December 31, 2005


I Need A Drink

Happy new year, you loads!!!

December 23, 2005


Santa 1, Jesus 0

In the December 17, 1993 issue of the Chicago Reader, a guy named Patrick Griffin wrote an essay explaining the religious and cultural differences between "Christmas" and "Xmas" and how, deep down, the latter means more to everyone, even christians (who, of course, will never admit to it).

Over the years, I would occasionally include a photocopy of the article in a Christmas (Xmas?) card. I finally hand-typed a shortened version of it, but I still can't figure out how to create a link of the text file from my hard drive to Blogger. Christ. So, here in its (edited) entirety is:

The True Meaning of Xmas

A few minutes before the end of "A Charlie Brown Christmas", the barely animated classic that's broadcast around this time every year to (1) decry the commercialization of Christmas, or (2) sell Dolly Madison snack cakes, Linus announces, "I know what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown" and takes the stage to tell the rest of us. "Lights please," he says. Then: "And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field....." The passage is a pretty familiar one out of the Gospel of Saint Luke--"the angel of the Lord" bringing "tidings of great joy"--but there's something especially moving about this calm, wobbly, Linus-y reading. If you've seen it as many times as I have, you can probably do the voice in your head:

"For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

"And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill towards men."

When Linus finished--"That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown"--the show is over, thematically. Linus has obviously gotten Christmas "right"--his is the only suggestion that isn't vigorously undercut, either by its own crassness or by the various wilting, gagging, or "AUUUGGHH!"ing responses of the everyman Charlie Brown. There's still some plot business to wrap up, a carol to be sung in the falling snow, maybe one last Dolly Madison commercial. But the message has been delivered, the meaning of Christmas explained: it's all about Christ. Cue the promo for "Frosty the Snowman."

But hold it. Back up. What exactly did that meaning mean? In context of course it was a gentle scolding, of a kind we're accustomed to hearing at this time of year. All our lives we've been told there's something wrong with Christmas as we commonly celebrate it, that we're "missing the whole point," defiling the authentic religious Christmas with our glitzy secular trimmings. The rebuke has been delivered so many times that it's becoming part of the ritual. Every year Christmas is conceded to belong to God, and every year it's filched, exploited, and returned after a time, slightly crumpled, by shamefaced ordinary people. Quiet "reminders" like Linus's are designed to make us feel once again the small, almost pleasurable spasm of helpless guilt that's very, very close to the heart of religious sentiment. We know we're abusing Christmas, but--we can't help it. We're only human. Father, forgive us. We'll never, ever, ever--well, actually, we will do it again. Same time next year. But we'll feel just as horrible about it, really.

I don't know of any other holiday in which the officially sanctioned meaning and the popular celebration diverge so much. Some holidays are felt to mean exactly what they're supposed to mean. On the Fourth of July we get good and drunk and loud about our independence. On Thanksgiving even those of us who don't know who or what to thank manage to feel a sort of intransitive thankfulness. Other holidays have only their official, public meanings--they're acknowledged by everyone to be privately meaningless. On Memorial Day we barbecue. On Washington's Birthday we have sales.

But Christmas isn't like that. The fact that the season and some of its symbols are exploited for gain doesn't reduce Christmas to a retail tie-in. It's hard to imagine it being switched to a Monday for the sake of a three-day weekend. For many if not most people, Christmas still means more than any other day of the year. But does it have to mean what it's supposed to mean or else nothing at all? Is it a choice between the meaning that believing Christians like Linus insist upon and meaninglessness?

I don't think so. I think Christmas has become something better--or anyway more deeply coherent, more universal, more important--than a celebration of the nativity of Christ. And the strange thing is, I think everyone knows it.

The guardians of orthodoxy have been worrying aloud for some time that Christmas is getting away from them. That's the real point of "A Charlie Brown Christmas" and a thousand other sermonettes. That Christmas is changing. That its 'true" meaning, if not quite forgotten, is now so grossly and cheesily papered over with alien "commercial" themes that nobody thinks of it anymore, at least not without being prompted. That people have been so thoroughly distracted and inflamed by false values that they're actually beginning to celebrate a false holiday.

Call it Xmas.

Once undoubtedly a respectable abbreviation--the X representing the Greek capital letter khi, initial of Khristos (Christ, the Anointed)--Xmas may have acquired its bad odor from a faint association with secularism (X could also stand, if you like, for a blank or unknown quantity, even a negation) or with commercial expediency (X fits better on signs). In any case, Xmas is now one of those words with the sneer already in it. It's the name for everything that's cheap, superficial, and kitschy about Christmas--one finger electronic organ tunes, video Yule logs, Slim Whitman in a stocking cap--the sinister "materialistic" Christmas everybody's always denouncing. Xmas is at best a secular corruption, at worst a black mass. It's doubtful that anything good has ever been said about it by anyone.

