But You Don’t Look Aboriginal

When you tell me ‘you don’t look Aboriginal’, you are denying that I am Aboriginal. To deny that I am Aboriginal is to deny that my grandmother was taken by welfare because she was Aboriginal, by the dictates of past government policies. To deny that she was taken because she was Aboriginal is to deny that past policies attempted genocide of Aboriginal people. To deny that the government’s objective was genocide is to deny that the government is responsible for the widespread decimation of Aboriginal language, traditions, land rights and intact family trees today. To deny that there is no widespread crises of identity within Aboriginal individuals, families, communities – and indeed our entire country – is to deny our lived reality. And when you deny our reality, you deny us our humanity. And so when you tell me ‘you don’t look Aboriginal’, it goes much further than just skin-deep.

When you tell me ‘you don’t look Aboriginal’, it says much to me about your level of misunderstanding and your adherence to the tenets of the obsolete pseudo-science that is biological race theory. Your individual ignorance is however, symptomatic of a widespread pandemic, where these beliefs are not systematically dismantled in the education system from a young age, thereby perpetuating the dominant white-male-heterosexual-Christian-dual binary values that are normalised and exude from the hidden curriculum. And so when you tell me ‘you don’t look Aboriginal’, you’re not entirely to blame; the weight of such culpability is much too much for an individual to bear.

When you tell me ‘you don’t look Aboriginal’, you are nevertheless still guilty of perpetuating violence control through your embodiment of racist values. You are acting as a vehicle for oppression, an agent of history and part of the framework that continues the legacies of past assimilation policies. Does this come as a shock to you? Are you in denial? This is where the recognition of your privilege must come into play on your part. You must locate your beliefs in the historical and spacial continuum of oppression, and only then will you realise how you are an agent, acting out this culture. Conversely, you will then be responsible to be an agent of change. With knowledge comes responsibility, because education without action does nothing. So when you tell me ‘you don’t look Aboriginal’, you’re not getting off that easily with a seemingly innocuous comment; ignorance does not equal innocence, and I’m going to take this as an opportunity to do my responsibility.

When you tell me ‘you don’t look Aboriginal’, you are implicitly perpetuating harmful stereotypes. Prevalent misperceptions and misconceptions of Aboriginal people include that we are lazy, drunk, dole-bludging, violent, sneaky and uneducated [sorry, I couldn’t think of any good ones that I’ve encountered in my whole life; not my fault]. When you compliment me for not embodying any of these negative stereotypes, and upholding me as the paragon of black virtues because of my perceived whiteness, you are reinforcing these stereotypes of what all “real”, “authentic” Aboriginal people are like. By telling me I’m the exception to the rule you are reinforcing the rules. You are promulgating a colonial hangover of media-created deficiencies. You are telling me that I’m inauthentic and you are telling yourself everything that centuries of racist politicians, scientists, missionaries and journalists have told you is the truth. So when you tell me ‘you don’t look Aboriginal’, you are deluding yourself with the very tools they created to oppress us.

When you tell me ‘you don’t look Aboriginal’, and you grill me about the whyfores and how-sos I have the gall to identify as such, you are being invasive and rude. By believing you are entitled to know the minutiae of my family tree, you are presuming that your sense of entitlement takes precedence over my personal boundaries. But not so. When you tell me ‘you don’t look Aboriginal’, and you drill me with your intrusive eyes and prod me with your blunt questions, you are telling me that you do not respect me.

When you tell me ‘you don’t look Aboriginal’, and add that I ‘mustn’t have much’ in me, or enquiring after my caste and blood percentage, you are attempting to reduce over 40 000 years of deep and vibrant culture to a quantifiable measure; over two hundred years of survival and resilience against colonialism, attempted genocide and ongoing assimilation to a drop of blood; my own nearly thirty years of lived culture in family and community to a miniscule section of mammoth lengths of DNA. You are reducing who I am in flux and flow to an immutable, graspable number for ease of understanding, to further reduce and divide the entirety of me and mine. By continuing to ask how much I have in me, after not getting the hint to drop this line of eugenic economic interrogation, ‘what part?’, ‘what caste?’, you continue to ignore the fact that it just doesn’t work that way. That despite centuries of imposed definitions that sought to variously segregate and assimilate us, to provide a solution as though we were a problem to be solved, that tried to cut us down enough so that we would fit into their constricting frameworks, you do not hear the truth that I just am. Not half of me, nor a quarter, or one seventy-eighth; not my head or my heart or my left arm or right pinkie toe; not my eyes or hair, not tooth or nail. I just am. All of me, all the time. Always was and always will be. So when you tell me ‘you don’t look Aboriginal’ you are attempting to reduce the entirety of my identity and relationships and activism to one single moment, now, where you want the answer that I will never give you the satisfaction of giving you. You will never cut me down to size.

