Sunday, April 8, 2018

Where love lives

At its best,
house music aspires to become the pop music of the beloved community
--an insistently multicultural and welcoming space.

After Chicago-born house music and its Detroit cousin, techno, had migrated to Europe, they merged into "electronic dance music" (EDM). Along the way house and techno were being shipped back to the United States for consumption by white kids. Big raves and festivals full of kids high on Ecstasy (MDMA) kept some of the utopian aspirations of original house music, but in the service of high-priced tickets sold in white areas of the country.

From living in the Bay Area in the late 80s and early 90s, I remember both strains of this movement: the more-straight-than-not "rave" scene that eventually morphed into Burning Man and EDM festivals and dot-com money; and the gay clubs, spreading the original house music faith that had grown and flourished in the gay world without having to migrate to Europe and back.

But in San Francisco's gay world, during the time I was there, the sweet house music eventually morphed into something else as users' experience of MDMA was wearing off and some started migrating to crystal meth. The music became less hopeful.

Both the "rave" world and the house music of gay clubs kept an optimistic "love the world" vibe for a while, but utopian music doesn't translate to utopian economics. What I always heard, back in the days that I knew people who knew such things, was that if the club promoters weren't dealing drugs directly, they were taking a percentage from the dealers. Since there would be dealing in the club, some promoters reasoned, they might as well reduce conflict and unpredictability by granting a monopoly to a particular vendor, and getting some of the money back. Everyone wins, right? And whether in the gay world or the straight world, house music was never a liquor-heavy scene. So you either had to make money from high admission fees, or some other way.

MDMA lost its luster for people after repeated uses; and crystal was there as the next step. That's the economics of neurotransmitters. MDMA just wore off eventually, meaning that people developed a tolerance and couldn't keep getting pleasure from it. Most drugs do that. But a drug like crystal (aka methamphetamine) keeps some people going back to it, hungry for it. It starts owning people. And that means they keep paying, and paying, and paying. Financially, a club that's all about MDMA-fueled happy vibes isn't going to survive when the scene, and the money, has moved on. If the drug economy has moved on and you're getting a cut from the revenue, your DJs better follow suit.

I think about all of this when I listen to house classics like "Good Life" or "Where Love Lives", music that is so sweet, made for a dance floor that is happy and embracing. There were promoters, and drug dealers; like everywhere else, there was money changing hands. Every flowering utopia carries within it the seeds of its own harsh replacement.

But before that happened, there were people on a dance floor, happy. And you can't take that away from the music, or the DJs, or the people who were there.

*  *  *

One of the things I adore about The Black Madonna is that her tatooed-librarian exterior extends to a nearly scholarly sensibility about house music and dance music generally. Check her Spotify playlist, "History of the World", for instance.

And listen to this late-eighties/early-nineties pair of house music classics; in my own personal history, this is what the clubs in San Francisco sounded like before meth hit. Before the darkness came.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Thursday, March 15, 2018

While Hilton Als has Culture, you're just reading stuff on the internet

Hilton Als might be my favorite critic. 

I love not that he loves Tiffany Haddish (who the f*** doesn't? what are you, some kind of freakin Nazi? do you hate America? Tiffany Haddish, everyone!) but the way he loves Tiffany Haddish, the way he breaks down what makes her work.

And I love that he loves women like Rickie Lee Jones and the point at which he decides he likes her is this album called Ghostyhead

This was when Rickie Lee Jones decided to use hip-hop beats and tour with a DJ. The only time I saw Rickie Lee Jones in concert was when she was on the Ghostyhead tour, and most of her fans seemed like they were like, uh... huh? And I was all, wow! holy crap! Rickie Lee Jones! I mean, I'd associated some of her songs with the coffee shop and then the used bookstore where I used to work, when growing up in the same neighborhood where Lady Bird works at her coffee shop in Sacramento. And she was always a wierdo--great used bookstore music, really--but on Ghostyhead she turned into a completely differently wierd and awesome experimenter. And Hilton Als, you look this up on the Internet and he says, 
Sacrifice is a somewhat antiquated notion as it applies to the contemporary artist, but I use it defiantly in regard to Ms. Jones; she could not have recorded this album without having given something up and survived it, with wit.
Hilton Als is a man who believes deeply in Culture; he believes in people who take art seriously, and take making art seriously. As a critic should. I've stopped having that faith apparently, because when was the last time I actually finished a fiction book, but, I love Hilton Als for keeping the faith. 

