The Tragedy of Comedy; Drugs and Depression.

In 1997, I had my first session with a therapist. She regarded me with uncertainty. She looked at me like we were acquaintances out to lunch and I was inappropriately dumping all my shit on her. “Aren’t you going to ask me some questions?” I asked her. “What do you think I should ask?” she asked back.

Convinced by her underwhelmed response that I was only feeling sorry for myself, I didn’t seek therapy for another 2 years.

It was right around 1999 that some my friends started going to EMDR therapy. I called their doctor and got a referral for someone in this field closer to where I was living. I found Susan. I loved going to Susan. She made the future seem bright, my problems seem common, and the obstacles I faced surmountable. She assured me I would only be in therapy for a couple of months and that the work we were doing would give me the tools I needed to move on and have a normal life.

Occasionally, seemingly for no reason, I would have to fight the urge, with all my being, often in public, to cry uncontrollably. I shared this with Susan one day and her eyes became wide and fearful and her usually calm and soothing voice took on a sense of urgency and panic. “You have to call a pyschopharmacologist,” she said. “You have to call a psychopharmacologist and get a prescription for antidepressants.”

The word “Psychopharmacologist” is absolutely terrifying. It literally breaks down to “crazy killer” + “chemical brain drug maker”. I imagined a man in a white lab coat, erasing my personality forever. The face of my beloved therapist became the face of Nurse Ratchett.

Understand this was 15 years ago. Prozac had just hit the market and it seemed like a fun thing for self-pitying rich people to do. It seemed like a weapon of mass obstruction, the true opiate of the masses. I was convinced that the root cause of my sadness, of all sadness, was alienation from living in a capitalist society. That the causes were external and if I organized towards a just and better world, I wouldn’t feel so terrible all the time.

I understood Susan’s diagnosis as a failure over my own resolution to be happy, and on some level, being ungrateful and selfish in a world where I had so much and others had so little. I started a drama club at the school where I worked, I went back to graduate school, I organized with a campaign for an independent candidate running for office. As long as I didn’t have any time to be in my own head I would be safe.

The bouts of depression became just a part of who I was, part of my personality. Rather than go on medication from the evil pharmacy companies, I preferred to suffer. Stoically. Like a good Irish Catholic. Some luxurious affliction like depression was unthinkable. Irish people got real diseases, like stomach cancer and cirrhosis. We died at the hands of Imperial Englishmen, not because we were sad.

After a good run masking my symptoms and self-medicating, I ended back in therapy with a woman in Jersey City in 2012.

I went to see her for probably around 3 months. It went like this. I would get there, cry for an hour, and then make an appointment to do the same thing again the following week. Eventually, she gave me the same nervous, wide-eyed panic stricken expression that Susan had given me. But she said something like, “You need to go to the emergency room right now and tell them you are depressed! They will give you psychotropic drugs.” Everything she was saying made me feel like a character in a Joyce Carol Oates story. I saw myself as the middle aged woman with bad teeth and broken dreams sitting with the dispossessed of the ER in the middle of that sad and grey short story right before the serial killer custodial worker no one notices comes and kills me and eats my skin. No thank you.

I doubled down on my SAM-E, on my yoga classes, going to the gym regularly for boxing, juicing, meditating, reading self-help books… the causes were internal and if I could find the secret to being happy inside, I would be cured. That was the up cycle. I live in Jersey City which gave me the opportunity to drink socially with a different group of people every night, so I could go for weeks without having to address any issues. I was happy, funny, hysterical even. I convinced myself I was better.

Last September, I was lucky, but so lucky, that one of my friends had the courage and love to tell me, calmly and without scary words, that I was depressed. I was lucky, but so lucky, that another friend of mine had a mother who was a psychiatrist who would do my intake over the phone. I was incredibly lucky that she could prescribe Wellbutrin and that Wellbutrin would be successful in helping neurotransmitters in my brain do what they needed to do.

Almost a year after taking anti-depressants, I am still me but happy. I don’t lay in bed all day unable to move because I am in so much physical pain. I don’t lock myself in my apartment anymore because the idea of smiling and pretending to be happy is too much to bear. I am sharing this because I don’t want anyone else to lose so much time waiting to be happy. I am sharing this because everyone deserves that friend who can tell you calmly and without scary words, You are depressed, you need help.

Pen Letter:

Pen Letter: if you’re reading this and you think it’s you

yes it’s you.

Drowning and crescendo:

Youth. everything beautiful about this the

real uncertainties of my

Experience don’t exist here I’m just

thinking

And there was never anything terrible

And I’m at the Jersey Shore and the ocean

is new to me

And I don’t trust my guidance I run

head on so eager falling ungrateful stupid

awkward

Me in love with you

 

It looks like this and salt is in my mouth

And every open wound is healing.

Remember Yourself.

Remember yourself, I said
when I started making letters
correctly.

Remember yourself. Pencil,pen, crayon, marker, paint, tattoo,
blood, stone, cloud, river, taco, building, street, drum, shit, cum, electricity, spit, ethics.

Film, window, black, raindrop, earth, snow, people, dancing, theater. Tickets.

Remember yourself and

People don’t own you. even your best friend. Even your hus. Band. Even your sis. Ter.

Remember yourself.

You’re a goddamn visionary. A rainbow elephant unicorn torn page cream pie. A tree. an Oak Tree.

You’re a fucking oak tree crammed into the mouth of a wine bottle.

NOT!!!!

Remember yourself. Revolt. Kill. Die, Love, Fuck.
Earnestly.

Remember yourself.
We are all alive, we are living.

Remember yourself: code 01110101

Remember yourself,

scribble, scribble, on a napkin. Blow a kiss. roll some sweet weed. Write it all down. Roll down the window. Tell some secrets.

