Thursday, December 16, 2010

American Pride

     I’m not proud to be an American. I have no right to be. It’s like being proud of being born rich.
     I feel fortunate to have been born an American.  Most of the other locations on the planet to which I could have been born range from somewhat worse to horrific.
     While I feel extremely fortunate to have been born a citizen of a country which grants and respects so many freedoms and opportunities, the only people who have any right to be proud of their citizenship are immigrants who have earned it.
     This is somewhat different from being proud “of” one’s country, as Michelle Obama famously said. One can be proud of one’s country’s actions, e.g., liberating Europe from the Nazis, or ashamed, e.g., our support of dictatorships throughout the twentieth century which has come back to bite us so hard. To the extent that one may have played a part in the action of which one is proud, as did Mrs. Obama in her husband’s election, one has even more reason for pride.
      Great song line: “Six hundred pounds of sin/ Was grinning at my window/ All I said was come on in/ Don’t murder me.”

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

December 7, 2010, My 59th Birthday, In Which I See Jesus

     It’s been a real cold spell here in the Georgia Piedmont, especially for so early in December. I have some pets, as faithful readers may recall, and one of them, Honey, the cutie-pie cat, terrorizes Kirby, the black cat I know to have been born in the U.S.A.

     As a consequence, Kirby stays away days on end, not far—I see him around. I assume he gets some food at neighbors’ houses and kills small game in the Mansfield bush. Sometimes he’ll come and sit in the driveway casing the joint, wondering if he can get inside and eat some chow without being mauled by Honey.

     A few days ago he was sitting in the driveway when I went to take out the garbage, but Ginsberg, the dog, was with me and he chased him away. A little later I looked out the window and saw him sitting in the driveway again.

     I fed the other two cats, then locked them out of the kitchen and went out and fetched Kirby.

     I fed him two and a half cans of Friskies. There’s no telling how much he would eat if I would let him after these sabbaticals, but I fear making him sick if I were to find out.

     I shut the other two cats out of the two warm rooms and let Kirby stay. Ginsberg and he rub up against each other fondly. “Sorry about chasing you away. I can’t help myself. It’s a dog thing.”

     I tried to let him out before I went to bed, but he was quite comfortable where he was, thank you, and I let him stay. In retrospect this was foolish because he’d eaten two and a half cans of chow.

     In the morning there was a pool of soupy cat shit in the kitchen which the poor fellow apparently had deposited on an empty Ingle’s bag on the floor, but when I first saw it Ginsberg had the bag in his mouth and said poop was on the floor in front of the microwave.

     I couldn’t face cleaning up cat shit at 7:00 A.M., so I decided to leave it until later. Unfortunately, as I was going to reheat my coffee before leaving for work, I forgot about it, stepped in it and tracked it around the kitchen.

     I was wearing my new suede saddle oxfords which I soon discovered had indentations in the sole. What were the people at Bass shoes thinking? Certainly not about stepping in cat shit I can tell you.

     As a result I went through the day with an odor of cat shit always near.

     My next move regarding the kitchen problem was to put newspaper on the pool and the places where I’d tracked it. When the next day I tried to remove it, part of the paper was glued to the floor, so I sprayed it with 409 and put paper towels on it. I hoped this would soften it up and kill germs.

     So far you’re thinking this story stinks, but it gets better.

     When I came back to attack the problem again, I looked down at the site of Kirby’s mishap and there on the paper towel looking at me is the image of Jesus, smiling like he has a passel of kids in his lap.

     I was dumbstruck. I knew there had to be a message here, that Jesus was trying to tell me something, but I was having trouble concentrating because of the angel choir’s rising crescendo.

     I closed my eyes and there was the message printed in English on the back of my eyelids. It said, “Wassup dude?”

     I look down at Catshit Jesus and he’s still smiling benignly when it hits me. Jesus is thanking me for the shout out I gave him in the recent Apocalypse/Recycling post.

     No way am I going to clean this up now, but I should have taken a picture while I could. What I did was call the Pope.

     It’s not as hard as you might think to get the Pope on the phone. Just say you’re a twelve year old choirboy  and you have a secret to tell him.

     The Pope gets on the phone. “Habla Espanol?” I ask. “Une poco,” he says “pero hablo Ingles mas mucho.” “Que bien,” I say because I don’t speak much Spanish.

     Then I tell him about Catshit Jesus. I’m figuring he’ll want to send out investigators to confirm the miracle, but what he says is “Someone is full of shit here, but it is not Our Savior. Perhaps you should call your National Enquirer.”

     Then he hangs up before I can call him a Nazi, but I get to thinking about it and realize that maybe that’s it. Jesus wants me to make a little  money for our respective birthdays.

