In this issue of Banter M:
Why Coldplay Sucks – Chez Pazienza delivers the autopsy of a once great band that fell from grace after it decided sucking up to pop stars and MTV was more important than making good music.
Bernie Sanders and Survivors Remorse – Having recovered from a heart attack himself, Tommy Christopher describes the torture he feels supporting Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders, despite the latter’s infinitely superior health care plan for America.
The Gift and Curse of Fibromyalgia – Ben Cohen writes candidly about the terrible pain condition that has ultimately changed his life for the better.
Why Coldplay Sucks
by Chez Pazienza
Late Sunday night, the good folks at The Onion summed it up best in a post titled “Super Bowl Halftime Show Marred by Functioning Sound System.” The quickie column satirically slammed the Super Bowl’s big halftime extravaganza featuring Beyoncé, Bruno Mars and, yes, Coldplay, saying that the whole thing was a disaster precisely because audiences were able to hear what was going on perfectly. It’s true that if you’re a fan of decent music, this year’s halftime show was a monumental dumpster fire, but maybe it’s worth it to dig into the show’s biggest offender, the band that was technically the headlining act: Coldplay.
I get that a whole lot of copy space has already been spent ragging on Coldplay. Hell, the amount of gleeful schadenfreude injected into the media bloodstream when it was revealed that David Bowie turned down an offer to guest on one of Coldplay’s songs — with Bowie telling the band that their music just wasn’t very good — was by itself a wonder to behold. But it’s worth noting that Bowie rejected Coldplay not when they were in their infancy but later in their timeline. And if you’ve followed Coldplay’s career either directly or just through musical situational awareness you know that there’s a pretty big difference between the Coldplay of 15 years ago and the Coldplay of now. My own personal loathe for Coldplay wasn’t something born. It was made. It was made by years of the band slowly — and then very suddenly — abandoning what they once were in favor of assuming the role of the biggest pop band in the world. Now don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing at all wrong with a band evolving or becoming popular. There’s nothing wrong with a band embracing their popularity. U2 was once able to do that and still maintain their artistic integrity by constantly confounding expectations and shoving sticks into the spokes of their sound every so often to make a noise that maybe wouldn’t be quite so pleasing to its audience. The trick was in always being introspective in some form rather than making music solely for the purpose of appealing to the masses.
To that end, Coldplay’s very first song on their very first full-length album was a near-masterwork of understated, unmistakably British melancholy. Don’t Panic starts with a couple of simple guitar strums and its very opening line is, “Bones sinking like stones, all that we’ve fought for. Homes, places we’ve grown. All of us are done for.” And then the chorus: “We live in a beautiful world.” It’s a fantastic song, the first of many on Coldplay’s 2000 record, Parachutes. It’s an album that also produced Shiver, High Speed and the anthem that made them huge, Yellow. Maybe if you reverse engineer an argument you can say that if a big audience finds you you’re automatically making pop music — as pop means “popular” — but there was nothing “poppy” about Coldplay when they first started. Sure, they had pop sensibilities in that their music, no matter how gorgeously glum, was laden with eminently listenable hooks and progressions, but anyone who listened to that album before Coldplay became successful probably couldn’t have imagined it happening to the extent that it did. The public’s embrace of the band felt odd when you considered how sad so much of that debut was.
And they just piled it on after that. 2002’s A Rush of Blood To the Head was superior to Parachutes in every way, including the best possible way. It was more assured, more authoritative — from the opening pummel of Politik to the final, glorious crescendo of Amsterdam — and more representative of what the band could do in terms of songwriting. Clocks may have been the big hit on the record, and it’s certainly a little slice of earworm heaven, but nearly every song was exceptional. What’s important to keep in mind about it, though, is that the album still had a thread of melancholy and seriousness running through it, as there was with Parachutes. Maybe that’s an easy way to designate a band as having integrity as artists, but with Coldplay it accomplished two things: Yes, it certified their artistic integrity, but it also cemented their status as an “alternative” band. They started out in the alt genre and with A Rush of Blood To the Head they seemed to firmly plant a flag there. They seemed to be caring more about making music for themselves, but if they were engaging in any kind of fan service at the very least it was aimed at the people who had initially helped to make them famous.
