This week I present a radio feature that was part of my KMUD radio show Monday Morning Magazine on April 8. It includes music by Robin Parmar, Don Haugen, Michal Seta, Mike Rooke, and Kris Force. The Drone Cinema Film festival takes place on Saturday April 27th at Outer Space in Arcata, CA, starting at 7:00pm, with a short set of live drone music by me, John Hardin, on didgeridoo and electronics. The Drone Cinema Film Festival is brought to you by Silent Records and Outer Space.
I don’t have much difficulty understanding radicals. Radicals make sense to me. I understand the reasoning that looks at the gross environmental destruction wrought by civilization and recognizes the need for radical, not incremental change in how we live and do business on Planet Earth. I comprehend the mindset that sees the level of institutionalized violence, injustice and inequity in our society and advocates radical, not incremental change in our political institutions. I even see where people are coming from when they talk about the moral decay they see in our society and I understand why they also say we need radical, not incremental change in our social institutions. Whether you want a new Islamic Caliphate, a white Christian nation, parliamentary socialism, kibbutz style communism, native tribal sovereignty, an African-American homeland, or complete anarchy, I understand people who recognize the need for radical change.
I may not agree with you about what you think is right, or with what you think is good for me or for the rest of us, but I don’t think you are stupid for wanting to try something else, whatever it is, and I agree with your assessment that we are doing it wrong. Just for anyone who doubts this, let me remind you that COP24, the global climate summit in Poland came and went without producing a meaningful commitment to reign-in carbon emissions, proving once again, for only the 24th time, that world governments are totally incapable and/or unwilling to address the critical issues of our time, intelligently. However, just a few weeks before, the G20 met in Argentina, and the same world governments agreed to embrace radical and unpopular new technologies with real long-term risks, like GMOs, universal cyber-surrveillance and Chinese style “social capitalism” systems for global population control.
I understand the need for radical change. What I don’t understand, is how people look at the Orwellian dystopia our society has become, carefully observe the Anthropocene Extinction Event unfolding in real time all around us and witness the dysfunction in our government that consistently fails to address the needs of its citizens, while it exterminates millions of people all over the world for interfering with its hegemony. Who looks at that and thinks “Hmm, maybe a tweak here or there, but otherwise, Full Steam Ahead!”? That I don’t understand.
I understand that people like their familiar rut, especially if it’s a comfortable one, and if you are comfortable, I understand not really giving a fuck about things until they bite you on the ass. I also understand that people feel invested in the system. They bet their lives on this system years ago, before things started biting them on the ass, and before they knew how bankrupt the system really was. Now they don’t feel like they can afford to walk away from that investment. I also understand denial, the inability to face unpleasant facts, and I understand people who feel helpless and depressed about the whole situation too. All of that makes sense to me, considering our predicament.
Everyone else has abandoned the political center. When we talk about this phenomena, we call it “polarization” or “tribalism,” and lately we blame this mass exodus from the political mainstream on “radicalizing rhetoric” from “extremists.” In reality, however, we abandoned mainstream politics and political ideology because of its proven bankruptcy. The people who pay attention, think for themselves, and make their own decisions, have abandoned the center. They don’t agree with each other about what comes next, but they’ve had enough of what we’ve got now. All that’s left of the center are the stranded assets, the comfortable ruts, the depression and the denial, and that doesn’t inspire anyone.
You can’t inspire people with dead ideas. The wreckage of our culture is piled too deep, and the contradictions in our ideology are far too glaring. We can’t help but see the failure of the system. We can’t help but see the injustice of the system. We can’t help but see the violence of the system, and we can no longer even pretend that the system works for us.
We have abandoned the center because we know better. We know that more of the same is not good enough. We don’t agree on where to go from here, but we don’t like the road we’re on, and navigating carefully down the center of it just doesn’t cut it anymore. We abandon the ideology that has united us for over two centuries only because it has lost its integrity. The system is corrupt and the evidence of our own lives makes it impossible to believe in it any longer.
People don’t abandon ship and jump into lifeboats unless they are pretty sure the ship is sinking. Calling it “polarization” or “tribalism” amounts to nothing but denial and scapegoating. Instead of facing the obvious and overwhelming evidence of the failure of our technological culture, or addressing the challenges of our time, we blame “radicals” and their “polarizing rhetoric” for telling the truth about our predicament and offering their particular alternative vision for the future.
