GOD* DAMN THEM
I've HAD IT with organized religion. I'm not only willing but happy to let anyone believe and worship as they want in private, but I'm done Done DONE with groups that claim special status / insight / privileges / etc. etc. etc. Myself: I'm as agnostic as they come. To paraphrase Robert Anton Wilson, "…don't just be agnostic about God, be agnostic about everything!
" So… I don't believe
in any deity. But… if I'm wrong… if there is one (or more)…
When anybody uses the excuse of religion to hurt someone else: God Damn Them.
When anybody uses the excuse of religion to deny basic human rights to another: God Damn Them.
When anybody uses the excuse of religion to claim extra rights for themselves: God Damn Them.
When anybody uses the excuse of religion to absolve themselves of hurting others: God Damn Them.
When anybody uses the excuse of religion to vomit forth hypocrisies: God Damn Them.
When anybody wants "respect" for their religion but won't grant it to others: God Damn Them.
Let's all of us - whether we profess religion or not - get together and TAKE DOWN these bastards that do things like blow up airports or World Trade Centers or schools or dams or what-the-hell-ever. IT IS TIME FOR THIS BULLSHIT TO END.
And if there is a deity: God Bless Brussels.
* (God, Goddess, Jesus, Our Lady Of Guadalupe, Buddha, Allah, Krishna, Shiva, Baphomet, Cernunnos, Epona, Jupiter, Zeus, Athena, Glycon, The Kachinas, The Great Spirit, Damballah, Legba, etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc.)
There's no other way to say it: my life has been a bit of a mess for about a year-and-a-half, and I pretty much made it that way.
I'm NOT going to write about it, at least not at the moment. What I am going to do, months and months too late, is to post here that I have a new album (vinyl! vinyl!) and a new novel that are both available to you, my patient and supportive public.
The album is called O How I Wish My Bad Heart Was True
and is available as a download here
from CD Baby. Downloading it is very very easy - don't have fear, all you over 30's! - and I hope and think you'll like this one a lot. It's getting very good reviews and I have to say it's probably my favorite of my own records (but then again… I always say that about the new one, whatever that may be). It is also available on vinyl (Yes! You heard right, all you hipsters! New vinyl!) at my performances, at The Brodsky Bookshop
and Ennui Gallery and Records
here in Taos, New Mexico. And please note: if you buy the vinyl, you automatically get a free download, too. (No. It is not available as a CD… yet. I know that bums out some of you, but I think they're dying. Then again, in blind tests people who swear vinyl sounds better than digital almost always prefer digital… so there. We'll see about the future. Stay tuned on this account...)
The novel is called The Substance Of Things Hoped For
and is available as a hard copy or a Kindle download here
from Amazon. It is also getting good reviews and I think you'll dig it, especially if you like Southern Gothic involving blues musicians and Pentecostal Snake Handlers. Like my album, it is also available at my gigs and readings, and from The Brodsky Bookshop and the SOMOS
Bookstore here in Taos.
I'm meditating on what to do next, and exactly how I want to deepen (not "widen") the distribution of my new works. Check the "gigs" page on my (yes, horrendously outdated website… I'm working on that, too…), and don't forget that my original artwork is shown and sold at Gerald Peters Gallery
in Santa Fe, New Mexico; one of the finest galleries in all the southwest! In the mean time, thanks again for being patient with me, and see you down the road!
MY INSPIRATIONAL "MIX TAPES" Circa 1997-2013
It's been a long-standing tradition - almost a ritual rite of passage - among music geeks to make "mix tapes." It's fun to play D.J., to find hidden connections between disparate songs we like, to go back after a few years to check out what it is we were into way back when. Indeed, the uber-music-geek film High Fidelity almost hinges on the mix tapes our hero makes at various points in the narrative.
Back in 1997 when I was recording my first CD Strange Lullabies, I had a big pile of music that I kept returning to because the songs seemed to relate to what I was doing in some way. My reasons were as varied as the music: it might have been the lyrical content, might have been the production, or might have just been the emotional triggers they pulled, but I kept playing them over and over on my long trek to the recording studio, and I occasionally played them for my right-hand-man Don Richmond to show him what I was after in my own work.
1997 was a few years before it was easy to "burn" a compilation CD of one's own, but by late 2000 when I was working on Penny Dreadfuls it could be done. Again, I gravitated to a body of work that inspired me, and this time I slapped the songs on a single disc that I could just pop in anywhere to keep my musical mood on track.
Now (a shameful 13 years later!) I'm finally working on another CD of my original songs, and now I can just click and drag a song from my main body of iTunes music into a "playlist" and again, take it anywhere I go. I have done this. Not to mention that as I was building up to my one-man show of original artwork at Gerald Peters Gallery
late last summer, I found myself drawing and painting to the same semi-limited list of music, so I made a "mix tape" for my opening! (Then I forgot to bring my iPod to the gallery, so nobody heard it but me! Dang it!)
