Column for MRR 277 May
An Irregular Column
by Mykel Board
[Note: I don't know why the formatting in the blog is so fucked up. It looks okay in the HTML program. Suggestions would be appreciated.]
You always have to watch out when people start talking about purity,
ethnic or otherwise. It usually means someone is going to get hurt. –Elena
The MRR editrix suggested we write about DIY, the invasion of big
corporations into punk, the difficulty of remaining true to the vision, and of
keeping punk pure. Interesting topic, though not unusual in these pages of
There are a few issues here.
1. Does punk mean DIY, small label, independent?
2. Is DIY, small label, independent inherently better than big
corporation? If so, better for whom? For the individual/band/writer/zine? For
the world? For rebellious teenagers living off their parents’ allowance?
3. Is punk a style or a way of life?
The answers depend on your point of view. If A, then B. If you don’t
believe A. Then B is not true.
So let’s look at the questions above. The first is easy. GG Allin was the
punkest human being in history. Or at least in the 20th century.
Would he be any less punk if Eat My Fuck were released on Warner
Brothers? Of course not. If GG Allin continued doing what he was doing. Shitting
where he was shitting. Getting arrested the way he got arrested. Living a life
of just not caring, of having no fear, of being able to piss on the president of
his record label, GG would be just as punk. No matter who put out his records.
If GG were inhibited in some way, if he didn’t do something because he
feared being dropped by the label, or lack of promotion, then he’d be less
punk. It’s not the label that makes the punk. It’s the balls.
Question two is more difficult. I usually prefer independents over corporate
giants. I never go to Starbucks or McDonalds. I don’t buy Nike. A Sony-induced
worm does not infect my hard drive. But I make compromises.
Sometimes I feel forced into the corporate world. I use a Windows
computer because I grew up with it. All my bootlegged software is in
Windows—or MS-DOS. Is Apple better? The system sure is. But is the company? I
don’t know. I only know it’s smaller.
Sometimes, on a personal level, big corporate stuff is just better. I rent
from Hertz because when I call they don’t put me on hold. I can change my
reservations at the last minute. The guys at the rental garage know me, and will
hold my favorite car even if I’m late picking it up. They give me a free
rental for every 6 paid ones. I can get a satellite system that somewhat
makes up for my lack of directional sense. And they never complain when I bring
the car back with a flat tire, or the back seat carpet missing.
Sometimes, a product is good, but the corporation is total shit. Pfizer and
Coca -Cola are horrible companies. Pfizer’s pricing and tight patent control
kills people. Coca -Cola has overthrown leaders to get its product into
countries and cheap raw material out. But Pfizer makes Viagra, for G-d’s sake.
And Coca-Cola makes, well, Coca-Cola.
So waddaya do? You can’t be pure. Even vegans wear polyester (made from
animals—dinosaurs) and cotton (containing the helpless bodies of millions of
ground-up bol weevils). We’ve all got to draw lines—or die.
The question is not how to remain pure, but how to draw our lines.
Question three has as many answers as there are people who call themselves
[Aside: Like in the mid-eighties, when everyone was suddenly New Wave,
these days, there’s a taboo in calling yourself punk. A good taboo if you ask
me. Punk is balls. You’ve got to have balls to break taboos.]
For me, punk is an attitude. It can be music, literature, a drunk on the
street sleeping in his own vomit, a whore on the corner whispering Hey
Mister, you wanna go out?
It is not style. A $300 designer "torn look" dress is not punk. A
$3 thrift shop plaid business suit is. But other than the obvious, there’s no purity.
No arbiter. No this is, or isn’t punk. There’s no manual that lists the
criteria for true punk or not.
It’s as dangerous as hell to keep punk— or anything else, except maybe
air and water— pure. Who’s gonna be your punk cops, policing against
contamination from lesser cultures? It used to be MRR—but Tim’s dead now.
What the Supreme Court said about pornography, I say about punk. I may not
be able to define it. But I sure as fuck know it when I see it. That’s
Part Two (continued from last month)
In the US, 40% of those surveyed say they were shy. In Japan it was 57%.
The lowest percentage was in Israel with 31%. We speculate the reason was that
in Japan, an individual’s performance success is credited externally to
parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches, and others, while failure is entirely
blamed on the person.
In Israel, the situation is entirely reversed. Failure is externally
attributed to parents, teachers, coaches, friends, anti-Semitism, while all
performance success is credited to the individual enterprise. Israelis are free
to take risks, since there is nothing to lose by trying and everything to gain.
