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In honor of the Superbowl, I’m going to talk about commercials. A particular series from the Discover It Card has been appearing on the boob tube for over a year now, with the slogan, “We treat you like you’d treat you.” I’m sure many of you readers have seen them. I’ve probably seen them about ten thousand times watching hockey games.

They advertise late-payment forgiveness and credit monitoring services, claiming the Golden Rule¹ for their trademarked slogan. Seems mighty magnanimous, doesn’t it? But Beelzebub is in the background….

These services are probably not all that helpful, contrary to some opinions.  For late-payment forgiveness, they grant you a one-time fee cancelation. Then it costs $35 for every other late payment. They also won’t hike up your interest rate for this one-time slip-up. Every time after that, they’re just like any other credit card, apparently, only more so. So you’re still pretty likely to go into debt and repay the principal amount several times over in interest alone.

With the FICO credit score service, you have the added comfort of a once-a-month gander at you credit score. These services, too, require a good credit score to begin with—676 / 800. So if you suffered from a foreclosure in the recent economic malaise, or if you couldn’t find a job that paid enough for you to keep up with your student loans, you are S.O.L.

Discover claims this service is meant to help you “avoid surprises” with your credit score. If we made accounting a compulsory class for every high school student—you know, teach them math that is useful and applicable to daily life, unlike algebra—then few would really be surprised when their credit score took a nose-dive. Maybe they wouldn’t have the trouble to begin with, because they’d be educated enough to see through the deception.

And it seems to me that all of this is meant to lull people into a false sense of financial security. They say, “Hey, we’re just like you! You can trust us.” And how do we know they’re just like us? Well, the person in the call center always looks like the caller.

But beyond that, you have to look in the background to see how they’ve transmogrified the second person pronoun, “you,” into the third person, “it.” The people offering you their immaterial labor also have a whole lot of stuff that’s just like yours: Coffee cups, polished rocks, sports preferences, sartorial proclivities, little yellow toy bulldozers (Seriously?—how old are they—five?), and so on.

The underlying message: You are what you buy.

(Obey. Consume. Reproduce. Repeat.)

So here I’d like to counter with a quote from Oscar Wilde, from his essay, “The Soul of Man under Socialism” (1895), in which he makes a key inference from the same source as the Golden Rule:

The true perfection of man lies not in what man has, but in what man is.

Well said, Oscar, as always.

So let me be clear: Credit card companies are not your friends.

In other commercial news, this just in… Did Bob Dylan really just sell out for Chrysler? Bob, I thought you were only ever going to sell out for lingerie!

1. The Silver Rule comes from Confucius, who sez, “Don’t impose upon anybody what you wouldn’t impose upon yourself.” The negative of Jesus’ Golden Rule, perhaps the credit card companies could, you know, actually follow that advice instead of paying no heed to it.

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This album came to me via “free trade,” which is a more apt usage of the term than its common one; that is, I didn’t pay for it—and in lieu of any money spent on my part, I suppose I got this on the condition that I review it.

A regular review, though, will not do.

Had this record come to me in a commercial context, I’d prattle on about the band’s dramatic history and try to impress with esoteric comparisons. Then I’d judge the album’s worth, and you’d know whether you were supposed to like it, right?—but just because some reviewer in nut-hugging jeans (dis)likes a record really shouldn’t matter so much, should it? After all, it’s just one person’s view. Record reviews shouldn’t be another form of sound suppression under the guise of art. That’s why record reviews come out the day of or before a record is in consumer hands.

This review, therefore, should fall within the intellectual bounds of the Commons, requiring a different treatment—one that doesn’t commoditize a cultural creation. I aim to place it in a broader context of the current struggle for human rights throughout the world, and to give a close listen to a sound that denies the auto-tuner, the focus group, and the youth group—the capitalist molds. Upon reflection, the band’s lyrics anticipate the Occupy Movement and the Arab Spring, while simultaneously sending “smoke signals” toward a present, awash in the chaos that gave rise to these protests. Belonging to neither state nor market—but to the commons, itself—this music bucks the age-old collusion between the former two, which seems to be the common burr under the 99%’s saddles. With Common goals in mind, then, this review will proceed with a final question on whether this album is Rhizomatic, as Deleuze and Guatarri have coined the term.