Obviously none of us have time for me to go into deep musicological exegesis about all these tunes. But for your mild listening pleasure, I thought it might be an interesting window for y'all into my twisted little mind if I gave you my "inspirational mix tapes" of my various projects, including my upcoming one. If you go so far as to seek out this music and duplicate my playlists and listen for yourself, you may wonder what they have to do with my own music - at least sometimes. There's often no clear connection. There's certainly no song-for-song correlations to be drawn. It boils down to lists of songs that support whatever mood it is that I'm distilling in my own work. Heck, sometimes even I wonder why I chose these songs! Regardless, here's my playlists, if you'd like to explore 'em for yourself. (And by the way, lots of these artists are independent and self-produced, and lots of them are my friends. Don't try to rip these songs for free! BUY THEM! This is how we make our living!) (And by the way again, when I say something is "by" a given artist, that may or may not mean that particular artist actually wrote the song indicated... that's just the version I listened to!)
STRANGE LULLABIES: There was never any physical manifestation of this "mix." I just carried around a bunch of CDs everywhere I went. Thus, I've lost track of every single song I was listening to for inspiration. Here, however, are the ones I'm positive were in the pile:
1. Dying Days by Screaming Trees from the album Dust
2. Wild Mountain Thyme by Bert Jansch from the album Heartbreak
3. Dreaming by Blondie from the album Eat To The Beat
4. Isis by Bob Dylan from the album Desire
5. Superman's Song by Crash Test Dummies from the album The Ghosts That Haunt Me
6. Cragie Hills by Dolores Keane and John Faulkner from the album Farewell to Eirinn
7. Yes I Am by Melissa Etheridge from the album Yes I Am
8. Siuil A Ruin by Connie Dover from the album The Wishing Well
PENNY DREADFULS: Ah, yes... we're a little more clear here. I actually made (well... Don made it for me) a CD of this mix, and so I know this is the line-up. (Beware... like Penny Dreadfuls itself, this one's a downer...)
1. Lone Star Song by Grant Lee Buffalo from the album Mighty Joe Moon
2. Leaving Train by Gillian Welch from the album Horse Whisperer Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
3. Dirt In The Ground by Tom Waits from the album Bone Machine
4. Out Of This World by Freakwater from the album Old Paint
5. Into Dust by Mazzy Star from the album So Tonight That I Might See
6. Liquid Diamonds by Tori Amos from the album From The Choirgirl Hotel
7. Witches by Cowboy Junkies from the album The Caution Horses
8. Stars All Seem To Weep by Beth Orton from the album Central Reservation
9. Every Little Thing About You by Raul Malo from the album Today
10. Tanguedia III by Astor Piazzolla from the album Tango: Zero Hour
11. Can't Wait by Bob Dylan from the album Time Out Of Mind
12. Not Long For This World by Kelly Willis from the album What I Deserve
13. Woke Up This Morning by Alabama 3 from the album Exile On Coldharbor Lane
1. Persephone by Stellamara from the album The Seven Valleys
2. Damask Rose by Vangelis from the album Blade Runner Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
3. Tallis: With All Our Heart by Jeremy Summerly: Oxford Camerata from the album Tallis: Spem In Alium, Missa Salve Intemerata
4. Ole Yaman by Djivan Gasparyan from the album I Will Not Be Sad In This World
5. What Must Be Done by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis from the album White Lunar
6. Before Night Falls by Peter Gabriel from the album Passion: Music For The Motion Picture Last Temptation Of Christ
7. Last Dance by Sarah McLachlan from the album Surfacing
8. Till Farmor (To Grandma) by Vasen from the album Whirled
9. Zephyrus by Stellamara from the album Star Of The Sea
10. Memories Of Green by Vangelis from the album Blade Runner Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
11. A Cool Wind Is Blowing by Djivan Gasparyan from the album I Will Not Be Sad In This World
12. Gethsemane by Peter Gabriel from the album Passion: Music For The Motion Picture Last Temptation Of Christ
13. Leda by Stellamara from the album Star Of The Sea
14. Rachel's Song by Vangelis from the album Blade Runner Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
15. Ronda De Sanabria by Radio Tarifa from the album Rumba Argelina
16. Tallis: Missa Salve Intemerata - Agnus Dei by Jeremy Summerly: Oxford Camerata from the album Tallis: Spem In Alium, Missa Salve Intemerata
17. Whipping The Horse's Eyes by Calexico from the album Feast Of Wire
18. Tales Of The Future by Vangelis from the album Blade Runner Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
19. Anno 1643 by Vasen from the album Whirled
20. Anon: Une Jeune Fillette by Rolf Lislevand, Jordi Savall, Montserrat Figueras, Maria Cristina Kiehr from the album Tous Le Matins Du Monde Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
21. En Csak AZT Csodamlom (Lullaby For Katherine) by Marta Sebestyen from the album The English Patient Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
And finally: not only the inspirational playlist but the "official" announcement of my upcoming project - my new CD - O How I Wish My Bad Heart Was True:
1. Northern Winds by Norman Blake from the (Steve Earle) album Train A Comin'
2. Fire In The Hole by Hazel Dickens from the album Matewan Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
3. One Door Opens by Richard Thompson from the album The Old Kit Bag
4. I Hear Them All by Dave Rawlings Machine from the album Friend Of A Friend
5. 200 More Miles by Cowboy Junkies from the album The Trinity Session
6. Down In The Valley Of Hollow Logs by The Handsome Family from the album Through The Trees
7. Dream Of A Miner's Child by Keith Whitley and Ricky Skaggs from the album Second Generation
8. Farewell Angelina by Tim O'Brien from the album Red On Blonde
9. What If What I Want Is Not Enough by Tom Flannery from the album Edward
10. Bethelridge by Robbie Fulks from the album Let's Kill Saturday Night
11. Goddamn Lonely Love by Drive-By Truckers from the album The Dirty South
12. The Last Days Of Tecumseh by Grant Lee Buffalo from the album Mighty Joe Moon
13. Barton Hollow by The Civil Wars from the album Barton Hollow
14. In The Lord's Arms by Ben Harper from the album Burn To Shine
Well, enjoy this stuff, everybody! Here's hoping you find something new and interesting in these "mix tapes" and... didn't I promise this blog posting would be more fun than my last few political rants!?