Forget I told you anything.

Honoring Anita.

On September 11, 2001 I was teaching a fifth grade class at Thirteenth Avenue School in Newark, New Jersey. Mrs. Thompson, the teacher from across the hall, stuck her head into my classroom and said, “The twin towers have been hit by a plane.”  My first thought was, “I can’t believe this is happening when George Bush is the President.”

My disbelief and anxiety grew over the next few weeks with each American flag that popped up, with each jingoistic commercial created to instill a sense of entitlement and superiority while gutting our democracy.  The camera, below the podium angled upward at a seemingly human Giuliani, the patron saint of capitalism, “Go Shopping!” he declared, this is how you can help your country! With each compliant and alarmist headline, peace activists became criminals, those who questioned the government and the nature of the attacks were unpatriotic. The politics of 9-11 hid behind the heroism of the first-responders (George Bush called them rescuers) to justify a policy that would destroy an entire region and hundreds of thousands of lives while making Halliburton an ungodly profit. Communists were no longer the elusive phantom that justified illegal torture at home and abroad, now we could declare never-ending war on burqas and turbans without differentiating between Iraq and Afghanistan, between Shiite or Sunni. And the Patriot Act.

My second thought that day, which still makes my stomach lurch and my throat tighten even today, 14 years later, was along the lines of  “This is what it’s like in Baghdad all the time.”1 This is what it’s like in many parts of the world every day who don’t have the resources to lose cell service for only a couple of hours during an emergency, who don’t have fire departments and rescue squads and blood donors flooding the phones to help, who don’t have crucial things that we take for granted like running water or readily available medicine.

That thought made me hopeful in a way I can’t explain. I believed the good people of America would see this as a new opportunity for peace. That we would consider ourselves not as a nation but as part of the whole human family and  reassess our convenient distance from bombing and death, our desensitization and video gamification of war. I could not understand or accept that American lives were more valuable than any other country.

The mainstream press did a pretty great job during that time toting the party line, of not questioning authority or doing any real investigating into what led up to the attacks. 9-11 became a random act where Al-Qaeda just hated our way of life. Giuliani under scrutiny for his defense of police brutality, and George Bush, a Yale graduate who could not negotiate object and subject pronouns but who was able to steal the presidency of the most powerful nation in the world, were absolved from their sins and fitted for shiny new halos.

But, most people are good and righteous and the truth does matter. Despite a co-ordinated campaign on behalf of the press and government to rile everyone up into a red, white and blue frenzy, before and as the U.S. sent so many young men and women to perish and be destroyed physically and emotionally in Iraq (which again, had nothing to do with 9-11), there was a monumental movement against the impending invasion. Hundreds of thousands of people marched in the streets for peace and against an invasion, many of which carried signs that read, “I drink cabernet and I vote!” Because of France’s distinguished and correct position against the war, they almost lost their cultural right to french fries in this country.

Irregardless, the US invaded Iraq and Afghanistan. According to a study published in National Geographic 2 years ago, 500,000 or half a million Iraqis are dead.4 This number only includes the deaths between 2003 and 2011 and not the frequent bombings before the 2003 invasion. In a report published by Physicians for Social Responsibility, between 72,500 and 116,000 civilians have been estimated to be casualties of the war in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2011.5 On October 3rd, a hospital in Afghanistan was bombed, and nobody changed their FaceBook profile picture or even sent prayers. On November 14th, the day before the attacks in Paris, 40 people lost their lives in Beirut.  I didn’t even know. And still I am asking why do American lives, or French lives matter so much more? I want someone to explain to me, the difference between a family who has the unfortunate circumstance of living in a country that the United States has decided to bomb, the terror that they feel and the terror that overcame Paris on November 13, 2015. What makes one life more valuable? What makes one attack more terrifying?

On Friday November 20th, at 9:30 in the morning, I read about hostages being taken in Mali. FaceBook was quiet. There were no fancy lights on any buildings. I read about the only American who was killed, Anita Ashok Datar of Takoma Park, Md. I didn’t put it together she might be the same Anita Datar from Flanders, New Jersey. Anita and I were friends in elementary school. Children, probably now divorced alcoholics in debt with terrible stretch marks and bad teeth called us names, teasing us. I was Lacey Klutz. Anita was “I need a guitar.” “That’s really clever,” I said one day. “It’s like a whole sentence and it totally rhymes.” Anita did not like that at all. Even then she was sensitive and sophisticated.  “It’s not even mean!” I protested. But I still imagined her shredding in the secrecy of her bedroom, below the watchful gaze of Cabbage patch dolls and Strawberry Shortcake.

I grieve for her family, but I take courage and inspiration from her brother, Sanjeev who told the Washington Post: “And while we are angry and saddened that she has been killed, we know that she would want to promote education and healthcare to prevent violence and poverty at home and abroad, not intolerance.”

Anita lived her life helping others, she was recognized as a leader in her field, and worked to eliminate HIV/AIDS throughout developing countries, primarily sub-Saharan Africa. In a statement issued by Palladium, Anita’s employer, Ambassador Debbi Birx, is quoted as saying, “we were so fortunate to have such an extraordinary woman dedicated to ending HIV/AIDS and standing up for human rights. She inspires all of us to do better…we admired Anita’s compassion and sensitivity and true commitment to the cause.” As people from a privileged country, whose lives are somehow more precious when taken by an act of terror, we have a choice to either accept supreme status, or, forego a global caste system and use our temporary darkness to shed light on a brighter future. We can take the time to really analyze our own chauvinism which blinds us to the true nature of these attacks and work towards real peace. We can all do better. We have to.