When you tell me ‘you don’t look Aboriginal’, and add that I am too pretty, my features too fine, my height too wonderful, my feminised body too elegant, you are telling me that you believe all other Aboriginal women to be ugly. You are saying that my Mum and my grandmother, my Aunties, my cousins, friends, nieces and my unborn daughter are all ugly. Not just different by the narrow standards of the male gaze of the white beauty industry, but actually unattractive, fullstop, done. How then could you explain all of our non-Indigenous fathers? Lovers? One-night stands? Here I will acknowledge the fact that rape has been a reality for us the last couple of centuries. However, this does not explain the many healthy mixed race relationships, or even the unhealthy fetishisation of black women. You are ignoring the reality that black women have always been desirable to non-Indigenous men and women. So when you tell me ‘you don’t look Aboriginal’, you are not only saying that desirable black women are not authentic black women, you are also saying that only non-Indigenous women are allowed to be beautiful.

When you tell me ‘you don’t look Aboriginal’, that I look more Lebanese, or Italian, or Spanish, or Croatian, or whatever, you are reducing what it means to be Aboriginal in all its gorgeous complexity to an essential list of clinical physical features, to a cold and simple checklist for cookie-cutter authenticity. Not only is this sheerly stupid because of the evidence that Aboriginal people today come in all shapes and sizes, with an astonishing diversity of facial features and skin colours; to discount certain items off the checklist in favour of other items is to racialise our bodies, to racialise our very beings. By subscribing to the Dulux colour-card myth of Aboriginality, you are continuing the work of past welfare and government institutions who held colour swatches up to the skin of black babies before they ripped them from their mothers’ arms. They grouped these babies according to tone, often separating siblings by this completely arbitrary division that could change seasonally with the strength of the sun. Further to this unpredictability, it was an actual division in many cases where sister and brother were physically separated not only from their mother, but also from each other. This was the case with my grandmother, who was taken from her Aboriginal mother at the age of four, along with her seven-month-old brother, never for any of them to see each other ever again. Yes, they took their heartbreak to their graves. So for me and mine, colour is not just an objective judgement of a visual hue, it has a crushing historical weight that has crippled all of my family members, each in their own way. So when you tell me ‘you don’t look Aboriginal’, this shameful historical legacy reaches to me from the past to haunt me to this very day.

When you tell me ‘you don’t look Aboriginal’, my deep-running empathy and over-active imagination come into play. I imagine and feel what this would have meant to me if I had been born one hundred, eighty, sixty, or even forty years ago. And I consider myself lucky that I was born in the year of Orwell’s hell, although my Mum still did instil in us her very deep fear of the welfare, so that we knew how to perform for society and never draw attention to ourselves. Because growing up as we did, with a single Aboriginal mother, if we had not performed well and hidden ourselves, if we had been born ten years earlier, there is a statistical probability that we would have been taken too. Do not misunderstand me; we were very much loved and always supported. We weren’t abused and we were never in danger, however we never had any money and poverty is criminal in the eyes of the welfare. Furthermore, traumatic events necessitated that we move far away from our extended family – my Mum’s only support network – and begin to integrate into a completely disconnected community who thankfully very soon took us in. So when you tell me ‘you don’t look Aboriginal’ you are telling me how lucky I am to have been born when I was.

When you tell me ‘you don’t look Aboriginal’, I imagine that you are the welfare with the authority of government policies behind your words, and that you have the power to take me from my mother and my brothers. And in a way, you have, because I step back in time to the known story of my grandmother’s life. My grandmother, who never knew me, walks beside me every day in the only form I’ve ever known her. I look very much like her, and it’s not just her beautiful features that have left their mark on me. Her entire life-story haunts mine, and I continue to try to make sense of myself in the context of her struggles. She walks inside me every day and I have an ongoing relationship with her. I have an obligation to ensure that what she suffered through is known, and also that it stops. So when you tell me ‘you don’t look Aboriginal’, you have taken me away from my family and into her life.

