Some thoughts on aging

He ain’t lettin’ them grey hairs keep him from having fun!

Sometime before I turned 12, I noticed that for the most part adults were grim. They didn’t seem to have much fun, they were always frowning about something, worrying about something else, and complaining about how hard things were. Always.

These seemed like a pretty bad deal to me. They could decide to eat ice cream for dinner but would be depressed about it? Not a good trade.

They also seemed to be completely ignorant of the fact they were once kids themselves. How could the people who were now in charge of the world the same whacked kids like The Beav I saw on TV? Memory suppression? The press of events? I didn’t know, but it seemed to be universal; adults inveighing against music, games, and books…who were the same people who had been berated for their love of Elvis and dancing 15 years before. I mean, WTF?

I was validated in this opinion while reading one of my mom’s child psychology textbooks. (Imaginative title: “CHILD PSYCHOLOGY”; like that, in big block letters.) One of the authors noted that adults had “lost the ability to play”, and to correct this he and his co-researcher decided to have a worm race down the hall of their university offices. He named his worm “Ignatz”.

I decided then and there I wasn’t going to forget what it was like to be a kid. I was already a pint-sized stand-up comedian, cracking up the grownups around me with my renditions of what I’d heard on Bill Cosby, George Carlin, and Lenny Bruce records. Flip Wilson was one of my early heroes. I wasn’t going to be a grim adult yelling at my kids because they played music I didn’t like. No sir; not me.

The amazing Flip Wilson

I wrote a few months ago about my thoughts about the famous quote, “A man who has not been a socialist before 25 has no heart; if he remains one after 25 he has no head.” (Short form: Baloney.) When I hit my teens and 20s, I took it as a challenge; that wasn’t going to happen to me! (And it hasn’t.)

I’m pushing 60 now; I’ll be 59 this coming June. I’ve raised three special-needs kids. I’ve had a 35+ year career in high tech. I’m a cancer survivor; I have chronic neck pain from an injury at 35; I’ve got “common tremors” (I find the name “essential tremors” hilariously inappropriate; what could be more unessential than having your hands shake?); my autistic child still lives with me at 23; I went through (heck, am still going through) an ugly divorce from someone who, in our last few years together, grew increasingly abusive; I’m about to move for the 3rd time in the last 7 years.

But I haven’t lost my sense of fun! And dammit, I’m not about to.

Aside from supposedly becoming more conservative, there’s a lot of stuff people say you’re supposed to “outgrow” or “be too old for” when you hit late-middle age. And you know what? To heck with that.

I was reminded of this the other day while re-watching “Firefly”. Alan Tudyk’s Wash is funny, childlike in the best way, and doesn’t let his weird job, his perpetual poverty, or his sometimes-rough treatment at the hands of his crew get him down. How does he respond?

This is a man who hasn’t lost his sense of childhood

He plays with toys, that’s how! Wash is my f**king hero. (And in my head-canon, he’s still alive. Up yours, Joss Whedon!)

This attitude helped me immensely when raising my kids, especially as they were all special needs and all three sucked at cleaning their rooms. Now, it’s not that I sucked at cleaning my room; on the contrary, my room was OCD-level spotless and organized. No, it’s that I remember the pointless fights my step-mom got into with my brother. Why? Who cares? It was his room. If my kids wanted their rooms to be sties, fine; just keep it there. “No mess in the main part of the house,” was the rule, and they (for the most part) adhered to it.

It helped when they experience relationship angst; it helped me be patient when they were disappointed by the adult world intruding in on stuff they wanted (“No, we can’t go to Disneyland this summer; we just don’t have the money”); it helped when dealing with their kid-serious issues. (My daughter has made a similar vow.)

But it’s helped in more ways, especially as my body inevitably breaks down and I try hard to find fun during periods when, let’s face it, the world kinda sucks. What do I mean? Glad you asked!

Here’s an example: You’re supposed “outgrow” ska music. It’s supposedly simplistic, repetitive, and juvenile. Well, to heck with that! I enjoy ska music when I’m in the mood. I love The (English) Beat. I love The Mighty Mighty Bosstones (see them in Clueless). I even love Smashmouth, which isn’t really ska but obviously influenced by it. And for all you haters: I don’t care what you think! Rush (yes, I they’re not a ska band; quiet, I’m making a point) was denigrated and lambasted by the critical musical world for decades…and now is in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, despite Jann Wenner’s hatred of metal, progressive rock, and anything recorded after (say) 1975. Like what you like!

If they’re good enough for Kim Possible, they’re good enough for me!

(Similarly, this allows me to let my kids listen to whatever it is they like, and not get all up in their collective grill. You want to listen to Pink or My Chemical Romance or Panic! At the Disco, hey, go ahead! Just use your headphones, okay? At least we both enjoy Fallout Boy.)

It’s more than just music, though; I’m talking about an attitude here. Another example is my dancing. I was an athlete; softball, disk golf, racquetball, skiing…whatever I had time for. I played soccer and fenced at the NCAA collegiate level. I wasn’t ever threatening to make the Olympic team, but I was decent. It was a big part of my life. Then I had the aforementioned neck injury, and my orthopedist said, “Sure, you can go skiing or play ultimate frisbee…if you want to risk permanent paralysis.” And that was it for high-impact-on-the-body sports.

But that spirit still lives in me. So at the suggestion of my friend Becky, I tried Lindy Hop dancing…and I love it. I also look totally ridiculous; an overweight, late-middle-aged man trying to do moves clearly designed for bodies thinner (but luckily not more flexible) than mine? How ridiculous can you get? And you know something? So what? I have fun, many of my partners seem to enjoy dancing with me. It’s my play!

Lindy Hoppers tend to look like this; I do not

But it’s not just dancing and music; it’s everything. It helps me to view the world with as much child-like wonder as I can. To notice amazing cloud-and-sun interacts; to appreciate the quite murmur of the river while sitting quietly on a rock at the park; to laugh at the absurd things people say at work (hopefully with the mute button on)—and believe me the marketing-speak stuff they sometimes come out with deserves laughter. To take a little joy in how silly my cat acts instead of constantly getting mad he likes to claw his way up my leg. To laugh with Joseph about “the Overload Restaurant” here in Austin, a restaurant that, shall we say, doesn’t skimp on lights during Christmastime. To be amused by funny noises and sounds instead of angered by them. To have a sense of play.

Mozart’s Restaurant at Christmas; did I lie?

Heck, I’d still play with LEGOs, but they only seem to make “special kits” these days, instead of just having packages of blocks of various sizes. I don’t want to build a kit; I want to build whatever my crazed imagination comes up with. (As a kid I used to take 8 2×8 bricks and see how many different ways I could permute them. A robot! A car! A plane! I don’t know what this is, but it looks cool!)

