Wednesday, December 21, 2016

2016 - What Just Happened?

I mean WTF just happened? Between the untimely departure of many of my musical heroes and the complete demise of The American Dream, I feel like 2016 has been a non-stop gang rape of everything I believed was good and true.

Something about 2016 harkens back to 1915 and the Dadaists. It's not so much the art and anti-art that they created, or the anti-bourgeois sentiments. Rather, it's the complete absurdity of the socio-political environment, and the realization that our 250 year-old American experiment is fizzling and sputtering like a lab rat in its death throes. It's even worse to know that so many of our fellow-citizens don't give a shit about liberty and justice for all, and that they're perfectly happy destroying the planet so long as they can get a new truck, boat, snowmobile, motorcycle, RV etc. every couple of years.

Nonetheless, there are lessons to be learned. One is that the bubble we live in our here on the
Northern California coast really is a bubble, and a small one at that. Another is that the social media echo chamber in which some of us dwell is also a house of mirrors. And that the same is true for everybody: it's become almost impossible to discern opinion from fact, falsehood from reality, and if something enters our sphere that doesn't conform to the norms of our echo chamber, it gets vaporized like mosquito on a bug lamp.

I know this because many of us couldn't have been more wrong, and while we were telling each other how right we were, a revolt was underway. Who knew? Not the NYT, not the WP, not the SFC...Witness then the dangers of the echo chamber, topped with the foam off an orange julius.

So, what now?

First and foremost, we lost so FUCK THAT SHIT! As Tom Petty once sang "it's time to move on, time to get goin'." The federal government is shaping up to be a complete and utter train wreck for progressives, not to mention all the middle-class suckers that got conned by the Chump. quote another song:

De do do do, de da da da
Is all I want to say to you
De do do do, de da da da
Their innocence will pull me through
De do do do, de da da da
Is all I want to say to you
De do do do, de da da da
They're meaningless and all that's true

Meanwhile, Merry Merry from the Hairy Family Singers. I suspect we'll muddle through 2017 one way or another.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Yo! OWG. Get Hip. Get Guilty.

In case you didn’t know, our nation’s troubles are entirely your fault. Yeah, I’m talkin’ to you. Old White Guy.

It’s called White Male Privilege. AKA Old White Guy Rule. And you own it.

You. The descendent of men that believed in a broad, imperial application of Manifest Destiny. Men that believed that the white man was put on the planet by God to rule and enslave the savages, the heathens, the uncivilized hordes, the women.

Men that brought Africans across the ocean to the New World to serve them. Never mind that the Africans were enslaving and selling other Africans to the Americans/Spanish/British/Portuguese etc. to enrich their own kings and queens. Your ancestors couldn’t have bought what wasn’t for sale, but, in 250-year hindsight, they should have known better.

Never mind that the Christians and the Moors, the Egyptians and the Jews, and every other tribe on
the planet had been enslaving their weaker neighbors from the beginning of civilization. (Slavery in Game of Thrones is a pretty accurate historical depiction.)

Never mind that your ancestors believed, often under threat of death, in a book called The Bible. They believed that woman was made from Adam’s rib. For a long time your ancestors had no scientific reason NOT to believe it. The white man’s superiority was ordained by God, and if your ancestor had the balls to suggest otherwise, with his head.

This is your burden now, my friend. It’s said that the sins of the fathers shall be visited upon the sons, and you best believe that it has come to pass. Ask around. Ask your millennial kids.  You’ve stolen a life of privilege simply by being born when and where you were, and now it’s payback time.

Don't let the latest spasm of Old White Guy Rule fool you. DT, Jeff Sessions, Mike Flynn, Rudy Fooliyanni, Steve Bannon - these guys are the last gasp, the death rattle. You may feel like you're off the hook, but in fact this latest white guy twitch will only drive the hook in deeper. Four years from now, your burden will be heavier than ever, trying to undo the frantic flailing of the white right.

