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Halfway

I didn't really want to write anything about September 11th. I'm no expert on world politics or such like, I hate all the conspiracy theories and find a lot of the contrived opinions about the subject range from phony to fraudulent. Neither does it do anything to diminish the abhorrent turn of events. Counterfeit photos and erroneous information, to me, make light of an immensely distressing event and turning point in history. That's not to say that some statements and so-called facts coming from official sources appeared feigned - for instance, the terrorist passport that was so quickly found on the rubble in perfect condition. That aside, I certainly am not armed with the kind of resources nor information that would be needed to make anything like a balanced assessment. Nor are 99% of the people spouting these opinions and theories. Almost all of these "would be" experts are just recycling urban legends which have quickly materialized around September 11th - soon the likes of David Ike will rework these into his idiotic conspiracy theories. Already September 11th is being manipulated to fit the worthless writings of Nostradamus - funny those experts didn't figure these so-called prophecies out on September 10th or before. September 11th, however, for me, like all of us, had a profound effect which I can talk about. It without doubt changed my life. I was on tour in Brazil with the UK Subs when we watched the events unfold on TV in a hotel in Sao Paulo. We had a couple of shows left and an American tour to follow but I knew my life was changing right in front of me. I can't say I was sick of the band. Charlie and Alvin have been my friends for more than half of my life. I can't say I was sick of punk because I still remember how it felt to feel the energy of the early years. A lot of the posturing was getting to me though - guys trying to be really tough, young girls trying to look wasted or worse, being wasted. Then of course there was the "Fuck You" crowd. Those "oh so punk" kids who think everyone is a sell out but them when really they have never done anything original in their tiny little lives. Kids who hate Anti-Flag because they charged $1 more at their show than some crusty local band who just want to be Crass. I think these people more than anything made me quit the Subs after the US tour. They would come in the dressing room for free beer, smoking and talking shit about bands. "You guys are cool though. You never sold out." Oh really? Maybe if you were in the scene before 1995 you'd know that the UK Subs first four albums from the late 70's through the early 80's came out on RCA Worldwide - hardly DIY. I happen to know Anti-Flag, Ian McKay, Henry Rollins and a good number of others who have had some success, they don't surround themselves with a negative shell that no one can live up to (Down to in my opinion). Rather, they are out in the world creating, growing, learning, changing. What did Syd Snot ever do but to copy Syd Vicious, Johnny Rotten, Crass or whoever?

Well, I will miss the travel and the genuine fans but September 11th made it nearly impossible to put up with the idiots. That night we performed on a much watched TV show - Alvin and I didn't want to play Warhead because we didn't want to trivialize these unfolding events with our insignificant two cents worth - we ended up playing it on the spur of the moment, but somehow it didn't feel contrived. A couple of days later we played Rio in the rain at a large stadium. There was a lot of tension not only about the world events but about the local promoter. Our agents would lose money on this tour as it was and now we were booked into an open air stadium in the rain two days after the WTC bombing. Everyone knew this would be a disaster - but for whom? Our agent gave us strict instructions about when, where and how to get on stage. There were dozens of security guards who would not get paid and everything was really tense. Of course the "real punks" were outside - "Hey get us in for free we're punks" despite Charlie trying to stop and engage these idiots we were ushered into the stadium. Coming out, the same idiots were heckling us. "You capitalist pigs - you sell outs." I stopped and asked one of them, who spoke English well. "What have you ever done with your life you dick? Look at you smoking your cigarettes. What are they? Marlboro’s? - very punk giving your health and money to a multi national corporation - you @#*$ing hippy." We made our way back to Sao Paulo via a small costal town where we took a few days fishing break. Alvin went home and I was not in the least interested in fishing, instead, I asked the fishing boat captain to drop me off on an uninhabited jungle island and pick me up before it was time to drive to Sao Paulo for our flight. I spent the time completely alone sleeping on a hammock between two trees overlooking the ocean. The island had lots of air plants and creepers along with coconut palms and banana trees. Scurrying in the undergrowth were huge lizards and at night bright green fireflies lit up almost bright enough to read by. Three vultures kept tabs on me from the top of the jungle canopy. Well, you get the picture.

