Shows, Recording, Joe, Stephen King, Voltaire, and Other Musings

It’s been another busy week here in Texas.  Last weekend was four show, this weekend there are four shows, and two of my three days off I have been recording.  Going on the road this week with the Shinyribs band:

Shinyribs Show Dates

I’m hoping to get a book worth discussing before I hit the highway.  Musically I have been living exclusively in the world of Jamaica.

Recording just a few songs with my good friend Mick Flowers who, aside from being an excellent drummer and producer, is also a prop master, and an amazing one at that.  I just saw the last movie that he did, Joe starring Nicholas Cage, and it was fantastic.  A gritty southern grotesque with a dark heart and an even darker sense of humor.  It’s on Netflix right now and it is worth seeking out if you like your movies jet black or if you are a fan of southern writers like Harry Crews and Flannery O’Connor.  It was filmed around Austin and apparently many of the people in the film, although excellent, are not trained actors, but regular people recruited for the film.

In Austin we went from last year, where you couldn’t swim because all of the swimming holes were dry, to not being able to swim this year because the creeks are overflowing due to an abundance of rain.  I know better than to substitute weather for climate, but the weather sure has been strange down here the last few years.

The more I think about it the more I am extremely happy that I read Voltaire’s Candide.  It is a satire of the human condition of the highest order.  You will never hear anyone say, “All is for the best”, or “Everything happens for a reason”, again the same way.

Been reading Stephen King short stories the last couple of weeks.  It is amazing how prolific he is.  I know there are some critics that criticize his writing style, but he has an ability to tap into the uncanny in a way that few other writers can.  I like genre fiction, or songwriting, or movies, as long as they are done well.  There is something interesting about taking a certain genre, trying to work within its limits, and deliver surprises along the way that is appealing.  I always believed that a lot of creativity comes out of limitations.

Anyway, I am off to enjoy some rare sunshine before I head into the studio.

In the future, when all’s well…

Jeff

Frankenstein, Voltaire, and Time Warping

I just finished reading Frankenstein.  It has remained a classic for good reason.  There is not much I feel I can add to that.  However, I can’t stop being in disbelief that it was written by a 19 year old, especially a 19 year old woman in a time when woman were often treated as second class citizens.

The last book I read was Voltaire’s Candide, which was written in the 1700’s.  It’s like if George Carlin and Kurt Vonnegut wrote a book together.  Their work is still freaking out people now, one can imagine what those in Voltaire’s time period thought.

The thing is, history is not a constant march forward.  Maybe as a whole the world progresses.  But there are many places and pockets where things are moving forward and backwards all of the time.  Some places in our country are still in the 1950’s culturally.  Some people in third world countries live like the industrial revolution never took place.  (Check out these pictures from Mongolia, they will blow your mind!)  I think so many of the worlds problems come from different places, existing in almost different time periods, rubbing up against each other.  When the past and the present collide, things are bound to go sideways.

Why Are We Not Smarter Now?

I recently read Candide by Voltaire.  I will add my voice to the many over the years that have deemed it a classic.  I think I would even say it is one of my favorite books I have read.  If you were to tell someone to read a book that was written by a French intellectual in the 1700’s, many would imagine something dense and challenging.  However, despite the amazing wealth of ideas in the book, it is direct, accessible, funny, and full of truths that still resonate in the modern day.  I almost felt in certain ways that I was reading a precursor to Carlin or Vonnegut, people that are able to speak truth to power in very direct and clear way, while making you laugh out loud at things you shouldn’t be laughing at.

I was a history major at WVU for several years, before finally graduating with an American Studies degree from Penn State.  One of the things in history that always comes up is trying to justify or condemn someone for what they did based upon the times that they live in.  “Well so and so owned slaves, but you have to understand the times that they lived in.”  I think something like that is only completely true if you know how far thought had progressed in certain societies.  If slavery or some other evil is accepted by almost everyone, then you might not be able to judge someone if the light of truth hadn’t been shown on that particular evil yet.  On the other side, if people knew something was evil, or unethical, than you can judge those people in their own time.

Reading Voltaire makes me think that the argument, you have to understand the times, doesn’t hold water as much as I thought.  Voltaire satirizes almost all of the evils of his time and ours:  Violence over religion, colonialism, exploiting other humans for profit, violence against women, war, and on and on.  The book was written in 1759, before the United States even existed, yet there is a passage where he points out how absurd it is to treat those of another race cruelly, especially in the name of God and country.  He is constantly satirizing different religious sects for fighting with each other over beliefs.

