Skytrain to Nowhere is an imagination driven and esoteric volume of free-form poetry. The book documents the author’s experiences, thoughts and observations while riding the skytrain at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport over the period of several weeks. Since the skytrain is only designed to transport travelers between various terminals and parking facilities at the airport, someone spending nearly 50 hours riding it purely for recreation and artistic inspirational purposes is highly unusual (to put it mildly.) Aside from occasional quirky anecdotes about various passengers, the poems mostly deal with themes of motion, the passage of time, and nostalgia. The author grapples with these issues from a retro-futurist perspective. Skytrain to Nowhere celebrates the realization that our vitality hinges on our ability to always keep moving, while recognizing we are unwilling or unable to leave some things behind on the journey.
For some unknown reason, I have to tell you about this one time in the mid 90s when I was playing Mortal Kombat with some black dudes at the Landmark arcade (an iconic establishment in Milwaukee which incrediblystill exists.) First though, some brief background info. Playing arcade games against random people of all kinds was a common activity for teenagers and young adults at that time, as everyone my age probably remembers. When I say “all kinds,” I mean people whom you would be unlikely to associate with or have neutral interactions with under almost any other circumstances. Sometimes games had the potential to become awkwardly tense, if the person one was playing against had a bad temper or was some kind of thug/wannabe gangster. I myself had a tendency to enrage players by winning in a cheap fashion (such as doing the same move over and over.) There were a few times I nearly got my smarmy ass pummeled by Starter jacket wearing “wiggers” that didn’t take kindly to being hit with Nightwolf’s cheesy Shoulder Charge move like 5 times in a row (and having to continuously insert more quarters in the machine to subject themselves to it.) Before getting “mad online” and “rage quitting” social media was a thing, there were people who got angry about video games.
Anyway, that didn’t happen on this particular occasion, and it’s not my intention to go off on a social tangent here. There is no hidden Klostermanesque pop culture “metaphor for society” lurking in this post, unless I’m expressing it subconsciously and don’t realize it. Digression over….
So, this one fine 90’s afternoon, I was playing Mortal Kombat with a group of local young black dudes (probably all astronauts by now.) One of them looked at the screen and yelled “Sub-Zero! That nigga coooooold!”
(To get the full effect, you have to realize he pronounced “cold” like the word code,)
For some reason the quote has stuck with me ever since then, and I have never been able to forget that moment in time. Even to this day, whenever there is a slight chill in the air (by Arizona standards, which equates to about 60 degrees in winter or that shivery feeling when you’ve just stepped out of a swimming pool,) my friends and I will blurt out something along the lines of “Sub-Zero! This nigga cold.”
Of course, one can’t really get away with saying that anymore since it is 2018 and all, but I still do, and I don’t really care.
Richard Register recently appeared on The Stark Truth podcast to discuss the concept of ecocities with Robert Stark. I did not appear on this episode, but Robert asked me if I had ever been to Arcosanti, since I’m from Arizona. The answer is no. I’ve never been there. It’s kind of far and an out of the way drive to get to Arcosanti from where I live. I believe my mother has been to the place once about 10 years ago when she was in town, but it was purely due to a recommendation from someone. I don’t believe she has any interest in this sort of thing.
Since today is my birthday, you can take this opportunity to purchase a limited edition cassette of a crappy lo-fi EP I released in 1996, (which has been re-released by a label in Eugene, Oregon without my knowledge or permission.) I guess I’ve finally reached the age as an artist where young people take up an interest my shitty and obscure early recordings, so I’m honored and grateful for that. I may not be worthy of such recognition, but no one can ever say I didn’t pay my dues.
Birthday Boy was originally released in October of 1996. It was recorded on a Fostex XR-3 when I lived in my first apartment, at Desert Star Apartments in Phoenix, AZ. The complex was a mildly seedy dump back then, but now resembles a dangerous, post apocalyptic wasteland. The apartment only came with basic cable, of which the only cable channels included were The Family Channel, C-Span and the E! Channel. That’s it, nothing else. Living on my own and knowing very few people in the city, I spent most of my spare time watching the E! Channel, which at the time featured reruns of Melrose Place, WKRP in Cincinnati, One Day at a Time, and Alice. Regular tv also aired reruns of Charlie’s Angels and The Rockford Files during this period. I mention this because the era has become an enduring inspiration for me and a formative part of my identity.