Ladies and Gentlemen, Tiffany Haddish, and Culture:

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Naloxone paper response

I'm posting a response to Doleac and Mukherjee's paper on the moral hazard of naloxone. I think the paper is wrong, but I tried to be smarter about it on my second look at it than on my first. (Which inspired irrationally inflamed tweets; now I'm sticking to rational inflammation.)

Here are the links to the files:

Main response: a lengthy discussion of the paper.

Appendix: a brief discussion of the idea of "moral hazard" and why, even though it's a jargon term and not a description of a person, it still bugs me in this context.

* * *

And because it would not be a Mu Receptor Mixtape post without a musical addition, I attach:

Sunday, March 4, 2018

The universe you're looking for when you're shooting dope, maybe.

"Try to imagine another planet, another sun. Where I don't look like me; and everything I do, matters." Rickie Lee Jones, "Gravity"

(Also, in a postscript please note that Hilton Als wrote the bio for RLJ on her website.)

Monday, February 5, 2018

homeless census

The volunteers gathered at 8:45 at Boston City Hall, that local masterpiece/monstrosity of the architectural style that proudly declared itself as Brutalism. People standing in the area just past the metal detector pointed us to our team area.

The homeless census was framed as a local event, but in truth, every city that gets federal money to shelter homeless people is obligated to do this kind of "point-in-time" count. Whatever the flaws of this approach, don't blame your mayor. There are better ways to count homeless people if you're concerned about estimating the number of actual homeless people. But it's the perfect policy for counting homeless people if your concern about homeless people starts with those who are visible to others.

"Homelessness", as an idea for folks who aren't poor, mostly amounts to a category that translates to the visibly desperate, the obviously impoverished. I hear this when I explain what I do for a living in well-to-do social settings. There is sometimes this strange fumbling on the part of the person I'm talking to, where they end up blurting out some story like "I talked to a homeless person once" or "I bought a guy a sandwich" or "I see people with signs on my drive home from work." That's OK. I understand that when I say the word "homeless" that this pokes right into an until-then-healed-over confusion and anxiety that people feel when they actually see other people's desperation. What they feel in that moment when somehow the desperation connects to them, and they know that it's both simple and complicated at the same time.

Homelessness isn't just the man sleeping in a doorway in a wealthy neighborhood. The "homeless lady" who is seen in the park with her bags and her inner voices. This is mostly who people at parties I go to are thinking of. And those are important people too. But, I learned from my boss when I started doing this job, you can get all kinds of answers when you ask, what are the causes of homelessness?--and you can offer a very simple response in return. Homelessness is caused when the cost of having a home exceeds the ability of people to pay that cost. The rest--that's just details.

And this might remind you that there are some other homeless people you'll never count, people whose suffering is immense but not visible, not recalled as a "social problem" because it doesn't enter into the social urban space:

  • A woman who regularly must inhabit a treacherous ever-shifting zone between a man's simply selfish sex and his outright rapes in order to stay in an apartment.
  • A man who is sleeping in a storage unit, in a warehouse storage facility.
  • A woman and her child who won't leave her boyfriend's house because he really might kill them if they do.
  • A transgender woman who gets one kind of abuse in women's shelters and another in men's, and so stays outside to avoid both.
  • A man who has to stay out of his sister's house a few nights each week so she doesn't lose her housing for having people stay in her apartment.
  • A man, just out of prison, taken in by a woman who wants to fix him, to save him, and he's not sure that he's fixable or that he wants to be saved, but he knows he wants to be inside.

And there are so many more.

