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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.

Reader, if I cast New York City in a bad light, I apologize. Perhaps under different circumstances, I might have left with a better opinion of the place. 

In addition to thinking shysters ran the place—which is true—I felt necessitous for good food, fresh air, and above all else, good sleep.

My gracious hosts owned a dachshund. I kept my trap shut, but I felt like calling the little bitch a bunch of names.

I know, I know: I am merely displacing my anger on an innocent animal, who had nothing to do with the meddling balderdash responsible for its breeding. Perhaps I should direct my ire onto those who would breed such a dog—a breed that evolution would have thrown on the proverbial scrap pile. Why would you breed a dog just to course badgers? Indeed, badgers are a noble and docile species, unless incited, and only desired for their pelts or their ability to amuse man’s baser appetites.

(Though I am told they are eaten in Russia and China—which is all well and good—but I’d much rather eat ground dachshund than filet of badger.)

Now, I don’t have a problem with a dog that barks. It is a desirable quality to a point. However, any time someone entered the apartment complex where I stayed, the dog caused a considerable rumpus. It was very difficult to sleep, despite the roar of the fan that was there to drown out the rest of the city’s babel.

Moreover, the dog was incapable of pissing or shitting on its training paper. Perhaps that is an exaggeration. But the reality was worse: the dog could hit the mark sometimes, which gave me a hope for its training that would soon be dashed by a steaming log beneath my cot or a puddle of piss by my overnight bag.

Perhaps I misjudge the beast, though. In spite of my latent hostility, I did befriend her and I even gave her a nickname, “baby sauce,” much to the pleasure of her owner.

Her owner told me (and this is a bad paraphrasing, mind you) that her dachshund was first attracted to her boyfriend’s dominating nature, but recently, the animal was taking refuge in their mutual womanhood. I chuckled at her good-natured, albeit slightly barbed, anthropomorphism. After all, I am always delighted to meet a woman with some intellectual teeth.

That said, I know her boyfriend a little better than she does. For instance, I remember another diminutive dog—a shitzu, to be exact—that caused his heart to melt despite his machoism.

As did mine, at times, at that alarm clock of a dachshund.

If you receive a parking ticket in New York City, my advice to you, reader, is either to pay it or never to return with that car. If you should return with that car, I suggest you get used to the idea of coughing up $300 $417 and wasting a couple days of your visit retrieving it after it has been towed.

My debacle started two Februaries ago, during my first visit to NYC, when I received a ticket for obstructing a street sweeper.

I didn’t pay it.

I thought, what’re you gonna do about it, Department of Traffic? I have scruples, and you all are a bunch of assholes.

The letters the DoT sent me were all shock and awe, but I never received a call from a collection agency, and my credit score didn’t suffer. But there was still an outstanding warrant on my car. 

When I returned this year, I received an identical ticket. Only this time, they ticketed me for obstructing a street sweeper on the other side of the same road. It was also written up during a torrential rain shower. (They do send a cop by regardless of whether the street sweeper comes.) I had hoped that the NYPD’s left hand wouldn’t know what its right was doing. But as soon as the ticket ran through their system, they towed my car.

Instead of recounting the whole banal story of the retrieval of my car, here is a map.

One part of the saga is worth mentioning, however. At Manhattan’s Tow Central, where I paid the $185 wrecker fee, I encountered a man on the brink. He was clearly a New Yorker and he was livid. Rightly so. I was too.

I shouldn’t even fucking be here, he shouted. He paced around, hammering on the plexiglass cashier windows. I wanna see the fuckin manager! and so on.

Finally, when it was my turn to turn in my paperwork, he announced to all present that he was going to hold up the line until the manager saw him. Ain’t nobody gon’ get served, he asserted. 

I turned to the man behind me, who looked like Beat Takeshi. He looked on stoically as the livid man beat on the windows. Then I looked at the room full of people trying to pick up their towed cars. Nobody was going to do anything, so

I tapped on the livid man’s shoulder and said, move it along.

Do you think we’re happy?

Do you think you’re the only one getting fucked? 

He didn’t acknowledge me, but he did move out of line. He kept yelling, though. I turned to Beat Takeshi and said something like, “honey is sweeter than gall.”

His lips curved upward slightly into what might have been a smile, but he said nothing, and no, we don’t all smile in the same language.

I thought I had recited some mystic Japanese proverb. As it turns out, it was a self-evident conflation of a Hebrew proverb and Shakespeare.