The book basically follows the title character, a well meaning but naive man from Germany who is told by a court philosopher that all is for the best, that all is part of some natural order.  When Candide gets kicked out of the castle he is living in, for being with a woman that he shouldn’t be, his story becomes a downward spiral of the tragic and comic as one bad thing happens after another.  The language is very direct and simple, but the amount of terrible deeds listed almost becomes poetic in its scope.  It certainly is one of those works where things are so terrible it goes through the looking glass, where the awful becomes funny as a result of perceived absurdity.  The book holds a mirror up to the human race, asking the question, almost screaming, “What are you doing?!!!”

The forward to the book makes the case that above all, Voltaire was against superstition.  It was superstition, belief in things that have no basis in nature, that is man’s biggest folly.  He understood the cruelty that humans could do to one another through created orders like religion and nation states.

Although Voltaire doesn’t have any answers, he does have a direction by the end of the book that at least points towards ways in which humans could lead lives worth living.  Although this is a book largely of darkness, even if hilariously conveyed, this is not a book completely without light.

Although the world has progressed in certain ways since the time of Voltaire, many of these problems are still with us.  I couldn’t help but ask myself several questions:  How did he have such a clear view of the world before modern science and so much other knowledge existed?  If he had such a clear view of the world of the world, why were so many others in his time so lost in the dark?  If he had such a clear view of the world in 1759, why is it that so many of these problems still persist?  How is it that someone writing in the 1700’s could see the world, when so many people, SO MANY PEOPLE, of right now are so lost in the woods?  Why do so many idiocies associated with religion and superstition still exist, if he knew so much then and we have gained so much knowledge since his time?

Who knows such things…

George Carlin On the Sanctity of Life

I’m reading Voltaire’s Candide right now, which is blowing my mind.  I will comment why at some point.  Anyway, it made me think of this piece by George Carlin.  I miss that fucker more and more every year.

Here is the transcript for those of you at work that can’t watch the above video. (Hey, I’ve been there!):

But you know, the longer you listen to this abortion debate, the more you hear this phrase “sanctity of life”. You’ve heard that. Sanctity of life. You believe in it? Personally, I think it’s a bunch of shit. Well, I mean, life is sacred? Who said so? God? Hey, if you read history, you realize that God is one of the leading causes of death. Has been for thousands of years. Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Christians all taking turns killing each other ‘cuz God told them it was a good idea. The sword of God, the blood of the land, vengeance is mine. Millions of dead motherfuckers. Millions of dead motherfuckers all because they gave the wrong answer to the God question. “You believe in God?” “No.” *Pdoom*. Dead. “You believe in God?” “Yes.” “You believe in my God? “No.” *Poom*. Dead. “My God has a bigger dick than your God!” Thousands of years. Thousands of years, and all the best wars, too. The bloodiest, most brutal wars fought, all based on religious hatred. Which is fine with me. Hey, any time a bunch of holy people want to kill each other I’m a happy guy.

But don’t be giving me all this shit about the sanctity of life. I mean, even if there were such a thing, I don’t think it’s something you can blame on God. No, you know where the sanctity of life came from? We made it up. You know why? ‘Cuz we’re alive. Self-interest. Living people have a strong interest in promoting the idea that somehow life is sacred. You don’t see Abbott and Costello running around, talking about this shit, do you? We’re not hearing a whole lot from Mussolini on the subject. What’s the latest from JFK? Not a goddamn thing. ‘Cuz JFK, Mussolini and Abbott and Costello are fucking dead. They’re fucking dead. And dead people give less than a shit about the sanctity of life. Only living people care about it so the whole thing grows out of a completely biased point of view. It’s a self serving, man-made bullshit story.

It’s one of these things we tell ourselves so we’ll feel noble. Life is sacred. Makes you feel noble. Well let me ask you this: if everything that ever lived is dead, and everything alive is gonna die, where does the sacred part come in? I’m having trouble with that. ‘Cuz, I mean, even with all this stuff we preach about the sanctity of life, we don’t practice it. We don’t practice it. Look at what we’d kill: Mosquitoes and flies. ‘Cuz they’re pests. Lions and tigers. ‘Cuz it’s fun! Chickens and pigs. ‘Cuz we’re hungry. Pheasants and quails. ‘Cuz it’s fun. And we’re hungry. And people. We kill people… ‘Cuz they’re pests. And it’s fun!

And you might have noticed something else. The sanctity of life doesn’t seem to apply to cancer cells, does it? You rarely see a bumper sticker that says “Save the tumors.”. Or “I brake for advanced melanoma.”. No, viruses, mold, mildew, maggots, fungus, weeds, E. Coli bacteria, the crabs. Nothing sacred about those things. So at best the sanctity of life is kind of a selective thing. We get to choose which forms of life we feel are sacred, and we get to kill the rest. Pretty neat deal, huh? You know how we got it? We made the whole fucking thing up!