Page Two: Legacy and Lunacy
Rush Limbaugh and Waterloo Records leave their marks in very different ways
Unfortunately, this tone and attitude has become the prevailing Web style for bloggers and those who post comments: dominant but, again, not absolute. There are so many of the Chronicle's Web site conversation threads that are really interesting and contain more thought and observation than vitriol. The online discussions initiated by Michael Ventura's' "Letters @ 3am" garner a lot of interesting reactions, both positive and negative. The occasional hostile flame tossed at Ventura is as a spice added to the taste, not one that overwhelms it.
Even when complaining about an error in a piece, many letter-writers are likely to offer some scorching comment. Sentiments along the lines of "How can you idiots live with yourselves?" or "Just how dense is your staff?" often serve as the greeting for letters correcting a relatively simple error of fact.
Some years back, I wrote a "Page Two" observing that Hunter S. Thompson had been the major literary influence on many letter-writers and would-be Chronicle contributors who submitted long, drug-fueled rants of run-on sentences stacked on each other as though that is the way Thompson wrote. Really, the only things most of these writers missed was his brilliant sense of style, writing skill, wit, intelligence, and inspiration.
At some point in the past decade or so, the dominant influence on this public dialogue changed to the verbal stylings of radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh. The genius of Limbaugh's presentation is an outrageously disingenuous, but successful, conceptual sleight of hand. As does any good magician, he distracts his audience by directing its attention one place, while all the real activity is elsewhere.
First, he makes it clear that, unlike all other politicians, talk-show hosts, commentators, and elected officials, rather than mere opinion, he deals in the truth and only the truth untainted by conventional establishment thinking, liberal propaganda, partisan dogma, or any kind of political correctness. He doesn't just overtly state that he is always pure and consistently right, but physically evidences this by his regal tones, overwhelming disdain, and prissy bearing all while acknowledging that his own intellectual and moral brilliance is such that his analysis of almost anything is so superior as to be essentially factual.
The ultimate con artist, Limbaugh is actually intent on reinforcing the status quo and upholding social norms rather than in any way challenging them. Since he specializes in playing off long-accepted, clearly biased views, any actual analysis is antithetical to his purpose. Facts are used only as cheap decorations to illustrate points inappropriately and dishonestly. Any contradictions they off to the ideological thrust of his positions are denied, derided, and dismissed. Ironically, Limbaugh presents himself as a renegade, attacking the status quo by pretending that is insider status, mainstream views, and establishment pandering are radical. Instead, rather than offering any real analysis, Limbaugh plays to existing prejudices and socially accepted bigotry.
Uninterested in discussion or debate, Limbaugh is a performance artist of condescension, working with attitude rather than ideas; the aesthetic goal is absolute, pervasive disdain. Constantly contemptuous tones are used to make it clear that almost every response one gives is a put-down unavoidably forced by one's superior brilliance. Opinions are stated as facts and facts dismissed as the ideas of the intentionally corrupt. A differing argument is countered by the imperial wave of the hand, indicating that one does not deign to even address such insane assertions. Rush is still the master here although, unfortunately, over the years his style and execution have deteriorated to the point where they make homogenized milk seem swarthy and spicy. Always defined by attitude, Limbaugh has evolved from an at-least committed political outsider to a bombastic establishment hack whose lazy performances now consist of cheap stylistic quirks and boilerplate routines.
Limbaugh's contentless, contemptuous tone has become so common in political discourse as to be boring rather than offensive. Unfortunately, in the hands of all too many of the online scribes, this style has mutated toward the most extreme rhetoric. The many intelligent, rational, and calmer voices being offered are often diluted to flotsam by the flood of postings, offered in a tone of absolute authority, in which thought and content have been banished by attitude.
The real democratic beauty of an online dialogue in which equality can actually be achieved, regardless of status, is consequently polluted. Instead of many voices offering many ideas, too often it consists of many voices attempting to prove the same idiotic assertion: that one's own excretions are the most putrid and vile-smelling of all. In ways, the more ineptly rendered, the worse the stink.