Keep the faith, y'all, and see you soon!
An Open Letter To President Barack Obama (expanded)
Well, here we go into another year of our lives. As I said in my first "Happy New Year" blog entry, I tell people that I'm not really a "new year's resolutions" kind of guy but I really am. And so far, I could have done worse. (I could have done better too, but there you go.) I've stayed on my exercise and dietary programs with reasonable diligence. I've practiced my music. I've played a few gigs. I wish I'd made more art, and written a little more, but there's one thing I've always intended to do that I finally did: I wrote a letter to The President. I even mailed it! Before we go any further, let me just present it to you (since it is an "open letter" after all) exactly as Mr. Obama got it, and then we'll talk about things after you read it:
January 21, 2013
The Honorable Barack H. Obama, President Of The United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear President Obama:
The day I voted for you in 2008 and the day I saw you first sworn into office were two of the proudest days of my life as an American citizen. I still remember the people I was with, watching you take the oath of office, and their tears of joy. It was a beautiful day I never thought I would see in my lifetime: a black man elected by the people to fill the most powerful shoes on the face of the earth.
Before you were elected I claimed that if you won you would face greater challenges and more entrenched opposition than any president had ever faced (not to mention outright racism) and I was right. I had high hopes for your first term, but those hopes were tempered by a clear-eyed understanding and a sad knowledge that many American citizens didn't see you as merely a poor choice for President, but literally as the Anti-Christ.
My predictions proved true, and you indeed faced the most bald-faced partisan opposition of any President in my lifetime. You have accomplished much - much more than even your allies give you credit for - and fought hard battles for the good of the American people - even those that oppose you. I know full well that what many people call your "failures" or "disappointing performance" are, in fact, the products of deliberate obstruction by self-serving interests outside your sphere of control. I voted for you again, Mr. President, and today I watched your second inauguration and listened to your speech. They were good words, with their emphasis on "We The People" and our need to face our future together despite our differences.
I must confess, however, that in recent years I have voted not out of hope but out of fear. Fear that ever-more extreme candidates would gain power, and the freedoms with which so many politicians punctuate their speeches might be eroded or lost. This is not the way for an American of conscience to vote, and that is why I am writing to you today, the first time I have ever written a sitting President.
I understand that problems with simple solutions never come across your desk, and I understand that your opposition remains more entrenched than ever. I also understand that there are simply some problems you cannot fix, no matter how hard you try. Finally, I understand that you and your staff are more than likely working quietly, without heed to political gain, and we on the street may not always be able even to see, much less acknowledge, your efforts. Nonetheless, my conscience dictates that four years from now I vote third party - or abstain from voting, which I don't want to do - unless I see strenuous and public effort on the following issues:
1) You must begin the vigorous conversion of American energy policy to sustainable sources, for the sake of the global environment and human survival. I hardly have any idea where to begin with recommendations, there's so much to do. You'll face so many invested interests that you may, sadly, make no progress whatsoever. You must try - if our environment is unsustainable, there'll be nothing left to defend. Earth, air, fire, and water belong to no party. I want to breathe!
2) You must begin the disassembly of the Homeland Security / surveillance state. The most important single act you could do to begin this process is to rescind the provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2011 that provide for the (arguably) unconstitutional indefinite detention of American citizens, not to mention citizens of other countries. Democracy is always a balance between freedom and security, but suspending habeas corpus is unnecessary and oppressive and all-too-easily abused. I want my rights back!
3) You must begin the reduction of American military hegemony on the international scene. The most important single act you could do to begin this process is to close all foreign American military bases and bring the troops stationed there home. I know there are other, smaller, countries that require our help to defend themselves. I know we have our own global interests that need defending. We have aircraft carriers. Problem solved. In the mean time, our fighting men and women will be home, which is the biggest thing they need to defend in the first place. I don't want our military to make me fearful, I want them to make me feel safe!