 

 

  1. Iraq Was Being Bombed During 12 Years of Sanctions, Anup Shah, April 5, 2002
  2. Another Gaza Hospital Hit, NBC News, July 2014
  3. Hospital Bombing in Afghanistan
  4. Iraq War Death Survey, National Geographic 2013
  5. Body Count, Physicians for Social Responsibility
  6. Washington Post, Anita Datar

Remembering Amy Winehouse or Who Will Save Rock and Roll?

About two weeks ago, my best friend Michael and I met up at a free concert at South Street Sea Port in NYC. The vintage post 30’s NY crowd was neatly arranged into hot hipsters, stubbled ink clad men in perfect fitting blue jeans with an array of runway girlfriends with red red puckered lips and long black fingernails. We are all sinners and I was strutting around with my antique camera that screams, I’m shooting film! I’m the most vintage!

As the extras took their place as audience in this mellow drama, I adjusted my light meter, positioned my camera and, action!

But not really. The headlining band took the stage, although “took” might be too strong an action to describe what they were doing. The best thing they had going was the guitar player’s hair cut, (long on the sides, bangs in the front) and, as in most situations, the woman, the drummer, doing all the work, barely visible in the back. Something with distortion and long drawn out, lingering chords and it was all very boring.

What’s so important about you? I said, to the band or nobody in particular. And after a couple of songs, we left.

IF we travel back in time to 2006, “Back to Black” hits the United States.

Not what’s so important about you, but “Ms. Winehouse, you are so important.”

There is a space where we all get lost. We begin this journey for different reasons. Those of us without any positive relationship models or control of our hormones possibly took our first steps as adolescents or teenagers. Some may have smacked into this wall, completely unaware, convinced that their relationship to love and romance was infallible.

It’s an awful place. Full of pain and self doubt, suffering and heartache, other girl-women who are prettier than you, cheap vodka, American Spirits, and Amy Winehouse Songs.

It didn’t matter that she was 10 years younger than me, this skinny little bitch was belting out shit from I don’t know what, and what? I knew exactly what she was talking about and she took my lack of self-control and low self-esteem and made it, well, she made it sexy. All my indiscretions, all my indecipherables, all my indefensible actions… she made them cool.

I embraced my inner Amy Winehouse and wore my darkness like a badge of honor, like anyone who ever had their heartbroken and smashed to pieces did post-2006. Her songs were a weapon to fight off the darkness, a tool you could use to begin to climb yourself out.

And I feel like we all drink a little too much to try and cushion the blow when we somehow fall, stumble, careen into love with an unwitting rival who can’t or won’t reciprocate our misguided advances, right?

Except, on my way out of the darkness I could graduate from my inner Amy Winehouse and evolve, slowly, finding strength in my inner Kathleen Hanna, and then solace in my inner PJ Harvey, until I reached the light and could see myself again.

It’s easy to say Amy didn’t like what she saw when she found herself again, but I can’t help but think about some mitigating circumstances, about some meddlesome parties who maybe wouldn’t give her the right mirrors so she could see herself as the light of the sun that she was.

Manic and hungry, she was assaulted by an unforgiving media, comprised of unevolved and unvisionary spokespeople against anything useful or pretty who made easy jabs at a young girl who was really, a prodigy, and had a problem with drugs.

It’s a terrible thing to watch someone you love be consumed by drugs. I can’t imagine what this time means to her family and friends and fans. Addicts are the only ones who can control themselves and get sober. But sometimes it helps when someone is shining a light into the darkness and giving you some direction so you can figure how to get the fuck out.

The media who now lament her passing, who as recently as Belgrade masked petty opportunistic gossip for music news, relished her in her self destruction, needed Amy sprawled on the ground bleeding from her fingers and starving from her belly so they could justify their existence.

And I can’t help but think whenever something was posted on youtube or with every comment on late night comedy disparaging this young woman who was doing something truly amazing, who was shining a light in our darkness, they were looking at all of us, right in the eyes, asking, “What’s so important about you?”

Travel to Cuba? 10 Ways to not act like an American American while you are there

IMG_9839
Now that travel restrictions have eased, Americans from across the country have been posting their travel plans all over FaceBook and Twitter about how they are going to fly to Havana. I am really enthralled by the new developments, the travel ban is political segregation that allows both the US and Cuban governments to promote false ideas about who we are to each other. However, I know Americans too well. I am an American. And while I love us, I know that most of you are complete morons when it comes to traveling to another country because you say you want an authentic experience and then complain the whole time because it’s not exactly like where you live and work every day.

You can secretly confess to yourself this is you and in the spirit of the new year take this advice to heart so when you buy your roundtrip ticket to Havana you don’t make Cuba rethink their decision to normalize relations with the US.

1READ A BOOK. NO, READ TWO.

The relationship between Cuba and the US is one that is presented in the US media as a black and white issue from both the left and the right perspective. Meaning, that any documentary or film you’ve seen on Cuba is presented as “Fidel is the devil, Cuba is a prison,” or “Fidel is an angel, Cuba is a socialist paradise.” Neither of these are true. Both of these are true. But before you go, really do some research. Even a rudimentary look into the complex and multi-layered history will make your trip worthwhile and make you look like less of a goofball.

2. GO PREPARED.

Do not expect to find tampons, batteries, aspirin, shampoo, fresh panties, socks, rain ponchos, pens, disc cards for your camera, anything for your camera, shoes, clothes, medicine, books, whatever other things you think you will need. They do have clothes, obviously, but the selection is little, the quality is poor, and the price is expensive. Batteries are probably expired. When I first arrived in Havana to shoot “They Will Be Heard,” a doc on Cuban heavy metal, Jennifer Hernandez and Yando Coy and I walked around for no less than 4 hours going to each “mall” to find a pillow. They didn’t have any pillow for less than $25 dollars and they were used or dirty or flat or whatever. I took to rolling up my jeans or drooling on my arm. One day, I am not exaggerating, I walked around for 4 hours looking for toilet paper. They do have books in the book stores but they are either about the Cuban revolution, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, or surprisingly, written by Wayne Dyer and in spanish.

