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2015 was a Kingdom of Bullshit. We were assaulted by a relentless barrage of bullets and bile from real-world terrorists & political hate-mongers, all while media-trolls across the spectrum stoked the blazes for revenue clicks. It all fed our frenzy so hard we became indignation wendigos, our frothy jaws devouring each other’s fury and spewing it back so forcefully we even hated those we should’ve considered comrades. South Park killed it this year with its satire of the Outrage Industrial Complex, but the most 2015 show by a hair has to be Mr. Robot. It captured the zeitgeist perfectly without ever quite snagging the zeitgeist’s attention, but something tells me (even if it’s just wishful thinking) it’ll have a much bigger cult by the time Season 2 starts in 2016. Yeah, in a lot of ways Mr. Robot is just picking up where Fight Club left off 16 years ago— but goddammit, it’s about time somebody picked up where Fight Club left off.

2014 Was a Flat Circle

2013 Was The Climb, Time After Time

2012 Was Louis C.K.’s Foolish Flailing

2011 Was Walter White’s Mad Cackle

Sin Esperanza - Frida Kahlo, 1945

Sin Esperanza (Without Hope) – Frida Kahlo, 1945

Doctor Gordon was unlocking the closet. He dragged out a table on wheels with a machine on it and rolled it behind the head of the bed. The nurse started swabbing my temples with a smelly grease.

As she leaned over to reach the side of my head nearest the wall, her fat breast muffled my face like a cloud or a pillow. A vague, medicinal stench emanated from her flesh.

“Don’t worry,” the nurse grinned down at me. “Their first time everybody’s scared to death.”

I tried to smile, but my skin had gone stiff, like parchment.

Doctor Gordon was fitting two metal plates on either side of my head. He buckled them into place with a strap that dented my forehead, and gave me a wire to bite.

I shut my eyes.

There was a brief silence, like an indrawn breath.

Then something bent down and took hold of me and shook me like the end of the world. Whee-ee-ee-ee-ee, it shrilled, through an air crackling with blue light, and with each flash a great jolt drubbed me till I thought my bones would break and the sap would fly out of me like a split plant.

I wondered what terrible thing it was that I had done.

Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

Bathing Nude - Zinaida Serebriakova, 1927

Bathing Nude – Zinaida Serebriakova, 1927

I remember the ceiling over every bathtub I’ve stretched out in. I remember the texture of the ceilings and the cracks and the colors and the damp spots and the light fixtures. I remember the tubs, too: the antique griffin-legged tubs, and the modern coffin-shaped tubs, and the fancy pink marble tubs overlooking indoor lily ponds, and I remember the shapes and sizes of the water taps and the different sorts of soap holders.

I never feel so much myself as when I’m in a hot bath.

I lay in that tub on the seventeenth floor of this hotel for-women-only, high up over the jazz and push of New York, for near onto an hour, and I felt myself growing pure again. I don’t believe in baptism or the waters of Jordan or anything like that, but I guess I feel about a hot bath the way those religious people feel about holy water.

I said to myself: “Doreen is dissolving, Lenny Shepherd is dissolving, Frankie is dissolving, New York is dissolving, they are all dissolving away and none of them matter any more. I don’t know them, I have never known them and I am very pure. All that liquor and those sticky kisses I saw and the dirt that settled on my skin the way back is turning into something pure.”

The longer I lay there in the clear hot water the purer I felt, and when I stepped out at last and wrapped myself in one of the big, soft white hotel bath towels I felt pure and sweet as a new baby.

Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

Bootleg Whiskey - Jacob Lawrence, 1943

Bootleg Whiskey – Jacob Lawrence, 1943

There are few things as beautiful as a glass bottle filled with deep amber whiskey. Liquor shines when the light hits it, reminiscent of precious things like jewels and gold. But whiskey is better than some lifeless bracelet or coronet. Whiskey is a living thing capable of any emotion that you are. It’s love and deep laughter and brotherhood of the type that bonds nations together.

Whiskey is your friend when nobody else comes around. And whiskey is solace that holds you tighter than most lovers can.

I thought all that while looking at my sealed bottle. And I knew for a fact that it was all true.

True the way a lover’s pillow talk is true. True the way a mother’s dreams for her napping infant are true.

But the whiskey mind couldn’t think its way out of the problems I had. So I took Mr. Seagram’s, put him in his box, and placed him up on the shelf where he belonged.

Walter Mosley, Black Betty

Of all the rock albums that currently exist, Green Day’s Insomniac is one of the greatest.  Today it turns 20 years old.

