me live than on CD).  And then things all but shriveled up and got quiet through the end of the year.  At the beginning of January all I remember is how warm it was.  And then just as it started to get cold and all the snow was forecasted for the east coast, I took off for San Francisco.  No sleep, and a plane ride later; we BART into the city and head straight to the Mission for a burrito.  MRR HQ was home base for the week (thanks guys!).  I have an unending amount of respect for MRR.  It’s so exciting to see the foundation and formulas for a well-oiled machine to run collectively and successfully. People come and go, and most of what gets done can be taught to someone who can try to fill the shoes of who came before them.  While I was there I saw a lot of that going on, and I regret not spending more time getting to really know how things work.  Since S&L is ultimately just me, it runs so differently.  I can’t help but be envious of the mold that they have at MRR, which allows for people to come in and do their part.  But that is the thing that I really did renew for myself— an appreciation of all that goes into making MRR what it is.  We all expect it to come out every month, and know it will.  We depend on it, and take it for granted.  But we shouldn’t.  I treasure the ability to spend time there, among the record collection of the ages and among people who live, breath, and sleep punk rock zine publishing like I do. It’s so good to see MRR alive and well, and to be able to pop in, meet up with old friends, get to know the new folks (Golnar rules) and then sit down with all those rad friends to share some tacos.
    My SF motto is pretty much like this: Burrito every day, walk walk walk, look at every single bookstore I can find, walk walk walk, go to shows, see peeps, and commune with the trees.  And that was accomplished, along with an attempt at 80s dancing, and shows in several different venues.  Iskra played the first night I was there and they were amazing.  I’d been feeling kinda bad, talking more about them as dancers and nice people than as a band, and this night they changed all that around.  With a slightly new line-up including a female singer on dual vocals, they kicked ass and shredded the metallic crust beats to death do us part.  I was in heaven, and it kinda felt like I was almost having my own personal epiphany.  That is the funny thing about a city like SF — it’s such a big city, and there is so much going on all the time, that people really don’t seem to give much of a shit most of the time.  It’s too bad.  I felt lucky to be there.  Deathtoll and Retching Red played as well, and while Deathtoll had a good loyal crowd, Retching Red were old-punk vets, and I thought they were quite good, but was surprised to see hardly anyone stick around.  Strange how that goes.  Friday night took us to Gilman for Karoline’s 98th All You Can Eat show.  She traveled the world with them as their roadie girl.  At the end of their last tour, they owed her some money, and she said, “don’t worry about it, just play 3 more shows so I can say I saw you 100 times.”  So for the big 3-5, she got #98 at Gilman and then #99 at the Hemlock bar in SF a couple days later.  That was the kind of show that brought all the old geezers out of the woodwork. Okay, it wasn’t that bad, but I know there were a lot of people there that you won’t see at shows every week and that was damn cool cause it was off the hook, and I ran into some old maniacs from RVA and got myself off the hook as well.  I think AYCE are a band that has gotten better over the time they were not actively a band. Devon can do full splits, jump in the air, and fall over things and the drummer can do jumps and hit a cymbal that is like 10 feet the air. My last show, which actually happened in the middle of all of that, was in some ways the best of all because I got introduced to a bunch of new bands, who coincidentally all had female singers and I lost my mind over all of them.  I knew was that Massakro from Mexico were playing.  And I knew that they were good and that I had really liked their CD.  I heard that one of the bands wasn’t playing, so I got this wild idea to try and get Born/Dead to play, for no other reason than that I wanted to see them play while I was there. Selfish I supposed, but I figured, it’s worth a try right?  Well I begged and pleaded, made some calls, had it almost worked out, but in the end it didn’t.  Even without my favorite Oakland band, I found out I have a few other new favorites.  Myth of Progress are like a metally crusty anarcho political band with 2 women in the band, and one on the mic.  Massakro shredded the warehouse with their d-beats and crust. Death by Excess totally blew my mind and had me singing love songs to them by the end of the night.  She had a Witch Hunt t-shirt on, which made me feel close to home.  They were good chuggy heavy punk with lead vocals that made me swoon in a weak in the knee way like Chani from Die Screaming.  And speaking of Die Screaming (formerly Aphasia), they’ve got a new recording, which is to die for. So I’ve been listening to my Die Screaming and Death by Excess demo CDs, burning CDs in my new computer of my old band photos from the early 90s for a Profane Existence project and preparing how to conquer the world.  Okay, well that is a joke, but I feel like I’m about to explode out into the world soon enough with a load of great bands about to tour To What End, Hell Shock, Riistetyt and Selfish; Chicago Fests and Clit Fests, Grind fests, Prank Fests, and Pointless fests and even if some of those won’t be until later in the summer, there is enough good stuff coming up in March to keep me sorted for some time to come.
    I’ve got a load of photos from my SF shows that didn’t make it into this issue; you’ll just have to wait till spring.  Ah, spring.  In the meantime, special thanks to Golnar and Clara and Martin at MRR, for helping us out and just for being.  Thanks to AK Press, Ramsey and Kate.  Will and Heather.  Aaron and the punk stuff t-shirt press. Happy Birthday to my girl Karoline, and special thanks to Karoline and Robert, who took care of me in CA as always, and without whom life would just be less.  Thanks to AYCE for playing for K, thanks to Jay U for trying to help out my B/D whim.  Thanks to Andy, just cause.  Ian and Greg Daly for rockin’ the east coast.  Thanks to Mike Straight and everyone contributing to the upcoming S&L benefit compilation. And to Erik for being the best. And my mascots Tonka and Tibby. Until the tundra thaws...