 

I was in another world - disconnected. It occurred to me that this could be half way through my life if I lived until the ripe old age of 92 (Not impossible these days - my father is 80 next birthday and still walks miles every day). Anyway, halfway or not I knew this was a turning point and to continue on just touring seemed a bit disingenuous. Charlie prefers the old songs which we wrote together 25 years ago while for me they hold little interest anymore - for Charlie it's a livelihood while for me it is not. The US tour went okay, including a heart-warming return to CBGB's only a short distance from the WTC, but my heart was no longer in it. Immediately afterwards I followed my heart to Germany and am currently living in Hannover taking German at school. I'm still very much involved in NRA and still play with Something Big when I am in San Francisco, but the first half of my life is over.
- Nicky Garratt 2002

Update: Well I've been back in San Francisco for a while now and speaking a little more German than I did before I left, so who's to say it was a waste of time. Of course I'm also playing again with the Subs from time to time - Who can say no to Charlie Harper? I'd be wearing concrete Wellington boots . . . Still, if I was right about anything, it was that the world is a different place. - Nicky Garratt 2006

 

Where To Stand

After watching "A Year in the Street," a documentary about the anti WTO riots, something occurred to me. There are still people who don't get it. Increasingly in the USA, and the USA is by no means alone in this, the fringes of the population are being disenfranchised as "our" country is becoming off limits. Think about it. Why should we have to pay to park our car on the public roads? I mean we already pay road tax. Who decides that huge areas are red - no parking zones? What right have they got to charge 25 cents? If you just nip into a store, assuming you can find a legal spot, why can't the meter take five cent and 10 cent coins - they used to! I understand that a certain order must be maintained to keep traffic flowing but the people of this country are chasing a diminishing part of the land while the corporations are rapidly increasing their share. (No wonder these protesters are enraged.) In the case of the WTO riots, people were clearly illegally removed from legal protest. Now I don't feel qualified to comment on the WTC, but it is clear that corporations are squeezing out alternative food stores, book stores, music stores, etc. The super mega stores are clustered together, creating, in effect, large tracts of private land. My property taxes are close to $4,000 - for what? I pay for my gas (a monopoly), my electricity (a monopoly), garbage collection (a monopoly), road tax, tax on everything I buy. So what do I and every other private homeowner in San Francisco get for our property tax? The roads are in disrepair and I have to pay to park on them. - Nicky Garratt 2002

 

You Must Obey

I got to thinking about rules the past few weeks. My skeptic tendencies are not necessarily limited to matters of pseudo science or religion. More recently they have been awakened by the tedious matters of daily life - those of society’s rules. Think about the rules surrounding religion for example: The pomp and circumstance of the Catholic mass, the strict requirement for entering a mosque or a Hindu temple, the inflexible ordinance of the Jewish faith, the arbitrary rites of the neo-Pagans. All of these become absurd when viewed from the vantage of unrestricted free thought. Thankfully, much, although not all, of this fodder and paraphernalia is not imposed on us as nonbelievers. Religion, however, hasn't a monopoly on dogma. Could it be that these obsolete behavioral requirements are a byproduct of authoritative structure? Take for example my current home, Germany. I'm not clear on the evolution of the various bylaws of the country but one of the regulations deals with the opening hours of shops. Unlike the USA, in most parts of Germany the majority of shops close after five or six o'clock and are not allowed to open on Sundays. There are, however, some quite interesting exceptions.

1) Bread shops are allowed to open on Sunday mornings! In Hannover there are droves of bread shops spewing out from every street corner and swarming about the main street. Additionally, all the supermarkets and small family food stores sell bread. It's not hard to get bread! While it's true that bread has a special status in German society, one could argue that fresh vegetables are equally desirable. What about a light bulb that breaks on Sunday morning?

2) Odd items like light bulbs, milk and beer available at the infamous Kiosks. These small stores or stands are open, usually, until midnight seven days a week. Well sort of! In fact, although you can get a wide variety of product at 'off' hours, a loophole of sort restricts your movements to a bizarre ritual. You must tell the store keeper what you want through a window or sometimes over the top of a stable style door, he (or she) will fetch it for you. So where, during the day, you can freely enter, now, because of some antediluvian law, it's forbidden even though the result is exactly the same as if the shop were open. This form of obsolete custom is brilliantly dealt within the facetious "Masterson and the Clerks" a short story by John T. Saldek. Now I am not against rules and laws, on the contrary I advocate the strict enforcement of nontrivial laws or laws binding only within limits such as the rules of chess or not smoking in a restaurant. Laws spawned by religion or social 'norms' (which have a victimless consequence), are spurious. What we need is a minister for superfluous laws. - Nicky Garratt 2002

 

Guaranteed shoddy

I don't consider myself overtly political - certainly the traditional "left/right" politics by their nature seem to produce social poisons. The third world natural "at one with the land" myth embraced by the so called "spiritual" doesn't light my imagination too much either. In the USA, however, we appear doomed to this Maybes loop of politics created by propaganda where we are only offered choices guaranteed to maintain the status quo. Those with seemingly extreme ideas are, sometimes with good reason, marginalized. Maybe it's a hopeless situation until a "C" change event shakes the foundation of society until then we are guaranteed at best, mediocrity. Case in point: This week my Kitchen sink became blocked. I could have given it a shot myself but I figure I won't mess with the plumbing if the plumbers don't make records. Despite my reluctance to go into the realm of home repair, the pipes were plastic with hand tightened nuts quite easy to remove and reassemble. Enter the plumber. It took him all of fifteen minutes to break down the pipes (without tools), check the drainage pipe with a flexible rooter on a hand-held drill, (no blockage down there), reassemble the pipes and issue me an $84 bill. I don't have a problem with that. My problem is that he informed me that in this city, plastic pipes are not to code. "Not to code?" My mind flashed back to the dozen or so city inspections on the plumbing, (at $70 a shot). "Why not, is it because of earthquakes?"

