Rat Trap

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Whenever I use the term “rat trap”, my first thought is RATP (Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens). The acronym for the Paris region transport authority: yes, it may as well be a rat trap. Long ago memories of all those days and evenings wandering Paris. “It’s a rat trap, and you’ve been caught.” Long ago, far away. These memories mark periods of life that were meant to be temporary and can’t be kept up.

On a similar, if roundabout, theme, I ended up in a conversation about the graphic images that appear on cigarette packaging – the dire consequences of smoking, such as erectile dysfunction. This led to a discussion on the phrase “keep it up”, which prompted me to mention a conversation from a few weeks ago about, of all things, the Boomtown Rats. Someone told me he only knew two BR songs, “I Don’t Like Mondays” and “Rat Trap”, and I think we’d be safe to say that that alone is rather extensive knowledge for most people to have on this subject. That said, I have, if not encyclopedic, almost exhaustive knowledge about the BR discography, having become completely obsessed with Bob Geldof while I was in junior high school. Thus, I knew, thanks to a .99 cent bargain bin vinyl copy of BR’s 1979 album The Fine Art of Surfacing, that they had a song called “Keep It Up”.

Let’s face it, the Rats were not particularly popular or well-known, existed in a particular place and era and sounded of that time. Not to add that the singular force of the Bob Geldof persona overshadowed anything the band could have done. I am not sure, despite Geldof’s notoriety and the stranger (Pink Floyd’s The Wall) bigger things he has done (Live Aid), that he would be an easily recognizable name to most Americans, for example.

That was another theme of the conversation – “Keep It Up” brings to mind Elvis Costello’s “Pump It Up”, which came just a year before the Rats’ anthem to keeping it upright. When looked at side by side, at the pop culture longevity (and really, what within pop culture enjoys longevity?), the Rats are a blip on the radar and unmemorable, while Costello is still cranking out challenging and interesting music, even if it doesn’t always hit the mark. And “Keep It Up”, despite its energy, sounds like the dying notes of the 1970s and fits firmly in the museum of that decade, while “Pump It Up” still sounds cool and, like much of Costello’s work, timeless.

Time itself is a bit of a rat trap, especially if you’ve defined yourself, your look, your sound, by the fashions of your day.

Decayed Decade of Random Gum (2004-2014) + Part Past Part Fiction 2015

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Forty songs for my forty years of life (in June). And ten years of the Random Gum mix (2004-2014).

To celebrate the tenth anniversary of Random Gum, I have selected songs from the mixes of the last ten years to include on this year-end mix as well as a couple of discoveries to usher in 2015. Everything is as random and impossible to plan as ever.

The whole playlist in Spotify (minus those songs not available on Spotify)…

1. The The – “Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)”
A driving, prescient song with a message truer now than when it originally came out in the late 80s. Valid during the hubbub after the Danish cartoon incident several years ago and valid anew after the Charlie Hebdo tragedy in Paris

2. Dolly Parton – “Love and Learn”…each new love I find/turns out to be the wrong kind…
Not sure when I will ever learn – this song has been lingering in my head since 2nd grade (Dolly obsession era)

3. Kishi Bashi – “Manchester” …My favorite part’s when I die, in your arms like a movie…
The beauty of recommending music to people that they fall in love with. Here’s to Dr Ross

4. The Dø – “Stay (Just a Little Bit More)”
Perfect anthem for all the wasted years dealing with the Married Idiot. “He was a bore, a true chore, and I still wonder why I ever wanted to see him more…”

5. Melody Gardot – “Pretend I Don’t Exist
For Alex, someone from long ago but who was there when most desperately needed

6. The Aislers Set – “Jaime’s Song
Always true: “You get who you play for, not who you wait for”

7. Wilco – “How to Fight Loneliness”
The ultimate pretending. For S: “And the first thing that you want will be the last thing you ever need”

8. Lindstrøm & Christabelle – “Lovesick”

9. The Fall – “Cheetham Hill”
Nothing is complete without the indestructible sound of The Fall – it will make you drive more aggressively