--Thomas H. Benton
Summary of last month’s adventure:
I’m in Fort Lauderdale on a two-pronged mission: (1)promote my books (2)go
to my pal Ms. S’s wedding. The first two nights I stay with Tom Clearman, a
Catholic Mensa Wobblie. He tells tales of things I’ve never heard of. He also
introduces me to strange people, who though brilliant, have few of what the rest
of society would call social skills.
For the wedding, I wear a tie for the first time in 10 years. With my
overcoat, tie and fedora, I think I look like a Mafia hit man. Entering the
wedding site, Uncle Charlie asks if I’m the rabbi. Instant ego deflation.
Before the ceremony, Ms. S introduces me to Fletch and Greasy. Neither of
them are wearing ties. Both, in fact, are wearing hooded sweatshirts. Ms. S
tells me they’re skaters, friends of her famous skater husband to be. They
speak in a language I don’t understand. Transcribed, this is what Fletch says:
Hey, remember that time we were on the halfpipe in back of PK’s? You
were killing it, doing narly hand plants, landing all the way on the bottom of
the tranny. So this guy wants to show he’s a hotshot. He comes to the top of
the pipe and wants to do an Ali to grind revert. He goes flying completely off
the end. Just slams onto the flat bottom. Pow! Right on his head. Cudda killed
himself. We pissed ourselves laughing so hard. He didn’t die though. Still, it
Though I don’t understand it, I figure the word Ali has something to
do with Islam—or maybe boxing.
Greasy sticks out his hand. "Yo, Mykel Board," he says, "I
didn’t expect to see any other famous people here. It’s great meeting you. I
used to read your column when I was a kid. You still writing for Maximum? Does
it still exist?
"Yes. Yes." I answer.
"How do you know Alan?" he asks. "Are you a skater?"
"Nope," I tell him. "I can’t even stand on one of those
things without falling off. I’m not gonna ride one…. And Alan? I met him
once in New York. Cool guy. But actually I know the bride."
"Know! Know!" he says winking at me. "I get ya’ Know!"
"No," I say. "I don’t know her. But we’re
friends. We went to Europe together. I’ve known her for a long time."
"You went to Europe together and you don’t know her? I don’t
"It’s a long story," I tell him. "You can read it in a
"I can read everything in a column," he says.
"Mykel," comes the voice of Ms. S, "you’ve got to come
upstairs and sign the ketubah."
For the goyim amongst you, a ketubah is a Jewish wedding contract. It’s a
document that needs two witnesses who are in neither the bride’s nor the
groom’s family. It’s a fancy piece of paper with lots of Hebrew on it.
I forgot to bring a yarmulke—I’m not supposed to sign the thing
bareheaded. They let me wear my detective hat.
After the signing, there’s a hubbub. The actual wedding is about to begin.
The ceremony takes place outside, in a space that used to be a gazebo before
the last hurricane blew it away. The real rabbi speaks with a strong Eastern
European accent. A Jewer guy, I never saw. He goes through the mystical mumbo
jumbo. Then, before he does his husband and wife pronouncing, he talks about
each of the couple-to-be.
Ms. S’s story I know—better than he does. Her hubby-to-be, I don’t know
that well, but the rabbi’s heard all about him. He’s famous. A
skate-boarder. He invented a word that’ll be in the dictionary. Some kind of
skateboard jump where the board stays attached to your feet. It’s called the
Ali—a weird name for a jump invented by a Jew. At least I know what it is now.
"… husband and wife. You can break the glass," says the rabbi as
I zone back into the ceremony.
Someone once said that you can sum up all Jewish celebrations with:
They hurt us.
We killed them.
Weddings skip the first two parts: fish, chicken, huge mounds of cheese, tons
of booze. Yowsah!! I’m sitting at the table with the skaters. I still can’t
understand more than three-quarters of what they’re saying.
"So how come he called it Ali?" I ask. "Is it like Mohammad
"No," says Fletch. "It’s O-L-L-I-E, not A-L-I. It was
Alan’s nickname, from where he liked to eat. That’s why it’s called the
Ollie. Dude, you can’t be that dumb."
"Of course not," I lie with a perfectly straight face. "It’s
just this way I have of putting you on. It’s a Jew thing."
After eating enough to shit for a month, and drinking enough to puke as long,
it’s time to go home. The problem is, I don’t know where home is.
I call Tom Clearman.
