Going Back to Love

Looking for the days of wine and roses
The bounty after the flood
All of my past ventures have failed me
So I’m going back to…
Looking to put some food on my table
And get these boots out of the mud
I heard this town’s looking for a troubadour
So I’m going back to…

The last refuge of the poets
Seeking shelter from irrelevance
The last refuge of the meek
Seeking quarter from ambition

I’m going back to love

Looking to find favor with the weaker sex
Butter and not guns
I’ve never been much of a fighter
So I’m going back to…
Looking for something I can believe in
They kicked me out of Christiandom 
But in my own way I’m a missionary 
So I’m going back to…

The last refuge of the poets
Seeking shelter from irrelevance
The only way they can connect
To the huddled wretched masses

I’m going back to love

No more science, no more reason
I’m not a man for all seasons
No more science, no more reason
No more evolution

I’m going back to love

Lyrics to a song I wrote some time in the distant past.  I think I was reading a lot of Flannery O’Connor at the time, though I can’t be sure.  A cynical narrator that can’t be trusted, using the thing that brings people together to enrich and ingratiate himself.

Dark Mountains, Optimism, and Pessimism


The following is from an interview in 1984:  

Interviewer:  Are you a pessimist or an optimist?

Morrissey:  I think I’m an optimist, because I am here and I’m doing this.  If I was a total pessimist I would have never have bothered.  I would have just, you know, stayed in bed, and didn’t bother to do anything.  So I think I’m an optimist.  

Anyone that knows Morrissey’s work would know that he often deals in dark themes and human failings.  Flannery O’Connor once said that, “If a writer writes about dirt it is because they despise dirt, not because they love it.”  

I’m sometimes told that I dwell in the dark too much.  However, I too would consider myself an optimist.  I believe the world can be a better place.  In order to get to that place though you must realize what you are dealing with and tackle it head on as best you can.  You must attempt to look for the truth even if that leads you down dark alleys at times.  There is a great deal of joy and beauty in the world, but there should be more of it.  It is those dark mountains we must climb and conquer.  

Morality and Censorship in Art

Should art have any kind of moral compass?  I’ve mentioned in recent posts that I’m currently going through a thrash metal phase.  I’ve been listening to albums by the Big 4, which is Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, and Slayer.  Many songs by these bands depict the horrors of this world, and the next one, without any kind of commentary on how they feel about these horrors.  That’s not to say that these bands don’t also have socially conscious lyrics as well, but there are many that simply paint a picture and leave it up to the listener to interpret them. 

In particular I am thinking about the Slayer song Angel of Death.   The song is about the Nazi doctor Josef Mengele.  This song talks about the horrors of the Holocaust without any kind of commentary by the band telling the listener if those deeds were good or bad.  Although Slayer would later go on to write things that had more of a point of view, at this point they were just writing brutal lyrics filled with horrors.  Because of listening to this song and others I have begun thinking about whether or not this kind of thing is responsible.    

In thinking about it I have decided that art, as long as it is art and a form of true expression, does not need to have a moral compass in the standard sense.  An artist’s only responsibility is to express themselves in the truest way that they can.  I would like to explain why I think this. 

First of all I am talking about art and not about commerce.  If something is done just to make money this is a betrayal of the talents of an artist.  All artists are lucky and are blessed with a talent.  Whether you deem that that talent is the result of hard work, DNA, fortunate circumstances, or some higher power, the ability to create something is a gift.  Using this “gift” for anything other than creating something that is true is not valuing the talent that you have been lucky enough to have bestowed upon you.  I am a realist.  I understand that in this day and age there are circumstances where the artist might have to occasionally cash in so that they have the freedom to nurture their true gift.  In the music business, for instance, it is growing harder and harder every day to make a living.  To create something to make money, so that you can survive, take care of your loved ones, and nurture your talent further, may not be ideal, but it may need to be done on occasion.  The line where this goes from being survival to exploitation of your talent is a murky one.  At the end of the day each individual needs to live with their own decisions. 

Also, there are plenty of things out there that have no artistry to them whatsoever and are simply done to exploit the public in some form or fashion.  Most reality TV is like this.  It creates the opposite of thinking.  It leaves the mind in a dulled state so that it can be more easily influenced by the advertising that is this forms true aim: To make money for large corporations.  Plus these things take many people that may have talent, and while possibly providing them with a living, uses those talents towards an idiotic end. 