Permute! Permute! OK! (Apologies to Dr. Brommer’s)

And that’s my point here; as my body gets more creaky, and the pressures of the world push in, I often think the only thing that saves me is my sense of play. My strongly-held desire to not be totally adult about everything. Childish? Maybe. But honestly, I’d rather spend part of my time being childish, than a grim trudge to old age.

I mean, wouldn’t you?

The Fragility of Our Democracy

This image should genuinely scare you

We’re on the edge of a major disaster.

I’m not talking about the Covid pandemic, although that is, of course, absolutely horrible. And it is being used both directly and indirectly to cause the disaster I’m going to discuss. No, I’m talking about a genuine, existential threat to our country most people reading this will laugh off as hyperbolic and ridiculous:

The fascists are taking over.

You’re right to be skeptical, to laugh, to think I’m a wild-eyed hippie, or whatever other reaction you have that’s in the realm of “Doug is going overboard.” Absolutely. Here’s the thing, and there’s no getting around it: After 4 years (and one year of campaigning) that contained overt bigotry, appeals to white supremacists, Neo-Nazis, racists, and bigots of all kinds, the first Administration since the Great Depression to turn in a negative economic rating, a catastrophic reaction to a worldwide pandemic, and too many domestic and international screw-ups to list here, 74 million people still voted for Trump.

I still can’t believe these result, TBH

74 million. 35% of the adult population of the country voted for a lying, philandering, incompetent, incoherent man-baby who has said over and over he admires dictators and finds true democratic leaders weak and pathetic.

This is bad enough. It demonstrates that over a third of our country is ignorant, duped, or downright stupid enough to vote for an avowed autocrat. They have demonstrated this. I’m not making it up; it just happened in 2020. But it’s way worse.

The Republican Party used to be the party of sober, serious greedheads. They had one domestic goal: Money. For themselves and their business partners. They had one foreign policy goal: Pax Americana everywhere, even if it meant permanent war. Yes, they hid this under various BS policy statements, papers, think tanks, and media chattering heads, but that was it in a nutshell, and had been the case for over a hundred years. (Calvin Coolidge said, “The business of America is business.”) To get enough votes to win elections they would pretend to care about ordinary people, but they didn’t, really. So they faked it with things like racism, religion, and waving the bloody flag.

Republicans used to be like this guy

But at bottom there were at least some serious intellectual types—think people like William F. Buckley, Jr.—who would quote Locke and Oakeshott or Burke at you, or Sun Tzu, or von Clausewitz. They may have been contemptible Imperialist greedheads, but at least they were smart, educated, contemptible Imperialist greedheads.

That is absolutely not the case now. And that’s why we’re in so much danger.

George W. Bush was the precursor to what we have now, an Administration that flagrantly ignored “the reality-based community“. If facts were inconvenient, they simply ignored them. They went by faith. They went according to their guts, their feelz. In many ways their goals were exactly the same—i.e. they were still contemptible greedheads who wanted a Pax Americana enforced by a huge military—but now they didn’t bother trying to justify it with actual information. And their leader was an incurious, ignorant fool easy to manipulate by long-time D.C. insiders like Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, and Donald Rumsfeld. A man of enormous ego and vast insecurity who knew he would never exceed his father in anything, no matter how desperate his efforts.

But for all his failings, Bush II was “a guy you could have a beer with.” And this appealed to the blue collar folks that later would vote for Trump in their millions. The people who had felt sidelined for decades by the Civil Rights movement, who wanted to say the n-word out loud again, who wanted to sneer at the “coastal elites” publicly again. Despite being the scion of a political dynasty and a millionaire father, despite having gone to Andover and Yale, Bush II managed to portray a “just-folks”, ball-game-goin’, beer-drinkin’ persona that appealed to this group. And he just managed to squeak by twice.

All this history is just a warm up to when these folks—the nascent Trumpers, the “deplorables”, the MAGA folks—finally started to feel their oats and came out as the Tea Party in Obama’s first time. I could spend another blog post discussing the reasons behind this—hell, PhD’s are probably writing entire theses—but having their beer-drinkin’ regular guy replaced by a Harvard-educated n-word must have enraged these people no end. The coastal elites have taken over! We have to do something!

I’m not here to talk about them. I’m here to talk about their effect on the Republican Party.

Remember that Republicans—contemptible greedheads though they were—were professional, intelligent, well-educated contemptible greedheads for the most part. Richard Nixon may have been a paranoid maniac, but he served in World War II, had a law degree from Duke, and was wicked smart. The Tea Party changed that. Now, the Tea Partiers wanted to elect people like themselves. They didn’t want Eric Cantors any more; they wanted David Brats. No more professional politicians! Regular folks!

And this thing accelerated, is my point here. Until after a time, they didn’t even want David Brats; they wanted people like Madison Cawthorn and Marjorie Taylor Green and Lauren Boebert. People who are not just not educated and intelligent, but actively and proudly ignorant and stupid, and flaunt their ignorance to their supporters. Who celebrate it. Lauren Boebert, for example, said the other day:

The Constitution is not evolving. To say that spits in the face of every single one of our founders.

Lauren Boebert, Idiot of Colorado

Your family-values politician

Apparently forgetting the Founders built in an Amendment process which, among other things, gives her as a woman the right to vote.

Trumpers—74 million strong—are now voting in actively ignorant and stupid legislators. People who literally don’t know what they’re talking about. These people are in charge of the government.

In 2020 Trump was defeated. It really wasn’t close; he lost by 7 million votes. Only in our ridiculous, non-democratic electoral college process (which ironically was created in part to keep a maniac like Trump out of office) was it remotely close. And yet Trump, in conjunction with a majority of Republican legislators in the House of Representatives, actually tried to overturn that result! I want you to stop and think about that for a moment, because it’s really very import: The sitting President of the U.S. colluded with over 100 members of the House of Representatives to overturn an election. That’s nuts, kids.

And when that didn’t work, he threw a riot on January 6th, egging his followers on in attacking the Capitol, trying to capture lawmakers. And this is where it gets truly frightening:

Cheney and Kinzinger chose to join Pelosi in a Democrat-led persecution of ordinary citizens who engaged in legitimate political discourse that had nothing to do with violence at the Capitol.

Ronna McDaniel, GOP Chair

This is the chairwoman of the Republican Party, rewriting history before our eyes. This is the textbook definition of Orwellian. This is “newspeak“. This is the Republicans trying to control the past.

Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.

George Orwell, Nineteen eighty-four

What makes this even worse is an entire media ecosystem has been created, since the obliteration of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987, that pipes unadulterated right-wing nonsense out into the world. And the people who create and disseminate this garbage are just as ignorant and stupid as the worst of the Tea Party and the politicians they have elected. The current top media figure on Fox News is Tucker Carlson, a scion of the Swansen frozen food empire who went into journalism because “they’ll take anyone”. Who was publicly humiliated by Jon Stewart on his own program, and has never held a real job in his life. But he is hardly alone in this.