They had another big hit record with 2005’s X&Y, the album that produced Fix You, which while overplayed to death to this very day is still an undeniably powerful song. But you could tell that the band was ready for a change. And again, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just where that change took them that started them on the road to the mindless pop shit they are now. By X&Y, Chris Martin had already been married to the insufferable Gwyneth Paltrow for two years and it’s hard to imagine her influence wasn’t having an impact on his tastes. I say this not because Paltrow is a woman — this isn’t some sexist “Yoko killed the Beatles” claim — but because of the kind of person she happens to be, what would later be shown to the world in spectacularly irritating fashion via her insipid “Goop” website. She’s a self-proclaimed lifestyle guru, preaching the gospel of whatever she thinks you and I should be eating, wearing, home decorating with, and, yes, listening to. With Martin being the primary driver of Coldplay in terms of direction and songwriting, the influence of his relationship with Paltrow had to be felt within the band. Martin’s fame had made him the husband of a certain kind of arrogant Hollywood royalty — that changes a person. Maybe that’s what helped give the world the pretentious and soulless Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends.
Granted, Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends was produced by Brian Eno, who usually makes any record better. But something about the album just didn’t click and the big first single, Viva La Vida, felt like a joyful anthem for the sake of a joyful anthem. And that, as it turns out, would become Coldplay’s primary sound from there on out in their career. By the time 2011’s Mylo Xyloto rolled around, well, Coldplay was just pomposity and little else. The record was a concept album, a “thematic rock opera” about “a war against sound and color by a supremacist government, set in the world of Silencia, an Orwellian society.” It gets better: “The album follows Mylo, a ‘silencer’, who is one of an army tasked to hunt and track down ‘sparkers’, people who harness light and energy and use it to create sparks, comparable to graffiti in real life. He comes across Xyloto, a sparker who is the most wanted” by the totalitarian government. So, yeah, it’s basically a shitty YA novel set to music. Maybe worse, Coldplay had already experimented with turning their tours into album-inspired themes,complete with costuming, on the VLVoDaAHF tour — but they took it to the extreme for Mylo Xyloto, donning high-vis color-splattered painter gear and shooting colorful confetti all over the place during live shows. It was such a far cry from the introspective, melancholy band of the early 2000s that it didn’t even feel like Coldplay anymore.
For a brief respite, there was hope with Atlas, Coldplay’s track from The Hunger Games: Catching Fire — the best song they’d released in years — and then with Ghost Stories, a largely quiet album that followed Martin’s “conscious uncoupling” from Paltrow. But now we’re here: at their new record, A Head Full of Dreams. “Colorful Coldplay” is not only back, they’ve taken that motif — the one from Mylo Xyloto — and cranked that shit to 11, dripping themselves in day-glo and enlisting the help of so many pop music A-listers that it’s impossible to remember that at one point Coldplay was actually an alternative band. Coldplay had already brought Rihanna on board for a track on Mylo Xyloto, but now they’ve one-upped that by doing a duet with the biggest pop star in the world, Beyoncé. There’s nothing wrong with Beyoncé, of course, but her presence on the new record not only proves which audience Coldplay is now determined to cater to but it feels like a final abandonment of the genre and audience that first fell in love with the band.
Martin says this may be the last record for Coldplay. If it is, it would be perfect because A Head Full of Dreams marks the last, horrid stop for a band that’s been moving toward utter crap for years now.
If there was any sense of poetry still left in them, that Super Bowl travesty would be the final performance for Coldplay. It was so difficult to picture the Coldplay of, say, 2003 in there anywhere that it felt like the perfect punctuation to their gruesome career trajectory. There was Coldplay, playing to a crowd at the fucking Super Bowl, Chris Martin mugging to the camera, sandwiched between prefabricated pop creations of the enormity of Beyoncé and Bruno Mars, and the figurative Daggers of Megiddo plunging through the last vestiges of whatever Coldplay once was, broadcast to millions around the globe. They suck now. They have for years, but there’s simply no going back anymore. Thanks for the memories.
