Thursday, April 25, 2013

David Alston: Band-forming Zen

I didn't know David Alston as well as I would have liked. The author of the Note I share below clearly knew him better than me. And the person he describes is so the Dave we knew in the Southern Village Weave. Dave, you will be missed:

"If you ever want to start a band ...

If you ever want to start a band, find yourself a Dave Alston.  He was perfect.  

We had a great dynamic, the four of us.  John and I were the erratic ones.  Enthusiastic, but "limited" in guitar playing and singing abilities.  Jon and Dave were fucking solid.  There is no way Sticky would’ve made it beyond a couple gigs if we didn’t have a rhythm section that stayed in the pocket, stayed in tune, and never (EVER) forgot a part or hit a wrong note.  There were clams aplenty between me and John.  We could write and sing, stumble through melodies and hooks, all the while knowing we didn’t have to think twice about Dave’s bass line or Jon’s drumming.

In the summer of 1993, I flaked out on being a high school social studies teacher and moved back to Boone to get a different degree and hopefully start a band.  The first person I sought out was Dave.  I didn’t know him well, but I knew that I wanted the black guy in the Cure T-shirt in my band.  He had facial hair and smoked cigarettes.  He had a deep voice, an encyclopedic knowledge of music and pop culture.  He wrote for the student newspaper.  Is it fair to say that Dave was sort of famous?  It seemed like it.  He was cool and aloof.  And get this: HE PLAYED BASS.  Are you kidding me?   Getting him to be a part of Sticky was like getting the most popular girl in school to go to the prom with me.  A coup.

After starting the band, he moved into a duplex with me and Derrick Swing.  We paid $100 a month each for the next four years for this glorious squalor a few blocks off of King St.   He was such a character.  He watched Kurosawa films.  He listened to Brian Eno, Can, Richard Hell and the Voidoids.    He read One Hundred Years of Solitude when I was reading Spin.  

He was an odd bird. That, as much as his proficiency on the bass, made him a perfect band mate.  You want odd in your band.  There’s not enough odd in my life these days.  He once abandoned a car on King Street and never went to check on it.  “Dave, what happened to your car?”  In that Dave voice we all know: “Ah, yes, I need to check on that.”  He seemed so Zen. 

We spent so much time together, yet he wouldn’t let us get too close.  I remember once, the four of us lying in bed in some fleabag motel, Jon said “Dave, if you ever have anything you want to tell us….you know you can, right?”   Again, in that Dave voice:  “Go to sleep Jon.”  Perfect.

With all due appreciation for the joys of getting older/wiser, having kids, and living this life I’ve chosen to live…..I will always reflect on my years with Dave and with Sticky as my default ‘happy place.’  I can still see the piles and piles of small newspaper clippings that he cut out and assembled into collages.  I can still smell the incense Dave burned.  I can hear Marquee Moon.  And I can hear Dave’s un-amplified bass as he sat there on the couch and played along to every fucking note. 

So yeah, if you ever want to start a band, go find yourself a Dave Alston.   But good luck, I’m pretty sure there was only one.

With all my love, brother.   Rest in peace."

Patrick David Alston - RIP

David Alston was one of the bravest people I know. Why is it always the gentle people, the good people, the most deserving, who are chosen by life to teach the rest of us how to stay upbeat in the face of the most debilitating illness?

I was blessed to be permitted to drive David home many an evening from the co-op we both loved. I can't say as we solved any of the world's problems as we chatted the few minutes we spent in each other's company. But I had the privilege of experiencing how much joy one can derive from the quality of a wonderful person's mere presence.

David loved life. He fought to hold on. And he left this world with dignity and courage. I hope he is now enjoying the peace he so richly deserves. And has found a choir which truly appreciates his bass. Thank you for your friendship, David. RIP.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Why I Am A Patriot

A word which I am sure will be much tossed about in coming days is 'patriot.' For me, you are a 'patriot' when you strive to make our country a better nation, in its dealings at home and abroad.

We are not behaving as a 'good' nation when we forget one of our central purposes, as inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty. To welcome to our shores the poor and huddled masses of the world. Not some of them. All of them.

We are not behaving as a 'good' nation when we spy on our citizens, when we constantly interfere with their freedom and when we get the balance between security and freedom wrong.

