Our Ancestors’ Looting and Corpse Robbing Ways

Bruce Catton’s writing on the Civil War is every bit as fascinating as its reputation.  (I have read in several places that if he is not the best writer on the war, than certainly he is one of them.)  Right now I am reading his second book in his trilogy about the Army of the Potomac, Glory Road.

It’s really interesting getting into the lesser known details of this war, that we are still dealing with the political ramifications from.  This war is a large part of our country’s DNA, even if it is something not always dealt with. I often marvel at the lack of movies and TV shows that deal with this period in comparison to something like World War II, which is much more of an easy sell, as it is one of the few wars where people can be proud of.

Because the Civil War was a war of a people, there are many moments in the war when different sides strangely put down their arms, only to resume horrible bloodshed later.  Different sides would often trade with each other.  They also made deals where they would promise not to shoot each other at night so that they could get a comfortable nights sleep.  In one instance in the book, an argument between a Confederate and a Union regiment gets so heated, that they all put down their weapons for a fist fight between two members, only to pick up their weapons and go their separate ways once the fight was settled.

But for every story like this, there are also stories of typical wartime behavior that often don’t make it into the more popular accounts we see on TV documentaries and such.  Here is a passage that deals with the looting of Fredericksburg:

“The city had been rudely sacked; household furniture lined the streets.  Books and battered pictures, bureaus, lounges, feather beds, clocks, and every conceivable article of goods, chattels, and apparel had been savagely torn from the houses and lay about in wanton confusion in all directions.  Fires were made, both for warmth and cooking, with fragments of broken furniture.  Pianos, their harmonious strings displaced, were utilized as horse troughs, and amid all the dangers animals quietly ate from them.”  A solider in another Pennsylvania regiment noted “great scenes of vandalism and useless destruction of books, furniture, carpets, pianos, pictures, etc.,” and reported a grotesque carnival aspect in the streets still swept by Confederate shell as Union soldiers cavorted about in women’s dresses and underwear.  “Some of these characters,” he added, “might be seen with musical instruments, with big horns, violins, accordions, and banjos”; and he noted that his own regiment took several hundred bottles of wine out of someone’s cellar, a part of this wine appearing later on the colonel’s own mess table.  One illiterate private rifled an express office and carried off a huge bundle of receipts and canceled checks under the impression that he was robbing a bank and getting money.

It should be noted that some of the soldiers looking upon this were horrified.  It should also be noted that this kind of behavior was not by any means only on the Union side of things.  There is a passage roughly around this one where the Confederates rob a large amount of dead Union soldiers, leaving them naked by the time they are picked up for burial.  And that is only one story.  Both sides acted in surprising ways, good and bad, at times.  Catton does go into explanations for this behavior, but I will not get into that here.

The point, or question, that I wanted to make was that this is only 150 years ago, carried out by many of our ancestors against one another.  What kind of strange blood is flowing through our National veins, inherited from this time period?

As a side note, again, I don’t know why more films and shows aren’t made of this time period. Only a small way through this book, though I have read others, and there are endless scenes that one could fashion interesting story lines around.



Americans Largely Unconcerned About Climate Change

Americans Largely Unconcerned About Climate Change

The headline story over at Huffpo today was about how Americans don’t seem to be overtly concerned about climate change.  This is exactly why the problem of climate change worries me more than any problem.  It’s the kind of problem that is going to be too late to do anything about once it affects people in a way that they can’t ignore it.  At the same time, unlike a lot of other problems, there is a definitive timeline in getting it right.  Not only has the right wing created a long running disinformation campaign to discredit climate scientists, but the problem itself is not the kind of problem that human beings seem genetically dispositioned to to deal with.  We are much better at dealing with problems that are immediate.  Especially in our culture, where short attention spans seem to be the norm, we seem to lack the ability to make changes based on our long term future.

Imagine if we could have destroyed the Nazi regime before they led millions to the gas chamber.  Would that be a worthy goal?  Millions of people are going to suffer from climate change, including our descendants.  The poorest and most vulnerable people of the world are going to suffer the worst and the suffer sooner.  Their suffering is going to increase due to our indifference on this issue.  Not only will weather become more destructive, but experts are predicting more famine and war due to climate change.

Fighting and winning World War II put the U.S. in the position of being a super power.  Wouldn’t it feel good to wave the flag again knowing that we did something that made the world better for a long time to come?  Or are we content to be thrown on the heap of history’s chumps?


What The Civil War Has To Say About Now

I’m about halfway through S.C. Gwynne’s Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson.  It’s a fascinating book.  Jackson was someone who was mostly quiet, mild mannered, and kind in his private life.  He was a humble man of strong Christian faith.  But when he took to the battlefield he became a fiery psychopath that was hard on his men and even more vicious in regards to his enemies.  (His men loved him despite how hard he pushed them.)  Strangely enough, before the war, Jackson was a ineffectual teacher at VMI that was often mocked by his students.

