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Flagging at Half Mast: A Very Special Confession From CMG

By Dom Sinacola | 18 December 2006

First thing's first. I'm here to announce, unofficially I might add, that Edgar White does not exist.

Assuming you recognize the name of CMG's favorite whipping boy, let's pause for a moment while you muster up enough effort to care: he's dead, gone, vanished, dissolved, winked out, wiped away, no more, no how.

Fact is, I was going to call this ledger of ruminations "20/06" and concentrate on the "/" symbol that permeated, I'd prove, every aspect of the past year, ignoring Edgar altogether and hoping he'd sort of just fade away, but then I was bullied into calling him out by a lame, passive local newspaper. I mean, it's rare that the Chicago Tribune speaks to me, but there I was hunched into human detritus in a corner of a Red Line car, cursing the CTA's consistently malfunctioning/botched service while cursing my own dependence on public transit, and there I was looking up into a dapper gentleman's ass thrust a camel's hump away from my lap, wondering -- at a lack of considering anything vital to my situation -- what this guy's reading. It was the Tribune, blue and neatly folded, and green with conviction I strained to read something he wasn't: an article discussing the "not notable" wiles of fellow web conglomeration Wikipedia.

How familiar. It was Wikipedia's cadre of unpaid, freelance delegates that fought over CMG not long before. After a bland debate, wherein our worth was relegated to blog tropes and no "worthwhile" aggregate could save us from our own labored opinions, our article was deleted. A frank blow ("Metacritic? Underwhelming.") and we took it like everything else we've taken, soldiering on through editorial deletions from Wired, from whatever smattering of awards we could have won, even from that new Martha Stewart magazine still in test runs, accepting our irrelevance to tastemakers and homemakers alike. Flayed open simply on a forum I've always understood as a place where knowledge runs neatly/freely, Cokemachineglow suffered the prodding of recognizing the similarity between irrelevance and being "not notable." It sucks, but it doesn't suck doing what we do, only it sucks figuring out what exactly we're supposed to do, crammed into the motherless corner of this motherless sphere and ravening bits of familiar information from the ignored pages of motherless newspapers. But who are we to complain, one more (God help us) noisy plastic bulb part of another dollar-store necklace struggling to represent a synthetic link in the greater metaphor I'm naively building of the Internet? Who do we think we are?

Mission Statement: Cokemachineglow is a community of writers that relentlessly studies and hunkers over music in order to further affirm the structure, scope, tone, commitment, grace, and luck of its own work. / Cokemachineglow is a blunderbuss, a righteous, fictionalized account of the undergrounds and downtowns, the oeuvres and virgules of the intractable music world. In other words, we write for ourselves and we write on ourselves: Cokemachineglow is pornography. / Cokemachineglow is the last copy to the recipe of your grammy's apple pie.

That's my mission statement at least, and when I speak for the group I get maced in the eyes and then locked in the broom closet, so I should've known better.

*****

In July of 2005 I wrote a concert review of the Spoon show that happened at the Vic Theater here in Chicago. I said that it was written by Edgar White, but Edgar was just somebody I made up in order to give myself a "writerly" chance to criticize Dom Sinacola and everything Dom Sinacola stood for/accomplished as a CMG writer. Maybe this is an admission too many gimmicks too late; Edgar's style was always dumbly similar to my own and the more he became a reality as a character, the more he took the easy way out as a curmudgeon, a cynicist, a misanthrope, and as an asshole. So, everyone shit on him, or more likely, shit through him, and soon he was my roommate, sending me fake letters, acting the fake fanboy, hovering around our ideals and excitement wielding one-liners and weak fists, and lashing out against the website like a jealous Pluto chastised for pretending to be a planet (Hey there, 2006!). Really, who the fuck would hang out with this guy, let alone allow him to write for the website, giving him the chance to eat at it from the inside?

"We" do. Not the real us, but the insular academic cult of our bylines, an enclave of dutiful students too burdened by theory and social implications within chord progressions and one-upping/complimenting each other to note our own sallow souls. There's Mark, uber-intellectual and coldhearted Marxist. There's Greenwald, Boogz, the wide-eyed, wide-mouthed virgin. There's Alan, mcdreamy misogynist doctor, and Chris, Sidney Lumet on speed. Or Clay, charismatic finger-pointer. Or Kate, unassuming sprite. Or me, alcoholic and fecalphiliac, and on and on, putrid archetypes and so forth. It's a damning practice, for sure. Critics are like lawyers, simultaneously trusted and detested based on little more than expectations, and making ourselves seem even more unsympathetic or pretentious can't help our cause. But none of this is true, of course, these ugly black holes are just staff Edgars, and it was no brilliant foresight on my part to make my Edgar into a name. Just because I've split myself in two doesn't mean I've found the whole.

Or what I should say, with all intended hyperbole (my forte/pagan error) is that I've been hopelessly cleaved. For example, when a small CMG-Unit saw Man Man perform at the Pitchfork Festival in August, we all agreed it was a revelation. I'd attended Bonnaroo with Clay more than a month before, and his reaction to Radiohead mirrored my reaction to My Morning Jacket: shit was fantastic, but somewhere in the back of our heads we knew it had happened before. Then there was Man Man karate chopping my year in half; Radiohead, the Boredoms, countless Andrew Bird performances, my car getting stolen, again, Six Demon Bag on one side, and Mission of Burma, Os Mutantes, Tortoise, a new job, and Man Man the freakin' live beast on the other. Why would this ostensibly minor music event shift my paradigms, flip my orbits, bite the hand that feeds it, and crack 2006 in two?

