TerminalIt's popular to blame the Chinese. I will hereby join the whining chorus. Under Swedish legislation VAT should always be charged when making purchases from non-EU countries. The VAT is 25 %. This has been half-hearted applied by the Swedish Postal Service (PostNord). In fact, PostNord has always turned a blind eye towards my non-EU purchases. The Swedes are early adopters and quickly discovered that they could buy dirt cheap items on-line from China. PostNord was literally flooded with parcels (cell phone cases, electronics, make up articles, bling-bling and other items). Their postal terminals bulged. The Swedish Customs put PostNord under pressure. Something had to be done. The action from PostNord was diabolic. They simply stopped delivering parcels and, in addition to the VAT, imposed an administrative fee. If the value of a consignment is less than SEK 1,500 ($170) the fee is SEK 75 ($8.50). The administrative fee meant that cheap items instantly became expensive. The parcels not paid for were sent back to the sender according to international agreements. The PostNord action also affected purchases made within EU. Some low-priced sellers of used cds on Amazon.uk ship from Guernsey in the English Channel, which is non-EU. Their shipments nowadays end up in the small-meshed net of PostNord. The action is unproportional. The VAT is often calculated to $0.50, while the administrative fee is fixed to $8.50. If it wasn't for the Chinese flooding I would have been able to continue to fly under the radar. What shall I do? I stand like a donkey between two wisps of hay. The cost increase for US items is hard to accept. I will have to pay $10-12 for the cd, $15 for the shipping and $10 for VAT and the administrative fee. Do I want to pay a total of $35 for a gothic country cd? Maybe, but it better be damn good.

 

thehappygothIs it really possible to be drawn to music that deals with betrayed love, poverty and misery, abuse of all kinds, mental illness, sin, repentance, atonement and godliness and still be a happy goth? I think it is. The british indie-pop band The Divine Comedy agrees. Songwriter Neil Hannon really nailed it in "The Happy Goth". "Well her clothes are blacker than the blackest cloth / And her face is whiter than the snows of Hoth / She wears Dr. Martens and a heavy cross / But on the inside she's a happy goth". I don't wear black, have goth pale skin or wear Dr. Marten boots (only Red Wing). However, I feel good listening to feel bad music. The more gruesome the better. This doesn't mean that I'm thinking of replicating the lyric content in real life. There's no reason to be afraid of yourself. It's just an imaginative play with concepts and symbols. A small dose of escapism is merely healthy. For the uninitiated all this death, doom and despair are probably hard to understand and interpret. Gothic country music is something you listen to alone. Should we be worried? Neil Hannon has the answer. "Don't worry Mum, don't worry Dad / The hours that I spend alone are the happiest I've ever had".

 

okandEvery breath you take is a step closer towards death. It's very comforting to be informed of this inevitable prospect. Death is common to all people, eras, societies and cultures. How death is conceived is, on the other hand, different. The conception of death is very important, because it shapes our behaviors and practices. The conception varies over time and across cultures. Art has always played an important role in portraying and interpreting death. Through art, people have manifested their beliefs and attitudes towards death. It has been examined in the processes of aging, dying, grieving and commemorating. Music is art and gothic country music is fine art. Death is omnipresent. Those Poor Bastards sums it up: "Some people live ‘til the age of ninety-four / Some people die before they are born / ... / Everybody dies everybody dies / Everybody dies everybody dies". The genre is filled to the brim with themes and symbols. Skeletons and scythes are very popular. For the uninitiated the fascination for death is hard to understand. However, there are explainations. The concept death in art has a deeper and symbolic meaning than death in ordinary life. The playful exploration of death is also a way to process a difficult topic. And maybe death isn't the end. Maybe there's a life and an afterlife. This prospect has really shaped our behaviors and practices over the centuries. Do we go straight to heaven when we die or are we sent to purgatory or even some other place… maybe even straight to hell? The proverb "he who lives, shall see" doesn't really fit here. The lack of empirical evidence is disturbing. We will just have to wait and see.

  

theoldhandI have become an old hand. Not literally, but figuratively. An old hand is someone who is very experienced and skilled in a particular area of activity. How did this exaltation occur? Not many years ago I was a novice and struggling to orientate in the genre. Nowadays, people are writing to me with music suggestions and want to know what I think. I get very well-informed suggestions from like-minded people. Their aim are often spot-on. On the other hand, there are some artists and bands who insists that they have "a gothic streak" in their music and want me to confirm this. How do I separate the wheat from the chaff? I simply apply the duck test. If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck. Practising the duck test makes perfect. However, to tell someone that they're non-gothic is a difficult conversation. "With great power comes great responsibility". To be an old hand is desirable. It involves the same satisfaction as achieving mastery in collecting, read more here (opens in a new window). You achieve mastery through specialized knowledge and expertise. No tiny detail is too small to remain unnoticed. It's deeply satisfying to know more than anyone else in the world in your tiny field. It doesn't matter that almost no-one cares. You and few like-minded people care. And that's really all that matters.

 

      

mostexpensiveLet me tell you a story about the "most expensive" hifi system ever. Surprisingly, it's not a story about a ridiculously over-priced high-end system. On the contrary, this is the story about a mid-priced Technics hifi system that I bought in the beginning of the 1980s. The system deserves the epithet "most expensive" since I paid for it at least twice, maybe more. This is also a cautionary tale. Once upon a time I got my first job. I wanted to make up lost ground as a consumer. I longed for a hifi system, but didn't have the patience or discipline to save enough money. Of course, there's a business segment for these situations, installment plan. After usual credit worthiness evaluation I was accepted as borrower (having a warm body was sufficient). I went to the local hifi dealer and bought a Technics turntable, amplifier and cassette deck which was supplemented with Jamo speakers, on wheels. To top it off I added a stereo rack in fake teak with dark tinted glass doors (tacky, but it was the 1980s). But, I overlooked one important thing. I didn't read the fine print. If I had, I would have noticed the effective interest rate of 34 percent. The ironic element in this story is that we never really connected. The turntable had no statute, amplifier sound was harsh, cassette deck was plain and the musculous speakers sounded like whiplashes (it was the 1980s). I might as well have burned the money. After all, that's pretty much what I did.

 

       

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