Since I was living a fairly isolated lifestyle and wasn’t socially active, I frequently wrote songs about the lives of characters on the shows I was watching. For example, the second track on Birthday Boy is titled Right Back Where I Started, but the lyrics actually chronicle the romantic and often diabolic misadventures of the character Michael on Melrose Place. There are dozens of similar recordings which once existed, such as my spoken word cover of the theme song of WKRP in Cincinnati (which was re-worded and adapted to be about Arizona.) Sadly, I have moved nearly 30 times since then, and these other recordings have all been lost over the years…having been last seen around the year 2004 or so.)
The show Alice was also a show which I found oddly relatable as an 18 year old young man. The plot of Alice was centered around a woman who was driving to Los Angeles to start a new life and pursue a singing career, but her car broke down in Phoenix. She ends up staying in suburban Phoenix after she’s forced to take a job at a diner there to make ends meet, and the place starts to grow on her.
Anyway, that is the story of Birthday Boy. The cassette re-release can be purchased HERE. Special thanks to Captain Crook Records for rediscovering this uncharted “fool’s gold” record. The limited edition cassette re-release is almost sold out, but Birthday Boy (along with many other recordings) can still be purchased through iTunes as well.
An obscure 90’s oddity, Birthday Boy’s aesthetic resembles something of a “Lo-Fi Leisure Suit Larry.” The song, Right Back Where I Started chronicles the love life of the character Michael from the show, Melrose Place. Originally released on cassette in 1996, this is one the most unusual recordings from a highly experimental era of indie alternative music.
One big change is the Made in the USA tag. Its commitment to producing all of its collections in downtown LA factories – Charney refused to outsource from the US – defined its former incarnation. Now, the brand splits manufacturing between its own factories in Central America and Gilden-approved vendors governed by its Genuine Responsibility programme around the world, including Mexico and China.
Is anyone falling for this crap? Basically American Apparel is now just another H&M or Forever 21, perhaps differentiated only by having more annoying and preachy social justice ads (probably motivated more by claiming a profitable niche market than by any genuine sentiment.) They also claim to be “sweatshop free,” but this is to large extent a distinction without difference. Whether or not a factory can technically be called a sweatshop or not distracts from the fact that companies manufacture in other countries in order to undercut American workers, skirt US labor laws and avoid environmentally protective regulations. So yeah, maybe the central American garment sewer isn’t being beaten with a whip all day, but let’s not pretend there’s any real ethical considerations going on here. It’s just the construction of a rather shrewd PR angle.
Outsourcing is an American value
The whole charade serves as a metaphor for contemporary America. There is no physical country, no place. Everywhere is America. American Apparel promotes American values, values which it redefines as anything abstractly inclusive anywhere in the world (in stark contrast with almost all of American history and any known value which might actually work toward America’s benefit.) Anything which enriches CEOs at the expense of interest of the American worker or the interest of the nation itself is now an “American value.” If America includes everyone, then it ultimately includes no one…since there’s nothing to distinguish it from anywhere else. In a tragic sense, American Apparel does represent contemporary American values. For added insult, the company offers customers the opportunity to pay extra for items “designed and sewn in USA,” which like “assembled in USA” is yet a common weaselly worded obfuscation corporations use to denote something not actually made in USA. Perhaps they do make a handful of garments in the USA, but if so it’s such a trivial amount that it can’t be seen as anything but a token PR ploy to provide cover.
Say what one will about the original American Apparel and its attempt to redefine American ideals as the promotion of mass third world immigration (the likes of which have never been supported by any US immigration law prior to 1965) and the sudden promotion of various LGBTQ causes. There was at least genuine commitment to favorable conditions for workers and a focus on product quality. Their clothes were actually made in the USA, which made even someone like me happy to buy them, even if I was not fully on board with Dov Charney’s conceptualization of America. The old American Apparel was also one of the few places I could still buy a velour tracksuit. American Apparel, with its unitards, 70’s pornwear accessories, and shiny, Buck Rogers era disco attire…always seemed to cater to a period in fashion which I’m probably one of the few people who admires. There’s no getting around it. When it comes to clothing, Dov Charney and I have the same tastes. People also made a big deal about the sexual advertising, but I personally thought the ads were terrific. Maybe they pushed the envelope a little too far, but I’m not a huge prude so I never found them offensive. They ended up being a canary in the coal mine though for what has now become completely common: the rising sexual puritanism of the left and the icons of liberalism being consumed by their own pets. If you support the open sexuality of females you’re exploiting them. If you promote sexual modesty, you’re oppressing them. If you are “pro-white” then you’re a nazi white supremacist. If you advocate for colorblindness, you’re also a white supremacist for not challenging the “privilege plus power structure.” If you are a white person that’s anti-white, you’re engaging in socially acceptable white supremacy, since you’re seen as appropriating “poc” issues and denying blacks their own authentic voices.
