Manifest Destiny and Eating Horses

We often hear about Manifest Destiny as part of our American Myth.  Here is what Manifest Destiny meant to those actually practicing it in 1870:  “The rich and beautiful valleys of Wyoming are destined for the occupancy and the sustenance of the Anglo-Saxon race.  The wealth that for untold ages has lain hidden beneath the snow-capped summits of our mountains has been placed there by Providence to reward the brave spirits whose lot it is to compose the advance-guard of civilization.  The Indians must stand aside or be overwhelmed by the ever advancing and ever increasing tide of emigration.  The destiny of the aborigines is written in characters not to be mistaken.  The same inscrutable Arbiter that decreed the downfall of Rome has pronounced the doom of extinction upon the red men of America.”

This was said by The Big Horn Association in 1870.  This association was a group of white frontiersmen and miners.  I got all of this from Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. 

While I was reading my brother called me upstairs to watch a scene from the TV show Deadwood.   In the scene a U.S. Military leader is giving a speech to the town that is all about nobility and providence.  It is basically a composite of all of the military and political speeches that we always here with some period details thrown in.  While he is speaking a slightly deranged member of the audience is mumbling what really happened on their campaign.  He is saying things like, “We ate our horses!”

Always be aware that the myths and stories that we tell ourselves are often ancient oceans apart from the reality that went on.

I Don’t Wanna Grow Up

When I’m lyin’ in my bed at night
I don’t wanna grow up
Nothin’ ever seems to turn out right
I don’t wanna grow up
How do you move in a world of fog
That’s always changing things
Makes me wish that I could be a dog
When I see the price that you pay
I don’t wanna grow up
I don’t ever wanna be that way
I don’t wanna grow up

Seems like folks turn into things
That they’d never want
The only thing to live for
Is today
I’m gonna put a hole in my TV set
I don’t wanna grow up
Open up the medicine chest
And I don’t wanna grow up
I don’t wanna have to shout it out
I don’t want my hair to fall out
I don’t wanna be filled with doubt
I don’t wanna be a good boy scout
I don’t wanna have to learn to count
I don’t wanna have the biggest amount
I don’t wanna grow up

Well when I see my parents fight
I don’t wanna grow up
They all go out and drinking all night
And I don’t wanna grow up
I’d rather stay here in my room
Nothin’ out there but sad and gloom
I don’t wanna live in a big old tomb
On Grand Street

When I see the 5 o’clock news
I don’t wanna grow up
Comb their hair and shine their shoes
I don’t wanna grow up
Stay around in my old hometown
I don’t wanna put no money down
I don’t wanna get me a big old loan
Work them fingers to the bone
I don’t wanna float a broom
Fall in love and get married then boom
How the hell did it get here so soon
I don’t wanna grow up

I Don’t Wanna Grow Up by Tom Waits.  Always a favorite of mine.  Waits’s original version of this song is the best, but I’ve never heard a bad one.  This song was built to last.  


Billy Idol and Pop Art

Often, out of the blue, I will get interested in a subject and then need to follow it through until I tire of it.  I almost always follow my gut and rarely second guess myself.  I remember sitting in a friend’s back yard and all of a sudden deciding that I needed to learn about Walt Disney.  Later that week I got a copy of and read Neal Gabler’s book Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination.  It ended up being one of the most fascinating books I have ever read.  It dealt with art, commerce, the rise of the modern corporation, history, and culture.  If you are in a bookstore sometime read Gabler’s introduction.  That alone is fascinating and thought provoking.  Anyway, I would have never read that had I not followed some strange idea that just happened to pop up in my head.  It was almost as if someone was whispering in my ear. (And no I wasn’t on drugs at the time.)

Lately I’ve been driven to read everything I can get my hands on about American Indians.  However, the topics are often not as lofty.  For reasons unknown to myself, I have found myself diving into the world of Billy Idol.  I find him fascinating and I am going to attempt to tell you why.

