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111513010.jpgIt is distressing to be a libertarian who loves both history and Americana, if only because both are so often subsidized. There’s The Oxford American, all the amazing photographs that exist thanks to the WPA, the Library of Congress, PBS documentaries, NPR shows…. My fascination with radio, after getting just a taste of it summer before last, is furthering the problem, but I have felt it at least since I loathed Cosmo and loved The OA.

There’s no market, or not enough of one for historical stuff. One upon a time, when I was growing up, the History Channel may have prioritized Hitler, but at least they showed solid, Grandpa-from-Gilmore Girls-narrated documentaries about the events of World War II. Now, instead of moving Ancient Aliens, weird rumors about cyptids, and Aliens I Saw Just Now to, say, the Hilarious Bullshit Channel (HBC) where they might belong, they push history out entirely.

I hate to say “market failure,” and yet… There are still documentaries. Sirius radio and internet radio,, and, well, podcasts can help with the feeling that that medium is dominated by Top 40 robots, or that cozy, aspirational clique over at NPR. I haven’t given up entirely or anything.

There are many easy to mock tropes of public radio, but at the same time, their music is better, and the fact that they tell tales of weird is awesome. I dislike that PBS and NPR are subsidized. The smallness of their budgets is perfect for revealing Republicans as hypocrites when they rail against the subsidies while not going after defense or Medicare, or anything substantial. Yet, the smallness of their budget, and the heartiness with which the left clings to them betrays their own pettiness, and their own deluded distrust of anything left to the market or private sector.

Still, given the opportunity, I don’t know that I would go to hell if I worked for either. Maybe the first level. Maybe just purgatory. For principled purity, then, I have to object to their existence, and I suppose the Library of Congress. For practical reasons, it’s amazing that such a thing exists as a resource. For real-world compromise reasons, I would have to live to be 500 before I need worry about a treasure trove of subsidized knowledge. At the same time, when reading this 1999 Washington City paper piece about legendary 78s collector Joe Bussard, I was pleased when I hit this passage:

They have gathered to make some digital transfers of Bussard’s 78s for a Time-Life Music project on prewar blues. Since the advent of CDs, Bussard has been in great demand as companies such as Time-Life have reissued the old music. His collection has been tapped as much as any, especially by the Yazoo label (featuring the famous Black Pattie peacock), which has put out such acclaimed sets as The Roots of Rap and Jazz the World Forgot. Thanks to these sorts of reissue projects, the sounds of the ’20s and ’30s have never been more accessible to the average record buyer.

“The important thing about Joe Bussard is that he has disseminated the music more than anybody else on earth,” says Richard Nevins, head of Yazoo and its New Jersey-based parent company, Shanachie. “He has preserved and popularized the music more than anyone, and he’s done more for the music than anyone—all the institutions are bogus nonsense. They don’t do any good at all….The asshole Library of Congress refuses to tape 78s for people, not that they have anything worth taping anyway, but here’s Bussard: If the UPS driver comes to his house to deliver a package, he won’t let him out of there ’til he plays 78s for an hour for the guy. There are people in Australia who have tapes of his entire collection.”

Perhaps the Library of Congress isn’t as bad as all that. But at the same time, Bussard is a man who picked 78s over mutual human relationships. The fact that he has a wife at all is surprising. The fact that she is second fiddle — and knows it — to thousands of country blues, early jazz, and other records is not.

Bussard is hyper-individualistic. He’s a Randian hipster who disdains everything past the ’20s in terms of jazz.  The descriptions of him as a pushy, desperate salvager of old records are not flattering. He did it because something clicked in his brain and he became obsessed. It might not make him the nicest person, but it made him a saver of history. And though it sounds like you come to his basement to listen, not to share anything you have to say, Bussard is still generous. He tapes for people. he shares what he has collected. He isn’t hording it all for the cultural apocalypse. I love that. I love that a crank can save music from turning into dust. No subsidies required, just a man with one consuming love.

endisnighThe End is Nigh, edited by John Joseph Adams, Broad Breach Publishing, 350 pages

Poor short stories. That near-dead art form which is represented at its very worst in The New Yorker, yet is a factory-regular writer like Stephen King’s best, most literary work should get more love. It doesn’t, no matter how much people who bemoan this keep right on bemoaning it.