4) You must begin the process of re-legitimizing the American electoral process. The most important single act you could to to begin this process is to - working with sympathetic members of congress - introduce a constitutional amendment that denies the "rights" of personal individuality to corporations. They are not persons, nor should they have the rights of one, much less rights that some of our minorities don't have. I shouldn't even have to say that unlimited financial contributions should stop immediately. I want my vote to count, and I don't want to have to pay for it!
Notice what I haven't mentioned: financial regulation and economic justice; education; violence and crime; drug policy; health care; the ongoing heightened presence of fundamentalist religion in what should be secular public life; women's rights; gay rights; native american rights... I could go on. These are inarguably important issues, but compared to the four points above, they can wait, or at the very least be virtual "hobbies" for you on slow days. (I hope you appreciate my sense of humor, Sir!)
I don't want to live in fear, Mr. President, and I don't know anybody of any party who does. Whether it's the Mayan Calendar or the Fiscal Cliff or Terrorism or any other bugaboo, it feels like the workings of our government (and the military-corporate-banking industry that seems to pay for it) are almost designed to keep us nervous, jumpy, fearful. And fearful people are easy to manipulate for good or ill. Usually, it's ill.
You have my utmost respect, Sir, and I want to see my country and my neighbors prosperous and happy and healthy and fearless. Please have the strength and bravery to struggle against the usurers and the self-interested and the greedy, and fight for the little ones, the poor ones, the outcast and unheard ones, who voted for you with pride.
Please note that I will be publishing this letter (possibly in expanded form) on my blog. My fellow citizen-travellers might have an interest in my opinions as well.
Thank you for reading my letter and considering those opinions, and I remain
Your humble and obedient servant
R.E.C. Chipper Thompson
Well. I've read it and re-read it and re-read it, and I stand by every word. Still, I feel like expanding on some of my feelings. First of all, here's an opinion for ya: almost all our problems come down to some greedy, self-interested bastard who doesn't want to give up his money and power.
I'm anything but a communist, but I'm gonna say something that nobody seems to want to say: these people have too much, and they should give some of it back. Whether it's investment bankers or insurance executives or power brokers in the military-industrial complex, they've demonstrated that they know how to play the American Game better than anybody, that they can amass the greatest amount of money in the smallest number of pockets, and now that they've got the cash they can use it to influence the political structure to amass even more money and power. I get it, I really do. As consolation prizes, I'd even be willing to let 'em keep more than one home, more than one Ferrari, all the caviar and single-malt scotch they can stockpile, and a big ol' fat bank account that would sustain all of it for not only the rest of their lives but probably on down to their grandchildren, at least. (But nobody needs more than one private jet, or more than one yacht. Maybe not even one.) In exchange for all the fabulous prizes, they've got to give up all the political power forever and name all the names and confess to all the graft they've ever committed. And if we ever find out they lied - even under these generous terms - we're coming back and taking it all. Don't get me wrong: I want to live comfortably, and I'm well aware that I have a ton of otherwise understanding, sympathetic friends who are gonna smack my face if they hear me talking about winning Powerball again. But these bastards who are bankrupting our country need to be brought down, hard and fast.
And now, with than in mind, to expand on my four main points:
1) The conversion of American energy policy to sustainable sources, for the sake of the global environment and human survival. "Peak Oil" aside, I think we've hit a wall, y'all. I don't want to give up rapid transcontinental travel or electric light (or electric guitars!) or indoor flushing toilets any more than the rest of you, but simple observation of what's before my face leads me to the conclusion that the American Lifestyle cannot continue as it is. The biggest problem is oil. It powers our lives and it's the source material for all the plastic crap that is - along with the putrid, burning fumes - choking the life out of us and the whole world. Let me clarify something: I like cars, I like electricity. The difference between me and lots of other folks is that I don't care what powers all this stuff, as long as it's clean. I don't have a love affair with the internal combustion engine, I have a love affair with travel. If there was an affordable electric (solar-powered?!) car that performed as well as a gasoline-powered one, that's the one I'd want, and I think most people would agree. I'd even be happy to let the "vintage car" enthusiasts to keep the gas engines. There wouldn't even be that many of them, compared to the rest of us. I love being able to travel from my home here in the Great American Southwest to New York or Chicago or Atlanta, but I'd be more than happy - indeed, thrilled! - to do it on a solar-powered, mag-lev, high-speed rail line instead of an airplane. For the first two weeks of this year, it was at least -11 degrees at night here, and believe me I'm happy to have heat in my home that doesn't require weeks of wood-cutting or buffalo-chip gathering, but again: I don't care where the power comes from as long as it's clean. I could go on and on and on and on. You know.
