by carl wilson

Footnotes in the Floodlights

It might be interesting (or scary!) for Zoilus readers to be aware of some thoughts about the conduct of this website that have come up since attending last week's Future of Music Coalition discussions and CopyCamp. For one, I'm recommitting myself to more lengthy, thematic entries like the one below, despite the Internet's "tl;dr" formal pressure. As someone who has a website mainly for the sake of in-depth discussions difficult to conduct in other forums, I think it's worth resisting that logic, even as most music blogs, and mp3 blogs in particular, have headed the other way. (Being free of ads helps.) And CopyCamp helped convince me that intense talk among fewer people might be more productive, in any case. (I.e., "Screw the ratings!")

Secondly, I'm going to keep more of an eye on social/political implications of musical issues. After watching Ian Ilavsky from Constellation squirm through the FoMC panel on indie labels, trying to say that it made sense to commit yourself to that model "only if you have a social analysis" - in a place where the argument was being made almost exclusively on artistic and financial terms - and everyone staring at him like he had two heads, I was reminded how oddball that perspective has become. I don't share all of Ian's politics, or agree with Constellation's methods, but I do share a lot of his reasons to be where he is. And the "summit" showed me - in a way my slice of the Toronto scene makes it easy to forget - that those reasons are not to be taken for granted any more, if they ever were. I'm not planning to get preachy. Just more conscious of that level.

For some motivation by the way, I highly recommend The Walrus's chilling cover story this month on the interconnections between Stephen Harper's Conservatives and the "theo-cons," the evangelical lobby coalition that rapidly has become organized and influential in Ottawa. I commissioned and edited a related article in The Globe last month (which, er, seemed to make them very happy), but this one expands on that thesis (as a magazine, free of the constraints of a daily, might be better fit to do). I've long thought Christian evangelical millennialism is the only coherent explanation of the Bush administration's foreign policy. Marci McDonald's Walrus piece makes me much more concerned than before that Harper may share the same philosophy deep down, especially where Israel is concerned (a form of Zionism that is not at all pro-Jewish in the long run). Granted, it's still very small in Canada, and nowhere near as welcome in the mainstream here (there's a stronger social-justice Christian left tradition), but the stealth tactics in Harper's agenda are too close for comfort, and as in the U.S., it's possible for such groups to get disproportionate influence if they're allowed to pass unnoticed.

| Posted by zoilus on Thursday, October 12 at 4:46 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (27)

 

COMMENTS

Hey...
I just stumbled across this.
As I was on the panel in question, here's some thoughts I had about what Ian was saying that I never got to get out as the topic shifted.

I appreciate what Constellation is doing, own a lot of their records, and generally think they've contributed a lot locally, however here's my problems with the "labels must be political or we're just part of a mini-major machine" argument...

-I agree with the fact that a sense of community is important. I've always subscribed to that ideal. In lieu of having a roster spread around the world I chose instead to be involved in things like organizing an entertainment industry hockey league that promotes charity, fitness, community, etc... And as a label a lot of our artists (particularly my partners Coldcut) have been involved in various political awareness projects and things of substance outside of just releasing music. And I feel it's the responsibility of all indie labels to share ideas, contacts, collectively work together, and generally fight for fair shares and promote fair deals for the underdog via collective groups or just by hanging out and talking. To make our bubble world better and not run things like "mini-majors" no matter what sort of turnover the business is doing. To me if my bubble world is a good place to be then more people will want to be part of that bubble until that influence spreads wider.

-What I don't agree with is putting a level of self-importance to what labels are doing. Cause at the end of the day what do we really do... we're middle-men ; we participate in the com-modification of art ; produce (waste... to some) endless amounts of raw materials making CD's, LP's, stickers, posters, etc... ; put bands on tour and consume fuel while traveling around in vans & on planes ; put our money in banking institutions ; consume fuel shipping records around the world, most of the time promote a fairly unhealthy life style of being in smoky clubs drinking.... I could go on. Sure that's an extreme view and there's a lot of ground of community, ability to effect change, etc... it's ignoring. And again I'm not trying to undermine what some legendary indies have managed to achieve... But the main point is that all labels are participating in capitalism at some level and to pretend we're not is ridiculous. It's up to everyone to decide how much they want to be involved and at what level but at the end of day we're all selling something (and I would argue that anti-marketing is in itself marketing). Really wouldn't the ultimate political & environmentally responsible punk rock label be one that didn't release any music and instead just talked about why they weren't releasing anything?

