Monday, October 8, 2018

Slade and the Wasters/Postcard Scene
Saturday, September 29th 2018
Fubar, St. Petersburg FL

Saturday Sisterhood: Music & Charity
Saturday, September 29th 2018
Independent Bar, St. Petersburg FL

Event clashes are like buses this week, except for the fact that the Pinellas bus system is less reliable than even the most punk time show you've ever tried to attend, more likely to send zero buses than two.  Bands don't generally run obscenely late, disappear from the fucking running order suddenly then show up seemingly at random while the audience stands clueless as to how to carry on with their day.  So I missed Gamma Waves (also apologies to Yogurt Smoothness, but these two bars are a fair few blocks apart and I worked all day).  Both acts are from Orlando, so I’m sure there’s a perfectly quick, comfortable, affordable way of getting up there if you don’t have a car.   If you’re willing to wait at least three years and we don’t all die of asthma attacks and Category 6 hurricanes before then.

Postcard Scene used to be Porno Party, a name I remember seeing around.  It's a welcome but jarring change. The former sounds like a shit Dwarves knock off (a band I didn't have a great association with even before I had my arm smashed to smithereens at one of their gigs a few years ago) while the latter evokes images of post-rock emo.  Postcard Scene are neither. With a Jello Biafra cheekiness from their singer Gordie and a completely uneven hair distribution, the band provide super fast, satisfying and complex punk, without being overly techy. Tech issues, in fact, make their performance all the more impressive, as apparently drummer Chris couldn’t hear a damn thing.  A postcard would not really convey how good they are to see in person.

I traipse my retail-shredded feet over to Independent Bar, and sit my arse down to drink beer for a good cause.  Dozens of people are doing the same thing. The cause in question is CASA St Petersburg (Community Action Stops Abuse), the official domestic violence centre for southern Pinellas.  They’re proactive and reactive, providing various training options and educational speaking engagements to organisations locally, as well as offering support to survivors of abuse with a shelter, a resource centre and support groups.  I obviously fully appreciate taking action by way of words, even as I spend the lion's share of an hour at Independent in complete solitude, listening to a perfectly relaxing all-female vinyl set courtesy of the two women behind the decks (a sadly rare phenomenon).  There are quality cuts from Gwen Stefani, Carly Simon and Madonna, delivered by DJ’s Fresh Step and Meow Mix-a-lot (who thankfully was willing to remind me later on of the megamix wordplay of her name.  I failed to make a note of it, and trying to figure out a cat themed identity using the internet is apparently an utter fool’s errand). The beers in question were donated by the woman-owned brewery 7venth Sun from Dunedin, with all proceeds also going to CASA (for whom they also had their own fundraising event this week).  The brewery’s Saison Du Soleil was refreshing, egalitarian and necessary, because it might be 11pm but it’s still utterly intolerable where we live (no, I was not kidding about Category 6 hurricanes).  You can volunteer for or donate to CASA at their website.

Thus it was that I arrived back at Fubar for Slade and the Wasters, not wasted, but certainly appropriately buzzed.  One way that it’s appropriate is that I am a music critic on the buzz-cutting edge, having “discovered” The Wasters about 7 weeks ago at this very venue despite their having been on the local circuit for some half a decade.  And now they are breaking up, with this being most likely their final St. Pete show because Tommy Slade is moving to the cool climate of Washington State.  This guy gets it! “The hottest September on record and you guys are staying?  Sucks for you.”  Coast-swapping however should not be mistaken for coasting, with three new tracks performed and slated (Sladed?) for a “Tupac style” free download a few months from now.  

The band waste no time here either, burning through a few dozen songs of their disparate era hardcore that evokes everything from early Offspring to Nirvana, justifying some of my comparisons with a handful of tasty covers.  These include All Apologies and fucking We’re Gonna Fight by fucking 7 Seconds!  It almost makes up for my missing Kevin and co during their nearly 4 decade existence (they split in March) in which time I never got round to seeing them.  Bands are like people: they aren’t going to be around forever, so don’t wait till the farewell tour to let them know how you feel.  Neither will material goods (especially at the rate we’re turning them into, er, waste).  So make their use worthwhile and share them around, as The non-Wasters do here by announcing that all of their merch is now free.  An almost youthful crush ensues around the stage. If you can make something this compelling in musical styles this long in the tooth, your time?  Not totally wasted.