When you look into the backgrounds of almost all of these right-wing media people, you’ll find a consistent story: They are nothing more than professional trolls. Matt Walsh, who has nearly 800,000 followers on Twitter and is a writer for the right-wing site The Daily Wire has no education beyond high school, no post secondary-school training, and has held no jobs other than ones exactly like that he currently has. Charlie Kirk, who gave a speech at the 2020 Republican National Convention, was plucked straight out of college and given a sinecure by a millionaire backer who created the organization Turning Point USA for him. Again, he has no other training or background, and has held nothing resembling a real job.

(Heck, Fox News now employs a man name Peter Doocy, who is the son of another Fox News “personality” name Steve Doocy, who is absolutely one of the most ignorant, foolish people I have ever seen on TV. Peter Doocy has become well-known for being regularly humiliated by Presidential Press Secretary Jen Psaki. We are now in 2nd generation stupidity on Fox News.)

Jen Psaki makes Doocy look like a fool a lot
When you go through the list of these media personalities, it is all the same: They are poorly educated, ignorant, and have no experience other than being professional trolls. Their sole experience and purpose in life is to “own the libs”. And their audience laps this up. This is beyond epistemic closure; this is a vicious cycle of ignorance leading to Idiocracy.

Republicans like to talk about “what the Founders intended”. Here’s the thing: Our particular Republic was not designed as a warm-body, everyone-votes democracy. It was created by blue-sky racist misogynist oligarchs who believed that only white landholding men should have the vote, with the naive idea that these men would have the time and inclination to study the issues and vote with wisdom and forethought. It was both bigoted and marvelous at the same time, but that’s the system we have. They never planned it to include everyone.

You can see this in the institutions they created, where so many of the things our government does is based on traditions and expected behaviors rather than laws. And it is in this kind of situation where it’s so easy for bad actors to take over and wreak havoc.

I began this (rather lengthy) post by invoking the looming wave of fascism, and showing you the ways in which both the Republican Party and substantial minority of the American voting public have devolved in the last two decades. I want you to put this all together:

  • A Party that has devolved completely into one that is shot through with ignorant fools and poltroons
  • A media ecosystem that doesn’t just support but actually reinforces the party and its message
  • A large minority of the public that has shown its willingness to vote for these people, no matter what they do once in office
  • A system set up with no structural checks on those who want to destroy or modify it to their own purposes
  • Party leaders openly using Orwellian language

And the party has totally aligned itself with Donald Trump, a man who openly admires dictators, tried to take over our country through illegal means, and has repeatedly stated openly he wants to be an autocrat. And even if Trump dies—he is an obese septuagenarian Covid survivor with various co-morbidities—there are multiple other Republicans with exactly the same inclinations who have made it abundantly clear they would be more than happy to take up his mantle. Ron DeSantis of Florida is only the most obvious.

So yes, I am absolutely terrified we are moving headlong to fascism. And you should be, too.

We’re All Racists

Oh, the Protestants hate the Catholics,
And the Catholics hate the Protestants,
And the Hindus hate the muslems,
And everybody hates the Jews.

Tom Lehrer

We’re all racists.

We all are. Everyone. Including me. You bet we are. I remember watching a scene in a show called “Northern Exposure” years ago where a black character name Bernard told a very conservative white character named Maurice—an ex-military man and former astronaut who was the richest man in town; a classic macho type who loved to use his money to manipulate people in the town to do his will—that he was a racist. But he startled Maurice by pointed out that he, a Black man, was racist too, because “imperialism, slavery, and genocide weren’t exclusively white institutions”:

So we’re all racists. It’s not confined to white Northern Europeans. I’ve read many times how horrible historically the Japanese have been to Koreans. How the Hutus and Tutsis consider each other subhuman. How badly Mexicans traditionally treated “Indios”. The constant fighting between Hindus and non-Hindus in India.

Racism: It’s not just for white folks. That’s just our major brand here in the U.S. because whites are the majority is all.

The issue with racism, like with the first step in dealing with substance abuse, is to admit you have a problem. Like with alcoholics, a great indicator that a person is racist is when they say they aren’t. Of course they are. We all are. We’re raised that way! To deny it means you’re (duh!) in denial.

There are of course shades. On one end of the spectrum are folks like your average progressive, who work hard to be inclusive and non-bigoted. To listen to people outside their immediate racial & cultural milieu and try to learn about other cultures. On the other end of the spectrum are overtly-bigoted yahoos who bleat about “white genocide”, ride around in trucks with Confederate flag stickers in the window, read “The Daily Stormer”, and toss Molotov cocktails at synagogues.

Most folks, of course, are in between.

I’m bringing this up because in the last five years or so there’s been an alarming increase in the amount of overt bigotry and straight white cis Christian male violence against “the other”. And that’s a serious problem we need to really do something about.

In the 1950s and 1960s, we made huge strides in overturning laws against minorities and women. The Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts, in addition to the gay rights and women’s rights movements, really pushed things a long way towards equality in this country. We have an awfully long way to go—it was only recently that gays and lesbians could get legally married, for example—but that’s when IMO we really started making progress. Society accepted that overt bigotry was A Bad Thing™.

But just because society accept it doesn’t mean it went away. Let’s go back to my original thesis: We’re all racists. And on the spectrum of racism, you’ve got a hard core that are unrepentant, n-word-using, Confederate flag-flying, synagogue-bombing ass-clowns. How many is that? One third? I don’t know, but 74 million people voted for Trump, so it’s a lot of people. They didn’t go away, they just recognized that saying “nigger” or “kike” out loud in public was no longer acceptable. But don’t you believe for a second they didn’t think it or still want to say it.

Since the mid-60s these folks have wanted to say it. Have been aching to say it. Have believed, deep in their hearts, that [Blacks | Jews | Mexicans | Asians | what-have-you ] are inferior. Have not been allowed by the “bleeding heart lib communist socialist coastal GLBT agenda-lovers” to say what they really think.

Reagan and his cohort in the 80s recognized this. Lee Atwater even said it out loud:

You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.

Lee Atwater

(By the way, I find it interesting that all these supposedly God-fearing right-wingers have nothing to say about the fact that Lee Atwater, who clearly used all his intellectual gifts for evil purposes, was cut down by cancer in the prime of life. But I digress.)

So Reagan gave a speech during the 1980 campaign on “States Rights”—obvious code words at the time for segregation—at the Neshoba County Fair, about 7 miles from Philadelphia, Mississippi, a town associated with the Civil Rights-era murders of Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner in 1964. “I am one of you,” Reagan was calling out to the racists in coded language. And Republicans followed this up regularly afterwards. Jesse Helms did it with his “Hands” ad; George H.W. Bush with his anti-Dukakis Willie Horton Ad; and on and on.

