ON THE AVENUES: Say goodbye to all that, and expect the bayonet.


ON THE AVENUES: Say goodbye to all that, and expect the bayonet.

A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.

FDR called it a date which will live in infamy. These days, it’s a name more likely to be mistaken for a retail jewelry store chain concept amid the suburban wasteland.

Sorry; I tend to forget about these things.

Translated, that’s Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and December 7, 1941 is the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, bringing the United States for a second time into the violent global conflict that started in the Balkans prior to World War I and didn’t really end until NATO planes struck Belgrade in 1999, bringing the 87 Year War full circle within a half day’s train ride of Athens, supposedly the cradle of “our” civilization.

To me, this essential knowledge is ingrained, reflexive, and a matter of course – that is, the first part about Pearl Harbor, though perhaps not my nuanced personal view about the way future historians will view events during a portion of my lifetime, and my father’s, and his father’s before him.

I was born in 1960, and December 7, 1941 – Pearl Harbor – was a date drummed into my head both at home and in the classroom. The lesson probably would have been repeated in Sunday School had I ever bothered attending church.

To my father, it would have been inconceivable for an American citizen not to know about Pearl Harbor, and D-Day, and the fact that Douglas MacArthur was an SOB who Harry Truman waited far too long to cashier.

Other essentials for verifiable citizenship included a proper appreciation of Ted Williams as a hitter, awe at the beauty of Lew Alcindor’s sky hook (Jabbar? Who’s he?), and an unblemished record of participating in the process of voting whenever afforded the opportunity.

Any of us anywhere might try to make an argument in favor of a common block of knowledge essential to being this or that, whether a fireman or a Guatemalan or a lesbian. Unfortunately, most of these qualifiers prove to be purely subjective, stemming from cultural baggage with shelf lives that vary.

Where we insist on seeing order and design, there are randomly spinning wheels of fortune, locale and identity, but just as laboratory assistants enjoy putting their mice and hamsters through the experimental paces, we allow the 800-lb gorillas in the room to weaponize their money, power and privilege at our collective expense, manipulating an obsession with differences to the extent that the overwhelming commonalities of existence are submerged.

To Hades with them, because I’m a citizen of the universe. Peel back the layers, strip away the dross. Life’s all about the haves versus the have nots. I’d never take all their money away from them, just enough to make the playing field a bit more level — and if this makes me a socialist, I’ll have another beer.

Most people who’ve made it through more than a handful of decades on planet earth come to the point where the actuarial tables get positively vicious, and that’s when far more of one’s life can be seen bleeding through the rearview mirror, receding into the gloaming of paradises both gained and lost, while the ever shorter winding road ahead is shrouded in pea soup fog.

Give an average continent three or four million years and a handy toolbox of tectonic plates, and it will drift halfway across the world, leaving human beings to contemplate the comparatively ephemeral over a period of mere decades. To me, these weird space and time continuums can be almost crippling.

When I was a kid, veterans of World War I still lived in Georgetown. By the time my European travels began in the mid-1980s, most had departed, taking with them the essential cultural knowledge of the eleventh hour, eleventh day and eleventh month, as well as the best coal to stoke a fire.

The older people I observed across the pond during the Reagan years had active, living and painful memories of World War II, and these recollections shaped their lives and milieus. Now most of them are gone, too. In terms of America, these folks may or may not have been the “greatest” generation, but they may well be the very last one to witness any stray semblance of redistributive egalitarianism in the tax code.

Looking out my front window, I can see a half-century of neoliberalism’s merry pillaging, combined with mythology, vapid mass entertainment and plasticized consumerism, yielding two or more generations of rapidly impoverished airheads subsisting on their credit cards, when they should be eating the rich and reading books off-line, far away from the villainous internet to which I’m also sadly addicted.

Conversely, I can still collect my thoughts, read real, tactile books, and refrain from the sort of doom-struck judgments customarily rendered by the elderly among us, sticking to my daily regimen of alcohol and a local activist’s eccentricity.

A guy needs to get his beauty rest, because the truth of the matter is that things are going to get worse before they get better, and taking all of it together, there is little doubt in my mind that our times – this dawning era of Trump, Brexit, the Koch brothers, Disney-as-scripture and the Chicago Cubs as powerful curse-breakers – constitute a fractious reordering of GHW Bush’s latest of new world orders. Approve or disapprove, and yet it’s happening.

History’s like this, you know. Perspective comes only later, and in the meantime we’re witnessing the death throes of something from before, and the birth pains of something else to come. I can’t help noticing that for me, the times are changing, too.

One great upheaval in my life came at the age of 30 when I went into the food and drink business, and another of immeasurably greater significance when Diana and I met. She’s the overlap; the current era began in 2014 with the recognition that my workplace no longer was winnable for me, and I left it. Getting paid is another matter, but I won’t bore you with tedious lawsuits.

This seismic turn of events subsequently merged into what has been something like eighteen months of unending elegies as accompaniment to those same actuarial realities. Grappling with mortality is like a colonoscopy, in that it’s probably best not to wait until it’s too late.

It’s been an exhausting process, and booze only takes you so far. Instinctively, I’ve always looked to rock and roll to articulate my feelings, only to finally realize the genre’s own passing. There’s a wonderful rising exception to the rule called Sheer Mag (thanks, Michael), and in Stuart Berman’s Pitchfork review of this youthful band’s new release, I’m finding a strange kind of solace.

Seventies hard rock is like the trans fat of popular music—something the masses once gorged on freely and gluttonously, but which has since come to be viewed as being not all that good for us. From the derisive misogyny, to the skeezy sexual objectification (of minors, no less), to the thinly veiled racism and homophobia the music engendered during the disco-sucks witch trials, hard rock’s anachronistic qualities are as much philosophical as musical. And yet, it remains a forbidden fruit we just can’t resist, with artists both mainstream and underground forever drawing from its trough of pelvic-thrusting riffs, gooey twinned-guitar leads, and shout-it-out-loud hooks. Because, at the end of the day, we all just want to feel as good as the people who made ’70s hard-rock songs felt.

Harboring arena-sized dreams in their DIY-hardcore hearts, Philadelphia’s Sheer Mag have been on a mission to transform junk-food rock into something nourishing and nutritious. And they do this by reminding us of a fact we tend to forget when we see our ’70s heroes clinking champagne glasses at Rock & Roll Hall of Fame galas or embarking on cruise-ship tours: that this was once the music of clock-punchers and outcasts, and of lonely, bullied kids who, by blasting “God of Thunder” in their poster-plastered bedrooms, could imagine what it would feel like to fight back.

There it is.

Four decades removed from my own poster-plastered bedroom, and I’m still imagining what it might feel like to fight back, knowing it’s probably futile, and not many potential allies half my age even know who the Marx Brothers were, not to mention Mott the Hoople, Marie Curie or the Memphis Tams.

Though as Cheap Trick once observed, we’re all alright, seeing as these are fighting words.

We’re not on our own
Though violent minds hatch violent plans
For many it’s the only thing they understand
And when the dog whistle is ringing
It’s the currency that they deal in
So before the worlds been reduced to soot
SOLIDARITY for those underfoot
I better remind ya
Or you’ll surely regret
And if you don’t give us the ballot
Expect the bayonet

Beats me. Maybe we’re just bozos on this bus.

Recent columns:

November 30: ON THE AVENUES: The 29 most influential books in my life.

November 23: ON THE AVENUES: A few thanks to give before we return to our regular resistance programming.

November 16: ON THE AVENUES: Harvest Homecoming chairman of the board David White replies to Cisa Kubley’s column of November 2.

November 9: ON THE AVENUES: When it comes to beer, less might yet be more.