The plumber went on to tell me how the unions had petitioned to ban them because they are too easy to work on and threaten their jobs. He continued to tell me that he almost never comes across them in the city, but they are actually superior. They last much longer, and are a breeze to work on. So what he is saying is that the city does not allow this format of plumbing because it's better. For that we pay our inspection fees. I was ready to sue the city, but wait a minute, by some fluke my kitchen passed inspection. He proceeded to spill more secrets of the mysterious order of plumbers informing me that it's the same situation with water heaters - the copper ones built to last a lifetime are banned in favor of the galvanized ones which need replacing every few years. I suppose we all suspected that along with a lot of other consumer products but when this is indorsed by the government: i.e., the city, it's contemptible. - Nicky Garratt 2000

 

It's a Rat Race Baby

Don't you just want to go postal sometimes?

I was sitting at my desk attending to the stream of spam in my Email inbox. I'd already dumped the junk mail, fast food/restaurant flyers and unsolicited free newspapers in the recycling bin, when I got the first telemarketing call of the day. Usually I get around five or six a day. They comprise of mortgage refinances, credit card type solicitations, limited time newspaper offers, and even the local police department shaking me down for one charity or another. By far the most annoying are the numerous phone company calls. Sprint, AT&T, and MCI continually bombard us with switching offers. With multiple lines the number of calls are greatly increased. Usually they manage to get through on call waiting when I'm talking to someone in Germany and launch into their routine before you can ward them off. On this particular morning it was Sprint offering me an amazing deal. I was getting a strange bill from Sprint every month for the past two years for 85 cents and was somewhat curious which line this was for. (The bills had no phone numbers on them)

"I'm happy with what I have, thanks" I told the woman, of course she persisted and quoted some prices. After ten minutes I said okay, fax me a proposal and I'll look at it over the weekend. That didn't work for her. "How about putting it in the post then?" (Not good either) Well eventually she wore me down, promised to find out what the 85 cents bills were for and I said I'd give it a shot. Big mistake!

Over the next couple of weeks I faxed numerous phone bills and contracts back to Sprint’s "Home Office" office. However, little progress was being made. I contacted them, of course there's no direct line, so you end up for 20 minutes on hold listening to the worst music in the history of recording. (At least Pac Bell has J.S.Bach.) Apart from wanting an update on the "amazing deal," I was wondering about the recurring 85 cents bill. Apparently there were some problems. A few weeks went by and I'm back on hold waiting to speak to a representative. No one had heard of my contact, so I started again with a new rep who assured me he would get right on it. A week later my bill came in and I was paying Pac Bells highest charge ($3 a minute or something), my old account had been cancelled but Sprint had not picked up the lines. One of my bills, usually amounting to $150 was

$1050. Back on hold with Sprint for half an hour. "Did I change my long distance carrier with Pac Bell?" - "Yes"

After going through about 3/4 of an hour being passed around from one department to another, I end up on a telephone manage-a-trois with Sprint and Pac Bell. Sprint credited my account the difference and we continued to go over all the same information again. What about the 85 cents?

A month went by and the next bill comes in. Guess what? Yep still getting charged at the highest rate possible. Back on hold with Sprint. After being pushed around from one department to another finally some sort of supervisor got fired up and claimed she would sort everything out. A day later she called back and said the 85 cent charge was for long distance on an inactive line. If I want to cancel that please faxes her. I did that. I'm going to be credited for the over charge.

Here's the next bill. - wow, I wasn't credited and there's more charges at the highest rate and another 85 cents bill. I call MCI, and ask to be switched to their service (Which took only three minutes), then back on hold with Sprint. I ask for a supervisor, I'm now recording the conversation - I tell the operator she is being recorded. The supervisor said she'd rather not be recorded. "But I'm being recorded by Sprint" I countered "It says so on the recorded message you hear before you’re on hold for half an hour." She hangs up on me. Back on hold for another half an hour. I get another supervisor. I'm recording again. This guy is more helpful. We both wait on hold for Pac Bell. I'm credited for the over charge again. "What about the 85 cents?" I'm told It's a long distance line charge. I told them I'd cancelled it. "Please cancel it again!"

