Comedy is Tragedy Plus Time

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…constitutes a veritable goldmine for a psychologist – provided he is wise enough to understand that the horrible can not only be ludicrous but outright funny.  -  Hannah Arendt

This quote is from her Eichmann in Jerusalem.   I purposely removed it from its context, because I believe this statement to be true on many fronts.  As Steve Allen once said, “Comedy is tragedy plus time.”  I was listening to the George Carlin special last night Life is Worth Losing.  In it he has you laughing at suicide, mass murder, and the “pyramid of the hopeless”.   There is a great deal of absurdity in the human condition.  Comedy allows us to talk about things we otherwise might shy away from.

Passport Propaganda

Last night I forgot one of my books and was stuck in a situation where I had nothing to read.  I started reading the quotes in my passport and realized that almost everyone was propaganda and most were easily disproved.  They are all part of, as George Carlin would say, “the national bullshit story.”  I thought I would post the quotes and then follow up with why a response to each one:

The principle of free government adheres to the American soil.  It is bedded in it, immovable as the mountains. – Daniel Webster

Ok, total bullshit.  First of all soil cannot be bedded with principles of anything.  Our soil, aside from possibly the particular chemical makeup of it, is no different than any soil.  Also, democracy and free governments are never immovable.  They are things which need vigilant citizens to maintain.  Just look at the history of our voting rights.  Look at the current NSA scandal or things Hoover’s FBI did or any of number of things to learn how free government and democracy are easily eroded. 

We have a great dream.  It started way back in 1776 and God grant that America will be true to her dream.  – Martin Luther King

I am nitpicking with this one.  Martin Luther King was obviously a great man.  The quote itself is fine in a kind of whitwashed way.  However in 1776 they did let slavery remain legal.  Also, whether or not there is a God, it is again going to take actual people to make us stay true to the founder’s more noble ideas. 

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and success of liberty.  – John F. Kennedy

Again, I like John Kennedy fine, but this is simply untrue.  If we look at the history of Guatemala or the Congo or many other examples, there are plenty of times that we let liberty be snuffed out. 

This is a new nation, based on a continent, of boundless possibilities. – Theodore Roosevelt

This might have seemed more true in Roosevelt’s time.  However, with our modern environmental problems we are seeing that even our vast continent is not boundless in its possibilities.   Nothing physical is boundless. 

Whatever America hopes to bring to pass in the world must first come from the heart of America. – Dwight D. Eisenhower

This is a very vague statement.  What exactly is the heart of America?  Is it the people?  If so there have been many times when presidents passed things by executive order without the outright consent of a large amount of people.  Is it Washington?  If that place always has a heart I’ll shit myself.  Besides, the decisions they make there, look at Iraq, don’t always pass in the world as planned.  Again a vague statement that is a bunch of meaningless feel good nonsense. 

For this is what America is all about.  It is the uncrowded desert and the unclaimed ridge.  It is the star that is not reached and the harvest sleeping in the unplowed ground.  Is our world gone? We say “Farewell.”  Is a new world coming? We welcome it – and we will bend it to the hopes of man. – Lyndon B. Johnson

Again vague feel good nonsense, this time rooted in American exceptionalism.   Johnson himself found the limits to our power in Vietnam.  Case closed. 

May God continue the unity of our country as the railroad unites the two great oceans of the world. – inscribed on the Golden Spike, Promontory Point, 1869

This refers to the transcontinental railroad.   It should be noted that much of the work was done by Chinese laborers.  Although it is disputed how many, varying wildly, many of these workers died. 

We send thanks to all the Animal life in the world.  They have many things to teach us as people.  We are glad they are always here and hope it will always be so. – Excerpt from the Thanksgiving Address, Mohawk version

There is nothing wrong in and of the quote itself.  However when you use it as a selling point for our country it helps to remember how we treated the Indians and how we have exploited animals.  The Mohawks also fought against us in the Revolutionary War and The War of 1812.  We also took their land.  Also, look how we treated the buffalo, which we almost wiped out of existence during the western Indian wars.  Look now at how we treat animals in factory farming.  Again the statement is fine, but when you examine it closely as a selling point for America, it kind of makes you wonder. 

