Friday, April 27, 2012

Myanmar rocks

This post first appeared on MOG, February 11, 2008.


I recently returned from Asia, including two weeks in Myanmar (which I loved, despite the political context), where, as is my habit, I tried to track down some local music. I was invited to a punk show at a shopping mall by some enthusiastic male students from an English class I randomly led for a couple of mornings; but, as it turns out, it was a day or two before Independence Day, and the authorities were not likely to let the show take place. I skipped it. On the other hand, I did attend the most bizarre New Year's Eve party of my short life; imagine: a high-class hotel; reserved, numbered tables; an all-you-can-eat buffet; unlimited drinks; a rowdy crowd (mostly from Singapore and other parts of the Malay Peninsula, not to mention lots of Thai and Chinese, plus some South Asians from the RoI, and a pair of fat tourists, probably Germans); an emcee who can only be described as a pastiche of Chris Tucker's character in "The Fifth Element"; crowd participation (couples tug-of-war, female wrestling, an endless raffle (I won two nights in a luxury hotel in the Shan state, close to the Golden Triangle, that I couldn't use because they expired, well, a couple of weeks ago)); the weirdest dance thing I've ever seen, complete with midget and scrawny, overdriven Asian belly dancer; and a dozen or more live music performances.--All tied together by the theme of this particular New Year's Eve bash: The Gladiator (I shit you not).

The music ran the entire pop gamut, from covers of midwestern bar jukebox classics like Kenny Rodgers to odd, punky, Avril Lavigne (I think) type stuff (with some rapping thrown in, heh). The English-language hits sung in Burmese were by far the most interesting. The setup was two bands, each of which played along with the many individual vocalists and pairs of vocalists, who would all dutifully present their sheet music to the band before turning to the audience, mic in hand. One thing I really enjoyed: no vocalist could sing more than a few bars before audience members would begin streaming to the stage to pin flowers in their hair and to give them helium balloons to hold (picture, if you will, a long-haired rocker guy, with fingerless gloves, studded denim jacket, daintily holding a pink balloon). Some vocalists finished their performance completely weighted down by the outpourings of the audience -- something like putting dollar bills in the g-string of a stripper, only G-rated. The smoke machine was in heavy, heavy use. I couldn't understand the performers' names, but some of them seemed to be famous, at least in Yangon. The situation of a single band playing with multiple vocalists is more or less the norm, from what I can tell.

Myanmar's biggest band (for a decade now), Iron Cross, is a hard rock outfit with several singers. I bought two Iron Cross disks on a shopping trip with a student from the English class I mentioned. They are, to wit, Lay Phyu's "Kha Na Layy Myarr" and Myo Gyi's "Nate Sa Du Wa," and their schizophrenic trajectories, from almost Pantera-like heaviness to Hong Kong film soundtrack sappiness, is apparently completely unsurprising. I've actually really begun to enjoy all of the songs, though, even the cheesiest of them, but the standout is Lay Phyu's amazing "Ma Mayt Pyit Net" (yes, even with the string section).

I also picked up some tapes on the street that I hope to digitize soon, the first of some traditional music (which I don't expect to differ radically from the Burmese folk music available through the totally amazing Sublime Frequencies), the second, "Emperor Oasis," by a singer who looks kind of like a Burmese Sonny Crockett (that promises to be fun: though the jacket is nicely printed, the tape itself is a regular old 60-minute unit you could pick up in a drugstore (or maybe not, anymore)).

My big purchase, though, is hiphop heartthrob Sai Sai's "Happy Sai Sai Birthday" album, a recording of a show Sai Sai played on, yes, his birthday (the closer is the audience singing happy birthday to him). Much of the music sounds vaguely like something you've already heard (scraps of Eminem, what have you), but the Burmese rapping is -- pardon the expression -- totally awesome, particularly the ghetto superstar (re)remix "Chit Thu Tan Ta Tha Chin" feat. Kaung Myat (of "My Name Is Kaung Myat" fame) and Nge Nge. Sai Sai's website is

All of this music was purchased on the recommendation of one student I spent some time with while in Yangon. I asked him to take me record shopping, and it was his help that resulted in me getting to hear the disks before buying them (I mean, in the first place, he took me to the right store). Thankfully my wife was traveling with her laptop, and I was able to return the favor, loading him up with music that is completely unknown in Yangon (Pixies, El-P, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, Blonde Redhead, and so on). He wrote me an email a couple of weeks ago to say that he really likes everything I gave him.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

tweet #6


This post first appeared on cranky dilettante, April 23rd, 2012.

Five blog posts, then, one for each year worked at Berkman – though this blog wasn't activated until about two years into my time [t]here, which was, all together, five years, two months, and two weeks, exactly. So.

A cranky dilettante, to judge from these meager posts, is a kind of not speaking; or, a muttering that never quite rises to the audible level of the blog named for it.

The initial impulse – hardly a flicker really, and decidedly lacking the dignity and pedigree of an Intention – was to provide myself with a space in which to share the notes I would scratch and scribble during the many Berkman Center events I attended over the years. But the (admittedly remote) possibility that even one person might come across these notes was enough to set off my Pathologically Time-Consuming Prose Revision Compulsion™. I simply edited everything out of existence. I am no blogger.

