Along with the article I posted before this one and others, there is all kinds of depressing news in Texas right now. I find it despicable that others should be telling women what to do with their own bodies. I don’t understand the mind frame of those in the power structure that want to control women, minorities, etc. I mean I understand their goals, but I don’t understand the actual way their brains work, unless they are sociopaths. Those without power who back them are depressingly comedic fools, clinging to nothing but illusion. The urge to control others is in our society, in our makeup. We must resist the urge if possible.
This is a deeply strange country. Sometimes it too closely resembles the movie Blue Velvet, where a seemingly normal veneer masks a darker underbelly. The other night on tour I found myself with the rare solo hotel room. It was late, but since I don’t have cable, I decided to see if there was anything interesting on that I would normally not get to watch. I was in Oklahoma. What I found was perverse mixture of religion and crime.
The first thing that I stumbled upon was the televangelist Mike Murdock. He looked like he should have been hosting a Vegas magic show with a black sequined shirt on, hair that was so black it was almost blue, and a black goatee. He was giving a strange mixture of religious and finical advice. He wanted viewers to “sow” the “seeds” of their future for just $83 a month. He was hoping that 120 souls would send him a thousand dollars a piece. He was shamefully asking for money like a late-night infomercial host while holding a Bible. Televangelists have been around a long time, but the sheer look of this guy was creepy, like if he tried to sell you a used car you would be suspicious. However, he clearly has enough money to appear on not one, but two channels at the same time. Someone out there in the American night was buying into his insane schtick, long after Jimmy Swaggart’s deal went south.
The strange thing was, he wasn’t even the only televangelist on. In flipping the channel I again not only found him again, but another one on at the same time in the same state. Between these I saw the equally strange infomercials that so dominate late night television. Bad ideas for those that just might be in a state to believe anything. Some guy that looked like an albino was trying to sell personal generators incase U.S. power grid going down. I understand that in someplace like Oklahoma, where tornados are a reality, there may occasionally be a need for such a thing, but this was beyond that. This was trying to strike fear into the average person to make them think that Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome was right around the corner.
Even weirder still, every channel that I turned on that did not feature religious or business hucksters of some kind, featured crime and punishment. These were, for the most part, true crime shows, that let one know what kind of savagery was waiting outside their door. i finally settled on a show that was about Arizona’s famous tent city prison, where inmates sleep under tents in the stifling Arizona heat and do hard labor by day. The part of the show that I watched was about someone that was a new inmate serving six months for meth. Apparently if he did his time in tent city he could avoid a lengthier sentence in a “real” prison. If he broke the rules in tent city his sentence would be extended and he would again be sent to that “real” prison. However, like prison in general, the inmates formed gangs by race. If they broker the rules of the gangs, which often were the opposite of the rules of the prison, they would get the living fuck beaten out of them. This didn’t have to put the fear into people. This actually resembled Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.
So here in Oklahoma, people were being preyed upon by religious hucksters and slimy sale men. Meanwhile they are constantly receiving messages of fear: Fear that they are going to go broke, fear that hell awaits, fear that criminals await, and fear that if they break any rules they will go to a prison that animals aren’t fit to live in. No wonder so many people in this country are crazy!
Strangely enough, I have been trying to finish Dante’s Inferno the last couple of days. In Dante’s version of hell, those that use God to commit fraud are worse than those that actually steal. However, in our country we give those people TV programs and tax breaks while those that commit non-violent crimes are put in a living version of hell. Someone might go to jail for theft that, while still wrong, pales in comparison to what these religious con-artists are doing. Someone that robs people of thousands of dollars by prettying upon their fears and religious beliefs becomes a rich celebrity in America. Now there is a lot of absurdity in The Divine Comedy, but I can’t help but feel that our own moral code is often absurd as well.
I went to sleep deeply troubled that night. I try not to be under any illusions as to what is out there. I’ve been well aware of all of the above for quite some time. However, it was jarring seeing it all back to back, channel after channel. Images of unrelenting insanity are being pumped into millions of homes on a daily basis. I’ve read enough to know that over the long game of history that progress is real. I know that change is possible. But for a brief moment I couldn’t help but feel that we were just monkeys with machine guns, gathered around televisions instead of campfires, telling superstitious stories, under the influence of a skull white moon.
The above link is a recently published Morrissey rant at http://www.true-to-you.net, his official site. It’s long, but full of laughs. It is an attack on the Brit Awards, though many passages could serve as attacks on any awards show and the modern music business in general. A sample:
In short, Britain has been encouraged to become a nation of idiots (which, of course, is what it is not). But why has British culture become so debased? Why is it that only ideas-free and factory-farmed ‘personalities’ are encouraged? Is it simply because we are all easier to govern as long as we are free of any content? Well, yes. The sudden, manic rise in loud and overquick camera shots (for a populace presumed to have zero attention span); television sponsorship; persistent sports news for events attended by no one; the obvious lusty dictatorship of the “royal” family (the one and only British institution that we pray for the government to ‘sell off’ – preferably to China)… it all adds up to an underpattern of controlled obedience, and the notion of the BPI awards being handed out by genuine musicologists becomes as ludicrous a concept as witnessing someone on the Brit Awards coming perilously close to actually making a worthwhile point. Meanwhile, if we mourn the unlikely possibility of positive change in pop music, or if we dare suggest that change is even allowable, we are treated like mental patients.
A constant for me, is trying to figure out how the music business feel into such decline. I not only mean in terms of sales that is partially, if not substantially, due to technology, but also why the artistry and cultural relevance is in decline as well? To me, it is an endlessly fascinating subject, not only because I am interested in music, but because I, along with many many other people, can sense that aspects of our culture seem in decline. What are the artistic, economic, political, technological, and cultural forces that are causing this?