And you can't blame it on the true Trumplicans. The 12th-grade education blue collar bunch doesn't count. They wouldn’t know Manifest Destiny or anything else about the evolution of the white man’s privilege if it came up and bit them in the ass. Ignorance is not only bliss, but a conscience free of our special brand of universal guilt.

Besides - and I don’t blame you if you haven’t heard - the trials and tribulations of our less-fortunate
white brothers is your fault, too. This is especially true if you have fed, clothed and sheltered your family while wearing a white collar, and even worse if the company you worked for had “Inc.” appended to their name. Doctors, lawyers, academics, software executives - all are part of the “corporate elite” that has so effectively limited the white male proletariat to Budweiser, Marlboros, Ford Trucks, Smith and Wesson etc. That angry wallpaper hanger that went postal at Chick Fil A? All your fault.

Friends and countrymen, ‘fess the fuck up.

This guilt is yours and yours alone. You with the bachelors, the masters, the doctorate. You, the critical thinker. Tom Wolfe’s “Masters of the Universe.”

Historical context cannot assuage your guilt, so get over it. It doesn’t matter what the social, cultural, political or economic norms were before you arrived. It doesn’t matter that your white male ancestors were behaving in ways that were expected of them. It doesn’t matter that the Founding Fathers “men” that were created “equal” were white men, or that “we the people” meant “we the white male property-owning people.” What they thought was right was, again in 250-year hindsight, obviously very, very wrong.

And it’s up to you to fix it, buddy.

The list of evils on your list - the list you’re entirely responsible for creating - is pretty much endless. It starts with all this senseless death you’ve engendered: drug gang warfare in the cities, teen junkies ODing in the suburbs, tweakers beating up their girlfriends in the cornfields, entire communities strung-out on prescription painkillers, white police killing unarmed blacks, black police killing unarmed blacks, female police killing unarmed blacks, death by cancer, death by heart disease, death by suicide. All that death, and only you to blame.

And what about your objectification and oppression of females, homosexuals, bisexuals, lesbians,
transgenders and everybody/anybody that doesn’t look, dress, talk and walk like you? Clearly, had it not been for your ancestors belief (and maybe yours, too) in the prudish morals of the Bible, there would be no shame in being different.

If the label was to be completely accurate, it would be “Heterosexual White Male Privilege.” There might be some homosexual white male privilege in Palm Springs, or Guerneville, or on Fire Island. But unlikely in Minot, South Dakota, or most of the rest small town USA.

Cop to it, you homophobic, misogynistic, racist bastard. Cop to the drug lords sending bad hombres across the border, the Native Americans losing their lands to big oil, Monsanto poisoning our food supply, hydrocarbons burning holes in the atmosphere, Mickey D’s raping the rainforests. It’s all your fault, fucking glacier melter.

What? You object to the notion that you’re responsible for the actions of your forebears? Well, if it wasn’t for them, you wouldn’t be here. By the same token, if it wasn’t for them, you wouldn’t be enjoying your privileged position in society. And if it wasn’t for their systematic, God-fearing oppression of the “others” and rapacious destruction of the environment, you wouldn’t be so fat and happy, flying down the highway in your ultimate driving machine, guzzling cosmos at the country club, comparing private schools, hedge funds, private jets, tax shelters and Fellatio Alger stories with your fellow Bohemians at The Grove.

It doesn’t matter that some of you have donned a three-piece suit, schlepped your briefcase on the commuter bus to a windowless office on the 45th floor of Anycity, USA for 40 years. Had you not been bequeathed that pink stub between your legs on your birthday, you might’ve never had the opportunity to engage in the daily backstabbing skulduggery of corporate America. Might’ve never got the chance to get strung out on Peruvian Flake and Glenfidditch, never had the chance to go to rehab, or get prostate surgery, or numb yourself with benzos, antidepressants, and college football. After all, it’s a small price to pay for the privilege you’ve neither earned nor deserve.

