A weekly feature from Far Out Magazine see’s Timothy Mudd, our man in the States, give a monthly update from the West Coast.
Timothy’s feature will follow his move from place to place and spending his time in San Diego, LA and Seattle, he’ll stopping off at music venues along the way. Here, in his latest episode, we follow him up the coast:
NOTES FROM THE WEST DESK: 2016 US ELECTION SPECIAL
At the time of this writing—November 6th, 2016—it’s almost 9 PM, and I’m at cruising altitude somewhere over Portland, Oregon, heading south from Seattle to begin my week in Southern California.
I’m tired. And I don’t mean tired from the grind of travel. I’m also concerned. And I don’t mean concerned about the safety of the airplane, nor the competence of its crew. I’m tired from the analogous artillery fire of the election-obsessed news media. Concerned by the ramifications from the last sixteen months of politicking on social dialogue and decorum across the United States of America.
Over the last sixteen years, there has been a slow and now alarming regression in the tone of this country’s election cycle. The most recent round has been downright embarrassing: marginalized voices of racism, sexism, and xenophobia restored as one may rebuild an old car, or renovate a dilapidated house. These Jurassic views have a new life thanks to the nuclear-scale reach of social media and its new generation of dependence as ‘trusted’ sources of information.
We’ve learned that lies are acceptable, as long as they rally support for one candidate while discrediting the other. And regarding one candidate’s rhetoric, ‘discrediting’ puts it mildly. Inciting those not empowered to read, research, and develop their opinion to potential violence against the opposition and its support is not merely a breach of democratic process—it’s grotesque. Honorable conduct has been viciously beaten and left for dead in the bloody dust of the political Pantheon; and, in doing so, has subconsciously endorsed tactics usually reserved for underdeveloped democracies of some African nations. Or, even radicalized groups who wage religious wars against the infidels.
Back home, it’s perpetrators are rabid children of a by-gone era, driven screaming into the black soul of insanity by their insatiable lust for power and, upon it, their increasingly arthritic grip. I don’t know where to go from here. I resolve that the best I can do is read, think, and write. Election Day is Tuesday, but I already executed my civic duty and voted by mail.
Personally, the choice was easy: a politician with three decades of public service to draw from or a reality TV star with a gray history of racketeering and sexual misconduct? Come on. From there I was faced with another: continue to blacken my adopted patriotism with the dark foreboding from broadcast news, or do my best to turn down the noise until the new task of navigating the result is finally upon us? It’s an understatement to say that the effect of the 2016 US Presidential Election on the nation’s psyche is palpable: distrust is everywhere. But there’s also a claustrophobia that builds in a sociopolitical climate such as this; a cabin fever so intense that escape isn’t a choice—it’s a necessity. And for this we have Art.
For the first time in a while, my passion for music wasn’t quite robust enough to break through every acidic burn of political interruption delivered via television, email, or social media. So I set upon the road toward a lifelong goal of—beginning to end—reading the entire works of Stephen King. A tweet I posted a few weeks ago read “Recently traded US election coverage for Stephen King novels: less scary with better grammar.” That’s an accurate assessment.
I started with Carrie, moved swiftly into ‘Salem’s Lot, then The Shining, and now find myself mid-way through the complete and uncut edition of The Stand—a behemoth of a book that in context with this writing, is frighteningly apropos. While I can understand King’s reputation as ‘America’s Boogeyman,’ given the explicit nature of human atrocities we can now expose ourselves to on-demand, King’s writings are relatively tame. Sure, there are some nasty moments, but overall, the most frightening moment is when you realize how perfectly he understands and can articulate what builds then breaks and redeems the human spirit across a wide range of characters.At a loss for what could motivate a high school killer? Read Carrie. Want the ultimate handbook for modern-day vampire dramas? Read ’Salem’s Lot. How about the probable inspiration for The Walking Dead? Read The Stand. The Shining was the most interesting to me so far as (Jack Nicholson’s indomitable performance aside) Kubrick’s much-lauded cinematic experience was an incredibly poor representation of the novel. In fact, I believe it missed the entire target of the work my a mile. In a phrase? “Daddy issues.” Every father should read this book to understand the potential harm the examples they set can have on their sons, and their sons, and their sons after that. Our actions— no matter how fleeting the moment—have consequences.
The largest crime perpetrated by the movie was Shelley Duvall’s wallflower portrayal of Wendy, who—in the written version—demonstrates the novel’s greatest character evolution; an abused child who grows into her full strength as a woman and mother in spite of her spouse’s unflattering descent into madness. A brilliant work whose character studies are as relevant today as they were forty years ago. Forget the movie and read the book—it’s worth vastly more than the price of admission, and may save you years of professional counseling.
As Stephen King’s craft silently strengthened my fragile temperament, I began to find sound agreeable once more. The interesting thing was that it had to be really, really dark. I blasted Nick Cave’s early discography during the day (From Her To Eternity through Henry’s Dream) before pouring over post-Jazz era Tom Waits at night (Swordfishtrombones through Blood Money). I even developed a twitch for Metallica’s output from the 1980s (Ride The Lightning through …And Justice For All), and the shadows of smaller blimps sailed my airwaves in the form of PJ Harvey’s To Bring You My Love and The Veils Nux Vomica. I tried listening to new releases, but if I ran across anything even mildly peppy or uplifting, a snarl would grow across my face, not dissimilar to what I would now expect from a gun-toting Trump supporter whose taken a wrong turn onto the main street of a gay pride parade. Thank goodness for KEXP. The independently funded Seattle broadcaster continued to light it’s beacon of new and trusted music, hosted with an empathetic awareness for its socially conscious listenership, and echoed calls from Democratic stump speeches, “Don’t boo—vote!” On one particular morning, I prepared for the day in the midst of a morning show playlist that ran the gamut from INXS to Jacuzzi Boys, The Flaming Lips to Naked Giants, Morphine to Common.
It was the Common track ‘Letter To The Free’ that stopped me in my tracks. The last cut on the veteran rapper’s eleventh and most recent studio effort Black America Again. Spiritual, physical, recent tragedies, and the fantasy of a world run by women; the album’s comment on Columbus-era slavery through society today is a vital reminder that rap artists have replaced rock stars as a demanding voice for a generation of disenfranchised community. Stevie Wonder, Esperanza Spalding, Bilal, Tasha Cobbs, Syd, BJ the Chicago Kid, and PJ—this work is at no disadvantage of star power to propel its retelling of history and hopeful prophecy. If you yearn for meaning in your music, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anything deeper than Black America Again.
November 9th, 2016, 12:31 AM Pacific Standard Time. Honestly, I’d drafted a very different end to this piece. I’m still tired, and still confused. I imagine it’ll take me a while to process the shock. But I’ll leave you with my one and only Tweet in reference to the 2016 US Presidential election, as I believe it’s—presently—my only endearing thought: “Restless times lead to great art. So, at least we have that.”
Restless times lead to great art. So at least we have that.