Merry Christmas, everyone

We’re off to Dresden for a few days, where we’ll huddle in a little apartment across the platz from the reconstructed Frauenkirche, sipping coffee with a friend from Prague and with luck figuring out how to roast our first goose. I’ve been torturing Aimee by playing Bing Crosby Christmas carols in front of our little tree, so it’s probably best that we get out now.

Holiday greetings to everyone, and a happy new year!


Music karma, sonic books, and punctuality

A bit by way of explanation. Months, oh, months ago we saw that Sonic Youth was to play here. Having been in a bit of a dry spell musically, our fault, not Berlin’s, we immediately snapped up tickets. What other 25-year-old band is still so unremittingly creative, still rocks so hard, after all? They never disappoint.

Then, a few weeks ago, we saw posters begin to appear around town for The Books, a laptop-ish band, but unlike any other, two geeky guys that play cello and guitar and sample old videos and create shining little pieces of song. We’ve seen them once before, and they were enthralling, a jewel-like revelation in how electronics and organic instruments can be used together.

Naturally, the two shows were on the same day. We searched all over Germany for another Books show to go to, that wouldn’t break our bank. Darmstadt (naturally, since that’s where electronic music’s roots are), Munich, etc. All too expensive. We gave up.

So last night we get to Sonic Youth early. 8:20 or so. Figured we’d wait a bit to see J. Mascis, the opener, someone I haven’t seen since college’s Dinosaur days. It’s sold out, and the average height of the German concertgoer is maybe six foot six. Which makes it difficult for us hobbits. Then about 8:30, Sonic Youth comes on.

The show is brilliant, raucous and rocking as always. And ends a little after 10. Unbelieving, we saunter across town to the Books, and catch their mellow, multimedia set in a quiet, half-filled theater. The precise other end of the musical spectrum, but a perfect second course. To mix metaphors atrociously. And then stroll home in the balmy December winter, still wondering which time warp we’re falling into, or whether we’ll ever get this German punctuality thing down.

Uh… we don’t have a country anymore? Oh, ha ha…

Pity the poor folks in Belgium watching television who believed, ’cause it was on the news, that their country had split up and gone the way of the dodo. Or, say, Czechoslovakia. A state-funded channel ran a long broadcast  Wednesday showing footage of fleeing monarchs, blocked train routes, and information about the “secession” of Flanders, the country’s Dutch-speaking northern region.

Now people are not amused. Much protest. Heart palpitations, or the political version thereof. Calls for the heads of hoax-playing journalists.

But give those wacky fiction-newsers some credit (for one, they actually said their report was fiction, which Fox News never admits to). Just as the outrage over Orson Welles’ War of the World broadcasts exposed a rich vein of invasion fears, border insecurities, and discomfort with technology, the initial belief and subsequent criticism here highlights growing problems that Belgium is having with nailing down its own national identity.

There it’s a local issue. Two languages, two regions, and the northerners are apparently growing more parochial and anti-immigrant. But it’s part and parcel of Europe’s biggest issue today. In France, Germany, Belgium, Holland, everywhere are stories about countries, regions, people struggling to define their identity, and too often relying on exclusionary definitions that quickly turn racist or anti-immigrant.

A little shock-satire in that context maybe isn’t a bad thing.