Steve Albini essay
November 23, 2015 12:54 PM   Subscribe

 
I was ready for a grumpy screed against the commercialization of Christmas and came away thinking that Steve-o isn't always such an insufferable crank after all. Good on him and the whole Second City team!
posted by grumpybear69 at 12:59 PM on November 23, 2015 [13 favorites]


His heart grew three sizes that day and still refused points on the back end.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 1:23 PM on November 23, 2015 [33 favorites]


Not at all the essay I was expecting, but a good reminder that we can make differences in the lives of those around us (although not all of us could count on Jeff Tweedy for help). I love how 11-year-old Lila has never known of doing something different on Christmas than delivering gifts to those who most sorely need them.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 1:24 PM on November 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


Neat. I'm going to tell my husband about this so we can check with our local post office and see if they receive any letters like this. We live in bumfuck (population ~1500) so chances are the letter senders are customers at his tire shop.
posted by Jacqueline at 1:36 PM on November 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


His heart grew three sizes that day and still refused points on the back end.

Even the Grinch knows back-end points are a mook's game.
posted by clvrmnky at 1:42 PM on November 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


I don't mean to be overly Grinch-y about the whole affair, but they could do a lot more lasting good for the poor by, oh, say, supporting an increase in welfare (and a resumption of real, cash-transfer welfare) along with a reduction of procedural obstacles standing between poor people and such improved welfare. And actually writing to their representatives about this and otherwise making it a serious priority.

Again, I know this can come off as "grar, good-hearted volunteer is being good-hearted in a way I disapprove of!" but it occurs to me a lot lately not out of grouchiness, but because I'm in a similar demographic (sorta - I have nowhere near as much money as Steve Albini) of people who are increasingly uncomfortable with the level of inequality in our culture and salve this discomfort by sending a check to the Red Cross, dropping a few bucks in the Salvation Army bucket, spending a day at the soup kitchen, etc. And it strikes me that it's exactly that - a salve on discomfort, rather than an effort to make meaningful, lasting change.

I mean, good on Steve Albini for spending Christmas giving away gifts to the less-well-off, if that's what he enjoys. But I'd sort of rather increase his tax rate 10%, spend the difference on welfare, and let him have a bigass feast with his family rather than "sacrifice" that day, you know? I understand that Christmas is a time to engage in small-scale humanity to those around us in our communities; I just wish it would more often inspire people to engage in large-scale efforts to reduce the need for this kind of charity year in and year out.
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 1:43 PM on November 23, 2015 [15 favorites]


Here's the page for the event letterstosantachicago.com. It's being held tonight through tomorrow, and a live stream will be available. It's always been a wonderful show.
posted by borkencode at 1:46 PM on November 23, 2015


I don't mean to be overly Grinch-y about the whole affair, but they could do a lot more lasting good for the poor by, oh, say, supporting an increase in welfare (and a resumption of real, cash-transfer welfare) along with a reduction of procedural obstacles standing between poor people and such improved welfare. And actually writing to their representatives about this and otherwise making it a serious priority.

I don't recall seeing anything in this piece that suggested he was doing this instead of lobbying for political change, nor do I recall seeing anything in this piece that suggested he was advocating others also eschew political change.

Writing to representatives to press them into an increase in the minimum wage and improve the condition of welfare recipients is the best long-term solution, but it is also an approach that takes quite some time - which allows time for any activist to also take on short-term measures like this to ameliorate the conditions of the needy in the here and now while the political process takes its slow and lumbering time.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:57 PM on November 23, 2015 [40 favorites]


You know, Joey Buttfoucault, at one time I would have agreed wholeheartedly with you. Every time I saw some crappy TV show where the characters would volunteer at a soup kitchen on Thanksgiving/Christmas all I could think about is what about the other 363 days of the year?

And it's a powerful observation.

But now that I'm on the receiving end of those events it's different. Yes, the main thrust of what you say is correct, much more needs to be done to bring a lot of people (in the US) up to a minimum standard of living but my god, having not just a decent meal but sometimes (if you're lucky -- depending on where you live, etc) a really good meal does a lot for one's soul. And having it around the holidays as goddammed patronizing as it is* still works.

There's also the practical value: places that are normally open (libraries, malls, etc) and provide a place for the homeless to go during aren't open on these days so the "special occasion soup kitchen" provides another service.

