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21 September 2012

Billy Corgan on the Community Function

May I grab a moment of your increasingly internet-fractured attention span and focus you on this interview between T. Cole Rachel and the Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan on, ahem, the “state of the Alternative Community” — communities being something I care about a great deal.

Here it is thanks to Stereogum. (Thanks Stereogum!)

Here is an excerpt I particularly like, and bold-face on the parts I really really like:

“Once I entered the world of honesty, circa 1992, there was sort of no going back. It’s a nice fantasy to think if someone got me some media training, I would have avoided a lot of these controversies that are really meaningless and continue to be meaningless. Secondarily, I think there’s something to be said for being principled. Like I think of Lou Reed as being principled. I think of Neil Young as being principled. There are those actors in the world for whom the principles they live their life by, in the long run, mean something. And I think that the principles that I live my life by do mean something and will look better in hindsight. Because when I was at South By Southwest … first of all, in alternative rock music, generally speaking, there have been very few bands in the past 10 years that have made OK Computer-level records. I guess you could say Arcade Fire made one, but there’s been a real scarcity in great, A-level work that crosses over into the mainstream. That’s very interesting, because I don’t think it’s a lack of talent. And if anything, you could say that technology should afford the ability to make ideal records even more easily than we used to be able to make when we had to do it all on tape. Secondarily, the main alternative voice for at least seven years now, and you could argue possibly longer, has been Pitchfork. And they have not produced the level of movement commensurate to their power. So what does that say to me? That system doesn’t work. Now it might work for the kids down in Wicker Park or Echo Park. It might work for the guy with the handlebar mustache. But it doesn’t work overall in the way that the Stooges work, the way that the Velvet Underground worked, or the Cure worked, or Depeche Mode, or pick your fucking any band that made it across the divide from being underground to being iconic. Read more »

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3 April 2012

Paul Farmer’s executive priviledge & the peculiar nature of “a calling”

Awhile back I read Tracy Kidder’s excellent Mountains Beyond Mountains, an inspiring portrait of physician Paul Farmer’s work in the area of public health, specifically the pioneering work he’s done in Haiti. FYI, I was not inspired to read it by the Arcade Fire‘s charitable giving to the cause, though it’s easy to see, in this book, why they, in turn, were inspired to give so generously of their time, resources and fan attention.

This particularly beautiful passage gives an account of what it’s like to have what they call “a calling” to be driven by that peculiarly human kind of passion, in all of its illogic. When one has “a calling” how it is is, often, just how it has to be. And don’t let my use of the word “beautiful” give you the wrong ideas. The passage is actually rather dry, delivered in the matter-of-fact manner in which, I imagine, Dr. Farmer works & thinks. The beauty is in a person hovering above the mundane efficiencies of 20th century management thinking, who knows that the way to get things done is, sometimes, to just move inexorably toward a goal with a force & intensity that others are simply incapable of maintaining.

    [The former dean of the Harvard School of Public Health, Howard] Hiatt seemed to say, [Paul Farmer] should be solely engaged in the battle against those scourges, and at a level commensurate with their size. “The six months a year that Paul’s looking after patients one-on-one in Haiti, if that time were converted to a major program for treating prisoners with TB in Russia and other eastern European countries, or malaria around the world, or AIDS in southern Africa–it doesn’t matter where or what because you know he’ll do important things. Because look at what he’s done with only part of his time on MDR. Look what he’s done with his skills and his political acumen! I have been urging him to take the role of consultant in Haiti and spend most of his time on worldwide projects.”

    Farmer was forty now, and he had the credentials to operate in the way Hiatt envisioned, on a purely executive level. In academic circles his reputation had grown. He was about to become a tenured Harvard professor. He was near the head of the line for the big prizes in medical anthropology; some of his peers were now saying that he’d “redefined” the field. As for his standing in clinical medicine, he’d become one of the doctors whom medical schools, in Europe as well as in the United States, invite to their campuses to deliver the lectures known as grand rounds. At the Brigham the surgeons had recently asked that he lecture to them, a signal honor not often granted to a mere medical doctor. He also sat on a number of councils in international health, and he’d made his views heard. But he didn’t seem disposed to abandon any side of his work, including seeing patients one-on-one in Haiti.

    It wasn’t as though Farmer didn’t want to do all he could to cure the world of poverty and disease. He just had his own ideas on how to go about it. Actually, he seemed to be the only person who understood the plan fully. A young assistant of his once said to him, in exasperation, that he had no priorities. That wasn’t true, he replied. Patients came first, prisoners second, and students third. But you could see how the assistant might have felt lost in the details.

…and, for once, that’s all I have to say about that.

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9 October 2009

Canadians are never alone

Did you read the title of this post? That’s one argument made in “Letter from Canada: The Return of the Native,” Adam Gopnik’s recent New Yorker profile about Canadian academic-cum-politician Michael Ignatieff.

I am going to find a way to tie this notion to independent rock’n’roll, just you wait.

In contrast to our northern neighbors, the profile says Americans are strident individualists. Maybe that’s why Ignatieff is pointing at us in that photo up there: “You, yes you, I see you, you selfish bastard.”

The article spends a fair bit of time detailing the prime controversy of Ignatieff’s new political career. He spent much of the ’80s & ’90s away from his native Canada, teaching in the US & Europe and establishing his reputation; his emergence on the Canadian political stage caused some to paint him as an expat carpetbagger. Where the profile shines, however, is in its detailing why his long time residency outside of Canada matters.

Most Americans don’t consider Canadian identity to be distinct from that of us in the US. This article is passionate about the fact that it is. The argument is that Canadians often embrace the collective will over unhindered, American-style individual liberty. A key quote and my indie rock connection after the jump.

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