The Past, The Present, The Future

Photos by Jem Cohen

I am listening to Fugazi right now. That album, The Argument. When this record came out, I hated it. It’s been so long since I’ve listened to it that I am not sure what my opinion about it is. I just remember that I saw a lot of unforeseen parallels for songs that had been in the works two years prior and the state of the world after September 11th. That I kind of liked. The guitar sound was amazing, but not catching my ass on fire and the album felt soft. Not just quiet and tuned down, but like Fugazi had lost it’s spark. People don’t like to talk to me about this, but I believe that was the case. The Argument, to me, sounds like an album made by four people who were drifting apart musically.

Fugazi is, unfortunately I think, a dinosaur. They are untouchable because they did so many great things and changed a lot of people’s lives. This includes my own. But I always found them more complicated even in the 90’s then most people. For one, they had a built in legacy. People wanted to see them before they had proven themselves. And while they would prove themselves very quickly, they were able to succeed and operate on their financial and ethical platforms because of who they were, not what they were, which was a great band. Because they were held in such high regard criticism was and is dismissed. I love most of the songs on Steady Diet of Nothing but it feels like a step back in fidelity from Repeater.  Red Medicine is my favorite album of theirs, despite two throw away instrumentals and Guy’s exploration of the clarinet. That wind instrument experimentation had no place in the Fugazi lexicon, sounds awkward and is a chore to listen to. Which I don’t do anymore. In On The Kill Taker is one of the best engineered records, with some of the best song writing and music making of any band in the history of music. It’s better than anything by Jay Z, The Beatles, The Red Hot Chili Peppers or even Sonic Youth. I played that tape damn near daily and it remains otherworldly in my heart. It’s a difficult album to listen to even today because it goes beyond what music even is today.

But Fugazi was never and still is not my favorite band from Washington DC or my youth. Granted hours of listening to them has effected the way I play guitar, but not as much as Marc Nelson from the Most Secret Method or Mark Robinson from Unrest. (Side note, I just skipped the song “Epic Problem”. That song is an epic problem, awful). The mythos, the live experiences and even the conversations I’ve gotten to have with some of the members of Fugazi (three, two with Ian and one with Joe where I shouted praise at him after seeing Crucial Defect in an apartment. I was drunk.) have a large influence on my life still, to this day. But The Most Secret Method, Frodus, The Dismemberment Plan. Those were my bands. Granted no Fugazi, none of these bands most likely. But they are the shows I remember most, the music that made the most sense to me from people I identified with. Over educated white kids from the working class suburbs who figured out they would never be cool but didn’t care.

I was in and had graduated college during my personal tenure with Fugazi. By the time this epic tome

Photo stolen from some website

of ranting hits the ethernet of your mind, college classes will have started once again in America (or at least at University of New Mexico). I will be attending class again, for the first time in a decade. And, despite knowing full well that I am capable of expressing my self and ideas with words, I also know I lack some basic skills that make one successful in college. My grammar, punctuation usage and spelling suck. Also, I love the run on sentence and can’t self edit for shit. These are road blocks I know about myself and have to overcome to be successful in school. And that terrifies the shit out of me.

I am, mostly, a lazy person. I spend a lot of time, aloof in my head. I love media and culture and can’t consume enough of it in a 24 hour day. Unfortunately, coupled with the above personal shortcomings, I am also totally scatter brained. I can’t even remember what I am thinking half the time I am thinking it. I am easily led on tangents that lead down rabbit holes of information that are so off topic and point that it gets frustrating. It’s hard living in a brain like this. I think I’m fairly intelligent, but I feel like it’s so fucked up in my head, it comes off as insane nonsense. My head vomits ideas constantly. Little one liners of non-importance. And that bugs the shit out of me.

One more self deprecating statement is also running around in my head now. I can’t be objective in my writing. I find objectivity in communication for the most part pretty stupid. Yes, I want facts: this many people died, on this date, because this device was utilized by this person. But I can’t write objectively. Maybe it’s because I was an only child and my world, in my head, revolves around me. I spit out from this messy mind in hopes to get a reaction in an effort to re-evaluate. I don’t like to be held accountable for what I say and write, because it’s all just thesis. I don’t want to defend any of it because I’d rather reevaluate new evidence then stand on the evidence that I have.