Two weeks later Sprint called me and asked why I'd switched back from Sprint. "Because you’re the most incompetent company I've ever dealt with and if you were the only phone company in the world I would use a carrier pigeon - oh yes and your hold music sucks."

That was last week and I'm just glad it's all over - wait what's this? Another 85 cents bill.

- Nicky Garratt 1999

Update: Well it's a month later now. I have another bill from Sprint. Although my service was cancelled, this bill seems to be from a period after they had finally got me on the correct plan, (even though I had attempted to cancel twice), but before the service was actually terminated. As I have been away on tour, I returned to a letter threatening to cut off my service. Back on the phone with Sprint, this time it seems to have been sorted out quite quickly - we shall see. Incredibly another 85 cents bill was waiting for me again.

- Nicky Garratt 1999

Update two: The employees at my new phone company, MCI, were very cold when I questioned my bill last week. "Why am I paying local toll rates on my internet access, isn't that a toll-free local number?"

"No sir, it appears to be correct."

"This can't be, before I was with MCI this was a toll-free number, now it's going to cost me an extra $400 a month?"

"I'm sorry sir, this is showing as a local toll - there's nothing we can do."

Another four hours on the phone before someone at Pac Bell said, "Yes that's a fault with our switching, sometimes it does that on ISDN lines - we'll credit you."

Back to MCI where they are very reluctant to fax my bills to Pac Bell, (I only had one of the two). The saga continues . . . - Nicky Garratt 1999

1979  

It seems that success often comes in cycles, if it comes at all - winning the swimming contest at school, job promotion eight years later, first home the next decade maybe, but life transforming periods are much more rare. To a greater or lesser degree we all have our seminal years, not always exactly a year, nor does it necessarily run January to January. In 1747 the great Capellmeister Johann Sebastian Bach visited King Frederick the Great of Prussia in Berlin at Potsdam. He tried out all the Forte Pianos and improvised on a theme by the king spawning the incredible "Musical Offering" What a year . . . for the king! Then at the end of 1964 when the John Coltrane quartet recorded "A Love Supreme" and Jazz was forever changed, what a ride it must have been for Jones, Garrison and Tyner. Imagine the fervor among the team in Ethiopia when in1974 Donald Johansson discovered the fossil remains of a tiny female Australopithecus Afarensis called Lucy, or for the staff of NASA in 1969 when Neil Armstrong took his historic first step on the moon . . . Such a year was 1979 for me. Success! I didn’t engage the Franks with Salamis armies at Jerusalem . . . or reach the peak of Mt Everest alongside Edmund Hillary, but with fewer lofty goals, I prevailed. 1970 was a blast. Deep Purple released "Deep Purple in Rock," Black Sabbath "Paranoid," Syd Barrett "The Madcap Laughs," Curved Air "Air Conditioning," Family "Anyway." It was the end of an era in the UK. The Beatles had just broken up, Bacharach and David, who owned pop music for the best part of the previous decade, had peaked with the bulk of their best work behind them. Everything was new and exciting. I started my first band, but success . . .

The summer of 1976 to the summer of 1977 was electric. The first Clash album, Roxy WC2, Spiral Scratch by the Buzzcocks - everything was fresh and vibrant, We thought the last nail had been driven into the coffin of dinosaur rock. I started my own punk band, but success . . .

Between the spring of 1979 and the summer of 1980, success came in the shape of three top twenty albums and five top thirty singles but moreover I achieved a long time goal of being a professional musician. What was happening in the UK? Punk was a light that burnt so bright it couldn’t sustain. For those like myself who were accelerated by the new wave and saw nothing in the media-driven alternatives emerging from punk's embers, the choice was clear, to reinvent punk. Along with the Damned and Adam and the Ants from the first punk explosion, the UK Subs were soon joined by the likes of newcomers like The Exploited, GBH, Discharge and the Ruts. The other bands that survived the first wave chased commercial success and bore little resemblance to their original character. The Jam were in the charts still, as were the Stranglers and the Skids. The Clash had a mild hit with the awful "I Fought the Law," but all of these had the aroma of a dying scene. Only a few like the Ruts "Babylon’s Burning" showed the spark of a new movement. The second wave took on a harder stance and set out on a world crusade, while the charts at the time of the birth of the second wave of punk were no more exciting than before punk started. "Reunited" by Peaches & Herb and "Gertcha" by Chas & Dave were both in the charts and "Ring My Bell" by Anita Ward hit #1 in June. ‘We Don’t Talk Anymore" by Cliff Richards topped the charts in September. Had anything changed? It was our proverbial 15 minutes of fame. A gateway to a new world opened. Prior to 1979 I always dreamed of playing shows and maybe, just maybe, one day making an album but after 1979 anything seemed possible. Now maybe I will invent a better mouse trap, or hike the great wall of China, or maybe just lose 10 pounds!
- Nicky Garratt 1998