Batshit Insane Vol. 5: Straight Outta Compton

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Anyone that knows this record doesn’t need me to explain why I included it.  However, I see this as a great comedy record.  Like many comedies it takes horrible realities to such extremes that it exposes truth, while at the same time making you laugh at the absurdity.  Lets take the famous, or infamous, song Fuck tha Police:

You’d rather see me in the pen
Then me and Lorenzo rollin in the Benzo
Beat tha police outta shape
And when I’m finished, bring the yellow tape

Those four lines both expose truth and take violence to a comedic extreme at the same time.  It’s the fact that many white people would rather see black males in prison than driving around in a Mercedes Benz.  And then in the next two lines Ice Cube is bragging about beating a cop to death with maniacal glee.  So it is truth hidden in the guise of absurdity.  (And unfortunately this song still seems relevant to our daily headlines.)

For all of this records violence and insanity, I have a hard time taking it too seriously removed decades from its release.  Ice Cube is in children’s movies and Dr. Dre is a respected CEO.  I think of it along the lines of something like George Carlin’s Life is Worth Losing, where he talks about some of darkest subjects ever and twists them until they become funny.  But while Carlin is making you laugh, he is again making you see truths that evade us in everyday conversation.  (It’s not as smart as Carlin is, but then no one really is.)  Unfortunately many of the groups that were influenced by this seemed to lack NWA’s knowing sense of humor.  For all this records absurd violence and gritty reality, there is the sense that they are having fun.  And it is precisely that fun that makes this record fire on all cylinders for me.  They’ve driven straight over the edge, and are having a laugh in free fall.

For the first week of 2015 I am writing pieces about records that I can only describe as “batshit insane”.  These are brilliant albums that are so dark they cross the threshold into a knowing comedy.  If you want to understand exactly what I mean in more detail read the first paragraph from the start of this series:

I love records that one can only describe as sounding “batshit insane”.  Where the artist seems as if they are out-crazying the din and the whirlwind of the Great Void.  Albums that trump death, even if the artists are alive and the albums don’t even have death as a central theme because, even if it is subconsciously, they know it is out there and they seem not to give a shit.  I am reminded of the character at the end of Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle who dies, “lying on my back, grinning horribly, and thumbing my nose at You Know Who.”  I also think of George Carlin, putting on a show making the batshit insanity of this world hilarious, and then ending his set by standing on one leg with his arms outstretched, daring to be smited.  These are albums where artistic fear is not only not present, it almost seems as if the artists are daring you not to like them.  Albums like this make me laugh out loud and warm my heart to its very foundation.  I could be having the worst day possible and when I put one of these records on I think, “Thank God they are out there.”  I wanted to write about several of these records to start 2015 out on the right foot.  My goal is to post at least one record a day for the next week.  I’m just having fun, like a child skipping through a field.

God and Don Rickles

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So let’s, for the sake of argument, agree right now that there is definitely a God.  Now let’s also agree that he created everything that ever was and ever will be.  He created all life and all mater.  He created everything from the stars in the sky to the lowliest microscopic life form on earth.  Are you going to tell me that an all powerful and all knowing supreme being, the kind of which we have just described, didn’t also create humor?

As an agnostic who doesn’t claim to have any secret information about what happens when we die, I don’t pretend to know if there is a God or an afterlife of any kind.  If I make a joke about religion, I don’t see how it can cause any harm except to the people that are too tight assed to laugh at themselves.  If there is a humorless spiteful Old Testament God, well then trust me, a few jokes aren’t going to save me from eternal hellfire.  If there is no God, then there is no hell and therefor nothing to worry about.

But again, if there is a God, can you tell me that He/She invented everything in the universe except humor?  Almost everyone loves Don Rickles.  People actually ask to be made fun of by him, as it is seen as an honor.  Do people have thicker skin or a better sense of humor than an all knowing and all powerful being?  Is God really such an egoist that he can’t take a couple jokes by a temporary being of mere flesh and blood?   Could God not handle the Don Rickles treatment?

The more you think about the God that seems to dictate the lives of fundamentalists, who really worship a God much closer to the vengeful humorless God of the Old Testament than the more loving one of the New, the more ridiculous and absurd it becomes.  And the absurd and the ridiculous are a great jumping off point for jokes.