The ship we call “civilization” is sinking, measurably, undeniably, and inexorably. A lot of us will go down with the ship, but if anyone survives, they will be in lifeboats, built by radicals, and built from “polarizing rhetoric” held together with strong personal bonds, a unifying struggle, and a shared vision.
It really doesn’t matter much, anymore, who takes the helm of this sinking ship. What matters now is who is in your lifeboat, and does it float.
My friend and fellow KMUD cohort bequeathed to me this odd musical contraption that he found in a dumpster down in the Bay Area. To me, it looked like someone had fashioned a musical instrument from some pieces of a broken chair and some scraps of paneling. I accepted it because it had four serviceable guitar-style tuning machines that I knew I could use. It appeared that originally there had been five strings and five tuners, but one had already been removed. I salvaged the tuning machines, but then I had this odd wooden box with a sound-hole and an oversized handle. The more I looked at it, the more I thought it needed more strings. I installed ten zither pins as tuners for ten strings and added a piezoelectric pickup wired to a quarter-inch phone plug. I didn’t have ten strings, however, so I strung it with whatever strings I had on hand and tuned it to a D minor chord. If you listen to the video, you can hear what it sounds like, see a few pictures of it, as well as some adorable cats and their kittens.
Go ahead! Who doesn’t like kittens?
I finally got to see Murder Mountain, the Netflix docudrama miniseries about the disappearance of Garrett Rodriquez and the subsequent recovery of his body by the “Alder Point 8.” The film crew was in town for most of last year putting it together, and they hired me off the street to act in it, so of course I was excited to see myself on TV.
I enjoyed Murder Mountain. I thought they did a great job, and it includes some of the best images of Southern Humboldt’s natural beauty that I’ve ever seen. The series seemed quite slow getting started. I’m sure they could have told the story in two hours, and they included quite a lot of really boring footage of cannabis farms, but they also included lot about this community and it’s history. The series paints a broad portrait of Southern Humboldt, and a cannabis industry in transition, as the backdrop for the Garrett Rodriquez story. Every picture hides much more than it shows, but I am impressed by how deeply they explored this community and how well they told the story. I thought they told it accurately, with sensitivity and more than enough context. Most of the people I watched Murder Mountain with also seemed favorably impressed.
Of course, anytime anyone writes or produces media about the ugly sordid shit that really goes on around here, the knee-jerk reaction of locals is: “How dare those ‘yellow journalist’ outsiders come here to tell sensationalized stories about the bad stuff that happens around here!” According to these people, no one, except people born and raised here, have the right to report on anything that happens here, but when you ask those truly local locals, they all tell the same story: “It’s beautiful here. The people are cool, and everything is groovy. Now mind your own business!” Whether it’s a piece of investigative journalism about human sex trafficking, an expose about environmental destruction wrought by the marijuana industry, or my opinion column, for that matter, whether or not they’ve read it or seen it, a lot of people around here will automatically tell you that it is all just “sensationalized Hollywood bullshit.”
It surprised me that I didn’t hear more of that about Murder Mountain. I think a lot of people actually recognized that the producers of Murder Mountain went out of their way to get the story straight, and to present it in context. Murder Mountain sure doesn’t make us look good, but it tells the truth. Murder Mountain shows us a side of Southern Humboldt that usually remains hidden, and that no one around here wants to face, in a way that is hard to deny.
This time, it’s the Sheriff’s Department that is crying foul, and warning us about “sensationalized Hollywood bullshit.” They feel they were misrepresented in Murder Mountain. They claim that the filmmakers tricked them into believing that the show was going to be about the marijuana industry, not about Garrett Rodriquez.
Sorry guys. I don’t buy it. I will admit that Murder Mountain does not make the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department look good, but it’s the fact that Garrett Rodriquez’s murderer remains at large despite the community’s heroic efforts to recover his body, that casts a pall over the HCSD, not the documentary treatment. More than anyone else, Sheriff Honsal and his deputies, who must have all signed release forms, should know that anything you say, in front of a camera, with a microphone hidden in your shirt, will be recorded and used against you in the court of public opinion. If Murder Mountain embarrasses the HCSD, it’s not because of what they said on camera, it’s because of what they failed to do when they weren’t.
We should also note, however, that the disappearance of Garrett Rodriquez, or the dozens of other people who have gone missing, or been found murdered here in Humboldt County, did not prompt much public outcry, locally. We didn’t have rooms full of angry citizens demanding that the HCSD get to the bottom of this prolonged rash of cannabis industry related homicides and disappearances that happen around here all the time. We didn’t have any public meetings about that problem at all.