3. GO PREPARED.

Bring tampons, batteries, aspirin, shampoo, fresh panties, socks, rain ponchos, pens, t-shirts, especially band t-shirts, any old digital camera you don’t use anymore preferably with a rechargeable battery, clothes, medicine and books to give away to all the awesome Cuban people you meet. I brought all my cd’s to give away since anything I want I can access digitally.

4. BE HUMBLE.

Joan of Arc was a martyr. You are not. Cubans have endured 50 years of bullying by America and not only have they resisted, they have risen and in very difficult circumstances achieved amazing accomplishments in sports, education, literacy, medicine and culture. The ordinary Cuban deals with difficulties and inconveniences on a daily basis. No one wants to hear you complain about the condition of your hotel room. Many times while filming “They Will Be Heard“, the band was like, “You should make a movie about you trying to make the movie!” I knew that any difficulties or obstacles I was facing were temporary. I knew that I could always leave, I was leaving. And when I did get frustrated or impatient, it was immediately followed by a crushing sense of shame since all the Cubans I was in contact with were always positive and upbeat even though they dealt with water shortages and rolling black outs all the time. Let me put it this way: things are so horrible in Cuba that when members of Escape came to Jersey City, they thought the PATH train was the best thing ever.

 

5. IF YOU’RE NOT THAT GOOD LOOKING HERE, YOU’RE NOT THAT GOOD LOOKING IN CUBA.

While we all like to have our international love affairs when we travel, Cubans bring it to a whole new level. My first Cuban love was dreamy. He was a bass player for one of the emerging bands at the time, he was spiritual, like rasta spiritual, sensitive, his dreadlocks were perfect…our week long affair wasn’t just a wonderful memory we shared, it was marked by an emotional goodbye at the airport, promises of eternal love, yes, our love would bring down the blockade. Of course I wired him $300 a month later.

Listen, in New York, I’m probably like a four, maybe on a good day a five and a half. This guy was smoking hot. If you find yourself in a hot romance with a severe mismatch, stay focused, Enjoy yourself, but don’t get embroiled in some kind of Cuban romance. You are a walking ticket to financial freedom, a means to get a new color television or visa. Some Cubans, ever practical, aren’t just looking to hook up, they are maximizing how much they can get out of the relationship. These people are called, “jinoteros” or horse jockeys. You are the horse.

On that note, you want to socialize with Cubans. Beers are a dollar. Buy everyone a beer. Cigarettes are a dollar. Share your cigarettes. Cubans will give you whatever they have. No matter who I approached on the street, they would immediately offer whatever they had in their hands to me, a piece a cake, a sip of rum. They are experts in the field of sharing. Be generous.

6. DON’T COMPLAIN ABOUT THE FOOD.

My father left our family when I was 11 years old. My mother basically raised us by herself. She worked all the time. When I came home from school, I had to cook for myself. That’s why, when I ordered a spaghetti dinner and got some spaghetti with melted butter on top with a side of sliced cucumber, it was very familiar to me and brought back all of the abandonment issues I thought I left behind with my EMDR therapy.

When my Cuban friends and I met up with another American in the plaza, we decided to celebrate and we ordered lobster. I always thought there was just one way to make lobster, to boil it. Apparently, there is another way: rubbery and hard to chew. Don’t complain, do not send it back, just plan on having a terrible culinary experience so that if it’s just relatively not tasty, it will seem like a gourmet meal!

On a side note, if dinner is terrible, you always have room for dessert and you can get delicious pastries almost anywhere!

7. NOTHING THERE MAKES SENSE.

Half the time I was shooting in Havana, I was like “Am I understanding you correctly or is my spanish just completely terrible?” When immigration discovered that I was staying at my friend Justo’s house, the lady said, “You better be here at 8 am tomorrow morning!” At 8 am we arrived and no one knew why we were there but we were told to wait. Three hours later some one came to see us.

When I went to the office to renew my visa that the travel guide to Cuba published the year before told me to go to, (an hour away by bus), the guy at that place said, “No, you need to go to the office that is located 5 minutes away from where you are staying!” (Smiling, always smiling. Somehow everyone there is always in a good mood.)

When I finally got my visa from the Cuban Music Institute to film, I was told to get two id photos before going to the office. I got to the office and they said, “Why do you have these photos?”

When you are on a bus coming back from somewhere and the bus breaks down, do not ask how you will get home. Just do what the other Cubans are doing, sitting there waiting. Do not be the only person complaining (American) and yelling out “What’s going on? What’s going on?”

If you are on a bus and the bus driver pulls over to talk to a friend of his, just sit in your seat and wait. Think of Cuba as a big DMV pre-2000. Expect to wait. Expect to be inconvenienced. Bring a Wayne Dyer book to read and practice  your Spanish.

8. BRING CONDOMS

People are posting online that Cuba gives aways condoms for free. This is true. These condoms are for Cubans who don’t have access to every single type of condom in the world in an aisle of their grocery store. Bring your own condoms.

9. JUST UNPLUG FOR THE WEEK. 

Don’t bother with trying to instagram or tweet. Just be in the moment. Use the internet sparingly. The internet is very slow and very expensive. Like my friend Michele said, spend less time with FaceBook, and more time with faces and books.

