Identity, Maslow, Desire, Cheap Means of Self-Esteem

Today’s social fuel is identity. I’m not sure why it hasn’t been more clear why we insist on, and sometimes fight vehemently about some sort of identity or other, but it is certain that we mostly can’t stop fussing and tweaking at it. Is it really anything at all? Is it actually just entirely subjective? Is there anything especially important about maintaining and defending a particular identity?
Years ago I took an anthropology course, back when I was trying to identify as a scholar or an intellect, the course taught us that the concept of race is scientifically defunct. What we think of as race is really just a function of over-valuing minor variation usually resulting from too small a sample an individual can compare the breadth of variation with. In other words, we generally don’t have enough people in our lives to really clearly see that people vary on a grade and that when you have enough people they don’t seem to pool into clear groups of black, brown, yellow, or white. In further words, there are more colors, and there are many intermediate shades. What we end up thinking of as race is very often actually only cultural, what we end up thinking meaningful—food, language influences, religion—are really nothing but the fun diversity of life. So there you have it, there is no such thing as race. This speaks nothing about the many great swaths of people who identify as some particular group or other. This they do despite science and despite knowing better because people are loopy about their desires and personal interests (and preferences and expectations and self-image). I contend that much of this is overblown and we spend far too much of our time—especially when young—entirely too worried about it. And of course being incredibly fickle creatures we often shift our allegiances with our chosen sets of identifiers.
Some time back I was thinking of a game of choosing images that represent us. I thought a limit of five would be fine, and not spend too much time on it but pick favorite images. I also reviewed some of what Maslow had to say about human nature. Once you get past the requirements for staying alive (food and shelter) the rest of it gets more interesting. The social level of the hierarchy is next and includes all those things that seem to make us gregarious animals. We after all need to feel loved, and like we belong to some group or other (this is all that identity stuff I’m riffing on). Then the next level is the part that can really create issues, the ego. Here is where the individual starts demanding recognition and starts garnering prestige—at least when things aren’t going necessarily very well. Many of us desire a kind of power, and I’d go so far as to add trust. We want our voices to carry portent. Many folks just assume they do, and this always amuses me. So many folks, especially since, the advent of the internet and the ability to reach so many without much more effort than making a free website (like this one you’re reading).
At the very top of the hierarchy is a kind of unexpected thing. It entirely makes sense to me as I desperately feel like the world is flying by me when I don’t partake. This need is one sometimes referred to as self-actualization and it is manifested as a desire for intellectual growth, development, and creativity. People actually need to work and feel accomplishment, even when it seems so many do nothing but watch others do things through the variety of media sources as well as other forms of entertainment, like sports, or concerts.
The five images I tacked to my wall were as follows: 1. representing my martial interests, and the moment of violent decision taken in the famous Kurosawa film Seven Samurai, this is a photo of the lead samurai Kambei played by the terrific Takashi Shimura charging the villagers with his sword. They were rebelling and this moment brought them back into line to defend their village. Their fear is understandable, the bandits are well armed, and strong, and they are not trained, and have a low chance for success. Kambei loses his temper just this once, and it is enough to impress the rebels. I often wonder if I have this capacity. When people walk away from my enterprises I rarely consider force as an option. Of course, I’m rarely in a position of life and death either. 2. Sonny Sharrock playing a big jazz-box of a guitar. Sharrock died quite a long while back and is probably best known for his blistering lead work on the Space Ghost Coast to Coast theme, but he was a jaw-droppingly innovative and creative musician who had developed a way to make the guitar behave like a saxophone, which is an instrument he meant to play, but ended up playing guitar. I read that at one point after having played with the likes of Miles Davis and a variety of other impressive stars of jazz he was working as a chauffeur for children at a private school. He’d stopped doing music and became this rather shoe-shine level laborer. It wasn’t until a musical friend of his realized where he was that he was revived and put back where he belonged. Blowing people’s minds with his incredible guitar work. I dreamed about him one time. In the dream he had me working on a harpsichord (an instrument I’ve never touched nor been interested in) because, he said, it would help me develop my knowledge. I also love his story because of the hope that is contained in great skill. He could have gone to waste, but his powers helped raise him out of the morass. 3. It is just a photo of Monty Python (‘s Flying Circus) in their heyday. They are young and accomplished, doctors and lawyers among them, but beyond that shockingly hilarious writers and performers who worshiped the Goons (the comedy troop including Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan, and Harry Secombe) before them. It’s one of those fantastic things. I found them entirely accidentally as a grade school kid. We couldn’t receive much PBS where we lived, and so I only saw them when I rode my bike up to a friend’s house (Sean Harrington) who shared a love of guitars, and whose folks made beautiful pottery on a lovely property that I wish I had. He also had two gorgeous older sisters that I worshiped. We’d make crazy masks in the pottery studio and watch Monty Python. I still recall the very first skit I saw involving sheep nesting in trees and trying to fly. I also adored their seventh unofficial Python member Carol Cleveland who was not above showing a bit of leg and being saucy in various skits. The show was absurdist and I realized that that was my idea of humor. I have no idea to this day why that kind of humor resonates with me and absolutely not puns and slapstick, but it is the case. Taste is a function of familiarity and desire, I believe, and so I wanted to be more like Cleese, Chapman, Idle, Palin, Jones, and Gilliam (the American) much more than I wanted to be like the Three Stooges for example. Soon I’d find out about Monty Python and the Holy Grail. A film I’d desperately try to memorize whenever it occurred on Public Broadcasting. It’d always be very late, and very hard for me to dial in on our shitty black and white box I’d perch on my knees to hold onto the loop. These days, of course, I have at least two copies of it, but I have not forgotten the grail-like quality of that movie. 4. So many of these photos are from movies. And this next one is no exception. It is a behind the scenes still from the old Creature From the Black Lagoon movie. And while there are dozens of possible shots of Julie Adam’s lovely legs swimming with the monster, my picture is of the monster and a stand-in in a passionate embrace, actually kissing. This is of course a statement of nothing but sweet sexuality and little more. You don’t need to know. I fear too often we leave sexuality behind as something that we cannot handle. We’d rather not know that we are wired for sexuality and that it is one of Maslow’s needs. It’s just not stipulated as such. Sex is necessary and beautiful and clumsy, and sometimes quite awkward, but I won’t have it lied about, or debased. Without it you’re likely to be insane. 5. Henry Miller smoking at his desk. Already an old fellow, and having lived a life of mostly unrecognized poverty, I love Miller. I don’t always love his outlook or his stories. I am sometimes left surprised at how low he paints himself. But as time has gone by my love for him his blossomed. Originally I considered him unreliable and uninteresting, but I was a silly kid. It took becoming a grown man to realize his genius of tell all narrative. Also, and this cannot be overstated. He’s a senior to almost everyone we loved in the twentieth century. He’d out-Kerouac’d old Jack long before Jack was able to tie his shoes. The beatnics were kids to him. He was more than a generation older than Burroughs for crying out loud. He walked the world’s major cities and forced himself at the tables of so many people, he even traveled to NC and spoke admiringly of the underclassed blacks here. He wasn’t always benign and delightful, but his fearlessness and devotion to the writing arts is still inspiring. He even speaks of driving around Narragansett, Rhode Island and playing with ladies he found there, while my grandparents were nursing at their mothers’ teats. It’s a considerable body of descriptive work, most of it autobiographical and much of it having been banned at some point or other for being ferociously open about sex.
So that’s it my five images of what I hope to Identify with, and not a scientist among them. I suppose I see science as an occupation, and don’t think of it as a hero’s landing place. Certainly there have been stunning examples of incredible scientists who have changed the world from Darwin to Fleming to Borlaug and educators and popularizers from Einstein to Sagan and beyond. But frankly they don’t stimulate me the way the artists do. I respect Snodgrass’s work on the morphology and physiology of the insects. I respect efforts of hard working scientists, but I think of them as mechanics. I’m a mechanic too. Doctors especially are mechanics. And maybe if I allowed ten photos I’d have a few mechanics in there. Academics like artists of all sorts from visual to musical to martial are often boxes of broken cookies emotionally. And maybe I unfairly impugn their personalities unfairly as they should know better. Their grasping for the self-esteem of Maslow’s hierarchy seems worsened by them even knowing who Maslow was. I don’t forgive them their clamoring for the stage.
In the end identity seems a bit superfluous and is obviously not something you can just declare. You are what you do. No despot famous for the murder of his citizens can claim to be a peacenik and no draft-dodger a fearless hero under fire. Just work, just do, and eventually you’ll forget all about your all important identity.