When you tell me ‘you don’t look Aboriginal’, I feel, viscerally, my grandmother’s pain; I panic in the knowledge that I will never see my mother again, that every letter I write to her will not receive an answer. That instead of the girl’s home guardians telling me the truth that they are not passing her replies on to me, they instead tell me that she has forgotten about me and that she doesn’t love me. I am paralysed by the knowledge that my mother will not be there when I am sick, when I need her to love me. I will never hear her voice again, nor smell her skin, or have her kiss me goodnight. Ever, ever again, forever, never. Never. She will never pass on parenting practises to me, and the adults I have as parent figures are inturn abusive, cold and transient; all unloving. These early role models imprint on me and my first escape from them is straight into the arms and wedlock of a man with an uncanny resemblance to my early caregivers. My mother will not be there when I get married, when I am in labour, when I am sick, and when I die too young. She will not be there for my children, when I need her to love them. So when you tell me ‘you don’t look Aboriginal’, you have taken my mother from me. You have taken my world from me.

When you tell me ‘you don’t look Aboriginal’, my breath catches, knowing that if not for the grace of my being born when I was, that I would never see my brothers again. As we five, joined to each other through our Mum, and glued to each other through our close upbringing, some of us have different Dads, creating a beautiful diversity within our obvious similarities. But that because we have different skin colours, body types, nose shapes and eye colours, we would not be deemed similar enough in the eyes of the law to remain together as would support our basic human dignity. That some of us would grow up in cold hard institutions, trained for domestic or menial labour according to gender, yet regardless of gender as befits our darker skin. That the others would be adopted into a white family to become their chattel, neglecting to nourish our connection to our true culture; denying us our rightful inheritance, severing who we are from who they want us to be, and therefore butchering our very being. Placed far apart, names changed and changed and changed again, we would never even know where to start looking for each other, and so we would all live out the rest of our lives as only, lonely children. So when you tell me ‘you don’t look Aboriginal’, you are tearing me from my big and little, but all strong brothers. You are dictating that we have different worth and different levels of usefulness according to your cold and convenient colour-coordinated doctrine.

When you tell me ‘you don’t look Aboriginal’, you are alerting me to the fact that if left unchecked and uncorrected, you will repeat this comment to others, maybe others who are less resilient or strong in their identity than I am. Perhaps young children, maybe of my blood or maybe not. Perhaps one day my own daughter. Probably, you will impress upon your own children that this comment is okay, maybe they will continue this legacy. I do hope you might leave that in the past where it belongs. I also hope you might get with the times. When you comment, I wonder who you are and what power you wield in the world, and what influence you have on Aboriginal people. Are you a social worker, a teacher, a doctor, a cop? A football coach, a journalist? A shop assistant, an employer? A real estate agent, a model scout? An anthropologist, an art dealer, a miner, a farmer? A magistrate, a screw? Or are you just the average busybody, keeping the hard-to-kill-but-not-yet-obsolete White Australia policy alive and well? Whoever you are, do you have the power to invoke feelings of shyness, shame and inadequacy in our young black kids? Or even our Elders? So, when you tell me ‘you don’t look Aboriginal’ you make me wonder whether you can change your position, change your course, catalyse reconciliation and continue on as an embodiment of alliance, acceptance, validation, respect and healing that our cultures have so sorely missed from you.

– Defender Of The Faith, 24th March, 2014

I highlight this because I’ve heard it said that recognition and identity is only a “small issue” compared with the health, housing, education, employment, and criminal justice statistics that describe our situation today. I first point this out to demonstrate how imposed definitions blatantly attempted our genocide in the past, and I further point this out because this attempted genocide is absolutely, unequivocally responsible for our fourth-world socio-economic status that we live through today. Finally, I point this out because our current low life expectancy, high infant mortality rate, incarceration and deaths in custody ratio, and child removal rates – that far surpass Stolen Generations rates – tell the tale. These facts and figures speak to a government who still do not care. Although they have changed the terminology and phrasing of their policies, the effects of their actions and interference is ongoing, yet with even worse outcomes than at the times the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths and Custody, and the Bringing Them Home report, were published.