2) The disassembly of the Homeland Security / surveillance state. You know, it should come as no surprise that the ultra-right-wing conservative population of this country lives in fear that someday armed SWAT teams are gonna show up at their door and take all their guns and force 'em to bow to Allah and send their daughters to brothels, but I gotta tell ya, even I'm getting nervous. A good friend of mine - a sober, not-given-to-hysterics kind of friend - recently told me he'd heard that Homeland Security had recently bought billions of rounds of small-arms ammunition. What the hell for? Obviously, I have no idea if this is true. Even researching it on the interwebs would lead me to who knows how many wing-nut sites before I found a grain of truth, and how would I even know which was which? But the point is that I'm uptight about this, and if I'm uptight how do you think the real jittery, edgy types feel? The powder keg's gonna blow someday if we don't take out the fuze, people. I'm tired of seeing security cameras on every damn traffic light. I'm tired of "sobriety checkpoints" that need to see my "papers." I'm tired of being fearful of the local cops. My taxes pay their salaries, by damn, and they're supposed to protect and serve me, not worry about whether or not I'm using my damn seatbelt. Go out and catch some REAL criminals, you bastards! You know, the kind that steal and rape and commit acts of violence. Most of us - even most of the wing-nuts - are never gonna hurt anybody in our entire lives. And most of the "foreigners" and "towelheads" and so-called "terrorists" aren't gonna hurt anybody either. We need to calm the hell down, and stop sticking our noses in each others' business in the name of a false sense of security. Like I said in the letter, it almost seems like somebody wants us to be nervous these days, and I'm sick of it.
3) American global military hegemony. Speaking of being nervous, how do you think the man on the street feels about us in the middle-east? In fact, how would you feel if a joint North Korean-Chinese strike force built a base outside your hometown? Well, I've said it before: that's the way most of the world feels about us. And if you don't want your neighbor with one too many semi-autos in his closet to be jumpy, why not extend that scenario to a tediously shaky regime in some third-world colony that happens to have a nuke? I'm no isolationist, but we need to butt the hell out of other people's countries and get our own people home. If we do, there will be less fear and misery in the world, it'll be way cheaper for us American taxpayers, and our people will be right here on their native soil, which is what they're supposed to be protecting in the first place. Not to mention that the greedheads that make billions off of military spending will start feeling the pinch. About damn time. And if there's a problem somewhere in the world that legitimately needs our military expertise? Like I said: aircraft carriers. Problem solved.
4) American electoral woes. It's probably been true since the beginning of politics that the squeaky wheels get the grease, and those with the most money can squeak the loudest. I know that corporations can afford better lobbyists and more of them than anybody else, so they're gonna get their way more often than not. I know that making laws that reform the deathbed-sick system of election finances won't stop "favors" from being asked and granted. But it's been a long time since I've felt that my vote counted as much as a corporate vote. Corporations are not people no matter what the Supreme Court says, and I want a stop put to this nonsense. I know that many, many others from all sides of the argument do as well. This blatant pandering is a travesty, and it needs to stop.
Goddess, just reading and editing my own blog is making me depressed. The problems are so big, and so entrenched. We're in a world of shit, people. I'll admit it: I'm scared. Like I said in my letter, there's other problems that are arguably just as bad as the issues I seized on. If you've lost your house, you probably feel that banking laws need to be a top priority. If you've been threatened or harmed by gun violence, that's probably on the top of your list. If you want to smoke a little weed and can't for the life of you figure out why anybody gives a damn, well... there you go. If you're gay.... Oh, come on, people. You get the picture. When writing to Mr. Obama I tried to get my own ego out of the way and actually take him to task about issues that I thought would help everybody. I don't know if I succeeded. But I know one thing:
If I don't see some action on this stuff, and if my life doesn't improve as a direct result, somebody else is getting my vote next time.
And I know another thing:
For my next blog, I'm gonna write about something fun. I promise.
Thanks and bows of gratitude go out to all my friends who put up with me and sit up too late talking politics, and as always to the late, great Peter McWilliams who's Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do
has been such a positive inspiration to me for so long. Not to mention The Reverend Ivan Stang
. Praise Bob!
Happy New Year
Happy New Year
to all of you out there in BanjoSnake Land!
I hope 2012 worked out for y'all... it seems like it was a pretty tough year all around.
I had a decent year... a one-man art opening at the finest gallery in the southwest
, (there's still lots of art available... check it out! Tell your friends! Tell anyone you know with money! Shout it in the streets!) a bunch of gigs, lots of beautiful t-shirts (and panties!) with my designs on 'em
, and a fair start on a new science-fiction novel didn't hurt. Not to mention eleven pretty "serious" blog posts... more than I've written in who knows when! But we all struggle. Life can be hard. We got to hang in there against all the ugly odds, y'all.
I have a good friend - one of my closest - but she's incredibly pessimistic. Last time she and I got into it over the "state of the world" she threw this at me: "No matter how terrible you think all our human problems are - war, famine, disease, climate change, illiteracy, overpopulation, greed, poverty, on and on and on - all of it means nothing and humanity is toast unless some hotshot genius kid somewhere invents an otherwise-benign bacteria that'll eat all our plastic waste."
Gee, that'll wake ya up in the morning.
She's also pretty pessimistic about all those other problems, too.
I got nothing but hope, y'all. I just can't get up every morning and think that we're living for nothing. I know I'm not gonna be the one that invents the plastic-eating bacteria, or cures cancer, or feeds the starving millions, or gets all the warlords to lay down their bombs and guns. But I can make art, and art makes people happy, and that's something. I saw recent post on "the facebook" that I liked: Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable. Yeah. I can do that.