You can see some footage of Slade and The Wasters' set at the event page.

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Saturday, October 6, 2018

Iron Reagan/Debt Neglector/Leviathan Cross
Monday, September 24th, 2018
Fubar, St. Petersburg FL

Reality Asylum/Slow Code/Laser Mouth
Monday, September 24th, 2018
Emerald Bar, St. Petersburg FL

Published at Apathy & Exhaustion

A last minute tour addition for thrash monsters Iron Reagan lead to this free gig clash in venues one street apart.  For the organisers of both, coordination was not just considerate but wise, and so we were treated to three hours of almost non-stop sock rocks and the chance to improve our pedometer scores.  First on the roster of unique bands is recent discovery for me, Laser Mouth.  While still pushing the big screen animation, the drumz-powered noise duo aren’t accompanied by a light show this time around.  Perhaps lights or lasers would be dangerously blinding in an Emerald Bar, or perhaps the band suspected we were all sensitive because of the storm that had raged for hours earlier in the evening, turning my laundry attempts into a nightmarish survival run.  Laser Mouth are, importantly, still loud and fun though, and provide us the excuse to enjoy a three minute cat video under the pretense of a (slightly) higher art setting than normal.

Next is an act who might well have orchestrated the lightning show as a backdrop for their performance, mystic doom rockers Leviathan Cross.  With a name that suggests a love of sulphur and fire outstripping even Four Fists and their upcoming 6666 album, the band provide slick slabs of heaviness as thick as the crowd of bodies that has already gathered in anticipation of the Ironborn.  It speaks volumes that I’d rarely be drawn to something of this character, but it’s good, intense material with a strong set ending. The Tampa group released their second EP All Is Dust in late August.  They’ll be supporting another underground big shot, once again at Fubar, on October 21st, when they play with Torche and Horsewhip just in time for the Deathly Hallows.

You won’t hear it from many punk scribes, but there’s a lot in the world that could be improved by a proper slowing down.  Slower food, slower work, slow economic growth (preferably followed in short order by degrowth then a steady state economy).  I expect that these beliefs are broadly shared by Seattle’s weighty post-hardcore thinkers Slow Code.  On new record Wastelayer, vocalist Charlie Wagner is reminiscent of Dennis Lyxzén of Refused (makes sense) and Daryl Taberski of Snapcase (who were originally called Solid State).  Live those vocals are a bit harder to make out, rather like obtuse economic messages, no matter how important they might be to those of us shouting against the tide of “common sense” in the mainstream.  The band are on stop twenty-five of a forty date tour to be fair, and pretty goddamn far from their usual climate. For the final third of their stretch Slow Code reach down inside to utter a few words of thanks and their energy levels perk up.  I was unreasonably excited to learn that the song Semiascetic was an ode to the late Mark Fisher, who (like me in many pieces this year) was all into talking about the politics of time through music culture, or The Slow Cancellation of the Future, as he put it.  Apparently I equally made Slow Code’s tour when they learned I had heard of him.  Being a nerd punk is not always about referencing Nintendo games.

Heading back to Fubar, Paul from Leadfoot Promotions is all about both the Slow Code and literal lead footedness, limping defiantly along on crutches after a bike ride gone astray.  Dedication. With the preceding act having raised the bar on artistic academia, Debt Neglector are expected to deliver something along the rhetorical lines of David Graeber (anarchist author of the celebrated Debt: The First 5000 Years).  While such specific predictions can only lead to disappointment, the Orlando melodic punks do have a pretty political backbone, featuring Alex Goldfarb of New Mexican Disaster Squad on the mic, and making a special dedication here to the bands with serious messages that influenced them.  The cover of their first album Atomicland brings to mind a few relevant things, such as public circus distractions and the Punk-O-Rama VI artwork, and their upcoming EP The Kids Are Pissed (out October 26th on Smartpunk Records) features a Descendents-influenced song about the anti-Nazi dissidents in The White Rose.  The Debt Neglecter practice space was shittily robbed a few days prior to the gig, so anyone in Florida who comes across an Orange Terror 500 bass head and an Orange Thunderverb 50 guitar head for sale should get in touch with them.