As previously noted on Tuesday Apocalypse, while reviewing a piece by io9’s Charlie Jane Anders, the apocalypse goes rather well in a short format. I haven’t read enough sci-fi in my life, partially because of the genre propensity to give us novels 600 or 800 pages long. (I keep looking at Lucifer’s Hammer on Amazon, then thinking, “but it’s just so long.”) Not to mention, my lack of patience for sci-fi voice, which is all I can think of when I try to read David Brin.

Here, the vaguely artful, plotless quality of New Yorker short fiction (they’re all poor man’s Raymond Carver, except Carver had things happen, I swear) is replaced by ruminations on humanity, and the end; all that good, forever praying-it’s-not-topical stuff. And sci-fi voice appears in this June, 2014 compilation, but it does not take over.

This is only round one in the so-called Apocalypse Triptych, and it it deals with the cusp of things. It’s, as Adams writes in the introduction, the grizzled prophet with the familiar sign. Several authors’ stories apparently tie together across the trio, making me immediately prepared to fork over another $4.99 after digging the first story, and then wishing it were longer.

Like any good novel with different point of view characters, or even nonfiction that switches locale, a short story collection is always about wanting more. You resent each switch to each new place, person, and thing, and then you resent the fact when that in turn ends. Nearly every story in the collection provokes this reaction, to greater and lesser degrees. The only one that truly didn’t is the penultimate story, which brought only nausea. Each story is big, but small, and sympathetic, even in the face of everything coming down upon our point of view character’s ears. Here they are, in order:

“The Balm and the Wound” by Robin Wasserman: Charlatan gets his. A sympathetic enough portrait of a cult leader who pretends to be able to predict the end of the world, and what happens when he is left with a long-lost son who becomes all too true a believer.

“Heaven is a Place on Planet X” by Deserina Boskovich: Fun combination of alien invasion, oppressive government, and potential for it’s all a fraud anyway. (Because, oh God, the things our characters do, when they are told to. Terrible things.)

“Break! Break! Break!” by Charlie Jane Anders: As much as I dig Anders, I was vaguely disappointed at the ratio of unknown to known about the end here. On the other hand, she may have actually followed the guidelines most of all. “The match” that lights the end only happens after a character-heavy story of a boy obsessed with being a stuntman, and it’s in a great big mob that is about to turn into a massacre. The political situation, and the cult or militia that seems to be spreading is intriguing, but it is not enough.

The Gods Will Not be Chained” by Ken Liu: Girl loses dad, dad is turned into emoji-using AI, who still loves her, but often chats with other conscious computers who are losing patience with humanity. Good, touching look at death and losing someone, with a satisfactory level of open-ended “uh oh” at the end.

Wedding Day” by Jake Kerr: A sweet, sentimental, but still stomach-clenchingly anxious look at a lesbian couple trying to save themselves in the face of an asteroid headed squarely for the United States. (Gay marriage, y’all. In case of just such an event.)

“Removal Order” by Tananarive Rue: I always say I get bored by mechanism of survival stories, unless they’re survival in the wilderness stories, and I am nine (or they are true). Apocalypse-wise, I want my money shot of misery and dread when It hits. I want my waiting for the end and the incomprehensible horror that brings (Lovecraft ain’t got nothing…). And yet, this story of a girl staying in her ruined neighborhood her with cancer-ridden grandma as a plague draws ever closer, and fires burn, worked. Some people would read it and assume Nayima should have left her dying grandma ages before, and some won’t. And neither of them is wrong. I also like the cop character, who is both a human being, and believably menacing.

“System Reset” by Tobias S. Bucknell: Future hunters go after a cyber-libertarian-terrorist, who once tried to hack a senator’s car into crashing. But turns out he’s worse than that, and has a plan to set off nukes and EMP the whole damn world. His villain’s explanation is that governments leech off of the tech know-how of those who know, while trying to control them and their skills. Solution? Send the world back into the stone age, then flee to Nerd’s Gulch. Our hero’s partner scorns this Randian vision, noting that trade and exchange makes things possible, not hunkering down and hugging your server tight, while feeing superior. Villain sets off the nukes anyway, but hero’s partner manages to magically have the previously-hidden skills to hastily change the ICMBs to not spare Nerd’s Gulch. Misery must be equal. This bothered me, because dammit, even if it’s unfair and the creeps broke the world, you might want there to be working tech in the world somewhere. The entire story seemed to shift between condemning and then endorsing cyber-libertarianism multiple times. For a second, I really thought it was a libertarian response to Objectivism. Probably not. But the shift mostly works, and does the detective vibe, and the ending which really is properly “nigh.”

