July 23, 2014
ISRAEL TOUR: Cultural Ethics in a Two-Way War on Civilians

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Like most Westerners I’ve never had to fire a gun to stop an underage plainclothes terrorist from throwing explosives at a packed city bus or run from my family home as drones launch a salvo of warheads at a wedding party. I’m a naive outsider to such things, someone to whom peace was granted as a matter of luck, someone who hasn’t had to earn the right to survive. So I can only take it as a measure of Middle Eastern generosity and open-mindedness that I was recently invited by a rock promoter in Haifa to perform my awkward, abstract, politically-shaded pop music in a small series of concerts throughout Israel. I make art from the perspective of Western social privilege, and so to be invited to sing for people who must face life-and-death realities daily is humbling, both a great honor and a great responsibility.

Thursday, 11.9- @Koro (Tel Aviv) around 21:30
http://koro.me/

Friday, 12.9-@Syrup (Haifa) around 16:00
http://syruphaifa.com/

Saturday, 13.9-@Uganda (Jerusalem) around 21:30
http://ugandajlm.com/

As you can see above, I accepted her offer. i did so with enthusiasm, but not blindly. To ignore the moral dimension of this tour would be an insult to civilians on both sides of the conflict maimed and killed in Hamas civilian terrorist attacks or careless, over-reaching assaults by the IDF. This isn’t an Amtrak ride to Ottawa. I can’t just say “Cool, yeah, I’ll go to Israel, take up valuable cultural resources, sing into a delay pedal, and go home” without acknowledging the gravity of doing so — a gravity rock concerts usually lack. When civilization lives on the edge of stability culture takes on new hues of meaning. Just ask Messiaen.

The places i’ll be playing are far from the carnage in Gaza. Discounting the occupied territories (which we shouldn’t, but more on that later,) most people in Israel enjoy the same benefits and costs of life in a technologically advanced capitalist democracy that we’re all accustomed to. Despite the constant fear of attack, few Israeli civilians experience direct combat once their two-to-three-year term of conscription is up. I point this out not to minimize the impact of the conflict but to emphasize that paranoid safety concerns don’t play a role in my thinking about these shows. All I have to do is get on a plane, stick to certain areas and avoid others, and thanks (for lack of a better word) to one of Earth’s most militarized internal borders and the constant pressure of the IDF my trip’s no more harrowing than a flight to Paris.

But I also raise the issue of Israel’s Western standard of living to acknowledge the uncomfortable fact that if a similarly open-minded Palestinian arranged a tour for me in Gaza, the challenges would be immense. Even arrival would be a difficult legal hurdle, to say nothing of going back home (read this hilariously understated WikiTravel article about getting in/getting out of Gaza for the disturbing details that make TSA pat downs seem mild.) Once there, I’d have to fear both persecution from the de facto Hamas government if I didn’t adhere to strict moral laws and errant IDF strikes if I happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. What if an IDF commander mistook my show for a militant recruitment meeting or Hamas thought it was a gang of Israeli infiltrators? How would the Israeli military, whose mission is to obsessively suppress terrorism, interpret a crowd of young adults gathered around a noise-saturated PA singing “Allahu Akbar?” Of course, exceptional moments of cultural understanding sometimes happen, like this party in Hebron where two IDF soldiers danced with a Palestinian crowd, assault rifles in hand . But those moments are rare. If hospitals and group homes for disabled people aren’t safe, neither is a little rock show.

It’s because of this unjust asymmetry of safety and freedom between places like Tel Aviv and places like Gaza City that some very close friends who I respect a lot have expressed surprise and dismay that I’ve decided to accept the invitation to sing in Israel. Some of these people align themselves with the BDS (Boycott/Divest/Sanction) movement. Though I admire any non-violent attempt to change global society for the better, I find BDS specifically hard to get behind for many reasons, the greatest of which is that I don’t think discouraging commerce and communication and dialogue will be effective in making Israel-Palestine a more peaceful, less polarized place. At best, it will isolate people from one another and, like the failed policy of sanctions against Saddam Hussein’s regime that starved innocent Iraqis of vital medical supplies, mainly impact civilians who aren’t responsible for the mess, not the governments and terrorists who are. At worst, it will encourage paranoia and anti-Semitism in people like my well-intentioned neighbor who earlier this morning told me to avoid buying items with “729” in the UPC code because those products came from Israel (and that’s an oversimplification of the EAN barcode system anyway, but whatever.)

