Dreaming the Wrong Dream

Contains a small spoiler for the latest episode of Mad Men.

It’s been raining the last few days in Austin.  My writing production has been slow.  Ideas can only be dispersed if you are busy collecting them.  Prepare to be inspired as David Milch says.  Last night I had one of those rare nights where you watch TV all night and everything is inspiring.  I watched The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology, Werner Herzog’s batshit insane My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?, and the latest episode of Mad Men.  I have been slowly picking my way through the book version of Under the Skin and James Joyce’s Dubliners.  Musically I have surprised even myself by becoming obsessed with Kanye West, especially his new album Yeezus.

Although I’m not far along enough in Dubliners to comment upon it, many of these works deal with the idea that the modern world creates the wrong kind of dreams in one way or another.  We are searching for a connection all while being told by the dominant society to crave material things that bring us no lasting happiness.  The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology dealt directly with these themes.  Mad Men and the work of Kanye West both explicitly deal, in different ways, with the world of the material, but also both show its shortcomings.  The Herzog movie dealt with a character who searches constantly for something to cling to only to finally be driven to complete insanity.

If you are a fan of Mad Men than this review of this week’s episode over at Salon is really good:  http://www.salon.com/2014/05/26/mad_men_finale_recap_the_moon_belongs_to_everyone/

I’ll leave you with lyrics from Mad Men’s Bert Cooper’s strangely delivered farewell song.  On one hand they can be seen as too sentimental.  However, in the overreaching story of the show they seemed powerful to me:

“The moon belongs to everyone.
The best things in life are free.
The stars belong to everyone.
They gleam there for you and me.
The flowers in spring, the robins that sing.
The sunbeams that shine, they’re yours they’re mine.
And love can come to everyone. The best things in life are free.”

The Gift of Inspiration

I’m bereft of ideas today.  That is why I put up the Chuck D quote and the George Carlin transcript.  Since August of last year I have put up over 500 posts.  Maybe there is nothing less interesting than the topic of lack of inspiration.  However, I will try my best.  One of my favorite quotes of all time is George Orwell’s, “A man that gives a good account of himself is probably lying, since any life when viewed from the inside is simply a series of defeats.”  I have used that before and probably will again.  From the outside one may view putting up 500 posts on a blog as a serious work ethic.  Perception is everything though.  I’m sure there are people who have put up more.  And I know the truth: I can only post when I feel inspired.  Without feeling some kind of energized inspiration I simply cannot write anything.  It comes and goes like the wind.  If I do occasionally write something without that inspiration it is muddled and I would kindly call it dogshit.

Wouldn’t the person with the serious work ethic push on without that light bulb going off over their head?  Sometimes it strikes me as laziness when I sit around waiting for that idea to formulate.  Where does inspiration come from?  Is some form of inner chemical stimulus?  Is the long hard grind of gathering information and waiting till your mind can tie the disparate ideas together?  Is it some kind of divine gift that is given to you at the whims of the muse?

The writer of Deadwood, David Milch, talks about how one has to be, “prepared to be inspired.”  He means that you have to do all the homework, but that when you sit down to write you need to let the inspiration take over.  Although we can do all the work in the world, reading books, listening to records, taking long walks, listening to albums, going to an art museum, in some ways, no matter what actually causes it, we are at the mercy of the muse.

I’m not knocking hard work, but to some degree we should be humble for inspiration is a gift.  Two people could do the exact same amount of work and only one of them would end up with the inspiration to create something of value.  Those that think they are great for creating something are either deluded or lying.  They got lucky.  Inspiration touches some people on the shoulder in the same way that a sword touches someone that is being knighted.  Sure they might have done some things to get there, but they were also shaped by outside forces.  They were born with the right mind or face, at the right time or place.

White Slavery, Flag Waving, and Money

http://www.artsreformation.com/a001/hays-code.html

The above link is to the Motion Picture Production Code of 1930.  This was also known as the Hays Code and I mentioned it in the previous blog.  The first two things it says are: “If motion pictures present stories that will affect lives for the better, they can become the most powerful force for the improvement of mankind

A Code to Govern the Making of Talking, Synchronized and Silent Motion Pictures. Formulated and formally adopted by The Association of Motion Picture Producers, Inc. and The Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, Inc. in March 1930.”

I think it is funny that the code talks about how, “White slavery should not be treated,” and that, “The use of the flag shall be continuously respectful.”  So I’m guessing that you could show black slavery, but you dare not show any disrespect towards the nation’s flag while that slavery is underway.