So let’s get past that and take the exploitation of talent by commerce out of this.  Should an artist use that talent to try to make the world a better place, and if so how do they do that?  Again, I have already answered no.  That is not to say that I don’t idolize people like John Lennon and Bob Marley who inspired people with their calls for social justice.  But I would say that the art that they created was a natural extension of who they were and what they believed in.  Because of this their work is organic, full of passion, and rings true to this day.  If an artist gets to a place of enlightenment where they can write about topics that bring light to the world, then I am all for it.  If this kind of art comes from a true place it will have weight and validity. 

As an artist I think you should, despite the television and your gut often tells you the opposite, treat people like they are intelligent beings capable of reasoning on their own.  Another way to exploit talent is to reduce everything to the lowest common denominator.  If you are creating something you should not let your ego tell you that you are smarter than everyone.  You should assume that there are enough people that are as smart or are smarter than you that will get what you are doing.  If you look out at the world and see some kind of void in what you want you want to hear or see, then you should try to fill that void as best you can.  Even if this provides you with a smaller audience it is out of your control.  Sometimes, like Bob Dylan, the world will reward you.  Sometimes, like Vincent Van Gogh, the world may not catch onto what you are doing until you are long gone.  And there are sometimes when you may not ever be acknowledged, but that is ok.  At least you were trying to do something of value.  Success is not an indicator of anything.  The Backstreet Boys sold way more albums than The Velvet Underground, but only one of them moved the cultural needle. 

So now let us get back to Angel of Death.  Is a song morally reprehensible because it depicts a real world horror without any social commentary?  Again, I say no.  In doing so you would wrongly be assuming that everyone was stupid.  In doing something like this you are causing people to think for themselves.  Someone may or may not want to listen to something like this, but in hearing it they have to at least confront the issue.  They can’t ignore that something like this happened in the world.  This is not escapism, which too has its place and time.  I know enough about Slayer to know that they are not Nazi’s and that they actually wrote songs later that did express a point of view which was in no way associated with fascism.  They were simply depicting something, which in and of itself means that it is not necessarily moral, but it is not immoral. 

Two of my favorite bands of the last year have been The Angelic Upstarts and The Cockney Rejects.  These are two second generation British punk bands that are often associated with the Oi! Movement.  The Oi! Movement is really misunderstood as it was primarily a working class movement.  However, there were Oi! bands that were racist skinheads.  The Angelic Upstarts and the Cockney Rejects both actively fought against the right wing aspects of this movement, sometimes literally!  The Angelic Upstarts in particular were very political and often sang about supporting unions and other important working class topic matters.  They even have a song called Anti-Nazi

But what about the bands that were racist?  Should this music have been prevented from being made?  Although I would never listen to such things, I would say that art, if it is true expression, should never be censored.  If someone has a feeling, even an ignorant backwards feeling, if it is expressed truly in the public eye than it brings it out of the darkness.  Art is a conversation that often takes place in the public eye.  Where hatred and the less noble human emotions can often fester in back rooms, if it is created as something for mass consumption, as something tangible, it has to at least be acknowledged.  If you know something exists you can fight against it.  It has been given a form and a name.  All censorship does is give more power to those that are being censored.  It makes it a cause for those that are being censored, instead of maybe a silly little group of idiots on the fringe of society.  It also is an attempt to whitewash something that may exist.  It is far better to confront things and try to prevent what is causing something, then to ignore its existence.  It may someday, if not acknowledged, become a problem that you can’t ignore. 

So I started talking about the morality of art and ended up at censorship.  I always like to remember the Flannery O’Connor quote, and I’m paraphrasing here, that if an artist writes about dirt it is often because that artist despises dirt and not because they love it.  Although we should want love and joy out of art, we should also realize that those that are diving into the darkness of the human condition have a value as well.  We live in a capitalist society where you often vote with your dollar.  You should only vote for things that you think bring value to society, but that is for you as an individual to decide.  More often than not I would rather hang Vincent Van Gogh on my wall, but occasionally I want to stare transfixed at The Raft of the Medusa.  The duality of man fascinates me.  The world is such an interesting place! 