10. The Jack Rubies – “Be With You”
One of those songs that remains a favorite (since 1989?) even if it’s rather silly

11. Circuit Object – “Voices Fill My Head”
Reminiscent of boundless but unfulfilled talent

12. Serge Gainsbourg – “Je Suis Venu Te Dire Que Je M’En Vais”
Memory of driving Hwy 18 with my old friend, Mike. It’s like we were in another life; I was another person

13. Rodriguez – “Crucify Your Mind”
RIP Malik Bendjelloul

14. Glasvegas – “Fuck You, It’s Over”
Again, those Scottish vowels. For a while I got to hear those vowels every day, as I used to dream of…

15. The Chills – “Part Past Part Fiction”
“You cannot drive and stare rear view.” Good advice

16. Foxygen – “San Francisco”
“My brother is a soldier now…”. A song for Annette; a song for Kyle

17. Diana Ross & the Supremes – “Remove This Doubt”
All those times when doubt is all there is

18. Simple Minds – “Don’t You Forget About Me”
Timeless classic – recently watched The Breakfast Club again (hard to hear this and not connect the two)

19. Tori Amos – “Strange”
“Woke up to a world that I am not a part except when I can play its stranger…”. The pain still rings true

20. Bertrand Belin – “La perdue”

21. Tatsuya Ogino and the Bunnies – “My Sweet and Bitter Days”
The Friday song – the good old days at Opera. Happened to hear on the Friday when I finally put this all together. Love to Janne, Lauren, Annette, Jennifer and everyone from the good old days

22. Sam Phillips – “Love Changes Everything” …I’m not sorry we loved, but I hope I didn’t keep you too long…
When things crashed before finally changing the trajectory of everything: “We can’t fix what’s broken, so let’s leave it here, and walk on – I’ll be right behind you”

23. John Grant – “Queen of Denmark” …I hope you know that all I want from you is sex, to be with someone who looks smashing in athletic wear, and if you’re haircut isn’t right you’ll be dismissed…
More reflection on wasted time with Married Idiot

24. Portishead – “The Rip” … and the tenderness I feel will send the dark underneath/will I follow?…
Feels like the painful but transformative spring of 2008

25. Crowded House – “Don’t Dream It’s Over” …there is freedom within, there is freedom without – try to catch the deluge in a paper cup…
This one never gets old.

26. Martha Wainwright – “Far Away”
Heartbreaking sentiment: “I have no children/I have no husband/I have no reason to be alive/oh, give me one”

27. Lia Ices – “Little Marriage” …I started minding not having it all/one little marriage or big love…
For Jane, for Lóa and everyone who has been enveloped by the lush, layered sounds of Lia Ices

28. Joan Armatrading – “Save Me” … immune or evasive – throw me a lifeline – save me…

29. Low – “Closer”
Being enveloped in something that makes you feel more remote and distant than ever and needing escape

30. The Magnetic Fields – “My Sentimental Melody” …cool and unfazed, you’re always amazed when someone gets hurt…
Used to love this song but now it seems whiny self-victimization now that there’s some backstory.

31. Arik Einstein – “Ro’eh Atzuv
Seltjarnarnes early 2000s, Israeli MTV commercials, marshmallow couches and taking years to identify Arik Einstein, who recently died. Love to Sarah and the old days in Iceland

32. Kristin Hersh – “Quick”
Cancer song; the recurring feeling like nothing will ever be solid or trustworthy again

33. Amalia Rodrigues – “Povo Que Lavas No Rio”
Ache. Somehow now makes me think of Kristie – who supplied me with Halloween goodies!

34. O + S – “The Fox”
The formidable, tricky fox is always making an appearance

35. Kazim Koyuncu – “Ben Seni Sevdugumi”
For Roxane, for all my Turkish friends, for Jill

36. Hector Zazou feat Björk – “Visur vatnsenda rosu”
Iceland, of course, and all my beloved friends there.

37. Pulp – “Roadkill”
The early and unfortunate Berlin visits and always painful trips to and from airports and little reminders that trigger memories

38. Roberta Flack – “To Love Somebody”

39. Cowboy Junkies – “200 More Miles”
The first feeling of real heartbreak, 1989

40. Blondie – “The Hunter Gets Captured By the Game”

2015 – Part Past Part Fiction

41. Charlotte Gainsbourg – “Trick Pony”
For Martina – more dog and pony shows, one trick ponies and all the rest.

42. Tomten – “You Won’t Be On My Mind”
Hometown Seattle music. Always lovely. How I wish I’d have my 40th birthday in Seattle this year featuring both Tomten and Tom Skerritt reading a poem! And here’s to all my beloved Seattle friends and acquaintances!

43. Lia Ices – “Magick
For Jane; layered bliss

44. Guns N’ Roses – “Welcome to the Jungle”
For long lost Terra, and our secret love for GNR. Duff! Duff! Duff!

45. The Association – “Never My Love”
I just like the sound

46. Poison – “Every Rose Has Its Thorn”
For S and spontaneous, passionate renditions of this ridiculous song

47. Bryan Ferry – “This is Tomorrow” … Suddenly a voice I’m hearing/Sweet to my ear/This is tomorrow callin’/Wishin’ you were here…
For S, if only it could be yesterday or tomorrow and not a return to the darkest days

48. The Primitives – “Way Behind Me” …all those lies inside your head/took my hand and led me blindly…
For who I was in the 1980s – and all the people I knew then, and the continued need to know when to walk away. “I’m gonna try my best move/I’m gonna leave you way behind me”

49. Cameo – “Word Up”
For Tomislav; for S and his dancing career/codpiece uniform (ha!)

50. Teenage Fanclub – “Alcoholiday”… Went to bed but I’m not ready/Baby I’ve been fucked already/Falling into line but I’m doing nothing/We’ve got nothing worth discussing./Went to go but it’s all hazy/People say I’m going crazy…
S – the brief time between dark days turned out to be just an “alcoholiday” – never a more fitting song for almost anything. Never knowing what you’ve got til you’ve fucked it up for good. And now it remains to be seen whether the end is Leaving Las Vegas or Edgar Allan Poe

51. Mega Bog – “Aurora/99”
More Seattle gems. For Kyle, Naomi: “Goddammit, don’t take 99!”

52. Cate Le Bon – “I Think I Knew”
Thanks to Aurélien for the lovely recommendation, as always

53. St. Vincent – “Birth in Reverse”
Hard decisions that may close the door forever- a kind of birth in reverse. Love for Annette.

54. Sister Sledge – “Lost in Music” …responsibility to me is a tragedy/I’ll get a job some other time…
Get a job, you fucking disco cokeheads! For S

55. Laura Veirs – “Sun Song”
An Aurélien recommendation – thinking fondly of Malin (because of course I’m the sunshine of her work day!)

56. Jeff Beck – “Morning Dew”
Just has a cool sound

57. The Beatles – “Real Love”

58. The Preatures – “It Gets Better” … And all the times I had you near, through my fingers disappear/I see all that it could be, and it’s better than it ever could be…
S: “Only lonely in your arms again/I know you’re see-through but can we just pretend”

59. Tiny Ruins – “Night Owl”

60. The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger – “Xanadu” …she’s a lipstick anarchist…

61. Melody’s Echo Chamber – “Shirim”

62. St. Vincent – “Digital Witness” …digital witnesses/what’s the point of even sleeping?/if I can’t show it, you can’t see me/what’s the point of doing anything?…
For Martina and Jennie – the word “digital” is forever tainted for me.

63. Cyndi Lauper – “I Drove All Night”
Always stuck driving all night, through all kinds of treacherous conditions

64. The Dø – “Sparks”
“If someone comes & shows up at the door/No one will be there to answer anymore/We have it all on tape now”

65. Oyama – “Old Snow”
Iceland – represent

66. Mitski – “Texas Reznikoff”
Another one that makes me think of Jane

67. First Aid Kit – “Shattered & Hollow”

68. EMA – “So Blonde”

69. Father John Misty – “Bored in the USA”
Jesus, this cynical song makes me ache. “Now I’ve got a lifetime to consider all the ways/I grow more disappointing to you as my beauty warps and fades/I suspect you feel the same/When I was young I dreamt of a passionate obligation to a roommate”

70. TOPS – “All the People Sleep”

71. Al Green – “Tired of Being Alone”
Can’t just be with someone because you’re tired of being alone. For S

72. Tom Waits – “Ruby’s Arms”
“Jesus Christ this goddamn rain, will someone put me on a train/I’ll never kiss your lips again, or break your heart/as I say goodbye I’ll say goodbye, say goodbye to Ruby’s arms”

The American way – a light extinguished

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“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

-Emma Lazarus, from “The New Colossus”

I like to ignore the realities of America now that I don’t live there, but it is true that what happens in the US does affect the world.

Brainwashing in the US begins early. Most people don’t think of it that way – and even rather anti-American people I meet in Europe sometimes think I am going too far when I describe the US system as a form of slavery (especially if one compares it to actual slavery, which of course is an entirely different, toxic and horrifying institution/monstrosity). It might be better to call it indentured servitude, with the indenture owed to student loan companies and increasingly inhumane workplaces. People are too brainwashed to know that that is the machine they are a part of – indoctrinated into the idea that they are would-be millionaires (as John Steinbeck said, ““Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires”) or that “anything is possible” if they work hard enough – and taught from an early age to value material goods over anything else, so that, unless they are actually hit by real hardship, an average American thinks he is prospering because he managed to buy … a new Jeep or something.

I often tell the disembodied and soulless story as one in which you are born and are told from the earliest time that you must get an education, so you go to public school (or whatever form you attend) and basically learn how not to think while a lot of nonsense is hammered into your head and creativity is systematically removed – stay in line, be quiet, color inside the lines, do what everyone else is doing, no that is not the right interpretation of this, there is only one right answer and only one way to get there). Then you are told you have to go to college or else you will not get a job. You go into great debt to do so. Naturally after that your hands are tied by the debt, so you take whatever job you can get rather than whatever job will make you happy – but you are also convinced that you will be happy if you buy the aforementioned Jeep. And of course unquestionably America is the greatest country in the world (and if you question it, get out because you’re no patriot!), so it does not matter that you don’t have the money or time to travel to see the world. You have a Jeep you can drive around with since you have cheap oil! And since you are stuck wherever you are anyway paying your student debt, you might as well do what everyone else does. Buy a house. Get married. You might start to question whether you are happy in your job, but you know you won’t find another one easily anyway … and now you have a kid or two, so you need to stay in your job to keep your healthcare. Then you play the tug-of-war with yourself about whether you can be a good parent, whether you have enough money for their daycare, whether one of the parents should leave their job (if there are two parents, of course) until you enroll your own kid into the same system that produced you just the way you are now and the same story repeats. And repeats and repeats.

This story, even if it differs from individual to individual, is somewhat amazing to incredulous Europeans, who actually don’t think of the details and intricacy of how this average American mind is formed/created. They often just imagine that “Americans are dumb” (broad strokes of generalization, of course) but fail to take the whole system into consideration. When I tell this story to the average American, it is equally amazing because the semi-awake one never thinks about the fact that each chain in the link of his life is some spot where he has been further handcuffed into the, shall we say, chain gang? University costs – mostly free in much of Europe – healthcare – largely free in Europe – daycare subsidized by the state – lots of vacation time and maternity/paternity leave … sure, taxes are slightly higher (but honestly not that much) – and most do not feel like they are enslaved by their jobs. You can leave any time without risking health coverage. These too are generalizations, especially in this era of steep austerity cuts and unemployment at unheard of rates in much of mainland Europe (Scandinavia is not quite in the same position).

The general theme here, though, is that there is a tremendous freedom to this and an impetus to then really think. But how could an average American be expected to think with that whole backstory forming and informing his life?

The American lifestyle and system creates a certain kind of constant fear. Fear of losing one’s job, fear of violence, fear of being sued, fear of in any way being out of step with the norm. I thought about this one night as I was driving my long-distance commute back home and saw a guy hitchhiking trying to get from a town called Bengtsfors to Årjäng (none of which will be familiar to or mean anything to anyone reading this). It may not be charitable of me not to have offered a ride since I was driving right through Årjäng. But hitchhiking is dangerous territory. I have no idea if this guy posed any danger, and maybe anywhere in the world, it would be foolish to chance it, but even if it were almost a guarantee that it would have been safe, I still would not have done it. You can take an American out of America but not shake the full American paranoia out of them. I have more than my share of this paranoia, assuming that everyone has bad or dangerous intentions and ulterior motives. Being American has taught me never to trust anything.

Maybe it is crazy and sounds like I am looking for the boogieman around every corner, particularly in the working world. Somewhere in me, I find it fun to search and apply for (and interview for, if called) jobs. It did not start as a fun hobby – it was more out of necessity when I searched like mad to find a job (as was always the case in my earlier life – applying for 100 jobs and getting maybe one interview or something). But eventually when I did not need to worry about it anymore and did not need a job, I decided it was partly fun, a bit of a game and one can always use interview practice (and potentially a free trip somewhere). But it was partly this paranoia showing its face – companies go under, companies downsize, industries change – you need to be ready and out there and know what the bloody hell is going on. Be ye ever ready, right? And I am.

Before the big crash of 2008, I was living in Iceland and actually went on a lot of interview trips around Europe… Dublin, Antwerp, Brussels, Paris, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Luxembourg, Amsterdam, London, a few times to Helsinki… cannot complain. While it is not always practical, it usually pays off. I have never once been blindsided. If you are paranoid (and/or American) enough, you will always see the writing on the wall and READ IT.

One of my freelance/side “careers” has ended up being job counselor/life coach/resume-and-interview consultant. Not that I ever wanted to do that. Europeans especially need a bit of coaching in this department because they have never experienced the dog-eat-dog American work culture (and I hope they never reach a point that they experience something quite like that). But Europeans are too soft, and there is no doubt that some things in Europe are slowly moving in a more American direction (although I don’t think it will ever go to the extremes). In my last job, there was a huge reorganization a few years ago, and something like one-third of the company was laid off. When this happens, employment laws offer considerable protection, and most decent employers extend protection and assistance beyond what the law requires. Despite the “helping hand” and the clear signs everywhere that change was afoot, those affected by this first reorg (which they euphemistically called “right sizing”) were completely blindsided because they have never been taught (how nice for them) to read the signs of what is coming. I think most aware Americans in a corporate environment are always paying attention to little things because paying just a bit of attention may pay dividends one way or another. Of course Europeans might be told pointblank that change is coming but never imagine that it will have any effect on them. Many of them were devastated in the first round of layoffs, even though they were poised to get at least half a year of pay (even if they got a new job the next day, they would still get the full pay). And the Norwegian economy was not affected much at all by the global economic downturn – so most people found jobs immediately. Their sense of panic was almost cute in its “working world naivete”. Not that I think it is great that I am so on my toes and ready for anything all the time.

It turned out for the best, of course, when I was sort of part of a later “right sizing” process. I was, as always, prepared. It was rather hilarious when my manager called me to give me the “bad news” – kept saying stuff about how I must feel so devastated and would feel it when the shock wore off. But all these strategies and acute situation awareness enabled an automatic prewarning. I was not shocked; I was not surprised. I was ready.

As we know (or should know), life is not defined by work – or should not be. Somehow, this is where American life and “ideals” derail. Increasingly, people work and work and don’t get anywhere and won’t be able to afford (in terms of time or money) some way out of the situation they are in (this is probably already the case, and I am just out of touch). When I consider that people who work in the service industry do not come close to earning living wages, I am appalled. But the system is set up this way – to glorify and maximize corporate profit, to supply consumer demand for impossibly cheaper and cheaper goods sold in stores staffed by people who cannot afford to eat.

Lovely. What a happy Thanksgiving, America.

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