I think his career mirrors the music industry perfectly.  It represents the highs and lows of record making.  It also follows a perfect myth template.  In his case Icarus.  He had tremendous promise, flew too high, and burned out.

For those of you that don’t know, Billy Idol was once in a really great promising band.  He was in a band called Generation X that was one of the best of the earlier British punk bands.  They lacked the political righteousness of the Clash and the menace of the Sex Pistols.  They were also slightly behind, time wise, both of those bands.  Because of that they often were written off as lightweights.  However, if you don’t know any of punk history, and you just listen to their music, it’s fantastic.  Their guitar player, Derwood Andrews, was simply one of the best of that era.  He could hop from beautifully written hook riffs to squalling noise solos at the drop of a hat.  The bands records are also played with extreme enthusiasm.  You can hear people taking flight together on tape, especially on the first two albums.  Everything seemed to suggest, if drugs and commerce hadn’t gotten in their way, that they could have made some more incredible records together.

If you need further proof at what they could have achieved check out Andrews and Mark Laff’s, Generation X’s drummer, shortly lived band Empire and their album Expensive Sound Vol. 1.  Empire may have lasted a moment, but they went on to influence the D.C. punk and post punk scene and therefore American indie music for years to come.  Bands like Rights of Spring and Fugazi wouldn’t have sounded the same without them.

What you hear on those early Generation X records is the sound of people reacting to each other live on tape.  There might be limitations in the production at times, but there is the alchemy that only other people communicating to each other in the moment can produce.  The lyrics on those albums may be highly limited from a poetic standpoint, but they speak about a love of rock n roll in an enthusiastic and unpretentious way.  They believed in the form and you can hear it in ever note that is played.  There is piss and vinegar, blood and sweat, in those recordings.

Shortly after Generation X folded, Billy Idol went on to make his early solo records, the most well known part of his career.  They are the sound of someone hungry for success, someone that is shameless enough to do whatever it takes to achieve it.  That’s not to say that they are completely without merit.  I’ve never been completely turned off by the sound of 80’s records.  What they lack in authenticity they often make up for in atmosphere.  The reverb drenched records of the 80’s are perfect for drifting off into imaginative worlds, especially on a rain soaked afternoon.  Billy Idol, despite whatever artistic flaws he might have, has and always will have a unique rock voice.  It’s too bad that the words so often put in his mouth are nothing but sexual innuendo and rock n roll cliché.  He at least has a personality.  You would never mistake his singing for someone else.

Despite the fact that I actually tend to like records that were made in the 80’s, his records are a perfect example of the worst of that decade’s impulses.  If there was a cheesy and synthetic keyboard sound that was popular in whatever year one of his records was made, be sure that it is on that record and it is even more reverb drenched, synthetic, and 80’s sounding than it needs to be.  That’s not to say in his career that there aren’t some great pop songs in the lot.  White Wedding and Eyes Without a Face, if you hadn’t been numbed to them by a million radio spins, are really great pieces of pop art.  I can’t help but think of the best of his solo lot as the musical equivalent to a Warhol painting.  They often reflect back the hollowness of the culture, but are also strangely enjoyable and full of trashy beauty in their own way.  They are at a minimum fun, and not just an imitation of fun.  He was clearly enjoying himself on something when they were made.

It is in the splintering of Generation X that you find a really interesting tale about music in Western culture.  You have part of the band going on to form Empire and you have Billy Idol’s solo career.  Empire made a truly unique and artistic record, one that is not without its own pop hooks as well, and although they eventually went on to influence a good deal of musicians, faded largely from the world without a trace as far as the greater culture was concerned.  Meanwhile, Billy Idol followed the trends, made records that were largely of their time, and went on to sell millions of records which to this day have not left our airwaves.

I can enjoy, for different reasons, both kinds of music. I like art and I like spectacle.  Sometimes I enjoy a nice escapist movie, why should music be any different?  However, why does the general public favor one form?  Why do the money interests line up behind one form?  Is it the fact that people are only exposed to one thing?  Is something easier to sell to people because it is simpler to sell something that has fewer layers that need explained?  Even if people were given equal exposure to different kinds of music would they always choose the broader less artistic choice?

