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Rapeman’s Public Struggle Session

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Steve Albini, back when he was interesting.

2,281 words

Back in the late 1980s, when Republican strategist Lee Atwater made a grand public display of posturing as a blues musician [2], musicians rightly recoiled and said that he was way out of his element.

However, I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a musician, many of whom seem to have trouble wiping themselves and tying their own shoelaces, who didn’t act as if they were qualified to endlessly opine about politics and the way the world should be run.

Music appeals to a preliterate part of the brain, which is why I strain to recall an interview with a musician where they didn’t come off sounding dumb, juvenile, and uninformed. The most articulate musician was probably Frank Zappa, who once slammed rock critics with the zinger, “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.”

The same applies to playing guitars about politics.

What I initially liked about punk rock — and my fondness lasted roughly a year back in the late 1970s — was its sociopathic level of irreverence. In its initial incarnation, it was a reaction against hippie sanctimony, but in the 45 or so years since it hatched, punk rock and every iteration of white “indie” music has become far more unbearably Leftist than the hippies ever managed to be.

Anyone who hasn’t been in a coma for the past decade has likely lost friends because everything — even the shits you take in the privacy of your own bathroom — has become political, and one of the innumerable drawbacks of fanatical political partisanship is its tendency to reframe simple disagreements as egregious moral transgressions, which leads to the utter dehumanization of those with whom you merely have a difference of opinion.

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You can buy Jim Goad’s The Redneck Manifesto here. [4]

I only spoke with music producer Steve Albini once. I was taking a cross-country road trip from Portland to the East Coast and back in late 1996 to decompress after finishing the first draft of The Redneck Manifesto. We talked via phone while I sat in a rustic South Dakota motel room and Steve was in Chicago. He had recently issued a limited-edition 12-inch record that numbered in the hundreds and gave it exclusively to people he considered friends. The record’s cover listed all the recipients, each of whom had their name hand-circled in their copy; the one I received had a circle around “Jim and Debbie Goad.” (Apparently Debbie later sold our copy, because someone informed me they’d found it for sale.)

My favorite Albini story involved writer Peter Sotos, whose thematic content focuses on sexual abuse, murder, and the way the media luridly exploits such topics while making a grand display of holding their nose. He was visiting Peter in his Chicago apartment and remarked about the bookcases stuffed with VHS tapes devoted to things such as prostitute-killers and the JonBenet Ramsey case.

As the story was related to me, Albini told Sotos, “It’s not the subject matter that I find disturbing — it’s the fact that you’ve alphabetized it.”

Albini first made a name for himself as a musician with bands such as Big Black, Rapeman, and Shellac. (The name “Rapeman [5]” was inspired by a Japanese manga comic book.) He also did a one-off project as “Run Nigger Run [6]” with a song called “Pray I Don’t Kill You Faggot.”

He made a much bigger name for himself as the producer of acts such as Nirvana (famously referring to Kurt Cobain’s wife Courtney Love as a “psycho hosebeast”), The Pixies, and PJ Harvey. He also did a fantastic job of conjuring the noise from Cheap Trick’s second album by remixing [7] it.

A decade ago, he faced criticism after posting [8] on a public forum about his experience sharing a shuttle van between his band and members of the hip-hop collective Odd Future in Barcelona:

They piled onto the shuttle late, after finally getting corralled by their minder, who was nursing a head wound with an ice bag wrapped in a towel. They piled in, niggering everything in sight, motherfucking the driver, boasting into the air unbidden about getting their dicks sucked and calling everyone in the area a faggot. Then one of them lit a joint (or a pipe, I didn’t look) and told the driver to shut the fuck up nigger and smoked it anyway. A female passenger tried to engage one of them in conversation, but he just stared at her with a dead-to-me stare while his seatmate flipped double birds in her face. . . . The whole trip they complained about not being at a McDonalds and repeatedly shouted for the motherfucker to pull over so they could get some fucking McDonalds nigger. Interspersed with the McDonalds requests were shouted boasts about how often they masturbated and fucked bitches nigger and got paid like a motherfucker fifty grand like a motherfucker. They continued complaining that the trip was taking too long and insisted they be fed immediately all the way to the airport, where their minder presumably fed them. . . . I am quite happy none of them engaged me directly, because at least one of us would have regretted it.

Albini went on to explain that the young Negro youths had been acting like assholes.

Of late, though, I’ve noticed that to the progressive Left — which Albini appears to have joined at some point over the past ten years — one needn’t act like an asshole to be an asshole. One merely needs to disagree with their script.

Four or five years ago, I saw an announcement that Albini would be either playing at or emceeing a musical benefit in Chicago that agitated for some form of that elusive and intangible thing called “justice.” This justice was “social” in nature and postured itself as opposing “the man” or “the status quo” or “the power” or any of the shopworn bugaboos that crawl like a bug up the ass of the very public malcontents who seem to feel the need to announce to the world that they represent the good side, and that it’s about fucking time someone did something about injustice.

I was disappointed, because he’d struck me as a smart and good guy — and I define “good” as someone who is innately so ethical and secure about it that they never publicly announce it. He was one of the last people I expected to go full Church Lady about such matters.

Over the past year, Albini has considerably accelerated his public-good-guy declarations. This has led to naysayers pointing out some of his past shenanigans, which he’s never tried to hide [9] . . . in fact, he makes a point of airing these alleged misdeeds in the service of repeatedly publicly announcing that he’s “evolved” and “matured” and seen the deeply ignorant error of his ways and how it was rooted in privileged white-male ignorance. This, in turn, has led to accusations that he’s “trying to stay relevant” in a music business that has grown increasingly intolerant of dissenting opinions.