In writing I have learned how even the smallest choice of words can allow for misinterpretation. The more I write the more that words seem like a puzzle that can only partially be solved, that conveying the intention of meaning can at best be only mostly realized. This is not only because everyone is bringing their different experiences to a work, but also because words themselves fail absolute truth in some ways.
I have been reading a lot about the controversy concerning American Sniper. I posted a Matt Taibbi article the other day that had to do with the movie and other ideas concerning films and war. He mentions that he hated American Sniper, “slightly less than I expected to.” In the comments someone said that he didn’t give the movie a fair shot because he went in expecting to hate it. They were sort of implying that he was a liberal and that therefore he expected to hate the movie because he was biased against it. That could be possibly true. However, it could also be true that he read a bunch of reviews and those reviews lead him to think that it wouldn’t be that good. It could also be his way of saying that the movie was better than he expected it to because he didn’t typically like war movies or Clint Eastwood movies or any number of reasons.
Now it seems very possible that the reader was viewing Matt Taibbi’s article with the same heavy bias that he was accusing Taibbi of. It is also possible that the reader was bringing their own frame to Taibbi’s words. However, because Taibbi did not explain why he expected to hate it, his words are left open to interpretation. Every time you make a statement you could make a bunch of other statements trying to clarify what you mean, but those too might be open to interpretation, and anyway, every piece of writing cannot account for all of those different ideas. It’s almost impossible to reach a level of absolute truth all of the time.
I don’t know how some people write, but usually when I write I imagine a voice. Sometimes that will be a serious voice, sometimes it will be satirical. It is almost like when you are telling a story and you communicate different parts of the story with different inflections in your voice. Hopefully some degree of your voice of intent will get through in the language you choose, but it won’t always, and it definitely won’t with all readers.
These kinds of decisions could be paralyzing if you worry too much about what other people think. If you worried about every interpretation by every reader you probably wouldn’t get very much writing done. How people read what you write, like so much in life, is out of your control. You must try to do the best work that you can given the form you are working in, put your head down, and hope for the best.
Spoiler Alert: I discuss the ending of the show Deadwood in this post.
One of the hardest things in art, as in life, is knowing when to let go of something. If you worked on something a little harder could it have been better? Can you work something over until that original spark and passion has been extinguished? I’ve made mistakes on both sides of that equation at times. One has to have enough of an ego to see a project through, but one also has to not let the ego get in the way of letting things happen naturally. Things are going to turn out like they do. At some point control is only an illusion.
If you are making a record for instance, unless you record every single instrument yourself and do all the engineering yourself, assuming you even know what you are even doing at every step of the way, things are not going to turn out exactly as you planned. As soon as other’s hands get on something it is going to change no matter how carefully planned your original intentions were. Although it is true that this can occasionally be your downfall, if you are open to new ideas you might just end up in some magical place that you hadn’t planned. Even if you are controlling as many factors as possible, you still run up against the limitations of personal talent and technology.
One of the reasons I find most session players so dreadful is that they are not confined by as many limitations as most people. They can almost play or do anything musically that one can ask of them. The problem is this usually leads to something that is imitative. It’s usually technical ability over passion. Passion most often comes out of struggle. Soul and originality is most often created in art and music in that struggle between real world limitations and the endless potential of the imagination. In that space is where something new is most often forged.
There are outliers and freaks whom can seemingly do anything with ease, and can still do it with soul, but those people come at the rate of only a few in a lifetime. If we relied on people like that our record collections and art museums would be very small indeed.
Sometimes things end seemingly prematurely, but in hindsight seem to almost end as if touched by perfection. It’s at times like these that the universe almost seems to be speaking to us. As much as I wish Lou Reed had made ten more records, if you listen to Junior Dad, his final song on his final album, it’s almost impossible to imagine a more perfect end to his career.
The Smiths’ ended their last album with the song I Won’t Share You. “I won’t share you / With the drive and the dream inside / This is my time.” It’s like their unconsciousness knew they were going their separate ways even before their conscious minds did, even though everyone claims that the recording sessions for that album were amicable. Plus, as always, Morrissey has razor sharp wit.
I was thinking about the show Deadwood today. Deadwood is a show that not only tells the story of that town, a real historic town fictionally imagined, but also tells the story of how society comes to order itself. This show that was canceled before the shows creator, David Milch, could finish the story that he wanted to tell. Unlike most westerns the “bad guy”, if you could call him that in a show filled often with moral ambiguity, rides out of town unharmed. His character represents the large corporate interests in American life that come in and destroy the natural balance of things in a community. To many fans, myself included, this ending was originally completely unsatisfactory. Not only did it not fulfill what we had come to expect in a traditional story arc, as nothing had really been tied up, but those of us that followed the show knew that this was not the way the creator had intended it to end.
However, the more I thought about it, the more I thought it was a perfect ending for that show. The show’s ending is truthful to the very real outcome that we tragically see too often in America. Too often we see corporations come in and destroy the balance of our communities, only to get off with little if any harm done to them. Also in a strange example of life imitating art, or vice versa, the corporate suits killed off the show in the same way that George Hearst had destroyed the balance of the town. Every time I watch the ending of that show I have knots in my stomach, but as with the rest of the show, it rings true.
One should work as hard as possible to make something the best that they can and stay as true to their vision as possible. However, one should also remember that control over the outcome is often an illusion. Don’t let that scare you. It could very often be the thing that infuses it with magic in the end.