Getting Lost, Old Loves, More Death, Keeping Doors Open

Years ago, a lovely friend of mine who later married my best buddy Joey, and is sadly no longer with us, dropped me off after a cute date holding hands in a dark Audubon park, and promptly got herself horribly lost on the non-street lights, narrow, labyrinthine country roads of Greene, Rhode Island. Today problem solved with online GPS, or even a quick call to her friends. But in those days the lovely damsel was utterly frustrated with a dwindling supply of fuel and no clue as to which direction to take as she meandered around pitch-black, forested scenery, littered with deer. What was not lost on her was her affection for this scene in virtually every horror film, and she was becoming more and more certain that she was about to be captured and fed to a Cthulhu-inspired creature deep in the forest, her spiky punk hairdo, her pixie boots and all—gulp! She escaped such fate and as luck would have it got back on course by herself, what remarkable self-reliance! I’m not sure we enough celebrated her happy capabilities of grit and determination in the face of such overwhelmingly unlikely odds. Though Rhode Island is a rather small state, you’d be surprised by the long stretches of uninhabited midnight wilderness.

I made her tell me that story a few times, and laughed a lot, which angered her not a little bit, but not as much as when I doubted her story about some friend of a friend who got a spider in her ear. That one really pissed her off. Ellen, as this was her name, was dearly terrified of spiders–like many folks–and they were something of a devoted focus of her existence. I enjoyed her stories of lacing up combat boots and outfitting in ski pants just to venture into her basement in case of some flimsy spiders which she imagined rubbing their little tarsi in anticipation of jumping on her. Of course, as a goofball young man, I took great amusement in buying little plastic toy spiders and decorating her place with them.
In those days I was desperately trying to get my paws on her, and while she never directly turned me down and enjoyed basking in my affection for her, it never culminated in anything resembling actual sexy girl and boy play. Still the hopes I had always kept me coming back as she fueled a lot of fantasies, with her beauty, she had nearly golden eyes, and enthusiasm for much of the same entertainment I enjoyed, including Clive Barker stories, and Evil Dead and Hellraiser films.

In stories I wrote for her, she was sometimes heroine but more often damsel-in-distress. She’d sometimes give me a call after receiving a new installment to chat with me about various details, clarifications, and sometimes, I think, just to get me to say certain things I’d written.
As chances would have it, she died before all of us louts. It still shocks me to think about it, as I’d been talking with her on my crappy phone. She was a night person, and I am often sound asleep by nine, and at some point I didn’t pick up the phone. We always think there will be more opportunities. We can’t fix it. Her health was deteriorating rapidly and she wasn’t helping it with her general recreational habits. Her favorite was Robert Smith of The Cure, and I spun some old Cure for her in memoriam recently. Whenever I see Bruce Campbell doing his Ash character in newly created Evil Dead spin offs I think of Ellen.

I was chatting with my Dad recently and he told me a story about having dinner with some old friends, one of them a fellow he had not seen in thirty years. Those sorts of numbers used to seem so weird, but now that I’m in my fifties thirty years can float off your shoulders like brushed snow. Granted that was a lifetime ago, and I would barely recognize that version of myself, and would probably never be able to befriend him, but the point is if I get to live as long as my Old Man, maybe I’ll think the same of myself now. His old friend Rick had sad news for my Pop in that his darling of a wife called Sue had passed away a few years ago. My memories of her were vague but delightful. She was very pretty, and very funny, full of smiles and freckles and sweetness that my family generally never expressed.

Sue had, however, orchestrated a girlfriend for me when I was just fifteen and incapable of much in the realm of social behaviors. I was as polite as I could be with the lass, of whom, I was uninterested in. I was surrounded by fifteen year olds at school all day, and so I longed for anything but. Her name is long gone as well as her face, but I do remember she was remarkably tireless and tried very hard to befriend me. I left the house.
I went wandering on those dark twisty country roads that would so unnerve Ellen years later, but provided me my relief and calm. Sometimes on such walks you could see massive owls perched in old oaks overhead. You could also see possums and skunks and foxes and deer, of course. Houses were spread out in those days, things have changed some in my folks neighborhood in that development generally always follows, chopping into the land (all of it formerly farmland anyway, even areas now nature preserves). In this area, there are also endless family graveyards with state plaques on them designating their historicity. I still have dreams sometimes about these places, firmed up with huge retaining stones, but eventually those slipping out of place and the graves unkempt and worn away. More fodder for imaginations as good as Ellen’s and mine. I walked and walked and had nothing but time to kill. A tiny brook meanders through the forest in back of the properties, and under the road and then up into the Audubon lands across from the Gowdy residence. Back then old Hank was still active, he’d have his dojo in his basement and he was famously teaching jiu-jitsu to a cadre of weird folks who found him. I also did jiu-jitsu, but closer to town, and my teacher and old Hank did not see eye to eye. One time a pair of friends of mine got into a tussle. It was a moving dirge of a fight, things were thrown, bodies were hit and kicked and bled and sweat on, but we kept walking. The two young men never ceased beating on one another and it never came to a point where one would capitulate. My brother and I, also capable of such fights, though I was much bigger, watched the boys, thoroughly entertained by them. Hank Gowdy drove up and rolling down his window he flashed a badge at us. He sternly told us if we were interested in fighting we should come to his school. I was bewildered but knew who he was and called him sensei, the now very well known Japanese term for teacher. At the time though it was like secret code. Gowdy’s heavyset face seemed jarred. He was a massive fellow, and had fought in WWII. It was the only time I’d ever have contact with him. Somehow my calling him sensei eased his mind, and he may have said a few more things, but he drove off in an El Camino. I passed his old place a house I wish I had now. I think we had misunderstood his approach, I think he honestly wanted us to be his students. He wanted to teach us the arts. But we already had contact with his contemporaries who had directed us away from him. I wish I’d have gone to his place now. I always wonder about these biases we get from people we eventually find are based on personal chafing. My teacher in town eventually would disappoint me as well. He would insult my father, who basically built the damned dojo we used with his own hands and money.

And it becomes important. People quickly forget the passionate gifts, the devotion and help. They like to think they did everything by themselves. It’s even in the Tao Te Ching that you’re supposed to let people imagine they did things themselves. Lao Tzu saw that as the greatest of leaders. I’m still struggling with that totality. There comes a time, in my experience, when people, much like children, need to be reminded that they are not as clever nor as self-reliant as they imagine.

After a long uneventful walk I came home to find that the party was still going (my folks so rarely entertained that I didn’t really know what to do) so I crept into a car and fell asleep. I heard later that I’d really disappointed, not the young lady who had been brought to become my friend, but Sue. Sorry Sue. I was a dope. Sorry to everyone, I’m often still a dope. Sorry for not picking up the phone. Sorry for not visiting with Hank. You see we close these doors ourselves too. We build our own fences and walls and then we cry about not being able to escape them. And time is running out.

Yevtushenko, The Bible, Death, Sex, Poetry

I hadn’t realized that Yvgenny Yevtushenko was dead. I’d been carrying around Bratsk Station in my bag and my car, my pocket, for years. Kind of meaning to read it, but instead dipping into it over lunches and other idle times when I could, almost randomly. It kept making me feel like I needed to journey and to document and to write, and of course, to have a lady on my . . . shoulder, but my expectations are multitudinous and eventually drive away the ladies with various disappointments.