“This Unkempt World is Falling to Pieces” by Jamie Ford: Half-Chinese Hotel worker in San Francisco waits for Hale-Bop to kill everyone, or not, and pines for hotel maid. Nice mostly-historical setting, nice picture of idle/in denial rich waiting for the comet.

“BRING HER TO ME” by Jamie Winters: Oh man, this one is great, and this one KILLED ME with its ending. How dare it end there, and bless it for ending there, and all the other emotions one feels when something ends there. A collapsing cult city (the lack of clarity about the size of the outside world, or whether it is there at all is frustrating and intriguing) has almost reached the day it has been waiting for. A woman goes door to door to remind people. A mother is terrified that a secret about her daughter will be revealed, and she argues about it with her husband. The daughter can’t come on the journey that has something alarming to do with the careful preparation of poisoned meat. Is the daughter deaf, as seems to be suggested? No, she’s just deaf to the voice of God that has been booming in every single other person’s head for the past 30 years. The parents are hearing “BRING HER TO ME” but does that mean the daughter can complete the act, or that God has (somehow) even worse plans for her? She can’t hear, so she can’t believe. The night before the God-commanded ritual suicide that will help them all cross over, the deaf girl meets a boy who has a crush on her, who has his own unshareable secret. It’s human, and hopeful, and alarming, and sweet, and I punched the couch several times while reading. I love the lack of obfuscation: that yep, it’s just God in everyone’s heads. It just is. But run anyway.

“In the Air” by Hugh Howey: Michael Crichton-y, and not in a bad way, and not just because it’s a terrifying countdown to nanobot-induced armageddon. A stressful portrait of a dad trying to hide the truth from his family while saving them, and of a quiet war fought with nanobots, that feels more tangible than all that gray goo talk.

“Goodnight Moon” by Annie Bellet: A sad, carefully-paced story of residents of a moon base. This is the only story that ends not on earth (though earth is about to have a rough, albeit not-apocalyptic time). It has the boldness to involve heroic self-sacrifice for the sake of a pregnant woman, a drunk Russian, and colleagues facing death holding hands, without apologizing for how badly done that could have been. It therefore isn’t.

“Dancing With Death in the Land of Nod” by Will McIntosh: A loser with an Alzheimer’s-ridden dad who bought a drive-in on a whim faces what is basically a plague of advanced Parkinsonian paralysis. A neighbor girl helps him realize that helping people who are probably dead anyway is better than falling apart. Nice story; kind of “Testament”-like in its doomed optimism.

“Houses Without Air” by Megan Arkenberg: Finally, a real disappointment, though one with promising elements. As the earth dies of slow asphyxiation, thanks in part to the Yellowstone Caldera, a scientist working on perfect virtual reality and a woman whose job it is to build memorials for tragedies room together in DC, and try to pay tribute to the earth. There’s something trying to come out here with the woman’s polar opposite jobs, and the emptiness of the virtual reality that was supposed to include the five senses, but has no other people in it. It’s not there, though. The whole thing is ephemeral. I’d be pleasantly satisfied by this story in The New Yorker, but not in a collection this strong.

“The Fifth Day of Deer Camp” by Scott Sigler: Old Michigan men! Snow! Aliens! A stalwart older man who won’t let them panic, and then it ends! There had better be more in the next volume.

“Enjoy the Moment” by Jack Sigler: A well-crafted story of an astrophysicist trying to find a legacy, and who unfortunately discovers the rogue star that is going to smush us all out — albeit, in 20 years. The tone, and the weight of the characters, and the events feel like a novel, without feeling like you’ve missed the rest of the book. There’s a bit of the small things in life hope, hence the title. The only wrong note is the last paragraph, which is too much of a punchline.

“Pretty Soon the Four Horseman Are Going to Come Through” by Nancy Kress: A poor trash kind of mother wonders why one of her daughters is so passive, and why some of her schoolmates are the same. It has something to do with a volcano. And maybe aliens. Not a bad story, it just doesn’t quite work as credible.

Spores” by Seanan McGuire: An OCD-ridden lab tech and her wife and daughter, plus some deadly mold that resulted from the lab tech’s colleagues playing God, all for a crisper apple and more succulent peach. The love and the snotty teen daughter the couple shares, and the horror of the mold are all equally well-described.