Race-baiting at its finest

What makes things different now is that Donald Trump—a vulgar, intellectually incurious, ignorant, narcissistic man whose only goal is to outrage people and accumulate power and money—ran a Presidential campaign unlike any other in 2016. He didn’t craft his message, triangulate his answer, or craft his image; he just said what was on his mind. He didn’t appear to give a damn whether he won or lost. Whatever caused the crowd to applaud, cheer, or scream, he fed them. The more outrageous he became, the more they cheered.

And what they loved was bigotry, pure and simple.

Trump gave them permission to be bigots. Out in the open. And when he became President, they now had permission from the President of the United States to be openly bigoted. For the first time in over half a century.

Can you imagine their joy? Their relief? They could at last say what they had been thinking for decades! The President himself was giving them permission! They could tell those n-words what they thought of them! Those lazy immigrants taking their jobs! Those non-Christians! Those fags trying to brainwash their children into being trans weirdos instead of playing football like good American kids! Trump loved it when they flew big American flags with his face emblazoned on it from the back of their big trucks, and fired off guns from the truck beds while shoving campaign buses of those limp-wristed libs off the road! Yeah, sometimes he pretended to object, but they know he really loved them!

That he sneered at them in private as a bunch of dumb rubes mattered not at all because they could finally say and do what they had wanted for so long.

And what I’m saying here folks is the way to fight these people is not to pretend that we are morally superior, no matter how much we feel we are. We’re bigots, too. Look inside yourself for what you’re bigoted about, acknowledge it, accept it (like a first-step alcoholic), and work on overcoming it. And use it to make a connection with these folks.

Yes, some of them are beyond help, no question. I’m not talking about that lot. I’m talking about the Maurice’s of the world. The ones who can actually change. Be like Bernard and admit to them your own failings and try to connect. Try to pry out an admission from them. Help them to work towards an understanding. Because somewhere in their family tree is a GLBT person, or a person of mixed race, or a non-Christian, or someone who is not a straight white cis Christian man.

Because IMO connecting is the only way out of this mess.

Why Johnny Won’t Read

Image courtesy of Abe Books

This is not a post about why schools don’t teach. It’s also not a post about why too many of the list of “approved classics” that schools make our kids read are by Dead White Men (DWM) (though too many are). There are lots of posts about that already, and you can read those, if you like. I don’t have anything new to say on that topic. Really!

Nope. This is about why kids are so often bored out their mind by those classics, and resist reading them. Or at least, why I think so, which is a slightly different thing. And I’m going to start this here little essay by talking about the Thornton Wilder Classic “Our Town”.

Our Town, boring the living crap out of Your Author

I fucking hate “Our Town”. I can’t stand it. I despise it. It bored me to tears when I was forced to read it the first time, an it bored me out of my mind when I had to watch a production of it when I was in high school. I listened to the analysis of my AP English teachers; I understood what they were saying; I got the allusions. I’m not a stupid guy. I just fucking hated it. The question is: Why? (Yes, I’m aware some of you don’t care. You can bow out now.)

There are two reasons. Well, three. The third reason is I never bought the whole “Christian rapture” thing, so spending the entirety of the afterlife waiting around in chairs in a graveyard sounded idiotic to me. The second reason is, if I had a chance to relive the highlights of my life, are you kidding? I’d grab that in a heartbeat! I totally got Wilder’s point about memory being bittersweet, and it being tough to look back, and Thomas Wolfe’s You Can’t Go Home Again, and saw that point made again in Pixar’s Inside/Out. And you know what?

To heck with that! Sign me up!

Even in high school I could think of a half-dozen times in the past I wanted to visit. The times when my grandfather was still walking before his stroke! The time my grandmother took me to Ocean Beach Park, but I was too little to really appreciate it! Or when she took me to see the live Peter Pan at the theater in Boston! I couldn’t have been more than 4 or 5 and could barely remember that; I’d definitely want to relive that, feeling bittersweet about my grandma being dead or not. It’d be a gas to see her again. Or when my dad took me to my one and only live NFL game in 1972. It was so overwhelming I could barely remember it.

I’d actually like to remember this!

And believe me, as I got older, the list of memories I would be thrilled to relive got even longer. Particularly as my body started to break down and my experiences became more—ahem—adult in nature. If you get my drift. Sit in a graveyard doing nothing waiting for the rapture? For hundreds of years? Are you serious?

But that was only the second reason. The real reason, and why I think kids have trouble with lit in general, is this:

“Our Town” is a tiny town out in the sticks of New England, and I’ve spent my whole life in Suburbia.

This isn’t new, and I am far from unique. This has in fact been the case for hundreds of millions of kids going back now to the 50s. Kids who grew up in the suburbs, with dads (and now moms) commuting to work while they went to school in the suburbs. While we’re reading books about everything else.

Now yes, you want to read books in part to experience vicariously things you can’t in real life. That’s certainly one reason I read science fiction. I’m not getting a jet pack any time soon—at least not at this rate. So it’s up to Dave Stevens and The Rocketeer. It’s up to Heinlein and Have Spacesuit, Will Travel to get me to the galaxy in Andromeda. It’s up to Samuel Delany to get me on a starship powered by Illyrion, where I can plug my nervous system directly into the control systems to hunt down a Nova. I have to depend on Frank Herbert to get me to Dune. And so on. All very well.

Still waiting, engineers

But here’s the thing: Kip, the hero from Have Spacesuit, Will Travel goes to a High School that sounds a lot like the one I went to. Cliff Secord from The Rocketeer lives in L.A., in a Craftsman house. They did wild things, but these details helped anchor them in my boring, suburban world of Safeways and freeways and commutes and lockers and school buses and newspaper deliveries and TV shows and Slurpees and comic books and going to movies and whatnot.

“Our Town” had none of this. None. And that’s what I’m getting at here. The classics we’re asking kids to read have no commonality with the kids we’re forcing to read them.

Now I know what you’re thinking, and no, I’m not suggesting we take “the classics” off the table. Not at all. That is not where I’m going with this. Quite the contrary. Because I want to point out that, despite all of this, and my hate for “Our Town,” and Tale of Two Cities, and Romeo and Juliet, and The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, and other “classics” I was forced to read, there have been plenty of others that I have not just enjoyed but loved over the years. And the question is: How? How did a cynical, late-20th-Century GenXer from the ‘burbs get into that stuff?

Context, and presentation.

Now, this isn’t going to work with everything. As I’ve probably hammered into the ground, no amount of presentation and context is going to make me love “Our Town”. But let’s look at, say, Shakespeare. I should hate Shakespeare. The plays are long. The language is difficult. The subjects are often obscure. And yet there are many Shakespeare plays I like, and some I downright love. WTF!

Context, and presentation.