It was over wasn’t it? Wasn’t it? All really in need of moving on from. Despite my skepticism of our modern concepts of “closure” and self “forgiveness”. Everyone nods and everyone has the same smile they have when they find out you’re in the hospital, having your heart adjusted with electricity. Hope that works out for you, is the look, hope that all works out for you.
As a child I didn’t read the Bible, nor had anyone implored me to do so. My family was fine with a God but Mom and Dad weren’t interested in anything organized. At some point, in Pennsylvania someone gave me a massive illustrated Bible that I thought was beautiful, but Mother’s look of consternation and her tight-lipped “Who’s that from?” was not lost on me. I tried to read it, but found the language impenetrable—necessarily so according to Pasteur—but as a youth I soon tired of attempting to make sense of it. And as a teen knew that there was no such thing as gods. This despite my mother’s terrifying insistence that a disembodied head floated about her bedroom. It occurred to me that Mom did a lot of drinking. So I became a skeptic early in self defense and had no use for fantasy until much later in life. A devoutly pragmatic youth always, I read nature books and Audubon guides as well as war memoirs. Later on though, it became distressingly clear that our lives and our arts are dedicated to the ancients. Reading Herodotus, Homer, and the Bible were dramatic steps in increasing knowledge of where our hopes and dreams and expectations are taking us, and the cyclical nature of our short-wired lives. Philippians chapter 2 verse 5 is a sweet, very Buddhist statement about removing yourself from the purpose of your actions and keeping others ahead of your interests. Reading the Bible is a big help, just not from a devotional perspective. Parts can be read as novels, other parts as attempts at history, just as other ancient texts lay foundations of culture.
America, though, we largely discarded the Buddhism of the world. The very central theme to open market is that if everyone is as selfish as possible then the system should carry on with the best and the most cost-effective (cost-effective: consider it) winning the game out of a kind of wholesale disregard for environment, neighborliness, or love. We are an active and proud refutation of the concerns of community. Our religious folk are arrogant warriors with their feet firmly planted on the ground they anticipate dying to defend, they spoil for fights, and they find fights. Modern Christians have forgotten that their dead are awaiting the Second Coming and instead all their spirits are already somehow in Heaven (also not a biblical idea). It matters not, the religion caters to the desires of the masses and continues to fight equality and progressive solutions. Religious businessmen put Bible quotes on their cards and use the congregation as a captured market. In America, arguments rage about whether or not Jesus rejected riches and rich people. Rich people build their own churches and commission pious artworks that include their likenesses to be arranged in the church as a “gift”. Insane politicians have paintings made in which they, with heretical aplomb, are pictured hanging-out with the lord. I always laughed. I thought our best and our brightest would always prevail.
A year before Yevtushenko passed Jim Harrison did, just weeks after he appeared on a popular food centered television show. He seemed tired and possibly beat. I loved seeing him just the same, but mourned his passing, rushing from bookstore to bookstore collecting his works that spring, and reading much of them in the ensuing months as I worked on a comic novella.
My lady tried to maintain her good cheer. She tried to celebrate the highlights with me. But her patience with poverty wore thin (I could not help her buy a house and then it became clear I would not be wanted in her house). The last straw was when I walked away from a supermarket job that sapped my strength and my dignity. I didn’t get fired, but had a minor tiff with a customer. A chubby East Asian lady who didn’t understand it was my first shift, and that I was left there basically unaided. I couldn’t see what she pointed at and she seemed to think I was deliberately playing dumb to avoid selling something to her. It didn’t help that it was hard to communicate, and it didn’t help that I was only seven hours into the actual job (the rest of it had been online training, and book knowledge).
The lady had been campaigning for her sister in the south. I joined her for a day of campaigning as well. We lost. Our presidential candidate lost. The nation was plunged into a darkness of jerkishness. I tried hard to soften the blow. The accusations of the winning candidate were that the election was rigged if he lost. It soon went the other way, the rigging it now seemed clear existed but it existed to favor the lunatic who made the claim.
Depression, sleeplessness, paranoia, an afib heart . . . later. And I was caught with another woman, having a wonderful time. Pleasure had been well outlawed, and that sort has always been the reality and the bane.
It occurs to us all that the interest and reality of the world is in those items we seek to confuse ourselves with as wrong. Certainly killing is wrong, but killing is every one of our most popular stories. Tolstoy kills Anna. Dostoevsky makes us love our killer Raskolnikov. Why do our lovers own our pleasure? And when they no longer want to make love what are we to do? What advice is there that is actually useful? None. Love and death are the central problems of our lives and it is clear we haven’t a goddamned thing for them. Those frozen “good luck with that” smiles.
The new president has many affairs. His affairs, covered on television, garner tremendous ratings. The people apparently adore his philandering. Even the right-wing religious seem nothing but titillated by his extra marital dalliances. Twenty years ago they were rabidly pursuing and succeeded in impeachment of the president. This time however, we hear that he represents Sampson from the Old Testament.
I don’t care if people have affairs. I feel like it’s really none of our business. But this president is accused of threatening the ladies to maintain their silence, and then plying them with piles of money, like some kind of thug from a bad noir film. It seems utterly without sense. How is it this wealthy playboy, responsible for nothing in his life, answering to no one, ignorant of all human endeavor and accomplishment is somehow the champion of so many?
In Bratsk Station Yevtushenko rambles delightfully around. Poetry it seems to me is the ultimate manner in which to continually interrupt yourself. It is one of the finer ways to represent the mental ministrations of thought and sensory stimulation. It was 1967, the prelude to a dramatically difficult year for the world. Upheaval in America was outrageous, race riots, assassinations, a public irretrievably divided on a longstanding war in a foreign country that had delved into unthinkable atrocities, and a president who loved nothing as much as law and order, who would even declare members of The Beatles public enemies.
Mom would yell, Nixon is a stinker. Nixon is a liar. We have that right, she once pointed out. We have the right to say these things. Though that’s about it. It amuses me that so many despots worry about the opinions of their subjects, as if saying “despot” means the situation immediately becomes dangerous for a despot somehow. Largely we do nothing. Nixon said that things aren’t illegal when the president does them. The current president buffoon hasn’t said that yet. Maybe he doesn’t need to since the precedent has been set.
Knowing that so many wonderfully brilliant people are gone eases the impending death of the rest of us I think. If even David Bowie has to pass away, if even Carl Sagan, if even the gloriously beautiful airline attendant dies in the crash . . . well, I guess it’s OK then, it really is a kind of leveling there, death cares not about us. It ignores our beauty our accomplishments and our intelligence. It is shocking that way. Of course, birth ignores all that too, but we aren’t known at birth. We have no consciousness. No ability to create our religious to save our souls. I’ve been immediately delving into internet tools to find deaths. Doug Kenney, Stephen J. Gould, Yevtushenko and Jim Harrison, are no longer with us, of course. Sex and death being those free things we have so little control over. I’ve put aside the Alice Munroe I was reading, I wasn’t ready for more suicides. I’ll tip my hat to her skills, but move on from the mediocrity of the inevitable end.
The poem seems to me the best means of constantly interrupting ourselves.