So I'm not saying you're wrong with your conclusion ("I just wish it would more often inspire people to engage in large-scale efforts to reduce the need for this kind of charity year in and year out") but just that these special meals often mean a lot more to the recipients than y'all homeys** realize.

* I cannot tell you how much I hate it when civilians try to talk to me while I eat. The looks of pity or even at best sympathy/empathy drive me fucking nuts. Believe me, I do truly appreciate what you're doing and I will remain forever grateful for every act of generosity shown me (in my One Big Life's Music Project the Acknowledgements section has grown into its own book), but unless you want to discuss Wittgenstein over a game of backgammon with me, I'm not interested in retelling my sad but true life story in this situation (especially if you're a college student. Goddammed college students). Now plenty of homeless/low income folk do enjoy this kind of thing but just keep in mind that we're actually human beings with educations and interests beyond just the stereotypes. Talk to us like real people.

** Not sure if "homey" for "person with a house" is going to catch on, but we'll see.
posted by bfootdav at 2:03 PM on November 23, 2015 [33 favorites]


Every time I saw some crappy TV show where the characters would volunteer at a soup kitchen on Thanksgiving/Christmas all I could think about is what about the other 363 days of the year?

While there's certainly nothing to suggest that this is the only thing Steve Albini does charitably, he does address the point about "why this one day":
We go on Christmas because people will be home. If employed, they will have that day off. If a family is scattered, Christmas brings people home. This one day like no other brings families together, so we can be pretty sure to find everyone mentioned in the letters in one place.
posted by Errant at 2:11 PM on November 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


I mean, good on Steve Albini for spending Christmas giving away gifts to the less-well-off, if that's what he enjoys. But I'd sort of rather increase his tax rate 10%, spend the difference on welfare

Both are needed. Both are, in fact, necessary. Government needs to do the lion's share of providing a safety net for all people, but we can't let ourselves off the hook either, just because we pay taxes (regardless of the rate.)
posted by gwint at 2:16 PM on November 23, 2015 [6 favorites]


Some of your friends are probably already this fucked.
posted by infinitewindow at 2:33 PM on November 23, 2015 [6 favorites]


When I was a very young kid, my mom was single and on welfare and one christmas had managed somehow to scrape together enough to get me and my brother each a small present. She was babysitting a bunch of neighborhood kids at the apartment one day before christmas, and after they had been running around all afternoon and their parents had picked them up, she discovered the presents had been taken. As she describes it in her memoir, she simply broke down and cried, tried calling the parents, but they couldn't be found. There was no way she could afford more presents.

The day before christmas, a man knocked on our door and said he was from Toys for Tots and he had heard that we might like some presents. It was a matchbox car and a set of blocks. She cried again. My mom never found out who contacted them, but once she got back on her feet, it became a christmas ritual for her to take us to the toy store and have us each pick out a good toy to take down the fire station and give to Toys for Tots.

Never discount the meaning and importance of gestures like this to the people who receive them.
posted by transient at 2:49 PM on November 23, 2015 [55 favorites]


I never thought I'd write these words but Steve Albini is going to make me cry.
posted by photoslob at 3:29 PM on November 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


I cannot tell you how much I hate it when civilians try to talk to me while I eat... Believe me, I do truly appreciate what you're doing and I will remain forever grateful for every act of generosity shown me, but unless you want to discuss Wittgenstein over a game of backgammon with me, I'm not interested in retelling my sad but true life story in this situation

If somebody wants to start a registry of homeless folks who'd enjoy discussing Wittgenstein over a game of backgammon, I would show up for that event weekly. And bring nachos.

I mean, I realize we already have Metafilter, but...
posted by weston at 3:46 PM on November 23, 2015


Metafilter: grar, good-hearted volunteer is being good-hearted in a way I disapprove of!
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 3:48 PM on November 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


If somebody wants to start a registry of homeless folks who'd enjoy discussing Wittgenstein over a game of backgammon, I would show up for that event weekly. And bring nachos.

I've made some good friends in the homeless community and some nice acquaintances. When I was at the shelter one guy in the bunk next to me had a PhD in Political Theory. We spent many an evening discussing Marx and ancient Greek rhetoric. Another guy (in that same bunk, coincidentally) was a former interior decorator wanting to get into theater. We discussed mid-century modern aesthetics and modernist art. It's often these little connections that allows one to stay sane in what is a crazy world (that of homeless shelters).