And yet Xmas has a maddening, weedlike vigor. Religious sentiments must be laboriously cultivated at year's end, but Xmas springs up out of every unintended cranny, spreads everywhere, overruns everything. Including the sacred. It can't be stamped out. Tell us to shun "commercialization," and we will nod like sheep. But tell us, even from the pulpit, to turn away from Santa Claus and we will be scandalized. Tell us to stop making ourselves cozy, spoiling our children, getting misty over old movies, and you will lose every one of us. Xmas may be unsanctioned, it may be false--it may be demonically false--but it remains dear to our silly hearts.

Dearer--more meaningful--than the "authentic" Christmas it's gradually replacing.

Christmas is about what we have long aspired to be; Xmas is about what we are. In trading the one for the other, you could say we traded down. But I have no regrets. I've kept Christmas in many a drafty church, with the aspirations soaring to the highest cross vaults, but I can never remember a time when I wasn't relieved to get home. Home for Xmas. Isn't there a cheesy song.....?

Let me get my music.

And after that we'll do "Sleigh Ride."

bettie sez merry xmas baby

Merry fucking xmas to all!!!

December 20, 2005


I'll Be Punk For Xmas

I know everyone has their hand out around now asking for donations, but I recently received an e-mail from the staff of Punk Planet magazine (an excellent periodical I subscribe to that is always chock fucking full of discussions about current events, informative interviews with relevant musicians, artists and activists and exhaustive new music reviews) that worried me enough to open my wallet. Here it is in full from them:

"A week ago we received a letter from the president of the Independent Press Association, the not-for-profit organization that owns the company that distributes the majority of Punk Planet's copies, Indy Press Newsstand Services, formerly BigTop Newsstand Services. The letter acknowledged the truth of a rumor that had been running through independent publishing circles for months now: the only remaining independent national distributor was having cash flow problems. Payments to publishers for magazines already distributed had been and would continue to be effected for an unknown amount of time.

In case you don't operate a magazine, the money coming in from newsstand sales is vital to publishers' bottom line. For a magazine like Punk Planet, where our ad rates remain very low to cater to independent businesses, those distributor payments are even more critical. Although bookstores and newsstands may not work directly with Indy Press Newsstand Services—few do—Indy Press contracts with the other national distributors to place independent titles on their shelves. Indy Press is the last distributor in the country that specializes in distributing independent press magazines.

A decade ago, there were close to a half dozen such independent distributors; the loss of each has also brought about the loss of a few magazines. Because Indy Press is owned by the IPA, an organization whose mission is to "amplify" the voice of the independent press, no one expects that they will go out of business; but the independent press also remains unclear about when all distributor accounts will be brought to date.

What does this mean for the future of Punk Planet? The truth is we don't yet know. The payment issues affecting us, however, are not singular--there are others in the same predicament that need your support as well. A few of the other magazines currently distributed by Indy Press Newsstand Services include: The American Prospect; Bitch: Feminist Response To Pop Culture; Bomb; Clamor; ColorLines; Curve; Extra!; Giant Robot; Heeb; Herbivore; In These Times; International Socialist Review; Kitchen Sink; Maximum Rocknroll; Mother Jones; The Progressive; Razorcake; Rethinking Schools; Tikkun; Venus; and YES!: the Magazine of Positive Futures. Please consider visiting their sites and supporting them with subscriptions, advertisements, and other purchases.

To best support Punk Planet right now, we are asking supporters to visit our merch table and purchase subscriptions, books, shirts, magazines, or anything else we offer. Even the smallest amount helps immensely."

I would suggest picking up a copy of the excellent book "We Owe You Nothing--Punk Planet: The Collected Interviews". Once again, from them:

we owe you nothing

"The first compilation of the riveting and provocative interviews of Punk Planet magazine, founded in 1994 and charging unbowed into the new millenium. Never lapsing into hapless nostalgia, these conversations with figures as diverse as Jello Biafra, Kathleen Hanna, Black Flag, Sleater-Kinney, and many more provide a unique perspective into American punk rock and all that it has inspired (and confounded). Not limited to conversations with musicians, the book includes vital interviews with political organizers, punk entrepreneurs, designers, filmmakers, writers, illustrators, and artists of many different media. Punk Planet has consistently explored the crossover of punk with activism, and reflects the currents of the underground while simultaneously challenging the bleak centerism of today's popular American culture. We Owe You Nothing includes interviews with: Black Flag, Kathleen Hanna, Noam Chomsky, Winston Smith, Sleater-Kinney, Thurston Moore, Frank Kozik, Ian MacKaye, Matt Wobensmith, Ruckus Society, Porcell, Jody Bleyle, Mordam Records, Los Crudos, Jello Biafra, Negativland, Chumbawamba, Central Ohio Abortion Access Fund, Art Chantry, Steve Albini, Ted Leo, Jem Cohen, Voices in the Wilderness, Duncan Barlow, and Jon Strange."