Bernie Sanders And Survivors Remorse
by Tommy Christopher
The 2016 election season has been a giddy goldmine for people in my business, a never-ending Golden Corral buffet of copy that not only writes itself, it almost seems to click on itself, too. As a human being, though, this thing gets more and more depressing, in ways too varied to even begin describing. Liberals crossing their fingers and hoping that Donald Trump gets the GOP nod and ensures easy victory for the Democrats, for example, need to slow their roll, because the guy could actually win.
That’s a discussion for another time, though. The issue that’s weighing on my heart and mind the heaviest is health care, which is barely a footnote in the Republican race, but has become a combination football/piñata in the Democratic race. Bernie Sanders is proposing single payer universal health care, and Hillary Clinton is talking about tweaking the Affordable Care Act, but the debate ha been less on the substance of the plans, and more on the political feasibility thereof.
Now, before I continue, I want to get something straight. I love Bernie Sanders, but I don’t think he has a chance of winning the presidency, mainly because he has an insurmountable foreign policy problem that will only get worse the next time someone decides to credit ISIS for the violent act they were going to do anyway. Yes, Barack Obama had similar experience in 2008, but he also had answers, good ones. Bernie whiffed so badly on Afghanistan at the last debate that it’s hard to believe he can catch up. People are easy to scare.
For reasons which are well-documented in these pages, I also prefer Hillary Clinton on most of the other issues in this campaign, but the way she has approached health care has been dismaying. Rather than simply emphasizing the political near-impossibility of Sanders’ plan, she has dishonestly tried to cast it as the destruction of Obamacare, and as “starting over from scratch,” when obviously such a plan would be an improvement on and extension of the ACA.
Still, the fact remains that single payer, for which Hillary Clinton fought and bled in the 1990s, is a distant fantasy, and the reason for that dawned on me in the last few days. We had a decent shot at it during the first year of Barack Obama’s presidency, during which I pressed the White House hard on including a public option in the law. Had that happened, we would be well on our way to a de facto single payer system, as private insurance companies struggled to compete with a plan that had no profit motive. Unfortunately, even with Democratic majorities in Congress, it didn’t happen.
Now, I’m forced to watch Hillary Clinton attack Bernie Sanders over health care, and root for her in the process, while over on the Republican side, the worst thing Ted Cruz can think to say about Donald Trump is that he believes everyone should have health care. Whenever I see his stupid face making stupid sincere-face on TV while stupid pundits call him “brilliant,” I’m reminded of my first meeting with the now-senator, then-nobody.
I was at a Freedomworks party at CPAC 2010 in honor of Ed Morrissey, who despite being a superstar conservative blogger, is also a wonderful human being. It was thanks to Ed that I had the run of the place, and of every CPAC I ever attended, despite being a well-known liberal provocateur. Already a few drinks in, Ed introduced me to a guy he described as “a great Tea Party senate primary candidate from Texas” whose name only stuck with me because it reminded me of a TV character.
It was Ted Cruz, whom I misheard saying he was the former attorney general of Texas, when he must’ve said solicitor general. I remember wanting to slap Ed, because I had bigger prey on my mind, but I politely struck up a conversation with the guy as I scanned the rest of the place. He gave me his card, which I promptly shitcanned after we were done talking because I was convinced nobody would ever hear from him again.
As we engaged in small chitchat (which included several attempts to get him to say the name of my website correctly), Ed just suddenly walks off and leaves me there with him. Resigned, I turned to Cruz and said “You’re a Tea Party guy, huh? What do you guys have against people having health insurance?”
Cruz gets that explaining-things-to-kindergartners look on his face, and launches into a rap that sounded something like this:
“Imagine if Congress were to pass a law that says fire insurance companies cannot take into account preexisting conditions, such as whether the home has already burned down in a fire.”
“If that were the law, what any rational person would do–we would both cancel our fire insurance policies because our house had not burned down, and if it did burn down, we could then buy a fire insurance policy and say: Please pay for my house.”
When he gets done, I look at him and say “Yeah, but if you don’t have fire insurance, they still come put out your fire. Nobody dies if they don’t have fire insurance.”
A pensive look comes across his face, and after a few seconds, he says “That’s a very interesting point.”
