. nerve
"To me it seems that youth is like spring, an over-praised season - delightful if it happen to be a favored one, but in practice very rarely favored and more remarkable, as a general rule, for biting east winds than genial breezes."

-Samuel Butler,
The Way of All Flesh

powered by brooder: don't bother clicking, there's nothing there
(started 04.16.02 | 03:48pm EST) IT'S A BEAUTIFUL DAY. Too beautiful, really - the warmest April 16th in recorded memory here in Toronto, and around the continent, if today's news updates are telling the truth. I stowed away my leather jacket for the first time this year, came to work in a windbreaker and I'm still overdressed. The office is overheated, thanks to the building's faulty thermostat, so with the sun casting steep shadows on the apartment balconies outside the windows, it feels like we're sitting here on an August dog day, a bit of a shock since a week ago we were watching snow falling outside those windows.

More aftermath from the Air China crash on Reuters today, including pictures of relatives going over long rows of photos of crash victims set on tables in Kimhae city hall. You have to take a close look to notice two things about the picture. One, most of the pictures are grisly morgue photos, most of them of torsos and limbs reduced to charcoal. Second, they're all neatly framed, a touching but nevertheless jarring gesture of respect for the dead, like the funeral portraits you'll find propped up in front of an urn. Fermin, the world editor, says that they'll give these framed pictures to relatives who identify the victims. It seems like a horrible sort of prize.

The pilots survived, which amazes me. Actually, looking at the wreckage, I'm amazed anyone survived. There's a part of me that finds the whole experience of living through a place crash utterly fascinating. It's the sheerest absurdity to even think it, but I can't help myself: What a wild ride.

Elsewhere, there's a photo of Saddam Hussein inspecting the model of a monument to himself set to be built in Baghdad, a massive ramp supporting a monstrous arm thrusting aloft a spear or standard, the arm swarmed with lilliputian platoons waving flags. An awful, Stalinist monstrosity; this is the man who lets his country starve under sanctions.

Contrast this with photos of Israeli soldiers, in the field and occupying Arafat's headquarters, along with Israeli civilians, observing a national moment of silence in memory of Israeli soldiers who've died since the country's founding. No monolithic monuments, no heroic leaders and faceless citizens crawling up his extremities, no little children dressed up as suicide bombers; just simple, unifying ritual by a people who know better than any other that they're all in it together. It's the reason why Israel will always be able to muster a critical mass of support.

Unless, of course, today's rumours of mass graves in Jenin turn out to be true, or just another piece of identikit Palestinian propaganda. Day by day, the war in the Mideast finds new ways to become even more tragic, more politically tainted, less morally coherent. (finished 05:13pm EST | 04.16.02)

(started 04.16.02 | 09:02pm EST) MY CAREER AS A JOURNALIST began where most of them do - at a couple of college newspapers. It began in earnest, though, at a local monthly rock paper called the Nerve. It's actually a venerable kind of institution - the model for this sort of thing would be the New York Rocker back in the Seventies, and probably the most influential was the Seattle Rocket, the house organ of grunge. All told, Nerve lasted maybe five years, dying a slow, obscure death about a year before Nirvana broke and made everything Nerve stood for suddenly relevant.

I made a lot of friends at Nerve, and met my first real girlfriend there. I can't think of anything else as pivotal to my life in my twenties. Nerve published me when I would have been just another college dropout, and gave me direction when all I would have done otherwise would have been recreational drugs and dead-end jobs. I'm grateful to Nerve, and yet I've always been a bit amazed to discover a simmering resentment whenever my mind drifts back over those days.

It's all come to a slow boil in the last few weeks, since my old Nerve friends Scott and Phil invited a bunch of us to write about the paper for Scott's website. Phil is interviewing Dave who, along with his girlfriend Nancy, who actually started Nerve , were the editors/publishers/den mothers/benevolent pushers who ran the place. Of course we're all curious to know what everyone else is writing, but we're a lot more curious to hear how Dave, who's apparently living in Scotland managing a store, will explain the shuddering demise of Nerve.