A Quick Argument for Simpler Language

OK here is just some complaining about people and their spelling authoritarianism. The English language is full of spelling nonsense. Language in general is full of nonsense anyway because no one regulates the creation and use of language. Language is much like life in that it has its own somewhat random evolution, and of course, like life is loaded with the ebb and flow of invasion and emigration of various words. This in itself is a vast and fascinating study. Take for example all the romance language words in English ending in “-tion”. Find yourself a Spanish speaking friend and throw at them every word with that “shun” ending you can and watch them match with the Spanish version which will end in “-ción” (fabrication/fabricatión, bastardization/bastardización, etc) in fact we have many thousands of shared words originating not from the storm swamped armada but from the shared Latin origins of so many influential (influyete) languages.
So it’s rather silly to get too serious about how we speak and how we spell. Yes it’s good to maintain the formal aspects in our age of text-speak, but there are some problems that should be eliminated. They are the kind of schizophrenia that we all fumble with from time to time. Why we continue to do so is a matter of interesting study.
There, they’re, their. Your, you’re, yore. Where, we’re, wear. To, too, two. These are possibly the most commonly fouled spellings in English, and frankly they are entirely unnecessary. We could wholly survive perfectly happily without maintaining these variations. How you say? How can we have single words that mean various things? How will we know which ones we intend? Well my friends anyone asking this question has not noticed that in English not just some but most words do double, triple or even more duty and the spellings remain unchanged. For a quick example consider the word “sign”. First of all it has a ridiculous “g” inserted in there and quite possibly only for regional representation reasons (as in fact, that is why we are stuck with many awkwardly spelled words according to The Story of English). Sign means a construct hung up with information to be read off it. Sign can also mean something people do with their hands to signal one another. Sign is also an action of putting your name on a form. Or try a term like “plug”. It can mean anything that fills a hole, or a chunk of tobacco, or a piece of advertising, or a thing on the end of a cord to stick in an outlet. And on it goes. Basically any word plugged into your dictionary app on your phone will provide endless examples. An argument could be made for all these various meanings to also have unique spellings. The same way Carl Sagan pointed out years ago that an argument could be made to save every egg a woman produces, let alone all the sperm a man does in terms of being pro-life. Maybe we should keep that quiet. Years ago a silly graduate student I shared an office with, for no reason I can imagine, attempted to argue that all these difficulties with spelling were actually meaningful. This fellow, we’ll call him Burt suffered from that mental difficulty of revering authority. This type of disease imagines much reason where none really exists. We maintain the spellings because at this point it’s reasonably easier than the war that would ensue with the purposeful simplification. And for those who would argue that it’s Orwellian to destroy language I’d say firstly that it’s bullshit to think he’d defend the wackiness, as after all there’s no good reason to maintain confusion when a means of accomplishing clarity is so obvious. And secondly there’s nothing beautiful about the frequency of ugly incorrect apostrophes.
In the end, just to have some fun, I’d like to return to the famous English language trick that is GHOTI. Yes Ghoti! If you know this little joke, then you’re all set, move on. But for those of you who haven’t heard about Ghoti here is the punch line. You pronounce Ghoti as fish. Yes it’s spelled “Goat-ee” but we are using the sounds of the letters in their use from particular terms. We’ll take the GH from the word touGH. Which produces a nice F. Then we’ll use the O from the second syllable of the word London. Which sounds just like an “i”. Finally we’ll take the TI from any of those terms we talked about earlier that end in -tion and are pronounced as “Shun”. And there you have it. Fish.
English, to native speakers, is rarely properly used, despite the fact that as our native tongue it ends up seeming utterly sensible even though it clearly isn’t upon just a little bit of study. It only seems so reasonable because we have a lifetime of familiarity with it. The truth is it’s as buggy stupid as any dumb ant colony or the weird mess that is our DNA. These things are functional, but not efficient or intelligently designed. So get over the reverence, language is effective because we can be creative with it. Not because it’s some infallible gift from gods.
I said “Good day, sir!”
Incidentally, there are people who create languages. Esperanto is supposed to be miraculously easier than English and I’ve read that William Shatner is a speaker. Still, more people bothered to learn Klingon (another invented language), but there are many more and some of them are remarkably fascinating as are the people who created them. There is even one created out of the seven notes of the major scale called Solresol. The language was meant to be sung. Tolkien produced a few for his elaborate Lord of the Rings universe. There is even a language called Laadan that was created to better enable women to express their feelings! Enjoy!

The Essentials of the Sport of Argument

What follows is a short 11 point handbook to the popular sport of argument. Always remember that the point of any argument is that you win (conditions may vary), not some highfalutin nonsense about learning or sharing of information or whatever silliness some philosophy quack has proposed. Seriously if your argument does not last for days and engender about two hundred text messages it’s been a waste! This is emotional mining right here, you can get a soap opera’s worth of feels out of this! So Enjoy!

1. Holy shit always have a come back! You must never let a statement stand. Response is the essence of argument. You will respond, respond fast, and respond with confidence.

2. Goddamned do your best to reduce your opponent’s argument to something pithy that can easily be trounced. If an opponent has written a lengthy breakdown with bullet points of any argument be sure to focus all your attention on the element easiest to argue with. Reductio ad absurdum is the fancy-ass academic term for this method– if it has Latin you know it’s good. For example if your opponent has listed many reasons he’s upset with Trump and one of the items is that the president tweets too much, ignore all the points but the tweets and reply: “So you don’t like Twitter, is that the president’s fault?”

3. If your opponent ropes in citations and authorities you are not familiar with, do not panic,

Google that shit immediately!

Wikipedia is your friend. When you’re on Wikipedia you’ll find that those authorities have critics you can immediately set up as your counter authorities! Don’t waste too much time actually understanding who those people are, speed is of the essence (see number 1)!

4. One of the first things you have to do is define terms. This very amusing aspect of any argument can become the whole argument itself if you work at it. Language after all is very tricky, and there are multiple meanings to most of our words. Further, there are many variable dictionaries. So why agree? Enjoy!

5. You must never allow someone to convince you of anything. Even if their argument actually did fucking convince you, what are you some kind of weak-spined, simpering little Morrissey? Are you gonna cry now? Later, if you still like their argument (don’t worry we won’t tell) you can just pretend you discovered the points on your own. It’s much more macho and real to find your own intellectual positions.

6. College educated fops like that Neil deGrasse Tyson guy or that Richard Dawkins guy are not to be trusted. Those institutions that they kow-towed to are mind-warping, soul-stealing, money-grubbing cults for elitists to worship at. What the hell is a PhD anyway? Seriously we are all just as good as that! Marginalize all learning. There are actually no authorities.

7. When all else fails, Ad Hominem attack is key. Go straight for the personal. Does your opponent mow his grass in a regular fashion that suits you? If not, there’s a great place to go! I’d expect that coming form a guy who can’t even keep his lawn cut properly! Give him the eye.

8. While we’re at it remember that anything goes in a proper sport argument. There’s no such thing as a non sequitur.

The phrase “and another thing . . .” should be used liberally, and totally unconnected thoughts that annoy you should be roped in.

When your opponent accuses you of straying from the topic you can then say he just did as well! Boom! (By the way “Boom” is a very useful punctuation of confidence, my gift to you).

9. If you’re not spitting angry your argument is weaker. You have to be enraged that anyone would question your authority on the position as if you are everyone’s daddy. After all, don’t you feel like the world is full of children and you are the only responsible adult? Be sure to become red-faced and perhaps threaten beatings where appropriate (hint: always appropriate). Nothing convinces an opponent of the seriousness of your argument like violence. That’s why so many dissidents are shot after all. A bullet is a hell of an argument (Note: Not recommending you shoot anyone.).

10. You can’t use enough dripping sarcasm or mockery. When building your strawmen (much easier to attack than the real thing) be sure to equip them with silly hats and useless weapons (strawmen represent your actual opponents so be sure to give them very silly accouterments indeed). Rephrase everything your opponent says in a kind of obvious hilarity, dressing up the phrases in clown shoes and circus music. This is the equivalent of saying something in a silly voice. If this wasn’t effective would every child on the planet use it?

11. A great redirect and means of undermining your opponent’s position is spelling errors or mistakes in pronunciation. No serious sport arguer can allow a poor spelling to slide, nor a mispronounced ancient writer. Point these out with great aplomb and mirth.

Remember English is the only language in the world and whatever it is you grew up hearing is absolutely correct.

Correctness is mainly a matter of familiarity after all.

There are, of course, more great tactics of sport argument but these essentials will take you far and wide into the rewarding pleasures of pointless and endless exchanges. Some may argue that I really don’t need to tell people how to do this as it’s what they do naturally, to this I say Shut Up.