“Yeah, you think that over for awhile,” I said, shook his hand, and pretended to see someone I knew in another room. As I passed by Ed, I patted him on the shoulder and said “Good luck with that guy.”
Shows what I know. The reason I remember his fire insurance rap so well is because even after I destroyed it in two seconds with three beers in me, he was still using it three years later, during his fake filibuster. When I saw Cruz at the White House Correspondents Dinner a few years later, I reminded him of the meeting, and like the authentic soul he is, he said he remembered the meeting fondly.
It’s hard for me to relate to people who fight so hard to keep people from getting health care, but thinking back on that meeting, and thinking about the political impossibility of single payer, it occurred to me why Bernie Sanders’ approach will never work. An incremental approach like the public option could have succeeded by virtue of the (erroneous) frog in boiling water axiom, that without even noticing, health care would become a right for every American.
But for someone like Bernie Sanders to succeed, vast majorities of Americans have to recognize that health care is a right, not a privilege. In order for them to do that, they must also admit to themselves that until now, they have permitted tens of thousands of people to die because we didn’t want to pay a few extra bucks in taxes, or wait a little longer for an appointment. Bernie is absolutely right, a political revolution is what’s required, but since most people have health insurance, it would need to be a revolution in which the vast majority of Americans turn on themselves.
For people like Ted Cruz, it’s easy, because when you point out the fact that his position means people will continue to die, he just ignores it, and apparently makes sure no one ever asks him about it again. For Hillary Clinton, who believes deeply in health care as a universal right, it requires gyrations that just don’t fit.
The fact is that people do die every year because they don’t have health insurance, or as Bernie points out, don’t have enough insurance. If your deductible is high enough, you might just as well not have any insurance when it comes to deciding between a doctor’s visit and paying the rent. Estimates on deaths due to lack of insurance range from 20,000 to 45,000 annually, but whatever the number is, it can’t come close to reconciling the human cost of even one of those deaths.
If not for a quirk of fate, I could have been one of them, because when I had my heart attack, I didn’t have health insurance, and I had two jobs. They were both steady freelance gigs, though, so I didn’t qualify for benefits. I was so anxious about the cost of a hospitalization that I screamed at my companions not to call an ambulance because I was sure the pain would pass. If I hadn’t been with people who cared more about me than I did, I’d probably be dead right now, because I wasn’t about to call myself.
That might not be such a terrible prospect to some, but there are people who do care, who are my responsibility, who would have been left without me, and my death would not have even shown up in those statistics. Unlike many politicians, though, I believed in this issue before it personally impacted me.
That’s why it’s such a bitter irony that I find myself at political odds with Bernie Sanders, because health care is a right, and it is a disgusting crime that hundreds of millions of Americans stand by and let it not be one. Unfortunately, there isn’t a tongue with enough silver to sell people on the notion that we’ve been murdering assholes this whole time, and we should stop murdering people. I just wish Hillary Clinton had a better pitch than the one she has, a much better one.
The Gift and Curse Of Fibromyalgia
by Ben Cohen
According to the Mayo Clinic, fibromyalgia is “A disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory and mood issues.”
To me, fibromyalgia is the bane of my existence, and as I have recently come to terms with, a disorder that has controlled the trajectory of my life — and not necessarily in a negative way.
I have virtually every single symptom associated with the condition — widespread musculoskeletalpain, all 18 pain points on my body used by doctors to diagnose it, the notorious “brain fog”, fatigue, extreme sensitivity to weather (particularly the cold and damp combined), mood changes and pretty much everything else in between.
Luckily, I’m a pretty happy person otherwise, so the mood changes are barely noticeable to people around me, but I can attest to feeling very low if I have a flare up — which can last for up to an entire week.
In the midst of a fibro flare up, I essentially turn into half a human being. I can perform menial tasks, but cannot sustain concentration for more than a few minutes at a time. I cannot write well, exercise, or hold a coherent conversation for extended periods of time. While subtle, my speech also slurs and I often cannot find the correct words to express my thoughts. I have shooting pain that radiates from my upper spine and neck throughout my body, creating immense upper body stiffness and tenderness, particularly in my neck, jaw and temples. I need several more hours sleep when it gets bad, and getting out of bed can be particularly difficult. It is a pain I would wish on no one, and I have the deepest sympathy for anyone suffering from the condition.