I still remember the week when Nerve went down, which is sort of amazing when you consider that this was during the delayed fall-out from the 1987 market crash, when most of the magazines I'd begun to work for, having "paid my dues" at Nerve, went under in sickening succession. There was a long period where another issue was announced, deadlines met, layouts finished, and then silence. The flats sat in a box, which Dave carried around with him as he moved from one temporary home to another in the aftermath of his meltdown breakup with Nancy. There were even a couple of benefit concerts held by local bands who probably needed Nerve more than it needed them, the proceeds of which I believe went into Dave's rigorously disciplined weed habit - the only disciplined thing about the man, as far as I can recall.

(Dave - I know you might be reading this, but I'm sure you're not terribly surprised that some of us might still feel a what happened all those years ago. The fact that we've felt compelled to revisit it all through the magic of the world wide web is the least of the hints, the most being the fact that most of us are still friends. It'll all come up when you talk to Phil, and neither of us will be surprised if I'm not the only one who still nurses a bit of rancour. Facts are facts, though, and I'd like to think that we're all allowed the chance to crash and burn at least once in our young lives, if only to get it out of the way before it really counts.)

After awhile we all gave up hoping to see another Nerve, and got on with the frayed cord of our "careers". For me, that whole period is mixed up with an equally horrorshow breakup with my first real girlfriend, and for years, I couldn't think about it without tic-inducing echoes of memories that I really wanted to bury.

Ever since Scott e-mailed me, though, I've found myself unpacking those memories, and finding that they still carried a charge, less of Helen and that terrible last year, but of an idealism that I'd been equally intent on forgetting. There's still a big test waiting when I head down to the basement and unpack the file box where I keep the old Nerves along with my high school yearbooks and other repositories of the unhappy past. I'm expecting a few pleasant surprises - a decent photo or two, a nicely-parsed sentence here and there - but I'm steeling myself for just as much mortification. If things I wrote four or five years ago make me wince, I can only imagine what a fifteen-year old review of a Meat Puppets record might hold.

So this, and anything else I might write in the next few days, is a dry run, a chance to clear my head of all the clutter that sits in that unvisited closet where I keep my memories of the decade after college. I might actually talk about the bands, but as my friend Alan likes to say, "It's not really about the music, is it?" (finished 10:07pm EST | 04.16.02)

Spring begins, and a (not so) young man's thoughts turn to...a bunch of old crap, really. Confronting the past; grazing the news; the gruesome spectacle of celebrity body image; a tragedy that probably could have been averted, and which threatens to start a tempest up here in the northern teacup.

john scalzi
james lileks
alan zweig
mike reed
lucy huntzinger
warlog: ww3
little green footballs
ken layne
uss clueless
andrew sullivan
relapsed catholic
sgt. stryker
arts & letters
steve bell
talking points memo

- Michael Azerad, Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes From the American Indie Underground, 1981-1991 buy it

One of the more eye-opening experiences of your life comes when, for whatever reason, someone writes something about some place or time that you knew or lived through. Inevitably, they manage to get it wrong in so many ways, and teach you a valuable lesson about subjectivity and the virtues of skepticism. The Azerad book isn't the only book that's come out recently, devoted to a musical scene that I lived through; there was a Canadian book - Have Not Been The Same: The CanRock Renaissance - which covered roughly the same years, set even closer to home. I knew a lot of the bands, had (or reviewed) a lot of the records, even had a photo printed in the book, but the story I read was like Dale Carnegie, where I remembered the truth as something more like Lucky Jim, as written by Raymond Carver.

The Azerad book was a bit less disappointing, if only because he managed to make me remember how exciting bands like the Minutemen, Hüsker Dü and Sonic Youth sounded, mostly by reassembling the marginal but compelling mythology those bands were forced to shoulder (Hüsker Dü: the hardcore Beatles) or carefully built for themselves (Sonic Youth, musical iconoclasts, render all other guitar music obsolete). He gets one thing right - every band from those years endeavored to suck hard and strong once they signed with major labels. It also reminded me that any music critic worth his or her salt should regard any band, no matter how much they adore their work, with stern but discerning contempt.

At Nerve, we worked from the assumption - hardly ever voiced but implied with every word we wrote - that a critic could be as interesting as a band, if not more so. If a role model was needed, we had Lester Bangs, whose work never disappointed us as inevitably as our favorite bands. Lesser places in the pantheon were filled by writers like Charles M. Young, Greil Marcus, Greg Tate, and even Robert Christgau. Musicians, on the whole, seemed woefully unprepared to really understand their context, their influences, or their manifold paths to irrelevance or absurdity.

