An Open Letter to Rep. Shelley Berkley

Dear Representative Berkley,

My name is Joshua Ellis. I’m a writer and web developer from Las Vegas. You may or may not know who I am — I was a opinion columnist for many years for the Las Vegas CityLife and I’m also somewhat well-known for co-authoring a series of articles about the homeless people living in the storm drains under Las Vegas.

I’m writing you because I understand that the current budget proposal submitted by the Republican factions in Congress which completely removes the $430 million budget for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which funds National Public Radio (NPR) and the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) network of television channels.

Representative Berkley, I sincerely hope you agree with me that this is a deeply disturbing and ludicrous proposal. The value of NPR and PBS in both childhood and adult education is immeasurable; I imagine that like me and my wife and my five-year-old sister, your children grew up learning about the world via the irreplaceable magic of TV series like Sesame Street and The Electric Company; and perhaps your family, like mine, enjoy and benefit from programs like Nova and the late Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, as well as radio programs like This American Life and All Things Considered.

NPR and PBS serve an important role in American media: by being funded by the people — unlike commercial media outlets — they are not subject to the whims of advertisers or subscribers. (While it is true that corporations and other commercial outlets often sponsor NPR and PBS programming, it is my understanding that they have no editorial say over that programming.) By removing public funding, CPB will become simply another television network like ABC or CBS, controlled by the people who hold the purse strings…or, even worse, it will simply be commercially unviable and cease programming altogether. That, I believe, would be a terribly tragedy for the American people.

Fiscal conservatives often quote President Coolidge’s statement that the business of government is business. I disagree. The government of the United States is not a widget factory or a retail outlet, despite every attempt by PACs and SIGs to the contrary. The business of the government is to serve the needs of the citizens — all of the citizens, not merely the ones who write the biggest checks.

I’m sure you’ll agree with me, Representative Berkley, that it is not your job to turn a profit. You are not some shabby little accountant. Your job is to do what’s best for the people of your district and, in a broader sense, the American people in general. Part of that, I believe, is recognizing that there are certain things that the federal government puts money into with no expectation of a monetary return on investment. When it comes to public media, the return on investment can be measured by looking at the face of every man, woman and child whose world is expanded by the programming therein.

When children watch commercial programming, they learn that the most important thing in the world is to buy whatever toy the network is hawking during this particular half-hour, that it’s important to pay lip-service to individuality, but that it’s more important to conform. They are taught to be nothing more than good consumers.

When children watch Sesame Street and other public media programming, they learn to count, to use their language, to think critically, to share with others, to value peace and comfort, that people who look and speak differently than they do are friends, not enemies. They learn that the world is a huge and amazing place, and they learn that they are capable of doing whatever they dream of in that world.

In that sense, our investment in public media is really an investment in our future; in building a future America that is not full of bright, capable, curious, pro-active citizens.

It is, in other words, priceless.

And so I hope, Representative Berkeley that you will vote against the cutting of public media funding from this new budget. (Not to mention the cutting of library and educational funding, of course, but I don’t feel that’s even worth discussing; any representative of the people who believes in reducing library funding is a dangerous scoundrel.)

By doing so, you will display that you possess much farther vision than many of your peers; you will be making an investment that will pay off millions of times over in the long term of America’s future. And you will be, as the theme to The Electric Company used to say when I was a kid, helping to bring the power to the people who desperately need it.

Thank you for your time.

All my best,Joshua Ellis


A Musical Manifesto (Of Sorts)

I’m in the very early stages of recording a second LP under my pseudonym, Red State Soundsystem. (I’m also recording an acoustic EP of some of the tracks from my first LP, Ghosts In A Burning City, as well as some new tracks, primarily on guitar and piano.) So I’m thinking a lot about music these days.

I don’t want to make a “pop” record, except in the most broad sense. I am bored with pop music. I’m bored with shiny, happy, sun-kissed music, with Brian Wilson fetishism, with ELO close harmonies and layers of major key Mellotron. I’m bored with beardo indie pop. I’m bored with Prozac music, blissed out “happy” music that actually has no passion behind it. I’m sick of danceability, of 8-bit synths, of the almost hysterical infantilism of most modern rock and roll.

