That's not to say the markets are fine, or even on the road to recovery. Despite the buyout of AIG there was another crash today--the Dow fell 450 points--and now the last two major independent brokerages, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, are in immediate danger of suffering the fate of their peers. On TV news Morgan Stanley's already talking about fleeing into the arms of some other firm (any other firm), and Goldman Sachs is reporting record losses. With Bear, Lehman, and Merrill already gone, the last two horsemen of the apocalypse are getting ready to ride, sending investors fleeing to the safety of their teddy bears. Those teddy bears are the safest investments on the market, the ones you only invest in if you are okay with making no profit at all--the strength of the market for gold and Treasury bonds today was what one commentator called "absolutely absurd". Apparently (and I can mention this because it's old news) there was even a run on mattresses in Manhattan today. Some claim this is because investors are sleeping in their offices to monitor the situation; others say it's because it's the last safe place for them put their money. My guess is that they just want a flat surface to lie on while the market fucks them in the ass.
But you know what? I really can't bring myself to care. With the government running AIG and Congress holding emergency session after emergency session to intervene, there is now a solid wall of cash between what is going on in Wall Street and everyday life for ordinary Americans. Lots of very rich people right now are going to be a lot poorer, and Wall Street is undergoing some historic and irreversible changes, but unless commodities don't hit rock bottom (you have to hit rock bottom to bounce back), it's not worth losing sleep over anymore. This isn't my game. In the office the two TVs we always have on are flashing red arrows and using vocabulary like "meltdown" and "historic" and "epic proportions"--if I hear "in my X years in the business, I've never seen anything quite like this!" one more time I'm going to have to choke somebody--and dethroned CEOs are screaming "I lost my net worth over this. My entire net worth!!" on the news and folks in the office are ending personal calls with "Don't jump," and I just go SHUT UP WORLD and code. The Man (the political-corporate elite, not some illusory white racist conspiracy) squeals real loud when he gets punched in the balls, but it's got nothing to do with me. For now, you guys are good, I'm good, America's good, and Wall Street can go to hell.
I hate money. I don't want to post about finance on this blog ever again.
So tonight I went to see my Oberlin acquaintance Tom Curtin perform at the Sidewalk Cafe in the Lower East Side. Now that I'm a novice (not even amateur) guitarist myself, I tend to get mixed feelings when I see a really talented, better-than-amateur musician performs in front of a really small crowd. Don't get me wrong, it was a good show--a really good show. Tom's quite formidable with an acoustic, and he's reached that rare level of mastery in which his passion for the music and his technical expertise perfectly augment, not interfere with, each other. That's a very enviable quality, and watching his fingers move over the fretboard as he belted out soulful self-penned melodies about gay senators and the twin children of necromancers helped me understand that playing that well takes so much more than strumming the right chords to the right beat. If he was kind enough to write up the tabs for his songs, I could probably learn one in a month, but it'd take years before I could know the instrument well enough to perform with his candor and musicality, much less bring the songs I've written to life the way he does. His lyrics are silly, often frivolous--they seem to hint at greater meaning, the way a lot of indie folk bands do, until you listen closely and realize that singing "There are flies in my mouth!" over and over again doesn't actually mean anything but "There are flies in my mouth!" And yet there's so much genuine feeling in the way he sings "There are flies in my mouth!" that you can't help but feel moved by the tragedy of all those poor insects trapped within his maw. That's the difference between a true musician, like Tom, who has mastered his instrument well enough to focus on the music and not the playing, and a novice, like me, who can only strive to imitate the sounds he likes to hear. What's a little depressing is that his talent was not proportional to the attention he got. I understand it was a Wednesday night in an obscure restaurant/bar in the Lower East Side, but there were maybe eight people there tonight, and I think most of them knew Tom personally. They were the people who would come see him and cheer and clap even if he wasn't an amazingly talented musician. Does Tom Curtin even know how good he is?
(This is his MySpace page, by the way. As of now, he has two songs up there, "Noble One" and "The Optometrist Song." Neither of them are his best, but they're both pretty good.)
Also...I will never be one of the cool kids. But that's a rant for another day.