More then anything... I think if the main concern is the problems of the world and the failure of systems, than I can think of a lot better uses of time to change the world than releasing albums.

I got into it to release dope records. I'm fairly sure I'm not changing the world with Spank Rock, but fuck it rules.

Anyway, I've had to much coffee... I'm feeling ranty...
Jeff

Posted by Jeff on October 16, 2006 1:45 AM

 

 

I was referring to a combination of anecdotal evidence and a study I read once but for the life of me I can't find anywhere.

Posted by Graham on October 15, 2006 8:02 PM

 

 

Yes, but winning a majority gov't is clearly the goal that's dictated most of their actions in this term. If it proves impossible over the next two or three elections, the party will change drastically, I'm sure, and Harper (and the theo-cons) may be out of the picture.

I'm not familiar with any research saying the children of immigrants are more conservative than their parents, Graham. Where are you getting that from? Not saying it's wrong, just that it doesn't jibe with the studies I am familiar with, which indicate the rapidity of second-generation assimilation to the values of the new country.

Posted by zoilus on October 14, 2006 2:50 PM

 

 

and Harper would have to keep it under wraps for a long time - until he wins a majority government which judging by polls and voting trends isn't going to happen very soon.

Posted by Graham on October 14, 2006 3:40 AM

 

 

I was just going to point out Paul Wells' response but I see that was done for me already. One thing though thaat caught my eye:

"I think from Central Canada we underestimate how mainstream these influences are out west, where Harper's base is."

There's also a reciprocal effect that where from Central Canada (and I mean Toronto probably) one also misinterprets (I'm not sure that's the right word) what that mainstream influence actually does ... that is, "in the real world" and how it plays out in everday life. and these values are also shared a lot in many places across the country, most importantly in rural Quebec (the 10 seats Harper won there made him PM - Quebec as the kingmakers of Can. politics).

one thing that gets forgotten is that the Conservative/conservative values that we're discussing here are increasingly (and probably overwhelmingly) shared by most new immigrantsand the children of new immigrants typically become more conservative than their parents. the course of Canadian politics then seems to be to the right. I'm not celebrating this but I'm just saying the left needs to be aware of this and that perpetual power for liberals (both small and big L) may not be in the cards anymore.

Posted by Graham on October 14, 2006 3:38 AM

 

 

And just not to get stuck on Parliament Hill: Spitz, I agree Ian's communication style, well, sucked. But I missed any point where he was dismissive of Simple Machines or Lookout or Kill Rock Stars, all of whom have/had politics. I don't think he was saying Constellation was the only label of its kind. But maybe that it was one of the few created in recent years. He was dissing the "farm team" type of indie label - he didn't say so directly but I think he would have put Arts & Crafts, who also had a rep on the panel, in that basket, for instance. And while I don't think that makes A&C; evil, I do think it represents a general (though not complete) shift in the indie community's self-conception that is worth noting and, at least a bit, mourning.

Posted by zoilus on October 14, 2006 2:32 AM

 

 

The key point I think is that the Republicans are also a brokerage party, who hold together the new Christian and more old-style economic conservative elements in the U.S., and have done very well by that. (And this was a shift from earlier Republican models, where the Christian right wasn't really given a seat.) I do think Harper is trying to emulate that. A major difference, underemphasized in the McDonald piece perhaps, is that the Canadian version is more ecumenical and "even" (as Harper put it) multi-faith, united around a social agenda. Remember, too, that this is no longer the Progressive Conservatives - if Harper were totally more concerned about keeping power than with an agenda, he wouldn't have double-crossed the old PCs as much as he has along the way to building his new party. (Though granted some of the old Mulroney guard resurfaced post-election.)

I do think that the behaviour of the Conservatives in their minority position has lulled us into a bit of a false sense of security about the radicalism of their aims, and while it would of course be political suicide to just go whole-hog on this front even in a majority position, the skill with which he is already introducing the agenda in bits and pieces is notable, and I think that would proceed more aggressively if they won the next election. It won't be a mirror of the Republican version, but I think it may be more significant than we want to assume. And I think from Central Canada we underestimate how mainstream these influences are out west, where Harper's base is. (The freezing-out of Ontario in this gov't is remarkable - you could say it's the most brazen thing Harper has done.)

