Low-key musings about Temporary and Sun Kil Moon. Maybe just skip this week.
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week of 21 February 2017

Tonight was a typical Tuesday night at Temporary; mostly just Agnieszka and I sitting around reflecting on Temporary itself, which has been running now for almost six months. Ava was also there hosting her weekly SoundShare event, though only one person turned up for that, so we spent some time in discussion with her as well. The reflections? They were mostly examining never-ending mysteries about how to bring people together, what strategies there are for open and innovative collaborations, and how we behave socially.

The original idea for Tuesday nights was to be a weekly social event, with no structure, no pressure, and no cost. This is something I’ve been fixated on establishing ever since I left Pittsburgh, where the Ground Zero activist network had a regular Thursday meet-up at a downtown bar called the Chart Room (circa 2001-2004). That was a beautiful and organic weekly activity, where you didn’t have to feel awkward turning up alone, because you would probably see someone you know, and if not, you’d surely meet someone interesting. In a way, it felt like a trade union of weird, wonderful, creative types; an environment that tore down boundaries between subcultures to allow new friendships and collaborations to form.

It’s been hard to construct something like that to work with the fast-paced Helsinki lifestyle. (No, that’s not a joke - in this sleepy city, everyone is busy busy busy.)  It feels like more than ever our social interactions must be mediated by some form of commercial enterprise - even if that’s just a café or bar or restaurant. One of the nice things about Temporary is that you can participate without needing to spend any money - in fact, we pay you in our digital currency, Temps. The overall experience has been wonderfully social but only during experiments that have a ‘hangout’ vibe to them; even Open Day tends to be quiet and mostly focused on people working. (Good!)

When we started the Open Day project in September, the idea was to have one night per week where the hours would be shifted into the evening, to allow people with a busy 9-5 schedule to still come. And since there is a minimal amount of admin that must be done every week - reviewing how things have been going, scheduling the next week’s activities, etc - and we wanted to make that process open, the idea was to do that ‘meeting’ stuff (briefly) during the Tuesday evening. I hoped that this night could become a bit like the old Ground Zero meetups - a place where people would start to come regularly just to hang out, have a beer, and meet others.

I deliberately didn’t want to push it, so I took a very laissez-faire approach, apart from the ill-fated original plan to have a weekly DJ. Besides, we’ve been way way too busy doing all of the other things, so pushing people to turn up once per week for no reason wasn’t something that was deemed worthy of our limited energy. And in practice, it’s been a total failure — no one has ever turned up on a Tuesday night just to hang out (apart from Erik, once or twice).

Now, as we transition from Open Day into Open Time - where Temporary will potentially be a 24/7 creative space - I’m again feeling the desire to make these Tuesday nights happen. I realise now that much like Temporary itself, some extra effort will need to be put in at the beginning, but if it’s done right, then the ball will hopefully eventually roll on its own. So I’m going to try to reach out and explicitly invite people to come and have a drink, the same way I would if I was looking to go to a bar, or having a dinner party. Maybe with a tiny bit more structure or focus….

This raises a depressing notion - that this life I lead, where everything has to be a cultural project, means that I have to 'strategise' just to get friends to come and drink beer with me. And if I must try to so hard to have non-commercial social interactions, then maybe there are some larger truths I'm ignoring. That maybe no one wants to do this. That trying to shape people gathering together in the style of a cultural event, but minus the actual culture event, is micromanaging at best and possibly even megalomaniacal. That trying to fight so hard against conventional forms of interaction is energy that could be better spent, maybe, I don’t know, actually creating stuff again myself?

I sort of want to write about the new TV series ‘Detroiters’, the first two episodes of which had me laughing harder than anything I’ve seen for ages. Also, I had planned to write here about Vapor Trail (Clark), a 4.5 hour documentary about environmental contamination in the Philippines around the site of a former US military base. It’s an immense work of activist filmmaking which burns with a quiet moral anger throughout, all while investigating the very nature of ‘history’ from Howard Zinn’s perspective. See it!

But actually I think I want to say something about the new Sun Kil Moon album. Which I haven’t even finished listening to yet - it’s 130 minutes long and it feels like I’ve been listening to it all day, and I’m only about halfway through.

If you went back to the late 90s and told me that twenty years later, the guy from Red House Painters would be making lengthy records where he sang brutally honest, meandering reflections on pop culture, his own fame, dying friends, and aging in a nearly stream-of-consciousness manner, over rock backing tracks so middling that they could practically be loops - well, I wouldn’t have expected that path for him.

Today, I told Patrick that this album, with its title long like the record itself (Common As Light and Love Are Red Valleys of Blood), felt more like a podcast than a rock album. He asked if it was any good, and I replied that Mark Kozelek’s music can no longer be rated as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. It’s really one man's mid-life crisis taking place over a string of albums.

On Benji, this approach was occasionally brilliant - ‘Micheline’ is as haunting and elegiac as anything from his early RHP days, and by the end, the excesses attain a certain charm. But on Common As Light…, I’m not so sure. Large parts of this are basically just spoken word over a tossed-off backing track, and there’s even a rap-style skit in one song. This is such a total mess that it might be great, but more likely it’s awful - oh wait, I just declared that such terms don't apply here. So how to make sense of it?

At what point does this approach just become lazy, and how much is too much? For example, the lyrics in ‘Sarah Lawrence College Song’ tell us about a concert he played at that college, where the student organiser gives him a letter afterwards, which is then sung as the primary lyrics of the song. The grand narrative here is that Mark Kozelek is great and lots of young people are moved by his music, and he enjoys connecting with his fans.  And that’s about it. Is that even a 'song'? Elsewhere on the first half of this recird, you get to hear about Kozelek’s trip to Vegas to watch a Pacquiao fight, how rednecks and transgender people should be friends, and his thoughts about Trump and Twitter. (I had typed out some lyric quotes here but realise how mundane and unoriginal his thought are, so I deleted them). 

A great writer can make almost anything compelling. And music has the ability to dress up lesser sentiments, giving words a grandeur that would be far less compelling if they were in, say, a weekly email newsletter. Many artists also become much more precise as they age - but Kozelek is heading in the opposite direction. Sometimes a total disaster can be fascinating and I’m scared that I’m going to become fascinated by this, and starting listening to it over and over. I'm even more scared that when I get close to 50 I’ll be just as unfiltered as he is.

I usually post a link to something to read online, so this week it's this look at 4Chan and Trump, as recommended by Brian. A nice companion piece would maybe be this piece about Anonymous, from Triple Canopy, way back when I was still involved with them (Triple Canopy that is, not Anonymous).

And at the risk of this email being as long as the Sun Kil Moon album (which is still going on and on as I type this), I’ll cut out here. Sorry if this week was a bit too navel-gazing. As always let me know what you are up to! And remember, it’s free to sign up for Mailchimp so you can start your own newsletter, and I promise to subscribe.


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