The potential BDS criticism of my tour and many other, much more prominent musicians’ (Yo La Tengo, Deerhoof, Why?, Silver Jews, etc.) tours of Israel ignores the fact that many Israelis share my humanist perspective and my disdain for the current Israeli government’s role in worsening the plight of the Palestinians and, by extension, the danger its own people are exposed to. It’s obvious that the State of Israel over-reaches drastically in the name of security with tragic and unacceptable consequences. (Need data? This or this will do.) It’s also clear that certain aspects of the creation of the State of Israel were an unapologetic colonialist land grab under the guise of utopian Zionism. But my own government is also guilty of heinous atrocities and routine violations of human rights. The very land on which I grew up was stolen by bearded white men with guns in a violent coup from defenseless Seminole tribes. I’d feel like a hypocrite if i boycotted Israel but didn’t have a problem playing shows in New York, Paris, or London. And even assuming for a moment I came from a morally superior society that had never started wars (if such a thing existed) how much good would it do if I refused to work in the United States? Avoiding Americans seems like a poor method of changing the American government’s immoral policies. What about the tens of millions of Americans who criticize our government, who acknowledge our murderous past, and who want to make the future better? What would be served by self-righteously insisting that residents of a country struggle (and sing and party) alone just because of their address and their passport? I’m sure Orphaned Land and Khala, the Israeli and Palestinian metal bands who toured together last year, would agree with me here. 

I’m not sure about Billy Bragg’s current stance on touring Israel, but he provides and interesting historical example. He toured the U.S.S.R. in 1987 despite that state’s abysmal human rights record and civilian-devastating campaign in Afghanistan. Four years later the Iron Curtain collapsed. It would of course be silly to argue that Bragg’s tour was a cause of that collapse, but it would also be hard to argue that it wasn’t a telling harbinger of change in the wings, and a rallying encouragement to Soviet democracy activists.

Most of the people who live in Israel and Palestine were born and raised there, just like I was born and raised in the suburban south. To understand their perspective I have to imagine an alternate universe where insurgents from an impoverished, walled-off Daytona Beach launch home-made rockets at shopping malls in Orange Park. Or one in which the Florida National Guard routinely sends out infantry patrols in trailer parks and strafes quiet apartment complexes with fighter jets. Or one in which my home town (fun fact: Jerusalem and Jacksonville have approximately the same metropolitan population) is suddenly partitioned by a Berlin Wall-like fence and patrolled by TAR-21-toting commandos. No matter which side of the Jacksonville Wall wall I found myself on, I would be no more to blame for the circumstances. The distinction between a people, a government, and terrorist splinter groups is critical if Israel-Palestine, and the world at large, can ever heal itself.

Is it the job of the arts to address issues like these? ABSOLUTELY. But it is NOT the job of the arts to ensnare itself in politics by taking a stand in such a way that it removes itself from the discussion and bans communication with a whole class of people, most of whom are blameless. That’s why I answer those well-intentioned people who warn me against touring Israel on moral grounds by telling them that despite the bombs and the bulldozers and the generations of bad blood I’m largely treating this small Israel tour run like any other string of dates, and why I sent a grateful and excited “YES!” to the promoter who asked me to come sing for people there. See y’all in Haifa.

Thursday, 11.9- @Koro (Tel Aviv) around 21:30
http://koro.me/

Friday, 12.9-@Syrup (Haifa) around 16:00
http://syruphaifa.com/

Saturday, 13.9-@Uganda (Jerusalem) around 21:30
http://ugandajlm.com/

July 21, 2014
THE ORLANDO SENTINEL — Test Pressing Lotto!

What’s this scratchy nonsense? It’s an early version of the hand-drawn cover art for The Orlando Sentinel. I’m making it to decorate the test pressings, of which there are two copies. Want one? OK! Starting right now and lasting until Friday at 5:00 p.m. Pacific, anyone who buys the vinyl edition of the album will be on a list from which a very neutral-minded PHP script will randomly select two winners who will get the standard album + the test pressing and hand-drawn cover. OBJECTS!/!/!/!/!!! Click here: emperorx.bandcamp.com/album/vinyl-edition-the-orlando-sentinel-lp

July 19, 2014
The Last Time I Went to Hamburg…

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The first time I went to Hamburg was much better. I got to hang with Oliver Wittchow, creator of Nanoloop, and played a show at Astrastube. But that wasn’t my most recent visit.

No, the last time I went to Hamburg I was on a day-long train journey, stuck killing time before a 4:15 a.m. transfer to the high school basketball gym of a flight terminal the budget airlines euphemistically refer to as Hamburg-Luebeck Airport. I was traveling on the cheap, so arriving at the main train station at midnight with four hours to kill didn’t call for a hotel. But where was I going to go and what was I going to do while the city slept?

What I’d usually do in this circumstance is find a 24-hour source of caffeine and electricity and light and safety, and compose or write until train time. But when I approached the tired-looking DB ticket agent and asked what would be a good place to kill time in the station, she pointed at the glaring golden M across the darkened chasm of train platforms and said it was the best, safest option in the area.