Michael Hardt “On the Right to the Common”

In addition to the song, “Smoke Signals,” their funkiest song to date, this so-called review will focus primarily on three songs—to wit:

  1. Sound Depression
  2. Test the Champ – The Hardest Game
  3. Street vs. State – Global Tribal – reconstruction

Before I get going, here’s a brief comment on the music:

If I were reviewing this album in one sentence, I’d say, “Listening to The Rebel Soul Sound System is like listening to a roots-reggae parade going by, with each song, riff, or sample mingling with last’s sonic space.” One sentence can never do justice to a Dingees album, because of the many genres and sub-genres represented: The usual reggae, dub, ska, punk, and hardcore are present, but new influences of Afro-pop, jazz, funk, and dubstep also join this parade, making this the most daring and expansive Dingees album to date. Pegleg attempts more variety vocally than before, and while he sounds less precise, he also sounds more human, vulnerable, and real. Thankfully, another blogger, Will Hodge, has put together a thorough review of the music, and I encourage you to read it. To compensate for this lack of the musical analysis, music links to influences appear between paragraphs. Additional videos will buttress your understanding of the ideas supporting this album. Enjoy these brief interludes at your leisure; hopefully, they will help you pick up what I’m laying down.

The Specials “A Message for You, Rudy”

 “Sound Depression” begins the album with a crisp reggae groove beneath an ethereal chant, heavy in reverb and heralding the chaos as if from an urban street: “Sound suppression rules our air today. / Sound oppression rules our airwaves.” It dared me to review this album differently, encapsulating the band’s struggles dealing with a Christian music market that co-opts its own into feigning joy when they ought to mourn the state of things. So the Dingees entreat us, “Tell me: Who is going to govern the state of disarray?” The phrase “state of disarray” has a double meaning: For one, a scene of chaos, but “state” here also refers to a kind of disarray brought about by states, especially toward those that have little in the way of a functioning government. In the U.S., we see a vast, complicated state, swayed by bailed-out bankers and warmongers leading us into battle against abstractions (e.g. terror). The state itself still demands uniformity, but that force in its senility cannot prevent disorder—in fact, it tends to breed it.

David Graeber on Occupy Movement / Police Repression

There where the structures of society ostensibly seek to add order, the clampdown displaces it. It has been pointed that, when states commit violence, it is the norm—the ambient noise of our existence; but when citizens revolt against that violence, it “breaks out,” implying a violent restraint is necessary to contain it. The Dingees are no strangers to this paradox as exemplified in “Chaos Control” (Armageddon Massive 1998).

A taste of this displaced chaos comes during “The Hardest Game” (part two on track two), when band member, Jeff Holmes, reminds us that,

We forget, kids die—

And in a heart of darkness, everybody’s still crying.

We move on, we move on, we move on.

Carry on, carry on, carry on.

Well the planes can’t land, but the bullet are still flying.

Mother, you can open your arms wide, but your baby’s still dying.

It’s the hardest game.

So carry on from Kinshasa to a refugee land,

And go to Rwanda, where you make your final stay.

Carry on, carry on, carry on.

“Rwanda” by Rancid (Self-titled, 2000).

If you’re living under a rock, you may not know that Kinshasa is the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is the most dangerous place to be a woman, a child, or a pygmy. We can access this information. We shouldn’t need the Dingees to sing about it, although it doesn’t hurt. In the lyrics above, Holmes implies a willful forgetting: We don’t forget so much as we ignore these human rights catastrophes, or pretend we can spend our way out of them. We’re too wrapped up in our own first-world problems to deal with the depression that would stem from facing third-world problems. But the Dingees want to take you there, word-playing again: The repetitious “carry on” sounds indistinguishable from “carrion,” which takes the listener to the plight of the refugee, ever in danger of starvation, disease, and death—a vicious sentence that vultures punctuate. And taking us there is the principal problem. It’s all well and good to know about injustice from the web in an abstract way; it’s another to confront it in a sensory way. As cultural critic, Slavoj Zizek, has darkly joked, “It’s one thing to hear about your wife screwing around on you; it’s quite another to walk in on her in the middle of the act.” Likewise, the Dingees are trying to get us to “walk in” on these crimes with all their powers of expression. They succeed.

