The latest Chuck Klosterman book, Eating the Dinosaur, serves as a veritable literary Thunderdome for the cult-fave alt-journalist. I’m both giddy and obstreperous about his newly-divined method of mangling the conventional structure of the non-fiction essay.
I’m similarly piqued by his topic choices, which range from David Koresh and Kurt Cobain as buddy-cult heroes, Ira Glass’ professed lack of self-esteem and how the Unabomber wrote a really great book that's known only because he killed people. This is really what I’m reading.
Why? The journalist in me — the one who ostensibly has been beaten into submission by years of studying journalism theory, method and practice — is chronically seeking a refuge from rote convention. It’s why I yearn for Alt-American culture in general.
Tramp culture, counterculture, Type-T personality culture, drug-addled music culture — I crave it all. To very loosely paraphrase Nirvana lyrics, it perks up my old boring spirit like a midday scotch and soda, making my angsty teenage years seem worthwhile.
I’m not alone on this. All people flock to the specific stimuli that makes them feel the way they perceive themselves to be internally. This is the entire idea behind the book/film Fight Club. Having compulsive (and sometimes imaginary) friends and consuming radical media gives people a taste of what it is be revolutionary.
This is the appeal of Flobots, the Denver-based Hip Hop septet that's been delivering music with a politically-heated message since their inception in 2000. Everything about the group seems choreographed to entice the listener’s sense of self-extremism. From their lyrics to their American flag bandanas to their stage monikers, Flobots want you to feel as though you’re part of the message, that they consulted you personally before recording their album.
Flobots consistently make music for the sake of change because they want their listeners to be engaged and active in the political world.
On its latest effort, tentatively titled Survival Story and due early next year, the band tackles subjects as heavy as climate change, the Mayan calendar and the war in Afghanistan, among other hot topics in American society.
The album, which the group is recording with longtime Beastie Boys producer Mario Caldato Jr., takes its name from the post-Hope atmosphere that currently blankets the country.
“Everybody is kind of gearing up for a survival mode,” says vocalist Stephen Bracket (aka Brer Rabbit). “What can we do beyond politics? How about if we make this point of the story the worst it ever got (so that) we’ll be telling our children about that when they’re sitting in a better tomorrow?”
Brackett describes the Flobots’ previous efforts, such as 2007’s breakthrough Fight with Tools, calls to action, whereas the new record symbolizes the response to that action. Survival Story is a field manual on how to personally interpret the world’s problems through a more positive prism.
“These survival stories are a more personal take on what it is to be living in the world right now,” Brackett says.
An album trying to capture the oscillating mood of today’s socio-political climate is about as easy to pull off as fixing a television by running it over with a Chevy. It’s impossible to tell yet whether the Flobots’ latest release will take root in any appreciable way (the album is slated to be released in March).
The political landscape has been altered considerably since last fall. Voters seemed somewhat apathetic-to-conservative in the 2009 elections, causing both Virginia and New Jersey to elect Republican governors and voters in Maine to abolish legislation that previously allowed for same-sex marriages, while the health care debate has transmogrified otherwise sane Americans into looting, effigy-burning tea baggers at the behest of television pundits and failed legislators. It’s getting weird out there.
So maybe “survival” is indeed a good strategy for the coming year. Brackett and his bandmates seem to think it’s the only strategy. In addition, they want their music to elucidate the common interests with which we all struggle, intertwining them with personal stories for a more effective delivery.
“(The album is) all story generated.” Brackett says. “(Stories) shape our beliefs. It shapes our culture. It shapes our media.”
What new stories do audiences want to be told? How do they want to change the narrative of their lives and their world? Can the Flobots help with this? If life is a participatory, full-contact sport, the Flobots are pleading for their listeners to be their linebackers.
Perhaps the group will be successful with such attempts at engagement. If so, it can be partially attributed to Brackett himself, who comes off as a pathologically serious artist when speaking — even casual comments feel oratorical. I felt as through I stumbled into a Future Leaders of America conference midway through our conversation.
And that's what gives the Flobots the potential for evoking the change for which they are looking. They seriously give a damn in an obvious, non-ironic way. Yes, they want to sell records. But they also want to “be the change” that gets America off its ass in order to think more critically.
“Struggle is one of the common features that we’re all experiencing,” Brackett says. “I think oftentimes we will point to issues and then we’ll choose an issue to divide ourselves. But if we actually look at the issue behind the issue — that this thing is difficult, that this is hard — then we’ll actually find … more unity beyond our dogmas.”
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