Unlike nearly everyone else who airs opinions publicly, I don’t claim to possess psychic powers of mindreading, which is why I’ll refrain from speculating about what exactly has motivated Albini’s 180-degree shift on some of these topics. Almost without exception, whenever someone dictates to me what my motivations are, they are hilariously off-base, which is why I refrain from doing it to others.

My only task here is to point out how startlingly unoriginal, deeply illogical, nakedly hypocritical, and nauseatingly sanctimonious his extended bout of public self-flagellation has been. I will only address the substance — or lack thereof — in what he’s been telling the world recently.

Last month on Twitter [10], Albini criticized Dave Chappelle for the unforgivable sin of saying that men are men and women are women:

It’s not hard to reconcile that Dave Chappelle, once he got rich enough to be comfortable for life, reverted to ideas suited to people who feel entitled to certainty and comfort in their notion of the world, including their perception of others. You know, regular asshole stuff. . . . Defenses, mostly from complete assholes but also some regular people who just lean asshole, say ‘everything’s fair game in comedy,’ which, while true, isn’t the point. *Why* punch down on these particular people, who’ve been shit on their whole lives? They make you uncomfortable? Just their existence is an insult to you that you need to redress with a spiel denying their equal humanity? That’s just unbelievably fucked, and at its core is comedy philosophy identical to a good ol’ boys yee-haw truckstop funnies cassette.

Setting aside the fact that Albini himself [11] is “rich enough to be comfortable for life,” Chappelle never denied the “equal humanity” of trannies; he merely stated that they aren’t what they claim to be, a statement that could be quantified by a simple chromosomal test. Albini also contradicted himself by saying it’s “true” that “everything’s fair game in comedy,” but then dredged up the Leftist canard that you shouldn’t “punch down.” I believe that the purpose of comedy is to expose human frailties, which abound in every conceivable racial, economic, and sexual demographic. And any honest review of modern public discourse would reveal that trannies are sacred cows while the media has been punching down at the “good ol’ boys yee-haw truckstop” types for generations.

Try working in any corporate or government office in America and try seeing whether criticizing trannies or rural white rubes gets you fired. I don’t know many truck drivers these days who are four-star admirals [12].

In an interview [13] last month with black writer Zaron Burnett III — who once publicly chided [14] me for alleged moral and cognitive shortcomings regarding my honest belief that gender is biological — Albini once again publicly apologized for his “edgelord” past and said that “the anti-woke comics today” represented the antithesis of originality and creativity:

Specifically regarding the anti-woke comics today, the uncomfortable truths that they’re expressing are genuinely, almost exclusively, childish restatements of the status quo. Or they’re pining for sustaining the status quo that they feel is threatened somehow. I can’t think of a more tragic or trivial comic premise than: Things should stay the way they are. That’s the absence of creativity — it’s a void rather than a creative notion. It’s fundamentally conservative and anti-progress. And I strain at finding humor in the idea that things should not get better.

The idea that one plus one equals two should stay the way it is. To allege that it actually equals three is a dangerously illogical regression, not progress. Not all change is good, unless you think a normal cell mutating into a cancerous one is a move in the right direction.

Albini also seems afflicted with the delusion that his current ideological positions stand in opposition to the status quo rather than affirms nearly everything that is endlessly regurgitated in media and academia as well as in the halls of corporate and governmental power. For all that these types whine about not wanting to live in the past, they’re still tilting at institutional windmills that crumbled a generation or two ago.

Does Steve Albini honestly think none of the tiresomely pious doggerel he’s been spewing of late sounds bourgeois or safe or protected or part of the power structure? Exactly how sheltered has this formerly skinny Dago become?

And it’s unbecoming to moan about an “absence of creativity” when all of your recent interviews blindly parrot terms such as “white privilege” and “white supremacy” and “inclusiveness” and “the uneducated white vote” and “misogyny” and “institutional prejudices” and “general bigotry” and “punching down” and “how serious a threat fascism was in this country” and how “authoritarianism in general and fascism specifically were going to become commonplace as an ideology” — ubiquitous phrases and concepts which he didn’t create but somehow leeched onto for reasons about which I don’t care to speculate, but which in my eyes make him come off like a conformist windbag menopausal woman and the antithesis of the sharp, funny guy he used to be.

What’s semantically annoying about the term “edgelord” is that it implies insincerity. It also implies that the alleged edgelord cares about the feelings of the people who read or hear his opinions so much that he merely wants to offend them rather than express a heartfelt point. It suggests that they actually agree with the people they’re antagonizing and are simply misbehaving to be an “asshole,” which is a term Albini overuses to the point of self-parody. In this sense, it’s similar to the semantically-charged term “denier” — it’s a form of gaslighting that alleges you actually agree with the person about the Holocaust or climate change or vaccines but are denying it just to be a dick.

For all I know, maybe that’s what Albini was doing when he was in Rapeman and Run Nigger Run: just trying to get a rise out of people rather than launching a multilayered critique of the way that people will step on others’ necks in the service of publicly announcing what a great fucking person they are. And if that’s the case — again, I don’t know nor claim to know, although he seems to think he knows the shamefully sinister motives of the “anti-woke” and “edgelord” contingent — he makes the fatal error of projecting his own motivations onto others.

In everything I’ve written since I started writing, never once did I feel I was attacking the “marginalized”; in every last case, I was lampooning the hyper-privileged who are apparently so wracked with guilt about their station in life that they shamelessly trot out society’s outcasts as paper dolls to showboat themselves as morally and even genetically superior to those who suffer the misfortune of being on the shit end of things — if not at the very bottom.

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