The first Shakespeare play I saw was “Merry Wives of Windsor” at American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco in 7th grade. My English class studied it ahead of time, and my teacher was great. Plus it’s a comedy. Plus we stayed afterwards, and the actors chatted with us about it. And we sat close in. And then afterwards we got to ask questions about it. Sure, it was more complex than, I dunno, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, but they made it approachable. So the next time I encountered Shakespeare—”Julius Caesar”, it was—the fact that I didn’t like it much wasn’t because It Was Shakespeare™, but because, well, I didn’t like it, is all. (And I’ve found in later years I’m not much of one for tragedies in general. Not just Shakespeare; any tragedies. I couldn’t stand The Departed, for example.)

Shakespeare Santa Cruz had a genius for this, not just with Shakespeare, but with anything. The brilliance of staging Samuel Beckett’s minimalist, absurdist “Waiting for Godot” in the middle of a redwood grove simply cannot be overstated. Or changing the sexes of the parts of the fairies in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. (Until you’ve seen Titania played by a 6’2″ black man with a powerful bass voice, you’ve never seen it.) Or “A Doll’s House” set up like a 1950’s sitcom. I didn’t always like these plays, but the staging provided the context that brought them home to me.

Just an ass…telling a fairy…he loves her

Similarly, when you consider something like Little Women, or Moby Dick, or Heart of Darkness, a little imagination can provide the context needed for a young reader to enjoy them. And I did enjoy them, because I luckily had people to provide that little extra for me; my grandmother in the case of the first, and excellent teachers in the case of the second and third. (I treated Moby Dick like a science fiction book which, to a kid in the 70s suburbs, it pretty much reads like, honestly. A whaling ship of the mid-19th Century might as well be a spaceship for all that it resembles your world of freeways, McDonald’s hamburgers, and food wrapped in cellophane.)

And this is what I’m suggesting for the readers of classics now. Provide some context. People can enjoy them. Look at how many people are watching the TV show Dickinson, when the material is injected with a little context and imagination. Or the film Sense & Sensibility. I won’t draw the obvious parallels between Emma and Clueless, because other people already have, but there are other examples. Enough to get people started. Why don’t we use them? Why do we keep dumping kids straight into these books and expect them to enjoy them and then are surprised when they act like with “Our Town”?

I’m not dumping on teachers here. I’m reaching out to everyone: Parents, Uncles, Aunts, school boards, older siblings; everyone who has access to kids. Do like my ex and I did and watch Sense & Sensibility with your kids and then give them Austen. Have them watch Clare Danes and (a very young) Leo DiCaprio in Romeo + Juliet and then try them on a more “standard” version. Watch the new version of West Side Story and then say, “Hey, did you know…” It’s not “cheating”; it’s being smart.

Seriously, who can resist these women?

No one has to like all the “old classics”. Especially all the old classics by DWM. But it’s a good idea to at least figure out a way to give them a try before you give up on them. Really. Because while some of them IMO really don’t translate well to our era, or our sensibilities (I’m sorry; I’m never going to be a fan of Lolita), a lot of them do.

I’m never going to like “Our Town”, though. Sorry about that.

Deserted Island Music; and Why

NOT a desert island, because you need to drink, silly!

Many people list their top 10 albums, or their top 20, or whatever. I have tried this exercise and found that I can’t do it. For one, my list is never a round power of 10, and for another I always have songs left over from albums that I absolutely must have, but the albums I can take or leave. (k. d. lang’s “Pullin’ Back the Reins is a good example; I can take or leave most of the rest of Absolute Torch and Twang.)

So this list is my top albums that I absolute couldn’t do without if I were stranded on a deserted island, along with a few songs I also just have to have. Along with why they’re magnificent and why you should rush out and listen to them yesterday, or why they’re special to me, whether they’re great or not. It’s not a list of albums I’m putting here so people think I’m cool (which I think is all too often the focus of a lot of these lists), or because I think the albums are great (though I do think some of them are great), or because I think my taste is better than anyone else’s, or anything like that. This is just the music that I love, is all. So for example I sure didn’t put Miles Davis here to score points with Jazz lovers; I put Kind of Blue here because I friggin’ love it.

These albums are in no particular order at all; just as they came out of my fevered noggin.

Joni Mitchell, Court and Spark

Joni Mitchell recorded plenty of awesome music, and I won’t belabor her greatness here. Many rate Blue as her apex; some Hejira. I won’t argue with them, though I personally believe this album is a peerless masterpiece. It’s special to me because it was one that was a soundtrack to my youth, and nothing can dislodge that from my brain. Mitchell’s soaring voice, the matchless musicians backing her, the incredible orchestration, and the tremendous, crystal-clear sound engineering are just astounding. And of course it brings me right back to summer days and evenings in our little house in the rolling hills of Northern Virginia in the early 70s, when I was still a grammar school student, kids could wander the neighborhood without fear of kidnap, “playdates” hadn’t been invented, and no one had been impeached since Andrew Johnson.

Mile Davis, Kind of Blue

I’m hardly alone in thinking this album is a masterpiece. People who know Jazz ‘way better than me will tell you all kinds of things about how it birthed entire new modes of the form. I don’t know nothin’ ’bout that; all I know is it’s beautiful, and has Miles Davis and John Coltrane both on it, and is just wonderful from end to end. I’ve had it in every format from vinyl to digital and I always will.

The Who, Who’s Next

The Who’s masterpiece (yes, I know I keep using that word; sorry). From the ashes of a failed follow-up project to Tommy that almost caused Pete Townshend to have an emotional breakdown, there was this. All the songs are great, whatever their provenance, but the absolute best is “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, a song that hides an incredibly cynical and biting message inside an unabashedly anthemic sound, something Springsteen duplicated with “Born in the USA” (an equally misunderstood song). I don’t care how great people think Radiohead is; Pete Townshend does stuff on this album Thom York wishes he could do. Plus Pete had Roger Daltrey.

Bruce Springsteen, Born to Run

Yeah, yeah, yeah; you’ve heard it all before about this album, and what more can I possibly add? Nothing. The fact is, it lives up to the hype. It’s simply a great album, from start to finish, and I would have to have it on my island. And that’s all there is to say about that.

k.d. lang, Ingénue

There are people who say it’s Beyoncé. There are people say it was Whitney Houston. There are people who say it’s Mariah Carey. Some will go for Aretha Franklin (which is hard to argue). Others Etta James. Or perhaps Barbra Streisand. Or Adele. But for me no one can sing like k.d. I’ll never forget seeing her on Saturday Night Live, singing “Pullin’ Back the Reins” with my mouth literally hanging open, sitting motionless for the entire song, flat-out awed by her performance. And nowhere is her talent on such full and complete display as Ingénue (though Shadowlands is damn fine). This album sucks you in, holds you in its spell for 40 minutes, then sends you on your way, and you can’t believe it’s over. And then you have to listen again. It’s a blessing to the world, this album. I could not possibly do without it. Thank you, k.d.