Slavoj Žižek – Occupy Wall Street and Modern Anti-Capitalism

If Joseph Conrad implicates the “heart of darkness” as the Congo, itself, driving the civilization out of a civilized man (and I’m not sure he does), then the Dingees definitely turn this around. The capital-imperial West drives the civilization out of these places. In the DRC, mining companies find it easier to pay off a few thugs than to give everybody a living wage—which would be incredibly small there. The Dingees get labeled as “anti-establishment,” but this implies they would be against any structure of governance—and I don’t think that’s categorically true. Small scale tribal governance is still an establishment. They’re seeking a new kind of government where the people aren’t misrepresented to the ruling class. After all, in Kinshasa, there is a government, but only nominally. Most would characterize the nation as anarchic, but it is technically a democratic republic just like the U.S.A. There are 24-trillion dollars worth of minerals beneath the D.R.C., but the country can’t seem to rise up on the heap of these resources. Western politicos often style this the “resource curse,” as if the U.S. were stable because of the utter dearth of our resources. Which is of course ridiculous: We have plenty of resources and wealth in our people. But so does the D.R.C. What keeps the U.S. on top is its military, which seems to have a gland problem these days. Nothing has changed from the old days of empire, just the names of things. The stream of tribute issuing from the Congo, either in the form of interest to the World Bank or as the cheap minerals for laptops and smart phones, flows as freely as the blood of their people.

Fela Kuti “Coffin for Head of State”

As a debtor nation, the so-called “anarchist” Congo is beholden to Western free trade agreements (AGOA)—agreements that pretend the U.S. ascended to industrial hegemony via free trade and global cooperation, when it really did so through tariffs and imperialism. A more apt name for the economic structure of the D.R.C., however, is capitalist without the pesky socialist burdens, like Medicare or Social Security. For the majority of citizens in the Congo, their only recourse is to seek the humanitarian shelter of refugee camps, which are often just as dangerous as their homeland. And those very refugee camps add to the debt burden their host countries already bear. The feedback cycle of this problem is not the stuff of Top-40 songs, but the Dingees will proclaim it, at least. We need to dignify these proclamations.

Lee Scratch Perry “Fisherman Dub”

Taking their message to the streets then, the medley, “Street vs. State – Global Tribal – reconstruction,” cuts to the central nerve of this album. The “Street vs. State” section is a dub containing a number of sound clips from protests, while the bassist gets to have a little fun on his fret board. Then the street samples cut, and a motherly voice shouts with urgency, “Don’t listen to what they’re saying. Watch what they do!” Well said, whoever you are.¹ Her admonition introduces the horn riffs of “Global Tribal,” a profound plea for global unity. Pegleg addresses future observers, who will view us as barbarians in a dark age. And rightly so, because all the religious and political problems that seem so important now will become insignificant compared with the crises to come. Pegleg asks, “To the future, is there anybody out there?” reminding us that there may, in fact, not be anyone in the future at all, never mind enlightened historians, chuckling at our stupidity. “While we could be global of one tribe / When we could be one people globally,” we instead erect barriers, establish clubs, and claim that the guest list at heaven’s party contains a string of blandly consistent names. These clubs—those from the Judeo-Christo-Muslim matrix, but also a host of variegated peoples who don’t like each other—do not capture the fullness of the love that Christ himself proclaimed—a love that has “no east nor west, no Jew nor Gentile, no slave nor free.”

Michael Hardt on The Politics of Love and Evil

Such love has been the study of the thinkers linked in this article. They refer to it as “political” love or agape (ah-gah-PAY), a Greek word meaning “unconditional love,” which the apostle Paul used extensively in his epistles to illustrate how Christ’s love ought to break down barriers between people. This sort of love occupies the Dingees more than, say, erotic love. In “reconstruction,” Pegleg references the breaking down of a famous wall, entreating us to,

Roll with me, baby

We’re gonna dance to the Junglist

The furious deejay, drum and bass music

Run now, my people.

We’re gonna watch all walls dem fall,

When we hit that frequency

They played that day down in Jericho.