"Sorry Mykel," he says. "My gal from Boston is here, and well,
you know how it is. Sorry. But you left your toilet kit in my bathroom. I’ll
mail it to you."
"Shit!" I say loudly after hanging up. "I’m screwed now. A
Miami motel will cost a fortune. Besides, I’m gonna be sick."
A voice comes from behind me. "You can stay with us."
It’s Alan, the groom. He’s offering me a place to stay.
"Yo," I say. "It’s your goddamn wedding night. I’m gonna
stay with you on your goddamn wedding night?"
"What the fuck?" he says. "You’re mishpocha (family).
You’re one of us."
I stay on their couch.
Flash ahead several weeks: I’m in Portland Oregon, reading at a cool
bookstore called Reading Frenzy. It’s Northwest Book Promotion time.
I’ll be in Portland, Seattle, Bellingham, and Vancouver, BC.
[Aside: I can’t figure out why Vancouver is considered the Northwest. Look
at a map of Canada! You can’t get more Southwest than that. It’s the
Arizona of the North—but even the Canuks call it the Northwest.]
I’m surprised by the number of blonds up here. In New York, a blond is as
rare as a protestant. But here, you see ‘em all the time. Maybe half the
people. Fat ones, thin ones, cute ones, ugly ones. They just walk around on the
street, like they’re ordinary folks.
After my reading, this guy comes up to me and introduces himself. He’s got
short dark curly hair, thinning in front.
"Hi," he says, "my name’s Seth. We met about 15 years ago. I
used to write for this fanzine called Factsheet 5."
I don’t really remember the guy, though I do remember the zine. One of the
"I’m not sure I remember you," I say.
"Oh sure you do," he says, "I’m the Jew."
Flash ahead 2 days: In Vancouver, after the reading, a slightly shlubby guy
with curly black hair comes up to me.
"Hey Mykel," he says, rolling up his sleeve. "Check this
He’s got a blue Star of David tattooed on his upper arm.
"Cool," I say, "you’re one of us."
"Yeah," he says, "I thought you’d be offended. I mean Jews
aren’t supposed to have tattoos."
"Well," I tell him, "the rabbis recently ruled that it’s
okay to have a design tattoo. Something like a Star of David, or one of those
Celtic bands. The rule is you can’t have a graven image, like a person
or an animal."
His face drops like a Matzo-packed turd.
"What about pets?" he asks. "I mean like cats. I mean like
cartoons of cats. You can’t have one of those?"
I can see by his one unrolled sleeve that he’s got something to hide.
"No pets," I tell him. "No animals. No people. Or you can’t
be buried in a Jewish cemetery."
"And… there’s… nothing… ???" he stutters.
"Oh, sure," I tell him, "you can have the offending tattooed
limb cut off and buried separately. It’s no big deal. It’s not like you’ll
need it in the afterlife."
I can see his features soften as he begins to believe I’m putting him on.
"Funny, Mykel," he says. And there starts a conversation about
Skrewdriver, Muslims and how Noam Chomsky is a self-hating Jew. And about all
the people who are anti-Israel.
"I’m anti-Israel," I say.
"I thought you were Jewish," he says.
"I’m a Jew," I tell him. "No –ish about it. But that’s a
cultural Jew. I’m not a religious Jew. I’m not a Zionist Jew. I’m just a
plane ole’ ordinary Jew Jew."
"Oh," he answers.
And that brings me to the second theme of this bi-themed column.
What is it about Jewtude that makes me say I’m a Jew, rather than I’m
a Punk or most anything else when asked about my identity?
It’s certainly not the religion. You know Jews have a prayer where men beat
themselves on the chest and say thank G-d I wasn’t born a woman? You
know that according to Jewish law, if you see someone working on Saturday, you
should stone him to death? You know that, as a Jew, if G-d tells you to kill
your kid (Abraham) or murder a complete village of innocents (Canaan), you’ve
got to do it? It’s an awful religion.
It’s certainly not Israel, which is—next to the U.S. and maybe Russia—
the most murderous country in the post WWII world. It’s killed thousands and
tortured thousands of others in a paranoid attempt to protect its theocracy.
Even the State Department of the US—the most pro-Israel country in the
world—says that religious and racial discrimination is rampant in Israel.
Israelis are Jews, so they have some of the great Jew qualities, like not being
shy. But Israel is not a nice country.
So what is it that makes me proud of being a Jew?