“She’s Got a Ticket to Ride” by Jonathan Macberry: Hard-boiled snatcher of youths who end up in drug houses or cults has to go after a serene 19-year-old who is right about the end of the world after all.

“Agent Unknown” by Dave Wellington: Is it zombies? Plague? No, just virulent prions. And the only way to potentially save humanity is such a horrifying bummer — especially to a libertarian — that it’s harder to leave the story than some. It also opens the possibility of a novel-length story about what happens after. Even if it’s not feasible. Decent story, with only so-so, thriller-type writing.

“Enlightenment” by Matthew Mather: Fuck you, Matthew Mather. Is this story about eating disorders, sustainability, collapse of society? Is it an indictment of sacrificial religions, self-harm, or meat-eating? I don’t know, but fuck you, the only thing I have had close to meat since reading it is tuna salad. Autocannibalism cults: officially the worst way for us all to go out. The writing is okay, then excessive. Because come on. Come on, dude.

Shooting the Apocalypse” by Paolo Bacigalupi: Decent story of a photojournalist roaming the Southwest, in a world where all of dehydrating Texas is desperate to cross the border back into the United States. Journalists in the bad future thing could be fun, but this feels like a chunk of a novel in the more unfinished way. I wouldn’t mind more of it, though.

“Love Perverts” by Sarah Langan: An asteroid is coming to hit earth, and a very messed up teen is trying to save himself and his equally messed up friend — or, more to the point, save his baby sister from his creep, abandoning parents who have left their blue collar horror town with her in tow. Ugly, but well-written, it might be my post-“Enlightenment” uneasiness that made me not appreciate the story as much. The final lines are fitting to end the compilation, but I almost wish it had ended on “She’s Got a Ticket to Ride.”

Conclusion: Not enough aliens, but more than worth the $4.99 I paid. No story was a complete waste of time (just dinner), and each had impressive world-building, and a palpable, lingering feeling of the decay, exhaustion, and ruin of those worlds.

charlieparrWhile watching Charlie Parr play a show on Wednesday night, I tried to count the number of people at Club Cafe. If there were 40, including bartenders, and only two of them wouldn’t stop talking, I estimated that humanity is doing pretty well. Hell, the bartender/waiters didn’t even pester during the show. For a darkened-corner, tiny, dark, acoustic venue, the level of silence was pretty damn impressive. That, sadly, made the two girls in the back and their constant buzz of conversation a lot easier to hear, and to think homicidal thoughts about.

This is not to say that the show was so dull I resorted to counting tables and then multiplying. Charlie Parr gives you a hell of a show, especially for someone armed only with guitar and occasional banjo. And the Club Cafe dug him. I haven’t seen such enthusiastic applause in a while. As my mother says, there is something awful and off about many Pittsburgh crowds. The one at X was nearly asleep. They’re too cool to clap, and too cool to shut up. At X, I never in my life had to work so hard to encore a band. And this is a punk band, people!

Ohio blues singer Roger Hoover opened, with his wife providing some strong harmonies. Hoover wasn’t as special as Parr is, but still had a lot more heart than your average white dude with acoustic guitar. He played a song about his uncle being caught in the perfect storm, which was pretty epic. Either that or my friend hadn’t yet appeared, and I was sipping the nostalgia-fuel that is Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale for the first time since halcyon Reason magazine days. But Hoover also noted that someone said the blue are inoculation against greater sadness. I dig that. And I dig that beer. And I do like the blues.

Friend R.F. showed up a little into Parr’s set. Parr has great, sophisticated blues guitar. There’s some Doc Watson elements there, but he doesn’t sing friendly like Doc often did. Parr is more huuguh, in the guts thing. His voice actually sounds more powerful and more beautiful live than it does on record. Like Willie Watson, the only other person I have seen at Club Cage, Parr can fill the room with just himself. That is a rarity. And the enthusiastic crowd response was a constant surprise, not because it wasn’t earned, but because, again, Pittsburgh.

Parr is scruffy and uncomfortable looking, with a longish beard and balding head. He dropped out of highschool in the 1980s, but he looks older than that. He’s pathologically deadpan in his delivery of in between song banter. The crowd really enjoyed his depressingly hilarious dead cat story. He never smiles.