The battle scenes in the book are often truly horrific.  Artillery only accounted for about 5% casualties in the Civil War.  However, in one battle they account for almost 50% of the casualties.  When artillery is fired into a formation of men it often removes heads and limbs, and sometimes just leaves a puddle of decaying ooze.

While I was reading the other day I was wondering if this was something that was worth my time.  There is no doubt that the book is informative and interesting.  But what does learning about the Civil War or Jackson or grisly battles have to do with my life?

But as I look out at our country, our culture, and our political landscape I realized that this war is still in our bloodstream.  Although there are very few Americans that would willingly turn their neighbors into puddles of decaying ooze, the fact that our ancestors did so affects us.  Through generations the fires of the war have dwindled, but that doesn’t mean they are completely gone.

The last Civl War veteran, Albert Woolsen, died in 1956.  That was after my parents were born.  So we’re not talking about a long time ago.  This isn’t like reading about ancient Rome.

It was only earlier this year that our country had an argument about the Confederate Flag.  (As a side note a friend remarked today that, “How can you claim to be a patriotic American when you are a waving a flag of succession?”  The conversation had nothing to do with the book, but about how some people were “confused” in regards to history.)  Most people understand how slavery affected issues concerning race in America.  But only a hundred and fifty years ago we were all too willing to kill each other by the thousands not only over slavery, but states rights and other issues that we are still debating.

My point is not to say we haven’t come a long way, or that given how contentious our current political climate is that we are surely doomed to repeat the past.  The fact is that even the most insane political arguments of the day seem mild compared to sending men to die by the thousands.

But often when people argue, especially people that have known each other a long time, it can be hard to figure out what they are really arguing about.  Often they are seemingly arguing about meaningless surface issues when really there  are deeper issues going on.  It might be hard to mediate a fight between lovers or relatives unless you can get to the root issues causing the argument.

While comparing such a situation to a political climate isn’t perfect, I think there is some use to it.  A lot of things get left behind when a generation disappears.  But it can’t help but to untangle the roots of our long term political and cultural problems.





The Happy Homeless and the Angry Truck Driver

While driving around today getting my scene together for tour I saw America in all of its infinite wisdom.  I saw a dancing homeless man pushing a shopping cart with two big American flags displayed proudly on top of it.  That’s some fucking optimism!  Nowhere to live and nothing but a shopping cart of junk, but he was smiling, dancing, and waving the red, white, and blue.

Meanwhile I pulled up behind some old white guy in a nice new pickup truck with all kinds of informative bumperstickers on it.  “I’ll pay for your abortion when you pay for my ammunition.”  Think about that.  What the fuck does that even mean?  If you analyze it, it doesn’t make any more sense than saying, “I’ll pray for the sun to come up where you live if you pray for me to get a magic carpet.”   There were all kinds of other anti-socialist bumper stickers and anti-anything-that-supports-the-common-good ones as well.  I am in general against bumper stickers of any kind, but when yours basically say, “fuck everyone but me”, your are doubling down on the douchebaggery.

Why is it that the guy who had nothing was waving the flag, while the guy that had a nice new truck was angry about the idea of anyone else having anything?  Why is it that some of the African Americans who have recently been victims of violence go on TV and talk about forgiveness, while the Fox News crowd is always going on about how bad they have it?  When did everything get so upside down?  Some of my fellow white people got a lot of fucking nerve.  They can live in that illusion as long as they are in the majority.  But once white people are no longer the majority, we better hope that other people are still talking about forgiveness.

John Oliver Tonight: Televangelists

I spent last night catching up on John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight.  It’s consistently amazing.  Last night he took on televangelists, even going as far to create a tax-exempt organization in the name of “religion”.

I have seen some of these televangelists on TV late at night while I was out on tour.  They are even more unbelievable when you encounter them in their natural habitat, not expecting them, wondering if they are a parody.  In Oklahoma I saw like three of them on television in one night.  Holy shitballs!

More Posts On John Oliver Include: John Oliver On Torture

A Lie Agreed Upon

A Lie Agreed Upon – David Milch’s Deadwood

The other day I mentioned that I was watching the David Milch created Luck.  While reading more interviews with Milch I came upon this fascinating article.  There is a mini-documntary here that you can watch about Milch’s Deadwood, one of the greatest shows of all time.  You can also read the script for the documentary below if you don’t feel like watching it.  It’s truly fascinating not only for the information about the show, but the ideas inherent in the show and therefore the documentary as well dealing with our country.  The title above has to do with the idea that history is a, “lie agreed upon.”  I found the following passage really interesting and a good sample of the kind of ideas inherent in the show and article:

He said, “An agreement that creates a community is an agreement upon an illusion, an agreement upon an intoxicant.  Our founding document jumps off from, ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident,’ which to me means a frank agreement upon illusion – not that these are self-evident truths, but that we agree upon an illusion that these are fucking truths.”