We are not behaving as a 'good' nation when we feel we have the right to tramp around the world, seizing the raw materials we wish, and when we offer violence to any who complain.

We are not behaving as a 'good' nation when we support leaders of other countries in their efforts to suppress their citizens with tyranny and inhumanity.

When folks finally decide they have had enough of the yoke (as the Colonists did in 1776), and rise up to secure their freedom and independence, they often turn on those they believe have been responsible for their oppression. With disastrous and tragic consequences.

I do not support violence of any form. I hope that all of those responsible for Boston are brought to proper justice.

But just as I decry individual violence and terror, I am opposed to it when it is organized, not least by the state.

I trust that in the coming weeks we will all become true 'patriots,' and learn that securing our borders, our homes, our families and our friends is not merely about having the bigger gun, it also about having the bigger conscience.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Why I Am A Progressive

Like almost everyone else online and in the US at the moment, I have been following the situation in Boston, a town about which I know a little, since I used to live down the road, in Providence, Rhode Island.

I would have to be brain-dead not to have a reaction. We are all of us experiencing feelings. Most of them knee-jerk. And there really is no point in holding them in.

The sum total of my immediate reaction is this. No amount of security restriction, digital intelligence, intrusion in our lives, arming of citizenry, shutting down borders, isolationism, bombing or invasion of other countries. In short, no act of schoolyard bullyism, at home, or abroad, could stop what has happened and is happening.

Hate does not halt hate. It merely begets more.

Much will be discussed in the days and weeks to come about new or extended protocols to protect our shores from enemies within and from outside who wish to bring hate to our communities. There is only one protocol that will count. That will make any difference. And that is, stop doing the things that make people hate.

But surely, this episode confirms the need to tighten immigration? How so? What reasonable immigration controls, in place, or sensibly propounded, would have prevented these young boys living in the US?

But surely, this episode confirms the need to tighten gun controls? How so? What reasonable gun control measures, in place, or sensibly propounded, would have prevented these young boys using the weaponry they have been using to devastating effect this past week? Would they have prevented them building and placing the bombs?

Which community in Chechnya do we drone-bomb, to make Boston safer? Which longstanding Muslim community in the US do we evict? What new ID? What new military equipment for our Police?

Leaving aside those who are genuinely mentally-challenged, and whom a caring society would never leave on the streets in the first place (but that is an argument for another time), when we are faced with young men who hate enough to want to kill their fellow men and women, the only question we should be asking, which has any long-term value is, what did we do to make them hate so much, and what can we do to stop them hating?

And that, I guess, is what defines me as a progressive, and not as a Republican.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Dead Men Don't Eat Lunch

After 10 years of research and investigation, getting shot at in a Glaswegian underground car park, told England was no longer a safe place for me, after a further 10 years of writing and re-writing, sweating blood, cursing my own ignorance of the English language, and 7 bloody years of rejection, for the very first time, a British Literary Agent has offered to represent me, and find an editor and publisher for my book exposing the links between Margaret Thatcher and kickbacks from UK arms sales. He even sent me a Contract.

It is one of the very few times in my life I find myself laughing and crying at the same time. I am very humbled. And grateful to more people I have the good manners to recall - just now. Forgive me.

In case any of you have been living in a cave in the Antarctic, and you don't know what The Book is about, it goes something like this:

Ever since the Eighties, it has been a well-known secret that the-then British Conservative Government, led by Margaret Thatcher, was heavily involved in corruption surrounding international arms deals.

For all the talk of the Savoy Mafia, Denis and Mark Thatcher, Wafic Said, Mohammed al-Fayed (the father of Princess Di's last boyfriend, the one who died with her in the Paris tunnel) and backchannels, no-one could find the money trail leading from arms' kickbacks to the Conservatives, and more specifically, to Margaret Thatcher.

And that is because no-one could find the money launderer who constructed that money trail. Except me.

My book, Dead Men Don't Eat Lunch, chronicles my 10-year hunt for the truth about the money-launderer, the money trail and the pipeline of kickbacks which corrupted not only the Conservative Party and Government in the Eighties, but every British Government since then. Corruption which continues into the current UK LibCon Coalition Government of David Cameron and Nick Clegg.

