The Reconciling World
In Aaron’s own words, The Reconciling World is “...a meditation on being an artist in a time of incredible political repression. It is a handbook to some of the mundanities of road life and how it draws a bolder line between political detachment and finding a voice. It also features notes from Culture Shock's first ever American tour, and interviews with Dick Lucas.” I remember reading many of the missives in this book when they were originally posted on the World/Inferno Friendship Society blog. It was a terrible time in my life and the world at large—the pre-election season from hell (a real life World Inferno! and not in a good way!), the aftermath of the Pulse massacre, and the suicides of some friends and acquaintances threw me into months of depression and anxiety. The words that are now collected in The Reconciling World were one of the things that helped me get through. And because the reconciling world is still an inferno, they still help fortify me for the long, beautiful fight ahead. If you are an activist, a poet, a punk, a sensitive soul, an artist of any stripe, they might just help you too. In The Reconciling World, Aaron Hammes reminds us that—to quote the World/Inferno Friendship Society song “Paul Robeson”—There are moments when you can stop the world. Remember that, friends, and don’t be sad.
And if you’re a fan of Dick Lucas (punk lifer and venerable frontman of Subhumans, Culture Shock, Citizen Fish, et. al.), Aaron’s interviews with him are worth the price of admission alone. Dick Lucas is one of the kindest, funniest, smartest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting, and he comes across as such in these interviews, too.
It isn't, of course, any kind of real reconciliation. It is a throng of people, brought together for a variety of reasons, dragged in by a friend, liking that one song, hearing it's a great party, the singer is hilarious, the bassist gorgeous, the drummer sickeningly talented, something about anarchy or punk or suits, or as fans, pure and straightforward and because one or more parts of the package make sense to them, move them, strike a chord of identification and sympathy within them. It isn't truly an escape, either, because nothing will have changed outside, regardless of what might transpire within, and, as such, it's furthest of all from a cure. But revolutions have started from less. A great concert, one in which artist and throng coalesce and share something greater than the sum of their parts, more than the melodies and words, is in fact a model for a sort of communion which is of a spirit at once capacious and incendiary—if ever there were a time for an actual World/Inferno, this would more than likely be it.
I do want to burn it all down. I am ready to take up arms against those who would harm out of fear, kill out of hate, the class traitors, the race traitors, the good ol' fashioned racists, the not-yet-outgrown legacy of lynchings and extermination of native peoples. When we commune with you at concerts, it is as outsiders, and we all know damn well “you can't change the system from within,” and we damn well will do all we can to ensure that the system doesn't change us. I'm worked up, I've had enough, and when we come to your city, know that it is in the spirit of reconciliation not with the oppressors but with each other; to party, yes, but to know that whatever positive spirit is conjured up can and should be brought forth to do what is inarguably right. With whatever means and at whatever cost.
I'll leave you with the words of Mr. Paul Robeson, who knew and saw all too well the forces which continue to dog his people, who are our people, and yours too:
“Every artist, every scientist, must decide now where he stands. He has no alternative. There is no standing above the conflict on Olympian heights. There are no impartial observers. Through the destruction, in certain countries, of the greatest of man's literary heritage, through the propagation of false ideas of racial and national superiority, the artist, the scientist, the writer is challenged. The struggle invades the formerly cloistered halls of our universities and other seats of learning. The battlefront is everywhere. There is no sheltered rear.”
* * *
We press one click further before we conclude, with me wondering to Dick about what it means to be here, bringing the party across the country, while friends and loved ones are in the streets protesting and trying to make a change through direct action. Dick shares this concern, but reminds me that anything even the least bit political is better than anything which is apolitical, even if it's just via “inference.” The opposite of even a shred of political awareness for him? Pure ego. Shock-tactics. Winding people up for no reason other than to get a rise. He calls it a “small, musical version of Donald Trump.”
Dick: “A bit of anarchy here and there, a twist on reality...that's all positive stuff. It doesn't have to be deeply political, and no one's saying it has to be one way or the other.”
I suggest I'm uncertain that anything that happens inside necessarily changes what happens outside, and at this, Dick demurs: “Oh, but it does!” If people are having a good time inside, it feels like they're “meeting five hundred people at once,” and may have their ideas changed a little bit. He takes it one step further, noting that sometimes people come up to him and say “your lyrics changed my life,” to which he is quick to answer, “no, they didn't,” but admits they did likely do something.
* * *
I want to raise a glass to the activists, of every description and in each of their stations, for all the acts they perform that I cannot, for the communities they build and hold together which I can barely fathom, for the resolve which, though not necessarily infallible, seems endlessly renewed even or especially in the face of unbelievable odds. I want to raise a glass for spitting in the face of odds.