Women Have Nice Shapes, and What An Interesting Civil War Landmark

I have friends who I care about deeply who often feel obliged to lecture me from positions of pedantry about sexism and racism. I ask them point blank, do you think I’m racist? Do you think I’m sexist? No, they say, you’re not. So why all the censure? Do I have the kind of face that invites correction?
One of these friends is a lady and I admit I am sexist in that I tolerate the lecturing from her, a lot more so than I do from my male friend who seems to enjoy practicing his liberal schpiel on me. I’m also a liberal, by the way, have always been ever since I learned my humanism from Vonnegut and saw that as human beings what we seem to be best at as a group is throwing our used tires into rivers.
My brother for a short while started calling himself libertarian and wanted to know why I expected basically anything from the country. That’s not what it’s for, he’d say when I would list education and support for science and possible help for exorbitant health care prices. I’d then ask what the nation is for if it’s not to help out the citizens who have agreed to create and support it. After some lengthy and repetitive debate during which I sent him Ron Paul suggesting that family should be taking care of medical bill assistance (got some money for me to see a dentist, brother?), Dr. No followed this by saying he often worked pro-bono. Which when you think about it rather proves the point. I haven’t heard much about libertarianism since he had his daughters. Things have changed. His daughters are in public school.
My friends suffer from a disease. The disease is authoritarianism. Some folks can’t help it, they just need to stand on you and declare correctness. They would be astounded by my saying this, but it’s really the most efficient way to put it. I am possibly their most trusted and loyal non-family friendship, which in many cases is much stronger than family relationships. Hell, spouses can argue to death and never make the slightest bit of impact on one another’s outlooks. I suspect that my role in this case is one of practice argument partner (since actual argument partner, the spouse, is either uninterested or unflappable). When I was married my wife used me for this all the time, and of course, I hated it. My ex-wife, we’ll call her Trixie, loved crime shows. She’d sit on the sofa and soak in the miserable entertainment form many Americans find so compelling—rape and murder, sometimes combined. The show would go to commercial after a particularly well-arranged stress moment with the guest star (just like on Columbo always the villain) and focus her gaze of intent on me. Within a few seconds my cheery evening of spooning macaroni into my maw would be set ablaze with accusations of feral evil. I was just like that fictional evil doer that was “ripped from the headlines”. I drove a van and had a beard and my attitude about women was fairly carefree and loaded with hopeful sexiness. Well, I wasn’t exactly running a dungeon or a brothel or anything, but, what exactly had I done other than join her on the sofa with a meal I’d prepared? I was her practice dummy. Most of Trixie’s day was wrapped up in cataloging stupid things other people do. She didn’t always have a load of good examples, though sometimes the few she had were pretty good. Some nanny she met had told her a story of a mom who didn’t believe children should be disciplined and the stories about these kids were phenomenally disturbing. Other times the stories weren’t so funny, the family she was working for expected her to arrange a party for them and the various details of this shenanigan were the stuff of oblivious rich folks taking advantage of the poor—heck there were actual comedy shows that were less well arranged. These law and violence things are ever ridiculously looking for the next wild hook, I mean we’ve seen the blood and guts. We’ve seen the shooters and killers. We’ve seen the drugs, and sex orgies, etc. So pretty soon they’re bringing in giant snakes, packs of wild dogs, and implied aliens. Well when the thing turns into an eighties era horror movie I treat it as such and begin riffing and laughing. Damsels in distress with beasts carrying them off into the night is a whole separate kind of entertainment from what I consider cop shows. At the next commercial break I get an earful of how I’m a misogynist and am accused of being what’s-wrong-with-the-world. The plague of my inability to really enjoy wallowing in the prurient and plainly asinine depredations of television entertainment eventually attributed to me getting a divorce.
There are times I correct people, especially in this age of Trump and some of the most jaw-droppingly weird news stories coming out of the political spectrum we’ve ever seen. People just stating things we know to be obviously untrue, but adding the phrase “believe me” to it with an emphatic hand gesture. My major advisor used to correct me quite a lot, but it was sort of his job. It was also due to the fact that he seemed incapable of understanding sarcasm, though, he was often snickering at the joke when he went through the rigor of explaining why I was wrong. Oh dear, he often exclaimed in a high pitched sort of jittery giggle before explaining the meaning of some term I’d purposely misconstrued Archie Bunker-like. He had an impressive collection of specialty dictionaries (he was especially fond of a 1937 Torre-Bueno Glossary of Entomology) that often came out at these times (after two years of working with him I got my own copy, almost accidentally, and began bringing it out whenever I could). Half of being an academic is having the right collection of serious books, the other half is properly using them.
In the end, I don’t mind being given information. You can’t be an know-it-all and be a serious academic. Only laypeople think they know everything. Only dolts like Rush Limbaugh and professional wrestler “heels” imagine that it’s possible to be thoroughly knowledgeable in all realms. Actually educated folks have an idea about how much information is actually out there and are honest enough to realize that no one could grasp it all. Philosophically only scientists actually understand what it actually takes to know something. Hint: it ain’t so because someone told you or because you read a book (though I usually like to encourage the reader). That aside, however, most of the correcting I get from my beloved friends is of the sort that is really just social superiority, or more authoritariansim, masking only the fact that they’ve adopted some interests as theirs and want very much to practice showing you how much they know and why behaving as they say to do makes you a better human being. It’s fine really we’re all guilty of this to some degree. In fact, I just held off doing it to my mother who was talking about having saved some antibiotics just in case she gets another chest infection (sigh), there’s really not much that can be done to persuade her that hanging onto the tidbits of these prescriptions and trying to use them later like aspirin is actually part of a growing problem of drug resistance, so I don’t. It wouldn’t go over well.
Honestly I think the correcting is a kind of sign of hopelessness and that eventually leads to depression. Correcting (especially with people who are on your team) is a kind of safe way to be hopeful. It isn’t actual demonstration or protest. Or if it is, it’s merely the laziest form. A protest launched at someone perfectly safe who actually agrees with you is possibly the baby-steps of maybe doing something more extraordinary later. If you admire Pussy Riot but don’t really want to spend time in jail for insulting the clergy by playing a rock show in their church or something, well, find your friend who sometimes baldly says things like, women have nice shapes, or has an embarrassing interest in Civil War landmarks, and unbox your weapons of social justice.

