MRR Column - #354, November 2012
About: Charles Bukowski, a respectable frenchman, doing things the Black Flag Way, Crass, the welfare state, french squatters, and the virtues of loneliness & work.
“This is very important – to take leisure time. Pace is the essence. Without stopping entirely and doing nothing at all for great periods, you're gonna lose everything. Whether you're an actor, anything, a housewife...there has to be great pauses between highs, where you do nothing at all. You just lay on a bed and stare at the ceiling. (…) And I don't mean having profound thoughts. I mean having no thoughts at all. Without thoughts of progress, without any self-thoughts of trying to further yourself. Just...like a slug. It's beautiful.” (Charles Bukowski, 1987)
The other day one of my friends told me that these columns o’ mine have kinda started to suck lately, and who am I to argue? Mind you, the guy isn’t some kind of shit-talking machine but a respectable human punk, so I listened and nodded. After all, one thing I know is that writing isn’t different from music which isn’t different from anything else in this world – if you wanna achieve something, anything, you gotta work hard, and if you fail, well, you gotta work harder and longer. No mystery here, talent is bullshit, work is everything. And there’s no denying that I haven’t exactly been hard at work in 2012 so far, as far as writing goes. So yeah. Columns suck. Cry me a river.
The idea that you gotta put lots of efforts in your zine (or column, or band, etc) for it to be any good isn’t that popular in the punk scene in France, or at least it didn’t seem to be when I was growing up. “The French way” to do punk stuff seemed to be the opposite of “the Black Flag way”, meaning the American way, or the Japanese way, i.e. treat your band like it’s the most important thing in your life, flush your social life down the toilets for it, make sacrifices for it, fuck, go and die for it if it’s gonna make the songs sound any better. Over here the idea that laziness is a defendable value is pretty ingrained in punk’s minds, or so it seems. You see people wearing patches simply and proudly spelling the word LAZY in capitals, with a circle ’round the “A”. What the fuck, right? No wonder this music of ours sucked for so long. We’re paid by the State to do nothing. We are the Welfare Punks, spending half our time in bed and the other drinking cheap beer. Fuck us. We won’t achieve shit.
This year I’ve worked full time for six months in a row, the longest I’ve ever been employed. My previous record was five months. Ten years ago I remember getting into an argument with my then-girlfriend when she asked me what I wanted to do with my life. I was working a shitty part-time telemarketing job, living in her tiny Parisian room under the roof of a seven floors building with no elevator, and feeling pretty damn miserable. My answer was “I don’t know.” Followed by “Well, actually, the only thing I know is that I wanna work as little as possible.” She stared at me for a few seconds, dumbfounded, waiting for the punch line, but there was none. “Work as little as possible? Is that it? Is that your only project for the future? No wonder you’re depressed!” Of course she was kinda rightfully pissed, working as she was for both of us, paying our rent so that I could spend my afternoons writing dumb fanzines about Spanish anarchists and Swedish poseurs in her room while she was looking after two rich brats ten hours a day, which drove her insane. Fair enough.
Save for my poor girlfriend, most of the people I was surrounded by seemed to agree with me. There was the world-famous sticker/ patch/ book cover/ whatever that featured a drawing of a peaceful-looking person lying in bed with the catchphrase “I didn’t go to work today… I don’t think I’ll go tomorrow”, there was Crass singing “Do they owe us a living, of course they do, of course they do” and there were all my friends, The Proudly Unemployed, pretending their laziness was political but still living with their parents and finding endless excuses for it. Down the street, one of my best friends would punch his dad in the face whenever he told him to get a job, which is pretty fucking extreme when you think about it, especially considering that he was still living at said dad’s place, 23 years of age and not having the slightest desire to build anything or even to find a place of his own and stop living off his folks hard-earned cash. And then there were the anarchists, the squatters, who were trying to build another world from scratch, not on the ruins of the old one but right in the core of it, like trying to play an heartfelt protest song with tiny amps and no P.A in the same room where an extremely loud heavy metal band with professional gear is still jamming. Sure you’ll annoy them, but they’ll still be louder, they’ll still win in the end. A noble fight, even if it felt like a lost cause. Still, the squatters were the ones with the most realistic view of leisure, of “doing nothing” – they liked to defend laziness but they were building things, making efforts, in one word, working. Entire days were spent chilling, drinking beers in the sun, smoking rollies and reading pamphlets in messy gardens full of weeds and self-managed vegetables, but other weeks were dedicated to building the benches on which to sit, planting those veggies and writing those pamphlets, not to mention the act of opening and running the squat, dealing with the authorities, and all the other hard stuff associated with this way of living. Call these people lazy and I’ll call you a fool. It’s all about balance, baby.