It was a breakbeat, a breakbeat

a reconstruction.

Marcia Aitken (feat. Trinity) “I’m Still in Love”

According to the Bible, the march around Jericho did literally break down its city walls. Now, if you paid attention in Sunday school, you may know that it also kicked off one of the earliest recorded and God-ordained genocides in human history—barrier creation pushed to its logical conclusion. Pegleg, though, re-appropriates the image. That destroying “frequency” might activate us to break down barriers, but the purpose has turned from exclusivity to inclusivity, from violence to peace—a reconstruction of the very notion of destruction. On the Dingees previous album, Pegleg sings, “We don’t want destruction, but we know it comes before creation” (“World’s Last Night” The Crucial Conspiracy). The thought here is very much the same: We have to destroy these structures that keep us arbitrarily separated. Nuclear fallout does not respect borders. Neither does climate change. So why should we? And yet we are stuck in that place Gramsci wrote about, where “The old is dying and the new cannot be born.” But we could break out of this interregnum. We could be “one people globally.” We have the technology and the capacity within ourselves to do so. Soon we will have to be one—or else go extinct, vanishing into the vast universe like smoke in the sky.

Manu Chao “Bongo Bong”

The Dingees remain hopeful, though, and so should you. The song, “Smoke Signals,” is a prayer of petition to God. The music itself communicates as much as the words, so I encourage you to simply listen to it—but the last words of the song are directed toward the Big Man (and she is black): “Be with us always, even until the end of the age, / for these are troubled times.” But just before that, he states what ought to be obvious, “Give me room and I’ll fire up the sun / There’s enough warmth there for everyone to catch a reflection.” Simple wisdom like this should at once humble us and give us great hope. As far as conflicted emotions go, that’s not a bad place to be. Indeed, the Dingees espouse a kind of Christianity that honors singularities—or differences that refuse to stop being different, if you will. That’s comforting too. It may not get them another Christian record deal (or any other, for that matter), but it puts them on the right side of the struggle.

Toots and the Maytals “Reggae Got Soul”

In conclusion, I should point out the prophetic nature of this whole album. Pegleg says that he wrote most of the material right after The Crucial Conspiracy, which was right about the time the U.S. was ramping up its war on terror. Indeed, protest movements had been hard at work at the time, but recent revelations have shown that people like the Dingees aren’t just a bunch of dope-smoking, unrealistic hippies. They predicted these problems but in a way that was as much a narrative of the times then as of now. They understand a great deal more about these disastrous systems than the vulture capitalists of our day, who think the world will keep turning regardless of what we do to it. To illustrate this, you can image-search maps that are supposedly going to be used in the future for oil freighters once the polar ice caps have melted. I suppose in a literal sense, the VCs are quite right: The world will keep turning, but our presence or absence on its surface hardly amounts to a pretext for it to stop.

As mentioned earlier, I wanted to submit the question to you readers as to whether The Rebel Soul Sound System is Rhizomatic. If you’re acquainted with the concept, perhaps you can help me with it. I think it is, but I’m not a specialist in this area of thought (although my landscaping experience has left me well acquainted with the botanical rhizome—myrtle, pachysandra, et al.) The whole album has no privileged entry point, there’s not really a clear delineation of where one song stops and another begins, and it re-appropriates images and influences throughout. There’s a great deal more to talk about than just rhizomes, too, so do host comments on whatever you see fit. This is a new kind of a review—one that is never complete, yet does justice to the intellectual foundations of a cultural creation. That, it seems to me, is what a good review ought to do. 

1. I’ve since been told that this motherly voice belongs to Dr. Helen Caldicott, an anti-nuke hero.

It’s been ten years since this album’s quiet release. I picked it out of a bargain bin at a Christian bookstore for six dollars. I was sixteen, yet within the first five seconds, I could tell this album was a nightmare to market for Tooth and Nail Records, whose bread was (is…?) mostly buttered by the youth of evangelical America. In those first five seconds, I heard a can of spray paint shaken and sprayed—aural evidence of vandalism.

Suffice it to say, it was the last album the Dingees (g pronounced like a j) released on Tooth & Nail—although they had two previous on BEC, another branch of the same company—and judging from the lyrics, things didn’t end well. And, while I don’t have any insider information, I can reasonably guess at generalities to say that the Dingees, a ska-punk band, were dropped for—heaven forfend!—behaving like punks.