The problem with an analyst like Wells - whom I agree is a perceptive pundit - is that the precision of the analysis always depends on saying that nothing will change very much. Which is what pundits think, until it does.

He's right that McDonald didn't balance her account with a measurement of the other forces acting on the Conservatives, which will limit the theo-cons' influence. But that doesn't mean an amplification of their influence isn't a notable shift.

PS: Here's the Walrus's reply to Wells, which Wells politely printed on his blog:
http://weblogs.macleans.ca/paulwells/archives/week_2006_09_24-2006_09_30.asp#002648

Posted by zoilus on October 14, 2006 2:07 AM

 

 

I was fascinated by Marci McDonald's exposé, but ultimately I'm inclined to side with Paul Wells on this one. The Walrus article fails to demonstrate the real political influence of the theo-cons on the Conservative government, in comparison to the various and varied lobbies and constituencies that appeal to MPs for support. Wells, who I consider an astute observer of Hill politics, says of the theo-cons: "Unfortunately for McDonald's theories, they're kind of a bunch of losers." McDonald suggests otherwise, and depicts a scenario that draws parallels to the "New Right" in America, but this is argument demands the acceptance of far too many assumptions about similarities between the social and political-structural realities of Canada and the US to hold water.

McDonald's piece is a great examination of a current within the Conservatives, but theirs is, I think, too much a brokerage party to give the theo-cons the sort of sway McDonald describes.

((PS from Zoilus, here's the Wells piece to which he's referring, which didn't show up in his post the first time, on a technicality: http://www.macleans.ca/switchboard/columnists/article.jsp?content=20061002_133701_133701

Posted by jeremyw on October 14, 2006 1:36 AM

 

 

It won't kill the party if it's kept under wraps. Again, I recommend reading the Walrus article before commenting.

Posted by zoilus on October 13, 2006 9:26 PM

 

 

the longer posts are definitely welcome. the kids can read.

reading the conservatives under harper as evangelicals (or evangelical-driven) is a serious misinerpretation. i have no doubt that many are evangelicals but harper himself is above all a politician (and it must be said a very good one) and he knows that such a taint would kill his party. the point of politics afterall, as jean chretien would say and i'm sure harper would agree, is to win elections.

Posted by Graham on October 13, 2006 5:24 PM

 

 

re: the Christian left in Canada, that's dying out here too. This last election (as the Walrus article pointed out) was the first in Canadian history where a majority of Catholics didn't vote for the libs!

Posted by andrew on October 13, 2006 1:28 PM

 

 

"Granted, it's still very small in Canada, and nowhere near as welcome in the mainstream here (there's a stronger social-justice Christian left tradition), but the stealth tactics in Harper's agenda are too close for comfort, and as in the U.S., it's possible for such groups to get disproportionate influence if they're allowed to pass unnoticed."

Not too long ago, most Americans probably would've believed that their country had a Christian left tradition...the civil rights movement, to name the most recent example, was founded and fought (in large part) from the pulpit. But the Christian left became too complacement just as the right-wing religious wingnuts started getting involved in public policy, and since no one was there in the beginning to stem that tide of idiocy, it was allowed to become the (seemingly) dominant strain of religion, at least as far as the media was concerned. Reading that Walrus article, I was left hoping that people will exercise a bit of vigilance here, so that the fundamentalist evangelical right isn't allowed to grow...

(And finally, something on this blog that I can actually contribute to with some degree of background knowledge!)

Posted by matthew on October 13, 2006 10:04 AM

 

 

I like the idea of you feeling free to write as long as feels comfortable and not trying to be brief for the sake of the web. My fave are long posts with lots of short paragraphs!

Posted by sheila on October 12, 2006 7:22 PM

 

 

Carl, I'm glad you're going to going to be examining more social/political implications of musical activity. I'm sure you will help broaden the discussion beyond 'indie' as it relates to rock and its scenes/derivatives and into the many, many other forms of music (and their respective business and cultural climates) not represented in most of these 'future of indietopia' events.

Check out canadianreggaeworld.com for just one example of a community resource with explicit culture-building goals, which has both similarities and differences than the kinds of indie consciousness which are so often blogged about.

Posted by dacks on October 12, 2006 6:48 PM

 

 

except that he (Ian) was fuckutteringly incoherent about expressing, well, anything. He seemed to make the very arrogant assumption that no other labels but his own were motivated by any principles whatsoever, and, though the 'farm team' trend needs to be examined, I thought it mighty disingenuous of him to dismiss with a wave the work of Simple Machines and Lookout and Kill Rock Stars etc.