He’s not dour, though. Now, listening to Charlie Parr on the bus has diminishing returns — not unlike Greyhound buses themselves. At first it goes with the scenery, but if you fall asleep and wake up to something called “Hogkill Blues” (which Parr played — it’s a union tale) the ache can become too much. (Old Crow Medicine Show’s Tennessee Pusher album as 4 a.m. in Baltimore soundtrack has similar problems.) But seeing him demonstrated why it’s worth it to go see someone live. They’re, you know, live. A-live.

Anyway. I can never quite be an atheist because the two girls with their endless crawl of conversation decided to take what I assume to be a smoke break right before Parr played “1922 Blues.” Judging by crowd response and Spotify listens, that’s his number one hit. It’s a good one.

On the other hand, I am merely an agnostic because the crowd wasn’t as interested in my second favorite tune, “Bonneville” from the same album. This heralded the return of the chatty twins. I had hoped they were just that bored and left.

Parr played a version of the murder ballad known sometimes as “Delia’s Gone.” He, as I had hoped, also played “Ain’t No Grave Gonna Hold my Body Down” as his final song before encore. He did it a cappella, which was gorgeous and powerful enough to shut up the whole cafe.

Some people might be bored by this sort of show*, but besides bringing up a pleasantly archaic shadowy corners of cafes singing the blues thing, it was also just good. Undeniable guitar, and Americana as filtered through a Minnesota man and his beard. Anybody can plug in and break enough eardrums to get folks’ attention. Doing it with just one instrument and just one man remains a particularly impressive type of incantation.

It was kind of like this, but also different.

*These people are wrong.

r4ru2qdrwzm954iylcmr“As Good as New” by Charlie Jane Anders: Anders is the best full-time staff member who has ever worked under the banner of anything remotely affiliated with Gawker. Her short story, unlike so many short stories, contains happenings — big happenings. The end of the world is already over and done with when our story begins, but that’s just the start. The end of the world, a genii, and lots of quips about theater, this story has most everything you need. It’s funny, it’s unexpected, and the disparate elements work much better together than they have any right to. The ending is touching as hell, and doesn’t go for the most obvious “and she didn’t remember anything” trope. The prose is witty, smart, and not New Yorker obtuse. It’s direct, but it’s not simple, or stupid, no matter the fanciful absurdity of the plot. Read it.

Leven 7 by Mordecai Roshwald:  This 1959 novel has some of those short story-like problems with (arguably) unnecessary opacity. We do not know the enemy country of our protagonist’s country. His name is X-127, and he’s among the crowd of special military folks who are to be send underground permanently in case of nuclear war. Not for safety reasons, but rather so that the most well-protected people in the nation are those who are able to push The Button. These individuals are to marry and have children and have a whole new society without ever leaving the bunker again. [Spoilers ahead] X-127 doesn’t want to spend the rest of his life under the ground, but he doesn’t really question his situation until another man has a mental breakdown rather than push The Button once the war begins. During life below, X-127 gets a horrible mate, he tries to cope, he learns about music, and eventually those on Level 7 realize that radiation is affecting the folks in different bunkers all over. Eventually it hits their neighbors at 6. It also hits the unnamed enemy. There is communication with them, and exchange of of oddly juvenile quips, and then they go silent, too. Finally X-127 is the only one left, and he passes away on the final page. The book isn’t bad, but it’s less artful in its basicness than the Anders story, say. The details of the conflict are missing for a logical, albeit every society sort of reasoning. We do eventually learn that the danger of automation is part of the message — The Button didn’t need to be pushed, it pushed itself. The world blew itself up. As far as humanity (or some version) going dark novels, Leven 7 is not one of the best. Worth a quick read, however, as it still brings the vital nausea that nuclear doom fiction must.

