“Rocket” (Smashing Pumpkins)

Limitlessness denied. Similar to ideas from both Nikolas Rose and Jean-Luc Nancy, freedom, which comes with the free disposal of rights, is presupposed by both a State and psy- discipline; the result for singer: he “couldn’t stay free.” The human body becomes a projectile, hurling into celestial emptiness (instead of into another) to be rid of “those voices in my head.” Ingesting love and consuming hate becomes the necessary fuel to attain escape velocity. The catch: “no more lies” assumes that once future being emerges, the true, sovereign subject will materialize. The irony not fully realized—here or there.

 

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“In My Own Time” (The Patterns)

The first verse of this International Artists track (penned by the Bee Gees) remains the most interesting: singer once received an “invitation” to come to the “United Nations,” but “that was when I was somebody.” Being somebody in the international community involves a temporal recognition/leveling: one cannot participate so long as one remains “in my own time.” There are no singularities in the family of nations, and no figures not judged present (i.e., precisely co-temporal with the “modern” and the “civilized”; cf., Justice William Johnson’s concurrence in Cherokee Nation v. Georgia [1831]).

 

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“Only a Fool Would Say That” (Steely Dan)

A modern-day gunslinger in a Stetson (LBJ?) announces that with his weapon he can produce “a world become one” “where all is free.” Hard-working, everyday Joes feel the pull of this tuneful argument: after all, who wants to be told the opposite—that the world will always remain divided against itself, and that freedom cannot be universalized? And it seems quite reasonable that some old-fashioned “murder,” liberally distributed, would do the globe a lot of good, and at least move things in the right direction. From Korea and Vietnam to 21st century drone strikes, a certain idealism makes “fools” (and not holy ones, but just plain ordinary fools) of us all.

 

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“Til the Last Shot’s Fired” (Trace Adkins)

While Adkins’ micro-display of the Confederate flag and his narration as a Confederate soldier certainly resides over the edge of credulity, his call to “say a prayer for peace” centers the conversation. Though George W. Bush expressly focused on anti-poverty religious and community organizations in his first Executive Order, he also forcefully argued for the relative autonomy of faith-based financial assistance. And this trax’s association with the Wounded Warrior Project, in some way, hinges on a faith in the power of cost-shifting from government apportionment to people directly funding each other’s care. (Recurring donations that are tax-deductible if the amount is large enough!) More directly, this is institutionalized and structured prayer that takes place within a war economy. But Adkins isn’t singing about survivors or “warriors;” his primary narrators are corpses who have died grisly battlefield deaths. From the grave, they yearn for rest (“Let us lay down our guns”) despite war’s relentless forward march (“But we can’t come home til/The last shot’s fired”). Peace founded upon a corpse, and the price of doing (nation) business. Also: a monument to living.

 

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“Not in Our Name” (Liberation Music Orchestra)

In memory of Charlie Haden, written on 14 July 2014.

The Not in Our Name Project (NION) diagnosed the American imperial order in 2002 as a spatiotemporal problem: Afghanistan-Iraq-the West Bank in a continuum of U.S.-inflected terror/policy decisions and Japanese American internment alongside the detainment and interrogation of Arab Americans post-9/11. And a similar strategy shaped the project’s self-definition and the enumeration of role models: abolitionists, the Underground Railroad, Vietnam War draft resisters, and the refusal of Israeli reservists to serve in the Occupied Territories. The Saul Williams-penned “Pledge of Resistance” commits “to make common cause with the people of the world” and stops short of calling for a general strike by refusing, as a group, to “supply weapons and funding” for foreign wars. Yet this all came to an end in 2008 with the disbanding of the project’s “national office and related infrastructure.” In some ways, everything here was on the verge of getting it on. (George Clinton, by the way, would have your “funky mind” freed “out into another reality.” And as Clinton knew, other realities have been and are already here as one continually imagines (and practices) being the “people.”) Charlie Haden’s and Carla Bley’s Liberation Music Orchestra deals with the NOIN’s central bifurcation problem—(dis)owning one’s nation-state—through difference. A Latin-inflected tune involving passages with synchronized horns, the key sonic decision is to allow each instrument a solo. The duration of each solo sometimes runs against type, and the instruments involved straddle the (non-) traditional, with the tuba solo as the most extreme example. Much like the album’s cover photograph, we can be both under the banner and at the helm of an organization’s varying structure through time. Haden, then, knew this as well: the Liberation Music Orchestra’s personnel may change, but it’s an inclination requiring stamina, adjustment, multiple voicings, and perpetual practice/praxis.