Reality Asylum recently won the title of Best No Wave Violation of Personal Space in the Best of The Bay awards.  I’d like to take this opportunity to award them their “Most Likely to Appear in Radical Beat” award for the year also.  Moog manipulator Ricky begins by dedicating the set today to a friend of theirs, MJ, a longtime roadie and Jannus employee who passed earlier in the day (R.I.P. to him).  I was shocked just a little while before getting here to learn that Tampa Bay had also lost Sydney Eastman, a too-young activist for immigrant rights and sex workers rights that I met a few months ago at the Tampa Occupy ICE camp.  Fucking shit state of affairs, it is.  Eastman would no doubt have respected singer Lauren’s shameless sexuality owning, and with the excitement of their new accolade she seems to be pushing the wild furniture climbing to a new level.  You want to abandon a beer? Well fuck that beer. You like smoking in here? Fuck that full ashtray. You want to go watch Iron Reagan? Well we will make it as difficult to pull yourself away as possible.  New material is starting to sneak into the Reality Asylum setlists, like the squelchy Prodigy-esque number Strangler Gloves, and despite listening to them a bunch this year I remain excited to see what they have coming up.

The entire floorspace of Fubar is a human blender of protein as Iron Reagan begin their performance.  The lack of room relegates me to the backside of the stage, where I get a very good view of bassist Rob Skotis’s arse, and damn near all the band’s backsides.  Considering we are living through what the layperson might call “the arse end of Reaganomics” (the neoliberal zombie staggering on 10 years post-crisis), it seems perfectly appropriate, and besides, not seeing Iron Reagan’s faces makes them about 0% less fun to watch.  It’s a fucking blast, whether screaming Fuck The Neighbors with 150 adrenaline junkies or wondering if someone will take up Tony Foresta at his request that someone stage dives off the goddamn bar.  I’m so used to the arses that I’m thrown off guard when Foresta about faces, marches directly towards me and leans down to ask “Is anyone from Debt Neglector out there?,” meaning outside, where I essentially am standing.  Um, dunno mate. I didn’t really get a photographic memory of their faces when they played. Nice to see you have a Siberian Meat Grinder shirt on though.  Covers include Aus-Rotten’s Fuck Nazi Sympathy and something by Cannibal Corpse, received by the human protein with the same excitement as all of Iron Reagan’s own catalogue.  As the waves of people careen all over the place I’m inclined to ask myself WHY DID YOU WEAR SANDALS YOU DAFT FUCKING HIPPY?  Even crossover thrash fan Jesus Christ is wearing sensible boots!

The new Iron Reagan EP Dark Days Ahead is out October 12th on Pop Wig Records.  Hear the preview track Patronizer at Soundcloud.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Four Fists
6666
Doomtree, 2018

Published at Apathy & Exhaustion

During the 2000s, Apathy & Exhaustion’s tireless editor Tony was the co-owner of Roadkill Records, a punk shop haven located in a part of Manchester with a minimal amount of road traffic.  The counter there was a place to find a deep well of satisfying music talk and cynical humour, much like the website you’re reading this on. I remember a lot of conversations that I had at Roadkill, partially because my memory is weird and partly because I used to spend hours hanging around there, shaping my young mind into the knowledgeable quip organ that you’re today familiar with.  On one occasion a group of us were talking about things we liked that were outside the punk sphere, and I redirected the question towards our man Nurgle. “I don’t really like… anything.” Laughter, as Tony considers the potato lunch that we were previously discussing. “I like chips.”