The cause of freedom is not the cause of a race or sect, a party or a class – it is the cause of human kind, the very birthright of humanity – Anna Julia Cooper

This statement is another one that is fine in and of itself as an idea.  However, it is false when used as a selling point for America.  Also, first of all, you are not born with the right to anything.  Rights have to be fought for and maintained by vigilant citizens.  If we were born with rights we wouldn’t have needed the Civil War or the women’s suffrage movement.  Also if one looks at gerrymandering today, you can still see that our freedoms, in terms of the right to truly govern ourselves as a true democracy, are still being eroded.  We are also not free in a lot of ways.  If I get caught with weed in Texas, a victimless crime that hurts no one, what freedom I do have will dissappear.  

My point is not to be a killjoy or to say we should stamp out attempts at using language to aspire to greater things.  It is just that we need to, as individuals,  to think.  Democracy and freedom are not birthrights, are not unique to America, and do not come from God.  Only by being vigilant citizens, paying attention to what is going on, and by standing up for those that are oppressed,  can we truly have a democracy that represents all.  Also, total freedom is an illusion.  To be free in a way in which we can all persue our own version of happiness, as long as we don’t hurt others, is still along ways off. There is much work to be done.

The Comedy of Religion

When I opened the New York Times this morning I saw the completely insane picture of Shiite men marching in Iraq wearing matching camo pants, black t-shirts, ski masks, all with bombs strapped to their chest which at least resembles bundles of TNT.  I’m sure if you were to stumble upon this on the street it would be completely horrifying.  Viewed from the safety of the morning paper there was something strangely comical about it.  I always think the Greeks got an aspect of the gods right.  I imagine superior beings atop Mount Olympus laughing at the folly of man.  These men are coordinating, even down to the color, outfits of death all in the name of an invisible figure that they cannot see.  Life when viewed up close is often a tragedy.  When it is viewed with a certain degree of remove it is almost always a comedy. 

One of my recent entertainment pleasures has been the discovery of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant produced TV series An Idiot Abroad.  In this show the two creators of The Office send their friend, and idiot of the title, Karl Pilkington to various foreign countries.  Pilkington is the friend that we all have that never wishes to leave their hometown and can’t help but literally say what is on his\her mind because there simply doesn’t exist the guile to do otherwise.  The comedy from the show often comes from someone being confronted with the wonder of the world at large and simply being indifferent to it, or quite often being annoyed by it.  They do sometimes send him to certain places to purposely torture him, however even in places like The Great Wall of China Pilkington seems unimpressed to comical effect. 

However, sometimes Pilkington stumbles onto strange truths without even realizing it.  When he is in Jerusalem he finds it extremely bizarre that around every corner some different religion is approaching with a different bizarre outfit on.  He compares Jerusalem to Pac-Man as to him it reminds him of a place where, much like the ghosts in Pac-Man, something is popping out at you from around every corner.  Somehow this “idiot” has stumbled upon the absurdity of religious believers in this area.  They are all from the same region, they all wear ridiculous clothing, the all believe they have a lock on the truth, and all while having absolutely no proof to support their claims.  It is like a Monty Python skit come to life. 

This Sunday morning I will leave you with quotes from the great George Carlin:

What is this religious fascination with head gear?  Every religion’s got a different fucking hat.  Did you ever notice that?  The Hindus have a turban, the sheiks have a tall white turban, the Jews have a yarmulke, Muslims have the keffiyah, the Bishop has a pointy hat one day and a round hat on another day, Cardinal has a red hate, Pope has a white hat, everybody’s got a fucking hat!  One group takes them off, another group puts them on.  Personally I would not want to be a member of any group where you either have to wear a hat or you can’t wear a hat.  I think all religions should have one rule, and one rule only: hat’s optional!

You ever notice that?  Any time you see two groups of people who really hate each other chances are good they’re wearing different kinds of hats.  Keep an eye on that, it might be important. 

Fun Fact!

We have more people in prison right now than were in Stalin’s Gulags at any one time!  I read this in the Taibbi book I mentioned earlier.  I did a little research tonight and it is true.  Next time some politician or talking head starts talking about freedom you should laugh, cry, or just turn the channel.  As George Carlin said, “It’s all bullshit and it’s bad for you!”