I know that I tried to write about rock bands as if I was writing editorials about politics or culture, mostly because I so desperately wanted to write about politics or culture, despite being barely qualified to write about rock bands. Pretentious, perhaps, but I'll say one thing - the best bands from those days gave you an excuse to try; today, writing about bands is like writing about marketing, mostly because there's so little there besides marketing.

- Hüsker Dü, Zen Arcade buy it

I used to listen to Zen Arcade like I was looking for a key to making it through the next five years of my life. Today, I listen to it to understand how I managed to survive those years. It's an angry record, and I could never listen to it all the way through its four sides. I'd get stuck on a side, and play "Pink Turns to Blue", say, over and over, savoring my own sickly, morbid wish for a tragic relationship that would somehow purify me, assuming that purification was what I needed, no matter what the cost.

The song that resonated more than any other was "I Will Never Forget You", not the only song on the album about betrayal, but definitely the most direct. I would play it over and over even when I didn't feel particularly betrayed, just to hone my sense of injury, but I remember the day I played it for the last time, at least until I bought the album - or CD, rather - again last week.

It took an awful, messy year to really break up with my first serious girlfriend, a fellow Nerve writer who, to her credit, got about getting over me with a bit more purpose. The day where I was finally forced to let go saw me a bawling mess on the floor of what was once our bedroom, telling her that, for at least as long as I could imagine, I didn't want to see or talk with her again, a task made easier by the fact that she'd moved to New York, a bit harder by the fact that her sister was my roommate. She left, and I reached for Zen Arcade, record one, side two, track three.

"Spill my guts you just threw them away," Bob Mould howled, pulling each word out of a scab picked raw. "Never cared about me, only wanted to be your friend, now I know it's gotta end!" The music sounded like I felt, a hopeless spiral of noise that would only end when it exhausted itself, but the chorus could have gone on forever, as far as I was concerned. "I ... will ... never ... forget ... you!" Mould screams, and I was probably screaming too, by that point. "I ... will ... never ... FORGIVE ... you!"

I picked up the needle and placed it at the beginning of the track at least a dozen times before I wore myself out. In a day, I was merely shellshocked, in a week just depressed. It took me years to get over that break-up, and somewhere in there I sold my copy of Zen Arcade. I was sure that I wanted to fall in love again, though I had plenty of reasons to suspect that I was scarcely capable of an emotion more complex than self-pity, but I knew for sure that I never wanted to feel anything that devastating again.

(started 04.16.02 | 10:41pm EST) IT'S A GOOD THING the Mideast is in turmoil, and al Qaeda seems to have crawled tentatively out from under a rock, otherwise the rather doltish U.S. handling of the Venezuela affair might turn into a real scandal. It's a lot less sinister than your classic CIA spook operation, at least at the moment, but since several "senior members of the Bush administration" apparently met with coup plotters in the last few months, it can be played in any sinister light by anyone whose business involves retailing nefarious American conspiracies.

In a more concrete sense, the U.S. did serious damage to itself by not joining with the other signatories of the charter of the Organization of American States in condemning a blatant breach of constitutional and democratic process. With 19 OAS delegates meeting in Costa Rica while the coup occurred, the timing could not have been better to make a stand on principle. In the future, it'll be a lot easier to accuse the "world's preeminent democracy" of double standards and worse, thanks to their more than merely "informal, subtle" support of the apparently unpopular coup.

Chavez might not be welcome in Georgetown or at G8 conferences, but he was elected - twice - and had enough support from both the army and the people to basically waltz back into office and, besides, aren't these "banana republic" revolutions the kind of thing we've always wanted to see disappear south of the Panama canal? (finished 11:00pm EST | 04.16.02)

(started 04.17.02 | 07:57pm EST) THERE'S A PHOTO ON REUTERS TODAY of Johnny Depp and his girlfriend (wife?) Vanessa Paradis, a file shot run to illustrate the news that they've recently had a baby boy. Happy news, yes, but then I click on the shot to open it up, and I'm shocked by Paradis. She's a death's head, a hipless ectomorph in a beaded dress, with a face that would be staring at you from behind barbed wire if it wasn't made up like a china doll and walking up a red carpet. The photo is three and a half years old, so I hope that the poor girl had a chance to fill out a bit, maybe give the baby a chance at entering the world through a more generous portal.