Ashfall by Mike Mullin: To clarify, there’s nausea like the ending of A Canticle for Leibowitz, or even the more prosaic On the Beach, which is welcome. And then there’s just unrelentingly unpleasant. Strangely enough, this Young Adult novel that doesn’t even involve the end of all humanity manages to be grimmer still than we’re all doomed stories. Perhaps because nuclear war fiction, even when the worst happens, can be seen as a crisis to be averted — with Rod Serling saying this is only one of many possible futures, so beware. A novel about what happens after the Yellowstone Caldera goes off has no teaching moments, just the unsatisfying message that nature will fucking destroy you if she feels like it. But it’s not just the bleak descriptions of endless ash, and dark skies that makes this book such a slog. There’s rape, murder, more murder, probably cannibalism (our hero is given meat by a scary guy, and it tastes like wild pig, but it’s got a disturbingly long bone) and none of it is literary, and none of feels like it has a purpose. I am usually not one to complain about survival tales, since they were my obsession as a child, but this book just feels like a laundry list of one. And it certainly seems absurd to complain in an apocalypse themed review series that there is nothing redeeming about this tale of woe. Yet, in spite of Alex, our 16-year-old protagonist, finding love, it feels that way. Life is going to be exhausting in the wake of the supervolcano going off, and that’s all. Maybe at the end of the day, I prefer the tales of human annihilation to the paint by numbers survival descriptions — and this is long-ass book. Perhaps it’s the vintage, yet rarely kitschy threat of the big one. Anyway, perhaps I’m the nihilist, but somehow this book still feels more like one. (I’ll probably still read the rest of the damn series if I get bored.)

Silo, a short film by David Soll: This is a short film that feels like it should be a cartoon — so much so that I can picture how it might look. It’s kind of silly, and I have a million questions about the ending. On the other hand, as io9’s Lauren Davis noted, the setting of an actual ICBM silo makes it fascinating to look at. This film is cute, I just am not sure it should be, all things considered.

There Will Come Soft Rains, a Soviet short film based on the short story by Ray Bradbury: This is is a haunting little piece of art. I don’t know the short story, but I do know enough of Bradbury to be unsurprised that the robot with its deep, scary Russian automation is first disturbing, and then I feel bad for it. I won’t spoil anything, because it’s all about the animation, and its deeply distressing loveliness. I will say that in the first two minutes, I got a genuine chill down my spine. I stopped chewing on gummy bears and just watched. Do the same.

[Via: Jesse Walker]

testament-1983-ross-harris-roxanne-zal-jane-alexander-lukas-haas-rebecca-demornay-kevin-costner-pic-2A PBS production from 1983 that ended up in theaters, and with an Oscar nomination for lead Jane Alexander, Testament came at the end of the last Cold War hot flash, along with Threads and The Day After. Those two were all big, showing every grim — television budgeted — detail of the end of the world, or at least western civilization. Threads, bizarrely, is so excruciating that a numbness — albeit a queasy type — starts to set in by the time nuclear winter rolls round.

In Testament, you wish that were the case. This sneaky, understated movie is the Platonic ideal of real horror. Most nuclear war fiction, even if it is all about one family, town, or city plunged into uncertainty, shows you some pieces of the story. Jericho, Alas, Babylon,  On the Beach, they tell you how we got here, even though there is always a fog of war element. Testament is not interested in the why of anything, it just wants you to look until you can’t stand it anymore. This is just the story of a mom, her three kids, and her husband who never comes home from work in San Francisco on the day the bombs are dropped.

The movie takes its time on the family, the totally banal family living in the little California town. It’s about them and how they could be anyone. This could be happening for any reason, and whichever reason that is is bullshit. Even near the end, when Jane Alexander’s matriarch Carole falls to her knees and cries “Who did this?! God damn you!” she’s not asking about the socio-political explanation. It, in some ways, doesn’t matter. There is one tiny glimpse of television new that says nukes have been dropped, then there is a bright light. A few radio broadcasts tell us little later, but they mostly just mean a fraying connections to the outside world.

Things seem alright for a while in town, and the acting and the terrible regularness of it all confirms this. I find myself again feeling skeptical about the lack of hysteria. Hell, maybe “The Shelter” is most accurate then I thought. Why does nobody crack up? Haven’t they seen movies like this one? Jane Alexander is good, but she is mostly a little too composed.

But the everyday living facade, and the ease of watching it for the audience, starts to crack after the town puts on the school play that Carole was preparing for when the movie began. Twenty Kindergartners preform the Pied Piper, and the adults in the audience watch and cry because the see the familiarity: mistakes were made, and the children are going to pay for it. They cannot be trusted with the children. They are why they won’t get to have lives at all.

There are several more plateaus of regular living. Surviving requires working with the other people on town, and it does seem to work. Then another spike of horror comes when Carole’s friend is wandering in the rain holding a drawer that will serve as a coffin for his baby. Still, the food rations, the lines, the organization of everything sends the inevitability of thing back a few weeks. There’s the symbol of hope that is the radio, manned by a level-headed old neighbor. Carole’s oldest boy visits him, and then helps him check on the rest of the townspeople. He rides his bike, which is his talisman that reminds him of his dad, who would pester him into riding with him. Near the end, he has to ride his dad’s bike. He rides it past scenes of graves, and of graveyards filling past capacity. Eventually the bodies are burned instead.