I wrote this for the people who still come up against this, in the hopes that they can more deeply understand why it’s not appropriate, and maybe get some new angles on their reactions. I especially wrote this for the parents of black kids: the Indigenous parents who may also know what it’s like, and the non-Indigenous parents who might not know on a personal level. I wrote it for all the parents who want to defend our black babies, so that they know what to say, but more importantly, so that they can instil the pride in their kids that my Mum instilled in me – pride so that they can be resilient and not buy into out-dated myths.

However, I addressed this to non-Indigenous people who do this, who might be setting a bad example for their own kids to follow in their footsteps. I addressed this to those people who might be making our kids feel angry and hurt and defensive, for all those who have made me and mine feel this way, and for those who still attempt to. So whether you intend to belittle us or not, you can recognise where you are located in the continuum of oppression, and hopefully make the decision that racism stops with you, to become our allies instead of remaining as obstacles in allowing our babies, and even ourselves, to feel as valued and strong as we should. As we must.

This post was published by The Stringer on 1st of April, 2014

Leave Me Alone, Thankyou, Bye

Obey the Graffiti

An open letter to various fuckwits and assorted psychic vampires, and to anyone else this may concern:

I don’t want to be constantly engaged in the selfish concern-trolling of others. I am not a curiosity to comment on and question. I am a creature of this earth and I have just as much right to be here, to breathe air and to take up space, as everybody else, without having to justify it. The way I choose to live my life and express myself has no bearing on who you are and the choices you make so just leave me alone as I do you. Leave me to be disconnected from your stupidity, so my stores remain full of vitality. Go be a drain on the psyche of someone else.

Teaching is my job, not my vocation. Although I am qualified for such and I get paid for it, when I clock off the uniform is shed and I am myself again. When I teach I am simultaneously acting and censoring myself and so understandably, I don’t want to do this all the time. I want to laugh and learn as well. I don’t want to constantly explain my ideologies and lifestyle choices. I don’t want to answer twenty questions about what I like and why, and what I don’t and why not. I just want to be me without having to defend what being me entails, especially when being me does not offend or trespass against you being you. I am not interested in being a light bringer or a revealer of truths. It’s not my karma, fate or destiny. I’m not arrogant enough for a messiah complex, and it doesn’t fit my skinny frame.

On that note, if you feel the need to comment on my body shape and size you would do well to examine why you think you are entitled to do so. If you have a problem with the way I look you need to realise that the problem is with yourself and your belligerence, not with the way my deoxyribonucleic acid expresses itself through my healthy lifestyle choices. As such, don’t try to pass your problem off as mine. I love myself and I am happy in the beautiful skin my parents gifted me. Just because you don’t feel the same does not give you the right to try and pull me into your self-loathing. So no, I won’t wear that either.

Further, whenever you make stupid remarks about what I choose not to eat (as if it has any effect on your happiness), you are saying more about yourself than about me. I don’t preach. I am happy with who I am and what I choose and I have no need to try and belittle others because I do things differently. To wit: everyone I meet is surprised that I am a vegan and I like it that way. In fact, if you know me, you were probably surprised too. That is because I just walk the walk and I let others talk the talk. I don’t think I’m better than anybody else; I recognise that everybody has their own journeys to live and things to learn. What I think is important is certainly not the forefront of everybody else’s concerns and I am not disillusioned enough to think so, or arrogant enough to impose my worldview onto anybody else. I just wanna do what I wanna do, if that’s okay with you?

Next on the subject of skin-deep ignorance: if you have a problem with my being a fair-skinned Koori who doesn’t look the way you mistakenly believe that Blackfellas are supposed to look as a homogenous group, then that’s also your problem. I’m sorry I don’t look the way you want me to in order confirm your outdated paradigm of what Blackfellas are supposed to look like. If you think that because I look white then therefore I am, you need to go do some reading on how long-debunked race theories have come to be dismantled as Eurocentric and Assimilationist pseudo-science. You need to understand the role of memetics in shaping culture, and that culture has for too long been misrepresented as biological race, and that biological race has no basis in true science. I know who I am. I know where I’ve come from and I know where I’m going. If, for you, what I look like clashes with the strength of my identity, I suggest that it is you who has the problem.