For those who appreciated the old American Apparel, there is some good news. Dov Charney has also returned with an amusing, generically named spinoff company, Los Angeles Apparel. He purchased much of the original equipment, and one can rediscover the familiar Made in USA clothes that can’t really be found anywhere else.
You Had me Until Number 10
Los Angeles Apparel has a “values” page, featuring a list of what should be common sense, ethical corporate values (yet are sadly lacking and would be considered heretical at most major corporations.) Elsewhere on the site Charney claims to be a proponent of “Contrarian Thinking.” Upon closer inspection though, what Charney euphemizes as “contrarian thinking” could at times be better described as self-contradicting. Others might also recognize that far from being any kind of contrarian, he seems to be conforming to some of the most common Jewish stereotypes (as articulated by Sarah Silverman here.) The stereotypes I’m speaking of, are mainly the following:
A. The promotion of open borders and mass third world immigration as some kind of retroactively discovered Western value, (which never existed before.)
B. Hostility toward any form of explicit nationalism (in Western or European countries,) whether it’s economic nationalism, civic nationalism or ethnonationalism.
C. Advocacy of a sexually promiscuous culture, a wide assortment of sexual orientation and an appreciation for sleaze aesthetic (Hey, I didn’t say all Jewish stereotypes were inherently bad.)
The self-contradiction comes here:
10.We Support Free Trade
We are not nationalists. We support worldwide free trade. We believe we can compete globally and still produce value for our customers while remaining true to our sustainability and efficiency commitment. We want to sell our products to the world and we understand the importance of other countries having access to our market.
This isn’t really contrarian thinking. It’s just self-defeating. Perhaps you can “still compete globally” by filling a niche or novelty market for clothing Made in USA, but what about the little yarn shop you’re sourcing materials from? They don’t have a gimmick and as a result of your promotion of free trade will have to compete with factories in the third world that can produce a similar quality product at a fraction of the price. The ultimate result of this is what Ross Perot described in his “Giant Sucking Sound” answer in the 1992 presidential debates, a lowered standard of living for American workers, util it at some point equalizes with a rising (yet still much lower) standard of living for the third world.
Rather than global free trade, what is needed is to form a trade bloc with other countries that have similar wages, labor and environmental regulations. This would actually encourage third world countries to adopt better working conditions and environmental controls in order for them to have access to our markets. The current “free trade” system incentivizes developing countries to make things as cheaply as possible, since achieving the lowest production costs and consumer prices are the only relevant priorities in gaining a foothold in US markets. What is the point in fighting for a $15 minimum wage if you’re going to have to compete with overseas factories that pay employees 10 cents per hour? You’re not going to make up the difference in money saved via shipping costs. On the same token, what is the point of having a $15 minimum wage, when unlimited amounts of people can come here. You might win at the ballot box and feel good about yourself, but there won’t be enough $15 an hour jobs to go around for all the millions of people you’ve invited.
If you are not “nationalists” what exactly is the point of prioritizing and supporting the local community, if there is nothing to differentiate said community from the global community at large. If there are no borders, and the whole world is your community, why demonstrate any preference for local businesses and workers at all? Charney would do well to just simply embrace economic nationalism, the sort of which up that most democrats championed, even well into the 1990s. “Nationalism” itself isn’t a dirty word, especially when its forces can be constructively channeled away from those with imperialist ambitions. Most countries aim to conduct national and international policies which are in the best interests of their citizens. Denmark, China, Japan, Czech Republic…most countries engage in some form of nationalism, and that is okay.
Having said all that, I would still prefer to buy from Charney’s Los Angeles Apparel over the farcical reanimation of “American” Apparel. Los Angeles Apparel is a more ethical company, and engages in nationalism in practice even if it shies away from embracing it in principle. “American” Apparel is like a shitty movie remake looking to cash in on someone else’s proven idea. It’s very nature is more shamelessly exploitative than even the sleaziest of original American Apparel billboard advertisements. Los Angeles Apparel is a genuine manifestation of someone’s style, dreams and ideals. For that reason, I will enthusiastically purchase some sunglasses from them.