underground since'89

send vinyl, tapes and zines for review to:

tobi vail P.O. Box 2572 Olympia, WA 98507 USA

email mp3's, links, photos and flyers to:


Sunday, January 18, 2009

Underground Ideas 2009

the jigsaw underground thinks it shouldn't have to say these things, but is constantly thinking about them.

1. there's no such thing as a "cool" bar

stop wasting your life. the bush presidency is over. time to get on with it.

every second you spend sitting on your ass 'consuming' alcohol is another second closer to death. (idea/terminology credit to joaquin de la puente lll)

you are also spending your time as a consumer. exchanging dollars for drinks. this is capitalism.

if you wanna party, join a beer-making collective or make your own wine. have creative fun times in the woods, at your friends house, host a party!

just get out of the bar!

i realized that by playing 100 shows in 12 months in what was basically a bar-band, I spent 1 out of every 3-4 days in a bar....what is this kind of touring for? you play to drunk people every night why? to distract them from what's really going on? like the wars in Iraq/Afghanistan????

not my idea of punk. time to move on. all ages in 2009.

go to all ages shows and pay to get in so bands can afford to tour this way and even make enough money in their own town to pay their expenses. $8 is not too much to go see 3 or 4 bands. that is the price of two drinks, dear. hardly a fortune. you can afford it. it's a matter of changing your priorities.

here are my personal bar rules:

-try not to go to bars unless something is happening, i.e. dj night or show
-if i drink, two drink limit at bar
-try to only stay for the show or 1 or 2 hours
-try to have interesting conversations with people. if that's not possible, go home and read/write letters or do something fun/productive/meaningful

please feel free to make up your own rules.

2. dismissing something based on genre or hype, is buying into capitalist ways of organizing information.

there are good songs in every style of music, and all musicians have to promote themselves in order to earn a living

not buying coffee at "insert name brand here" because you don't want to be perceived as a certain kind of person, feeds into the idea that a brand or a logo or what you consume is who you are.

similarly, not going to a 'black-metal' show because you are in an indie-pop band or only like country music made in the 1930's is to substitute genres for logos and is another form of conspicuous consumption. obviously this is not a threat to capitalism.

if you are into a certain kind of music, fine, but don't let that define you or close you off to a world of experience.

punk is an attitude, not a style of music, etc.

3. there's no such thing as a cool corporation

sure some pay health insurance and treat their workers well, others don't. that is important to know and take into consideration when deciding how to spend your money and in some cases, where to work.

but ultimately, corporations are part of a system that is destroying the world.

we need to support co-ops and find alternatives to capitalist globalization

4. talking about ad campaigns is actively promoting word-of-mouth advertising. every time you say "name brand" you are working for the man

this is what I didn't like about Ann Elizabeth Moore's book, although there were things I did like about it.

5. punks are artists/ the punk as artist: being an artist is not exclusive and does not (necessarily) rest on 'talent', 'skill' or 'worthiness'. also, being an artist does not make you a special person. what it does do is put you in a position where you can use symbols to express ideas, and this can be done for incendiary political purposes as well as for fun or to kill time or to entertain yourself, your family, your friends....even strangers. it also provides a connection between you as an individual and the world as a whole in which you are active --as opposed to passive-- which is what you are when you spend your free time as a consumer. some people call this being a producer.

the jigsaw underground says: participate! create! make stuff happen not just stuff to buy and sell! by all means, paint! be a punk rocker!

this means: spend your time questioning the status quo, tearing shit down and creating your own world via your band, fanzine, painting, comic, film, play, novel etc.

by being/becoming artists and creating culture, we can create new meanings that change how we think about and live in the world.

this is based on the idea that language is socially constructed through cultural institutions and that making art is to intervene in the process of how things come to mean what they mean. symbols=language. meaning is culturally contingent. when art is culture and not just in a museum, it has more potential for change. this is where the term 'cultural production' comes into it.


bikini kill
the clash
sex pistols
public enemy
black flag
heaven's to betsy
huggy bear
minor threat
beat happening
woody guthrie
nina simone
bob dylan

please create your own list.

6. the easiest way of defining yourself is by saying 'i hate bla bla bla' i'm different. but like the death by chocolate song illustrates, 'what do you like' is a far more difficult question to answer.