I grew up in the 1980s. I love much of the music of the 1980s. I have absolutely no fucking desire whatsoever to attempt to replicate it as closely as possible, down to spending thousands of dollars buying really shitty “vintage” digital synthesizers that are easily and precisely replicable on any device with more complexity than a ten year old Nokia candybar cell phone. (Trust me on this; you can exactly replicate a TR-808 drum machine or Yamaha DX-7 synth in software now. There’s no magic in them, no secret ingredients, not even the random variation of a 1970s analog synth.)

I want to make music for unhappy people. I want to make music for sexually frustrated people. I want to make music for losers, geeks, freaks, drunks, addicts, burnouts. I want to make music that people will sit in the dark and listen to and burn incense and smoke cigarettes, and I want the music I make to maybe stop them from hurting quite so much. I want to make rough music. I want to make glitchy music. I want to mix the sounds of electronic music, which I love, with the emotional intensity of rock and roll. I want to make music for adults with adult emotions, ambiguous and not always beautiful. I want to make music that drones, that has beats, that makes you want to go out and fuck or kill or die or live. I want to make music that pretty people hear and get aneurysms and fall down dead on the street. I don’t want to be experimental, because making atonal horrible noise isn’t experimental. A lot of people already tried the experiments and produced a lot of pompous, shitty records.

I want to make a record, not a collection of singles for YouTube. I want to make videos, but I want them to be interesting, otherwise there’s no point.

Fuck Brian Wilson. Fuck Jeff Lynne. Fuck the Arcade Fire. My music is influenced by: William Gibson, Lorca, Clive Barker, T.S. Eliot, Anne Sexton, Tom Waits, Lou Reed, Tricky, Garth Ennis, Hunter Thompson, Neil Gaiman, Van Morrison, The National, Grant Morrison, China Mieville, Dave McKean, Nick Drake, Sant’Elia, Bowie, Harlan Ellison, Nick Cave, Jon Hassell, Brian Eno, Leonard Cohen, Leonard Cohen, Leonard Cohen. My music is influenced by all the horrible nights I spent drunk hurting myself and all the terrible things I’ve done and all the redemption I’ve managed to scrape together. My music is influenced by every pack of cigarettes I’ve smoked and every tab of acid I’ve chewed on and all the good sex and bad sex I’ve had and every shit bar I’ve ever been in and every beautiful salon and not at all by wonderful white suburbia. I don’t give a fuck about the lives of suburbanites unless they go mad.

I can’t sing. I don’t care anymore. I sing the way I sing. I write better songs than people who sing better than I do. My music isn’t complex. It doesn’t have the kind of chord changes that other musicians get excited by. I don’t care. I’ll write songs with two notes.

Lyrics matter. If you don’t think so, you’re doing it wrong.

I want to write songs that make people want to sell everything they own and get on a plane and disappear into the world, born again under wilder skies. I want people to fuck to my music. I want people to want my songs played on a boombox at their graveside. I want to make people happy. I want to make people think

I don’t need to rock harder than anybody else. I’m a pussy. I write gloomy mid-tempo music. That’s fine. I make gloomy mid-tempo music as hard as I fucking can. It’s not made to drop in the club to help morons find other morons to fuck. I want smart people fucking to my music.

I don’t care if anyone else likes my music anymore, or buys it. If you don’t like it, it’s not for you. Maybe in a hundred years, somebody will dig it. Maybe you dig it now. If you do, I’m glad. Really glad.

I will never be on the cover of a glossy magazine. Prom queens will never want to meet me because my music speaks to them. Nobody will ever ask me to do a celebrity remix. Nobody will ever put my music over the closing credits of a blockbuster movie. That’s fine. I don’t care.

Every song I record, every record I make, is a paper boat with a candle in it, set onto a wine-dark sea and sent off into the world. I don’t know where they will end up. I hope interesting and crazy and maybe useful places. But it doesn’t matter, in the end. All that matters is that I make them and set them free, until the day I die.

Anything else would be pathetic.