Batshit Insane Vol. 2: Yeezus

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Kanye West – Yeezus – Kanye West’s album sounds front to back unlike any other record ever made.  Oh there are recognizable pieces all across the record, but it is the combination that is unique.  Electronic noises, Marilyn Manson drums, strings, melodic choirs, and atonal noise all rear their head at different moments.  It’s mood evokes everything from David Lynch inspired dread to raunchy comedy.  It is a hip-hop record only in the vocal delivery, a few of the beats displayed, and its cut and paste genre bending aesthetic.  I get a physical high every time I listen to this album from both it’s sonic insanity and intensity, and his seeming willingness to sacrifice himself to the judgmental and often hypocritical gods of common decency.  West begins the record:

Yeezy season approaching
Fuck whatever y’all been hearing
Fuck what, fuck whatever y’all been wearing
A monster about to come alive again

From that start through the rest of the record West seems like a man unhinged.  It is as if all of the press scrutiny he has faced has been internalized and is being spit back out with maximum venom.  But the record is not a humorless affair.  After spouting one particularly vulgar line, you can hear West start to crack himself up at the end of his delivery.  This is not a dumb record either, as it is masterfully constructed to take an art form to a new level.  The record is also emotionally complex as West plays with the public perception of him as an extremely arrogant yet successful African American, who has overstepped his bounds.  There is pain in certain parts of the record, but there is no mea culpa.  There are times when he is purposely playing into the monstrous version of himself that the media has created around him, but he slips out of any easy categorizations, always one step ahead of those that want to define him as a one dimensional caricature.  It is a dark and visceral listen by someone willingly putting his head on the chopping block and having fun while doing it.  A masterpiece.

For the first week of 2015 I am writing pieces about records that I can only describe as “batshit insane”.  These are brilliant albums that are so dark they cross the threshold into a knowing comedy.  If you want to understand exactly what I mean in more detail read the first paragraph from the start of this series:

I love records that one can only describe as sounding “batshit insane”.  Where the artist seems as if they are out-crazying the din and the whirlwind of the Great Void.  Albums that trump death, even if the artists are alive and the albums don’t even have death as a central theme because, even if it is subconsciously, they know it is out there and they seem not to give a shit.  I am reminded of the character at the end of Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle who dies, “lying on my back, grinning horribly, and thumbing my nose at You Know Who.”  I also think of George Carlin, putting on a show making the batshit insanity of this world hilarious, and then ending his set by standing on one leg with his arms outstretched, daring to be smited.  These are albums where artistic fear is not only not present, it almost seems as if the artists are daring you not to like them.  Albums like this make me laugh out loud and warm my heart to its very foundation.  I could be having the worst day possible and when I put one of these records on I think, “Thank God they are out there.”  I wanted to write about several of these records to start 2015 out on the right foot.  My goal is to post at least one record a day for the next week.  I’m just having fun, like a child skipping through a field.

Insane Violence and The Bible On Film

DF-04525 - Moses (Christian Bale) charges into a fierce battle.

The more I think about Ridley Scott’s Exodus:  Gods and Kings, the more I like it.  It is a ridiculously violent film, an epic spectacle, and the actors find new and entertaining ways to chew up scenery.  (It would have been an even better movie if it had been rated R.  Though to be honest, other than not showing people getting limbs hacked off in battles and nudity, the movie pushes the barriers of PG-13 to the limit.  We’re talking about a movie where scores of people get eaten by crocodiles, so many that the river runs red with blood.)  All of those things that I stated merely make the movie entertaining.  What makes it brilliant is that this is a movie that brings the insanely ridiculous violence of the Old Testament front and center.

One of my favorite quotes is the Hannah Arendt quote, “the horrible can not only be ludicrous, but outright funny.”  The Old Testament is so ingrained in our culture that even though we acknowledge the violence in it, and the fact that much of this violence comes from a wrathful God, that I don’t think it registers with most people in a visceral way how absurd it is.  Floods, plagues, mass murder, and a woman being turned into a pillar of salt are just the tip of the iceberg.  We know this stuff.  Even those like myself, that didn’t grow up going to church, know all of these stories.  But how often do we reflect upon how batshit insane they all are.  Ridley Scott did.  He made a movie out of part of the Old Testament and he put the batshit insane right up front.  No other movie that I can think of takes the violence of the Old Testament and presents it as such a ridiculously depraved spectacle.  Which, whether you believe in the Old Testament or not, is hard to deny.  Like the Hannah Arendt quote above, this movie is often so horribly violent that it becomes a comedy.  Even if Ridley Scott changes some parts of the story, he tries to find natural causes for most of the plagues for instance, he is getting the essence correct.  I mean, he didn’t make up the plague where all of the Egyptian first born children are killed.