(if you know me, you know this is something i struggle with and that i also value negativity to the point of absurdity/comedy and that it sometimes threatens to take over my entire social personality--yet i wanna recognize its theoretical limits here.)

this is one reason why bands against bush was so easy to organize, yet stuck and unable to move forward.

we are moving out of the bush era, into a whole new historical epoch.

here's my suggestion:

try to come up with a list of criteria for deciding what you like. how would you like the world to change? how could society be organized differently?

in order to do this, in my opinion, we need to critique capitalism in every day language. this means being able to define what capitalism is and identify how it functions in our lives on a day to day basis.

the questions we need to work on:

what is capitalism? how does it function? can it be resisted/dismantled? why or why not/ how?

then do the same with neo-colonialism, imperialism, empire and globalization.

no jargon or technical terms unless you can define them in non-jargon or non-technical terms using concrete examples.

these are theoretical baby steps, but i think that if we change how we think about the world, we can change how we live in it. if we can change how our actions impact the world we live in, that is a step in the right direction.

i want to change the world.

you have to start somewhere.

this manifesto is a work in progress.


Nathan Backous said...

Thanks so much for posting this, I feel as I'm getting older I'm seeing less positive reinforcement of my ideals from my also-aging punk friends.

The first point is really something I've spent a lot of time thinking about. I've been boycotting bar shows (both as an attendee and a performer) since I was a teen-ager. I hate the idea of being an advertisement for Miller, Anheuser-Busch, etc... They are maintaining their billionaire status by selling misery/desperation to our friends/family/lovers. What do we get out of the deal?

Tobi Vail said...

hi nathan. well yeah. i mean seriously it is a problem. i just wrote some more on here, as this is a work in progress intended for publication at a later date.
saying this stuff stirs shit up, but as bell hooks once said, you can not expect to question things and also have approval!
i'd be interested to hear your ideas.

Colouring Outside The Lines said...


artastherealthreat said...

I was just having this discussion last night with a friend of mine. In relation to the fact that art isn't just about hanging paintings up, or being sort of...eternally tangible.
I would rather have something be completely different from this processed stigma that surrounds words like "art", "music", "punk". I like the idea of what was happening in the nowave scene in nyc in the 80's, because it was like, a bunch of artists that just wanted to use music as their new medium.
Or in another context, people using music as a medium to get out their message, rather than have it as a display of charades that they view are part of a culture, that they themselves are just propagating.

I'm not a musician, or an artist, but my boyfriend and I had a totally shitty, stripped down punk band, and my friends and I make zines, about, anything..it doesn't even have to be political. I think being creative is the last great freedom in this world, and where would be, can we, will we be without it?

Cassandra Cammarata

Stacy Teacup said...

I found this so inspiring to read, it really made me think.

I find it depressing how willing people are to just accept things, things that they aren't happy with. And not even when it comes to politics, just little things... I mean, when I couldn't find a music magazine that covered the music I liked, I started up my zine. To me, it just seems such an obvious solution, if you can't find what you like then make it yourself.

I've had a lot of other creative ideas buzzing around in my head, this post has inspired me to make this the year that I make them (or at least some of them!) happen. So thank you :)

Anonymous said...

Interesting points here Tobi. I can't help but think that some the regressive attitudes that you are lampooning are to some degree a result of a scene/a city/ a culture reaping what it has sown. Defining yourself, for example, by what you hate and not what you like was a fairly common cultural trend in the culture I grew up in. Many people bought into this. This, in turn, gives these trends power to grow and prevail in the future.

Tobi Vail said...


i think it is an adolescent stage, that everyone goes through, but i am middle aged--will turn 40 in july--and know many many middle aged punk rockers so am writing from where i am now, trying to move things forward!

thanks for reading!

i will continue to revise this.

as you can see, i am angry! but as joe strummer taught us:

let fury have the hour! anger can be power don't you know that you can use it

Molly Neuman said...


The Sliver Party said...

Yeah,it's important that people see art and politics as happening from the ground up.When the media talk about Obama having to lower expectations,it basically means that the people who voted for him should shut up till the next election.Although the actual percentage of donations from small donors was overstated I'd like to see a unified pressure group formed
so that their concerns aren't dismissed as unknowable and contradictory.

Anthony said...