Besides, it’s hip to be guilty. So, what can you do to undo your crimes?

Get down on your knees and ATONE, motherfucker! Every morning, hit the floor and beg
forgiveness from the rest of humanity for the role your genes have played in destroying the planet and its inhabitants. Give your earthly belongings - your little pork pie hat, your car, your golf clubs, your skis, your wine collection, your vintage guitars, your stock portfolios, your house(s), your yachts, your original Russell Chathams, your hardback collection of the complete works of Jim Harrison, your smartTV, your iMac, your iPad, your iPhone, all those three piece suits and plaid bermuda shorts - every last luxury that you’ve stolen from the people your family has trodden on for generations...give it all away.

Then, after your castration surgery, find an order of monks that will have your evil ass and dissafuckingpear.


If, for some reason, after accepting complete responsibility for all the social, cultural, sexual, racial and economic injustice in the US, its territories, protectorates and minor outlying islands (might as well throw the rest of the world in there), you have additional responsibilities that may prevent you from disafuckingpearing - like a family and the remote possibility of friends. Or you've discovered that you can best provide for those you love with your head held high, well then...

...just do the best you can. Seriously. Give to those organizations that support the American dream, day in day out. The ACLU, The Southern Poverty Law Center, etc. etc. It won't make you any less guilty, but it might make you feel a little better. Try it! Besides, your white kids don't need that inheritance, because if the white male Christian shitheads keep running the show the whole world will be ashes before you can say Armageddon.

With Sincere and Painful Apologies for My Existence and the Existence of all my Ancestors Dating Back to Charlemagne,

Another Old White Guy

My literary attempt at atonement:

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Party After Death: An Excerpt

The following is an excerpt from my latest novel, The Healing of Howard Brown. Some of my readers – those that know me, in particular – have observed that much of Book I is based on actual people and events. This is partially true. Like Charles Dickens in David Copperfield and Saul Bellow in Herzog and Humboldt's Gift, along with the esteemed jazz guitarist Barry Finnerty in START, there are parts of my work that are semi-autobiographical. After all, real life is about as powerful an inspiration an author can have. 
My father, J. Stewart Harrison, did in fact hail from Baton Rouge, among other places in the South. His mother, Louise, was born on the Hazelwood Plantation in Laurel Hill, LA. Both of them were notorious "glass half empty" pessimists and maniacal golfaholics. The scene below is based on fact: my father and mother (to the degree my mother was capable of comprehension at that time) had agreed that dying was the end. Eternal nothingness awaited. This after raising my sister and me in the Catholic church. It seemed a bitter, dark outlook to me then, and still does, as evidenced in the excerpt below. 

Now on Amazon
From chapter one: "Trying to Die"