He only began to make sense when he gave concrete examples (such as limiting print runs & promo costs and other such practices) but he didn't follow those thoughts to any conclusion. I'm sympathetic to many of his aims and ideas - but if his mode of address was preaching to the choir, the choir was barely able to follow.

People stopped asking questions to avoid encouraging him. It was an enormously frustrating afternoon.

Posted by spitz on October 12, 2006 5:33 PM

 

 

Constellation's political sphere is probably best defined as left-anarchist. That's certainly an ideology I've found most attractive myself in the past, but I wouldn't say I subscribe to it now, and one way or another the Constellation crowd is much more purist about it than I think is practical or even desirable. I'm wary of that sort of purism in politics, or anything. Also I've found Constellation extreme in its treatment of the media - not that the media aren't deserving of critique and suspicion, but their approach to many music writers has been unconstructive. Still, Constellation's done a lot of good - the existence of the Sala club and festival, and even arguably the viability of Pop Montreal itself is arguably traceable in part to their reinvestment of Godspeed! money back into the community. And after a few days of industry types talking about money, money, money, Ian's insistence on cultural activity having a social purpose was enormously refreshing.

Posted by zoilus on October 12, 2006 4:20 PM

 

 

i totally welcome the longer posts, carl, they're great (as are the short show-update ones, but since I read from an RSS reader, the scrolling's no sweat for me).

The politics are welcome too. I recently read the walrus story, and it also gave me the chills. Particularly if you look at how, even thirty-five years ago in the US, the religious right were considered a bunch of kooks. The growth of the entire expanse of US conservatism since Goldwater is an amazing case study in movement building (both re: neo-cons and theo-cons), and one that it seems the canadian counterparts are closely studying... Another good point from the article is that regardless of the the Harpie himself feels, he does have close ties to many with very unpalatable views...

Oh, and for the punters.. what exactly are constellation's political views that you don't agree with so much? What sort of "social analysis" was Mr. Ilavsky arguing for the necessity of?

Posted by andrew on October 12, 2006 3:35 PM

 

 

I don't want to get too much further into this web of speculation, but a nicely written comment there, Chris. This Bush stuff could go on all day, and does on other websites - I'd rather get back to the cultural-politics level around here. Sorry for generating all the distraction.

Posted by zoilus on October 12, 2006 3:18 PM

 

 

Um, sorry for this comment solely being about politics, Carl. It feels like a weird thing to do on Zoilus? Anyway...

To me, the most messianic and idealistic people in Bush's coalition are in fact the neoconservatives: I think most of them genuinely believe in spreading their conception of democracy (sometimes for security purposes, but more often than not for moral ones) and it's ironic in the most awful way, because most of them are also lapsed Christian/Jews, glorified agnostics who use religion as a tool. Irving Kristol - the neocon William Buckley - said "there are different kinds of truth for different kinds of people", every inch the Straussian "noble lie" whereby intellectual elites patronize Bubba's silly beliefs to keep him in line. The wrenching tragedy of the Bush administration's foreign policy is its pursuit of broadly noble or at least defensible goals with the most blundering, brutal, repellent means. It's modern liberalism (and most of them were once liberals) gone utterly rancid: the utopian idealism turned into mad delusion, the tendency towards elitism and high-handedness taken so far as to make them would-be philosopher-kings. Bush, on the other hand, he's just...I don't think he's an ignorant moron as is often assumed. Naive and uncurious enough to prize the advice of a grinning shyster like Rumsfeld, though.

Posted by chris r. on October 12, 2006 2:56 PM

 

 

I wasn't trying to make a connection between indie labels and the religious right, Eppy. Maybe it was a forced segue, but I was just pointing to the flaring-up of renewed "culture war" activity on this side of the border as part of a broader context for why political thinking in general is important - a broader Canadian context, which might not translate well to the U.S. where an influential religious right is hardly a novelty.