 

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“Who Made Who” (AC/DC)

It’s in the ream(ing): the taxes and the infinite dependence upon the creation of artificial intelligence (or video games). Facing things “on the level,” sober and mindful, you’ll still get taken in a “one on one”; there’s no use: “look[ing] down,” like transition from apoplectic to sauntering arpeggios, reinforces the state’s economy (roughly, here, consumerism unaware of its own intrusion). Even though the world’s “8-bit” (or 64-bit or 4K for that matter), going beyond conception would still beg for the pristine, virginal demand. The pentatonic scales and the Pentagon are still in the same family, triangulating.

 

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“War” (Henry Cow)

War is a product of the “partial mind,” clouded by “dark obscurity.” One could read this Hegel’s way, since he argues that the State “is most supremely its own” (has a truly self-sufficient and complete identity) only at the moment of War. But instead of critiquing identity, which cannot be closed without adopting a warlike posture toward the other, the Cow’s disciplinary Marxism maliciously heckles all patriotic persons as dumb lemmings (“people get what they deserve”) who should have been able to make themselves whole without all the drum beating, trumpet playing, and gore. A project both impossible and endlessly, potentially murderous; or, ranting become its own object.

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“Two Tribes (for the victims of ravishment)” (Frankie Goes to Hollywood)

War as sporting event (“a point is all that you can score”), and thereby fit for a kind of anthropological analysis, via the metaphor of the “tribe.” None of this amounts, however, to an anti-war or progressive position: wars are promoted or fought for symbolic point-scoring purposes (see the 2003 Iraq War); and even superpower wars are anthropologically buttressed (see Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations). Thus, this attempt to shame the combatants, or to sway “enlightened” public opinion, unmasks nothing we don’t already know (and might even work as a football anthem).

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“Liberty Calls!” (Mike Watt)

Liberty appears in so many ways that it’s easy to forget how self-contradictory it is. As a civil institution, liberty is an entitlement undergirded by the power to shape and condition (y)our community. It serves as a concept in thrall to oligarchic interests (e.g. the Tea Party movement) and as a foundation for various strains of Occupy movements and libertarian causes. In rare and outdated usage, it can also mean that which goes beyond propriety or, literally, a district beyond one’s border that is still within its jurisdiction. For B. Traven in The Death Ship, it means shore leave, forced servitude, and the “opportunity” to be stateless. And Watt’s sailor’s opera/concept album equates the concept with the same boiler men Traven focuses on. Liberty here is secular, unwed to state-based aspirations. The sailors enjoy shore leave since they can escape the “hell-ride” in order to “learn” and to “take on fuel and burn!” Expenditure redirected, they visit “other lands” with “our” liberty. Constantly shared and appearing intermittently, we catch a glimpse of what liberty could mean: a “need[ful]” thing consisting of “histories” and “mysteries” that we simultaneously “figure” and, more positively, “trip” out over.

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“Sheep” (Pink Floyd)

Produced by Roger Waters, Animals (1977) sounds like dry ice. There’s no place or space in this mix for a psychedelic communion of instruments. Instead, voices are constantly modulating toward machines, and the guitar delivers its message in biting, often atonal shards. This revolution is serious business. Translating capitalism into the terms of the animal fable, Roger Waters discovers three relevant categories: pigs (the one percent), dogs (aspirants, or those aggressively playing the “game”), and sheep (perfect victims). Religion, invented by the system in order to produce quiescent meat, is skewered; Waters rewrites Psalm 23 as preparation for the abattoir, and proposes, in its place, a rather unlikely but decidedly low-tech alternative: karate training. Karate, however, is deeply intertwined with the history of buddhisms. It is in no sense a secular practice, and its spiritual dimensions have provided platforms for both state rule and capitalist accumulation. (Indeed, Žižek says that if Max Weber were alive today, he’d likely write a book on the “buddhist ethic and the spirit of global capitalism”). Meanwhile, the sheep, who have become martial arts masters, achieve a Pyrrhic victory: “the dogs are dead,” but the pigs are still overhead, ready to carpet bomb. Even if your kicks are fast as lightning, you can’t defeat aerial bombardment by those who preside over the garrison state, with their cloven hooves on the triggers. So how do we read the sign “karate”? As hope from the East? As a weapon of the weak? As always already defeated and coopted? Whatever karate brings to the table, it still cannot execute a pork chop.

 

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