I was under the impression that the glamour starvathon was over in Hollywood, even though Paradis is a French star, the father of her child a tinseltown exile in Europe. Surely the vogue for the lank-limbed pipe-cleaner figures was waning, I thought, at least until Oscar night, when I caught a glimpse of poor Jennifer Connolly and her shoulder blades, which put me in mind of an overused whetstone. After seeing the first pictures of Gwyneth Paltrow - which made me bolt from my desk in horror, something that no war atrocity has ever done; honestly, she looked like a boiled chicken caught in a drift net - I actually believe that they gave Halle Berry her award just for having the audacity to grow some healthy curves.

There's a Club Monaco bus ad making its way back and forth across town, a montage of two models flinging themselves about with abandon in front of the usual stark white seamless. The young woman chosen for the campaign isn't merely thin - she's skeletal. (I've just trawled the web looking for the image but it's nowhere to be found.) Arm like twigs and a body that could be a bit of kapok clinging to a twig frame; the clothes just hang off her, and the exertion of leaping to and fro with modish joy threatens to snap those fleshless limbs. I can't see what man could find sex appeal in that kind of body, what woman a model to emulate, except in a quest for self-mortification. (finished 08:57pm EST | 04.17.02)

(started 04.18.02 | 09:33pm EST) FOUR CANADIAN SOLDIERS were killed yesterday while on a training exercise in Afghanistan. An American Air National Guard pilot flying overhead was apparently unaware that there was an exercise going on, apparently thought he was under fire, and fired a 500 lb. laser-guided bomb at our troops. Flags have been flying half mast all day, and local and national news updating on the hour, even when there really hasn't been much to update.

There's been a lot of use of words like (the gruesome) "friendly fire" and "the fog of war", but I'm really not sure if they fit. First of all, there's supposedly no combat happening just at the moment in the area where the incident happened, outside Kandahar. A live-fire training area would have been on any map, and if the pilots were set to patrol the area they should have been briefed on the exercise. The pilot apparently claims he was being fired upon, but even in a live-fire training exercise, there's no way troops would fire on a plane when whatever enemy might be nearby has no air force.

Lastly, what's an Air National Guard pilot doing in a war zone, where there should be plenty of full-time professional forces available? ANG pilots aren't trained nearly as well as full-time personnel - let's not forget that George Bush sat out Vietnam as a Texas ANG pilot - but even then, it just doesn't add up, except as a dismal picture of poor training, communication, and tactics. A week ago, when full-scale operations were on, or a few months ago, when the whole country was basically a war zone, it might have made sense, but this just seems like an awful - and avoidable - cock-up.

Right now the mood up here is somber, and no one is really pointing any fingers - yet. There will be an inquiry, of course, from both Canadian and U.S. sides, and with luck they'll expedite it as quickly and transparently as possible. I've talked about Canadian self-righteousness before, and in the context of our relationship with our southern neighbour, the tone can take on a persistent whine. It's nothing, though, compared to when there's a national consensus that we're in the right.

Bush made five public appearances today, and only once did he say anything about our soldiers, when caught in a press scrum. It would be so simple, really, so diffuse the situation, to keep us happy for a little while at least; just say something, apologize, express your condolences, the usual pro forma words about "sacrifice" and "valued allies". You'd be amazed how little we need. There's a deep strain of anti-Americanism running at the heart of what passes for culture here, and it's always waiting for an excuse to raise its voice. Like any small country, we're quick to grievance, and when there might actually be justification for it, well, look out.

Look out. Right. Tremble in the face of righteous Canadian rage. I can only imagine the crepe-paper tiger conjured up by these words. Ultimately, Canada will be more hurt by a badly-handled inquiry than the U.S., but that doesn't mean we won't raise a stink. A good thing too, because we should.

"Friendly fire" is an insult to troops who've agreed to risk their lives for a good reason, and fuck-ups, while human, still aren't a good reason, especially when so much modern military p.r. is spent crowing about "precision" and the pace of innovation in military technology. Never mind whatever crisis in "credibility" this kicks up - it rains piss on morale, and when Canadian troops join in an operation like Afghanistan, after their government has pleaded for a role, after they've had their noses rubbed in the relatively poor quality of their equipment next the U.S. troops, or the inappropriateness of wearing forest camo in a desert country, they should at least be able to feel that they can drill for the next battle without having to worry when they look up. (finished 10:23pm EST | 04.18.02)

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