Chris K. - I guess I don't see why it's better analysis to read the administration monolithically. I wouldn't be at all surprised that Karl Rove and Dick Cheney regarded the religious right cynically, just as a constituency to manipulate for votes, and the foreign policy mainly as a tool to aid American business. But Bush himself, I suspect, may have a more apocalyptic view of how things are supposed to unfold, which allows him to override what a "reality-based" perspective would say. Same goes for a substantial portion of this past Congress (eg Tom Delay, Bill Frist, Santorum, etc.). It seems to me it's easier for secular liberals to posit a purely cynical motivation, because then we don't have to imagine a substantially different worldview. Maybe I'd need to see more of it but the examples in that bit of the book didn't dissuade me that the Bush White House is a mixed breed of both.

Ozzy - did you read the articles? They're there - not so much in Parliament as on the Hill having meetings and prayer breakfasts with MPs. Whether they'll get anywhere, and how Harper really feels about them, is another question (although, again, he's an evangelical Christian himself). But they're definitely there in numbers higher than before.

Posted by zoilus on October 12, 2006 1:23 PM

 

 

I have no doubt that the Bush people hold the evangelicals in contempt, but they're also happy to do their bidding, over and over and over. They don't care about abortion, and many of them have had them (or have had g-friends who have), but they're happy to outlaw it, because they know their class will always have access. Outlawing it legislatively is meaningless, so they haven't pursued that; they're doing it regulatorily, state by state, county by county; and judicially, by appointing medievalist liars to the Supreme Court.

This idea that, "oh, the Republicans don't really follow through on their pledges to the hierocratic conservatives" (NOT theocratic -- GOD won't be in charge, the ecclesiastics will) -- this idea that the R's are punking them plays right into Karl Rove's strategy that "Bush is a moderate." I know that strategy is toast by now, but don't believe the hype. Sure, Bush's people think the hierocrats are nuts, fools, whatever; but they're still happy to do their bidding, and they do it.

That said, while I would not be surprised to learn that Bush thinks of himself as a hierocrat personally, and that his Israel policy flows from Millennialist hopes for Armageddon, for the rest of his team, religion has nothing to do with it -- it's all fantasies of "projecting American strength."

Ai yai yai -- sorry.

Carl, I'm with you on "Indie." For most practitioners, it's merely "minor leagues" until they get "major." Nothing wrong with it, but "major" does not mean "sell-out," it means "reaching more people," which most artists want to do. That it also usually means "making more money" simply means that the musician can probably keep doing it longer. I do understand the reluctance to see a band get "too big." An experience of seeing a band in a small club is usually a more exciting, resonant experience than seeing them in a theater. But few bands survive long on indie money, unless they own the label themselves.

Posted by john on October 12, 2006 1:08 PM

 

 

"I've long thought Christian evangelical millennialism is the only coherent explanation of the Bush administration's foreign policy."

I don't know Carl... there's a new book about to break in the US that implies that the Christian right has been PLAYED:

http://www.crooksandliars.com/2006/10/11/olbermann-exclusive-dissecting-new-book-tempting-faith/#more-10956

Posted by chris k on October 12, 2006 12:07 PM

 

 

Carl,

I want to encourage you in your decision to post longer posts.
If you ever find an older new yorker where the articles went on forever (sometimes over multiple issues) you start appreciating how brevity is sort of over rated.

One comment though is that as is its easy to scroll down the page and get a feeling for your posts from the last week, longer as well as shorter. I am worried that with longer posts, when scrolling, shorter notes or comments might get lost. I find a short "heads up this show is tonight" posts to be important (I relay on your cultural expertise carl). So the question is whether anything can be done to make sure these shorter posts dont get lost amont the longer ones. Maybe putting most of the longer article and then a "more" button might help. Maybe im just being lazy. I donno.

G.

Posted by guy tanentzapf on October 12, 2006 11:35 AM

 

 

So, uh, not to be dismissive, cause I'm genuinely curious, but what does millenial Christianity and its allegience with the right have to do with running an indie label?

Posted by Eppy on October 12, 2006 11:24 AM

 

 

I'd certainly find a potent evangelical presence on Parliament hill unwelcome. But the suggestion that one exists now seems far fetched and, to be honest, a little like boogieman hunting.

Posted by ozzy on October 12, 2006 10:32 AM

 

 

That last line should read "they find". Must find coffee.

Posted by yrmom on October 12, 2006 10:04 AM

 

 

I'm laughing that 4mycanada found the Christian right article "long". Makes me wonder if the find the bible tl;dr.

Posted by yrmom on October 12, 2006 10:03 AM

 

 

 

Zoilus by Carl Wilson