This is not to argue that an exchange of ideas needs to be cordial and avoid extremes, but much the opposite: Ideas should be potent, dangerous, and engaging. It's just that these posts come from completely different parts of the body than the one where ideas originate.
There can be something very special about a record store that is greater than even its retail mission, something beyond even a great selection and a knowledgeable staff (though a store can be much loved and respected but fail to transcend). Sometimes these places function like a clubhouse a hangout, a home, an ongoing discussion group, a place to check in and catch up. Sometimes, the quality is not even social: A store becomes the perfect library, one filled with memories of the past and possibilities for the future. Obviously, many establishments other than record stores can function this way, depending on one's interest. Bars are probably the most common such businesses, but the phenomenon can occur almost any place: a garage, repair shop, book store, bakery, jeweler, library, video-rental store, hardware store, lumberyard, restaurant, and so on. Such places are sanctuaries; not only do you feel safe and engaged within, but they provide a certain peace with oneself that is not often achieved.
Waterloo Records is celebrating its 25th anniversary. Twenty-five years along, my relationship with Waterloo, John Kunz, and staff goes back to the very beginning. Over the years, both the store and I have changed (at the very least, we've both expanded), but we really haven't changed at all. A place such as Waterloo evidences contradictions and a variety of purposes. It is a sanctuary of the known and an adventure into the unknown, with the calm of the familiar set against a strain of anxiety about the new. Memories, both good and bad, mix with regrets and invite desire. Yes, it is just a store and yes, it is so much more.
It is not uncommon in the first couple of weeks after SXSW that, when visiting Waterloo, I run into South by Southwest Music Creative Director Brent Grulke. We are old friends, always both pleased and amused to see each other there. One year, after talking to Brent for a couple of minutes, I went off and then ran into another old friend. The first thing he asked, pointing at Brent and me, well aware of the bruising and brutal costs of SXSW, was whether we didn't need a break from all of this. He said that while waving his hand in the air, indicating the store and everything within it. I started laughing and pointed out that, not only Brent and myself but to many others on the SXSW staff, going to Waterloo after the event was neither work nor more of the same. Neither mundane nor punishment, visiting Waterloo was indicative of why we had undertaken all we had just done, the goal we most desired and honored.
Sure, SXSW was overwhelming, with our enthusiasm often awash in too much work and dealing with way-too-difficult people. We don't get to go to SXSW; in the atmosphere we live in during that week, listening to, much less enjoying, the music is out of the question. But as soon as the storm blows by, when calm is even first hinted at, the blood rhythms, soul-determined beliefs, and sensory demands that lead us to live the lives we do return to take over again. Music is why we do this, and music is so much of what our lives have long been. After the sleepless, extended, draining, unrelenting exertion of a no-rest, nonstop week-and-a-half endurance test that is SXSW Brent's and my thoughts turn to spring, to the fancy of the no-longer-even-within-hailing-distance-of-young. Going to Waterloo is the reward. Neither a chore nor work, it is the reason and the light. I smiled at Brent, but he was face deep into looking at CDs and didn't even notice.
Congratulations to Waterloo, John, and all on 25 extraordinary years and a personal, heartfelt thanks.
Just a couple of weeks ago Dale Dudley celebrated 20 years at KLBJ-FM, which at the time I failed to note. Now, I am someone not given to honoring anniversaries and actively forbid the staff to do the same. So noting both of these is self-indulgent. Big deal! I want to thank and congratulate Dale. I feel the strength of this column is being very up-front with the readers, but lately I've hit a very unnerving turbulence. After I visited Dale, Bob, Charlie, and Angela this past Monday, the rapids of the last few weeks calmed down to still waters. It was, however, as KLBJ is wont to be, not only therapeutic but fun and terrifically amusing as well. Maybe next week I'll talk about what I'm talking about here, and maybe not. But here, at least, as always, my most heartfelt thanks to all.