But yes, if you bring nachos I will be there to crush you at backgammon.
posted by bfootdav at 4:24 PM on November 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's the personal touch people need.

If we all just did a wee bit...
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:34 PM on November 23, 2015


Just FYI, if I recall correctly, every employee at Electrical Audio, Albini's studio, makes the same salary.
Maybe that call to raise his marginal tax rate is a bit off base in this particular case. Say what you will about the guy, but he seems to embody the best of egalitarian punk ideals.

And this essay was just humbling to read.
posted by rock swoon has no past at 5:38 PM on November 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


I, too, was expecting a caustic but fair anti-commercialism manifesto. I am chastened. A thousand years from now kids will probably be writing letters to Steval Beanie. Well, dictating them to their android nannies.
posted by No-sword at 5:47 PM on November 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


marvelous post title, by the way.
posted by shmegegge at 6:06 PM on November 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


I once spent Xmas in a Denny's in Florida. Somebody ordered fajitas and set off the smoke alarm, which was kind of festive, I guess.
posted by jonmc at 6:12 PM on November 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


I mean, good on Steve Albini for spending Christmas giving away gifts to the less-well-off, if that's what he enjoys. But I'd sort of rather increase his tax rate 10%, spend the difference on welfare, and let him have a bigass feast with his family rather than "sacrifice" that day, you know?

If that's what he enjoys? Are you really pissing on this because Steve Albini decided to buy gifts for needy people instead of go to Washington, successfully lobby Congress and the president to raise his taxes 10% and spend the difference on welfare and then slay Grover Norquest in an epic boss fight?

I have a headache.
posted by Room 641-A at 6:14 PM on November 23, 2015 [18 favorites]


I mean, good on Steve Albini for spending Christmas giving away gifts to the less-well-off, if that's what he enjoys. But I'd sort of rather increase his tax rate 10%

I suppose it's possible that Steve Albini is in the 1% of earners, but just to be clear: Albini takes no royalties from any of the legendary albums he produced. Not Nirvana, not Rage against the machine, none of it. For the most part, Albini has stubbornly refused to become a millionaire off of being an incredible producer because he believes that the band is doing the creative work that merits royalties and the producer should be work-for-hire. Last I heard, he tries to supplement his income with poker to make ends meet.
posted by shmegegge at 6:45 PM on November 23, 2015 [8 favorites]


To be fair, if anyone is qualified to defeat Grover Norquist in an epic boss fight, it's Steve Albini.
posted by No-sword at 7:44 PM on November 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


Ugh, I wish my winter holidays were less about my mom dragging me into helping her cook and clean up after the insane holiday feast she always has to serve and more about helping other people. I'd love to drive around and deliver presents and stop focussing on family drama.

Plus everything I've read about Steve Albini makes him out to be a cool dude. If you look up Youtube videos of Big Black he was passionate then, but his focus now is on the good.
posted by bendy at 8:38 PM on November 23, 2015


But I'd sort of rather increase his tax rate 10%

Albini on taxes:

Whenever I hear somebody bitching about taxes I want to punch him in the mouth. "It's MY money!" Shut up, no it isn't. It's money, and it's a fluid resource (or should be) just like air. It isn't YOUR air just because you're breathing it some of the time. Fucking children.

From his reddit ama, wherein he describes his political position (Pretty eloquently, I think. Spoiler: progressive. "Basically I think selfishness and revenge are the ugliest human impulses and I root for anyone who helps quiet them.")
posted by generalist at 8:46 PM on November 23, 2015 [7 favorites]


I doubt he has trouble "making ends meet" because he'll always have work but he's certainly not nearly as rich as he could be. His time will currently run you a flat $750/day in Chigaco or $1000 if you want him to come to you, and he's said revenue at Electrical Audio is shared with all the staff (when it's not invested in equipment).
posted by atoxyl at 8:48 PM on November 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


I know he has money trouble from time to time. Entirely because he doesn't take points.

Steve Albini is a national treasure.
posted by persona au gratin at 1:09 AM on November 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


Sheesh, is there anybody else who walks the walk MORE than Steve Albini? Who can we pick on next for steadfastly holding true to his egalitarian ideals? Ian McKaye? Last I checked he wasn't even lobbying Congress to end the Tickemaster monopoly, and he LIVES in DC!!! What a poser!
posted by Dokterrock at 2:12 AM on November 25, 2015 [4 favorites]


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