King Crimson, Discipline

Robert Fripp is a prick. He is also stupendously talented, a hard worker, a perfectionist, and puts out some amazing stuff. King Crimson is his baby, and he has moved personnel in and out of it over 45+ years as if they were musical instruments themselves, and with no more thought for their feelings. The results are sometimes brilliant, sometimes IMO unlistenable, sometimes just downright weird. With this collection of musicians and on this album, he hit the perfect balance of players at just their right degree of virtuosity, and they put out a work of art. Lots of people disagree with me, and that’s fine; this one speaks to me, and that’s the point of this list. Adrien Belew’s whack, extroverted guitar improvisations are the perfect foil for Fripp’s anal-retentive, obsessively over-produced finger-picking. When backed up by Tony Levin’s non-rock-based bass and his expressive Stick playing, held tightly in place by Bill Bruford’s precise-yet-muscular drumming, it all comes together beautifully. This is my favorite incarnation of King Crimson by far, and they made two more albums (Beat, Three of a Perfect Pair) that are almost as good before Fripp got itchy balls and blew it up for something different. This is the only one I can’t do without.

Talking Heads, Remain in Light

Talking Heads popped loose and gained their hold in American pop culture with Speaking in Tongues and their amazing, exuberant, basically-perfect concert film (except, IMO, the Tom Tom Club segment) Stop Making Sense. Both are wonderful, and I love and enjoy both regularly. Sometimes I just listen to Stop Making Sense, reliving the night when I and 5-6 friends and I piled into my housemate Peggy’s boyfriends car (it was some big, giant American 70s thing; a Lincoln Continental or some such) and rolled on down to the Sash Mill, a local art film theater in Santa Cruz, to watch it with a crowd of other raucous UC Santa Cruz students. A memorable night for sure. But nothing for me tops the swirling, sometimes loopy, sometimes surreal, polyrhythmic wonder that is Remain in Light. I never tire of it. (Much to the irritation of my friend Susan; “Don’t you listen to anything else?) Bizarre, transfixing, frustrating, odd, funky, danceable…it blew my brain away and never stopped.

Peter Gabriel, Security

Peter Gabriel was in Genesis before they became a singles-making machine under Phil Collins. Now, I’m not saying they were a bad band with Phil Collins, or that I dislike Phil Collins’ work, or anything like that; I’m just establishing a baseline here, as we say in the nerd biz. Gabriel was into World Music way before it was a thing, working with African musicians and rhythms in the mid-70s, most notably on the anti-apartheid anthem “Biko” from his third album. (A live performance of which I saw at the Oakland Coliseum Arena in the mid-80s as the anti-apartheid movement was gaining momentum, the memory of which—an entire crowd of 15,000 people in Oakland standing on their feet, fists in the air, chanting “OH OH OHHHHHHHH!” together with Gabriel’s multi-ethnic band—still makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up on.) His music is not for everyone, despite being prominently featured in Everyone’s Favorite Teen RomCom Say Anything. It is complex, deeply personal, often wildly weird, and lyrically (to put it mildly) obscure. But it is most definitely for me, and this album is IMO his best. (Though So, his next offering, is damn fine.)

Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin III

Yes, I’m well aware that most people will choose Led Zeppelin IV (or “Zoso” as some folks call it after the image that accompanied the vinyl album). I don’t care. Led Zeppelin IV is an excellent album and I would never argue it wasn’t, and you’ll find at least one of its songs down below, but for pure repeat listening value nothing tops this one for me. If you want your classic dose of crunching, mind-melting Zep blues-rock with mystical influence, you can listen to The Immigrant Song, but for me the strange, drifting, almost soft tone of the rest of the album is what draws me in. And while it’s hard for anything to top the intensity of “Kashmir” from Presence, “Since I’ve Been Loving You” is in my opinion their rawest and most blues-inflected song ever. I can get along without IV; I can’t get along without this one.

Keith Jarrett, The Köln Concert

If you keep an open mind, you can learn from practically any source and any person. I have been blessed by having dated a wide variety of women with a wide background, who have exposed me to lot of different cultural influences, which I am forever grateful for. From my ex-wife Sami, who introduced me to Cajun culture (music, cooking, dancing) to others who have showed me everything from Lindy dancing to Shibari, I’ve really been lucky. And in this case, it was my first college girlfriend Alison, who introduced me to the amazing Keith Jarrett and his magical playing in Germany. I couldn’t get along without it. Thanks to all of you (many of whom I’m still friends with), and to Alison for this one.

Bob Marley, Legend

It’s not really fair to include a “greatest hits” album on one’s “favorites” list, but in this case I just have to. I’m a big believer in the letting artists define their craft through an album, although there are some exceptions. Creedence, for example, pumped out singles. AC/DC is another band that was just a singles machine. And in Marley’s case, while I wouldn’t put him in the same category, I think it’s fair to collect his best together like this. And this is one of those albums that’s actually on a lot of other folks’ “best albums” lists, too, so why the heck not? And I’d need it on my island, anyway.

Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon / Wish You Were Here

I couldn’t decide whether to list two albums by the same group as separate entries, or to squoosh them together under one. I went with the latter choice; throw rocks at me if you wish. Both of these albums mean a lot to me, though for different reasons. Dark Side of the Moon because it is such a lovely, exquisite distillation of all the best of acid rock into one basically flawless album. Wish You Were Here because it served as the soundtrack for a period of my life that was both incredibly painful and yet growthful—mid-college—containing breakups and new relationships, friends made and lost, growth and discovery, that I wouldn’t trade for anything no matter how much it hurt and cost me at the time. I wouldn’t want to be without either one.

Santana, Abraxas

An album that, to me, can only be played in warm weather (as indeed all of Santana’s songs seem designed for in my mind). Santana’s first Gold record, a record on which Greg Rolie (later to become hugely successful with Journey) sang and played; the one with “Black Magic Woman” and “Oye Como Va”. Santana’s liquid, singing guitar playing (B.B. King made his guitar cry; Santana makes his sing), the mix of Spanish rhythm, Jazz, and rock, and the swirl of 60s psychedelia mixes just perfectly on this disc for me.