You locals and ex-locals might also want to order back issue # 50:

issue #50

"PP50: OUR KIND OF TOWN. Punk Planet marks its 50th issue with an issue that celebrates the magazine’s home: Chicago. Featuring a diverse group of interviews and articles, PP50 showcases the many people, places, and things that make this city unique. To kick things off is the beautiful JON LANGFORD PAINTING of Chicago’s Mayor Daley on the magazine’s cover. Inside, Langford and bandmate Sally Timms wax philosophical about 25 YEARS OF THE MEKONS and what moving to Chicago has meant for the band. Also interviewed in this issue: post-rock poster darlings TORTOISE talk about why the critics got it all wrong; BLOODSHOT RECORDS explain the link between country and punk; the woman behind VENUS ZINE talks about creating her amazing publication; LOS CRUDOS’ MARTIN SORRONDEGUY talks about why he’s left Chicago; HOUSING ORGANIZER JAMES MUMM talks about fighting gentrification; GREEN PARTY CANDIDATE (AND PUNK) JASON FARBMAN talks about taking on Chicago machine politics; the two wonderful people behind HOMOCORE CHICAGO talk about the good old days; the braintrust behind the "dance show for kids of all ages" CHIC-A-GO-GO talk about making one of the best shows on cable access; death row inmate AARON PATTERSON talks about the brutal Chicago cop that beat him into confessing to a murder he didn’t commit; indie hip-hoppers THE MOLEMEN drop some knowledge; and garage rockers THE DISHES make some noise. PLUS MANY MORE INTERVIEWS WITH FOLKS FROM CHICAGO. In addition, there’s all the columns, reviews, DIYs, letters and everything else readers have come to expect from Punk Planet for 50 issues."

Baby jesus sez, "fuck the Salvation Army, help out Punk Planet this holiday season."

December 05, 2005


O Come Let Us Abhor Him

It's that time of year when the jesus-or-else nut cases and other conservatives start getting all huffy about the supposed "secular progressive" movement and their "very secret plan" to get "Merry Christmas" erased from public view. (If you can stomach a short transcript of Bill O'Reilly recently crying about it, click here).

Our local pal, House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) is the guy that will flip the switch to light the Capitol Holiday Tree on Dec. 8. Last week he whined that it should be called the Capitol Christmas Tree: "I strongly urge that we return to this tradition and join the White House, countless other public institutions and millions of American families in celebrating the holiday season with a Christmas tree."

Wait a minute.

"Join the White House"?

Nuh uh!

The other day, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State gleefully pointed out that the White House holiday card, sent out by the Republican National Committe and signed by George and Laura, has no trace of the words "Merry", "Christmas" or "jesus". It has no image of a tree, a star or a goddamned manger--just a drawing of the White House on the cover with an inside that reads, "With best wishes for a holiday season of hope and happiness 2005." Now, it also has a bible quote; however, it is from the Old Testament where, as we all know, no jesus in a manger is to be found. Executive director Rev. Barry Lynn notes that christ-mas complainers such as O'Reilly and Jerry Falwell have been strangely silent about it: "Falwell calls his Christmas crusade 'Friend or Foe'.....he believes you either agree with him or you’re an enemy. When is he going to take on his latest foes the president and Mrs. Bush?"

Getting back to Hastert and the Capitol tree, the Sun-Times reports that, "His office said the tree began to be referred to as the Holiday Tree in the 1990s. Spokesman Ron Bonjean said the reasons were unclear." Unclear? that sounds a bit vauge and uncharacteristically benign. Could it be that the name was changed in the part of the 1990s when Bush the Smarter was still in office? I have to think so, because if it had been changed during the Clinton years, you can be sure as shit that all of them would be bringing it up over and over again each year.

Once again, all this shit is just another opportunity for the religious right to falsely portray themselves as a persecuted minority--and they're using one of their main holy days as a tool. Fuck, what would baby jesus think?

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