George Carlin and the Ten Commandments

I miss George Carlin.  Through humor he helped keep us sane in an insane world.  He was as much a philosopher as he was a comedian.  Here is George Carlin on the Ten Commandments:

Here is my problem with the ten commandments- why exactly are there 10? 

You simply do not need ten. The list of ten commandments was artificially and deliberately inflated to get it up to ten. Here’s what happened: 

About 5,000 years ago a bunch of religious and political hustlers got together to try to figure out how to control people and keep them in line. They knew people were basically stupid and would believe anything they were told, so they announced that God had given them some commandments, up on a mountain, when no one was around.

Well let me ask you this- when they were making this shit up, why did they pick 10? Why not 9 or 11? I’ll tell you why- because 10 sound official. Ten sounds important! Ten is the basis for the decimal system, it’s a decade, it’s a psychologically satisfying number (the top ten, the ten most wanted, the ten best dressed). So having ten commandments was really a marketing decision! It is clearly a bullshit list. It’s a political document artificially inflated to sell better. I will now show you how you can reduce the number of commandments and come up with a list that’s a little more workable and logical. I am going to use the Roman Catholic version because those were the ones I was taught as a little boy.

Let’s start with the first three: 

I AM THE LORD THY GOD THOU SHALT NOT HAVE STRANGE GODS BEFORE ME

THOU SHALT NOT TAKE THE NAME OF THE LORD THY GOD IN VAIN

THOU SHALT KEEP HOLY THE SABBATH

Right off the bat the first three are pure bullshit. Sabbath day? Lord’s name? strange gods? Spooky language! Designed to scare and control primitive people. In no way does superstitious nonsense like this apply to the lives of intelligent civilized humans in the 21st century. So now we’re down to 7. Next:

HONOR THY FATHER AND MOTHER

Obedience, respect for authority. Just another name for controlling people. The truth is that obedience and respect shouldn’t be automatic. They should be earned and based on the parent’s performance. Some parents deserve respect, but most of them don’t, period. You’re down to six.

Now in the interest of logic, something religion is very uncomfortable with, we’re going to jump around the list a little bit.

THOU SHALT NOT STEAL

THOU SHALT NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS

Stealing and lying. Well actually, these two both prohibit the same kind of behavior- dishonesty. So you don’t really need two you combine them and call the commandment “thou shalt not be dishonest”. And suddenly you’re down to 5.

And as long as we’re combining I have two others that belong together:

THOU SHALT NOT COMMIT ADULTRY

THOU SHALT NOT COVET THY NEIGHBOR’S WIFE

Once again, these two prohibit the same type of behavior. In this case it is marital infidelity. The difference is- coveting takes place in the mind. But I don’t think you should outlaw fantasizing about someone else’s wife because what is a guy gonna think about when he’s waxing his carrot? But, marital infidelity is a good idea so we’re gonna keep this one and call it “thou shalt not be unfaithful”. And suddenly we’re down to four.

But when you think about it, honesty and infidelity are really part of the same overall value so, in truth, you could combine the two honesty commandments with the two fidelity commandments and give them simpler language, positive language instead of negative language and call the whole thing “thou shalt always be honest and faithful” and we’re down to 3.

THOU SHALT NOT COVET THY NEIGHBOR”S GOODS

This one is just plain fuckin’ stupid. Coveting your neighbor’s goods is what keeps the economy going! Your neighbor gets a vibrator that plays “o come o ye faithful”, and you want one too! Coveting creates jobs, so leave it alone. You throw out coveting and you’re down to 2 now- the big honesty and fidelity commandment and the one we haven’t talked about yet:

THOU SHALT NOT KILL

Murder. But when you think about it, religion has never really had a big problem with murder. More people have been killed in the name of god than for any other reason. All you have to do is look at Northern Ireland, Cashmire, the Inquisition, the Crusades, and the World Trade Center to see how seriously the religious folks take thou shalt not kill. The more devout they are, the more they see murder as being negotiable. It depends on who’s doin the killin’ and who’s gettin’ killed. So, with all of this in mind, I give you my revised list of the two commandments:

Thou shalt always be honest and faithful to the provider of thy nookie.

&

Thou shalt try real hard not to kill anyone, unless of course they pray to a different invisible man than you.