In point of fact, this post has taken me more than a month to write, and the occasion for its composition, my departure from the Center, is nine months behind us – though I feel, thanks to the second family I found in the Berkman staff, as though I’m simply on a very long vacation. Here is my “out of office forever” bounce message:

Thanks for your message.
As of August 2011, I am no longer at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society.

* If you're a reporter, please resend your email to
* For other matters, please consult the staff list at for the correct contact.
* If you're unsure of the right person to contact, please send an email to

After a fuzz more than five years as a full-time staffer among the amazing folks who lead and support the Berkman Center, I am relocating to Europe for a couple of years -- with huge gratitude to the many people inside and outside Berkman who have made my time here challenging, engaging, and fun.

Personal messages may be sent to my personal email address, or feel free to track me down via your favorite social network site.
See you on the Internet!


Five years is longer than I was in college, and it’s as long as I was in grad school before disappearing one day, without a word of farewell. Five years is almost a long time.

The end of an era on Twitpic



My twenty year high school reunion is this summer. The idea of "twenty years" is so terrifying that, off and on, I have considered backtracking on my youthful vow never to attend a high school reunion. But international travel, and the exigencies of visiting all sides of the family when stateside, have made it impossible for me to go.* Hurrah. My adolescent zeal remains uncompromised!

But it is also true that I am sorry, I think, to miss this, for reasons that I have not been able to untangle for myself. And now I must decide whether or not to submit a photograph and biography to the so-called Reunion Book. What would such a biography say? Would it be written in the first or third person? Perhaps it is written in the second person. Yeah, that could be my trick.

Having aped one of Joel Brodsky’s “young lion” photographs of Jim Morrison for my senior yearbook portrait, captioned with a confusing quotation about anarchy or something, I feel -- and in this I have not risen above my adolescence -- that it is important to double or double up or double down on the rebellionizing now, twenty years on.

But negation and provocation are not indifference. I am uncompromised, to appearances, but I am also unfree, as in un-indifferent. So I may as well send something in?

There is this, and then there are all of these, uh, social media profiles...which one supposes a clever robot could assemble into a nifty dossier/profile. Aye, a robot. Aye, robot.

So I may as well send something in? No, putting all of this into writing has succeeded in working out the kink. Sorry or not, I shall do nothing. There.

I have passed the test. I will diminish, and go into the West, and remain an asshole.

* In a delightful twist, I will arrive in the locality of the reunion, to visit my family, just days after the event.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

blast beat?

Excerpted from an email to BT, April 17, 2012:

...when I arrived as a first-year [student] myself, I was delighted to tape two new CDs from you...: they were Painkiller's "Guts of a Virgin" and "Buried Secrets." I remember there was some controversy with the album cover of one of these, but I don't remember what it was ["Guts of a Virgin" was censored in the UK]. I still had the original cassette copies of those albums until this summer when, in the moving "process" (i.e. apocalypse), I shed a large number of tapes -- to the sidewalk. Hopefully some East Cambridge neighborhood kid is having his mind blown right now by Scud Attack, having stumbled into the pile of cassettes and fished out a few that looked interesting.

I remember you saying to me knowingly: It's John Zorn and Bill Laswell with the insane drummer from Napalm Death. And, since I had some passing familiarity with Napalm Death, I nodded knowingly.

Years later, in NYC, [PK] was trying to open my mind to drum and bass and other electronic musics. Of the many, many disks he loaned me...a few stayed in my library. Two were Mick Harris projects (including a perennial, personal favorite, "Total Station").

Two or three days ago, I was reading a record review that mentioned blast beats and thought to myself, "All these years I've told myself I know what a blast beat is, but do I really? I think I have to confess to myself that, as a technical matter, I do not know." The Wikipedia entry on blast beat features Napalm Death prominently, and so, at last, I learned that Mick Harris, of Total Station and many other electronic projects fame, was the drummer in Painkiller and Napalm Death, among other live bands.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

"das Bild der erstarrten Unruhe"

When he was out drinking he had the sense that, for a night, a moment, one drink more, he was able to climb off the endless roll of butcher paper that he was running on -- forced to sketch the figures of his life frantically, flip-book-like, a cartoon strip running ahead in him that he could not stop to revise but that rolled on and on, while he scrambled in inky black and white to keep his footing -- and into a broad canvas, rich in color and static and enframed, as though time were suddenly forced to hover like an elegant composition by an Italian master, and within the stillness and hardened, scalloped brush strokes, there was, there, tension and drama, a tension and drama that, to him, were consistent with the temporality of being drunk, which is to say, for a night: immortal as a skyscraper, a chain smoker, a crack in the concrete through which a painted flower creeps. And he thought that if he could only manage to transmit this sense of time into writing, to communicate it to someone, that he would somehow, in the mutual recognition he hoped would follow, achieve, without alcohol, that tantalizing state of energized, buzzing motionless time. The sun slants through the open window, a bee bumps against the ceiling, “nobody will ever die.”

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

it's writing

Inspired by a turn in the evening's conversation, at SIN, and by way of a subsequent sequence of lookups too tedious and convoluted to relate here, I find that elsewhere, in another "online" journal, I had written -- three separate times, over a period of six months --
I expend all my will not to drink, so that, drinking, I should drink out of failure, in the sovereign intensity of failure.