There are all kinds of absurdities in this document.  Again, this was 1930 so the times have of course changed.  Most of the things that were discouraged in motion pictures back then are now pumped into peoples’ homes on a daily basis.

David Milch, which I alluded to in the last blog, talked once about how the idea of the western hero, the man of few words, was created because of this code.  I’m going to paraphrase a good bit here.  Basically what he talks about is how the heroes in westerns were prevented from talking like they often would in lawless towns of the 1800’s.  In the movies they couldn’t swear or say many other things that are and were part of regular everyday dialogue.  So in order to have them not speaking in clean and unmanly terms, the filmmakers of that era just decided to not have them speak much at all.  That is how a sort of mythic American hero came to be.  He didn’t come out of history, but out of a set of rules governing pictures during a time when a lot of the templates for films were being created.  Again, this is largely me paraphrasing, but you get the idea.

I’m against censorship of any kind.  Just like with this code, often you will get absurdities in what gets censored and what does not.  We often see this now on TV where swearing is censored on mainstream television (less and less all the time of course), but someone can kill a hundred people in an action film and no one will bat an eye.   Often what is censored depends on who is in power.

That being said it is perfectly legitimate to have a conversation about what is worthwhile viewing and what damages the culture at large.  I see a great deal of reality TV as promoting casual cruelty and meaningless consumerism.  Basically things that make the world go round.  I would never want to see any of this stuff censored, but I feel that it is ok to talk about how this kind of programming debases the humanity of the people participating in a lot of these shows and also desensitizes the viewer to absurd behavior.

It’s easy to get angry at the participants of these shows.  But most of the people in these shows are just trying to survive by making a quick buck and aren’t very smart to begin with.  It’s really the TV executives and people that prosper far greater than the participants that make sure that even when one of these shows fail that there is another one to replace it.  They are cheaper to produce than a lot of other programming and make too much money when they are successful.  They also function much like the modern day versions of the Roman Coliseum.  Give the people bread and circuses and they will be entertained enough so that they can escape the drudgery of their daily lives.  There is less likely to be rioting in the streets this way.

I’d be lying if I said that some of these shows aren’t entertaining on a base level and that I never watch them.  It’s all too easy to occasionally get pulled downstream by a fast current.  However, I do try to keep that thing to a minimum.  I don’t do this because I have any kind of intellectual or moral superiority over anyone, it’s just that I know that I’m as susceptible to giving thumbs up or down in the entertainment coliseum as anyone, so I try to keep my distance.  I’d probably get addicted to cocaine if I ever tried it, so I just don’t.

Meanwhile a show like Deadwood, which features a great amount of swearing,nudity, and violence, can only be shown on pay cable.  However, I would argue a show like this could teach someone more about American history than many of the shows on the History Channel.  It deals with how a society structures itself.  It also deals with the powerful forces that shaped American culture.  This show was cancled after three seasons, but American Idol goes on.

Although many people on the right and left disagree about what is causing it, most agree that there is some kind of decline in our culture that is going on.  Although there are some things that can’t be shown in mainstream TV, or said on the radio because of decency standards, there isn’t much anymore.  This is because the only thing that seems to really matter anymore is what makes money and what doesn’t.  The right wing religious people and the PC left can rage all they want, but if something makes a buck it will eventually make its way onto the airwaves in one way or another.  Until we decide as a country that money isn’t the thing that matters most, the floodgates will remain open.  The only vote that counts anymore is one that is made with the almighty dollar.

American Empire Then and Now

I just got the book Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee for Christmas from my girlfriend.  In the past I’ve read Hampton Sides’s amazing Blood and Thunder and S.C. Gwynne’s extraordinary Empire of the Summer Moon.  I also just finished two books on Custer and his Last Stand, of which I talked about in previous blogs.  I was a history major for several years in college and graduated with an American Studies degree from Penn State.    I’m looking forward to reading Dee Brown’s book, even though I am already aware of its gloomy conclusion.  I think it is important, if you want to understand the myths that shape American culture to this day, to understand what really went on in the West.  Often the things that exist in popular culture have as much to do with Hollywood as they do with reality.  There is a brilliant clip on the Deadwood DVD extras of creator David Milch talking about how the Hays Production Code created the idea of the mythic silent western hero, the man of few words. 

That’s not to say that anything is black and white.  Many Indian tribes were also capable of extremely violent and brutal behavior.  However, I think this is an important chapter in our history that can not only help us better understand ourselves, but also help us as we go forward.  America still often exhibits many tendencies of being an empire, even though we often try to deny this to ourselves.  