Wealth and Misery – the Feudal Lords Need Your Dollars

Recent CNN reporting (Jan 22, 2018) from Oxfam international posits that better than eight of every ten dollars produced last year went to the wealthiest one percent. One of the not startling conclusions of the reportage is that wealth is rewarded over labor. Not startling because I’m certain, cynically so it is true, that this is really how things have always been despite efforts to the contrary. Both capitalism and communism were devised as answers to feudal style wealth hording which ultimately left the heads of aristocratic European families with the most world power. Things never really changed very much and those same groups of people who fought so hard to build the world economies that made them prosper and employed the rest of us are largely still those people who inherited the wealth (which is equivalent to power). The pessimist in me wants to argue that we shouldn’t expect anything different, but the idealist in me points to mission statements of our national identity which remarkably have always been about achievement of a life worth living, something we regularly call middle class, once again despite our classless society. While the communists sought to guarantee this level of existence for all and ended up with another sort of feudalism, we in the west aspired to a limitless projection of dreamy expectation of personal wealth. Of course, for the vast majority no such limitless climb up any particular reward ladder actually presents itself and we mostly muddle around fantasizing about lottery winnings and chewing our nails through each bill cycle while hoping no one gets sick.
Henry Miller put it another way in his famous book The Air-conditioned Nightmare: “. . . Actually we are a vulgar, pushing mob whose passions are easily mobilized by demagogues, newspaper men, religious quacks, agitators and such like. To call this a society of free peoples is blasphemous. What have we to offer the world beside the superabundant loot which we recklessly plunder from the earth under the maniacal delusion that this insane activity represents progress and enlightenment?” That was 1945 and Miller was on one of his cross-country jaunts that seemed to presage Kerouac who had much less concrete to say about the actual workings of the arts and social sciences.
These days most of my friends are waving flags of identity variously confident of their moral bulwark. There are those pulling down the various southern memorials to the Confederacy which I had naively thought of as tributes to the folly of war and the pointless death of naive youth, widely and with that energy so common in the young, trundled off to die for causes they at best barely understood. As most wars are fought by participants acting on a pride that rarely has anything to do with the statecraft manipulating it. I was a fool, it turns out, because most of these monuments (all are now suspect) were goading and exploitative efforts to continue an ages old practice of nothing more than reminding an underclass of powerless people that those in power would never relinquish a bit of that power to them. And they indeed haven’t.
I recently completed a small book about a local race inspired killing that happened in a nearby town here in North Carolina, and while it is one of the most depressing books I’ve read outside of Eli Wiesel it deftly brings home the pure useless arrogance and unfettered hate aimed at nothing but a variation in people’s color and culture. Blood Done Sign My Name (Tyson 2004) is a miserable tale without a wisp of hope in it. The hopelessness it conjures is thorough and debilitating. It is nothing short of an account of war every bit as stark and shocking as that of Palestine or Northern Ireland, replete with the religious overtones seemingly necessary to contain the tenacity of violence.
The waters are muddied by the endless special interests. In the end regardless of Patriarchy or some kind of Chumbawamba take-down of Unilever for their “washing-whiter” ad-campaign or some trumped up worry of “lib-tards” creating new pronouns that will be legislated into use . . . the problem is still and always will be those wealthy and powerful lording their desires over the rest of us who are basically helpless due to our lack of funds. And there is nothing more fucking feudal.
Presently my email box is thundering with requests, not for my vote, my attention, or my skill set but instead only for my money. We need to defeat Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, please send a donation. Hours later another request blazing with the kind of graphics usually reserved for porn spam. Pleading with me for money. Every win or loss in our political spectrum is based on the funding that can be drummed up. Indeed every measure of a candidate’s worthiness is estimated in terms of liquid assets. And no one blinks about the fact of wealth equaling political integrity. Our nation votes with its dollars. Doesn’t anyone imagine there should be caps on this kind of spending?
Our citizenry understands perfectly their value rests only in an ability to spend dollars. Measure of buying power is our ability to make change, to have a say, or to form or persuade collective action. In the end we are wallets, not brains, skill sets, working ethics, or correctly aligned moral compasses. We are piles of dollars not just to advertisers looking to sell product, but to our administrators looking to maintain their offices and constituencies. Dollars are not just vital they are the very essence of our existences, they are our souls. We exist as pockets of tiny wealth, joined together in collectives of district wealth or finally estimated wealth by conglomerates selling us our next superhero, boxed cereal, and even, and this is very important, our ideas of personal identity.
There is some truth to this idea of identity that finds us all crushed and powerless, equating to depression (because that’s what depression really is: helplessness) that leaves each of us sensitive to our society dispossessing us despite our years of effort-filled devotion, suffering, and need (and despite our sex, gender, race, creed, or special interests). It is clear that many folks have felt the hammer of this dispossession much more clearly and more criminally than others, but this does not stop us feeling the maddening alienation in a universal form. There is no scale of wrong that should be tolerated by an individual and so every individual feels it and looks for an enemy to unleash blame and hatred on. And we’re back to some kind of lynching, shooting, or public humiliation. There are no innocent parties. A rallying cry wants a villain. And villains we have aplenty.
Just when you reach the end of a cycle of disturbing news that brings to mind childish workmates mouthing hate about MLK day, or popular conspiracy lunacy that incorporates a heightened trust in a false-positive of big government using secret techniques and powers to manage our ability to unite and make changes or hell even learn something . . ., there are lizard people, the Illuminati, Alex Jones . . . we’re cycling in this feeling of sickening waste of life, years having been spent for little gain (82 percent of all the world’s wealth went to 1 percent of the world’s people), and those of us trundled off to war for pride, freedom, or glory, who, as James Baldwin once said, suffer and die for a nation that doesn’t care a hoot for those of us who fight for it—and the soul swims in a pudding of misery.
Sure we can rail at various criminals. We can egg the houses of our feudal lords, or make internet videos deriding the worst of our self-important elite louts, but in the end it’s only where our dollars go that makes any point or is anything of a challenge. That system is going nowhere. So spend those dollars wisely they are your only real voice.

Rambling about Love and Familiarity — Music and Appreciation

When I was twenty years old the Repo Man soundtrack became a staple in my listening diet. It was 1985 and I had thoroughly enjoyed the wacky, low budget, semi sci-fi, comic adventure and I’m not going to bother reviewing either item here as I recently heard it discussed on some National Public Radio show and realized that the artistic subversion the film might have had the right to inspire in that decade had long since passed into a forgotten yawn or belch. I will quickly say that there are several solid numbers on the soundtrack, Iggy Pop doing the titular track has never left my psychic playlist with, “I’m looking for the joke with a microscope” as a conspicuous refrain. There’s a terrific cover of an old Johnathan Richman number from when he was a modern lover called “Pablo Picasso” by a band I never learned anything more about called Burning Sensations. They were probably very good. I love the sax. Fear has a track and it’s much what Fear do, sounding like heel pro-wrestlers. The Circle Jerks do a hilarious vamp of a song about welfare and lazy poverty that I had never quite noticed was tinged with fairly heavy Reaganesque conservatism. Somehow it was just funny at the time with lyrics about five pound blocks of government cheese, and unemployment lines all wrapped up with grandpa’s kitsch, “You gotta duck when the shit hits the fan.” It fit the dystopia of the film perfectly. I have always liked the term “dystopia” using it whenever I want to conjure the opposite of utopia. Though I’ve never really bothered to look it up and grok it precisely. I’ll get around to it eventually, or not (some years ago I enjoyed reading that Nobel Prize winning physicist Murray Gell-Mann was sick of looking up the word hermeneutics every time he had to debate creationists) And we won’t even get started about the purported use and meaning of “post-modern”.
Do you love Jonathan Richman? I wasn’t really intending to talk so much about him, but I went through a phase where, for a time, I felt that every sweet thought I’d ever had was better expressed by his nervous, talky lyric delivery which ended up inspiring bands like the Talking Heads (and one of The Modern Lovers ended up in that band). All this to say that I had no idea where Richman came from. I mean he makes it clear he’s from Boston and that was fun, especially when he references things I grew up with like Stop and Shop, but, I had not realized his almost total devotion to all things Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground. All the hipsters shake their heads and roll their eyes at me, sure, but let’s face it, The Sex Pistols did not cover “Sunday Morning” they covered “Road Runner”. And so, my musical journey leaped over Lou Reed. It wasn’t until the late 80s into the 90s that I knew anything about all that dirty NYC street kid life that ended up steeped in the CBGB sounds and possibly entirely accidentally. When I was a kid I mostly loved The Talking Heads and later mostly loved The Ramones while secretly adoring Blondie. Now I’m certain that Blondie was the best thing that came out of that scene, despite my lack of interest in anything post Parallel Lines. So there you go, you can argue all you like, right? This is just a matter of taste. It didn’t hurt that Debbie was a knock-dead, flat-out, no arguments NYC Venus who made my young head spin with every image I saw of her.
So, The Velvet Underground being a decade older, and in an age that pre-dated the internet, I had no idea about anything Lou Reed except that “Take a walk on the wild side” was something I heard him rap on the radio a lot (along with “the colored girls” singing “doot do-do doot”). And I understand, I do, I know that in the midst of so many candy-coated nursery rhymes percolating out of the so-called British Invasion and the garage-rock, psychedelic movement that erupted in that wake, that Reed and company were doing some very gritty street level lyricism mixed with a shocking amount of electric noise (There are only a few songs on that White Light/White Heat album and the piece de la resistance, “Sister Ray”, is seventeen minutes long). You have to wade through a fair amount of forgettable flotsam to get to it, but it is incredible and at least somewhat inept something like a live take gone awry. Especially when taken in context. Later, when The Fall was doing “Repetition” on that cranky organ, I had imagined it revolutionary, but is anything rudimentary really revolutionary? Is a one chord jam really revolutionary? Can a one stringed guitar be revolutionary? It can shock the zeitgeist because we’re so much more refined, etc. But you can’t pretend the baby banging on the pots and pans, or the feed-backing, string scratching guitar are revolutionary, because these things are happening anyway. They are fundamental. Experimental is fundamental, fundamental is experimental and then what is subversive is sincerity and skill, and then the damned pendulum swings back so that what is subversive is back to being the primitive. When I first heard the Ramones my main listening had been progressive rock masters Yes. The garage rock metronomic power of Johnny, Joey, Dee-Dee, and Tommy simply hit the road hard in a cheap compact on worn tires. After the extravaganza of the exquisitely played Yessongs triple disk live LP they were the satisfying fat and sugar of a whopper (definitely with cheese) and a shake. But if you live long enough, you’ll find yourself circling back and around again, the same way we learn to play an instrument or learn a Tang Soo Do form. Each time orbiting the material brings us some more depth and adds to our growth, and with it appreciation of the efforts. One can appreciate recorded wildness and this was well documented long before rock music dared to stray past a twelve-bar blues format, by the likes of Sun Ra and Ornette Coleman. Magnificent noise can reveal a purity of sound appreciation that, like adding seafood to your previously strict diet, allows you to expand your consciousness.