10. GO TO MAXIM ROCK!

My film, “They Will Be Heard” is mainly about Cuban metal band Escape. But the entire metal scene in Cuba is pretty serious business. Maxim Rock embodies that metal scene which you can read all about in David Peisner’s article, “The Red Menace”. After you shake your ass in salsa class, go bang your head to some Cuban metal!

Food For Thought, an American Palate in Cuba

The following, “Food For Thought” was originally published in August of 2009 as part of “The Great Escape; Tales from when I left my mediocre existence to make a movie about Cuban metal band Escape.”

To compensate for my terrible taste in men, I’ve been granted the uncanny ability to go to third world countries, infamous for food shortages, where people having been wearing the same underwear for 6 years, and get a heaping plate of food as soon as I walk in the door. I’m in a country where each family is allocated a small portion of ground coffee each month, and yet the first two words I hear every morning are “Quieres cafe? Quieres cafe?” Invites became so frequent, that in a short time I was insulted, curious, indignant when I wasn’t fed at someone’s house. Is something wrong? I thought. Maybe they forgot. Maybe they forgot my four-course meal. With coffee at the end. The kind they get only once a month.

I don’t know if it’s my (¡terrible!) spanish that leads my Cuban friends to think I am completely incapable of feeding myself, or if this kindness and hospitality is typical. I am walked across the street, fed, nourished, hugged, burped, encouraged, changed, and fed again. This kindness stripped me not only of my defenses, but also of common sense. I didn’t need to do anything. Julian, poppy, the daddy of the house I live in, got sick for three days. I was rendered defenseless. Me, the New Yorker with the “Hi, this is Tracey and I’m out doing whatever I want,” voice mail message looked in his kitchen at the stove and pans with wonder and bewilderment. I was like three-year old Helen Keller, with the spatula in my hand, with no one to spell it out (in spanish) on my palm.

I am grateful for this kindness. Cuba is a tough country. The men on the street are aggressive. Sometimes there just is “No Hay.” The Spanish is rapid and relentless. It’s a wonderful thing to go to a country other than your own and have a community there that has somehow collaborated in the maintenance of your well-being. But I am unable, really, to eat any more meat. When a heaping plate of food is placed in front of me, there is invariably a huge chunk of pig right in the middle of it. I’m a buddhist! I whine internally, which comes out like, “Muchas, gracias! Que rico!” Ten years ago, I would have been content to suck on dirty cardboard to affirm my support of the Cuban revolution. I would have been extolling the virtues of free education and health care happily shoving dog shit into my mouth. In my older age, I am the gloomy taco bell of Cuba, remixing the same four ingredients in a different pile trying to create the illusion of a new dish to sustain me over the next 5 months. Sure, fresh mango juice every day sounds delicious until you’ve lived it for like 4 weeks. And you become aware that this is all there is. Kombucha anyone? Carrot juice with spirulina?

I never liked chicken. And fish is out of the question since the fiery god of hellfire food poisoning bestowed upon me a wrath so great that I was expunging from every orifice, okay, both orifices, of my body. I don’t know if you’ve ever shared the toilet with your mouth and your ass but the pornography of it all has left me dependent on Omega 3’s.

Cuban markets are full of mangos, avocados, pinas and papayas mixed in with other vegetables I don’t recognize. Sometimes eggs. The string beans are always the color of string beans in a can. Gone are the days of Aki’s cooking, of “just a taste” of her Japanese curry. Gone are the nights of left over pasta dishes contrived by Micheal and purchased at Trader Joes. Of heavenly whorish imperialist isles of Whole Foods.

Like any good lefty, I took to the streets. If you want to eat street food, there is an assortment of ham like things. Hammish? Hammy? Ham-oriented. Of pig origin. Once I bought a croquette sandwich, and then I was pretty sure I saw Julian feed the same croquettes to his cats. I realized that I could be eating something very similar to the meat like substances served to poor black children in Newark, the biological warfare against our youth, masked as school lunch, and, viewed through that lens, I swore off any street meat. Which left me the option of pizza and batidos, or milkshakes. Yay! My 12 year old dreams come true. But I saw my skin pallor change. Pallor, I thought. I’m too young to have pallor. But that’s what happens when you eat something pizza-y or pizza-ish and milkshakes every day.

Like any good American, I looked to buy my way out of the situation. There are stores just for tourist money. Very expensive stores. Very expensive stores that sell brands that aren’t exactly tomato sauce or peanut butter or spaghetti but something like it. A representation. Red And White. The color of your blood cells before consuming these foods injected with an unnecessary and gratuitous amount of sugar. To mask the taste of chemicals. Red and White. Red no. 6. White no. 9.

The last time I saw a generic brand like Red and White that has emerged somehow unmolested by the FDA, actually the last time that I asked “Isn’t this how you get colon cancer?” with regards to my eating habits, was when I lived in Newark, NJ. Where there is no blockade I am aware of. The economic blockade against Cuba not only prevents any trade between the US and Cuba, except for symbolic gestures between farmers facilitated by Jimmy Carter or something like that, but if you are a company trading with Cuba from another country, you cannot enter American ports for three months. And a whole bunch of other punitive measures as included by the Helms-Burton act.

So Cuban stores have really shitty food. At least they have an excuse. One of the strongest countries in the world has waged a prolonged, deliberate, malicious, inhumane expensive campaign aimed at toppling their government. Or maybe Newark, like Detroit, like Camden, like all those other cities in the US with their store shelves lined with representations of food and vegetables, maybe they have an excuse too.