So, to wit: I tell people that I'm not a "New Year's Resolutions" kind of guy, but I really am, I guess. Most of it is the usual quasi-self-deceptive nonsense: I'm gonna lose weight, I'm gonna go the gym, I'm gonna eat better, yadda yadda yadda. But I've got some other stuff in my bag, too: I'm starting on a new CD for the first time in ages... what... twelve years or something? Holy crap! I'm gonna finish that novel. I'm gonna make more visual art. And I've got a few other things that I'm playing close to my vest, but they're gonna be cool, I guarantee it. (And just for the record... I've been going to the gym six days a week, and I've totally given up sugar since the year turned. And I'm going to kendo class... come join us!
Some days are harder than others. This morning I got up at the crack of dawn in -11 degree weather to go to the gym and the clutch in my truck was a goner. You just gotta roll with it. So stick with me, y'all! I've updated my gigs page for everything I've got so far this year, and I will continue to do so. Just click on the "gigs" button right over there to your left. Get off the couch and come out and see us play sometime!
Stray Ravens! Kim and the Caballeros! Bone Orchard! And watch for lots more blogs that I'm working on right now. (An open letter to The President. An update and revision of my piece on our "gun problem." And an epic post about "movies and cars in America" that I may never finish, but it'll be staggering if I do!) Watch for announcements about the new recordings and new novel! And of course, more "Documents," Taos Edge t-shirts, and other visual art!
Keep the faith and see you around in 2013, everybody!
Never Get Off The Boat
"Never get off the boat. Absolutely God-damn right. Unless you were going all the way. Kurtz got off the boat. He'd split from the whole fucking program."
- Captain Willard, "Apocalypse Now"
America is one heck of a complicated place to live right now. There have been times in the past - from my early adulthood to just last week - when I've thought about leaving. After all, some of my own ancestors left their homes to come here, looking for a better life, and at bottom it really does seem that we're all Citizens of Earth; why shouldn't I roam around a bit to see if the grass really is greener over the fences? Oslo? Osaka? Wellington? Moscow? Edinburgh?
Well, two reasons: First, because I haven't given up yet. When I think about just how horribly wrong America could go (and let me be clear: in my opinion we're flirtin' with disaster) I shudder and gnash my teeth and tear at my hair, but despite the awful possibilities, I don't think we're so far in the hole that we can't dig ourselves out. We may be headed full-bore towards a really big cliff, but unless we go all the way and take that final big plunge, we can always just stop and turn around. Second (and maybe more importantly), you just can't run away from this shit. There's no such thing as paradise. The porridge will always be too hot or too cold, and almost never just right.
My own town is a perfect microcosmic example of this. I've lived here twenty years, and I'm probably as conversant with it's delights and its down sides as anybody. I love it or I wouldn't have stayed, but there are days when I have a really hard time and I tear my hair and gnash my teeth and declare that I'm getting the hell out. Then I realize that everything I like about the place is difficult - if not impossible - to find elsewhere; and that everything I want to run away from will probably greet me with open arms wherever I go. Every town has corrupt politicians; there's only one Rio Grande Gorge, baby.
I recently took a little road trip to "the heartland" of America and frankly, I was horrified. Politicians like to hold up the vast center of our country as a place where all the "old virtues" that made America the envy of the world are still in healthy vigor. Well, that ain't what I saw. I saw small town after small town where the buildings were all boarded up, and the only signs of life were the chain gas station / convenience store and the police station. I saw gang graffiti on grain elevators where there didn't even seem to be any human life for fifty miles in any direction. I saw miles and miles and miles of center-pivot-irrigated corporate farms and not one single family garden. I saw towns where I couldn't find a locally-owned hardware store, a locally-owned drugstore, a locally-owned department store, or a locally-owned grocery store, (and sadly unsurprising, no bookstores at all) but I literally lost count of the churches. And speaking of churches, I passed hundreds of 'em professing a mind-boggling array of Christian denominations, but not one synagogue, not one mosque, not one Zen temple. The four categories of radio station were either classic rock, new country, conservative talk radio, or Evangelical Christian. The one time I managed to pick up a clear NPR signal, they were running what amounted to a promotional puff-piece on the CIA. You don't believe me, but I kid you not.
Demographically, my trip was a bit skewed since I was hanging out with some Native-American friends (they usually call themselves "Indians," by the way) but in the towns I went through the population seemed almost 100 percent white. Not that they all fit in some convenient stereotype of "white"; they were male, female, young, old, thin, fat, etc. etc. etc. But they were, by-and-large, white.
(And I haven't even mentioned that every single day I was on the road the high temperature was over 110 degrees, and for two days it hit 117. I'll debate you until we both hyperventilate (in the heat) on why climate change / global warming is happening. Maybe it's us burning billions of gallons of gas, or maybe it's just nature taking its course. But I won't debate that it is happening. It is. If you don't believe me, it's because you never come out of your air-conditioned cubicle, you live in Antarctica, or you're willfully and gloriously stupid. So there. By the way, after I left, my friends said it went up to 121. Bloody hell...)