Tony will probably tell you that he can respect anything that keeps it real, but as the above story suggests, his interest has always struck as more about staggering depth than unwieldy breadth.  So where did this assignment come from, a hip hop album put out by independent backpacker collective Doomtree? It quickly became clear upon first listening to 6666, or at least explainable.  The two artists that make up Four Fists, Astronautalis and P.O.S., have organic roots in the punk scene, and it shows on this album.   P.O.S. has been in hardcore bands such as Building Better Bombs, and Wharf Rats with members of Anti-Flag and Gallows (thankfully for Tony’s blood pressure, not his go-to journalistic punching bag Frank Turner).  Astronautalis had his last solo album out on SideOneDummy Records, and drops most of the mohawked easter eggs here, with references to Minor Threat, Suicidal Tendencies, Superchunk, skateboarding and Sid Vishis (but sadly, considering he’s a Florida boy in his thirties, no Hot Water Music or Against Me!).  So it’s a rap album simmering in punk seasoning: a crossover of genres that I’m considering trying to write a book on.

Then there’s Joe Strummer, to whom we find significant dedication nuggets on at least three tracks.  Strummer hasn’t featured this heavily in hip hop since St. Pete’s conscious fusion ensemble The Real Clash were innocently touring the area, back before their name was TRC but after it was The Real Clash of The Titans (I’m fairly sure they’ll be represented by a symbol by this time next year).  The amount of revolutionary dissatisfaction present on 6666 certainly evokes something like Sandinista! and the early steps that 1980 album took in making hip hop a global phenomenon.  There’s the once again despicably relevant Ivan Meets G.I. Joe, where the Cold War superpowers forgo killing us all in favour of a dance contest, or The Magnificent Seven, where Joe raps over a funky beat against the shitty grind of employment and shopping and the violence that underpins the whole rotten thing.

The thematic centrality of Strummer this long after his 2002 death, not to mention his heyday as a musician, suggests that the concern for Four Fists is not that there is No Future For You, but that the future ain’t what it used to be, like an album by London producer Burial.  “Joe Strummer's been dead for too damn long/And now we’re all just numb to what's gone wrong.” Optimism and forward momentum are like fossil fuels, mined from the dumps of the past because the fields today are giving out diminishing returns. Jeff Rosenstock did a similar thing on his POST- record earlier this year, longing for the old master to come back and help us.  Well he isn’t going to, okay! (A review of Rosenstock’s forthcoming Antarctigo Vespucci album is coming soon.)  The work of the various producers here reflects a kind of mourning for optimistic sounds too yet manages to be exciting.  It’s often electronically futuristic but covered in dust and grit and sulphur. The combination of darkness and vitality found in the name Doomtree is present.  Occasionally I want the tracks to amp up just one more notch and am left wanting, but I’m not sure if that’s a bad thing.

Another way that this view of slipping time shows up is in the album’s sense of urgency.  As far as the luxury of making gradual changes to the economic beast that enslaves us goes, those days might fast be coming to an end.  Images of fire and insurrection run all the way through 6666.  Opener Nobody’s Biz is about being in favour of guns for defense against cops, shocking your liberal friends being a worthy pastime.  (Chorus: “I want a riot white riot white riot of my own” -- Four Fists are a black/white duo, for the record.) My own thinking has evolved on this over the years, in a way that's not just romanticising the notion of “strictly self-defense or for revolution” (as my man Rakaa Iriscience once said), even though that essentially covers it.  There’s a difference between believing that a society would be better off were it not filled with murderous weaponry, and seeing, first-hand, the towering heights of structural violence directed at regular people, and how those people might protect themselves. This insane country will radicalise anyone, even if, as in my case, it's from a fairly radical baseline.   I expect I’ll be labelled a mad wannabe yank by people back home, but if I understand correctly it will be my right as a wannabe yank to stand my ground and shoot you for invading the space around my fragile sense of self.