Similarly, if you feel the need to express your unwanted ignorance about ‘faggots and dykes’ in my earshot, then good for you. Your comments say more about you as an unevolved human than anything you intend it to. I may not ‘look’ gay or identify as gay, but I’m certainly not straight either. I’m proud to be queer. So no, I don’t find your jokes about me and mine funny or endearing; it doesn’t make me like you more that you shared an insider joke with me. However, I am glad to hear you talk this way as it just makes it easier for me to not pretend to be nice to you. Go, wave your freak flag high! Censoring doesn’t work, nor should it be encouraged. Society is benefitted when you out yourself as a fuckwit, and the world will be a better place when your backwards ideas are buried six feet under or scattered as dead ash like your remains.

I used to feign patience and act happy to explain myself, adhering to the maxim that ‘one catches more flies with honey than with vinegar’. But I’ve done my time, and it’s well nigh to retire those pretentions. Let someone else take up the mantle. If you want to learn more about any of the above topics or other themes that express themselves through your narrow perceptions of what I represent to you, go elsewhere. I am done with explaining, with my frustration thinly veiled beneath a tight-lipped smile. I’m still happy to be a mirror to reflect your asinine assumptions and attitudes, but I sure as fuck won’t let your rotten seeds take root in my verdant energy. I’m too old for this shit, and I’ve got better things to pour my precious thoughts into.

– Defender Of The Faith, 26.08.2013

UPDATE EDIT – for those who took this personally:

If you think I specifically wrote this for you, I didn’t. If you think this was written as a passive-aggressive missive to you, it wasn’t. If you think my lifetime of frustration being expressed in a public blog post is all about you and you alone, it isn’t. That being said: if you do believe that this is about you, why the guilty conscience?

Can You Hear The Music?: A Series of Questions to Overcome Musical Xenophobia and Techniques to Appreciate Music in Different Ways

A cult is a cult is a cult.

All followers think they are the chosen ones – the only ones who get it and truly understand what their messiah is saying. Admittedly, in a world full of doubt and spiritually vacuous consumption, it is nice to discover something to frame our experiences and it can be a relief to find answers for yourself at that time. But it’s also useful to recognise that we are born to flux and flow, not to stagnate and rot.

Blood, Milk and Blooms

Blood, Milk and Blooms

Solve: Breaking the problem into pieces

If you find yourself hero-worshipping the same artist for a lengthy period of time, I challenge you to ask yourself why. If it’s because the values and inspiration you have an affinity for ring true to your experience, ask yourself what other, better, deeper, more wonderful things are waiting to be discovered. Spending hours inside an art gallery filled with beautiful things is fine for a while, but what’s waiting for you in the great outdoors?

Do you only listen to one or two types of music? Why? What feelings and values do they represent? Have you thought about understanding these in different ways, through different music? Or does your favourite music have the monopoly?

There are always going to bands that you just don’t like. I have many in my shit-list but in my defence, they’re all bands from diverse genres. Regardless of how my bespoke critical faculties limit them from being good, I still recognise that they have value for other people – and that all music in itself is a vehicle for our fundamental human right to express ourselves.

For those of you who have made a particular kind of music a focal point of your existence, it can be easy to forget that other genres have value. Fans tend to gravitate towards scenes, to form ghettoes, to join cults. I get it. Communities are safe, and like ugly ducklings, we can feel like we’ve come home. But what does it say about your need to belong? Is your self-worth dependent on belonging to something for the sake of it? “I care about hardcore but I hate the scene,” said Zoli Teglas. Not only can I identify with that, I can apply it to many of the other scenes I move through (but that is a topic for another time).

Be honest: is there anything about your sub/culture that you don’t like? Is it catty, is it elitist? Is it too-serious or not serious enough? Is it monotypic – made up of a majority of people from the same gender, ethnicity, spiritual affiliation, political persuasion, sexual orientation, class background, and/or lifestyle choice? If so, why? Is it because outsiders find acceptance difficult, and are you part of the problem or the solution? Do you judge people who don’t fit in, and why? Is the fact that they’re not wearing the right uniform really a threat to your enjoyment of the music? And do you realise that everything you profess to rebel against might just be the same shit you are perpetuating in your judgements?

 

Set: Experimenting with content

Listen to music that you hate, and try to find something good about it.

Listen to music you don’t understand and try to find out the appeal.