The genre “ska-punk” is a generality at best. They dabbled in a bit of everything, from straight-up reggae, to dub, to hardcore, to rock ‘n roll, in addition to ska and punk. Indeed, HM Magazine wrote that they were but “a fading memory” of third wave ska. But let’s not argue over semantics. Let’s get down to brass tacks about why they were dropped. The Dingees were dropped for at least one, but perhaps up to all four, of the following reasons:

  1. Anti-record company / not profitable
  2. Not Christian enough
  3. Paranoid about the government
  4. Ska was on the way out, anyway

From track one, this band tries to walk the line between speaking their minds and cloaking their intent in possibly Christian, yet possibly subversive, positions (at least, to neo-con America) both spiritual and political. If only the reviewers could understand the lyrics—lyrics which, according to Dan Bell, didn’t come with the promo CD. Which is a bummer, because the lyrics are one of this album’s strengths. My copy has something else that the promo CD didn’t have: a hidden track. Bell declared that there were no hidden tracks, but there most definitely is one, not at the very end of the album—as is customary—rather, in the middle. More on that in a moment. Without the lyrics, Bell was at a severe disadvantage and couldn’t give this album the shrift it deserved.

This absence wasn’t an accident. The album cover looks like Soviet propaganda, and that wasn’t an accident either. The title reads “Work! for the Crucial Conspiracy,” and at first glance, one might imagine that the band had a free-market-friendly stance on politics. The marketers tried to sneaky-Pete this album into conservative homes, hoping the conservative father would nod his head in approval and never think about the album again, his dividends being more pressing.

But ’tis a ruse. This album has a liberal, pro-proletariat stance all the way. Let’s just examine a few tracks and their lyrics.

“Moving Underground” plainly announces their subterranean plans, and could possibly tell their story with T&N, although that is speculation about clandestine events. It could have been some other label. Nevertheless, the Dingees washed onto California beaches in 1998 in a swell of ska-punk bands, only to be washed back out to sea in a riptide of corporate paroxysms as mentioned. Most ska bands are now working like every other schmuck. And so with the Dingees. In 2001, the Dingees went underground and most people forgot about them, but they’ve been together ever since. The song “Moving Underground” may tell their story.

They came on up and take their place in my face
There talkin big and they got so much to say
They say ‘I’m really digging on that sound that you play.
Whattya say lets take it to another level today?
How’d ya like to be on the radio, Magazine, and movie and the TV show?
I’m a go getter got to get up and go. Meet me uptown this time tomorrow.’

So then we wonder should we do this thing.
We go on down to hear them promising
We’ll be living like the kings on all the money we’ll bring
Your every whim that you want, catered to every need
‘We could move ya out of the underground.
There’s just one thing it’s about your sound.
Even though we love it, it’s a little run down.
Let’s meet ya in the middle, let’s move ya uptown.’

So that tore it, they explain:

And that’s the last we never saw of them.
Domino keeps falling like a chain reaction.
You cannot beat em. If you think of joining,
Come back the back door is open.
We will be here in the underground, etc.

And that is the last we never saw of the Dingees until last year’s ambitious Rebel Soul Sound System.

On “Moving Underground,” there is a hidden track, as I indicated. It is a hardcore track, and I believe it is a middle finger raised to this record company, whoever it is.

CONSPIRACY AGAINST THE YOUTH

You try to shake me to the ground Jah strike fire and burn!
You think I haven’t been around?
Jah strike fire and burn!
Don’t let the deal be.
Jah will bury you!

It’s a big conspiracy. They hate youth and they hate me!

Dems fightin’ words, and I love it (and I’m a pacifist!). The balls, man.

