Bark: how i started at baby bar & ended up in yemen

Posted by on Apr 8, 2016 in Blog | No Comments

This post was originally published at Bark on April 8, 2011


the other day i was in a little dive of a place in spokane.  after being ignored for a couple few minutes (on my third round) while the owner/bartender chatted up a friend, i still tipped a buck when she eventually got around to serving me a $1 pint of pabst.  later, after ordering my fourth round, i pulled out my phone to scan nyt headlines (because though i can’t ever seem to keep up with everything happening in the world, i still like to try), and the owner told me no phones were allowed at the bar.  i hesitated in putting it away, and the owner said: “seriously.”  i wasn’t holding up the transaction in any way, there was no one else waiting for service, and given my earlier patience, this move seemed dickish to me for the sake of being dickish.  and that’s when i realized that spokane is actually kind of a punk town. this town doesn’t really seem to give a fuck about making you feel welcome, at all, if you’re not from here.  and it doesn’t even really go out of it’s way to do shit for you if you do live here.  it’s a DIY kinda town.  and you can pretty much piss off if you can’t DIY.  what’s more punk than that?

the answer, of course, is “lots of things.”  though i seriously thought about making an argument here otherwise, the answer is lots of things are more punk than spokane.  like bad religion.  which, incidentally, i wrote an argumentative/research paper about as an undergrad.  the gist of which was that the world needed bad religion (i.e., the band – we gots plenty of the literal kind).  the paper was my final project and it was really, really terrible.  i got a C in the class.  which i completely deserved.  then i went on to a successful career in persuasive writing as a marketer and speechwriter.  so fuck that class anyway.

but since that faux-punk episode in spokane, i’ve been on a real tear, listening to bad religion albums nearly every day.  and i think i could write a much better argumentative/research paper in their defense today.  the thing which they do so well, and which the world seems to be so sorely lacking, is articulate rage.  bad religion is fronted by a man with a PhD (from cornell) who happens to lecture on paleontology at UCLA when he’s not singing for his 30-year-old punk band.  their music has sometimes been called “thesaurus rock.”  point being, these guys aren’t singing about dookie, as it were.  they’re mad as hell, just like everyone else these days, but they’re also well-informed critical thinkers and want you to be, too.  which maybe isn’t so punk, but is still kinda awesome.

sometimes their songs are pretty direct, warning listeners to take heed: of the world’s surging and increasingly unmanageable population (in “10 in 2010”), or the climate change deniers potentially leading us off a cliff (“kyoto now!”), or the many and various ways government, corporate culture, and the internet are making us shoot ourselves in the collective foot (“the state of the end of the millennium address”).  but their best stuff is more abstract, and less obviously leftist.

they remind us what bullshit it is to say someone’s being diplomatic when what we really mean is that someone’s being an asshole, but in a completely insincere and polite way (“the handshake”).  they simulate the easy allure of membership in a group, and how gangs, or cults, and even more “distinguished” organizations are able to manipulate minds with positive feelings of belonging and promises of understanding (“come join us”).  they suggest the dangers and complications of ultra-nationalism (“american jesus”), and the superficiality and misdirected ire of hatred (“them and us”), even while admitting there’s only so much they, the band, can do about it (“punk rock song” and “no direction”).

though bad religion might literally be shouting at you sometimes (it is punk after all), i don’t think their intention usually is to SHOUT at you.  that is, they’re telling you what they see in the world, and they’re inviting you to think about what they’ve seen.  despite the loudness and lightning quick chords and relentless drum beat, i think the band is trying to partake in, or at least kickstart, a dialogue.  which is really what the forefathers were talking about when they gave us the first amendment.  freedom of speech?  it seems like too often that’s interpreted as license to scream your beliefs in someone else’s face until they agree with you.  which, technically, yes, is covered by the bill of rights.  but how often do you hear someone citing the first amendment in a plea for discourse, and how often do you hear someone clinging to that right as they’re trying to choke you with their own morals?

the people of libya, or bahrain, or syria, or egypt, or yemen, or any of the 87 other nations i read about in the times where a revolution seems to have recently sprung up—they are facing genuine tumult.  shouting is probably an appropriate response there.  more than shouting, even.  their struggles for democracy are ones that should be backed with vociferous and mighty force.  but to what end we are shouting at each other here?  we’re about to shut our government down because why?  we hear pundits telling us how terrible the other side is and we nod our heads instead of saying “no, that’s ridiculous” because why?  maybe because we don’t listen to enough bad religion.  maybe because plain simple rage is easier than articulate rage.  maybe because we’re a punk/DIY kind of country, but not always in the best kind of way.

you know, it’s friday.  i didn’t want to start the weekend with a harangue.  all i wanted was a damn dollar pabst.

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