High Dudgeon and Low Self-Esteem:
the opening salvo
by William Ham
Illustration by Mark Reusch
I come to you a man in the midst of a serious identity crisis. See, I got into this racket because I wanted desperately in the soul of my soul to be a writer, with all that entails. It's a perfect game for some of us - driven, like most of us are in this society it would seem, to be renowned, well-respected,famous - but with a mortal terror of undesired recognition that does little to staunch the imperatives of the ego. As with most people I know, I had a terrible youth, particularly adolescence, a condition that often results in either a fiendish desire to succeed and show those bastards that fucked you up what you're really made of or a painful, traumatized retreat, the same thing I see in the eyes of people I pass in my travels every day, a splintered, pathos-ridden look of naked fear, the eyes of an abused cur cowering in a corner awaiting the next lash of the belt, something looming, continuous and inevitable. Naturally (I am by nature an indecisive man), I've been riding the center line between the two for longer than I wish to admit. I am arrogant enough to try and shove my opinions down as many throats as I can open, but cowardly enough that I don't want to be standing in front of you as I do it. Hence, the writer, and more particularly, the critic, the Monday morning quarterback to end them all (the world should be so lucky), blustering self-righteously in the solitude of his own home (or train or bus or wherever the urge to pontificate should strike), guarded by a mostly impenetrable shield of anonymity (could you pick Greil Marcus out of a lineup? Or John Grisham, for that matter?) that protects my fragile, contact paper skin developed over years of wimpy indoor solipsism while I rant and rave and carry out my elaborate fantasies of vengeance against each and every one of you, who all carry yourselves around like you've got something I don't have and ain't gonna share it for anything, though you might throw me a fleeting glimpse once in a while just to keep me begging because you just love to see me with that look on my face.
Look, don't think me psychopathic - I know how this must read to you (if, indeed, any of you are reading this at all - delusions of grandeur are very easy to cultivate from where I'm sitting but reality makes it wilt and die just as quickly), but I wouldn't be saying it if I didn't think some of you (most of you? all of you?) couldn't relate to it in some way. `Cause I'm positive you all haul around insecurities that don't look far different from mine, big black shadows that leave trails wherever you walk that nobody else seems to notice so you behave as if they're not there either. I have little empirical evidence of this beyond the kind of performance-art hysteria that plays on all the afternoon talk shows and things like The Real World, both phenomena that have a lurid, hard-to-resist entertainment value but serve to cheapen any genuine discourse we may have anymore. What I'm doing, and what I hope to make my life's work doing, is, at its finest, the closest I can ever hope to get to real, penetrating converse rather than idle, meaningless small talk. The problem is, this is not a conversation. It's an endless monologue with the (very) occasional heckler interrupting the flow of my one-way patter. I have no way of knowing,really knowing, if word one of this will make sense to any of you. I hope it does, which is why I keep doing it, but too many factors get in the way for me to trust any response I may get, and real provocation raises hackles more than it does the level of my/our discourse. I could get out there and push your buttons and probably carve myself out a nice hunk of success doing so, but from the evidence I've seen - Geraldo Rivera, Rush Limbaugh, and Howard Stern are three names that spring immediately to mind, though there are many many others - it can get to a point where pushing buttons becomes the point of the game and it becomes no deeper than that out of fear that it all might be taken away tomorrow. The prophet may be disrespected in his own land, but profit struts around like he owns the place and probably does. But at least those people are going for the throat. I'm here, crouching behind wishy-washy wordplay, easy cynicism, and a heavy bomber jacket of cool, making little jabs with my penknife and then looking the other way and whistling when the angry glares start. Conflict? I can't stand it in my life, and it's bleeding all through what I think is my art. I'm not pushing anything, and that's as lame as can possibly be and I'm deeply disgusted with myself for it. I don't mean to whine, and if that's what I'm doing then knock me down and kick me hard - I'm not looking for a conciliatory pat on the head and a word of reassurance; quite the opposite, in fact. I'm getting this all out because I'm growing sick of my own guardedness and timidity. Letting it out in a big puke-belch of words on paper amy not be the best way to go about it, but I hope it's a start. I'm serving notice right now that I'm gonna cut all the bullshit and start paring this down to the very marrow of the matter. It ain't gonna be easy, by any means, but I have to try or else I'm dead, which is all hipness and coolness and the whole exclusionary system of values that too many of us subscribe to amounts to.
And that's the sick fucking virus that I believe is running through society right now, or at least the part of it that I (and this magazine) cater to, which is why the whole system is slipping into the fucking gutter faster than any of us can row. I'm revving up to my point now - give it up. All of it. It's deader than dead, this whole rock music thing, and punk rock (whatever that means) is the most staid, defensive, and elitist group of them all, the stinkingest band of corpses in the bunch. Hey, has anyone noticed the sheer variety of music that this magazine covers? Ya ever wonder why that is? I could say it's a celebration of the diversity of our musical culture, but the hell with that massive lie - it's because not enough of us can agree on anything for there to be any focus in it. Which is sick when you realize what an insignificant bunch of crumb-bums this little subculture adds up to. In the greater scheme of things, or even just where a collective musical (never mind social) consciousness is concerned, we don't exist. Garth Brooks and Mary-Chapin Carpenter mean more to the world than we do. I know that was the whole point of punk when it started, to be the disloyal opposition and gather enough spit between us to make a small but indelible mark on the cleaned-and-pressed Mr. Suits of the world, but we're not even speaking each others' language any more. All we can muster up the energy to do is to sneer and grouse and grumble and complain and point fingers, not at the behemoths or the Goliaths, but at one another, and by extension, ourselves. We've lost whatever respect we once had for ourselves and, like the petty beasts that we are, we take it out on our supposed peers. So fucking what if the Offspring signed with a goddamned major label? You mean,you don't want to live well? You'd rather wallow in the muck because that gives you more credibility? How the fuck is credibility gonna pay your rent or put fucking food in your mouth? Of course, you could get a real job and just do your art on the side, and if you can somehow manage that and be happy with it, more power to you. But if you want to put all your energies into expressing yourself and you find you can make a decent living that way, why not? Who's getting hurt? I don't give a shit how much money a rock star makes - all that should matter is the quality of what they have to say, whether it enriches or enhances or merely allows you to cope better with your life for a little while. And sure, like I alluded to before when I spoke of Rivera and Limbaugh and Stern, success can spoil a person and affect the quality of what they do. But it doesn't always, and it doesn't matter one fucking bit either because the majority of the little pissant complainers out there aren't saying anything worth saying either or making any worthwhile art themselves. There's a fuckload of weak garbage out there, a giant goddamned ocean full of it that the atmosphere cannot sustain. Natural selection at work: that's why record companies are downsizing and folding left and right, that's why this magazine enters every month unsure of its future, that may even be why so many rock stars are killing themselves. Some of you have to go. Those that remain will be the ones that are either slick and manipulative enough to sleaze your way into solvency or those whose spirit and intent are so pure and decent that they can't be kept down.
Pissed off? Offended? Livid? I hope so. Icould leave it at that, but wait! There's more...