On the chorus of Joe Strummer Astronautalis laments that “We don’t fight, we don’t riot/Even when the war’s outside our door.”  There’s a feeling among the militant Ted Rall’s of the world that at some point the cultural divide over the gun issue is going to leave us fucked, and it’s bedtime for democracy (whatever that muppet stuffed with cash is worth at this point) and hello Handmaid's Tale.  Still, I don't actually learn how to fire a gun because that still seems fucking absurd to a boy raised in Timperley, and it's not like my own two skinny fists and freegan diet are going to help much when the shit hits the fan.  But then maybe my reasoning that I will simply escape to the motherland when events so far haven't inspired me to is getting equally absurd. Jesus, this got dark... Over the pumping dark electro beat of Annihilation (from producer ICETEP), the Fists are joined in the album’s only feature by Sims.  The track rails against the idiotic priorities of the corporate gentrification state, that we may as well burn down “like a strike anywhere match” before it inevitably burns itself down with us inside (“Water startin just to look like luxury/Oil starting just to taste like food/God really just must love ugly?/Or he never just listened to you”).

Several cuts have themes that are slightly less hopeless and warrant some thoughts.  On the echoey, dubsteppish battle track Bobby Hill (“that boy ain’t right but he’s all I got” being perhaps how many Americans feel about their nation) someone is accused of being “old and irrelevant like KRS-One.”  I’m glad to hear a critique of the once great KRS as he goes down the Dale Gribble rabbit hole of insane conspiracy theory bullshit, and the drawing of a dividing line between that world and the dissident left.  Coriolanus is about trying and failing to deal with your demons.  P.O.S: “That out of step with the world’s/A common refrain/To every stretched out T-shirt teen/Who thinks the world is mean/And every girl who finds her chest obscene/Cuz her friends have dads/And men are fuckin trash.”  Sid Vishis cracks and crunches under colourful keyboard ruffles, an anti-materialistic sequel to P.O.S.’s Fuck Your Stuff that’s sure to be a cranked up live favourite (“I got lotsa nothing/Steady clogging up my living space/I can’t give away enough to salvage what is truly great”).

The classic cartoon imagery continues on Dork Court, part digital media dismissal and part amusingly harsh out-of-nowhere disses (“Don’t try to tell me J. Cole’s worth a listen/He just writes the same shit over/Like Bart in detention!”).  There’s a strange -- but many would say always welcome -- bash of Noel Gallagher, although in “the nice one’s” defence he did have one of the best opinions on the Brexit trainwreck that I’ve read throughout all these years of uncertainty, as the March deadline looms ever closer to stripping us of a layer of citizenship.  Ah, to hear Strummer’s nuanced opinion on that juxtaposed with Johnny Rotten’s! On the album closer Unjinxed, the attitude seems to be that if you can’t go home anymore, go big.  Under a gorgeous and wild beat of swirling, machine gun electronics and housey pianos with an Avalanches texture, we are given one more cup of Joe to enjoy, in which he rambles about love and positivity and chaos in a chaotic and comforting way.  

If you’re a fan of Run The Jewels there’s a good chance you’ll get a lot out of this long-awaited debut Four Fists album.  The menacing bass vibrations, colourful sprinkle blinks and angry messaging remind of Run The Jewels 2 in particular, and unlike Killer Mike’s pro-gun messaging, I don’t think P.O.S. and Astronautalis are going to be played like fiddles by the NRA.  With a similar South-North contrast in their accents, P.O.S delivers much faster than his counterpart, coming in like a reminder that movement and action must accompany contemplation.  I once saw Astronautalis perform in Tampa, and got to meet him, but I’ve never really noticed P.O.S, which I now see has been a huge mistake on a par with not really delving into Propagandhi until I was 21.  This music, despite the title, is not by the numbers.

The Four Fists is an F. Scott Fitzgerald short about a man who learns lessons from the punches he takes to his mug; a sentiment captured in the humble strength of the 6666 title track with its self-doubts and closing refrain of “I ain’t dead.”  That's the sort of attitude we’ll have to have to our licks if we are ever to see the day when we emerge from under our literal shitstorm (see the recently hurricane hammered hog waste mega farms of North Carolina).  And I suspect, when those days come, that rather than the Clash of fast guitars blasting through speakers to keep revellers moving, it will more often sound something like this.

6666 will be releasing on October 12th, and you can see the approximately six thousand different pre-order bonus items at Doomtree. You can also hear the three preview tracks at that link. Immediately following the release Four Fists are doing several months of touring through the U.S. and Europe (Manchester, but not Florida, go figure).