The book is no dry recitation of facts. It is a rollercoaster ride through the dangerous and clandestine world of intelligence, arms sales and international intrigue. As I face down the CIA, meet with shady Israeli Intelligence officers, am shot at during a high-speed car chase in Glasgow, Scotland. And painstakingly uncover the money trail of arms' kickbacks leading eventually to Margaret Thatcher.

Robin Ramsay, one of Britain's leading Intelligence investigative journalists, says this of "Dead Men Don't Eat Lunch": '...the parade of the military-political characters from the Thatcher years, an almost palpable smell of the growing British arms industry in the period...kept me going...right to the end. The author may be correct and has uncovered a significant and hitherto unknown set of SIS [British Intelligence] ops in the Middle East in support of US policy in the 1980s.'

So. Why no luck with Literary Agents before now? Well. Thing is this. When she was alive, Maggie had a legal machine which was as formidable as ... well, I was trying to think of a good British sporting reference ... but do we have any British sports teams with good offenses any more?

Montenegro, Montegero, Montenegro ...

Anyways. You published so much as the recipe for the duck she had the previous evening, and you gots sued. So. Although quite a few UK Literary Agents liked The Book (back in 1996, and again in 2006), none would touch it with David Beckham's exfoliated underwear.

Now, however, Maggie is gone. And you can be pretty sure that her primary heir, Sir Mark Thatcher, won't be spending spoondocks on suing anyone. He wants all that lolly for himself. So, Literary Agents are nibbling.

Now, it's not a done deal yet. But I'd say I have a better chance of signing with a Literary Agent than a new Weaver Street Market has of being built in Fuquay-Varina. And an odds-on chance of having a book deal before there's a second WSM in Chapel Hill. Oops. Am I being tendentious again? Wash my mouth. Or write a book ...


UPDATE: The interested Literary Agents all returned to me to tell me that the shadow of Thatcher is longer than we thought. No mainstream UK publisher will go near MT. So. It's back to self-publishing. However. I did take the opportunity to carve a smaller book out of Dead Men. One that focuses entirely on the MT aspect of Dead Men. I call this smaller, fast-paced page-turner Cast Iron: The Arms Trail To Margaret Thatcher. So. You now have a choice. Kitchen sink number = Dead Men. Thatcher-sepcific = Cast Iron. Happy trails. Geddit?! Trai ... oh, why do I bother?? Anyways, the new book has its own web-site, too.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Happy Employees (3)

Continuing my commentary on the leaflet that the WSM corporate office management team attached to the employee Market Messenger this past week, the one that said it is the responsibility of employees to make themselves happy at work.

Here is an article stating quite baldly that it is the job of those we choose to manage and govern us in a democratic and equal co-op, it is their job to create conditions that make employees feel respected and fulfilled.

Hmm. Must be written by a bunch of nutters? Why no. It is the Consulting Group WSM has used to advise our Board of Directors, one of whom used to be a Consultant with said Group. Well, imagine that.

Maybe our elders/betters/those with more Easter chocolate than the rest of us (take your pick) should pay attention to those they hire at great cost (our cost, by the way) to advise them? Er. Leaving aside the fact that said elders could probably get more sensible answers about what we workers want to fulfill us by simply asking us.

At the same time as they sack the bloody Mystery Shop firm, which just annoys us. Maybe?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Happy Employees (2)

The WSM corporate office management team last week sent all employees a memo reminding us that happy employees are those who treat each other with respect.

Hmm. With respect guys (and gals), happy employees are those who are treated with respect by those we choose (in our supposedly equal and democratic co-op) to manage us.

I'm not stupid. I get that we all want happy customers. And that happy customers are the consequence of happy employees. But you don't get happy employees just because someone in a carpet-lined office demands it. You have to earn it.

It's really very simple. If those whom we have granted the privilege of managing us would only design processes that fully empower us to make the decisions that affect us, and then reward us meaningfully, instead of wasting our hard-earned profits on useless vanity projects, then we would respond willingly and happily with fantastic productivity and excellent customer service.

Monday, April 1, 2013

I'm No Longer Working At WSM ...

I know it's sudden. I only heard this past Friday. The news was embargoed until noon today. President Obama has appointed me his Special Envoy to the Court of St. James, with the specific responsibility of determining why it's called the United Kingdom, when she's a Queen ...