Blockbuster movies make more sense.  A 200 million dollar spectacle requires less out of the viewer than a slow paced interpretive indie film.  But often pop music is weirder than one thinks upon closer inspection.  Michael Jackson was a strange fellow by anyone’s measurements, but he managed to sell millions of records and connect with millions of people.

More involved movies, much like reading, require you to learn a language, the language of the cinema.  However, music, unless we are talking about music that is primarily based around literate lyrics, is a more emotional form.  That is not to say that learning more about music can’t open you up to new forms and bring added interest to things that already appeal to you.  Sometimes people like certain things because they throw out certain cultural touchstones.  A lot of the horrible pop country that is out there is probably successful because it is selling a lifestyle and conforming to an identity.  I can’t help but think that what succeeds in music is what gets money invested in it and what gets exposure, at least up to a point.

Let’s go back to Billy Idol.  Did he have a large amount of hits simply because he sold a lifestyle?  Although you could argue that his image was largely based around a cartoon image of what a rock star should be, it’s hard to say that his success was based on some kind of identification with his personal life or lyrics.  He really did do a mountain of cocaine and sleep with a thousand women.  The average person might occasionally dream of such a life, but they can hardly identify with it.

I think his extreme popularity was partially due to circumstances surrounding his unique moment in time.  He looked great on MTV, which was new at the time.  He had an image that was unique to him and this made his music easy to visually translate.  There is always luck in any success story.  He was at the right place and right time and met the right people.  However, I’m not denying that he does have certain talents.  He could write pop hooks and sing with a unique voice.  His music also always had a certain rock n roll enthusiasm about it, even when it was covering the fact that behind his voice was often slick candy gloss pop music.

As sort of a postscript I should also mention that he put out an album in 2005 called The Devil’s Playground.  Much like his 80’s music, it displayed the worst sonic production values of our time.  Often records that are made now seek to emulate earlier periods, but are often too slick, too compressed, and too cold sounding to mimic the passion of an earlier era.  Listen to Steve Stevens’s guitar on this record.  He often plays like a punk rock guitar player on this record,  but with the edges sanded off.  No kid picking up a guitar to fight the world would ever have such an expensive and polished sound.  As is often the case in this day and age, we are often in danger of letting technology overwhelm us.  That is not to say the record is without its merits.  Billy Idol can still sing and there are a couple of pop songs that are trashy and fun enough to overcome the lyrical and musical clichés inherent in them.  There are probably four or five songs on the record that I really enjoy listening for no other reason than they click that certain pleasure switch in the brain.  Everyone needs cheap thrills sometimes.

Anyway, it is easy to laugh at me for spending a great amount of time thinking about such things.  But I believe most things in life are interesting if viewed from a certain vantage point.  Even seemingly dead end alleyways of thought can occasionally lead to strange new worlds.  If not for Billy Idol’s solo career, I would never have discovered Generation X or Empire and for that I am thankful.  Even cartoons need artists to draw them.

We Will Always Have Music

I mentioned in a previous post how George Armstrong Custer would travel with a brass band that would strike up a tune as he went into battle.  I also read, although I can’t remember the exact passage, that when we were building one of our early western forts during the time of Indian Wars, that one of the first things we did was send along enough instruments for a 25 piece band.  Stories like that highlight to me the importance of music, even if the world appears to value it less and less these days.

Even if in some long distant future the system crashes and the electric grid goes down, we will find some way to structure sound.  Pop music and the current music industry may someday be lost to the ages, but mankind will always beat on things, blow into things, and strum things to make music.  It is part of what makes us human.