     So I get the National Enquirer on the line, and while they say they’re not coming to my house to look at cat shit, they’ll pay $1,500 for a good photo of this phenomenon. I tell the guy to hang on, that I’ll take the picture right now.

     I go in the kitchen and there's Ginsberg eating Catshit Jesus.

     I consider giving him some wine to go with it, but I don’t want him to start acting all holier than thou, so I get him outside and go back to the phone. “My dog ate the work Jesus did in my home, but it looks like we’ve still got one of Jesus’ legs from the knee down. What’ll you pay for that?”

     The son of a bitch hangs up on me. I'm noticing that this subject tends to make people cranky.

     So what did it all mean? Catshit Jesus doesn’t appear and ask you “Wassup dude” for nothing. On one’s birthday no less.

     I’m toying with the idea that maybe Jesus was telling me that I’m his second coming and I’m to lead my ragged company to the Pearly Gates.

     I’ll need to leave some money for Aunt Ida.

     Kool-Aid, anyone?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Best and Worst Lyrics

     Some of my favorite lines in songs I like because they’re just so funky. In that group I’d put “It’s fever in the funkhouse now” from “Tumblin' Dice,” “They’ll go gaga at the gogo” from the song “Hair,” “His body hit the street with such a beautiful thud” from “Lost in the Flood,” and “Wearing afros and braids in every gangsta ride” from “Players Ball.”

     Others are my favorite because I like the ideas expressed: “And you may ask yourself, well, how did I get here” from “Once in a Lifetime, “Now some guys they just give up living, and start dying little by little, piece by piece. Some guys come home from work and wash up, and go racing in the street,” because it expresses a basic tenet of my credo, and “I wanna' be Bob Dylan” from “Mr. Jones” because of course I do, and when you can put that line in a kickass song that evokes “Ballad of a Thin Man” it’s all the better.

     Another class would be lines that are verbal hooks that drive the song. The best example of this I can think of is “Mother what a lover, you wore me out.” Would “Maggie Mae” have ever become the radio standard it is without this line? “Whoop. There it is!” is another example.

     Some hook me because they’re just so unexpected. Steppenwolf released “The Pusher” two years before “Workingman’s Dead,” and hearing “god damn” in a song was something we hadn’t heard before, but the long groans of “The Pusher” lack the startling and delightful force of “God damn, well I declare, have you seen the like?”

    Others are on my list because of the beauty of the language and the imagery evoked, none better than “To dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free.” It’s right up there with Coleridge’s “Woman wailing for her demon lover” which some critic has said is the best line in English poetry. (I’m an English major)

    Finally there are the lines I like because of the cleverness of the rhyme. At the top of this list is “One thing is for certain, you will surely be a hurtin’, if you throw it all away.” As a matter of fact this song has the best lyrics of any song ever written, and that includes “Like a Rolling Stone,” “Amazing Grace” and the French National Anthem.

    (Have you ever heard or read a translation of the French National anthem? It has lyrics like, “Let us march! May impure blood water our fields!”)

    The entire “Nashville Skyline” LP is lyrically wonderful, like Hank Williams if Hank had been smarter. The showstoppers are “Tonight I’ll be Staying Here With You,” and “If You Throw it All Away,” (Mr. Dylan had by this time stopped giving his songs maddeningly disconnected titles) but “If You Throw It All Away” has a half dozen lines that would be in my top twenty list if I made one. “I once had mountains in the palm of my hand/and rivers that ran through every day.” Jesus is sitting on your shoulder and whispering in your ear when you can write a line like that.

     About that top twenty list: I’d originally intended this post to be just that, but then I realized I’d need six months to think about it so as not to forget a gem. For example, as I write this I realize I’ve left out “I’m wishing I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then /Against the wind.”

    So as more come to me I’ll stick them at the end of future posts and I encourage my readers to add their own through the “comments” section.

    (Which reminds me. There’s someone in Moscow—Russia, not Idaho—who reads my blog. Tell me please, what brought you here and what causes you to return?)

    Worst lines in songs are another matter. Bad lines in good songs are the exception. Most bad lines are in bad songs piled one upon another, and you have to be willing to listen to bad songs to know them. Therefore the ones we know we remember from our youth when our tastes were less refined and we listened to whatever came on the radio.

     In my case that would be songs like “Wonderful World,” Sam Cook’s celebration of ignorance, “Knock Three Times” (on the ceiling if you want me), and Bobby Goldsboro’s makes-me-want-to-stick-hot-knitting-needles-in-my-eyes “Honey.” Oh, and “Last Kiss” a song for which I still have a perverse affection. Are you old enough to remember when syndicated columnist Dave Barry solicited suggestions from readers for worst songs ever recordered? (1993) “Honey” was nosed out by “McArthur Park” (someone left the cake out in the rain), an asinine song but for my money it can’t touch “Honey” as a stinker.