Illusion and Artistic Control

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.

Review of Arcade Fire’s Reflektor

Disclosure first:  Even though I knew from the very start of this blog that I would be talking a great deal about music that I either love or hate, I questioned if I should do any real album reviews.  I am a working musician and I feel that this puts me on dangerous ground.  In the early days of Hollywood most of the major studios were led by Jews.  Because there was still a stigma about Jews in America, they did not produce many movies that had Jewish themes.  As David Milch once said, who is also Jewish, they didn’t want to, “queer their own hustle.”   So I wade in lightly.  In fact I probably wouldn’t wade in at all, but I’m pretty convinced that most music reviews these days are written by bonobo apes, though even apes probably couldn’t butcher the English language with such regularity.

I already broke one of my fundamental rules when it comes to music reviews.  A writer should never take up space he could be educating you on what he or she is reviewing by talking about themselves.  The only exception is if talking about oneself leads to further understanding about the piece under review.  Anyway, I digress:

Arcade Fire – Reflektor

Arcade Fire is one of the most “important” rock n roll bands out right now.  I say important without being sarcastic.  They are one of the few bands that have large enough budgets to live out their Technicolor dreams, wherever that leads them.   On record and live they also play rock n roll with immediacy.  They are unafraid to tackle large themes  That being said, important does not necessarily translate into good.  It just means that their work should be taken seriously.

This is a long record, 75 minutes, and an incredibly dense one.  I have listened to the thing about five times since its release Tuesday, that’s over five hours if you are counting, and still don’t feel that I have a great grasp of the thing.  Because of the complexity and density of the recording and the themes it seems to tackle, this is a record that probably will take months if not years to bear all of its fruits.

I champion any band that is willing to take sonic risks.  On this album they employ Haitian percussionists, bring dance beats to the forefront at times, and layer the album heavily in effects like tape delay.  That’s not to say those things haven’t been done before, even by Arcade Fire.  If you listen to Neighborhoods #1 (Tunnels) on their first album Funeral, the drummer is playing a beat that has a dance element to it.  However, the way in which these techniques are employed on this record are new for Arcade Fire.  Sometimes this record feels like Funeral if it were mixed completely opposite.  The bass and drums are loud in the mix, with the wall of noise that the band is so good at being pushed further to the background, at least by their standards.  I am making an overall generalization, and this approach does change from track to track.

The record is a double album if bought in the physical form and there does seem to be a difference in the two halves.  (Again, I can’t state enough that this album has yet to fully reveal itself to me, and I wish more music journalists would be as honest.)  The first half seems more rhythmic while the second half seems more melodic.  There are moments on the first half that remind me of Sandinista by the Clash.  The second half of the record seems to go into more typical Arcade Fire territory.

If I have one general critique of Arcade Fire it is that I don’t feel like anyone plays with a distinctive personality.  Some would argue that it is because they are a large band, but so is the E Street Band, which has several players with instantly recognizable sounds.  You would almost never mistake Roy Bittan or Clarence Clemmons for anyone else for instance.  The E Street band can rise and fall together like a wave, but you can always pick out each of their individual contributions if you pay attention.  On record at least, the musicians in Arcade Fire seem to meld into each other.  Some might prefer this approach, but I think it makes them overall less distinctive than many of their influences.  I will say that they do have an instantly recognizable vocalist in Win Butler, which goes some distance in carving out an identity.

That being said Arcade Fire, even despite stretching their wings on this record, do have an overall sound.  They are stronger than the sum of their parts.  Their sound is somewhere between the American rock n roll of the E Street Band and post punk bands from England, like The Cure and those artists on Factory Records.  It is an expansive emotional sound.  There is often a sense of yearning on their records somewhere between the emotions of melancholia and joy.  That being said, it never comes across as forced as many other bands in their genre do.  You can like or dislike what they do, but they are good at it and it seems authentic.

There is also an organic quality to their records.  Even when playing music that is influenced by dance grooves, and I always view dance as having an urban element to it, there is part of their sound that is full of flesh and blood.  Their first album had moments that were very pastoral, and although again these elements have been pushed to the back, they are still there percolating occasionally along the edges.  Twinkling pianos and acoustic guitars do appear.  However even these pastoral moments are more in the spirit of Brian Eno’s Another Green World than any kind of Americana record.