Even, almost, a small group of women in an ATM vestibule in a corner of the city I won't identify, women we didn't see at first, looking wary. We did count them, luckily. But we didn't count any of the others. And if it was easy to get an affordable place to live, all of them would have their lives changed. If we made housing a priority. If we thought it was what our fellow human beings deserved. If we could count them all, and they all counted.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Not a superhero anonymized troll-boy / Pharoah Sanders healing powers

I was getting in a fight on some doctors' group on Facebook about Medicaid work requirements and some dude was being so irritating that he apparently provoked me into starting a sentence with, "Despite not being an Ayn Rand superhero anonymized troll-boy like yourself..." Which is a sure sign I need to not be on Facebook right now.

In this time of desperation--DACA still not fixed, CHIP still not fixed, Puerto Rico still devastated, no Puerto Rico Medicaid fix, no community health center funding renewal, and now they're going to ask impoverished people to work to keep their medical care because, I don't know why exactly, and it feels like in health policy and in many other places in policy, nothing nothing is working like it's supposed to... well, I am perhaps more easily provoked than usual.

Desperate times require desperate beauty: Pharoah Sanders' 1982 performance of the Coltrane song OlĂ© is not for everyone--it is 23 minutes of rough, raw, ecstatic, on-the-edge jazz--but since I heard this at some point in my early 20s, I am still not over its propulsive ferocious magic.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

A song I still like for no good reason but then lots of things happen for no good reason

Yeah, still no CHIP fix, no community health center fiscal cliff fix, no Puerto Rico Medicaid fix, merry Christmas, y'all.

Meanwhile, there was this time in my life where I was living in Washington, DC. Nothing policy-wonky; as a matter of fact I was a mouse-killer. I lived in a seventh floor studio apartment; it was mostly a pretty lonely year. I was buying music to pass the time, and somehow got into this one song on one French house music compilation (Respect is Burning, Part 2). "Casa Campo", by Clement, somehow grabbed me, and I've had a soft spot for that track ever since. And it wasn't like I was going to clubs or meeting people at that point. I was sitting in this seventh floor apartment, watching planes in the distance flying into National, listening to house music for no especially good reason. This is music for dancing and having sex and taking drugs, not sitting around your apartment being a stone-cold-sober mope-tastic pre-med. So, I can't explain why I was buying that kind of record, or why on that kind of record, it was this particular song at that time.

But even though now I can't find the CD in my stuff, every now and then I go find the song on the internet. I've never known anything about the person who made it--though you can look that up these days--and I can't even say why this la-de-da chill-out kinda song makes me happy. Especially with the little guitar bit at 0:27, it starts like something that should be playing at the pool bar in some kind of boutique hotel where probably nothing good ever happens and a lot of money changes hands to make those nothing-goods happen.

But, the pleasures of music can't always be explained, and the moment where a little synthesizer riff starts dancing around at about 3:33, with the bass kicking in a few seconds later, makes me inexplicably happy, moving my shoulders at my desk, as if somehow I was like, some Parisian getting ready to go to le discotheque.

Which is probably at least as inexplicable as, why there's still no CHIP fix, but there you have it.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Black Madonna, "He is the voice I hear"

"if she’s dance music’s mom, she’s a rad, weird and decidedly cool mom" -- MixMag

The New York Times described her in passing as "warm left-field disco"; but I gotta say, I just had to write down the first time I heard her song "He is the voice I hear" because I feel like it might later turn out to be an important moment. The first time The Black Madonna entered my headphones. And yeah, I realize I'm like a year or many years late to the party as usual, though I want to say in my defense I found this song from Spotify not from the Times. I mean, I have never and will never hear this in a club, but I'm not such a looo-zah that I'm getting dance music recommendations from Paul Krugman or whatever.

But anyway, during my twenties, if I had the cool and the common sense to be in the back of the club with the DJ instead of up at the front handing out condoms and public health information, "He is the voice I hear" is the kind of music I would have dreamed of producing as a result. Smart, propulsive, genre-mixing, obscure-sampling, and somehow, intellectual about being emotional. But no, due to my misspent youth in public health, I go to work and write prescriptions instead of dropping beats at a Barcelona music festival. Instead, I'm a doctor, telling you that

we still need the Children's Health Insurance Program fully funded,

and we still gotta fix the Puerto Rico Medicaid cliff,

and may our dance music be welcoming and warm, always.

Because, wow, Holy Record Store Nerd, Batman!--check it, from 2012:

Alright this morning