The carrot and the stick policy doesn’t work usually, and it certainly doesn’t work in terms of toppling a government. Fifty years after the blockade, Cubans aren’t rallying in the streets for American style democracy (Hello Florida, 2000) or begging us to come and save them and erect StarBucks all along the Malecon. Politics isn’t a big issue in most households, where families eat dinner together and watch (¡terrible!) novellas. And Animal Planet. And wear Converse All Stars. And listen to the Beatles and Barbara Streisand. They drink beer. They eat meat. They share. Their food. That they don’t have. And in the morning, when they wake up, they sweep the floors and make breakfast.

Quieres Cafe?

 

IMG_9328

Tyranny vs. Liberty. You Tell Me. The United States Makes Nice With Cuba.

“Only tyranny fears the full expression of liberty.”  ― José Martí

IMG_7880 2

 

This is my first chance to sit and read all the news since Obama restored diplomatic relations with Cuba on Wednesday.

Since my first trip to Cuba in 1999, I’ve worked to develop an analysis and understanding of the island that was not a static glorification of the revolution but a meaningful interpretation of Cuba’s legacy and what that means for all working people and people of color.

Over the years, attending conferences, debates, panel discussions, etc on Cuba-US relations, was to be a part of a very narrow and polarized dialogue. The politics around Cuba are extremely divisive, one reason why the US imposed embargo was able to survive for so long. (Even the word choice of blockade or embargo is enough to set off a never ending debate).

 

In 2011, when Jennifer Hernandez and I created UnBlock the Rock, it was largely, for me, a way to organize people who held widely different beliefs and would otherwise not work together towards a common goal. Jennifer and I hold extremely different views about Cuba, but we respect each other immensely and I consider her one of my closest friends. Again, for me, it was also a way to use our democratic right (duty?) to organize but in a way that wasn’t so not cool and depressing like many of the isolated movements I participated in.

The slogan of UBTR, “It’s our time”, reflected our belief that it was our time, us, people who weren’t 75 years or older, to determine what our world should look like and how we should interact with each other.

IMG_0485

I’ve only read the US fact sheet “Charting a New Course in Cuba”. Sadly, the travel ban isn’t lifted, I’m not sure if the travel ban was codified into law under the Helms-Burton Act in 1996 and must be overturned by Congress or if Obama has the power to lift it entirely.

I’m not necessarily excited about the United States bringing our brand of democracy anywhere, where some get a little and most get none; our democracy which has had, somehow, the words “rectal” and “forced” attached to it lately; our democracy that can proudly boast more and more people sleeping in train stations while luxury rentals are erected symbolically right next to City Hall in Jersey City seemingly overnight at a frequency that rivals only the frequency with which our democracy shuts down schools and builds prisons for profit…no, none of that democracy being imported or force fed anally into Cuba does not excite me. The highlight of all this for me is Obama openly telling the Republicans to go fuck themselves, because, really, fuck them.

UBTR won. We brought Cuban heavy metal to the states. But our responsibility and right to determine what our world should look like and how we should interact with each other is urgent. And possible. Restored relations with Cuba and world wide demonstrations against police murdering black people and Ras Baraka mayoring in Newark and Pope Francis doing his thing are great conditions to be working under.

IMG_0752

The most crucial thing, as I see it, is lifting the travel ban. Americans have no idea who Cuba is. Cuba has no idea who we are. It’s important we meet each other. It’s our time.

-December 20, 2014

ShitKilling is my business and business is Heavy.

IMG_0644Earnest, authentic hard core music, for me, speaks to the part of us that feels good when we say, Fuck you. Or Fuck off. Or fuck that. ShitKill is all of the above and it feels great. Listening to their self titled, self-distributed CD, I feel confident that I could throw a chair through a Starbucks Window while beating up a bunch of nazi skins with one hand. There is something serious in how Damien Moffit (drums) and Josh Musto (vocals and guitar) communicate musically; it’s tight, it’s threatening, and considering they’re all under 21 years old, it’s only going to get sicker, heavier, faster, darker. Joined by Danny Chpatchev on guitar and Karina Rykman on bass, everyone who makes Shitkill, angry; the media, religion, God, the government, rules, and maybe even you, better watch out.

I had a vision of blasting ShitKill on 20th and 6th while burning Donald Trump in effigy, and our rock and roll church was reborn out of the ashes of naked consumerism. All of our holy sites came back, CBGB’s, the Roxy…read this interview to find out why. Oh, and fuck you.

TNL: Where did ShitKill come from? Did you all meet at THOR (Tomato’s House of Rock)?

Josh: Damien and I went to school together from 4th grade on. We had a strong bond over bands like Slayer and System of a Down…and then we played in a couple bands together in 8th grade that didn’t get too serious. We all got together at Smash Studios, it started out with 8 people. Five of us were on guitar…

Damien They were people we kind of knew from high school, like “Hey you guys can sort of play instruments, right?”

Josh: One by one they each sort of dropped off or we kicked them out and weeded it down to four. We wrote a bunch of terrible, terrible music, and then the songs started getting better and we figured out what we were doing. Danny actually wrote our first riff.

Rykman: I remember that very clearly.

Josh: We kept coming up with songs, they started out kinda silly. We had a tune called “Hot Dog Man.” That was pretty good.

Danny: A little bit peculiar.

Josh: We got our shit together, a little bit. Before that, I started going to the School of Rock, in 2007. I was 13, that’s where we met Tomato, who is now our manager. That’s where I met Danny. ShitKill started in 2009.

Danny: At Guns vs. Motley Crue. *

*Shows at THOR organized around a theme so students could perform covers live.

Josh: The first time I was ever on stage, I wore this really long sleeved shirt. I didn’t realize that was a rock violation and it muted out my strings when I tried to do finger tapping. It was a nightmare.

Damien: I was there to support you. I was the School of Rock supporter.

Josh: We started rehearsing and rocking. Our first gig was somewhere in Hudson, New York at an open mic night at a bar and it was just me and Damien. We played 2 SOD covers and our song “Goatrape” that we don’t play anymore.