    I offer two examples of bad lines in good songs and I’ll probably catch some flak for this. “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.” Sorry Mr. Lennon, but the fact that there are other dreamers makes you no more or less one. Al Qaida and the Nazis could make the same claim,

     “Him and I, Aquemini.” Sorry Mr. 3000, but it’s either “he and I” or “him and me.” You can’t go juggling noun cases just to make a good rhyme. It’s bad form.

Some Thoughts on Recycling and the Apocalypse

     A relative of mine—we’ll call her Aunt Ida—like much of my family is a fundamentalist Christian and regular churchgoer. A former Baptist, she now attends one of those non-denominational mega- churches. Her Sunday school teacher there--we’ll call him Mr. Jimmy—is an educated man, somewhat handsome, whom she idolizes.

     Mr. Jimmy has lately been teaching from the book of Revelations. He told the class that John the Revelator says that when the Rapture occurs the chosen ones will be taken up to heaven and that will be followed by seven years of terrible turmoil before, I assume, those left behind will be sent to the lake of fire and brimstone.

     Mr. Jimmy says that the signs are in place and this should come to pass any day now.

     This is all news to me—not the end is near part—we’ve been hearing that regularly since 33 A.D.—but the part about the seven years of turmoil, and I went to church an average of five times per week for the first seventeen years of my life. My father was a Baptist preacher but he didn’t have much truck with Revelations. I think he considered it pretty much symbolic mumbo jumbo.

     Anyway I’ve always been under the impression that all this shit was supposed to come down at once.

     But Aunt Ida puts any proclamation of Mr. Jimmy on a par with scripture and believes she’s heaven bound any day now. As a consequence she’s told my wife that she is putting money aside at a hidden location in her house.

     This money is for Cynthia and me after the Rapture comes, because she’s certain that we won’t make the cut.

     My reaction to this was to tell Aunt Ida the Rapture had already happened. They took Mr. Rogers, Mother Theresa, and a few thousand others, but she and Mr. Jimmy didn’t make the cut. Witness the turmoil the world is in now.

     I know many people, and again, much if not most of my family, who believe, or claim to, that this second coming thing is going to happen. I say claim to, because I don’t believe that many people who say they believe this actually do. They say they do because the rest of the clique in which they move say they do.

     It’s kind of like the old preacher’s joke—I heard a lot of them growing up—where the preacher asks the congregation to raise their hand if they want to go to heaven. All do but one man.

     After the service the preacher asks him, “Brother Jones, don’t you want to go to heaven when you die?”

     Brother Jones answers, “Oh yeah, when I die. I thought you were getting up a load to go now.”

     I have no problem believing that Jesus Christ died for my sins. There’s considerable evidence to support that and there’s nothing illogical about the premise, but to believe that a supposedly loving god is going to send to hell everybody who’s not down with the program is absurd. And his dropping in out of the blue to make up or down calls for every human to heaven or hell—surely no sane person actually believes that.

     The Catholics at least allow for some middle ground on the up or down call.

     People in the Middle Ages, I think, actually believed this nonsense. Many Muslims today are still living in the middle ages and believe similar folderol. How many neo-Christians do you think would be a suicide bomber for their cause. I mean if you really believe you’re going to heaven, why wait?

     This claimed belief that the Rapture is imminent is apparently widespread on the religious right. I have read that higher ups in the Bush administration justified not taxing the rich or controlling pollution by their supposed belief that the end is near and you might as well get it while you can.

     How convenient.

     And if you claim to believe this malarkey, why recycle? Aunt Ida doesn’t, and I’d be willing to believe that most of these other “believers” don’t either, because they don’t seem to share another basic religious tenet, one given lip service at least by all your major religions, that being that one should sacrifice for the common good even without direct benefit for oneself. Like recycling and energy conservation say.

     Even though I’m sometimes guilty of riding around in my car just to listen to the stereo—why is it that music sounds best riding in a car at night—I’m something of a fanatic in other ways. For example, I won’t take an elevator unless I have to go over say six floors, and I refuse to go through automatic doors if a normal one is available. In both instances I’m saving fossil fuel and getting exercise.

    I don’t, as you see, subscribe to the Machiavellian philosophy of these so called believers.

     One other thing and I’ll stop this rant. I’m willing to bet that on a circle graph, the circle representing “idiots who have our car remotes set to honk the horn when we lock the car” is almost totally contained within the circle of self-proclaimed fundamentalist Christians. I’m also willing to bet that none of the idiots contained in the smaller circle recycle. Having the horn honk when you lock the car so the rest of us have to hear it is the same “it’s all about me” attitude demonstrated by putting glass in the garbage.