Monday, October 23, 2006

Mark E. Smith interview, MRR #279

I was going to post the Mark E. Smith interview I did earlier this year, but someone has gone and scanned it, so you might as well go over there and look at it. The interview was an enjoyable experience and I found Mark to be a very pleasant chap.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Maximumrocknroll #281 October 2006

Another Pleasant Valley Sunday
We'd just strolled back from the new farmers market with some organic veggies and handmade avocado soap. Unusually warm for August. Everyone was out enjoying the nice weather on the leafy avenues of semi-suburban Oakland. We were shooting the shit with some of our neighbors when one (a mother of three unruly but loveable boys) mentioned how bored she was with summer. The other neighbor essentially shot her down, although I doubt she intended to be quite so forceful. She pointed out that we (meaning us affluent Westerners, I suppose) had nothing to complain about compared to all those suffering in the world. We have it so easy compared to, for example, the mothers losing their children to Israeli bombs in Lebanon. To say it was overkill as a response to an offhand remark from a tired mum wishing her kids were back at school is an understatement.
The first neighbor isn't totally insensitive to the problems of the world. Nor is her biggest problem the fact that her kids are home all day during the summer, not by a long shot. She was just making conversation. That's a luxury many of us enjoy, but that none of us can really afford. We can turn off the TV, put down (or never pick up) the newspaper. But like the mother (a different one) that I heard about recently, who has recently decided to hold her son's Bar Mitzvah in Israel, our ignorance has the potential to make us look very silly indeed. This is one reason I try to be aware of what's going on in the world, though it often makes for depressing reading.
Later that same day we crossed the Bay to drop off some birthday presents for a young friend who's turning nine. She's into football (or Sawkir as these Sherman Tanks call it) so we got her a book on the subject penned (or ghost-penned) by football's Mr. Nice Guy, Gary Lineker. It was a British book but had obviously mucked about with for the US edition - in other words, they'd put a girl on the cover. The rest of the book was devoid of any reference to the idea that girls might want to play the game. And it's been twenty-five years since the release of Gregory's Girl! Did Bill Forsyth teach the world nothing? Luckily, my young acquaintance is growing up in America, where she can have upstanding female football role models like Mia Hamm. If she was born on the other side of the pond, her only avenue into the world of football would be to hang around shit upscale nightclubs with her gear hanging out in the hope of achieving the ultimate in status positions in tabloid Britain, that of Footballer's Wife. Unfortunately, this means she'll probably never have her own line of $400 designer jeans like Victoria Beckham's got.
A mate of mine told me he and an accomplice used to drive around LA late at night in a beat-up '75 Mustang deliberately crashing into parked cars. They would only pick new, expensive cars and obviously didn't hang around to witness the outcome of their actions. Apparently there's a right way and wrong way to trash parked cars: you don't want to hit the bumper straight on because you run the risk of getting tangled up on it. The best way is to drive perpendicular to the target, or to arc into the car in a sort of sideswipe.
Now whenever his car breaks down he remembers stupid shit he did when he was young and wonders if he's being punished. A sort of Carma if you'll allow that terrible joke. I don't really believe in superstitious shit like that but I know a lot of people do. I can't help thinking that if karma existed a lot more people would get their just desserts. There are too many cunts getting away with too much evil shit for karma to be real. Maybe they will pay for it in the next life or whatever but I'd much rather see them suffer for it now. Besides, I would hope that if there is some kind of cosmic force or being controlling everything they've got bigger fish to fry than punishing some forty-year-old dude for some juvenile destructive shit he pulled when he was a teenager. I have to hope that because otherwise I'm in big trouble myself.
I turned 36 last month. Anyone who knows me will tell you I'm a young 36, but I'm no spring chicken by any stretch and I'm not getting any younger. It wouldn't bother me in the slightest except I'm starting to notice a disturbing trend in people that stick around here for any length of time - they get health problems. Right now at least two longtime MRR contributors are suffering from debilitating illnesses. It seems that if you're a punk and you don't live fast and die young, you're going to end up getting really sick. So I'm starting to look for an exit strategy. I don't want to join the corporate rat race because those over-fed fucks just get heart attacks and I'm Scottish already so I don't need to increase my chances of that. I'm looking for a new lifestyle that I can get into where I'm not going to get sick. A secondary benefit to jumping ship will hopefully mean that whatever new scene I adopt, the only other men my age won't be the sort of people who post photos of their record collections online and are unable to hold a conversation with the opposite sex.