When I was twenty I had a band, and any time we did a little gig (almost always for charity of some sort) we’d hear a contemporary dive into a rendition of “Sister Ray” or “Sweet Jane”. I had no idea what was going on when even Ian Curtis of the famous and defunct and suicided Joy Division did the same on the low-quality live vinyl sides (with hand numbering in ball-point pen) we couldn’t get enough of. I swear that it was a full on decade before I’d actually heard the actual songs on the actual albums by The Velvet Underground. And many more years before I’d bother to own it. Lou Reed gives me fits. Albums are distinctly uneven. Reed even dabbles, much like the Beatles before him, in twenties style oom-pah music (right on Transformer!). I find myself frustrated by Reed far more than even Captain Beefheart. Beefheart attempted to fuse blues rock to free jazz. What he ended up with was brilliant, but also entirely compulsively orchestrated by his brilliant musicians. My issue with Reed is different. I simply don’t understand his frames of reference for anything but his rock. I’ve never been back to albums like Berlin. And I haven’t even said anything about Metal Machine Music.
And so this leads me to my discussion of settings and loving what we love because we want to love it. And the reason is because it has meaning greater than constituent parts. For The Velvet Underground Warhol comes into it. Nico has to be discussed. There was a scene, and frankly I don’t care a bit about any of that. I’m interested in music. If music is about fashion, hairstyles, location, and posturing then the argument is made (and I’m not interested). If music is about soul, excitement, inspiration, and transporting ourselves through transcending mediocrity (boys and girls with guitars and drums) to a greater more passionate mental space, empowerment through the sound and noise, then please, let’s discuss the music. I’m less concerned about image and personalities. I don’t need to know that my favorite music is produced by particular cultural identities (first nation shamen perhaps) or how certain sexual proclivities might have influenced a particular use of tone or beat. As Foucault once said we don’t need to be concerned with the weaning age of Newton to appreciate his contribution to physics. In the same manner I am not concerned with what ethnicity my favorite authors are, I don’t need to have a life history of Lou Reed or Sun Ra to be moved by their efforts. On the other hand we’ve been pummelled with so much of it and I end up wondering if it actually hurts or helps artists to have so much of it laid on so thick. You can watch some interviews of Reed on the internet and watch him turn from silly to angry and stubborn. At first the attitude annoyed me, what’s the point? But considering all the purely personal and dopey questions coming out of the press people (for example asking him if he’s happier as a brunette or a blonde) one wonders when music will be important to the clowns. Bob Dylan was accosted by a reporter who admitted never listening to his music. Dylan smartly refused to talk to him further, why should he? Stories get invented, characters get erected by the popular consumption of these silly soul delving interests. Howlin’ Wolf was rumored to have murdered a man. An entirely apocryphal, though popular, story it turns out. Why do we need it? Did Sun Ra really think he was from Saturn, or did he enjoy playing with music aficionados and critics? In his late years it was said he could be found sitting on a park bench with an earbud, but the wire was plugged in to nothing. Was this a message or just his idea of a cute joke?

As a twenty year old kid in 1984 I was admittedly, like just about all kids of twenty years, an idiot. I felt trapped half because of setting and half because of my own idiocy. I was tremendously impatient. I had loaded myself on Vonnegut books, and hours of guitar practice. But also, had spent many long days whiling my time away walking around the woods, day-dreaming, reading bullshit self-help pop psychology books, and writing insipid poetry and stories, most of them burgeoning with a kinky sexual hopefulness that would never materialize. In short I was like everyone, nothing particularly special. But then, I started to hear more and more in the music my friends and I consumed.
We always felt late to the scene, but then every scene is something arrived at late, because they aren’t recognized as scenes until later. I love to think about the riffs bands like the Who and the Kinks exploited for their universally known hits “My Generation” and “You Really Got Me”. Imagine walking into the studio or garage or whatever and saying, “Hey guys, check this out,” and literally pounding out a two note song that just alternates back and forth. And so adding a bit of complexity to the song construction seems inevitable, after all you can only do the two chord thing for so long (the fundamental). The blues of course are generally a three chord progression, and follow just one or two patterns almost entirely across the spectrum of the entire genre. Hell, they even reuse the lyrical themes over and over again. How many times can we hear about a lady having left us, or being so broke we just want to die? But these are the universal anxieties that press our need to complain. And it does seem that emoting in some driven manner, through anxiety of some form, is a considerable motivating force.
I feel lucky that music touches me as much as it does. It mostly happened accidentally as absorbed appreciation though my mom’s choices. As a twelve year old kid I went to see Neil Sedaka perform (Billy Crystal opened for him) with mom. She loved Manilow and Diamond and Mathis. I inherited albums from my uncle and I can still remember being somewhat unnerved by The Rolling Stones as the album mentioned Satan, and had a strange three dimensional image that included the faces of The Beatles and spoofed their Sergeant Pepper’s album, and had oddball stuff on it like snoring, and carnival hawking. It was the first record I heard that was challenging. And I’m sure at the time I would not have recognized anything as outlandish as Sun Ra or The Mothers of Invention as even being music. So the answer is that exposure until familiar is what creates appreciation. Simply relying on associations is limiting.
While sitting at a friend’s house and reviewing a tape made by our band many years ago, we were interrupted by his mother who came in and wrinkled her nose, “What is that?” she asked with a clear angle toward being wholly offended by it. We responded that it was our music. “That’s not music, that’s just noise!” she said, leaving us amused. More recently while listening to a live CD of Muddy Waters performing a young graduate student stuck her head in and with much the same tone as my friend’s mom all those years ago, demanded to know what the hell it was I was listening to. With a smile I offered her the CD case and mentioned the old blues legend. She shook her head and left, clearly finding the racket unendurable. Finally, you have Slim Pickins from Blazing Saddles demanding a song from the black rail workers. When he was unsatisfied with the refined rendition of “I get no kick from Champagne” he launched into the silliest version of “Camptown Races” ever as a riposte.
And that’s all you need to know really. We love what we know, and we don’t know much. So our love is limited. We live in an age where it is almost criminal to limit ourselves because access is so widespread. We can know everything at the click of a button. Kids today have the ability to be so familiar with so much more than we could as kids. I envy that wide open ocean of knowledge at their fingertips at a time when they can sponge at will from the great collection of human endeavor. I guess we’ll soon see if it makes much of a difference. Will today’s kids be wider in their appreciation or not?