No, it wasn’t until a skinny kid from Fortuna shimmied underneath a locked security door and stole some bongs from a head-shop in town, that the folks of Southern Humboldt got up off their asses and filled the gymnasium of the Redway School. Those angry townsfolk didn’t complain about unsolved murders or disappearances in the hills, they complained about poor people smoking cigarettes, drinking beer, and generally looking ugly in front of their businesses in town, so you can’t completely blame the Sheriff’s Department for prioritizing their resources accordingly.
Despite all of the self-delusional happy-talk we like to tell ourselves about our community and the cannabis industry, Murder Mountain offers us an honest mirror that reveals how our community looks to the rest of the world. Unfortunately, it’s not such a pretty picture, but that’s not the photographer’s fault.
Perhaps the most cherished holiday tradition in our household involves imbibing a dose of something psychedelic on the longest night of the year and staying up all night listening to some of our favorite music. This year we were blessed to have two strong doses of LSD to celebrate the solstice with. To begin our solstice, we usually spend the day cleaning our place up. Then we have dinner, relax a bit, and as the sun goes down we light a candle in a jar, safely ensconced in one of my tin can luminaries. Then we ingest our doses, turn on the power amp that drives a nice pair of JBL studio monitor speakers and put a CD in the player to start the session.
By the time the first CD plays all the way through, we can feel the doses coming on strong, and we’ve become entranced by the music. Listening to music in an altered state of consciousness usually reminds us of why we chose that particular artist to begin our session, and when the CD ends, we want to hear more by the same artist. That feeling only intensifies by the end of the 2nd CD, and so on. Last year on the solstice, we listened to eleven consecutive Tangerine Dream albums. The year before that, we listened to Peter Gabriel’s entire career in one night.
We’ve come to realize that we need to choose the album we play first on the solstice very carefully. We need to choose an artist who’s work I have in adequate depth in my collection. I don’t have a huge record collection, and I divested myself of all of my vinyl at the end of the last century. For the last 30 years or so, I’ve been so absorbed in my own music and media production that I don’t have much time to listen to other people’s music. I hardly ever buy records anymore, and lately, when I go to the record store, I don’t recognize any of the names on the record bins. Not only do I not recognize the artists, I don’t even understand the genres.
So I have a limited selection and there just aren’t that many artists whose albums I own at least ten of. If I do have ten or more records by an artist, there’s probably a reason for that, so we are not likely to be disappointed, but I think we chose particularly well this year.
This year we began our solstice trip with: Before and After Science by Brian Eno. I love Eno’s work, and I have most of his classics from the ‘70s, but Brian Eno remains one of the few names I recognize when I flip through the bins at a record store, and whenever I spot an Eno record I don’t have, I pick it up, because I know it will be good if I ever find time to listen to it. So I have the necessary depth in my Eno collection for a very long night of listening, and it includes a number of familiar old favorites, but also several albums that I’ve picked up in recent years but have hardly listened to. They all came alive for us that night, and it felt as though we were hearing them all for the first time, in complete rapture.
What can I say about Eno’s music? Listen to it! That would be the first thing. Then I’d say something about tender, wistful lyrics and playful songwriting, his style that blends genteel sophistication with wicked flamboyance, and of course his studio wizardry. I think that’s the only appropriate word for it. He took our breath away, and moved us to tears, all night, again and again. A lot of his later albums have a gentle low-key feel about them that makes them easy to listen to in the background, but they deserve your attention too. I highly recommend everything on this list.
Our 2018 Winter Solstice Playlist:
Before and After Science
Another Green World
Here Come the Warm Jets
Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy
Wrong Way Up (with John Cale)
Spinner (with Jah Wobble)
My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (with David Byrne)
Another Day on Earth
801 Live (with Phil Manzanera)
We finished up by listening to Phil Manzanera’s 801 Live because it is the only live album I know of that features Brian Eno as the lead singer of a rock band. We followed that with a final encore: a live version of one of our all time favorite Eno classic tunes, The Fat Lady of Limbourg, performed live by 801 from another Phil Manzanera release: The Manzanera Collection that I picked up at the KMUD Block Party record sale a few years back.
By that time, we had put the candle out, because the daylight had returned. The acid was waning and we started getting hungry again so we turned the stereo off and made a little breakfast. Whatever you like to do for the holidays. I hope you have as much fun doing it as we did.
- Theme music by Randy Clark and John Hardin