As I was collecting my twenty-year-old notes for this coming Friday’s inaugural (and henceforth weekly) Retro-Journal entry, I saw something that made me painfully conscious of how quickly things change: the cover of Joe Jackson’s 2000 album, Night and Day II, to which I was listening.
It’s not just that the beautiful black and white cover photo shows the World Trade Center filling a nighttime sky — through the windshield of a cab, its meter visible as it heads downtown through Tribeca — but also the fact that it shows Jackson himself in the rearview mirror, seated in the back of the cab. I was thirty when the album came out, and the New York City nightlife suggested by the photo was still somewhat novel.
Seven years later, the Trade Center, of course, is gone, but so too is my youth — less than two years until forty, though I’m still hoping biotech will make me immortal — and even Jackson himself is now gone from New York, moved to Ireland to escape New York City’s smoking ban on bars and restaurants. He must have been very annoyed when Ireland banned smoking in pubs shortly thereafter.
There are exceptions to New York’s ban, grandfathered-in cigar bars including Merchants NY, where I co-host the monthly Manhattan Project gatherings of non-leftist media folk referred to in the right-hand margin of my front page — e-mail me if you’re interested. I’m pleased that the smoking at that bar occurs on a different floor than the one where we gather, though. I’m only one-third opposed to the smoking ban, you might say: (1) as a libertarian, I think the ban is immoral and tyrannical, but (2) personally I’m delighted to discover that one can breathe comfortably in a bar — it wasn’t just social awkwardness making my throat and eyes feel uncomfortable for that first decade in the City — and (3) as a staffer at the American Council on Science and Health, I know that forcing people not to smoke may be one of the only regulations that actually does some good, in narrow utilitarian terms, since smoking is the leading preventable cause of death and a subtly addictive, very hard habit to kick. I remember breathing freely and easily at an Ian McCulloch concert, one of the first I went to in the smoke-free-NYC era, and realizing that, oddly, the only person smoking was the man onstage.
Viewed politically, though, I think the best summary of what an imposition the smoking ban is may have been the observation I heard made one night by a frustrated German tourist: “This city is insane! I can’t take my cigarette indoors, and I can’t take my beer outdoors!” We fought the King of England over less, back when we had spines and still loved liberty.
One minute you’re still dreaming of being an enfant terrible, the next you’re shuffling meekly toward the grave. On the bright side, approaching forty means I’m better able to appreciate the slow, quiet, jazzish Jackson album than I was back when it first came out. But then again: the immature, ironic, postmodern experience of seeing Jackson, William Shatner, and Ben Folds perform the band Pulp’s song “Common People” on Leno raises my spirits far more. For each of the four, this was arguably one of their best moments.
Rock critic and nightlife reporter J.R. Taylor recently praised Jackson on his RightWingTrash blog, by the way — just one of many wonderful entries on that site, which exudes the firm, Middle-American attitude that the important kind of conservatism is the kind that assures you it’s OK to shoot the burglars when they break in and try to stab your family — which is to say, the kind of conservatism implicit in most action movies, a cultural glue more important than theology or social programs, I thought as a teen, as an odd-man-out moderate conservative at a left-wing college, and as an adult today. But more about all that starting Friday.
J.R.’s sympathetic reviews of gun-toting hero flics on the blog suggest he shares this populist-individualist-vigilante attitude, and he goes so far as to say that this ordinary-middle-class-Americans view of things is superior to William F. Buckley’s brand of conservatism. J.R., interestingly, sees Buckley as playing into the hands of the liberal media in a way not so different from Ann Coulter: that is, providing a living parody of liberals’ expectations of what conservatism is, with the effect of reaffirming their liberal attitudes. Just as Coulter makes conservatives sound like cruel people with Tourette’s, Buckley makes it sound like all conservatives are snobby aristocrats (of course, this was arguably an improvement over the pre-Buckley view that conservatives were pitchfork-wielding illiterates).
I think J.R. will approve of my project to shape a “conservatism for punks” — but more about that trashy project soon.
In the meantime, to make you alternative-rocking Gen Xers (some of whom might care to join me this Friday at Film Forum for the 7pm show of Control, the movie about the life and death of Joy Division’s lead singer) feel young again, if only for a few minutes, here are a few recent yet New Wave-like video clips:
•“Le Disko” by Shiny Toy Guns (this video for the song, complete with androgynes and spider-monster, is more elaborate than the original video, but my favorite video clip for the song is probably the Matrix-like ad for Raza cell phones that uses it).
•Swedish band the Sounds sounds pretty ’82 to me — and seeing them on Letterman here contributes to the effect — though the kids these days will hear them as echoing the more recent electro-clash movement as much as their New Wave forebears.
•Their slightly dopier and more Stefanian but still cool fellow Swedes, Surferosa, did something right with “Saturday Night” (not to be confused with the Sounds’ “Seven Days a Week,” above) even if this is but an amateur video for it assembled from Swedish sitcoms or something.
•The Epoxies, of course, are thoroughly “Synthesised” in 80s fashion despite being from twenty-first-century Seattle (and none of fheir videos, sad to say, seems to do justice to their live shows — or to lead singer Roxy Epoxy’s gangly, gyroscopic dancing — judging by the two shows in a row I saw with Michael Malice and Scott Nybakken a few years back).
•And here, for good measure, is one of the Johns from They Might Be Giants being interviewed by rabbits.
Thus do I challenge Time and Death.