Petty Contrarian or Compulsive Angst

Think about some of the most classic entertainment themes, troubled love (so many flavors!), cheating hearts, jealousy, manipulation, and back to the top. These silly tropes entertain people of all varieties, languages, religions, modern and ancient. These are universal feels. So why do they annoy me so much?
Why is it that whenever I am faced with an old mom or a truly goofy sweet bro, I find myself desiring to puncture the cloying bubble of sugar? I want to stomp the life out of the puffball of joyous familial celebration. I want to scream “No!” at the top of my giant terrible-two inspired lungs. What is that unreasonable immature reaction I can barely contain? Am I incapable of enjoying other people’s pleasure? Am I a psychopath only interested in the misery of others?
I feel certain that the most natural thing in the world is to immediately think of contrary positions to any proposition. And the examples are endless, especially if you have any overly or at least overtly sweet people in your social media. Mothers are love, is something that can force our minds to immediately recall famous terrible mothers drowning their offspring or beating them with coat-hangers. Friends should always be honest, brings to mind the countless times lies have saved the day from awful, embarrassing and unnecessary drama. Sometimes it is clear that people want to romanticize their childhoods, or brag about their rich and budding romances. They compete with baby care photos, pet cuteness, or inspirational quotes that may or may not have been said by the cited authority, if there’s a citation at all. Many people are simply suckers for over-the-top saccharine nonsense, and if it’s not that, it’s Bollywood movie level emotional silliness that would make Morrissey cringe. People seem to enjoy over-reacting and being indignant about almost anything perceived as an opportunity to become emotional. Highs or lows don’t really seem to matter all that much the point seems to be exercise. Any child knows how to go from skronking and miserable to elation before the tears have even dried on their cheeks. Are adults much different?
The adult part of this unremarkable, indeed childish, reaction to emotional expression is possibly the keeping it to myself bit. I should think, amuse myself, and drop the desire to express the meaningless and self-involved argument that seems to well up inside.
Many acquaintances of mine, and they are all male, hate liberals. But it turns out it’s generally not liberal politics or liberal positions they are against. Most of these acquaintances are very much on-board with everyone having a good life and access to the best health-care and job opportunities etc. What they are mostly against is a kind of NPR liberal media story-telling that creates a world of (albeit largely justified) complaining. What my friends despise (though, it’s not like they don’t whine endlessly themselves) is what they’d call people being “little bitches” and bitching endlessly instead of “doing something” about their situation. This last bit is of course entirely ludicrous and a wholly ironic perception. After all their grousing is of exactly the same sort of noise but with less good reason and so they aren’t on NPR (which also probably acts to upset them further). Of course, complaining on national media is actually doing something to shed light on problems in our society so we can see where solutions need to be routed. The problem in the end seems to be that compulsive toddler response, that contrarian argument that instinctively wells up inside us to combat the endless procession of news agency delivered problems, or anything that rankles our sensibilities on social media.
Recently some friends of friends did their best to share their pregnancy and birth of twins to their social media universe. Pregnant belly photos, and milk pumping, and the tiny human larvae on display for as much of the world as they could reach through their tweets and posts. The exuberance with which this new family’s enjoyment was expressed ended up being a point of tremendous mockery for us. How dare these people flood our lives with their disgusting and wholly exaggerated excitement. The pictures of the lady posing with fruits and vegetables about the size of the twins in her tummy, the lady floating on her back in a pool with the mount of her baby belly in full focus, the lady in full display in poses that most of my lady friends found upsetting (in fact, no one is quite sure if she knows she’s been on such display!). Our discussions easily ebbed over to the possibility of the relationship being actually on the rocks, and the poetic expressions of love actually being desperate pleas that were nothing but elevated mediocrity. We snickered and guffawed at our twisting of the seemingly outlandish desire to share every last detail (we’re certain we’ll be getting full diapers soon enough), and of course, we justified our cynicism. Are they really wrong, or are we?
At least we kept it to ourselves. Not everyone did! Some complained to them directly. And at that I found myself reasonably surprised. Couldn’t you just look the other way?
Working on it.

The Compulsive Contrarian

Think about some of the most classic entertainment themes, troubled love (so many flavors!), cheating hearts, jealousy, manipulation, and back to the top. These silly tropes entertain people of all varieties, languages, religions, modern and ancient. These are universal feels. So why do they annoy me so much?
Why is it that whenever I am faced with an old mom or a truly goofy sweet bro, I find myself desiring to puncture the cloying bubble of sugar? I want to stomp the life out of the puffball of joyous familial celebration. I want to scream “No!” at the top of my giant terrible-two inspired lungs. What is that unreasonable immature reaction I can barely contain? Am I incapable of enjoying other people’s pleasure? Am I a psychopath only interested in the misery of others?
I feel certain that the most natural thing in the world is to immediately think of contrary positions to any proposition. And the examples are endless, especially if you have any overly or at least overtly sweet people in your social media. Mothers are love, is something that can force our minds to immediately recall famous terrible mothers drowning their offspring or beating them with coat-hangers. Friends should always be honest, brings to mind the countless times lies have saved the day from awful, embarrassing and unnecessary drama. Sometimes it is clear that people want to romanticize their childhoods, or brag about their rich and budding romances. They compete with baby care photos, pet cuteness, or inspirational quotes that may or may not have been said by the cited authority, if there’s a citation at all. Many people are simply suckers for over-the-top saccharine nonsense, and if it’s not that, it’s Bollywood movie level emotional silliness that would make Morrissey cringe. People seem to enjoy over-reacting and being indignant about almost anything perceived as an opportunity to become emotional. Highs or lows don’t really seem to matter all that much the point seems to be exercise. Any child knows how to go from skronking and miserable to elation before the tears have even dried on their cheeks. Are adults much different?
The adult part of this unremarkable, indeed childish, reaction to emotional expression is possibly the keeping it to myself bit. I should think, amuse myself, and drop the desire to express the meaningless and self-involved argument that seems to well up inside.
Many acquaintances of mine, and they are all male, hate liberals. But it turns out it’s generally not liberal politics or liberal positions they are against. Most of these acquaintances are very much on-board with everyone having a good life and access to the best health-care and job opportunities etc. What they are mostly against is a kind of NPR liberal media story-telling that creates a world of (albeit largely justified) complaining. What my friends despise (though, it’s not like they don’t whine endlessly themselves) is what they’d call people being “little bitches” and bitching endlessly instead of “doing something” about their situation. This last bit is of course entirely ludicrous and a wholly ironic perception. After all their grousing is of exactly the same sort of noise but with less good reason and so they aren’t on NPR (which also probably acts to upset them further). Of course, complaining on national media is actually doing something to shed light on problems in our society so we can see where solutions need to be routed. The problem in the end seems to be that compulsive toddler response, that contrarian argument that instinctively wells up inside us to combat the endless procession of news agency delivered problems, or anything that rankles our sensibilities on social media.
Recently some friends of friends did their best to share their pregnancy and birth of twins to their social media universe. Pregnant belly photos, and milk pumping, and the tiny human larvae on display for as much of the world as they could reach through their tweets and posts. The exuberance with which this new family’s enjoyment was expressed ended up being a point of tremendous mockery for us. How dare these people flood our lives with their disgusting and wholly exaggerated excitement. The pictures of the lady posing with fruits and vegetables about the size of the twins in her tummy, the lady floating on her back in a pool with the mount of her baby belly in full focus, the lady in full display in poses that most of my lady friends found upsetting (in fact, no one is quite sure if she knows she’s been on such display!). Our discussions easily ebbed over to the possibility of the relationship being actually on the rocks, and the poetic expressions of love actually being desperate pleas that were nothing but elevated mediocrity. We snickered and guffawed at our twisting of the seemingly outlandish desire to share every last detail (we’re certain we’ll be getting full diapers soon enough), and of course, we justified our cynicism. Are they really wrong, or are we?
At least we kept it to ourselves. Not everyone did! Some complained to them directly. And at that I found myself reasonably surprised. Couldn’t you just look the other way?
Working on it.