Basically I think the term laziness is misinterpreted by a lot of people around here. For instance when Bukowski talks about the virtues of leisure, he’s obviously fucking with us – here’s a guy who published six novels, about a dozen collections of short stories, and countless poetry books, telling us that doing nothing is the way to go? You know how hard it is to write a good short story? A good novel? That shit’s a full-time job, not in the sense of “working 8 hours and going home to chill with your wife” but more like a “work all day, work all night” type deal. So many people dream of writing a book, so few are ready to put in the necessary work and sacrifices… Just like so many people want their band to be groundbreaking, yet wouldn’t miss a minute of the time they spend socializing at the bar to stay alone in their rooms trying to find good riffs. I think what Bukowski’s talking about when mentioning the importance of doing “nothing at all” is more a critique of the hectic, bullshit contemporary way of life wherein people are so afraid of silence and loneliness that they constantly need some kind of distraction, no matter what is is (TV, internet, people, music, alcohol, food, you name it). Socializing is important, but so is enjoying one’s own company, not freaking out when left alone. What’s there to be scared of? Facing our own thoughts? One shouldn’t feel emptiness when left alone. A good way of doing “nothing at all” is to meditate, but that’s probably too hippie for most of you, so I won’t even start.
Make no mistake, what I’m doing here, essentially, is trying to convince myself to get to work. I’m a lazy bastard, as anyone who knows me will attest – I enjoy doing fuck all, getting up late, spending hours talking shit on benches, all that good stuff, but as far as my relationship to work goes, it’s not that I hate it per se, it’s just that I can’t stand being bossed around and doing meaningless chores for the benefit of someone else. Of course that’s the very definition of the word “work” for most people, and it was for me too until a few years ago – like most French punks I hated the very word, until I realized that if I wanted to write better, I was gonna have to kick my own ass and spend a lot more time alone, in front of the computer, and work on it. Either that, or I’d never progress. It’s one thing to be against the notion of work as sold to us by “the system”, it’s another to proudly achieve nothing at all, like, ever. Duh. Life is short, punk, so do something with it – this is what I’m trying to tell myself here, after a full day of sitting around naked in my room blasting the recently reissued “Oddities” 2xLP by The Clean that I bought last week in Barcelona, the mandatory Meat Thump 7” on Negative Guest List Records* and the Flip Shit 7” that some dude from Rochester was nice enough to send me as some kinda promo thingy (Hint: get all these records, you won’t regret it.) The massive heat-wave outside isn’t helping but I gotta look for a new job, a new apartment, write that goddamn novel and find new ways of keeping punk exciting for myself. Because that’s the thing, for me, as far as this punk shit goes – if you stop being an active participant, if you stop working on it, punk quickly becomes stale, boring, tedious; if you got a critical mind it quickly becomes hell, as you watch other people shape this thing in ways that drive you mad. And with writing, it’s even worse, ’cause the only sure way to become better is to write every day, write all the time, write reviews and emails and letters and short stories you’ll throw away the next day, write anything but write, write, write, otherwise you’ll lose the momentum and you’ll be the only one to blame. That’s pretty much what I told my mate after he mentioned the lack of quality in those columns lately, and especially when he asked if I had considered stopping writing them: no I haven’t, I’ll just work harder to make them better again, and if I fail, feel free to send me hate mail.