This movie is a sneak, in the most stomach-aching fashion. The town is staying organized, until the police chief suddenly has a subtle, and entirely real nervous breakdown during a town meeting in church. The kids are bratty or earnest in turn until they are quieted by radiation sickness. The daughter is daddy’s girl, and rather dull, until the conversation she has with her mother about sex culminates in her tearfully saying that that love, and sharing, and all that will never happen for her, and she knows it. There are sentimental trimmings, including– like On the Beach — an overly intrusive soundtrack.

But the horror wins out. Fiendishly abruptly, things falls apart and the graveyards fill, the littlest boy is suddenly sick in the bathroom. After a few minutes, he’s wrapped in a sheet. That’s the progression of the movie now. It picks up speed as the family runs out of time.

Good parents are heroes in the most terrifying way. A good parent is supposed to give up their life for their child. The only thing more frightening an idea than that is the parent who can do nothing except watch their children slowly die. It’s happened, and it will always happen because of cruel accident and disease. But movies like this can’t help but remind me of what the US did to parents in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It — the government that is just another word for things we choose to do together — made parents watch their children die. The power of the bombs were the way they killed slowly or in a millisecond. The latter gave us shadows on sidewalks, grim poetry and metaphor, and at least a complete lack of suffering for the victim. Radiation sickness, on the other hand, is slow agony. Nothing artful in that, just vomiting, and diarrhea, and hair loss, and nausea, and dizziness, and death. This movie, and other apocalyptic fiction, were intended to ward off what they showed on screen (though nothing is as grim as it would be, not even the ’80 dread trio). And they worked, if the tales of Reagan watching The Day After are as simple as they sound. But I can’t help but be reminded that that nightmare already was done to thousands of people. Our Cold War fiction is the horrors that were avoided. We are never as interested in the ones we caused. Too prosaic.

Testament is propelled by its characters — simple ones, who by rights should have stayed that way. We shouldn’t be watching them at all, because this shouldn’t have happened. But it’s not nihilistic. It’s not Threads, where it just pounds at you, screaming that this must never be, and if it does we’ll be brutes, and then there will be nothing left of humanity — because, seemingly, humanity is a thin skin over a pit of savagery. For a movie about the complete lack of control over saving yourself, and your loved ones, Testament highly values the idea of being good and decent as you die. It’s a feeble fading away with nothing to be done in one way. In another, you remember your loved ones who left, you help your neighbors, and you don’t become a monster. The smaller this movie gets — and it is oh, so small by the final — the more clearly it demonstrates that one family is the world, and the world is just about to end, but perhaps it ended as well as it could.

JohnExcene2Man, that guy is tall. We thought we were so sneaky approaching the stage from the side. But he’s just standing right in the corner. Literally everyone behind him is a foot and a half shorter. Oh well, he doesn’t seem like he’s actually a dick, just a tall guy who doesn’t realize he’s blocking eight people who he could see over anyway. But, like, how far does that tall person obligation go? He shouldn’t be sent to the way back of the room simply because he can see over 98 percent of the heads here. That wouldn’t be right.

Oh, hey, X. Yes, they’re old now, A. Old punks happen. Hey, Billy Zoom is like two feet away. He’s staring a lot at the crowd. Ugh…so…much…eye…contact. Doesn’t he know the rock star rule about not looking at anyone? This is funny, but also I don’t even look in my loved ones’ eyes, so I am going to look away. I hope A. can’t tell he sort of looks like her creepy ex. But he’s awesome, so that’s not fair.

BillyZoomOh, hey, there are a bunch of X albums in the middle I missed. Ugh, Billy Zoom is so good, that I feel guilty even liking that album that contains “Fourth of July” because he’s not even on it. I can’t hear vocals that well, maybe I should take this cotton out of my ears. Oh, never mind. Loud. Hey, vocals. Awesome. Still odd and wonderful, this clashing, cawing mixing of John Doe and Exene Cervenka’s voices.