Monday, September 17, 2018

RISING TIDE INTERNATIONAL

On Saturday September 8th, the Rise For Climate mobilisation brought more than 250,000 people outside to call for a just transition to a 100% clean energy economy.  The actions took place in more than 900 cities in 95 countries, with over 150 protesting here in St. Petersburg. The events came ahead of the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco between September 12th and 14th.  While it sounds like something that alternative granola-crunchers might put on, it actually brought together so-called climate business leaders, politicians and big greens to discuss things like “inclusive” and “resilient” economic growth (based presumably in a form of magic consumerism that doesn’t deplete resources).  While talking a half decent climate talk (this week signing an executive order to make the state’s electricity zero carbon by 2045), California Governor and summit host Jerry Brown has also approved over 20,000 new oil and gas wells in his eight years, leading to hundreds of millions of barrels of climate pollution, and taken nearly $10 million in fossil fuel campaign donations.  Activists, oddly suspicious of all these contradictions, marched again and blockaded the summit to demand the apparently-too-complicated solution of leaving the shit in the ground right now.  Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, apparently attending his first environmental conference, compared the protesters to backers of the Mexico-U.S. border wall, hypocrites fighting against their own interests.  All leave for local cops was blacked out for the duration of the invitation-only summit.

Down here, things were a bit more subdued, as they often are. Activists got together in Williams Park to march and ring “climate emergency” bells, cross-pollinate information from different groups, and listen to music and speakers.  Organisations included anti-frack specialists Food and Water Watch, Quakers, Food Not Bombs, Uhuru Solidarity Movement (who have an anti-capitalist environmental event coming up on September 20th), Organizing For Action (aka Obama For America, which must be a different Obama than the one who sabotaged the Copenhagen talks), Indivisible FL-13 and The Center for Sustainable and Just Communities, whose steady-state economics and post-incarceration programs tickled my radical fancies.  The efforts of all these people and everyone that was involved inspired me to consider certain elements of the climate crisis, which I share here in a spirit of solidarity, constructive criticism and respect.

Smart environmentalists clearly understand that being opposed to the Trump environmental agenda is far from enough.  But it’s also obvious that hiding behind the usual tactics of distraction and scandal, the administration is sneakily putting the boot in to the climate at a furious pace.  In late August the EPA laid out its so-called Affordable Clean Energy proposal (or ACE) to replace the Clean Power Plan.  While claiming to rein in emissions, ACE uses a sleight of hand: in theory it obliges coal plants to become more efficient.  But this will make the fuel slightly cheaper, leading to a grid increase in its use that will probably result in higher total emissions than would have otherwise happened (known as the rebound effect).  This is why efficiency improvements without other measures such as basic limits on emissions are inadequate or worse.

The EPA’s own analysis finds that using ACE instead of the Clean Power Plan (a plan that was, at best, a slow step in the right direction) will increase coal’s share of the electricity market by 13% by 2035 and lead to up to 1,400 additional deaths from local pollution.  Climate change deaths worldwide will also increase. The coal plants will still probably die, as the precious free market has decreed (see recent announcements at our friendly local establishment for example), but they will take a bunch more human beings with them.  The administration is also planning to announce the rollback of rules forcing oil and natural gas companies to monitor and repair methane leaks in their wells, and to “streamline” oil and gas extraction in national forests.  This sort of thing might explain why the EPA has seen over 1,600 resignations since the Trump circus moved in, bringing it down to levels of staffing not seen since the 1980s.

NEEDS MORE COWBELL

Between the stage in Williams Park and the semi-shaded area where most are gathered is a thick band of sunlight, symbolising the difficult terrain between us and a sustainable planet.  Warming things up (or trying to distract us from the warmth) is Miami’s Earthman Lanny Smith, a family friendly artist and musician spreading a message of environmentalism.  This is the second day of his Florida Climate Action/Solutions Tour, running through the midterm elections, with a Rise Up block party in Tampa coming later the same day.  Democratic Pinellas County Commission candidate Amy Kedron also uses her time on stage to make use of music, but it seems to be aimed at a different demographic. John Lennon’s Come Together (used by Kedron as a call-and-response refrain) was a campaign song for a losing candidate who got sent to jail before election day.  It’s recognisable, but where’s the new music that symbolises invigorating political thinking? The issues that revolve around the climate battle may, on certain fundamental levels, be as old as the 1960s, industrial capitalism or humanity in general, but the art and scenes that move us need to be constantly refreshed.  The new politician -- whose views on the environment do seem promising -- then got even more modern and original by quoting the famous Gandhi line about your oppressors laughing at you.