But from another point of view, imagine the A&R guy who has gotta drop these guys. How does he market this stuff? He knows reggae and dub ain’t too many signifiers away from signifyin’ ganj’ to his market. What’s more, the Dingees weren’t too horn heavy, and they weren’t saturating their guitar tone with the requisite amount of distortion—and that’s what he’s paying them to do. In the end, he’s gotta be like, alright, fuck it, ska’s dead anyway. Let’s cut our losses and sell it for six bucks. I’m surprised T&N actually released it, frankly. Contracts, I guess…

Another red flag for this album comes during “Latchkey Kids,” when Pegleg sings, “I’m full of fire, never better never been higher.” Not necessarily a drug reference, but again, think of who this is marketed to and what it must sound like to mom who went to that reggae-fest in her twenties. They also call God Jah, and they didn’t have the same mission that  their Christian ska contemporaries had, such as the Ws, whose doctrinal stance in “The Devil is Bad” is palpable to the average two-year-old. Or consider the O.C. Supertones mission: “The Supertones’ main message is Christ and Him crucified. We want to help people understand certain doctrinal truths.” The Supertones, for the record, also wanted to “get dumb like Beavis.”

The Dingees seem less concerned about doctrinal truths than actual truths about the world and the people running it. They also sing for and about real people, living and suffering both at home and abroad. In “Dear Sister, Dear Brother,” the singer encourages us that “For every hardship, there’s a reason, but you’re not seein’ so you’re not believin’,” the line referencing Jesus’ words to doubting Thomas. “World’s Last Night” is my favorite track, being both apocalyptic and hopeful at once, as they sing, “We don’t want the end. We want the beginning. We don’t want destruction, but we know it comes before a new creation.” The Dingees weren’t obviously Christian, but the message remains. Nevertheless, the Christian music market wants obvious songs that repeat the name Jesus to leave no doubts about the singer’s ecumenical leanings.

The Dingees seem to take a stance against witchcraft and voodoo from a seemingly Christian standpoint. But it may be more complicated than that. In my teens, I remember liking “We Rot the Voodoo” for its eerie dub and spooky Theremin, but I thought it was about actual voodoo. As I creep closer to thirty, however, I’m inclined to think it really pertains to trickle-down economics, ever-maligned by liberals as “Voodoo economics.” It’s not particularly evident from the lyrics, which could also concern real voodoo—and there again, voodoo is not even a hop, let alone a skip or a jump, from Rastafarianism, another kiss of death for Christian music marketing. But since the track comes right after a song called “Ronnie Raygun,” it’s reasonable to assume that Reaganomics is what they’re really rotting. (I don’t know if they really even believe in voodoo. They are Christian, after all, and not Rastas, only one member being of the African American persuasion.) If one understands “rotting the Voodoo” as opposing the principals of trickle-down economics, it takes on a quasi-liberation theological bent, basing their ideals for organizing society as the earliest Christians, who shared everything, and considered the rich rich, not “job creators.” Jumping from Reagan’s economics to foreign policy, “Ronnie Raygun” deals directly with clandestine CIA ops conducted under his presidency, subjects ranging from Star Wars missile defense to extraordinary rendition (doublespeak for outsourced torture) and mind control.

They don’t call me this for nothing.
Clueless to the fact I know something.
Clueless are the masses.
They’re better off staying paranoid.
They don’t know how true this really is
Pull my string, but no, I’m not talking
The polygraph I guarantee won’t be on the record

Ronnie raygun Nowhere to hide, nowhere to run

My brain is frozen numb from debriefing
Ignore the transmissions I was receiving
Does SDI have lasers beaming saucers in the sky?
Black budget unmarked helicopters
Chase me home and drop me off there
They call me in the middle of the night and
Tell me to return

Clearance majestic
Erase my existence
Alleged intimidation
Hypnosis mind control

SDI stands for Strategic Defense Initiative, the strategic initiator being Reagan. This all must have sounded like a bunch of nonsense to parents, since the song has hardcore vocals. But the message is quite clear in print—that is, if military boilerplate can be considered clear. Moreover, the conspiracy-obsessed skankers also are “outta mind with modern age,” as they declare in the first track, “Spraypaint (We Won’t Carry Over).” They shout,