It's really cool to hear someone saying these things in 2009...it's bizarre that given the tremendously effed-up state of things culturally/politically/etc "underground youth culture" has thoroughly embraced apolitical hedonism and consumerism...it almost seems like that backwards post 9/11 mentality by which Bush convinced people to keep buying shit and going to Disneyland lest the terrorists win...is it just "if we don't listen to electro music, shop at Urban Outfitters, and post disgusting pictures of ourselves on party pics blogs, the Republican war machine wins?" Is it despair at realizing the anti-war/anti-Bush movements of the first Bush term didn't really work, so fuck it let's just have fun? Is it even a consciously political thing at all? Weird. The only thing in this post that troubled me was the idea of it being stupid to not buy coffee, say, from a certain place because of the associations with said place, and extending that to bands...thinking that what you consume defines you as a person, which of course is faulty...but does this excuse buying coffee from Starbucks or buying CDs on "major" indie labels with shitty business practices? In that case isn't it less about cultivating some consumerism-based identity and more about ethics? Troublesome stuff. Anyway, good post.

Tobi Vail said...

Hi Readage

I wasn't trying to say that you should buy corporate coffee or records at chainstore, given a choice...rather, that if you do, it shouldn't mean you are a certain type of person, as that is 'buying' into the idea that a brand creates your identity. I agree that it is better to support small businesses in most cases, though in the case of the coffee chain you mentioned, they do provide their workers with health insurance, which made other small businesses in the northwest follow suit, so I think there are some small differences that are significant, though of course they do participate in globalization, promote fast food waste and all that. I personally try not to go there unless I'm traveling and need coffee for these reasons. But I don't think it makes me a certain type of person one way or the other.

Also to revisit Brandt's post--maybe it isn't as clear as I mean for it to be. But the whole intent of my manifesto is to try and create/carry on a radical culture of resistance that challenges the status quo. Call that punk if you want (I do) but the point is to make something happen, which is what I've always tried to do with my zine and often via music. Not so much an expression of 'this is who i am'. You need to identify the problem in order to change it, but if you never get past the problem, then what changes? Which is what I was trying to refer to re: Bands Against Bush. Bush was a great unifying factor, as hatred for him was almost universal among certain factors of society, but what is it that we agree on? Can we create common ground in order to build something new? What is our common ground? A part of figuring this out is naming what is wrong. In my view--capitalism, neo-colonialism, imperialism and globalization (with race-class-gender-nation-sexual identity all relating to these systems of oppression)...of course these terms are big, abstract...so lets talk about what they mean.
If you are not constantly vigilant, capitalism sneaks into every sphere.
The idea of an "underground" is questionable in the sense of a place separate from these systems. Yet it is something to strive for.

libraried said...

Hi there, really great post. Just wanted to say that I think this is such a timely discussion. With the recent economic crisis and the current maelstrom in the middle east, I think we as a culture might be ready for an accessible critique of capitalism. Interrogations of globalism/empire/etc are pretty prevalent in academia (my neck to the woods), but are often made irrelevant by reliance upon jargon, habitual elitism, and the alarmingly small circulation of academic journals (perils of the profession - eeps!). I also love the idea of fashioning new kinds of metaphors to think through these ideas (the work of the poet, the artist, the musician, after all - makes me think of William Blake!). Anyhow, since I'm a book person, I thought I might mention Arundhati Roy's An Ordinary Person's Guide to Empire. Really prescient stuff.

cheers, libraried

PS: 2009: the year of the mainfesto? Hurrah!

CO said...

YES INDEED! glad to see all the responses. does anyone else think defining yourself by what yr against/ narcissistic apathy/conspicuous consumption or even consumption at all are related and are a reflection of how the neoliberal popular media defines punk? is part of what we have to do moving away from me to us and discussing a more positive idea of human nature and human possibility?

Tabitha Says said...

chris, your comment reminds me of the article you wrote for jigsaw # 8 in 2003:


V. Ortuño said...

You just blew my mind entirely!

CO said...


altho i remember writing it on the state/quince street front porch, i
can't believe i wrote that article 6 years ago.i don't know if means i haven't changed my mind or things havent changed? what do you think? if u want me to write anything in 2009 just let me know.

btw speaking of 6+ years ago I still wanna make that flier jerry lee and i have been talking about for years with stats about how x amount of dollars on brand name "punk" beer goes to supporting horrible things. that certainly hasnt changed!!

kerrry said...

wow - what a great post that i have very randomly stumbled upon! your first section on bars is so relevant to my life right now, i've just moved to la...and i've always hated going to bars/bar shows even though often times its the only way you can see an old friend or a good band. you have perfectly put into words my feelings on the subject. also very interested in all your points on capitalism. i have spent the past 6 months getting poorer and poorer and have thus consumed less and less, but at the same time have been getting more involved in zines, blogs and other free/inexpensive media outlets and i feel happier and more connected b/c of this than i have in a long time. all in all, this post has really got me thinking...thank you!