My journey with fibromyalgia began when I was a teenager. I remember sitting in class one day, aged around 13, trying to figure out why I couldn’t remember anything the teacher had said and why I felt so fatigued, despite sleeping well the night before. From the age of 11 onwards, I would get migraines intermittently and would be allowed time of school when they were severe, but after the age of 13 or 14, a great deal of my waking life was spent with what I now recognize as low level fibromyalgia pain. Back then, I believed what my teachers told me — that I was lazy and didn’t want to concentrate. I dealt with this by doing my best to cover up bouts of extreme brain fog and work in spurts when the flareups died down. I did fairly well given the circumstances, but knew deep down that I was performing at a fraction of my real capacity.
It took me till early adulthood to finally acknowledge that there could actually be something wrong with me, and after failing to hold a couple of jobs down due to extreme fatigue and lack of concentration, I decided to research whether anyone else suffered the same symptoms. I went to several acupuncturists and chiropractors who told me it may well be fibromyalgia, and after considerable research, came to the conclusion that I wasn’t lazy, but suffering a debilitating disorder that was notoriously hard to diagnose.
Given doctors knew very little about the disorder and there were no ways to physically detect it back in the early 2000’s (in 2013, scientist finally pinpointed an increased number of sensory nerve fibers in the hand of sufferers), fibromyalgia sufferers have essentially existed outside the radar of the medical establishment, with many doctors believing the condition was purely psychosomatic. Pain management was down to the sufferer to figure out, and either came in the form of heavy medication, or alternative therapies including massage, acupuncture, chiropractic and diet modification. I chose the latter after suffering terrible side effects from pain killers, and have over the years learned to manage the pain reasonably well. While I am not a doctor, I can also fairly confidently assert that fibromyalgia is both physical and psychological — stress being a huge amplifier of the symptoms, but not necessarily the cause. So I eat well, don’t get stressed from work too much, and spend a good amount of time exercising — a combination that seems to keep the flare ups at bay if I am able to maintain it.
While I am often frustrated by my condition, I have now begun to see it in a new light. Fibromyalgia has forced me to make lifestyle choices that, looking back on it, I am pretty happy with.
Not being able to keep regular hours and suffering from extreme bouts of attention deficit disorder drove me to go out by myself and create a business around my lifestyle. I worked for many years as a personal trainer and Martial Arts instructor — a profession that came with some physical difficulties when suffering a flare up, but ultimately manageable given I enjoyed it immensely and most of my training occurred at night time. I now spend the majority of my time running The Daily Banter — another job I love — and teach Martial Arts a few times a week. I go to bed and get up when I want to, don’t have a boss, and am entirely free to do with my day what I please.
Initially this was incredibly difficult to get the hang of given the social pressure to conform, get a job and work 9 – 5 (or 9 – 9 as most Americans appear to do), but given it was a necessity, I learned to cope and have never looked back. The days of feeling guilty or inadequate are long gone, and I have developed a good amount of self discipline over the years — or at least enough to be self sustaining.
I enjoy waking up knowing that if I wanted to, I could stay in bed until midday without anyone getting on my case (and believe me, this a big deal for someone also inherently resistant to authority and rules!) I don’t need any motivation to continue writing or teaching Martial Arts, and the lack of stress has kept flare ups at bay and allowed me to be deeply committed to my work.
This does not come without cost of course. I face constant financial insecurity, have no benefits to speak of, and often end up working many, many more hours than a regular job. The ups and downs are emotionally wearing, and can sometimes trigger a flare up. I rarely get an entire weekend off given I need to be available 24/7 to deal with site problems, so it isn’t a lifestyle suited for everyone. But, after many years I have come to realize that it is the only way I can live without the constant presence of pain — a fact I am reminded of when I can get out of bed without the crippling pain I felt so often as a child.
Ultimately, this is why I have begun to see fibromyalgia as a gift and not a curse. While it has forced me into a particular lifestyle, it is one I secretly dreamed of anyway.