We played on a float going around a Flag Day parade in Hudson and I think we scared the shit out of everybody there. I think we had 2 songs.

Damien: Yeah, we were still playing covers. We played Master of Puppets –

TNL: Are you guys particularly close to Flag Day? Is that a very important holiday for ShitKill?

Damien: My dad used to live there. I think he thought it would be funny to have this metal band being rolled around.

Josh: It was a bunch of patriotic guys with the hats and the flags and then us.

Damien: Playing lyric-less Metallica. We didn’t have a mic. We were looping the songs. We thought the float was just going to go the whole time. But there were stops and slowing down.

Josh: Us falling off the thing. We started doing that. Karina was our first booking agent. She booked us a whole bunch of shows at Don Hill’s.

TNL: No way! How old were you when you were booking at Don Hills?

Rykman: At the time I was booking ShitKill, I was 15, 16? That was fun. I knew some people at Don Hills, I was in a band called “False Arrest” that played several shows there when we were 13 or 14 years old. And I knew how to hustle the system which was, ‘Oh yeah, we can draw 60 people on a Sunday night.’

Josh: We did three of those shows in 2009/2010 before the place shut down and kinda learned how to fuck up really badly and recover and play. Not to have a guitar with a Floyd Rose cause it will break, and, always bring back up. We learned a lot from playing there.

Around the same time, THOR (Tomato’s House of Rock) started, and Tomato invited us there. We started rocking together, we recorded a bunch of Shitkill songs over the summer and did and EP with him. Tomato started getting us opening slots. We opened up for Paul Di’anno of Iron Maiden at BB Kings, we opened up for Anvil at Highline Ballroom. We played with Possessed and Six Feet Under and Twelve Foot Ninja. Tomato, our manager, has been awesome.

Damien: He’s like our “not douche bag” manager. You take a manager, and you take out the parts that make you hate your manager, and there’s Tomato.

Josh: He helps boost morale a lot of times when we need it. He’s got the vision and he’s really in it with us. I see a lot of bands who don’t have someone like that and I feel very lucky we do.

 

 

TNL Is it difficult with being under age? I went to an all ages ShitKill show at Hippie Cafe and it was packed.

Josh: There have been a couple of shows where nobody showed up because the shows were 21 and over and we didn’t know anybody 21 and over. The kind of shows we’ve been playing have been opening slots at bigger shows that can be all ages, so it hasn’t been that much of a problem. The fact that most of these venues are 21+ like Mercury Lounge and beyond, every bar, we have played at some of them. It really has a negative effect of the metal scene because kids are the most powerful market obviously. And if kids can’t get in, what’s the point?

Damien: There’s countless shows of ours where I’m inviting people in our building and other adults that I know and they’re literally like, ‘I’m an adult, I have work in the morning! It’s past 7 pm and my kid’s gotta go to bed.’ Its’ shocking how much of the scene really is teenagers and young adults.

Josh: There are so many kids in the city and you see them at Mastodon shows and Gojira shows, but then they can’t go see local shows at Mercury lounge or Fontana’s or Trash bar, and those are great venues but the fact that the law is so strict in NYC, has a negative impact on the scene because everyone’s afraid of getting arrested.

TNL: Right, there are all these strange rules now, you can’t crowd surf… on the one hand, I guess I can see it, but on the other hand that’s so weird that they’re going to legislate how you rock out.

Josh: It’s so not rock and roll.

TNL: I was your age when I was listening to the music that you’re playing now. I didn’t realize that metal had this kind of staying power or that it would be attractive to young people 20 years later. Just because I grew up with it, I see it as older people music. So when you talk about Slayer, I wasn’t even 10 when Slayer came out, so it’s wild to hear how they influenced you. What was your attraction to metal?

Josh: The first metal band I liked was System of a Down which was Damien’s fault. He pulled me over during soccer practice with a cd player in 5th grade. He was like “Dude, you gotta hear this and he played “Cigaro” and I never heard someone say the word “cock” in a song before. And I was like “Holy Shit!”

Danny: For me it evolved from other things. Avenged 7 Fold was sort of like a gate way for me. From then on, I moved into Slipknot and Pantera. When I first heard Slayer, I didn’t really like them, I was like this is too much. It’s gradual, You start appreciating heavy stuff, heavier stuff. There was a time I didn’t want to listen to Nirvana, I was like, “this isn’t heavy, I don’t want to listen to this shit.” You start loosening up, and you realize, this is good, this isn’t really that good. In terms of just style and originality.

Damien: I had a weird and diverse musical upbringing. My mom was into 70’s airy, spacey funky music. I was always hanging out with my dad while he was lifting in his bedroom and I grew up listening to Helmet and Black Sabbath, weird cool crazy metal music. I can see it: in the living room it’s my mom’s music, in the bedroom, it’s crazy metal music. Something about going back and forth, I can like what ever I want.

But playing metal music, it has a lot to do with me playing drums. The drums are this crazy instrument where you just hit shit. That’s what metal does, it hits you. You hear a riff and you’re like, Holy shit I can feel that.

Karina: The power and the energy. I play in several bands, but ShitKill is the most fun because you get to attack your instrument, and just go fucking nuts on stage. I love that.

It’s not that I only listen to metal, I listen to a whole bunch of stuff. I was born in ’93, and I was a conscious human in the 2000’s and being a conscious human in the 2000’s and not in the midst of punk when it was big or not in the midst of thrash metal when it was big, it has allowed me to draw influence from all kinds of shit. Yeah, I listen to Dinosaur JR, and I listen to Slayer, and I listen to Black Flag, but I also listen to Donna Summer and Ween and the Allman brothers without being bound to one thing,

Danny: Just appreciating music-

Karina: I fucking love heavy metal, if that was the only thing I listened to I wouldn’t appreciate it, I like contrast.