“I believe that truth only has one face: that of a violent contradiction.”  – George Bataille

“I’ll be scared later.  Right now I’m too mad.” – Bugs Bunny

Insomniac‘s got nothing to prove to you, or anyone else in this sick machine we call the world- yet it’s got nearly everything to prove, and will do so gleefully.  (It’s a twisted mess of contradictions like that.)  Most of all, it’s gonna prove to anyone who’ll listen that it’s the epitome of punk-loving, no-bullshit rock n’ roll.   

Insomniac is a black sheep overshadowed by its overachieving, chart-topping, Grammy-winning brothers (Dookie and American Idiot). It’s cynical bumper sticker philosophy from a smart-ass high school dropout who had just become a husband, father, and multi-millionaire rock star in the span of a year.  It’s a live news report from the front lines of This Eternal Apocalypse, where the reporter keeps miming jerk-off gestures at the camera.  It’s Johnny Rotten Vs. Groucho Marx in a Monster Truck Demolition Derby.  It’s bouncing around a padded cell in furious figure-8s, propelled by rocket roller skates.  It’s an amphetamine-fueled kegger crashing a Dark Night of the Soul.  A jittery sugar-high at a spiritual rock bottom.  The 33-minute existential crisis of a masochistic dingbat who ultimately finds salvation in the spine-chilling, mind-boggling, gut-busting absurdity of it all.

“Do what you will, this world’s a fiction/ and is made up of contradiction.” – William Blake

“I’m a smart ass but/ I’m playing dumb” – Billie Joe Armstrong

Q: Is Insomniac “Punk”?  A: What the Hell does it matter?

I’ve heard and read much impassioned debate over what “punk” means, and whether or not that particular label applies to Green Day.  I care not to end such debates, however inane they may be, so for the heck of it, let’s examine some relevant questions through the lens of Insomniac (which happens to be Green Day’s punkiest album).  Like: Is “punk” really so much more than just loud, fast, hard, catchy tunes?  Does “punk” just need to say “Fuck It,” or wouldn’t merely saying “Fuck It” be much too lazy?  Shouldn’t “punk” value simplicity, honesty, brevity AND wit?  Isn’t “punk” about not being afraid to beg for anything in life, except maybe pity?  Shouldn’t “punk” only appear nihilistic on the surface, with a layer of giddy black irony underneath to shield the wounded, doe-eyed babe trapped at the bottom of its well of alienation?  Is Insomniac not really “punk” because it might be the shortest distance between The Sex Pistols and The Jonas Brothers?  Or because the gear doesn’t sound like it was swiped from a thrift shop?  Or because the band sounds like they rehearse four hours a day instead of four hours a month?  Or because they’ve sold roughly 85 jazillion records?  Didn’t The Ramones want to be The Beatles?  Are The Ramones not “punk” enough for you?  Is it possible Fugazi’s songs aren’t quite as enjoyable as their gimmick?

“I am large, I contain multitudes.” – Walt Whitman

“Hooray! We’re Gonna Die!” – Billie Joe Armstrong

Billie Joe’s often content to cut-and-paste cliches into his lyric sheet, and on Insomniac he practically trips over himself trying to demonstrate this.  Sometimes, he can just put a clever spin on an old cliche: “Better swallow your pride or you’re gonna choke on it,” and “My own worst friend and my own closest enemy,” and “Call it as I see it/ even if I was born deaf, blind and dumb.”  But just as often, there’s “Do as I say/not as I do,” and “I’m going nowhere fast,” and “Don’t let the door hit you in the ass,” and “Wish in one hand/shit in the other/see which one gets filled first.”  Yet when sung along to his exuberant melodies, and packed with the wallop of those superheavyweight guitars and drums, the cliches sound funny and fresh all over again.  This is no minor feat, I think.

“After all, what would be ‘beautiful’ if the contradiction had not first become conscious of itself; if the ugly had not first said to itself, ‘I am ugly’?” – Friedrich Nietzsche

“I perfected the science of the idiot.” – Billie Joe Armstrong

Billie Joe’s often been called a whiner- at least by the so-called Dean of the Rock Critics– and I suppose it’s a somewhat valid label.  After all, one of his most famous lyrics asks, “Do you have the time/to listen to me whine/about nothing and everything all at once?”  But his relentless, pitiless self-deprecation makes him one of the more tolerable superstar whiners of ’90s rock.  Compared to a lot of his peers- Cobain, Corgan, Cuomo- Billie Joe sounds downright stoic.  A paragon of reason, even.  And on Insomniac, Billie Joe sounds as rational as he’s ever sounded, probably because he’s genuinely at his maddest.

“Well what did you expect in an opera?  A happy ending?” – Bugs Bunny

Remember, kids, there’s a fine distinction between evolution and progress.  (Or, as Billie Joe says, “There is no progress/ Evolution killed it all.”)  Kind of makes you think: wouldn’t it be somewhat ironic if natural selection ultimately favored the Creationists?  Wouldn’t that just be a tragedy of hilarious proportions?

this post previously appeared on the site on 10/10/10, Insomniac‘s 15th birthday.