It’s the Jews, that’s what. Not all of ‘em of course, but the culture,
and personality traits that make up Jews are what I love about it. The
pushiness. The self-confidence. The boldness. The balls. It’s the Chomskys,
the Lenny Bruces, the Norman Mailers, the Karl Marxes, the Joey Ramones.
It’s Deborah Libstadt a Jewish professor at Emory University who commented
on the recent jailing of a Holocaust denier in Austria. She said, "We Jews,
who have suffered from censorship should not be supporting it. Censorship
renders the censored item into forbidden fruit, making it more appealing, not
less so… The best way to counter Holocaust deniers is to teach the truth to as
many people as possible."
It’s my Arab friend Bassam, who I call right after the World Trade Center
"Bassam!" I ask. "Are you okay? I thought that Arabs might be
targets after this thing and I just wanted to check up on you."
"Mykel," he answers, "thanks for calling. Everything is all
right here. But you should know, it’s only my Jewish friends who called me.
They’re the only ones who care."
It’s how Jews walk into a restaurant and look at food on a stranger’s
table and just ask how—and what— it is. It’s the way we are not shy.
It’s how we talk with our hands and how we refuse to be like everybody else.
It’s how we hug and kiss when we see our friends. Not a toot
toot oui Monsieur
two cheek kiss like the French. Not a Negro style chest-only hug and slap on
the back. Nope. An honest-to-G-d wow!
It’s the way I can talk about books and art and punkrock, and the Jew I’m
talking to knows at least something about books and art and punkrock. It’s the
way Jews bring new words into the language—like mishpocha, bagel or Ollie.
That’s why I love being a Jew. Religion or nationalism has nothing to do with
it. That’s Jewish. For me, there’s no –ish about it.
editorial staff of The New York Press walked out en masse after the
publishers refused to print the Danish cartoons that sparked international
riots. Have the cartoons been printed at all in the US? I guess they’re on
the web, but are they in print? I haven’t seen ‘em. [Last minute note: I
hear a few papers printed them—none here in New York, that’s for sure.]
A weird thing about this, is the universal non-Muslim reviling of the riots.
Strange, how Americans will allow internal spying, Wal-Mart
music censorship, TV V-chips, but when someone else complains—oh
no! The other guys are anti-free speech.
Plus the news has been so distorted. Headlines like, 9 KILLED IN
ANTI-CARTOON RIOTING make it sound like the rioters killed people. It was
the police and NATO troops who killed the rioters. Not the other way around.
And, where were they rioting? In front of a US sponsored torture chamber,
that’s where. The cartoon was only the tip of the Goldberg.
Ah no, but Americans can be self-righteous and revel in our freedom of
speech, while the CIA reads our email.
à Ah the government dept: Under the
THREATENS TO RAID CHERRY ORCHARDS, Life Extension Magazine (March
2006) reports that the Food and Drug of Administration sent warning letters to
29 companies that market cherry products. In these letters, the FDA ordered the
companies to stop publicizing scientific data about the benefits of cherries.
According to the FDA, When cherry companies disseminate this information, the
cherries become unapproved drugs subject to seizure.
Oh yeah, the FDA doesn’t say the information is false. It only says that
making the claim makes the item a drug and subject to penalties.
àAre they gonna raid the breweries?
dept: The Bottom Line Daily Health Report says that an increasing
body of serious research backs up beer's health benefits. One of them is bone protection. According to a medical team at Tufts University in Boston, beer may help prevent bone-thinning osteoporosis.
Other findings show that beer lowers the risk of heart disease and
increases the survival rate after a heart attack. Plus, it improves levels of
"good" cholesterol and preserves mental agility into old age.
Other studies at Harvard show healthier kidneys and stronger antioxidants
in beer drinkers than in non-drinkers. Let’s drink to that!
à Twelve dollars and thirty-five cents
for your thoughts dept: The Economist magazine says that Oslo,
Norway has just passed Tokyo as the world’s most expensive city. Third
is Reykjavik. New York where no-bedroom studios go for $3000 a month, is the
highest placed American city. But it ranks only 27th in the world.
If you live in the 26 higher ranked cities, you owe me a beer.
à Don’t pray for me Argentina dept: I’m
not an atheist, but I hate the religionists more than I hate the atheists.
That’s why it was such a joy that The
NY Times reported
on a $2.4 million study on the power of prayer to heal sick people.
The results: Prayers offered by strangers had no effect on the recovery
of people who were undergoing heart surgery. And patients who knew they were
being prayed for had a higher rate of post-operative complications.
Yeah! It’s not the time to be a Christian
Scientist—that’s for sure.