Lyrically this album is still revealing itself to me.  I know from reading about it that it is partially influenced by the myth of Orpheus, but how this exactly relates to what is going on around it, I can’t quite grasp yet.  If I can be blunt, as lyricists I find them to be good, but not great.  There is nothing embarrassing.  They do have moments of poetry.  However, when listening to Cohen, or Morrissey, or Reed, there are often couplets that you can pull out of the whole, that are extremely memorable and quotable on their own.  Morrissey’s, “I was looking for a job and then I found a job, and heaven knows I’m miserable now”, says so much with so little.  Win Butler does not write lyrics with such economy.  This might seem as faint praise, but I don’t necessarily mean it that way.  The lyrics on this record are just more abstracted and impressionistic it seems to me.  They do enhance the music, which should be a lyrics first job, but they are not writerly.  I do believe there is a difference there.  At the end of the day I believe an Arcade Fire record fails or succeeds on the sound of it.  The lyrics come secondary to ones enjoyment of it.

Now comes the central question of a review.  Is this record any good and is it worth your time?  Despite any criticism I wrote above, I do believe that it is.  Again, because of the complex nature of this record, the final verdict appears sometime off.  However, in the movie Alexander there is the quote that, “All men reach and fall, reach and fall.”  The Arcade Fire are definitely reaching here, when so many artists seem content to retread past glories or make art based on what they believe will sell.  I cannot tell if they will fall yet.  This record is an artistic statement; there can be no doubt about that.  They’re not fucking about.  There are definitely moments of sonic greatness here, but is the record as a whole great?  I do know that this record will do what good art should make you do, which is to feel and think.  It is still too early in the game to claim if this is a grand success or a noble failure, but it is something to experience.  This record makes me think of another Greek myth.  That would be the myth of Icarus.  The Arcade Fire are definitely aiming to shake off their earthly bounds and do something great.  Have they flown too high?  Will their wings melt in the process, sending them earthbound once again?  Only time will tell.

I wanted to make an addition to this review.  One of the mandates I have set for this site is that I will not change, unless it is with the purpose of fixing mistakes or making clearer, a particular blog.  I can always change my opinion and write a new blog, but the original blog must stand as is.  However, because this review is ultimately supposed to help you decide if you want to spend your hard earned money on something or not, I feel I should make one additional distinction:

This is not an album that is full of super accessible pop songs.  That is not to say there aren’t some great melodies and songs buried within the record. That is also not to say that as I experience repeated listens there won’t be even more strong melodies over time.  However, that is not it’s intitial stength.  I am enjoying it at this point more based on the sound of it and the emotions that it creates.   If you are looking for something to sing along to in your car, this probably isn’t the album for you.  If you are looking for an interesting and rewarding musical experience, then you will enjoy this record.  It’s kind of like you are hearing this really sonically interesting music, and then all of a sudden a strong melody will emerge, only to have it melt back into the music a few minutes later.  I think that is important to point out as you decide if this record is for you or not.  I always think you should challenge yourself musically, try things new things out and see how they grow on you.  However, depending on how much money you have in the bank, you and only you can decide when you can afford such risks.

Lou Reed Lyrics Day 4: Smalltown

Today I’m going to examine the lyrics from the Lou Reed and John Cale collaboration Songs for Drella.  This is their tribute to Andy Warhol.  The name of the album comes from Warhol’s nickname.  It derived from a combination of Dracula and Cinderella.  

Smalltown

When you’re growing up in a smalltown
When you’re growing up in a smalltown
When you’re growing up in a smalltown
You say, no one famous ever came from here

When you’re growing up in a smalltown
And you’re having a nervous breakdown
And you think that you’ll never escape it
Yourself or the place that you live

Where did Picasso come from
There’s no Michelangelo coming from Pittsburgh
If art is the tip of the iceberg
I’m the part sinking below

When you’re growing up in a smalltown
Bad skin, bad eyes, gay and fatty
People look at you funny
When you’re in a smalltown

My father worked in construction
It’s not something for which I’m suited
Oh, what is something for which you are suited
Getting out of here

I hate being odd in a smalltown
If they stare let them stare in New York City
As this pink eyed painting albino
How far can my fantasy go

I’m no Dali coming from Pittsburgh
No adorable lisping Capote
My hero, oh, do you think I could meet him?
I’d camp out at his front door

There is only one good thing about smalltown
There is only one good use for a smalltown
There is only one good thing about smalltown
You know that you want to get out

When you’re growing up in a smalltown
You know you’ll grow down in a smalltown
There is only one good use for a smalltown
You hate it and you’ll know you have to leave

The album as a whole is exceptional as the pair obviously knew Warhol well.  They paint portraits of his life, often from the first person, conjuring all different moods and angles.  