People like me love to bat around the word "diversity" like it was the cure-all for the universe, but here's the thing: diversity is like broccoli, good for you whether you like it or not. I'll give you a simple, real-world example: it is said you can get all the amino acids you need to live from nothing but corn and beans, but if corn and beans were all you got to eat, would you want to live? What's with all these white people? What's with all these Wal-Marts? What's with all these Christian churches? What's with all these corporate farms? What's with all this classic rock? (Okay, okay... I still love "Stairway To Heaven." We all have our Achilles heel.)
I'm actually okay with all the Christian churches, even though that isn't what I believe. I don't believe in Islam or Judaism or Zen or UFOs either, but it does seem to me that communities with a diversity of spiritual viewpoint are healthier. That includes atheism, too. I'm not picketing chain restaurants, but I like to eat at locally-owned diners. They're better, in my opinion, and most of the money I pay them for my biscuits and bacon stays in my community. The waitresses come to my gigs, you know. This seems healthy. I know that gangs are a problem virtually everywhere, but it seems to me that many of those kids could be better helped and better served if there was a greater variety of options we could give 'em, not just "...work at Wal-Mart, go to jail, or join The Corps." Some sort of local, deliberately small-time option seems healthier, or at least equally viable. And now that I've admitted that I actually like classic rock, I'll make the possibly dubious claim that probably half (okay, okay... a third) of the music I listen to these days is local. Made by my friends. Friends that I can support by going to their shows on almost any given night of the week. Why would I run away from that?
I'll freely admit: I have a ton of problems with us. It doesn't make me feel safe when I hear politicians (of any party) trumpeting "American Family Values" and our defense superiority when I know we're dropping bombs - or at least providing the bombs for somebody else to drop - on other people all over the world. Don't get me started on Drones. It doesn't make me feel safe or happy to deny health care to anyone, whether they behave the way I do or not. It doesn't bode well for our future when our schools (from elementary to universities) are spending exponentially more money on their football teams than their science classes (and art classes!). It doesn't make me feel safe to know that we're spending God-knows-how-many-times more than the next twenty countries combined (most if not all of whom are our ostensible allies!) on military hardware when that money would arguably pay for the basic housing, clothing, food, and health care for everybody on earth, which would make us true heroes. It doesn't make me feel safe to see a cop standing on the corner in riot gear holding an assault rifle; it makes me feel safe to see a gay couple walking down the street with their arms around each other. I don't have to share - or even approve - of their lifestyle to know that if they're safe doing their thing then boring-old-white-bread-Chipper is probably gonna be just fine. I just wish I could find that kind of comfort in more places in our country. I won't even mention the farce of the upcoming elections.
Maybe it'll get too hot in this kitchen, and I'll get out. Not yet. I'm not ready to split from the whole fucking program. I think there's something here worth fighting for. Maybe I'll crash and burn with my most typical failing - I'll hedge and hedge and hedge my bets until it's too late, and I'll go down with the boat. I hope not. I just know that since I'm not yet ready to go all the way, I'm not getting off the boat. I'm scared, and we're taking on water, but not yet. Not yet.
America's "Gun" Problem
I've said before that shared consensus reality is a lot more complicated than most of us admit, and that our personal point of view probably contributes as much to what we perceive as "what's really going on" does. That's why the following two statements both seem true:
A) Guns don't kill people, other people do.
B) If you want to kill a bunch of people, a gun is a more convenient tool than a stick.
I'll get this out of the way now, and say (almost verbatim) what has been said over and over for the past few weeks: my most true and heartfelt sympathies go out to the victims of the movie-theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado; and the Sikh Temple victims in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and their families and loved ones. These are the most stupid, pointless tragedies I can imagine. I can't imagine the hell these folks must be going through. In fact, call me overblown and melodramatic, but my heartfelt sympathies go out to everyone and their families everywhere, for all time, that have ever been killed by a gun. What a horrible, pathetic, worthless way to go.
But I've lived around guns all my life, and I've never been threatened by one. As a child I was shy and somewhat fearful of the world, but I was never afraid of guns, probably because I saw them every day (my dad's collection of antiques) and when I was old enough, I was taught to use them safely. I was on my high-school rifle team (imagine! loaded guns in the hands of teenagers... in a high school... safely!) and was the team captain when I was a senior. I'm a good shot. We were the league champions. I have participated in historical reenactment (a large component of which is the shooting and appreciation of antique firearms) for years. When my father died I inherited the cream of his collection (much of which he sold to buy me musical instruments, Goddess bless him!) and have delighted in its pleasures ever since.
Antique muzzleloaders - relatively unthreatening to almost everyone - are my cup of tea, but I have close friends who are into assault rifles and tiny, highly-concealable handguns, and one acquaintance who has a license to own and shoot fully-automatic machine guns. These are all good people, responsible people.