Hey, it’s Scott Mervis from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, standing right behind me! Can he tell who I am? Maybe if I mouth the words “Scott Mervis” and “Steigerwald” he will get the idea. Hey, tall guy doesn’t seem to mind that I am kind of in front of him now. Damn, that punk couple could not be happier to be here. Neither could that older lady punk couple. So cute, the four of them. There are a lot more older people here than at any of the middle aged punk rock shows I have attended — this includes Jello Biafra, The Slits, and Stiff Little Fingers. I hate people who think it’s embarrassing that middle aged people play punk (or old people play rock and roll). I hate them. What a horrible way to live, thinking that way. Nobody should ever be embarrassed on someone else’s behalf. If I hadn’t already known that, I would have learned it from an endearing Rolling Stones article in Time a few years back. Rock until you drop dead, gentlemen. I salute you.

Hey, I kind of know this song. Hey, I don’t know this song, but God damn Billy Zoom is good at guitar. Hey, “Los Angeles”! Point of interest: Jello Biafra no longer sings “niggers” in “Holiday in Cambodia.” X keeps the word in “Los Angeles.” I had wondered.

JohnDoeMan, this crowd is so weak. Pittsburgh crowds mostly suck. I can’t believe Altar Bar actually had a no moshing sign. But then, if people really wanted to mosh, they would mosh right now — damn the man!

That movie where John Doe rides a motorcycle a lot is weird and okay, in a subpar Jim Jarmusch sort of way. That mediocre movie where Jewel played June Carter was definitely mediocre, but the casting choice of John Doe as AP Carter was inspired. I wish that was the entire movie.

Exene is a punk rock witch. I’m feeling her Rogue hair and her dress and boots. It’s all just enough, and not too much. I wish I could sit her down and explain to her that being a libertarian is awesome, but she shouldn’t believe in (baseless, Youtube-y) conspiracy theories. John Doe badly needs a haircut. If he had a bit more of a would-be rockabilly hair situation, I definitely wouldn’t be trying to gauge his handsomeness levels. (They would be clear.)

Their “Soul Kitchen” is way better than The Doors original. Man, X should totally tour with The Knitters. That would be so convenient, touring with themselves. I hope A. is having a good time. Man, maybe this is a weird bachelorette activity. At least I can constantly make the joke that if she and C. ever divorce, she can have Viggo Mortensen’s child afterwards. But look, divorced people in a band! It’s fine!

Oooh, “Johnny Hit and Run Paulene”! It is is so catchy, and is also like three times as disturbing live. But then, part of the disturbing quality is how hot John Doe is in this video:

Yeah, John Doe is now attractive because I am remembering this video. This is uncomfortable. Rape is not attractive. Not even fictional song rape. I think this song now makes him seem more attractive because he’s all sweaty and attractive in that video. He’s kind of sweaty now, too. I think that’s okay with me. Also, I think he’s now singing “no” at the end, as kind of a refrain. That’s new. Maybe that’s progress.

exceneI totally once read something about how John Doe brought flowers to his new wife and to Exene because they were both having babies in the same hospital at the same time. So, he’s probably nice in spite of the rape song.

“The last Paulene wouldn’t cooperate” is such a shoutable line, and so awful. So catchy. Fuck you, song. You’re great. (Also I gleefully sing “crushed little kids!” and “let’s lynch the landlord!” but that’s just, like, the Jello Biafra experience, man. This is more awkward for reasons.)

I don’t know a lot of these songs well, but they’re all short and rough and so good. Oh, it’s over. Oh, fuck you, Pittsburgh crowd. I have never had to work so hard to make an encore happen in my life. You paid 30 bucks for this. Enthuse, you fuckers. Enthuse.

I don’t know any of these songs, but they’re still good. Aw, John Doe leaned against Exene and it was adorable. Oh, it’s over. Damn, their songs are too short. I guess Los Angeles the album is only like half an hour long. I’ll stand aside and let the worthy people snag setlists. Man, even though there was no pit, I hope I don’t smell as terrible as I feel I do. No, I do.

Man, that was great. Let’s go again. See you in like four years, when you remember Pittsburgh exists again, X. Bands always do that: “Sorry we’ve been gone so long, Pittsburgh! This is such a great city, we’ll be back soon!” Lies.

God damn, everything just sounds good with that Billy Zoom guitar. I love punk rock. I love this controlled cacophony. I love how after a few listens, when it clicks — if it’s your music — you’ve cracked the code. It’s noise, and you can hear everything underneath it. Rock until you drop dead, fellows. Let nobody make you feel ashamed.JohnExcene