Ruins of the Realm

Standin’ in the middle of a Roman street
Marble dust all over my feet
Bearded masses at the gates
Dancin’ in the ruins while it’s not too late

Drivin’ a Rolls through old Bombay
Rickshaw driver’s in my way
Well he’d better move over and he’d better move fast
Dancin’ in the ruins of a golden past
Dancin’ in the ruins of the Raj
Queen and country’s noble cause

Standin’ on banks of the river Seine 
I ain’t got tuppence to my name
Stand my ground and I cast my net
Dancin’ in the ruins where the sun don’t set
Dancin’ in the ruins of the Crown
Enfield rifles keepin’ us down 

I got a thirty-ought-six and a premium load
In a shotgun shack on a two lane road
Smack in the middle of the bible belt
Dancin’ in the ruins all by myself

We got the National Guard with the bayonets
We got the ten commandments on the State House steps
We shalt not steal and we shalt not kill
Dancin’ in the ruins of our own free will
Dancin’ in the ruins of the South
Confederate flag taped over my mouth

We thank thee lord for all we got
While the multi-nationals call the shots
So scrape them hides and clean that slate
Dancin’ in the ruins of the nation-state

We’ll fight ’em in the land, we’ll fight ’em in the air
Little cowboy says we got to fight ’em over there
You ain’t seen nothing like it since Saigon fell
Dancin’ in the ruins ’cause we might as well
Dancin’ in the ruins of the realm
A fool and a mad man at the helm
Dancin’ in the ruins of the Reich
Down in the bunker on a hunger strike

By James McMurtry. I will be with Shinyribs at the Saxon Pub tonight in Austin.  We go on at 11pm.  James McMurtry, one of my absolute favorites will take the stage before us at 8pm.  I am going to try to be there for all of set.  I was up till 4:30am last night, so I may be running slightly late.  I feel like half the man I used to be today!  

Robocop and the Reality of Robot Wars

Sometimes you can pick up new ideas in the strangest of places.  For Christmas my brother bought me a magazine called Geek that had a feature about the new Robocop movie that is being made.  He bought it as a present of fun.  Both of us share a love for the extreme violence and brilliant satire of the first Robocop movie.  It is insanely quotable and beneath its sensationalist action picture front is a deeply subversive satire of fascism, the military industrial complex, the news, and many other aspects of modern American life.

I was not expecting much out of the remake as most remakes are dreadful.  It’s still too early to tell how the new remake will fair, but the director of the new picture, Jose Padhila, seemed of rare intelligence for an action movie.  He talked about how the new film will include ideas derived from our modern drone war.

I mentioned, in an earlier post, the new footage that has appeared of Boston Dynamic’s robots.  These are robots that are being built with largely Pentagon funding.  It appears that drones are just the first step in automated warfare.

The director, in the Robocop article, raised a series of interesting questions and ideas.  Since the Vietnam War a large degree of our country’s opposition to war has derived from the bloodshed of our fellow citizens.  Would the protesting of the Vietnam War have reached such heights without kids coming home in body bags?  Although, in a now volunteer army, the bloodshed affects fewer families and other citizens than ever before, a large degree of what opposition there was to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq came out of the blood and treasure that our country is losing in those wars.  The protests that arose from those wars were nowhere near the levels that we saw during Vietnam.

So the director brought up the question that if there is very little or no bloodshed in warfare, on our side, will we allow our government to fight wars for far longer than they need be?  Many people feel that the drone war that Obama is waging is immoral, but there is no large scale revolt to it.  I have my doubts that changing the President would change the nature of the way we are fighting war right now.  Although there is a faction of the Republican Party that is against intervention overseas, most Republican politicians are more hawkish than Democrats.  I think if we are going to change the nature of how and why we fight wars it is going to have to come from the bottom.

What happens if troop deaths are kept to a minimum because their most dangerous tasks have been replaced by robots?  If we can fight wars where only one side really suffers will our fear of war diminish?  With technology stacked on our side in ways not before imagined, will we become even more hawkish in our relations with other countries?  These are only a few of the questions are being raised by this scary technology.  Some of you may laugh at the idea of robots fighting wars, but do you homework and you will see that this is no longer the prospect of science fiction movies.  One does not need to be a genius to look at what we are now doing with drones, view the footage below, and see how we are at the cusp of dangerous new technology.  We better start asking moral and ethical questions now, before it is too late.  Soon enough the terrible dreams of our writers will be the new normal.