Still, I'm not willing to debate that guns are incredibly dangerous... they're supposed to be. With the possible exception of flare guns, they're specifically designed to kill something. Apparently somewhere in the neighborhood of 20,000 people die by the gun in America every year. (That's a very rough estimate based on a bunch of different websites I looked at. I've done no original research in this area, and could be - in fact I probably am - a little "off" with this number. Furthermore: that's not just murders, but also accidents and suicides.) (Also: my numbers may be slightly off, but downplaying that this occurs is one of the places the gun lobby goes wrong, for my money...)
There's millions of words worth of debate about the second amendment, but for me what it comes down to is that it says the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. Yes, my fellow pinko-commie-gay-atheists like to point out that it also says "well-regulated militia," which implies both organized (and presumably state-sponsored?) militia groups that are, in fact, regulated. But to my way of thinking "the people" trumps the admitted ambiguities.
But I also think it's important to recognize and admit that there's already regulations in place limiting what armaments I can possess. I can't legally own a bazooka. I can't legally own an atomic bomb. So it's been established and upheld that there are limits even to the 2nd amendment.
Besides, it's almost a moot point in this political climate. You might convince me that we'd all be better off without guns, but you'll never convince me - at least not this year! - that we'd be able to actually make it happen. Fear and ignorance rule the land, people. This is a country were gun sales go up after a mass murder. This is a country where the Texas school board wants to discourage critical thinking. This is a county where evangelical Christians think Barack Obama (who's not from here, you know...) is going to institute Sharia Law. This is a country where poor people approve of spending their tax dollars to bail out banks that are showing billions in profits but won't approve universal health care for everyone because it might lead to "freeloading" or a state-funded abortion or "death panels for grandma." This is a country where a huge proportion of the population believes that Adam and Eve rode dinosaurs, and in the literal existence of angels. Get it through your heads, my fellow pinko-commie-gay-atheists: these people are never going to willingly give up their guns.
And I'm not sure that I want them to.
I'd give up mine - I really would - if I thought my example would make any difference or do any good, but it seems like if we're going to have legal gun ownership in America, I'm exactly the type of person we want owning them: I'm law-abiding, I'm safe, I'm responsible. I don't even own the type of guns that liberals think "look scary," that is: the sleek, black, pseudo-military-type "assault rifles," even though I think it's my indisputable right to do so if I wished. If the president of the NRA publicly gave up his guns that would really be something, and would really make the news, and might be a possible example of altruistic sacrifice for the common good we could all look up to. Anybody out there think that's going to happen?
Michael Moore, the pinko-commie-gay-atheist that gun owners most revel in hating, recently posted a thoughtful blog
on his website, wherein he tacitly admitted that though guns are a
problem they might not be the
problem. Go read it; I don't want to misrepresent what Mr. Moore is saying, nor do I want to deny that it seems indisputable that Mr. Moore would approve of at least
somewhat more severe gun control laws. But the way I read his essay is this: We don't have a gun problem as much as we have a violence problem
. Americans are fearful, and we're really good at killing stuff. It's in our culture, and maybe if we fixed some of the other problems like (for instance) race relations and economic inequity our violence / gun problems would fade away, or at least diminish.
However: many liberals need to stop pretending that every gun in the hands of every citizen, as well as every media depiction of a gun, or violence perpetrated by a gun-wielding person is going to destroy the most basic fabric of our lives. Just stop it. Other countries have (per capita) almost as many guns as we have and they don't behave like slavering dogs. Other countries watch just as much violent media as we do and don't mass-murder each other. The guns may make it easier, people, but they are not, in and of themselves, the problem.
On the other hand, if the NRA (National Rifle Association) would stop pretending that a 13-year-old gang-banger with an Uzi in south-central L.A. was the same thing as a hunter in Montana feeding his family with a Winchester, and stop acting like reasonable limits to the amount of firepower we could privately amass in our basements was some totalitarian conspiracy to take away great-grandpa's musket (unfired for seventy years) hanging over the family fireplace, I'd send 'em some money and carry their card. As things are, I will not.
In 2000, the book "Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture"
by Michael A. Bellesiles, Ph.D., was published by Alfred A. Knopf. Bellesiles argued that what we call America's "gun culture" didn't exist in colonial America the way the romantic myths proclaim, and that it didn't rise until after the Civil War when tens of thousands of surplus factory-made guns found their way into the hands of the population.
I bought the book in first edition and read it. (I'm man enough to read the literature of my philosophical opponents.) Knowing history the way I do, something seemed fishy to me, but I figured: "This guy's a Ph.D. and he's done tons of research... hmmm. It sounds weird to me, but... I'll give him the benefit of the doubt."
The book won the Bancroft Prize for writing about American history, but it's the only case of the prize ever being revoked. As it turns out, Bellesiles made most of the stuff up. Anti-gun activists felt horribly betrayed. Fellow historians felt betrayed. Bellesiles disputed the findings that questioned the veracity of his book, but he nonetheless resigned his professorship at Emory University. Knopf did not renew his publishing contract.
In his dishonesty, Bellesiles did monstrous harm to his cause, and gave false credence to tons of wingut whackos and ammunition (if you will) to his opponents.
Yet, on average, 25 people a day in America die by the gun.
We need to be honest about what's going on, y'all.