You’ve Got to Have Hope

The above video is a long speech by author and activist Rebecca Solnit on the topic of hope.  It’s easy in this day and age to want to throw your hands up in defeat.  With climate change, reality TV, endless war, the military industrial complex, overpopulation, banal music on the radio, the increasing gap between rich and poor, people in power like Ted Cruz and Rick Perry, or any number of other things, it can be hard to wake up each day with a can do attitude.  On this blog I often point to a lot that is wrong in this world.  The reason for that is simply that a lot is wrong.  However, if I didn’t think things could be better I would simply quit writing, go buy a ton of drugs, and enter my own private fantasy land.  I always loved Flannery O’Connor’s quote that if a writer writes about dirt it is because the writer despises dirt, not because they love it.  (Paraphrased)  Hope doesn’t mean looking at the world through rose tinted glasses.  It just means realizing that the potential for positive change is there if it is worked towards.  Even someone like Hunter Thompson, famous for writing things like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, believed in fighting the good fight for a better future.  There is nothing more noble in human beings, in the face of an ever growing storm, than small acts of defiance like hope.

Bruce Springsteen and Flannery O’Connor

In the fields of the lord
Stood Abel and Cain
Cain slew Abel ‘neath the black rain
At night he couldn’t stand the guilt or the blame

So he gave it a name
So he gave it a name
So he gave it a name

Billy got drunk, angry at his wife
He hit her once, he hit her twice
At night he’d lie in bed, he couldn’t stand the shame

So he gave it a name
So he gave it a name
So he gave it a name

Pa told me “son, one thing I know is true
Poison snake bites you, you’re poison too”
At night I can feel that poison runnin’ ’round my veins

Gave it a Name by Bruce Springsteen.  As those of you that have been reading along know, I have been diving back into Springsteen’s catalogue.  This is a lesser known song off of his Tracks box set.  Ever since I was a teenager this song has moved me for reasons that I can’t quite articulate.  I have never been a religious person, but the haunted Biblical language in this song has always appealed to me.  It’s poetic and yet simple at the same time.  It’s as if this song is carved from stone. 

I love the writing of Flannery O’Connor and I know Springsteen read her as well.  Wise Blood is one of my favorite novels and her short stories are simply some of the best American short stories ever.  I’ve read the short story A Good Man is Hard to Find numerous times, always taken in by it at every reading.  (Springsteen would later go on to steal that title for a song.)  A lot of people call her writing southern grotesque, which is a term she never liked.  Her writing is truly unique.  It is infused with a good deal of the same kind of Old Testament poetry which gives it a timeless power. 

I also like the way Springsteen lets the last verse hang.  In the lyrics as well as the song there is no third chorus.  It leaves the song unresolved and mysterious.  Art is often at its best when it is not tied up in a neat little package for you at the end.  It allows the imagination to fill in the blanks.  

The Artificial Hillbillies

Dear God in Heaven!  I was just out at Wal-Mart getting some cheap socks for the tour.  As long as you have clean underwear and socks on tour you can survive.  Everything else is negotiable.  I don’t usually shop at Walmart, but when I need something I don’t care about, like socks, I end up going there.  Yes, I’m selling everything I believe in down the river for a couple pairs of socks.  My soul is cheap.  Anyway, as soon as I walked in I saw four giant flat screen TVs with Duck Dynasty on them.  I mean as soon as I walked into the store.  Then I saw books and all kinds of other stuff featuring them.  Holy shitballs!

It reminded me of a story by Flannery O’Connor called The Artificial Nigger.   This story is about two white country bumpkins that go to the city.  It is a demented fish out of water story.  Basically, what finally pushes them over the edge is that they see the figure in the title.  They can’t believe they are in a place that doesn’t have enough black people, even though it’s filled with them, and actually needs to make artificial ones.   This completely breaks the grandson in the story and he has no desire to ever return to the city.

Why was I thinking of that story?  I have lived in Central Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Texas.  I have seen enough ignorant hillbillies in my day that, I don’t need to see images of them everywhere I go.  This country has enough stupid people.  We don’t need to be putting them in more places than they already are with television screens!