Two is all you need; Moses could have carried them down the hill in his fuckin’ pocket. I wouldn’t mind those folks in Alabama posting them on the courthouse wall, as long as they provided one additional commandment:

Thou shalt keep thy religion to thyself.

Advertising and Children

www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/03/why-we-cant-stop-liking-the-brands-we-loved-as-kids/284393/

The above is an interesting article on how advertising influences kids.  It was written by Derek Thompson for The Atlantic.  I think with Netflix, DVD’s, and video games, that now is a better time than ever to keep TV advertising out of the home.  Plus as George Carlin has pointed out, they can always just go out in the yard and dig a hole with a stick!

Media Diet and Rambling Thoughts

Huffington Post is still promoting the missing plane mystery as their headline.  How many days will this go on?!!!  I bet the cable news is having a field day with that too, though I don’t know for certain, as I don’t watch that shit!

I’ve been going on a media diet in recent years.  I cut out cable TV and I cut out radio.  These are two outdated forms that offer little if any value to one’s life.  When I listen or watch one of these formats I almost start believing my conspiracy theory friends that the media is manipulating us to make us dumber.  Songs riddled with clichés and Ken and Barbie dolls reading Teleprompters are running ramped over a demoralized public.

Did you see the singer form Hootie and the Blowfish has a country career now?  Who buys that stuff?  Who bought his Blowfish albums?  Kevin Russell calls this stuff golf rock.  Did anyone notice how metrosexual a lot of the male country stars are now?  I find that funny as their base is partially composed of redneck males who think they are tougher than the rest and are often homophobic.

I wish Hunter Thompson and Kurt Vonnegut and George Carlin were still alive.  They were of the rarified few that knew how to expose the great contradictions in our society.  This is an absurd country in many ways.  Our comedians have become our truth tellers and our newscasters have become our mindless entertainers.  Remember in a capitalist democracy we vote with our dollar a good deal of the time.  Support those things that bring value to your life and cut out on the fat!

Sergeant Slaughter and Richard Nixon

The other night my brother and I watched a 50th anniversary documentary about World Wrestling Entertainment.  What can I say, except that I enjoy large doses of the absurd and bizarre.  Probably the strangest moment came when Sergeant Slaughter talks about meeting Richard Nixon on a plane and how Nixon admitted to being a great fan of pro-wrestling.  The thought of someone who was the President of the United States watching pro-wrestling, especially when it is Tricky Dick, is a level of absurdity that I don’t know if I can properly describe.  These are the kind of stories that make life worth living. 

Nixon had time in life to make an enemies list and to watch steroid fueled men in strange costumes fake fight.  I clearly need to up my game.  I have achieved nothing when compared to this mutant. 

George Carlin has a book called Napalm and Silly Putty.  The title is about the duality of man.  We are a species that makes chemicals that melt the skin off of people and a species that makes a toy that can copy the funny papers.  We sure are interesting. 

A link to a book description of Nixon meeting Slaughter:  

http://www.books.google.com/books?id=Szus3bg58RIC&pg=PA116&lpg=PA116&dq=sargent+slaughter+richard+nixon&source=bl&ots=XAvcLXjXXU&sig=fpMT00zIdPBT7-cDlt32hGpp3So&hl=en&sa=X&ei=Hy4EU9LqDeblyQHghoCwBA&ved=0CDIQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=sargent%20slaughter%20richard%20nixon&f=false

People are Lonely

http://noshowponies.bandcamp.com/track/people-are-lonely

I went to the innermost cave
Determined to return enlightened
I didn’t learn much save
People are horribly frightened

Of being lonely
People are lonely

From bottom of the well
To the top of the cathedral bell
People are erecting monuments
People are creating documents

Not to be lonely
People are lonely

People are lonely
Hiding in their homes
Forgetting that the pyramids
Are nothing but tombs

If you wear a certain hat
You belong to a certain tribe
If you pray to a certain god
You’ve got an army on your side

People are lonely
These people are lonely

People are lonely
Hiding in their homes
Forgetting that the pyramids
Are nothing but tombs

 

I once read a description of comedy that said it is when the hero goes to the innermost cave and learns nothing.  As an example I often think of the Christopher Guest directed Almost Heroes.  In the movie Chris Farley, Matthew Perry, and a band of explorers resembling the Lewis and Clark expedition, decide, after traveling across the country through one miserable experience after another, to keep walking to Asia.  So this song, that is a look at the absurdity of the human condition, at least begins as a dark comedy.