We won’t carry over. We are the new. We move it on.
I’m outta mind with modern age, ultraviolent syndrome
Beware mad scientists are stealing chromosomes.
Experimental aircraft chemtrails across the sky.
Rain disease down on suburbia, burning lungs stinging eyes
Microcellular breakdown ’cause the cancer couldn’t wait
Early morning at the clinic methadone helps shake the shakes
For another ninety days, mother daughter alanon
Electroshock on blacktop, blown away oblivion.
US Army and the Navy, hovercraft on beachhead.
Anti-tank gun missile, meshing blood and bone and lead.
Past and present combined stress, psychadelic Vietnam.
Paratrooper won’t elaborate about the burning bombs of napalm.
Rust and blood and telecaster helicopter spotlight
Seven-forty-seven shot straight out the sky
National security global emergency
Civilizations unraveled seams
Bionic build titanium broken bones and x-rays
Couple cans of neon spraypaint, half a dozen razorblades
Propaganda posters clinchin’ tight around my brain
No synapse can make connection. No idea can cause change.

The aforementioned reviewer claimed the album would lift people spiritually, and I believe certain tracks do, but this is about as pessimistic—not to mention antagonistic—a view on US foreign policy as any of Fat Mike’s or Mick Jones’. The Dingees released this before, but in the year of, 9-11, and the ensuing ten years have shown this album incredibly relevant. Rather than being informed strictly by the X-Files, which the band openly declares an affinity for, Pegleg’s rants seem informed by academics, such as Dr. Chalmers Johnson, a former Cold-warrior and CIA consultant, turned in his old age a soothsayer of US imperial collapse.

They were relevant then, as now. Americans may be kept in the dark, as “Ronnie Raygun” would have it, but the light burns brightly for those in countries the U.S. occupies—and so for the Dingees. I wonder how this album would have fared had it been released after Wikileaks’ revelations.

The band announced their most recent release would be free online. This decision, I believe, was more influenced by Christian musician Keith Green than to Radiohead, for Pegleg had read No Compromise: The Life Story of Keith Green. Keith Green advocated giving away music—especially music based on the Gospel—for free. He also had a rather literal view of Jesus’ commandment to sell all of one’s possessions and give the proceeds to the poor, a radical verse that rarely gets underlined in evangelical Bibles.”Dear Sister, Dear Brother” reminds us that

Man, fellowman is not your enemy
The world strikes out on us universally
And do no gasp at death of celebrity
Ours is not a life of futility
Do not stand ahead of each other
Dear sister, dear brother

and “World’s Last Night” directly quotes the Bible, paraphrasing Romans 8:38,

Neither death nor life nor angels, no height of heaven, no depth of hell, and no created thing, now or soon to come, can steal away [the love of God]

This album departed crucially (get it?) from their first couple albums. To look at it, it seems like a concept album, the album artwork featuring the band standing in conspiracy theorist darkroom, UFO pictures on bulletin boards, etc. The idea, from the record company, I think, was that we weren’t supposed to take all that conspiracy theory stuff seriously. But the band really did, and it shows. I dunno if they believe in aliens, either. They make no reference to them in their songs.

Critics marked the Dingees out for fans of Operation Ivy, Rancid, the Clash, Stiff Little Fingers–and all those bands white guys like, but there is plenty of Jamaican evidence all over this album. They could very well have drawn comparisons to Lee “Scratch” Perry or Desmond Dekker as much as any of those punk bands. More on their sound in part 2, a review of The Rebel Soul Sound System.

I have a tradition (or something of that ilk) of buying my father a new hockey stick every Christmas. For the past two years, I have splurged on one-piece, composite sticks, each running me well over $100. Nevertheless, my father broke each within the year. One on a shot, and one on a face-off. So it comes as no surprise that my Christmas dray has no hockey stick on it for Dad.

Before I continue, allow me to mention a few biographical details: The curtain was already closing on my competitive career when these composite sticks became popular. During that career, I used both wood and aluminum sticks with wooden blades. I did try a composite once. But like sex with condoms, I never liked the feel much, and my overall satisfaction was diminished. Moreover, the stick was so light that there was no way in pluperfect hell I was going to hurt anyone with it: Which, since I was a paltry 5’6″ (and so I remain), hurting my six-foot foes was an integral part of my game. So I threw that new-fangled composite over my shoulder and kept my wood sticks. 