Listen to aggressive music and feel what arises in your guts – is it a cathartic release of anger? A distillation of rage?  Is there beauty in the ugliness? Maybe you find it ridiculous or maybe it scares you. Does it make you uncomfortable, do you hate it? What does this say about anything you may be suppressing?

Listen to something challenging, perhaps some discordant noise or psychedelic jazz. Does it frustrate you that you can’t figure it out? What does this say about your love for the safety nets of rules and law and order? What do you fear about chaos? What untapped potential lies in that tangled fertility?

Listen to some heartfelt love ballads and some melodic eulogies for the fallen. Are you uncomfortable with how it makes your heart hurt? Listen to the despair and longing in that voice. Do you remember ever feeling like that? Does it make you cry? Is this okay – are you accepting of your heavy feelings? Or do you want to skip the song?

Listen to something mainstream, something not cool in your reckoning, or something the hipsters are hyping up. Are you contemptuous of its formulaic simplicity, of its overtly vacuous overtones? Or can you appreciate that silliness and lightness inspires frivolity and just letting troubles go? Does it make you stop thinking and just move, and isn’t that rad in its own right? Or does there have to meaning in music, does its profundity have to be spelled out and hand-fed to you? What does this say about your lack of imagination? What does it tell you about your need to define art only on your own terms, and not wonder about the myriad of other operating systems out there?

Listen to some politically-charged punk rock. Does the energy sweep you up or do you resist it? Or does it just make your ears hurt? What does this say about your ability to let go, and what does this say about your judgement on the validity of dissenting voices? Does it sound like a battle-cry, a call to arms? Does this inspire you to make a difference in the world, or a lifestyle change? To educate yourself and others? Ian McKay once said“At least I’m fucking trying! What the fuck have you done?” How would you answer him?

Listen to some socially-conscious folk music. Is it just whinging, or might they have a point? Where are they coming from? Do they have a right to express their frustration in a creative way, or only in a way that you see fit? Does this raise questions of how unyielding your condemnation can be for those you don’t understand or agree with? Or does it make you feel guilty that you’re ignorant and apathetic? Perhaps it makes you despair that the world is too fucked up and too far gone. And so, will you turn the song off and ignore the message, or will you have a go regardless?

Listen to some hip-hop. Is it ugly because of the way the lines are delivered, or is it beautiful for its passion? Do the beats make you nod in appreciation, the bass pumping your heart to its own beat? Or is it too repetitive? What does this say about your attention span? If, to you, it all just sounds like bullshit gangster drivel, I would suggest that you’ve bought into the mainstream music industry’s marketing ploy. Dig deeper. Find the real stuff.

What about electronic music – is it exciting, does it make you dance? Or is it just annoying doof-doof repetition? Can you see the value in loud repetitions as a vehicle for ecstatic dance, as a tool for embodied transcendental meditation? Is it not ‘real music’ because it doesn’t utilise the generic holy trinity of bass, drums and guitar? Or is it clever and creative because the artist invents new sounds from recordings and manipulations and distortions? If you think they’re not ‘real’ musicians because they don’t play popular instruments, please consider that many deejays are proficient multi-instrumentalists who want to push the envelope and evolve.

Listen to some authentic music from another sub/culture – one you don’t know much about (yet). Can you get a sense of the people, of the place, of history? If there are vocals and they’re in another tongue, can you intuit a meaning from the timbre and the way the singer releases it to your ears? Do you feel contemptuous; do you think the music is too simple or too strange for you to enjoy? Does this say something about your belief that only your sub/culture’s music has reached the epitome of artistic integrity?

Do you see foreign music as spiritual and moving even if in all likelihood they are just singing about mundane life? Does this tell you that perhaps you romanticise the Other too much? That you look outside for the spiritual, and can’t see it in your own backyard?

If in any of these you find yourself drawn to artists of one gender or sexual orientation, try something different. Does it give you a glimpse of another worldview, a tangible way to dance a thousand miles in another person’s shoes? Do lyrics that are too soft make you uncomfortable? Are you ill-at-ease with your untough side? Why do other lived realities really make you squirm?

Do misogynistic lyrics make you angry or uncomfortable in any way? What about racist or homophobic or other discriminatory language? Listen deeper. Does the artist really believe what they are singing, or are they providing a valuable social commentary by playing devil’s advocate?  Is it just for shock value, to generate controversy? If so, is there any value in that? Can you use them as an example to generate a dialogue about narrow and harmful paradigms? If they are dead serious, would the artists profess these values in the street individually, without the support of an incestuously like-minded band? Would they shout it in a crowd of those they seek to vilify, without the safety of the stage or recording studio for protection? If not, they’re likely just agent provocateurs – too weak to walk the talk.