Actually, the year wasn't necessarily portioned into halves. The "/" we're talking in the middle of 2006 was an "either/or" tool, so during Man Man's performance, I had to pick between the two halves of 2006 and decide on which one would be the true representation of my year. In effect, I was living half the year in the time it takes for a full year to pass, which is maybe why I've been so tired.

Of course, this recounted version of reality is exaggerated. By me. Nothing's ever been as dramatic as when I eventually tell it, and I can't help but give into the urge to write everything into an easy, sappy hole. 2006's allowed me to sense the masochism I'm wreaking here, creating hollow characters named Edgar to take the brunt of my critical tenure. I mean, I did kinda lay into Six Demon Bag, accusing the band of losing its hold on the power of its gimmicks while gimmicking the shit out of my own review. I was probably being ironic, and no doubt I had a smug ole time, but I still stand behind my remarks. I'm mustering up some honesty here, admitting that I take responsibility for an overwrought music review instead of hiding behind all my words like usual. That's probably why Murray Lightburn wants an explanation, and why I feel a little douchey hurting his feelings. Still: the Man Man of 2004 (Man/Man) became 2006's Man Man; in 2004 they were carrying on fits of chaos and building a fascinating cast of characters, and in 2006 they streamlined their pop with the help of a recipe; their sophomore album just ate up some obnoxious dook.

But then there was Man Man live where it was more than Man/Man, where it wasn't just taunting itself beautifully, Man against Man, because it was mostly concerned with presenting itself as a fabulously honed spectacle. Praise the Lord! It was like they were punishing themselves again. That Pitchfork set hurt, and for any number of reasons, like how it screamed and flailed about and birthed ugly elephant babies all over the stage and audience (what a mess). And in the end, covered in whatever manner of nascent fluids you can imagine, we all took a big gulp of air and sensed -- a tad more delicately -- the collective biorhythm of the human race. I like to think that the band was punishing itself for making an obligatory batch of songs, but I also figure I was getting socked in the mouth for feeding it one "item" after another.

Long story short, for the rest of the year I felt bad about stuff, stuff I wrote, and I internalized it all, and now I'm going through a long process of canonical catharsis that will probably last until sometime after New Years. Give me a break, I don't have Edgar to shit on anymore.

*****

Maybe 2006 is the year the "/" came back to haunt me. Mark called it a virgule, Wikipedia called it a "prose representation of the logical concept of disjunction," and now the word siphons my dreams into little chunks of duality. Recently, I have had vast visions of Danielson's army, how he tidily commands them to conform and march in formation. Then I'm in a helicopter, looking down on drills, and the troop formation resembles a giant "/." They're wearing blue, the grass is green. I wake up shivering.

Brrrrrrrr!!! This winter's some cold piece of work! Am I right?

Ships is the best thing I heard this year because, compared to every other album I heard this year, it felt the most unrelenting and one-sided. I'm a firm believer in Daniel Smith's voice, and I'm a follower of its work. I think that his voice hacks through a lot of common associations and expectations in contemporary Christian music, and even that's selling the howl short. Smith's a hardboiled virgule, and he knows he's right, barreling ever onward to cut through raves and reservations at the same time. I mean, I've already leveled enough dreck at the guy, so I'll quit, but he knows how I feel. Dude's razor sharp.

The sad fact remains that I haven't really worked out the demons of 2006. Tom Ze's album was bold/overstepping; Subtle was fascinating/alienating; Benoit Pioulard's debut made me all agog/all tuckered out; The Blow gather up slashes like kindling. Now I'm thinking of myself in slashes, how lately I've been feeling busy/exhausted, confident/bored, satisfied/achy, and/or constipated/aroused. I still feel like Dom/Edgar, and in a way I'll miss that cantankerous mutant. I've even thought of names for my condition, like Diagonalitis, Acute Separadrome, and Solidus-ease, where the last one wouldn't be medically accepted and would really just end up being an inside joke amongst me and my pediatrician colleagues.

Did I forget to mention I'm a doctor? Yes, no lie, I practice medicine. I hope that colors your acceptance of my opinions from now on.

There's a line from the Blow's Paper Television where Khaela Maricich sings, "You're not a baby if you feel the world / All of the babies can feel the world / That's why they cry," and then I feel a bit more justified in obsessing over all the virgules in the world, because it's like I'm handily dealing with life and that means that I'm growing up. And then I remember a lyric from the Sunset Rubdown EP where Krug says, "If you could make another one of you then you wouldn't give the other one to me," which makes all this virgule business sound mighty lonely and immature. The deal I gave myself was that I would start building a body of criticism that represented me and all my talent but one that gave me the privilege of channeling all the ugly stuff about criticism into the worrisome drivel spewing from a papier-mache asshole. Only, now it's starting to feel like no one really cares to listen to the asshole anyway, and, ya know, that's kind of lonely. I wanted Wikipedia to deem Edgar White notable, and instead the Chicago Tribune tells me I'm, like I'd guessed, irrelevant.

Ah. Thanks a lot, 2006.