I closed my eyes as my Vicodin-laced brain pulled sparkling clean memories out of the mental soup with pristine clarity, and eventually recalled a scene of Mom and Dad and a pact they made three years ago.   
That day, the old man sat us down at the kitchen table next to his overstuffed club chair. Then he cleared his throat as if he was in the courtroom about to address the ladies and gentlemen of the jury. “Mom and I have agreed that we don’t believe in any sort of life after death,” he announced, leaning forward on the edge of his chair and running his twisted fingers through his long, silver-blue hair. “We’ve decided that this is the end.”
He looked like the end had already happened, his giant hawk nose a roadmap of booze-busted capillaries, snot perennially coalescing in the nostril fuzz, his grey eyes broken down into pools of uninvited tears hiding in the shade of his overhanging silver brows, his terse upper lip shielding what was left of his teeth.
My mother had no comment. Alzheimer’s had made such concepts as “death” and “the end” as meaningful as “spoon” and “poop.” She might have been wondering what happened to her usual daytime rerun companions: Lucy, Ricky, Matt Dillon, the Brothers Cartwright, Bob Barker. She might have even wondered why we kept her friends holed up in that box in the corner of the kitchen.
But Hal Brown was serious, so I did what I could to paint a brighter picture: “That’s the great thing about death, Dad. Nobody knows for sure what happens so you can make up whatever you want.” This was probably the most metaphysical thing I had ever said to him in my entire life, and though both of my parents converted to Catholicism upon their arrival in San Francisco, Dad from the South and Mom from Chicago, their religious affiliations had more to do with blending into the City than with any faith in the Holy Trinity. But as it turned out on that particular day, he wasn’t interested a theological debate, nor was he interested in my theory of eternal party after death, or even to make lively discussion over Pascal’s wager (which to me was, and still is, the only logical way of looking at it). Instead, as always, there was an immediate practical purpose, a command, a fatherly directive that he meant to impart:
“Well, we don’t want any last rites or anything like that. And if you put on a little memorial get together we don’t want any priests or religion involved.”
Bullshit! I wanted to shout. If that’s how you’ve decided it’s going to be then why did we waste all that time at St. Sebastian’s getting baptized and going to catechism and getting confirmed and playing CYO basketball? Was that all so you could play God in the Christmas Pageant with your big ass God-like voice booming through the church? What about all the stuff we learned about venial sin and mortal sin and how to decide which was which and how big a mark a sin might leave on your soul and how much penance you had to say to wash it off? Weren’t these the rules we were taught to live by, so when we got to where you are now we could relax, knowing we were going to Heaven to hang with Jesus and The Holy Ghost in super clean super white robes and golden halos? Now you’re shitcanning the whole business, right when it matters most? Now that you’ve spent your whole life paying the premiums you’re saying you don’t want the insurance after all?
But I didn’t say any of that. I glanced over at Mom who was now looking right at us. If the old man had his way, both he and Mom would be holding hands and, on cue, the lights would go out.
Here, and then…flick! Nowhere. No pearly gates. No exit interviews. No purgatory. No limbo. 

On Amazon

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Earth as God? Not in The Road.

I've always been one of those having "just enough knowledge to be dangerous" guys – a professional armchairist in any number fields: philosophy, religion, music, literature, technology etc. You could say that I tend fly by the seat of my pants, or go with my gut instincts, when seeking explanations of the mysteries of the universe.

As John Lennon sang in the song "The Word:"

Now that I know what I feel must be right
I'm here to show everybody the light

The Beatles were singing about love, of course. Some like to say that God is Love. Others believe that God is Nature. So, what happens when you put those two beliefs together? Do you end up with a starry-eyed, tree-hugging Pantheist spouting Rousseau?
I feel an indescribable ecstasy and delirium in melting, as it were, into the system of beings, in identifying myself with the whole of nature.

Or quoting Nietzsche?

All things are linked, entwined, in love with one another.

I've had fleeting moments of Pantheistic sentiments over the years that, every time they occur, feel as if they must be right. Indeed, it is popular therapy for those struggling with a sense of isolation and disconnectedness to stand barefoot upon the ground (not the pavement) and imagine roots sprouting from the feet into the earth. Think of it as a role-playing exercise where you hug the tree so hard that you become it. Melting, as it were, "into the system of beings."

If God is love and the earth, we can put our seeking to rest. (Ostensibly.) Because here it is, right now, all around us. Relax and sing hallelujah. 

What if the Earth was Dead?

In Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer-winning post-apocalyptic novel, The Road, (I haven't seen the
movie) the earth is reduced to three things: burned, twisted wreckage and ash, water (as rain, snow, ocean, river etc.), and humans. Almost everything has burned or otherwise been poisoned, and what we assume must be a nuclear-winterish cloud cover prevents whatever seeds or microbes that remain from regenerating. (That is, if we concern ourselves with the science of post-apocalyptic possibilities. McCarthy's vision is pretty convincing, and it's easy to suspend our disbelief and imagine that earth without any life whatsoever save human is possible.)