A lot of the reviews for this movie have talked about how Scott got this or that wrong, or that he made it too much of a spectacle, or whatever.  No, Ridley Scott basically just showed what was there without all of the self seriousness of most religious films.  Again, I’m not saying that he didn’t take certain artistic liberties with the story, only that he does so in a way which actually highlights things that are already there.  He helps show us a story that we’ve heard a million times in a way that doesn’t allow us to ignore what is going on.  I would imagine that most of those that really didn’t like this movie already have preconceived notions as to what the story is about.  This movie is basically showing us that we are telling millions of children a year a story full of the most depraved violence.  And it has a good laugh at it.  The comedy of the divine.  I mean certain scenes from this could almost be in a Monty Python movie.

This movie does the opposite of what another famously violent religious movie does.  That movie  The Passion of the Christ is also insanely violent, but what it does is actually obscure what is important in the Christ story through that violence.  That movie focuses mostly on the violence that was directed at Christ leading up to his death.  But there is nothing special about his death.  I guarantee that someone is meeting just as horrible a fate as he did in some third world shithole right now.  Christ wasn’t even the only one crucified that day!  This isn’t the fantastic violence of an angry God.  This is an extreme version of the day to day violence of mankind.  In focusing on this kind of violence it actually helps one to ignore what was spectacular about the story of Christ.  The fantastic part of his story is that he rose from the dead.  But that still isn’t what I’m talking about.  Whether or not you believe Christ was the son of God, or that he rose from the dead is still, in my mind, not what is most important in his story.  Christ spent a good deal of his life teaching people what they should be doing.  They should be loving each other and not worrying about earthly possessions and treating the lesser amongst us with kindness.  That is what makes his story exceptional.  And he did that at a time when the world was even more barbaric and depraved than it is now.  Right now someone is probably being executed as we speak, in a horribly painful way, in an Arab country for drawing a comic book about Muhammad or something equally as ridiculous.  So again, dwelling on the whole crucifixion thing, longer than the love and kindness in his teachings, is kind of ass backwards the way I see it.

So you have two violent movies that tell stories from the Bible.  One highlights the absurdity of violence, while the other uses violence to distract from a message of love.  Do you have to guess which one made more money and got more critical acclaim?

The New 10 Commandments

Recently there was a contest where people were asked to rewrite the 10 Commandments according to humanist principles.  This was done on behalf of those in the Atheist movement.  Ideas were sent in to Atheist Mind Humanist Heart’s website.  There were 13 judges that picked out of the replies that were sent in.

First I should state that I am agnostic, not an atheist.  I believe that no one knows what happens after we die and that doubt is the most humble way to face this question.  There are times when I feel the modern atheist movement becomes too dogmatic.  It seems like they are often no less rigid in their beliefs than certain religious people.  The world is too full of mystery in my opinion, to completely deny the spiritual side of one’s nature.

I was ready to believe this was just another publicity stunt to draw attention to another group that thinks that they have a lock on the truth in this life.  However, when I actually read the list that was picked, I’d be hard pressed to disagree with it:

  • Be open-minded and be willing to alter your beliefs with new evidence.
  • Strive to understand what is most likely to be true, not to believe what you wish to be true.
  • The scientific method is the most reliable way of understanding the natural world.
  • Every person has the right to control over their body.
  • God is not necessary to be a good person or to live a full and meaningful life.
  • Be mindful of the consequences of all your actions and recognize that you must take responsibility for them.
  • Treat others as you would want them to treat you, and can reasonably expect them to want to be treated. Think about their perspective.
  • We have the responsibility to consider others, including future generations.
  • There is no one right way to live.
  • Leave the world a better place than you found it.

These aren’t really commandments so much as they are suggestions on a way to live a better life.  I think it is a pretty good list of suggestions.  I have recently met some very spiritual Christians that are absolutely the epitome of kind and good hearted people.  I think the key, and the one that will cause the most people to flip out, is that it doesn’t say that you can’t be good or live a meaningful life with God, but that it is not necessary.  I also know many people that are agnostic or atheist that are also giant hearted.  I think the main idea to take away is to temper whatever you believe with doubt.

But I can’t help having a little fun with those who believe the original 10 Commandments are the only way to get to heaven and that all those that don’t believe will burn in eternal hellfire: