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Columns > Mike Greenhaus - The Greenhaus Effect

Published: 2004/11/05
by Mike Greenhaus

The World is Spinning

8:18 PM, November 3

Last night, I watched the world crumble before my very eyes. Then I turned the channel. It didn't seem real, it didn't seem just and, most alarming of all, it didn't even seem fixed. To be completely honest with you, I didn't have much faith in a Kerry-Edwards victory until last weekend. I'm too much of a political pessimist and too much of a news pragmatist to have truly believed that America's long descent into a single, conservative corporation could actually be avoided. For months, I was resigned to the fact that George W. would go down as our generation's answer to Ulysses S Grant, a historical joke which often ends with a somber question: "What the hell were they thinking?" But, then suddenly, Sunday night I began to believe.

It happened halfway through Antibalas's opening set at Medeski, Martin, and Wood's Halloween show. Perhaps the most packed and energetic performance I've witnessed since Phish, this "fright-night" double-bill had the makings of a true rock and roll event, glow toys and all. As the newly acquired hole in my sock surely proves, this was the type of show where energy outweighs performance, and the entire concert-going experience becomes a sweaty metaphor for whatever emotional high happens to possess your body.

If you frequent this sight, you don't need me to tell you that music is a powerful weapon if aimed right, with the potential of taking down any sophomoric, romantic, and, yes, political challenge. And, sometime during a jammed-out reading of "Indictment," Antibalas did just that, carefully harnessing their audience's energy and using their 3,000- person echo to spew out a laundry list of political wrongdoings. Without really noticing, hippie-rock reconnected with its political roots and, suddenly, change seemed possible and, perhaps, even probable. Maybe, just maybe, politics and pop culture could add up to an arena size event.

7:20 AM, November 2

From the moment my alarm clock buzzed two days later, a series of not so subtle sounds reminded me that 11/02 was no ordinary sequence of numbers (and I'm not even talking about that "Harpua" from '98). Three-seconds into the day, my head was already spinning, as a local modern-rock stations spun a somewhat demented version of "Jack and Diane," complete with a Howard Stern approved presidential rearrangement. It was chirpy, upbeat, and unintentionally evil. America, as I knew it, had confirmed its descent into political parody. And, for the next eighteen-hours, I buzzed around with the energy of a high schooler battling a girl-next-door crush, asking friends for answers I knew they couldn't possible provide and allowing emotion to overtake any hope of political reasoning. At work, I couldn't focus and my I-Pod seemed all but irrelevant. Honestly, the only sound I wanted to hear was someone telling me John Kerry was going to win—-and I wanted that sound-bite replayed, remixed, and reloaded every time I opened my ears.

After a not-so-productive day poll watching I road the commuter rail back to my suburban breeding ground. Following a short detour through my Talking Heads collection, I ended up in my town's 50s-style school gym, where exactly twenty-one years and two-days prior, I had won a Halloween contest by dressing as a Transformer. Now, it was time for Bush to transform and roll out. But just as my voting mojo kicked into gear, the first signs of reality began to rear their ugly heads. As I scribbled my name into a big book of Armonk residents, some elder-bitty greeted a male voter she generically referred to as "Dad." Like many late voters, he arrived with a briefcase full of suburban baggage, including one wide-eyed daughter. At first this 9-to-5er seemed harmless enough, until he began to explain the voting ballot to his young, impressionable child: this button is for the President of the United States and this other button is for John Kerry. When you live in a world of vegan-diets and veggie burritos like I do, it's easy to forget that most of country doesn't speak your language. Heck, most of American probably doesn't even know that jamband is a word, let along a genre.

As with any emotionally troubling event I encountered during my upbringing, I spent the next six hours trying to think about anything else, inadvertently plundering through my CDs to find the perfect soundtrack for this evening's events. But scoring the end of the world is harder than you think, and, ultimately, I ended up with a laundry list of misapplied anthems: Phish's "Divided Sky" (too innocent), John Lennon's "Give Peace a Chance" (too idealistic), Arlo Guthrie's "Alice's Restaurant" (too Thanksgiving), Jefferson Airplane's "Volunteers" (too McGovern), Barry Maguire's "The Eve of Destruction" (too overtly-apocalyptic), REM's "It's the End of the World as We Know It" (too MTV), Dave Matthews' "Dancing Nancies" (too suburban), Country Joe and the Fish's "Fixin to Die" (too trippy), and Creedence's "Fortunate Son (too tied to high school history class). Eventually, I gave up and let the sounds of Democracy Plaza keep my mental rhythm moving. Like any long-winded jam, each anchor took his or her solo, which more often than not, turned into an excuse to wank off in front of few million hazy viewers (how rock and roll). In the end, the only concrete fact I learned from four hours in TV Land is that Bush and Cheney usually check into bed at 10 PM. I'm not exactly sure why, but that small tidbit seemed to sum up all that is wrong with this administration. If life is a metaphor for one never-ending jam, this duo would never make it to the second, more experimental set.

Sometime in between these subtle sounds, I managed to catch a few hours of shut-eye as post-apocalyptic images flickered before my wrinkled eyes. After scurrying through my FM in the AM for some hint of a midnight miracle, I aborted my mission and flipped on my CD player mid-show. Quickly awakening my ears, I heard a series of piercing solos, which I immediately identified as pure Bisco and, suddenly, I stumbled onto November 2's soundtrack. Rock-scribe Richard Gehr once said that "if Phish were the overtly polite Beatles, The Disco Biscuits were the Rolling Stones." And it's undeniable that The Disco Biscuits have the uncanny ability to play heavy music with a sense of lighthearted fun and turn utterly dark sounds into a post-modern dance step. There is something inviting about their dark and dangerous presence, perhaps because it doesn't quite seem real. And, hidden behind their rock operas and inverted "Little Betty Boops," The Disco Biscuits have crafted a canon's worth of hippie anthems, which are anything but rooted in the Haight-Asbury dream. If the idealistic Beatles symbolized an era of peace, love, and happiness, perhaps The Disco Biscuits will score a generation drawn to the polls by messages like "Vote or Die," not "Give Peace a Chance."

************************************************************************
With Phish out-of -the-water and The Dead derailed, The Disco Biscuits are, arguablely, jam-nation's brightest stars. Yet, for the past ten months, the band simply hasn't toured, turning 2004 into a semi-hiatus of sorts. Given the group's forward-thinking mentality, it seems fitting for the Biscuits to peak before fully realizing its potential—-a modern day answer to the Sex Pistols, whose first US tour imploded seven shows in. And, like the Sex Pistols with punk, The Disco Biscuits managed to turn jam-rock on its head, blending techno into the genre's bedrock and turning dyslexic into an asterisk- worthy word. In light of Tuesday's outcome, it would almost seem fitting for the Biscuits to dissolve into a sea of side-projects with lightening bolt energy. During Phish's 2000 hiatus, I often fashioned the Biscuits as jam-nation's Nader, a wildcard thrown in between two well-oiled heavy weights vying for jamband Head of State: String Cheese and moe. I knew The Disco Biscuits weren't going to win, but they sure as hell were going to change the process on their way down. But this election, grassroots activism caught up with The Disco Biscuits' dark zeal. If the dude who sells anti-Bush pins on my corner has the heart to come to work tomorrow, perhaps I'll play him an inverted "Mindless Dribble."

Given his own political upbringing, it's no surprise that Marc Brownstein's HeadCount turned into this year's sleeper power-jam, registering 50,000 voters, and also accomplishing the impossible: getting Phish, The Dead, and Dave Matthews to agree on something. And, even though scattered problems plagued the group's final days, for an odd summer, it was cool to vote. Andy Bernstein said it best this Monday, "Fuck this non-partisan shit." Hippie-rock should be about revolution. ************************************************************************
A few months ago, I asked Brownstein which of his songs, if any, he'd play for Bush. At the time he suggested "The World is Spinning," but this Monday a streamlined version of The Disco Biscuits offered another choice-cut: "42." In light of Tuesday's outcome that number seems more appropriate.

cynicism in the wick
power down and candle lit
Eucalyptus burning bees
splendid moment, funny tree

Souls are wrapped around each other.

Monarch mission, on the vine.
Kinetic vision intertwined.
Crystal dripping, icicle.
Aquifer is running full.

Watching both JM2 and the "Triscuits" play this weekend, I was reminded of a more innocent time when my friend Dizzie Dave once said, "The Disco Biscuits are cocky enough to know they are going to change the world." But, I now realize, a band who speaks in a future tense can only be truly appreciated after it's gone. Perhaps, also I'm afraid to admit, I'm longing for an era where the term "president" evoked a George Washington-sense of unconditional love. But, as my optimistic mom will surely remind me, there is a bright side to this American nightmare. Maybe in this dark era The Disco Biscuits will finally find their audience and continue to change what the country considers beautiful music. If not, at least we have four more years to come up with a crop of new anti-Bush jokes.

November 3 7:20 AM

Day 1 of the end of the world began, literally, with a boom, as some misplaced Curtis Mayfield bass streamed through my alarm clock. It was like waking up in the overtly chipper black comedy of Dr. Strangelove—-only an odd 70s remake-starring Shaft. Without checking the TV, I knew Bush had won and the end of the world was already underway. The late arrival of my usually precise train was further unscientific confirmation that things were slowly falling apart. Once aboard, the cool, quiet buzz of shock provided the soundtrack for my journey back to Relix, located just west of liberal-America’s longtime matrix (Greenwich Village). As my eyes flickered back and forth, the opening credits to the first day of the next four years quickly flashed, scored only by the newspaper folds of the New York Times and the Daily News. Later, as I wondered through the City's dark and damp subway system, I couldn't help feel a bit blue, as if we had already lost the silent camaraderie which brought 49 percent of this divided country together: Republicans, Democratic, and, hay, even Bisco Kids. And, as I turned the corner onto the 1/9 train, I weathered my first live-music experience since the world stood silent: the quiet, simple, pump of an accordion struggling to breathe. Life will go on and one day America will rebuild itself. One primal note at a time.

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