Back to shopping… Yesterday, I went to a hockey store for my yearly purchase. There were only 15 wooden sticks there (I counted), and about 500 composites. Now, my father did like the composites I bought him, despite their short lifespan. Consequently, I figured he’d want another one. I found one with the kind of curve and lie that my father likes. Plus, it was a Henrik Zetterberg model, and my father is his biggest fan. (Of course, whether Zetterberg actually uses this model remains lost in the fog of corporate travesty.) Unfortunately, the price on this model was a whopping $220. 

Most of the sticks I used to buy always had “Fabrique au Canada (Made in Canada)” painted onto the stick. However, as I scrutinized the Zetterberg stick, I saw “Made in China” printed on the sticker (Notice that it was on the sticker, which you discard, as opposed to the stick itself.). Furthermore, many of the other composites had “Made in Mexico” on their tags. Suddenly, I was filled with a deep rage, which has yet to subside. 

Although neither culture has done much else to embrace the sport, I don’t mean to disparage the good Mexicans and Chinese who made these overpriced twigs. My anger has nothing to do with where the things are made. So don’t even start with the jingoism rap.

“So what’s with the unchecked aggression, here?” you ask. It is because, whenever I bought a stick with “Fabrique au Canada” on it, I assumed some Canadian was making a decent wage because of it. I would spend $20 on a piece of lumber and fiberglass but never lose any sleep over buying it.

Not so anymore. Anymore, I get the sense I’m paying a buttload of money to an increasingly consolidated group of CEOs and investors. Get a load of this:

Around twelve years ago, the shoe giant, Nike, bought out the hockey pad company, Bauer, and dispensed with the hockey brand, Cooper (Nike has recently sold Bauer for about half what they paid for it. For more, go here.) I remember my adolescent teammates and I drooled over Nike equipment for a few months, until sweat and mould replaced the sexiness of our new pads. In our needy little minds, though, it had to be Nike. 

In 2004, another shoe giant, Reebok, purchased hockey brands CCM (Canadian Cycle and Motor), Jofa, and Koho. Since they have taken over, it seems these companies can’t go a year without overhauling their skate, pad and stick designs. Granted, there have been some new technologies, but certainly not enough to justify such efforts. More likely, all that redesigning is simply a ploy to sell more products. 

So what justifies such high prices? One might argue that the cost of the graphite and Kevlar for these one-piece sticks drives up the cost of making them. I suppose it is true that graphite and Kevlar are more costly than ash and fiberglass. However, some graphite sticks go for as low as $60. Moreover, I am reminded that pencils use graphite, not lead. And pencils are some of the cheapest items around.

Or perhaps it is the Kevlar that makes these sticks expensive. I have no clue how much it costs to make Kevlar. When my hockey stick will have to block bullets, I can only guess, but Kevlar regularly fails to keep the stick together when it comes to shooting a puck.   

Maybe the initial investment in the new machinery and stick factories keeps the prices ridiculous. (I’m trying to be fair here, aren’t I?) But after ten years of production, I find it hard to believe that these corporations are still paying for these machines. The reality is is that the head honchos of Nike, Reebok, and Easton are laughing all the way to their Swiss banks. 

So before I haul off and fly to a stick factory in Mexico just to pay someone $30 to run a stick off the line for me, so he can take home double what he makes in a week, here’s the point, kids: Hockey is already an expensive sport to play, what with the cost of ice time and liability concerns (read: a bunch of other crap that you won’t understand until you’re older). Just know that the price to play is by far the biggest barrier for kids around the world, and the increasing price of equipment can only hurt the game. And then remember that all the money and technology in the world will never make you as good as Sidney Crosby or Henrik Zetterberg. 

 

And now for something completely different….

The stick that gave me the wickedest wrist shot of my life

Sher-Wood PMP Paul Coffey pattern (and thank God they still make it! And in Canada, too.)—I used it for three years until it fell apart. I remember I liked it when the wood came unglued from the fiberglass. The blade had more give then, and I could control the puck better.

The stick that gave me the hardest slap shot of my life:

Easton T-Flex 95 Aluminum with a wooden Steve Yzerman blade—When I was fourteen-years-old, I clocked an 81 mph slap shot with that stick. An honorary “most vicious slash” award also goes to this stick. I always got my two minutes worth with the T-Flex, may it rest in peace.