Lately I’ve been experiencing some extra-trippy nostalgia thanks to Spotify and its “Discover Weekly” feature, which custom-makes playlists for me with algorithms based on the music I listen to on their wonderful social media-oriented platform. As the name implies, “Discover Weekly” tends to introduce me to cool tracks I’ve never heard before– but it also reminds me of cool tracks that I’ve somehow forgotten, even though they soundtracked hugely significant moments in my life.

Like “Stay” by Shakespears Sister, which appeared on my Discover playlist this week. When I saw the title, it rang a faint little bell, but it wasn’t like I immediately remembered how the song went or anything. For reasons which will become clear soon enough, I decided to look up the video on YouTube instead of just listening to the track on Spotify first. And as I started watching the video, a weird feeling crept into me. Here was this vaguely familiar Kate Bush-like fairy tale music, which I kinda liked, and yet I couldn’t shake the feeling that I should know it a lot better than I did.

Then came the bridge, at around a minute-58 into the video, and a most bizarre memory avalanched into my brain– my memory of the first time I heard this song, which was also the first time I saw the video.

I must’ve been around 11 years old, because the song was released in 1992. I was watching MTV, maybe a late night airing of 120 Minutes (because the song seems “alternative” enough for that show), but I think I may have seen it in broad daylight.

I distinctly remember seeing the section with the song’s bridge, where Siobhan Fahey barges in as a gothy demon goddess and savagely disrupts the tender vibe, singing “You better hope and pray that you make it safe back to your own world.” When I first saw that as a tender 11-year-old, I swear I thought I was having some kind of psychotic break. Clearly this woman with the possessed eyes stabbing my soul through the fourth wall was speaking directly to me and only me, warning of some supernatural peril that lay in wait for me. I was convinced I had crossed the threshold into some world I would never return from.

I remember being so shaken by that sequence that I couldn’t wait to see the video again, or at least hear the song on the radio, so I could be sure that the goth-demon part was actually part of the song, and not just something that had been transmitted directly into my mind by dark forces beyond my comprehension.

Ultimately, of course, I was comforted to learn that the bizarre bridge really was part of the song, that everyone else heard it too. I don’t know how long it took me to realize it, but I remember feeling a gigantic sense of relief upon learning that.

23 years later, it all seems a bit silly…and yet, it still seems pretty creepy, and still pretty awesome. So awesome that I can’t believe I forgot all about this song until now. Though I guess it makes sense if I simply repressed all my memories of this song out of fear & utter embarrassment. Whatever the reason, I’m glad to have been reminded of this priceless forgotten memory, and I can’t wait to see what other forgotten memories Spotify might uncover…

Girls With Good Luck Charms - Raphael Kirchner, circa 1905

Girls With Good Luck Charms – Raphael Kirchner, circa 1905

8.
Here’s a system you can use. Let’s say you’re playing an old-fashioned three-reel machine at a dollar a spin with a max bet of three. A reel is a mechanical wheel that spins inside the machine. When the symbols on the reels line up in a designated pattern, the player wins. This line is called the payline. If you put in $10, the credit meter will display 10. You can bet one, two, or three credits. If you bet three credits, i.e. max bet, when the reels spin your credit meter adjusts to 7. Congratulations, a single spin on a $1 machine just cost you $3. It’s particularly frustrating when the first reel of your $3 bet stops between symbols. At this rate, you’ll be broke in no time. So start with a single credit. If the first reel doesn’t stop with a symbol on the payline, stick to a single-credit bet for the next spin. But if that first reel puts a symbol on the payline, up the bet, even if the second or third reel doesn’t. As long as the first reel puts a symbol on the payline, keep upping the bet all the way to max bet. But as soon as the first reel stops cooperating, drop back down to a one-credit wager. I call this system the Rule of Firsts. The thing about this system, of course, is it’s not really a system.

9.
This is what happens when you press the spin button on a slot machine: the button sends an electromagnetic signal to a random number generator, which assigns a value to each reel that determines its position. In other words, before the reels even begin to spin the outcome of the game has been decided. So much for systems.

13.
What about luck? Luck has nothing to do with anything unless you’re the kind of person who thinks it has everything to do with everything. People who believe in luck tend not to be system players. Luck isn’t what’s making the casinos rich. Luck doesn’t pay the rent or the car payment or the cosmetic surgeon. Luck doesn’t keep the lights on at Thunderclap. But going to a casino and not believing in luck is like going to church and not believing in heaven.

Jim Ruland, from “13 Ways of Looking at a Slot Machine” in This is Not a Camera (originally published at McSweeney’s Internet Tendency as part of the series “Dispatches from an Indian Casino” under the pseudonym “Leslie McDonald”)