Bass Lines, Bootstraps, and The Myth of the Individual

Last night I cut a baseline in a studio that I felt was really great.  I almost thought about bragging about it, in fact I totally did to a couple close friends!  However, I started thinking about how that bass line was the result of listening to lots of other bass players and that, whether it is good or not, I only had a little hand in its creation.  Also, on top of that, I have had friends, teachers, mentors, and parents, that have in some way shaped how I played, whether directly or in allowing me to learn my craft.  Not only that, but every musician on any record has a similar story of people that helped them to learn what they do.  You get four, five, six, ten people on an album, plus those doing the technical work, and all of sudden you have links to hundreds if not thousands of other people.  How many records did they listen to?  Who taught them?  Who paid for their first lesson?  If they were writing lyrics did they read a lot of different writers, who in turn have their own groups of people?

In America we like to tell ourselves that we pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps.  But doing something completely by yourself isn’t really possible.  We love the individual, and certainly some people are more unique than others, but the individual never accomplishes anything completely on their own.  The most you can hope to do is to combine things in a way that others have not done, and that is original enough for me, but to do something that has no ties to any other person is something that only exists in myth.

I also was thinking how we devalue music in our current cultural atmosphere.  Some people scoff at paying for songs.  But think about it, really think about it, and you will realize that it takes a staggering amount of hours and people to give birth to even the simplest of songs.  The same can be true of any art form.

I also reflected again on the ending of Mad Men.  (Spoiler alert)  A friend talked to me about the end of Mad Men, where Don Draper’s whole journey led him to create a Coke commercial.  His view was that one way to interpret it was that nothing created comes out of a vacuum.  In another way, and I would be one that can see it this way, this is a sad ending as a man’s life long struggle ended up as nothing more than a piece of advertising.  However, at the same time it is a great way to view anything that has been created.  Nothing comes from out of nowhere.

Gay Marriage Approved In Ireland

Ireland has just voted in favor of gay marriage.  This is a victory for sanity, dignity, and love.  Ireland, a country that was oppressed by the Church for many years, is now officially more progressive than parts of our country on this issue.  Although I know we will get there eventually, it is shameful that so many people here in the USA are still firmly rooted in the ideas of the past.  All sane people know that those who were against Civil Rights in the 60’s will look eternally foolish when remembered in history books.  So will those that oppose gay marriage now.  However, today is a day to celebrate.  Today brings the world one step closer to justice and equality.

I Love America

A great and strange satire of mindless American patriotism by Alice Cooper off of the highly underrated and bizarre album DaDa.  Singing in a voice that sounds like a redneck version of Beetlejuice, before that character existed, over synthesizers and guitars that seem cheesy by design, backed by a large choir singing the title, Cooper sends up the unthinking American male.  There is even a surreal break for Custer’s Last Stand.  (Where overconfident Americans were defeated by those that they thought of as their inferiors.)  We all know these people.  I think I have heard many of these same lyrics sung without irony in modern country music!  Cooper’s I Love America is more surreal comedy piece than song, but whatever it is, it works.  It’s Monday and I thought many of you could use a laugh.  However, unfortunately for all of us, this was recorded in the early 80’s and it still rings true today!

Police Kill More Americans In March Than In Entire UK Since 1900

More Americans Killed By Police In March Than In UK Since 1900

I mean, read the article.  That statistic really says it all.  The United Kingdom has gone through The Troubles in that time period.  Two World Wars took place in that time period just across the channel, with bombing taking place in England, which one would imagine would raise suspicion.  England has its own problems with immigration.  I’m sure many of you have heard of the National Front, of soccer hooligans, of many problems.  What I’m trying to say is that it isn’t like the UK is a land of peace and tranquility.  Yet somehow their police don’t kill people at the rate ours do.

I give a lot of grief to police here at this blog.  Just on my way home from Florida on the last tour I ran into an exceptionally kind one who let me off for speeding without a ticket.  I don’t believe all police are bad.  I’m not saying this to balance my argument or to extend an olive branch.  I think we have a problem here, but I think it is complex and it is better to acknowledge that complexity rather than to just say police are bad.  It has to do with our culture, our history, our unique racial problems that go back to the origins of this country, our politicians, our military industrial and prison complexes, and so many other factors.  But as a country we must find the result unacceptable.  It’s time to start asking some hard questions and beyond time to make changes.

Hat tip to JR