Donald Fagen, The Nightfly

Every time I put on this album, I think I’m only going to listen to a song or two, and every time, I listen to the whole thing. This is not by any stretch a classic album, but I just love it. I first found it through MTV, which back in my day played music videos instead of just episodes of Ridiculousness. It’s absolutely an album for Boomers, which I am not, despite my birth year; I am wedged into a very uncomfortable zone between Boomers and GenX. But somehow I really enjoy it; from the funky, paranoid-yet-horny synth-driven bop of “New Frontier” to the sweet, hopeful romanticism of “Maxine”, to the snapshot memory of “Walk Between Raindrops”, I find it compelling. And the opening hopefulness of I.G.Y, with it’s callbacks to Hugo Gernsback-driven jetpacks and space habitats, is almost specifically-designed to be Doug-bait. It’s not for everyone, but it’s definitely for me. (added 1/1/2022)


And here are the songs I just couldn’t leave behind, either:

  • “Pullin’ Back the Reins”; k. d. lang
  • “Air from Suite #3 in D, II”, J. S. Bach
  • “When the Levee Breaks”, Led Zeppelin
  • “Should I Stay or Should I Go?”, The Clash
  • “Hotel California”, The Eagles
  • “The Boys of Summer”, Don Henley (NOT a song for the summer, you boneheads!)

Press Coverage Has Sucked For a Long Time

If press coverage these days doesn’t drive you to drink…

It’s an article of faith right now—and has been since at least the beginning of the Trump era in, shall we say, late 2015?—that press coverage sucks. Or to put it in the kind of language they like to use, “Has been inadequate to the task of dealing with a political system that has learned how to manipulate the press’ natural tendencies to advantage the political class.”

ie they suck.

Not all of them suck, of course. Many fight the good fight. Plenty of bloggers such as Digby (who now posts for Salon as well as running her own blog), Dan Froomkin, Professor Jay Rosen of NYU, Lucian Truscott IV, Josh Marshall, Aaron Rupar, Marcy Wheeler, and many more try to hold the feet of the Northeastern media to the fire. But they can only do so much, and unfortunately, as we can see from the coverage, it’s not nearly enough.

(By the way, I prefer “Northeastern media” to “mainstream media”, because in addition to capturing its insulated nature, it also highlights its regional myopia. When you live outside the DC-NY corridor, as most of us do, you begin to notice just how Northeastern-focused the news is. And if you live in the West, it takes something completely extraordinary to get the kind of coverage that, say, a gallery opening will get you multiple network coverage for in New York City.)

I’m not here to talk about in what ways current coverage suck—the whataboutism, the false equivalences, their perpetual and absurd efforts to achieve “balance” and “objectivity” through idiotically ignoring gross injustices on one side of the political aisle. Plenty of the above-mentioned folks have done that repeatedly, and better than I can. I just wanted to note how long this has been going on for.

One of the problems in our culture in general is the inability to look farther in the past than the last quarter, year, or election cycle. This isn’t just true in politics, but in general. We can barely remember last winter, let alone two Presidents ago. So when people talk about how the press sucks, there’s an alarming tendency to think it’s only really sucked this badly since Trump was elected. And that’s both nonsense, and dangerous. I want to offer a couple of brief case studies to show why that’s utterly wrong, and how deep the rot goes.

When George W. Bush was installed in office in one of the most jug-headed court decisions in history, one so bad the Supreme Court itself tried to hermetically seal it off from every other one of their other decisions, he had already spent several months proving the press was a bunch of easily-manipulated twits, and then spent the rest of his Administration proving it. Think about these key points.

During his campaign and his presidency, W. constantly came up with denigrating and derogatory nicknames for the reporters regularly covering his beat, and yet was punctilious about requiring everyone to address him by his title and honorifics. And they all accepted this BS. He bullied them, and they swallowed it rather than demand—perfectly reasonably, as mature adults!—that they be addressed by name. He established early on that he could bully them in public and that they would take it. And even report it a cute, colorful side-bar item!

Bush and his team repeatedly refused to release information to Congress and the press despite wide outcry, simply waiting until the immediate media storm had passed. There was never any follow-up. Don’t you think the Republicans, many of whom later worked with and for Trump, noticed this? The Bushes took advantage of the press’ short attention span.

The Bush Administration came up with the entire concept of “alternative facts”, although they did it in reverse, by sneering at “the reality-based community”. Ron Suskind wrote about this in an article in New York Time in 2004. But did the press adjust their coverage to compensate? Hollow laugh; they still haven’t compensated.

And finally—and this is the one that always amazes me—Bush bought his house in Crawford, Texas in 1999 as a pretend-ranch, and the press let him get away with it.

It is completely obvious that Bush bought this house just to fuck with the press. It’s well-known the Bush hates horses. He never kept any livestock on his property. He bought it immediately prior to his run for President, and sold it shortly after he left office. It was out in the middle of nowhere, and he went there in the middle of Texas summers “to clear brush” when temperatures regularly top 100 degrees Fahrenheit. There’s nothing to do and nowhere to go (unless you count Waco, which I don’t). This was a massive, obvious troll of the press. And yet they simply swallowed this patent BS without a quiver, calling this piece of property the “Western White House”.

What a joke.

How are we supposed to take press seriously after that? Why should politicians? Why should Trump? Why should his followers?

But the problem, and the disconnect goes back even further. I can’t say how far back it is, but I know the disconnect is pretty old. I first noticed it during Clinton’s impeachment.

If you’re too young, or can’t remember, Clinton’s popularity and approval during the impeachment hearings stayed in the 60 percent range. This absolutely astounded the press (and outraged the Republicans), who simply couldn’t believe the American people didn’t want to get rid of a President over some oral sex. That people might be disgusted by Ken Starr digging into the Clintons for years and finding nothing and then suddenly changing his mind about closing the investigation didn’t occur to them. Or that people might find Linda Tripp’s actions awful. Or that they might find Starr and the Republicans motivations more than a bit suspicious. Or the fact that the economy was doing really well meant that they really didn’t give a rip what was happening among Clinton, his wife, and a third party.

The point is, the press was wildly out of touch with what people were interested in. “Where is the outrage?” the press (and Republicans) wanted to know. I kept thinking, “Well, if you people ventured farther west than Fairfax, you might figure it out.” But of course they never did. They rarely ever do. Except to imaginary diners just outside of Philly. Where they talk to imaginary blue-collar white people.

And now the press is pretending to wake up and say, “Gee, maybe we’re a bit out of touch with the people; what should we do?” No folks; you’ve been out of touch for a long time. America told you bluntly in the Clinton Administration you were out of step; you ignored us. George W. Bush trolled you to your faces and you ignored it. Trump had to threaten your lives before you finally got a clue, and you’re still resorting to the same tired, useless, bothsideism that you always have.

Margaret Sullivan of The Washington Post frequently writes that local news coverage and local papers are in danger, and that they are a backbone of our democracy. And I agree. The problem is, if journalists can’t break out of the old molds, what’s the point in supporting them and their work? (I’ve asked Sullivan this and similar questions; she doesn’t ever reply.)

I hate it when people write “complaining” blog posts without offering suggestions, but the thing is, I don’t have a suggestion. What needs to happen is something over which I have no control: The Northeastern media needs to pull its collective head out of its shorts and start doing real, actual journalism. And I have no idea how I can effect that. Or affect it!

If you do, please let me know.