The comedian George Carlin also informs the songs third verse.  In one of his routines he talks about how all the religions have their own funny hat.  “Everybody’s got a fucking hat.  One group takes them off.  You can see a cartoon depiction of this routine here:  http://www.funnyjunk.com/funny_pictures/4466617/George+Carlin+on+Religious+Hat/

In pointing out how loneliness often directs human behavior, I’m not really letting myself off of the hook.   I’m writing songs and writing this very blog with the hope of connecting other people.  I’m creating documents in a sense.

As someone that often enjoys a Friday night alone in my house as much as anything else, I’m not entirely off the hook in the bridge of this song either.  However, the point was that people often spend all their money to enrich their own private lives, when such endeavors are absurd in the face of what life should really be about.  “We’re here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is.”  Those were words written by Kurt Vonnegut.  However, instead of spending our money or time to help others, we often let the ego take over and spend our time and money making ourselves comfortable at best, or erecting absurd shrines to ourselves at worst.  But even if you build the pyramids one day they will be nothing but a relic of a time gone past.  You can’t take it with you when you go.

Frederick the Great erected a palace called Sanssouci.  The translation of the name of this palace is “without worry”.  When I was there our tour guide said that it was named so because women weren’t allowed there.  He was a funny guy.  This man, who had immense power in his life, is buried on the grounds of this palace with his dogs.  I read that he is quoted to have said, “If you know the people, you’d love the dogs.”  I don’t know if this is true, but I sure hope so.

I demoed this song at home using Garage Band on my brother’s Mac.  It was very different in its original arrangement.  It had a rhythmic feel closer to Dylan’s Things Have Changed.  As with most songs on this album, the arrangement was completely changed once we became a three piece.  Our drummer Alex had a huge influence on this song.  He played a militarized version of a New Orleans kind of drum beat, which in my opinion made the song much more interesting.  My bass is simply mimicking and accentuating his moves.  We knew that we wanted the song to have a somewhat menacing quality to it.  My brother made all the right moves and provided the perfect colors over top of Al’s groove.  Ben’s guitar and Alex’s drums are what really give this song its unique musical flavor.  I was lucky to be along for the ride. It was exciting for me to see how they took something I wrote and transformed it into something completely different.  Other than a little bit of percussion by Al there are no musical overdubs on this song.  It was done in two or three takes at most.  Pretty much nothing on the album went over three takes.

To those of you that visit this blog with some frequency, I appreciate you sticking with me as I write a good deal about our new record, A Manual for Defeat.  Even though this album probably took a maximum of ten days to make, because of gaps between sessions, acquiring funding, and getting the artwork where we wanted it, it somehow took us almost two years to get it out.  It’s been a long time coming for us and we are extremely excited to finally share it with you.  Where does the time go?

The DMV On Space Crack

I realized today how bound up we are in technology.  My internet went down today and it lead to a day that was a complete hellzone!  Things that are an everyday part of my life, reading the news, listening to new music, blogging, writing to people I care about, and doing schoolwork, were impossible. 

I can’t remember the name of the piece, but George Carlin does a bit where he shows how quickly society could break down.  I think he starts with just electricity going out.  In his piece he lays out how this leads to complete and utter chaos. 

In my travel to restore the normal order of things I had my first trip to the cable company headquarters in years.  I don’t have cable TV so this is not a place that I have any regular reason to go to.  It was completely depressing.  It was like the DMV on space crack! 

A room full of broken souls paying what I overheard to be nothing short of highway robbery.  A guy in front of me, that could barely speak English, had a cable bill of over $500!  Welcome to America! 

Look, I’m not saying I’m better than anyone else.  I definitely see a day when I succumb to temptation and get cable.  Every time football season rolls around I am definitely kicking myself a little.  And I know one man’s gibberish is another man’s lifeblood.  However, when that day comes, I will surely know better.  Someday I will pump my hard earned dollars into something that steals my time, adds very little value to my life, and brings commercials into my home.  I will feel guilty and full of self loathing, but I will be entertained.