James Michael Haitchwai is back in black and ready to talk smack once again. I just spent the past few weeks slummin’ it down south and a little ways out west, partly to take my crappy music on tour but mostly just to cut myself a break from the inhospitably expensive and divisive confines of post-gentrification D.C. The insidious hypocrisy of a city that plays itself up as a liberal mecca while it epitomizes the dystopian fallout of modern capitalism more than anyplace else was grating on my already grizzled nerves. I was hungry for a change of scenery and a dose of balance for my totally imbalanced perspective. With guitar in hand, I hopped on the nearest Scamtrak and made it my mission to soak up a different side of America.
First stop: Atlanta. After pulling 2 consecutive all-nighters, I arrive at 8 a.m., spend several hours wandering aimlessly and manage to cover only a fraction of the ATL’s massive, multifarious sprawl. A nice selection of art galleries and art schools (little-known fact about JMH: I’m a frustrated visual artist who has always wanted to attend art school but simply didn’t have the skill/discipline/money) and Gladys Knight’s Chicken and Waffles were the first things that caught my eye. That night’s show was at an awesome all-ages, non-profit, volunteer-run space that serves as a venue, art gallery, and community hub. I wish there were more places like this; it’s a sad fact that many (if not most) music venues are bars run by money-grubbing promoters and policed by meathead bouncers, and as much as I love art of all sorts, I’ve always felt alienated from the art world’s classist culture of high admission prices and reliance on 1-percenter types looking for a tax break. Too many people are denied access to the arts because they’re not old enough to drink or rich enough to get into black-tie parties. Bullshit.
After the show, I kicked it with some anarchist activists I’d just met, even though I was so tired I could barely keep my eyes open. A distractingly cute girl who works as a medic for victims of police brutality at protests around the country gave me a tincture of dandelion root extract, which soothes stress. Was it that obvious that I was losing my mind? I stayed with a friend of mine who’s a college professor, researcher, musician, DJ, and all-around crazy m****rf****r. We spent the next day making thoroughly unlistenable noise, chowing down on awesome vegan grub, and busking at a subway stop. The locals didn’t seem to think that my sloppy Misfits covers and my homey’s interpretive dancing were worth their money. Good times.
From there, it was on to Charlotte, NC for a 5-hour layover. In a word: boring. Maybe I’m speaking out of turn, since I didn’t have the time or patience to explore it deeply, but I was underwhelmed and understimulated. It says a lot about a place when you spend 5 hours there and the most interesting thing you can find is a Trader Joe’s (although it did have a few art galleries as well — which I was too cheap to visit, of course). I felt a stuck-up vibe coming from the suits even thicker than what I’m used to in DC as I walked through the government/white-collar district, and a huge anti-choice banner affixed to a government building didn’t boost my opinion of this place either. I was relieved to return to the train station and get the hell out of dodge.
And then I began my descent into the Florida marshes for more misadventures. Next time…