Josh: There are so many bands that are so derivative of 3 bands, everyone’s a Pantera clone or a Lamb of God clone, I think it’s very important for us to come at it from a much more musical perspective.

Karina: You can always tell, especially with a metal band that has super limited influence, they’re kind of trapped almost and don’t have any ideas that come from any where else.

Josh: We still rip off metal bands, it’s just harder to tell.

Karina: If I was alive in the summer of ‘69 and I was only listening to Donovan and super hippied out shit… then you get more into a box. It’s kind of cool to be making music and thinking about music now after all that shit has happened, so you can draw on different genres.

TNL: When I was growing up the metal scene was the dominant thing, Metallica came out…everybody I talk to, no matter where they’re from, they’re like “and then I heard ‘Blackened’ and my life was changed forever.” So my generation had a definitive movement. Now, looking at the music scene there is nothing I see as the defining trend. I was in High School when PE came out and that was so ground breaking.

IMG_0683

Karina: We get to pick and choose from a huge scope of great music, I remember where I was when I heard Master of Puppets for the first time, I remember where I was when I heard Licensed to Ill for the first time, 2 very different things, but I love them both.

TNL: When I was working on UnBlock the Rock, I always wanted to have a female presence on stage, and it was always you and Jennifer Hernandez of Escape. In New York City! And then I met Jessica Pimental of Alkehine’s Gun who wanted to participate but she was so busy. So there were 3 women that I could find in NYC who knew how to play metal. Was that ever intimidating or scary to you, the metal scene being so male dominated?

Karina : To be straight with you I had very few female friends my age, I only had older female friends, and I continue to live that way. So to me, whether I was playing music with dudes or just hanging out, it was kind of just the people I was hanging out with. The whole reason I started playing in the first place was my friend Bobby during 8th grade recess threw a guitar in my hands and taught me how to play. I was like ‘Holy shit, I can do this? Let’s do this!’ I started playing punk cause it’s easy to play and just kept going. I recently heard someone say, ‘I’m not a woman in music, I’m a musician in music,’ I kind of dug that. I’m just trying to play like every body else is, and trying to do a great job.

TNL: So, ShitKill comes together in 2009, tell us about the name.

Damien: It was in Hudson NY where my dad lived at the time and it was just me and Josh going to do an open mic.

Josh: We didn’t have a name, I think your dad put us down as “Children of Metal”. We had a whole bunch of terrible names, like “Blind Justice.”  We were driving up and looking at these signs, Fishkill and Sawkill, and Catskill, and you know what? Shitkill, just for the day, wouldn’t that be funny?

A lot of people we know tried to get us to change the name because they said no one would book us, but people are still booking us still.

TNL: Has it been an issue if you’re advertising a show on SOU and they can’t say your name on the air?

Danny: We had that one show in Long island and they listed us as Scrumkil.

Josh: At this point, it’s got to be more good for us than harm.

Damien: Even if we were on some talk show, it’s just got to be funny enough.

Danny: Because as soon as you say the name, people always ask, “Oh, so what do you play and how did you come up with that name?”

Josh: It’s an instant conversation everytime.

TNL: So what are your aspirations?

Josh: We want to play loud rock and roll music for a lot of people a lot of the time.

Damien: The aspiration is to share the craziness and the fun. Hopefully there’s enough money involved to stay alive. That would be a nice feature.

Josh: I assume I’m going to be eating ramen noodles for the rest of my life and I’ve made peace with that.

Me: After you opened for EHG the other night, Jimmy Bowers told you your future was bright. The music you played that night sound much more hard core than the music on your cd, is that a direction you’re evolving in?

Josh: I’ve been getting into a lot more hard core music, we’re kind of drifting a little bit, we’re finding out own thing.

Danny: It’s also the last sequence of shows we’ve been playing.

Josh: Metal played with that real disgusting evil raw energy, that’s why Slayer was so great, because they were into Minor Threat and Black Flag and Dead Kennedys. To me, that’s what makes it real.

 TNL: Was there a moment where you were like, this is it, this is what I want to do!

Damien: When we played in the THOR show at the Highline Ball room, and we were introduced…normally, clapping and screaming is next but that was the first time it all blended together into this roar. Hearing that sound, maybe that wasn’t the moment, but hearing that sound was, it was great.

Josh: Everytime you get on stage, whether there are 3 people or 500 people, getting up there and putting my foot up on the amp and getting my sound and screaming in the mic, I’m more comfortable there than any place in the world and I can’t imagine a scenario for my life where I don’t try to do that everyday. I don’t know if there was a moment I decided that, I just knew.

Danny: It’s always the most recent amazing thing that we do, whether that’s a show or a new song we wrote, it grows on top of what we already have. That keeps you going. There’s so many other things that I do, music is just not something I’m willing to give up.

Rykman: Going back to the H20 show at the Gramercy, and we shared backline with everyone and we had the entire stage. I hadn’t felt that feeling of being able to run around and occupy the stage…it just felt so fucking good. And the DRI show recently, a couple of songs I looked up and the place was crazy and people were going fucking bananas…

Danny: there were moments during DRI where I would reach out and shake hands with people I didn’t know, it was crazy

Josh: A guy came up to me at a ramen joint on 52nd and he was like, “Hey Shitkill, you guys were awesome! Just the fact that people know our name, that’s kind of amazing to me.”

 

Catch ShitKill July 13, 2014 at The Emporium in Patchoque NY, opening up for Coldsteel!

More info: www.shitkill.com