I get the temptation to lean on well known tracks in your actions and campaigns.  With the internet allowing all scenes to operate at the same volume simultaneously it’s difficult to identify styles and conscious artists that resonate with the largest number of people.  Music today is struggling to express its frustration and open new territory, just as we in the same time period have struggled to move forward in dealing with the climate crisis. The promise of a bright future that was present in so many musical movements of the past has stalled and innovation decelerated, despite technological developments that have allowed more people to record music than ever before.  At the same time the actual future looks dark. So the music is not always pretty, or easily translated into political rallying cries, even though much intelligent music is being made.  I’d suggest putting in the effort to make it work though, because without generational engagement we are doomed.  It’s not as if modern artists are unaware or unwilling to engage with these topics. St. Pete’s ukulele punks Community Couch had to reluctantly cancel a date in Richmond this weekend due to the threat of Hurricane Florence, losing an opportunity to promote their new album I Am Breaking Up With Myself: a title that could easily apply to the biosphere.

A HOT MESS

There’s a lot in St. Petersburg that serves to humble any attempted demonstration of power: cars being prioritised over pedestrians and sidewalks, an overemphasis on keeping tourists smiling, and the heat.  Oh, the heat! In these conditions your slow march becomes less physically daunting towards potential targets (the sight of our bedraggled bodies approaching wouldn’t exactly have filled the executives at Big Bend coal power station with fear), but in this case it does highlight the relevant issue and demonstrate teeth gritting determination.  Organisers made the welcome decision to cut some blocks off of what was already a relatively short route and head us back towards Williams Park. Scientists predict that by 2030 climate change protests in St. Pete will take place within a single block around city hall, activists begging on all fours for the mayor to divert some of the effort used to encourage people to fly down here and rent cars into installing total surface area citywide misting tents.

While I’m not adamantly demanding that we move to immediately abandon St. Pete and the modest advances we’ve made towards decarbonising it, I’m not entirely joking.  I think many in this movement understand that massive issues require consideration of massive questions. If you can’t gather with minimal movement in a park in September without losing your mind, your community is arguably already becoming unlivable.  Heat tolerance levels are somewhat subjective, but only to a point: as Physicians for Social Responsibility state in the pamphlet they’re giving out today, heat waves currently kill more than 1,300 people per year, damaging lungs and hearts, spreading disease-carrying insects and aggravating issues such as asthma and bronchitis.  According to Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, daytime temperatures may be up an average of eight degrees by 2100 compared to now.  Perhaps this area has always been unlivable.  In his 2010 book Losing Our Cool (review here), Stan Cox writes that there is no conceivable way Florida would be so populous today without the invention of air conditioning, and that the curtailment of energy use that is necessary to deal with climate change demands some combination of adaptations to higher temperature, including migration.

As bay area thermometers rise we will be ever more dependent on AC, creating a receding target for our purported goal of 100% renewables, making for a real goal of a 115% or 130% increase in generation, as if it isn’t hard enough.  As sea levels rise (possibly by as much as 2.5 feet by 2050 and 7 feet by 2100, according to the Tampa Bay Climate Science Advisory Panel), our offshore wind turbines and solar farms will become ever more difficult to maintain.  Meteorologists are now discussing the inevitability of a Category 6 hurricane (a level that doesn’t officially exist yet), with Tampa at major risk of storm surges of 17 feet, which would put most of it underwater.  A major economy, tourism (itself an unsustainable driver of carbon pollution due to travel and consumerism), will completely dry up as the area becomes more hostile to relaxation.