This is a song where Reed’s delivery and the simple piano music that back it contribute greatly to the enjoyment of the lyrics.  It brings out a mischievous comic nature to them.  

What this song demonstrates, again, is Lou’s ability to paint a three dimensional portrait of a character.  In order to do this one has to have sympathy and understanding for other people.  Lou rarely writes anything that is sentimental, but that is because sentimental feelings usually cloud the truth.  Things are often rosier than they really were when we look back upon them.  In doing away with sentimental feelings Lou is able to get closer to an objective view of things, at least as objective as one can be when dealing in a poetic form. 

Also, look at the references; Picasso, Capote, Dali, Michelangelo.  These are not the kind of names that pop up in a mainstream pop song with any frequency.  Although Lou Reed could write with the blunt language of the street, he is often just as comfortable with highbrow literary and art references. 

Lou is able to be empathetic to Warhol’s situation, while at the same time displaying his mastery of droll comic timing.  I love the line, “pink eyed painting albino.”  It’s such a bizarre turn of phrase.  You are on one hand laughing at the strange outsider that Warhol was, while always being on his side throughout the song.  That’s not an easy feet to achieve in writing; to make a figure both comical and empathetic.  Up in the North East, where like Lou Reed I’m from, we often bust the balls most of the people we love.  He is poking fun, but he is doing so with love. 

He also ends with the lines, “There’s only one good thing about a smalltown, you hate it and you know you’ll have to leave.”  The juxtaposition of the word good in the first part and hate in the second is again a great small bit of comedy.  David Milch, the creator of Deadwood, once said something along the lines of how comedy is the surprise of something not turning out the way you expected.  He used the example of the piano falling on someone and then they survive.  Comedy is the piano falling on someone and them surviving.  In combining two sentiments that wouldn’t normally be associated with each other, Lou is playing with the listeners expectations.  It’s just great writing in a pop song.  Also, one could view the whole song as the piano of the smalltown falling on Warhol, and him surviving.  A miniature comedy, expertly crafted.  

Again, I know that I am technically posting this early, but it’s after midnight east coast.  I’d like to say that I am doing this to honor the timezone in which Lou Reed lived, but in reality I’ve got shit to do in the morning!  

 

When We Should Lie

One of the most interesting subjects that I can think of is lying.  If we never lied, I imagine we would constantly be at each other’s throats.  David Milch, the creator of Deadwood, said that, “History is a lie agreed upon.”  Oscar Wilde once said, as I have quoted before, “If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, or otherwise they will kill you.”

Let me give you an example.  If a fat, hideous woman asks you how she looks, what do you say?  If you tell her the truth you are probably going to hurt her feelings and make her suffer.  If you lie to her you might boost her ego and make her feel good about herself.  You might also send her off into the night in a clown suit where she will be further ridiculed, but alas, these things are complicated.

If you meet a pair of brand new parents that have an ugly baby, do you fill their heads with grand delusions, or do you prepare them for the cold hard realities that their child will face?  The rules of society are that we should be compassionate to the new parents and tell them pretty lies.

These are small individual and trivial matters in the world.  What about when something is more serious as in politics?  If you are an atheist and you want to get someone that is religious over to your cause, and they ask you what your beliefs are, it does not help you to tell them that you believe they are worshiping a strange space god.  Conversely, if you are religious and you want to win an atheist over to your cause, it does you no good to tell them that they are going to burn in eternal hellfire.

Not only can the truth be hard thing to find, but it can often be a hard thing to tell.  Our society is built upon a bunch of fairy tells and delusions that help glue us together.  George Carlin calls this, “The American Okie Doke.”  I’ve included his words in full in an earlier post.  These lies include stuff like all men are equal, the police are always on your side, business is good, and your standard of living will never decline.  He also calls this, “The official national bullshit story.”

I once read a book called How to Be Good by Nick Hornby.  In this book a married man decides that he is always going to be good and that he is always going to tell the truth.  Basically, he ends up making life hell for everyone around him.

There is also the concept that sometimes fiction can help us see the truth even more than nonfiction.  Werner Herzog often fictionalizes things in his documentaries.  But what he is after is not what he calls, “The truth of accountants”, but a deeper truth that lays beneath the surface of the everyday.