Listen to music from way before your time. What kind of world did it emerge from? Was it ground-breaking or was it in the spirit of the age? Does it transport you back to an imagined past, or does it make you cringe? Is it surprisingly good, and what does that say about your assumption that your generation has a patent on epic music?

Listen to music your parents love. What was the soundtrack to their youths, and how does this inform your understanding of their lives before you were thought of? What was going down when you were conceived (pardon the pun), and does this put you into context?

Listen to music by very old and very young people. What are they concerned with, and can you relate? What gravity do you give these issues; can other generations relate to your weighty troubles?

Listen to the first album you ever bought. Does it still excite you or does it embarrass you? Why? Listen to the music you loved when you were rebellious, when you first took drugs, when you first made love. How does the music frame your experiences? Are the memories painful or nostalgic? Do you feel like a kid again – carefree – or is your younger self a stranger to you now? What does that say about your complicity in the world’s efforts to tame and to mould you, to clip your wings and to weigh you down with its responsibilities?

 

Setting: Experimenting with context

Do you really listen to music, or do you just use it as background noise – the soundtrack to your life? Can you choose an album and do nothing but listen to it, or do you need to hear it whilst working or exercising, doing chores or socialising? Try it. Put something on; feed it through superior speakers or headphones and just listen until it’s done.

Do you hear things you’ve never noticed before? Is there more to it than you previously assumed? Do you get lost in the layers: the high and low; soft and sharp; shallow and deep? How do they harmonise and fit in, or not? Do you find yourself swimming against the tide and overanalysing it, or do you float in oblivion? What pictures does it paint in your mind, what feelings does it invoke? Can you synthesise this and create your own music in response? Can you draw or talk or write about what you’re holding?

If you don’t usually dance or headbang, try moving and just going with what feels right. What does embodying the music do for your interpretation of it? Do the endorphins add more depth to your enjoyment? Does your whole body feel like another instrument; does the music play you instead of the other way around?

If you usually move, try being still. How does it enhance your listening when there are no other distractions? Is your whole body an extension of your ears? How does being anchored affect your listening? Try the same with your eyes opened and closed, singing along and being silent.

What music do you like to make love to, what do you like to fuck to? Do you prefer it aggressive or ephemeral? What does this say about your sexual expression? What would happen if you changed it up a bit?

If you usually go to gigs with friends or a partner, go alone next time. Is it out of your safety zone? Do you need familiar faces around you, or is your own presence enough? Did you have fun, and will you do it again?

Are you always drunk and/or high at gigs? Try going straight. Does the music sound different? Do you hear new things? Are you still having fun, and can the music be enough? Do you remember more the next day, and does the feeling stay with you longer; does it settle in deeper?

How do you discover new sounds? Through friends, or festivals, or do you do your own research? Do you allow the media to dictate for you?

Do you look at the influences of your favourite artists? What bands inspire them, what is their heritage? Look at their label mates, bands they’ve toured with, scenes they grew out of and bands they’ve come from. Look at their side-projects and collaborations. All music is connected through time and across space.

Who does your favourite version of that cover song you like? Is the original the best? Is the new interpretation blasphemy or is it tits?

Are you fiercely loyal to an artist, a genre, a scene? Can they do no wrong in your eyes/ears? What happens when they say something you don’t agree with?

Do you appreciate style changes in bands, understanding that everything eventually evolves? Or do you resent experimentation, believing that your favourite band’s sole purpose is to cater to your tastes that are stuck in time? Do you love all albums from a particular band, or are you able to wipe the stars from your eyes and be critical of less grounded efforts? Are you suspicious of them selling out, or do you empathise with their struggle between the rock of artistic integrity and the hard place of trying to pay the bills?

Do you get obsessed with an album, playing it over and over and over until you know the lyrics, every tempo change, the ins and outs by heart? Have you ever considered that this takes away its power and mystery, or do you need to have everything all figured out? What does the obsession do for you? Does it validate your worldview? Or does it close you off to other music and therefore other ways of experiencing life at the same time?