Stolen from some website

The bottom line is I feel like a fucking Sony Walkmen in the age of the iPod touch with soundcloud enabled applications and 10 billion songs available that float through the air in real-time. I’ve been a twitchy, grumpy, sarcastic, testy little shit over the last few days as this new prospect looms over me. More than ever I want to succeed. I want to work hard and stay focused and prove myself. This is all new to me, but I have no god damn idea how because I’ve existed on cruise control most of my life. Or at least I have felt that way my whole life, despite numerous testimonial from my peers, my mentors and my friends. I love you people, but I just think you have the wrong idea about me. I’m a hot fucking mess. You probably know that, but I just want you to know, that I know that (I skipped most of The Argument by the way. Yea, this album bores the SHIT out of me).

So I sit here, just a few days away from facing my biggest fear, which happens to be myself. I say myself because I am afraid, that once again, I am gonna go in, run my mouth, be argumentative (like the Fugazi song) and stubborn and fumble through more half-assed ideas while I flail upwards into some kind of academic mediocrity. I’m not convinced that wanting to succeed is enough as I read The Importance of Being Ernst by the unpoetic Oscar Wilde, because I am just irritable at how boring of a play this was and how it serves no purpose. Or  how, at least so far The Secret Agent seems to be more about corporate, violent fanaticism than actual, ideological anarchism and how even though I think ideologies are stupid am highly offended by the book. NO ONE CARES about that shit. My professor is not going to care about the contrast between this book and V for Vendetta which led me to read about Thatcherism and Britain’s current prime minister (who are both lunatics) and the hacktivist collective Anonymous. Because even though I want to connect all these ideas together, my brain is bubbling over with Jesus Lizard riffs are awesome and I really want to watch Skins and how I want to reboot The Wire but in Albuquerque and I have to write a puppet show and there is the zine fest and never mind I don’t have a job and I want to work on silk screening more often (Mike Dwyer I will screen that shirt I swear) and play music with Nolan, and book some bands in ABQ, and restart The April Decca, go to Deming and south-west Virginia is really nice this time of year, and how I would like to go wine tasting and I hope my car and my cats don’t die over the next three years because I don’t have time/money/emotions for that shit and I wonder what it’s like to kiss a girl and when I might figure out how to do that again, and man, I have to perform at the Zine reading, oh yea and there’s that independent short animation I thought I would produce, gotta get to the DMV, man And We Washed Our Weapons In The Sea was a really great album, I bet pg99 is gonna be awesome, I can’t wait for November when Geary gets here, I wonder if I’ll have a job by then, should I vote ever again cuz Susanna Martinez fucking sucks and I actually care about what happens in New Mexico because it’s such a mess, do people in their mid 30’s even successfully date, how do you navigate that shit, man I wish I could watch more In Plain Sight or catch up on Breaking Bad Season 2 because I have Season 3 on DVD now and I wonder what albums are coming out and man I don’t want to pay the bills, etc etc etc….

There aren’t voices in my head, just one, me. But it’s like a thousand me’s never shutting the fuck up long enough to pay attention to anything longer than like 3 seconds. I’m like a fucking goldfish. Only not lucky to swim around all day for like 14 days and then just die. There are piles of unread books, half listened to albums I wanted to review and projects not seen to completion but plenty of other shit. And my hair cut is stupid right now and I need a shave. Does anyone else have this problem?

So while the present tense is absolutely mortifying the future remains unwritten in almost all aspects. Some of this is good, it means there is an adventure to go on, a new path to explore. But there is no feeling of safety in any of this shit. It’s like walking a tight rope blind, only you have no idea you’re actually walking on a tightrope and yr too scared to take the blindfold off to see if there is a safety net below. Add the aforementioned internal moron yelling about stupid shit in your brain and it’s no realy wonder how someone can end up 34, unemployed, living in fucking Albuquerque, New Mexico by choice with goddamn penguins tattooed on his forearm. I made it this far only through the grace of others, because I think left alone to my own devices my head would finally just deflate and I would drift off into space and burn up without an atmosphere to keep my molecules contained.

So this is where it was, where it is and I guess where it’s going. Just a mess called Erik Gamlem. A sign post left for future non-employers to find and not hire me. A little bit of madness for future associates to find and mock me for my idiocy. Laid out in public, splayed out on the ground for all to consume, point and laugh at as I pick my dumb, drunk, unkept self off the pavement, climb up the stairs of another edifice and then jump, once more to my self destruction, knowingly, willingly. Fuck it, it’s only life.