I am not arguing in general for adaptation over mitigation; until we can adapt our way out of global famine and an atmosphere like Venus, mitigation remains the superior option.  But in our goal of mitigation we have to consider whether we wish to focus our finite efforts and financial resources in an area that is incredibly vulnerable to already locked in climate change.  We cannot pretend that climate migration applies only to places where other people live. If, for six to eight months a year, you spend your free time inside a home or car with working AC because it’s too hot to go out, you may as well have already left town.  That’s not a community by any traditional standard: it’s a recipe for maximum energy use and social isolation. At the very least, we need to move away from the policy obsession with getting more people to come here, whether seasonally or permanently, because it’s likely going to happen anyway.  Without local population growth the main argument for continued economic growth and the destruction that it guarantees falls away.

The truncated march wasn’t without noteworthy moments.  Not far into the route was a sign that read “No Parking: Replacing Bike Loops” -- well that’s more like it!  Gradually replace the parking spots with bike infrastructure and the cars, with nowhere to go, will start to disappear from the roads pretty quickly.  Minutes later I have a conversation with a fellow activist who was recently hit by a car while cycling (the violence on the roads being an issue I researched a few weeks back for a fundraiser against distracted driving).  Despite the physical pain she was still marching, putting moaning about the hot weather into some perspective.  The crowd gets a better idea of its not inconsiderate size when it gathers on the steps of the Museum of Fine Art.  Photos are taken under a banner for the current “This Is Not A Selfie” exhibit.

BELLS ON, FRACK OFF

It might have been hard to hear the people onstage from across the sunlight barrier, but there is at least no difficulty in seeing Earthman Lanny Smith as we return to the park.  He’s wearing an impressively large paper lantern of the planet, designed somehow to allow him to still deliver his eco message over funky licks and harmonica beats. I’m just glad that I’m not attending another rally with another guy with another damn acoustic guitar.  Nothing against that style, but in this context it’s been done to death more than our planet’s biological limits. I will take this other age extreme of children-friendly music.

Earthman’s song Act of Love shouts out, once again, to Gandhi and his struggle against the English empire.  As with singing classic songs, it’s a reasonable move, but a safe one unlikely to invoke much fresh inspiration (at least Lanny is making original music).  Combined with the fact that the climate movement is fond of asking what future generations will think of us, it’s strange that historical figures like Gandhi are evoked more often than the current struggle against the American empire, of which the climate justice movement certainly needs to be a part.  In direct opposition to our objectives, the point of empire is to snatch and secure resources for use. This goal was openly stated by one of the least hawkish modern presidents in the Carter Doctrine.  There is no other reason to have over 800 bases in 80 countries, and troops or military personnel in 160.   The military is also one of the world’s largest climate criminals, and its technology cannot be reformed.  U.S. fighter jets that use thousands of gallons of jet fuel per hour and around a quarter of the global total will never be made eco-friendly.  

In Guam - a U.S. colony located between Japan and Indonesia - we can see both of these forces at play.  The military is currently planning to build a live firing range that could poison Guam’s main aquifer, harm local endangered species, and disturb historic indigenous sites, not to mention further provoke potential competitors for resources in this region, far away from U.S. national territory.  One speaker today does point out that the vast cost of this military spending could be deployed in the domestic low-carbon economy, reducing the desire for fossil fuel interventions, and this is a good point. But unless we challenge the notion of empire itself, the jets will still be deployed to secure the materials for our solar panels and smart homes.  Inspiration from the past is all well and good, but without making the obvious parallels to similar power structures that must be confronted in the present it rings hollow. And we want to rise up ringing!

To reiterate, I’m not trying to rain on anyone’s parade (though a little rain would have been welcome) and am sure many participants are aware of this information in general.  I am glad to have been involved and happy that it happened -- I would not have considered compiling these thoughts had the event not sparked them, and I hope that they will be issues worth considering as the movement, you know, moves forward and plans new actions.  In defense also of the organisers and participants, it is, again, hard to act or even think on a particularly deep level when your brain is being fried like an egg inside your skull.  The relaxed delivery of the music of Earthman Lanny transitions into a short meditation event to close things out here in Williams Park, extremely welcome after a physical sun beating.  Rise up and go outside while you still can.