With Super Bowl Sunday imminent, I've been reading Joan Didion's Miami to get myself all hyped up for the big event. Of course, her premise of Cubanos vs. Gringos reads more like a Negro League match-up than "The Big One" (Communists vs. Capitalists or Bears vs. Colts). A hundred pages in, there's a paragraph el exilio group, Omega 7, who were really men about town in New York City during the 1970s: bombing the TWA terminal at Kennedy Airport; Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center; the Venezuelan Mission to the UN on E. 51st; twice on Lexington Ave.; the Soviet Mission to the UN on E. 67th; the offices of El Diario on Hudson St.; a ticket office on 5th Ave.; a sporting goods store across the street from MSG. Who knew the 21st century was a slow decade for terrorism?
Elsewhere, Didion quotes a speech Ronald Reagan made during his weekly radio address about Nicaraguan freedom fighters: "The communist interior minister is engaging in a brutal campaign to bring the freedom fighters into discredit... communist operatives dress in freedom fighter uniforms, go into the countryside and murder and mutilate ordinary Nicaraguans." Didion frames it all another graph on, perceiving "not just a vulgarity of diction" but:
When someone speaks...of the "freedom fighter uniforms" in which the "communist operatives"... disguise themselves, that person is not arguing a case, but counting instead on the willingness of the listener to enter what Hannah Arendt called, in a discussion of propaganda, "the gruesome quiet of an entirely imaginary world."Not knowing about how routine terrorist bombings were a few years ago is one disquieting thing, but this argument about operatives playing dress-up stuck out because of something else. Well after reading the outcomes between Bears vs. Saints and Colts vs. Patriots from a few Sundays back, I turned to the front page of the Times, where an article stood out:
Gunmen who stormed the provincial governor’s office during a meeting between American and local officials were wearing what appeared to be American military uniforms in an effort to impersonate United States soldiers...officials said the gunmen disguised their intent with uniforms, American flak jackets, guns and a convoy of at least seven GMC sport utility vehicles, which are usually used by American officials in Iraq...The sport utility vehicles also held clues of the attackers’ elaborate efforts to pass as American. One had a sign on its back window warning drivers to stay back, in English and Arabic, the authorities said, a close copy of those used on some official American vehicles. They also said a bag of civilian American clothing, guns and body armor had been found in the vehicles.The only real tip-off was that "the disguises were imperfect — officers at checkpoints saw that the men were bearded (emphasis added)."
Which is a sorta long-winding introduction to this article in New Yorker about 28-year-old Adam Gadahn, also known as "Azzam al-Amriki" (Azzam the American). Raised on a goat farm in rural California, he is now one of "Osama bin Laden's senior operatives." Of course, he is --in addition to being the first American charged with treason in fifty years-- on that rogues' gallery of 21st Century American icons like John Lindh Walker, the "dirty bomber" and "shoe bomber," citizens who have crossed some ideological threshhold, some line in the sand, growing beards and becoming the frightening spectre of an enemy that can now "pass as American."
The article reveals a few interesting bits on Gadahn though. One is that his father was Phil Pearlman, a hippie guitarist of underground renown, who had a clutch of his privately-pressed psych records re-emerge in the past few years. The Beat of the Earth and Relatively Clean Rivers were bootlegged on Radioactive, while The Electronic Hole (which appears to be the only title in print) seeped into a few NY record stores. After cutting such esoteria (his band was deemed "the west coast Velvet Underground"), Pearlman continued to "live the dream" by raising goats on his land. Of course, that also meant no running water and a trench that served as a toilet.
Relatively Clean Rivers - "Babylon"
Relatively Clean Rivers - "A Thousand Years"
Isolated, showering in the forest and shitting in a self-dug trench, Adam went to live with his grandparents, and as is often the case when hanging with septuagenarians, got into death metal. He even made his own handmade cassettes as Aphasia (some titles: Non-Relativistic Quantum Mechanics and Delirium: 7 Hallucinatory Interludes, Op.2). A self-scribed catalog descriptor goes: "The music can be described as an experimental symphonic ambient electronic industrial noise collage, depending upon the listener's point of view." You can hear what you want in this mess.
No article I've come across quite explains how a rabid fan of extreme/esoteric music turns into a religious zealot, but there are a few clues in the piece. Post-Metallica, one of Gadahn's tapes lashes out with a vengeance against sell-outs: "commercial death & thrash metal, and the rest of you losers! Die and burn in Hell!!!" The vitriol isn't so far removed a decade hence, when, as al-Amriki, he alludes to non-believers and "the dismal fate of thousands before you" or that quintessential imagery of the Crusades, where blood runs in the streets. Quite the fate for a sell-out.
A working theory for how an all-American boy who records music in his bedroom featuring "samples of death metal, classical music, and bleating goats" turns into "the American" is given by forensic psychiatrist/ CIA case officer Marc Sageman, who proffers his "bunch of guys" theory. Herein, a closed society provides "a sense of meaning that did not exist in the larger world...(where guys get) radicalized through a process akin to one-upsmanship, in which members try to outdo one another in demonstrations of religious zeal." A rather jock-ish theory to cover both underground music and radical Islam, bundling up such natural questing and questioning, as well as the search to "outdo one another." Nothing says enlightenment like being able to out-enlighten your neighbor.
Azzam reached a breaking point when someone driving an SUV in a parking lot yelled at him to "Worship Jesus." Let the backlash begin. He goes on to evoke Abu Jahal, a seventh century enemy of Islam deemed Father of Ignorance. "What, you don't know?" goes the punchline to the joke: "How many hipsters does it take to change a lightbulb?" Underground music only offers divisive exclusivity, zealotry. Why be satisfied with the Velvet Underground or Metallica or Jay-Z or the Shins, the slings and arrows of mainstream media when you can seek out Phil Pearlmen or Aphasia, when you can lash out at fake metal and wannabes and sell-outs, when you can instead perceive that someone isn't a true fan, isn't a true believer? Why see yourself when you can just see the opposing side instead and their ignorance, believing that they are your enemy? And if they dress like you, well...what isn't deceptive about a game in an entirely imaginary world?