She was right, of course, but it looked boring, and the station was filled with the intolerable blurred sounds of hundreds of unseen fans and compressors whirring, the kind of din that makes you shout over it to be heard but which nonetheless sounds like nothing, just a raising of the noise floor. My pack was heavy and I was tired, but I had to get out of there. So for about an hour I tried to prove her wrong.

For starters, I walked aimlessly in the vicinity of the station. Hamburg’s safe, though it might not seem so. Cops are usually in full effect and rightly tolerant of the vice and human misery on display in the pungent mix of cheap falafel grease vapor and pee-smelling guys slinking out of the sad-looking sex shops. A few heroin junkies might ask you for change; other than that it’s pretty low-risk. But it’s depressing, so I walked on.

I found a decent, out-of-the-way falafel place, got a sandwich to go and took it back to the McDonald’s in the station. Fortunately for me I had a lot of uploading to get caught up on so bought a cola and logged into the free wifi and started dragging files. In order to keep it open twenty four hours a day, the McDonald’s crew cleans the restaurant one half at a time. These supposed cleanings are much more useful, I suspect, as an opportunity to harass people who might be asleep, and there were about two dozen that night. Mostly travelers, a few homeless folks, a cab driver or two, and me.

Far more than the panhandlers and porn addicts and my aching back, the well-dressed 20-something night manager was easily the most upsetting experience of the evening. Immaculately groomed and impatiently clipped in speech, he exuded a vicious, self-satisfied propriety that would leave a mark on me for a long time afterwards. He seemed to get a vaguely sexual pleasure out of telling people to move as each side of the dining room temporarily closed for cleaning. I could tell by the ecstatic, glazed over look in his narrowed eyes and a faint quiver in his slightly upturned chin as he said “[yes, these caps are necessary to convey how he spoke, and if there were a punctuational way to emphasize the jagged edge he gave to every consonant I’d use that too] THIS SECTION IS CLOSED, DEAR CUSTOMERS. PLEASE NOW LEAVE.” in undoubtedly perfect, cruelly polite Hochdeutsch. 

The other WLAN campers and I dutifully picked up our coffee cups and laptops and shuffled, chargers and USB cables dangling, to the other side of the restaurant under his unmistakably self-satisfied glare. When my upload finished I was happy to leave, and boarded the diesel-powered regional train to the airport with relief.

In other words, the last time I was in Hamburg I had a disturbing, sleepless night and never saw the sun.

In other words, let’s get together and have a better party this time, eh, Hamburgers? See you Thursday! CLICK FOR TIX/INFO!

July 19, 2014
"SNACKS."

A young, agitated woman with a Jamaican accent on the 3 train at 11:00 a.m., to no one in particular but loudly, assertively: ”Snacks.”

A pause, and then, louder: ”SNACKS.”

Another pause. She pokes at her phone, poke, poke, poke. 

"SNACKS TO EAT!"

I get off the train. Guess I’ll never figure out what that was about.

July 17, 2014
HEISSER SOMMER TOUR 2014!

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SAM.19.JUL
Berlin — Antje Oklesund
https://www.facebook.com/events/260031937533452/

DON.24.JUL
Hamburg — Kleiner Donner
http://www.dreiundsiebzig.de/programm/2014/7/24/this-is-the-kit-emperor-x
*RADIO: TIDE 96.0 FM, 13:00

25.JUL
Paris — Espace B
http://www.espaceb.net/Vendredi-25-Juillet-2014

SAM.26.JUL
Hannover — Bei Koc
https://www.facebook.com/events/1442629446001138/

SON.27.JUL
Prague — (A)VOID Floating Gallery
https://www.facebook.com/AVOIDFloatingGallery

MON.28.JUL
Dresden — Ostpol
https://www.facebook.com/events/1426730777595206/

DIE.29.JUL
Offenbach — Hafen 2
http://www.hafen2.net/

MIT.30.JUL
Trier — Villa Wuller
http://www.villawuller.de/index.php/dates

DON.07.AUG
Berlin — Madame Claude
http://www.madameclaude.de/

July 17, 2014

SUNNY PROPAGANDA! 

July 9, 2014
BACK IN PORTUGAL, Y’ALL!

ALCOBACA, JUL.11 (FRI!):

https://www.facebook.com/events/1527828200779194/ 

PORTO, JUL.12 (SAT!): 

https://www.facebook.com/events/781266921912862/

July 2, 2014

I TOLD Y’ALL HE LIKED TO PARTY! http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/01/nicolas-sarkozy-detained-questioning-alleged-corruption

July 1, 2014

July 1, 2014

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