When there is no earth to sustain humanity, humanity turns upon itself for sustenance. Women are impregnated for the sole purpose of producing food – babies for the barbecue – and roving bands of cannibals round up whatever humans they can find, imprisoning them until it's time for the boiler. 

Civilization, as we know it, is dead. No pantheistic tree-huggers on The Road, no melting into the system of beings, no Tse Chang:

Heaven is my father and Earth is my mother. All people are my brothers and sisters, and all things are my companions.
McCarthy sets up a stark dichotomy between the father and son – who remain nameless as "the man" and "the boy"– as they encounter what remains of the world. The boy, who is born after the apocalypse has begun, has lived it for 10 years. He's seen nothing but death and destruction, yet it is he who feels compassion and sympathy for the lost and haunted humans they encounter on the road. The man, having but one mission – to protect his son – trusts nothing and no one. Yet he tells his son that they must press on, down the road south to the coast, because they "carry the fire." Neither of them seem to know what the "fire" is, but it is revealed, ultimately, as human love, not of God, who has apparently been trying to wipe out the earth and everything, including the humans, on it, but of one another. 

I suspect that Hollywood took McCarthy's poetically-rendered hell-on-earth imagery to create a sensational jaw dropping tear jerker that may have missed the point entirely. McCarthy's work, from Blood Meridian in his early days to No Country for Old Men many years later, has an element of nightmare-inducing horror so graphic as to be unforgettable. (Recall The Judge in Blood Meridian crushing babies heads, breaking necks and sodomizing dead gotta wonder what family life was like for young Cormac.) The devil often wins in McCarthy's stories, or if he doesn't win he exacts a brutal toll, and it takes some digging to find a few slivers of light in his work. 

The Road, even after all the horror, perhaps renders the author's ultimate faith in love more clearly than any of his other work. Like Flannery O' Connor's twisted imagery of the pinpricks of light in the blind eyes of Hazel Moats, the hope for the enduring human love is almost imperceptible. But on The Road, in the end, it is all that is left, and it is up to the "good guys" to preserve it. In the end, love, in the form of compassion for others, is the fire that the boy has carried with him all along. 

What We Feel Must Be Right

Unlike the flora and fauna that surrounds us, we can infer that cycle of life and death is all part of the grand design of an omnipotent creator. Or not. We can put our faith in science to explain the existence of the universe. Either way, we can respect life in all it's forms without assuming that, as humans, we're the bosses, the deciders, the controllers of nature. The earth reminds us of this every time a natural event takes a human life. 

But even if we resist swatting that annoying fly or mosquito, or resist cutting down those trees or damming that river for all the squirrels and fish that will be lost, even if we do everything we can to be in total, complete harmony with nature and, perhaps, in harmony with God, we will have forsaken the fire. That, my friends, is reserved for you and me.

Don't get me wrong. I love trees. I love the flora and fauna, the oceans, the deserts, the plains, the mountains – the whole shebang. 

But I love you more. 

Pantheistic poets - Wordsworth, Coleridge, Goethe, Tennyson, Whitman etc..
A sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man.
Hegel: the theology of history
Reason [God] is substance, and infinite power; its own infinite material underlying all the natural and spiritual life which it originates; and the infinite form - that which sets this material in motion.
Ralph Waldo Emerson: the transparent eyeball.
I am nothing! I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or parcel of God.

Friedrich Nietzsche - world and life-affirmer
All things are linked, entwined, in love with one another.

Ernst Haeckel's Monism
In pantheism God is everywhere identical with nature itself  … Pantheism is the world system of the modern scientist.

Modern pantheists

Albert Einstein and the cosmic mystery.
The individual feels … the sublimity and marvellous order which reveal themselves both in nature and in the world of thought. . . He wants to experience the universe as a single significant whole.
Robinson Jeffers: Pantheist poet, by John Courtney
The Universe is one being, all its parts are expressions of the same
energy, and they are all in communication with each other.
This whole is so beautiful that I am compelled to love it
and to think of it as divine.