Link to Boston Dynamic’s Military Robots:

(I think they could have done without the dramatic music.  The implications of this clip are scary enough without it.)

Free Christmas Single

Merry Christmas!  No Show Ponies is giving away a free Christmas single today and tomorrow.  You can download it for free from our Reverb Nation page at the link above.  This song was recorded in Pennsylvania with our old band.  They are a great bunch of guys and will be missed this Christmas, along with everyone else back in Pa, as we are not making the journey home this year.  Hopefully everyone in Pa and beyond will be getting sauced with loved ones tonight.  Happy Holidays from Austin, Texas!  

Linda Scott, The Future, and Metro Sexual Cowboys


One of my favorite songs is I’ve Told Every Little Star by Linda Scott.  It is innocent joy captured through sound.  It is a song and a singer perfectly matched.  Listen to her voice when she sings the second line of the verses.  Plenty of other singers could sing that melody and it wouldn’t sound quite the same.  There is a good deal of alchemy going on in this song. 

Link to I’ve Told Every Little Star:

Another one of my favorite songs is The Future by Leonard Cohen.  It’s at the complete opposite end of the spectrum.  Leonard Cohen’s song is full of imagery and ideas while Linda Scott’s is a simple love song, though not without its own wit.  Linda Scott sounds as if she is a teenager when she is singing this song and in fact she was.  Leonard Cohen was almost sixty when he sang The Future, but he actually sounds much older, as if the Bible were singing. 

Link to The Future

Although the emotions are very different, both songs make you feel something.  One song is sunshine and the other is a long cold winter setting in.  There are different seasons in life and you need songs for all of them. 

The country music that I posted last night exists at neither end of this spectrum nor anywhere in between.  There is no effervescent joy nor is there light being shown on dark truths.  Even to call it middle of the road would be a disservice to real music.  Things that are middle of the road, which fail to hit their emotional mark, are usually, at least aiming to connect with something other than your wallet.  I can’t help but wonder if the people in those country music videos are self aware enough to realize that they are nothing but the extension of a marketing campaign.  Maybe they are hopped up on cocaine, hanging out with beautiful women, and just going along for whatever short ride of notoriety that they have been lucky enough to stumble upon, fully aware of the foolishness they are unleashing.  Maybe they believe their own bullshit.  It’s hard to tell.  I don’t wish to examine that world long enough to find out.  In fact, after this post, hopefully I will never think or write about such meaningless gibberish again. 

Is it really the fault of these metro sexual cowboys anyway?  I would say that it is, but only up to a point.  In the days of fading career prospects and rampant militarism, who wouldn’t want to be a millionaire if only for a moment?  Maybe they should take their drug addled run in the sun before the whole deal goes down.  There are more important questions.  Who are the people that are funding these advertisements that try to hide in the shape of songs?  Also, has a large section of the American Public been so beaten down, defeated, and brainwashed, that this stuff actually sounds like music to them?  Something’s happening here. 

Things are gonna slide, slide in all directions
Won’t be nothing
You can measure anymore

– Leonard Cohen, The Future


Commercial as Song

The above link is to a video that proves that all pop country music is the same.  This is why I don’t listen to the radio.  I am remaining ignorant out of protection for my sanity.  I apologize to anyone that is trying really hard to make this a great format again.  But if this kind of music enters my car while I am flipping through the stations, there may be a traffic accident. 

This is not music.  This is a lifestyle brand.  There is no art here, only one long commercial and this commercial is full of plastic emotions and packaged rebellion.  Buy a truck, wear a certain kind of clothes and get a certain kind of guy, wear a certain kind of clothes and bang a certain kind of girl, and so on.  And so it goes…