Monday, November 17, 2014
Please Inform the Captain This is a Hijack – “Robot Rampage in Luxury World” from Please Inform the Captain This is a Hijack (2003 Empire)


I have to be careful here, because this band, situated as they are in my iTunes library next to The Plot to Blow Up the Eiffel Tower, could get me in some real trouble with the good people over at Quantico. On the other hand, maybe I should view this as an opportunity to turn some government wonks on to some good music. I don’t like to talk about my own security clearance, but suffice it to say I can only wonder what type of music is softly piping through the Quantico loudspeakers. I imagine it’s kind of Cat Stevensy, but without being so No Fly Listy. James Taylor?

Setting aside black helicopters for the moment, I find it impossible to go any further without addressing the humongous legacy of the late Sarah Kirsch, and there really is quite a lot to go into here.

For the longest time, Sarah Kirsch was known to the world as Mike Kirsch, pillar of the Bay Area DIY hardcore punk community beginning in the late 1980s, playing guitar and singing in such influential bands as Fuel, Pinhead Gunpowder (with that guy from that terrible popular band and the guy with the great fanzine), John Henry West, Torches to Rome, and Bread of Circuitsamong othersnone of which I ever got to see (I do remember seeing a flyer for a show Bread and Circuits played at the legendary and since-razed 1021 house, but I didn’t go to the show, and I think figured out three days later that Bread and Circuits was a Kirsch project. I’m a bozo.)

In 2012, Sarah Kirsch died from complications from Fanconi Anemia, which, from what I can garner from the internet, is a somewhat rare genetic disease that can lead to leukemia or bone marrow failure. Not long before that, and I think the timeline is important, Sarah Kirsch came out as a transgender woman.

It is, of course, tragic that her life was cut so short (she was 42). What really got to me, though, as a straight man (and I promise that we’ll get to the song at some point), is just how little we know about what others are dealing with and how easy it is to make assumptions as a result of that ignorance.

And maybe I’m still making ignorant assumptions, given that I’m speaking outside of my own personal experiences and don’t really know how it works, but I feel like Kirsch knew she was transgender years before coming out, maybe even decades. And what I would have assumed, prior to the lesson Sarah’s legacy and coming out taught me, was that, you know, if someone was involved in the super-liberal punk rock scene, in the BAY AREA of all politically radical places, that person would feel comfortable being their truest self and coming out and telling the rest of the world to fuck off if they didn’t like it.

This gives way to speculation, and I want to be real transparent in owning that, but I guess the conclusion I draw is that, for some reason, despite being in probably the most accepting environment ever, Sarah Kirsch didn’t feel comfortable coming out earlier in life. That makes me terribly sad, of course, but whatever faults my ignorance and speculation might betray, it also yields what I think is a terribly instructive lesson: I don’t know what kinds of things anyone else is carrying around. I suppose it’s not entirely outside of the realm of possibility that Plato was thinking of transgender people when he said “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle,” (thought the good people over at Quote Investigator question the accuracy of both the quote and its attribution).

Back to the music. I wrote a few days ago about Rites of Spring and my love for that era of hardcore, and I think that I also, in discussing my dream band, invoked Ebullition Records. Here’s the thing about that — when I think about the best era of Ebullition, I invariably think of the music of Sarah Kirsch, particularly Torches to Rome and Bread and Circuits. There’s a certain sound, a use of feedback, a way of playing with the rhythm in the cadence of the vocals that, taken together, always felt like a reimagining of what hardcore punk could sound like. Maybe that makes me just a little Pollyanna-ish, and I’ll own that, too, but I always enjoyed how fresh the approach of those bands felt.

Please Inform the Captain This is a Hijack snuck up on me, I’ll admit, at a time when I no longer had my finger on the pulse of the hardcore scene to the degree I had in years prior, and as a result I didn’t know they existed until after they didn’t any longer. Timing is everything, I guess. But I’m so glad that I discovered them. Composed of members of Bread and Circuits (obviously), Former Members of Alfonsín (three former Former members, at that — listen for that signature high-pitched scream), and, surprisingly (to me), Lifes Halt! and Dirty Dirt and the Dirts (I need their 7″, by the way — get in touch if you’ve got one to spare). Those last two are bands I’ve always held in high esteem, but didn’t expect this connection. I only wish I knew who from which band did what in this one.

What’s fun about PItCTiaH is their extensive use of samples, of both dialog/narrative and older music. This track begins with some warm electric piano, built upon by an urgent string part set against what sounds to be Yosemite Sam and a pundit talking about a radical cell somewhere. This gives way to what might be called a more traditional hardcore song, if it’s only traditional in the Bread and Circuits/Former Members of Alfonsín approach to hardcore. And indeed, fans of those bands will find that this song, aside from its sampling, doesn’t necessarily break any super new ground when compared to the work of its predecessors, but fans of those bands will be too glad to have more of it that they won’t care if it’s something of a retread.

Besides, the few seconds that sound most familiar (2:14-2:18) give way to some computer-y talk about just how powerless and complicit we all are in an oppressive system. If it’s a protest anthem, it’s a dark one to be sure, (“Analysis: we’re fucked”), but somehow, despite it all, this music fills me with a ridiculous amount of hope.

R.I.P. Sarah Kirsch. Thank you for everything.


Below is the LP in its entirety. If you can find a copy in print, you should purchase it. The Kirsch family, no doubt, could use the money. Our track begins at about 10:17, which is how much time I guess you should add to my times above to make them make sense.


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