I took my own words to heart and smiled at the woman behind the window. Why take it out on her, I thought—Just because I’m having a shitty day, doesn’t mean she has to have one too. So I said good afternoon in my friendliest, southernest accent. She smiled back at me and waived the $20 overnight storage fee (oh boy, oh boy, free parking!). 

But enough about all that….

Most of my trip was pretty good, though. Here are some shout-outs and recommendations:

I drank a lot of beer and ate a lot of sausages at Lederhosen Biergarten

I drank a little more at Vol de Nuit.

I went to the Terra Blues Bar twice, and the music was hot.

I ate magnificent fries (I recommend the parmesan peppercorn sauce) at Pommes Frites

I met a badass bartender at The Thirsty Scholar

I wrangled with an octopus at Seoul Garden

And I scarfed a Big Az burger and drained a 25 oz Fosters (the cheapest meal I ate there, incidentally) in the time it took me to ride the ferry from Manhattan to Staten Island. 

But there’s more griping to be done….

The people I met in NYC were friendly enough, but my blood is a little too hot to live there. Emerging from the subway, there is nothing so stupefying as seeing still more people and more high rises. Nothing, that is, except for the costs: A pack of smokes is ten bucks, parking costs anywhere from a dollar/hour to $8.75/half-hour (plus tax), and it costs $8 to $20—depending on which direction you enter—just to drive into the goddamn place.  And if you want to go to the bathroom, you have to buy something. (Although reader, I recommend public urination if you have such conveniences.)

For the whole trip I kept wondering what would possess so many people to live on top of each other. And with so few public restrooms. I still don’t know why, but I have noticed a collective romanticizing over New York City. Not from the people living there, necessarily, but from all the star-eyed college girls I knew who hated small towns and places supposedly devoid of culture. Of course, slap a few pictures of James Joyce and an Andy Wharhol up in a small town pub, and you’ve got your average bar in Manhattan: The Dead Author’s Pub or the I’m Famous for What Again? Tavern.  

But you cannot go anywhere there and not see people. I kept walking around Central Park last Sunday trying to find my own little sanctuary. There was none. People swarmed everywhere as ants around puke. And in my opinion, people are only good up to a point. After that, I want some peace.

I do like a few things about the place. For one, most people just want to be left the fuck alone. The anonymity of the place, the sheer improbability of running into the same folks twice, has its own comforts. And that’s admirable, I suppose, if not inevitable.

And because I don’t know how else to conclude this little bitch session, here’s Edward Abbey:

At what distance should good neighbors build their houses? Let it be determined by the community’s mode of travel: If by foot, four miles; if by horseback, eight miles; if by motorcar, twenty-four miles; if by airplane, ninety-six miles.”

 

If I could use only one word to describe my past girlfriends, here are those words, counting backwards in time from the most recent to the first ones, which flicker as dim lanterns in the Stygian mists of my mind.

Pleasant

Histrionic

Smartass

Artsy

Tall

Weepy

Soft

Barsexual

Punk

Air

I was reading this Tim Dorsey book, and I remembered a while back when a friend corrected my usage, “all of the/a sudden.”

“That’s not a real construction,” he said with finality.

Even though I don’t remember the ensuing conversation, there is still one taking place in my head to this day. So I’ve looked into it.

A cursory search of Wikipedia produced nothing but the fifth studio album by singer-songwriter, John Hiatt. Most of my other queries turned up snooty corrections, such as

I hate when people say all of THEE sudden. It’s all of AY sudden!

I suppose if you pronounce the E long as in pee and the A long as in acorn, perhaps the distinction should be enforced. But nobody talks like that. Most people say either “all of uh sudden” or “all of thuh sudden.” 

Aside from quibbles over articles, “sudden” used to be a noun three or four hundred years ago, but this usage is archaic today. The OED even calls it obsolete. And why not use “suddenly”? If you really must, that is. Reader, I don’t want to give anyone the idea that you should  accentuate your stories with “suddenly” every couple pages. 

But since we can’t keep ourselves from saying, publishing or broadcasting it, let it be named! To wit: The Genitive of the Sudden

(yes, the bold is intended to make it look legitimate)

Last night there was an explosion of moths. They covered the roads last night and it looked like like white scales growing out of the asphalt. As I was driving, I noticed them. All resting and mating in the light of the street lamps. 

In the distance, I could see the flashing lights of a spray truck, releasing poisonous bacteria into the air. A mass genocide (mothocide?) ensued.