 

Coagula: Picking up and synthesising the pieces

We all go through phases: they reflect and are a reflection of our internal states. Musical phases mirror our desires and our values, but surrounding yourself with nothing but reflections of your validations, and staring at your own likeness for too long is essentially just masturbation. Are you self-serving, narcissistic? Are you wanking to your own image?

What phase are you in now, and what does it say about what’s going on in your life? What are you grateful for right now? What kind of person do you want to be, what do you want to change about yourself? Can you open up your ears and your mind? Can you shift your parameters to include different things?

Fuck oath you can. There’s a whole world of music out there waiting to be discovered. Go and play!

– Defender Of The Faith, 03.04.2013

ROLLING STONES – CAN YOU HEAR THE MUSIC?

The Tale of Two Wolves, Decolonised

Intraterra (detail)

An old Christian evangelist is teaching his grandson about life by way of misrepresenting and homogenising American Indian spiritual lore. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is dark and therefore evil (because I believe and perpetuate long-debunked race theories as biological truth, and therefore equate dark skin with sin) – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. These things are bad in my simplistic Western view that categorises all things into binary opposites, and these emotions are never, ever, ever natural or useful or necessary. They are just plain bad.”

He continued, “The other is white and good (because as a privileged white man, I am at the top of the Great Chain of Being and so whiteness is holy and right and true) – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too, because my Eurocentric value-laden paradigm is of course representative of everybody else’s.”

The boy asked, “Why are they wolves?”

The Christian evangelist replied, “Well, they are wolves because even though we have driven wolves to near-extinction with our anthropocentric and ecocidal ways, for some hypocritical reason we still romanticise wolves as noble creatures. Despite not honouring their place in life in practise, their symbolism theoretically elevates an otherwise clichéd story into a good yarn. And so I talk of wolves although I have no knowledge of their true habits, but I enjoy anthropomorphising them into childish constructs of good and evil, to veil my otherwise too-obvious-to-be-authentic American Indian parable. So I suppose the real reason is that they give more spiritual credence to this story than a dog or a cat or a horse ever could.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Well, which wolf will win?”

The old Christian evangelist simply replied, “The one you feed.”

The grandson called bullshit. “Wolves are wild, you senile dickhead. Only domesticated creatures rely on humans for food.”

– Defender Of The Faith, 02.04.2013

Dystopian Somniantes

Gaping Maw

Over there, a different way to change the path we tread
A system of the fake and numb: deus ex machina reviviscente

Enter now this smoky sphere – a twisted, broken maze
Forget the one you were before. Forget the younger days

The yellow sun is dirtied by the smoky lens of dawn
The amber mist at break of day turns grey when work is born

Horizon is irregular and light dies fast on land
Shorter days are measured with an artificial hand

Blocks of concrete all around – impervious (it seems) –
Divided into tiny cells hold even smaller dreams

The free, the young, the careless lives grow older day by day
Beneath their immortality is an an aura of decay

Empty vessels orbiting a false and fetid sun
Seeking; drawn to one same core, the armies merge as one

Light and noise and burning fuel raise a cone of power
Such strange abuse of Nature’s gifts returns a noxious shower

Where the tree? the bird? the beast? Expelled by bed of steel
With cover over Earth’s soft skin She cannot breathe or feel

Mine the Water, herd the fish – a new god rules them all
No Moon or tides shall govern them; the glass shall block Her call

The Water churns our offerings inside Her briny womb;
Sucking in our dirty waste and spitting back the fumes

(Thunder in the Ocean, rolling in the waves
Tumble round the foaming whorl in underwater graves)

Reused, return from drowning pool, break down with other lives
They live too long and then too poor by thieving, greedy knives

When dirty dreams and veiled intent present as what they’re not,
This squalid square of measured points boils in its own rot

(To live and breathe such false surrounds will surely kill your light.
Your soul will fester in the place where all life enters night.)

Barely living, blank of mind, crave the ways before
Remembering a different time when life meant so much more

Defender Of The Faith – 10.04.04

(When I was nineteen, I was viciously assaulted in my home town by a gutless prick and put into hospital with severe facial injuries. I escaped to the city the next week to spend time with family. I wrote this during my stay; it is a reflection of my internal state as well as my physical environment at that time. Eight years on, I now live in that city…and I often still feel this way.)