There is no good answer to when you should be truthful and when you should lie.  I would say that the closer you are to someone the more brutally honest you should be.  If we can’t trust our friends and our loved to tell us the truth then we are in serious trouble.  The more serious a topic, as in war or poverty, the more it should be your duty to tell the truth as well as you can.  These are life and death situations and demand bravery in truth telling, even if it comes at a personal loss to you.  In art I always think the deeper more penetrating truth is the one that should guide you.  If you are a journalist, then just stick to the facts.  Another thing I liked about George Carlin is that he always believed in treating individuals as individuals.  Different people, when it comes to matters of their personal life, can handle different amounts of truth telling.

I think the main thing you should weigh when you are debating what to say is does it lead to more suffering or not.  Let’s go back to the fat, hideous woman.  If you tell her she looks great and this decreases her suffering, than you have probably done a good thing.  However again, if you tell her she looks great and again she goes out in an outfit that brings her even more ridicule, then she will suffer more and you have done her a disservice.

There is no easy answer to any of these questions.  I think decreasing suffering should always be our guiding principle, but even that does not give us a clear path.  The only time when suffering should not play a role in our decision is when it’s our own.  We should always tell the truth if the only one that will suffer will be ourselves.  The truth is an important thing that should be valuable to us all.  It should be guarded and kept sacred whenever possible.  One should always be honest, except when one shouldn’t be.

In Defense of the Art of Swearing

I recently had someone tell me that there was too much swearing in my blog.  It’s not that they were personally offended; it’s just that they felt as if I was going to lose people that might otherwise agree with me through the use of vulgar language.  It’s a valid point.  They are in good company.  In Kurt Vonnegut’s Hocus Pocus the narrator makes basically the same claim.  Morrissey, known to wield the poison pen with ease, almost never swears.  In fact when he used the word shit on his You Are the Quarry album, I was actually taken aback. 

     I’ve always had an affinity for swearing.  I believe the Larry David maxim that something is always funnier with the word fuck thrown in.  Maybe I’m just being juvenile.  But while I don’t think swearing necessarily shows intelligence, I don’t believe it negates it either.

     George Carlin is famous for his Seven Dirty Words skit.  He has also talked about how words are words and nothing more.  Society tries to stop some words from being said as a way to control people.  It’s always the lower class words that are the ones that the censors have a problem with.  You can say that someone is having sexual intercourse with someone in polite company, but you can’t say someone was fucking.  Both those terms in that context have the exact same meaning.  People deem one acceptable, and the other unacceptable.  Why? 

     I am a huge fan of the show DeadwoodDeadwood is a western.  Its language is a mix of high minded Victorian language mixed with an incredible amount of swearing.  It’s the Shakespeare of our time.  It just happens to have a lot of fucks in it.  The creator David Milch is probably one of the most interesting people to hear talk on the use of language.  He talks about how in a mining camp like Deadwood that was illegally on Indian land, there were a lot of shady people.  You might not want to walk up to someone and say, “What’s your name and how are you doing?”  They might take it as you were a Pinkerton or a law enforcement official.  They might answer with a, “Who are you and why the hell do you wanna know?”  A scuffle might ensue.  Instead the simplest thing might be to walk up to someone with a shrug and say, “Fucking A.”  To which the reply, also with a shrug, would be a, “Fucking A”, back.  With those few words they have communicated to each other hello, how are you doing, I’m all right, and I don’t want to get into any of your personal business.  So much can be said with so little. 

     At the end of the day language is merely a tool to communicate something.  There is a place for flowery poetic language, and there is a place for language that is brutish and vulgar.  All that matters is if the idea that you intend gets across.  Different places require different sets of tools. 

     There are also a lot of euphemisms in our country.  Euphemisms allow us to do horrible things and put a nice spin on them.  Someone in the military might say that a target is neutralized.  What is meant by that is that someone got fucking killed.  We also might say that there has been a surgical strike.  That means a fucking bomb has been dropped on someone.  I think in those instances the vulgar gets across the idea of what actually happened way more than the nice clean language that has become the norm.  When you are doing barbaric things to people it is much better to be honest and use barbaric language. 

      I would like to close with a comparison of two different lines.  One of them is from the show Deadwood, and actually doesn’t feature swearing.  The town saloon owner, Al Swearegen, sees the local sheriff, Seth Bullock, walking by and calls down to him from his balcony:  “Quick trick suck Bullock?  Sally forth through the days events with unencumbered thoughts?”  What this means is do you want to get sucked off by a whore and put your mind at ease.  Or someone could say to someone else:  “I fucking love your shit.”  Only one of those two things would pass the test of the censors on mainstream television, but only one of them conveys the positive emotion love.