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Maximumrocknroll #280 September 2006

The Ziekenhuis was a huge abandoned hospital building on a canal. Someone had been watching it for quite a while and it had been determined that it was ripe for squatting. A building that size would require the mobilization of a lot of bodies to occupy it. A fair amount of reconnaissance was done and plans were hatched.
You'd be forgiven for thinking that squatting is something best done under the cover of darkness. On the contrary, in Holland at least, it's usually done on a Sunday morning.
The morning of the occupation there must have been a hundred people trooping alongside the canals and over the humped bridges. I took my favorite job, driving the bakfiets (a sort of combination bicycle and wheelbarrow) stacked with the necessary props to make a squat legal in its early stages - a mattress, a chair, and a table.
Once we arrived at the Ziekenhuis the locks were quickly changed and everyone poured into the building and started exploring. The working group who had discovered and researched the empty hospital and planned the operation started scouting out which rooms they wanted to live in, and which rooms would be good for some of the other communal uses planned. Within the hour the police had come around and confirmed that we'd done everything according to the law, and we set about turning the shell of a building into a home.
For the initial days of a squat, there's usually some extra people staying over, to help keep watch, defend the place in case of a sneak attack by either the cops or henchmen of the building's owner, and to help get the place up and running - building walls, getting the water running, turning on the electricity, etc. I don't remember the Ziekenhuis needing much work, although we had to barricade off a few rooms that were badly contaminated by asbestos, and we couldn't get the heating to work at all so it was freezing. It wasn't long before we had opened a café/bar, serving food during the day and hosting parties all night. We had an open house where we invited the neighbors in to look around the behemoth of a building that had been sitting empty for such a long time. People told us how they were born in that hospital, while other people remembered having children or saying goodbye to loved ones for the last time there.
There was so much free space. Plans were being made for a radical bookshop/lending library, daycare center, gig venue, and more. It seemed like there was room for anything you could imagine. The excitement created by the potential of the place was infectious, and for a while the Amsterdam squat scene, which had been experiencing a long spell of evictions and setbacks, seemed energized.
Of course, you can guess where this is going. It couldn't last. I don't remember the specifics of the arguments and court battles, but after a few months the courts ruled against the squatters, and there was an eviction.
I had gone traveling and missed the actual eviction, but I'd heard about it. When I got back I once again crashed with friends and went back to work at my construction job (renovating old run-down apartments into luxury flats - the irony wasn't lost on me. Although I did occasionally manage to appropriate 'leftover' building materials to use in various squat projects). A new guy had started in my absence, the son of a friend of the boss, hired as a favor. I think his dad must have made him take the job in order to build character or something but he certainly didn't seem to be familiar with the concept of labor. In a misguided attempt to gain some street cred or something he told me he lived in a 'squatter-house' (no-one at work knew that I was a squatter - I told them I sublet an apartment from a friend) and out of curiosity I encouraged him to reveal more about it. As he went on to describe his amazing living situation it dawned on me that he and some of his friends were living in the Ziekenhuis! They were anti-squatters, tenants (usually students or long-term tourists) placed in vacant buildings at artificially low rents in order to keep squatters out (Properties had to be vacant for at least two years before they became squat-able). I was livid, and discussed the possibility of taking action against the anti-squatters with some of our group, just out of frustration and some desire for revenge. More experienced squatters who had seen the same thing happen many times before talked me out of it. Indeed, I went on to experience the same thing again too.
All of this happened about thirteen years ago, and I'm recounting it from memory, so some of the details might be a bit hazy. I bring it up now because it's come to my attention lately that squatting in Holland is under attack. I don't know much about it because it's hard to find the information I need in English, but it seems like there's an attempt by Parliament to make squatting illegal as part of a general 'liberalization' of the housing laws in favor of landlords and developers. To many people, especially in the USA, the squat scene probably means little more than a convenient way for American bands to tour Europe, but that's actually (to me at least) squatting's least important (and probably most dubious) achievement. Apart from the most basic aspect, i.e., providing housing for those who otherwise could not afford it, the contributions to Dutch culture – art, politics, music, literature, etc – that were born out of squat culture are innumerable. Sure, probably quite a few of my fellow squatters were simply taking advantage of the free housing to live a 'punk' lifestyle that also included being on the dole and staying up all night drinking, but most people I knew were actively engaged in creating a life for themselves outside of the system. Squatting performed the valuable function of pointing out to society at large that all this property was being kept intentionally empty for purposes of speculation, while there were people with nowhere to live. It took those empty spaces and gave them a purpose: homes, community centers, theaters, recording studios, dance studios, cafes, you name it.
Of course, squatting is not for everyone. It's actually very hard work. In the year and a half that I lived in Amsterdam, I spent more time looking for a place to live than I actually spent living in any one place, although I did have a couple of cushy house-sitting situations that took the edge off. Eventually I moved to sunny California and joined the bourgeois world of the renter, with all the luxuries that entailed. No heat though, not in San Francisco. I did, however, balk at the extortionate (though quaint these days) $300 a month my wife-to-be and I paid between us for our shared room. Less thrilling was the experience of having a junkie for a roommate and having her steal our rent money, but that's a story for another day.
There's a campaign to fight the criminalization of squatting in The Netherlands and you can find more information at, or at (in Dutch, go to to translate).

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