Meditations on Art and One’s Muse

Joni Mitchell, Miles of Aisles tour

Recently two of the artists I grew up listening to—Bette Midler and Joni Mitchell—were feted with Kennedy Center honors. The music of both filled the house when I was growing up, though aside from having careers overlapping in time and both being of an era and an age, the two women could not really be more different. (They both did cover “Twitsted” within a year of each other, though!)

Bette is, of course, a flamboyant, fiery, outspoken redhead who loves to perform. An old-fashioned cabaret singer transported somehow into our era, Bette is bold, brassy, and (in her own words) a broad in basically every sense of the word. Starting from the New York Continental Baths with Barry Manilow, Bette has done stage shows, films, albums, and is currently PO’ing right-wingers on social media.

Definitely not afraid of performing!

Joni is a quiet (from a publicity standpoint), introspective singer-songwriter who always seemed to rather resent the performing side of her profession, and has said many times she considers herself more of a painter than a vocalist. Her albums explore multiple genres, but I think can be summed up as “intimate” in way that Bette rarely is. Not that Bette can’t be passionate and emotional; it’s the difference between extrovert and introvert; Dionysian and Apollonian.

It was in reading interviews with Mitchell, both recent and older ones, that got me thinking about artists, their muse, their preferences, and their disappointments. Because as I said above, despite all her fame and received plaudits as a singer-songwriter, she doesn’t consider that her main vocation; she thinks of herself as a painter. And I think this is captured best by a quote captured on a live recording back in 1974:

A painter does a painting, and he paints it and he paints it, and that’s it, you know. He has the joy of creating it, it hangs on a wall, and somebody buys it, and maybe somebody buys it again, or maybe nobody buys it and it sits up in a loft somewhere until he dies. But he never, you know, nobody ever, nobody ever said to Van Gogh, ‘Paint us Starry Night again, man!’ You know? He painted it and that was it.

Joni Mitchell

Well, I had to include it!

You’d think a woman as talented, as lauded, as universally acclaimed as Joni Mitchell would be thrilled to have millions of people familiar with her work, so much so they call out for it at concerts. But no; she wants to hang it on the wall and move on. That’s how her muse speaks to her.

And this isn’t all that unusual, if you read a lot of artist biographies or the introductions to stories or liner notes or watch interviews. You can often hear these awesome artists pining for the things they can’t do, even while producing some amazing stuff. Lennon and McCartney both chafed at being Beatles after 4 or 5 years, and yet produced an absolutely astonishing output of material. They wanted to be poets, or movie auteurs, or artists. You watch them clicking together in Peter Jackson’s Get Back, even when they’re tired of each other and Lennon is strung out on heroin and you think, “How can they not want to do that forever?” But they don’t.

In baseball there’s a famously weird (and almost certainly autistic) pitcher named Zack Greinke. He’s astonishingly good, and probably will end up in the Hall of Fame. But if you watch him in interviews and in games, he doesn’t seem to enjoy the fact that he’s one of the best pitchers of the last 20 years; he’s said, repeatedly, he wants to be a position player, a shortstop. He wants to hit in the lineup regularly. But they won’t let him, I suspect, simply because he’s too good (and valuable) a pitcher. To be honest, I feel sad for him. The man will end up historically good doing something he doesn’t really seem to enjoy.

The man in question

But I have to say I disagree with Mitchell’s assessment, and think she made it because at heart she’s a painter, and not a singer. Her disappointment isn’t that she has to keep repainting Starry Night; it’s that she doesn’t get to paint and be recognized for it, like poor Zack Greinke, and I can understand that.

Because when it comes to live performance, every night is different. The audience is different. The room is different. The vibe is different. You feel different. If performing is part of your muse—as it clearly is for Midler but isn’t for Mitchell—then you betcha you wanna paint Starry Night every night. How many times did Lynyrd Skynyrd play “Free Bird”? I’m sure they got tired of sometimes; of course they did. But I bet most nights, it really juiced them. If you watch Alex Leifson and Geddy Lee of Rush in the documentary Time Stand Still, you can see that performing absolutely lights them up. Why else would Mick Jagger and Keith Richards still be on the road 60 years later playing “Satisfaction”? God knows they don’t need the money!

And even in the visual arts Mitchell isn’t quite on the money. Famously, Japanese ukiyo-e artist Hokusai made Thirty-six views of Mount Fuji. How many paintings did Claude Monet do of the Rouen cathedral in the late 19th Century? Or Cezanne of Mont Ventoux?

Fuji-sama in one of her aspects

The muse take you were it takes you. For Joni, hers is a one-and-done kind of thing, and that works for her. I have no issue with that at all; she’s produced an incredible body of work. But for others, the answer is different, and I think it’s important we accept that for different artists, different rules obtain.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll listen to Court and Spark again. Because whether she ever plays it again herself, I can’t get enough. God bless you, Joni.

Of Aging, Patience, and Kids on my Lawn

Seriously, does anyone have more “Get off the lawn” energy?

Its a widely-observed phenomenon that people tend to get grumpier as they get older. Aside from a tiny minority that somehow seem to become nearly saintly, the vast majority move into what we shall call the “Get off my lawn!” phase of life, where random outbursts of anger at…well, whatever is irritating them, seem to come more and more frequently. The classic case being the grumpy old widower yelling at kids playing on his lawn.

I’ve given this a lot of thought as I have, inevitably, aged towards that category myself. Especially given the common wisdom that straight white cis middle-class men—a category to which I belong—are supposed to get more conservative, or even reactionary, as they age. Which concerned me as a progressive, because honestly, I really a lot didn’t want to become a reactionary. Or even conservative. “A man who has not been a socialist before 25 has no heart; if he remains one after 25 he has no head,” the old saying goes. “Hooey,” decided I when I was somewhere in my late 20s.

But I definitely have noticed something happening as I’ve aged. Fortunately, it has nothing to do with socialism, or political convictions, or even kids. It’s honestly a lot simpler.

I’m less patient is all.

Now, on a simple temporal basis, this is easy to understand; I’ve got less time. My grandmother on the side of the family I take after the most—my Mom’s mom—passed away at 90. So let’s say I’ll live to 90. Or even 100. Fine. (I don’t think I will, or that I even want to. I suffer from chronic pain controlled by morphine and regular medical procedures. I am a cancer survivor. I have a degenerative neurological condition that makes my hands shake. I mean, do I really want another 40 years of all that? But I digress!) Let’s say 90. Just do the math here.

When you’re 30 and you’re going to live to 90, you’ve got 60 more years. Two times what you’ve already lived! It’s bloody forever! You can afford to be patient! Yeah, you may need to learn patience, it may be hard, but you have the time.

When you’re 60, you’ve got 30 more years; have of what you’ve already lived. The clock is ticking, baby. Believe me, I’m not there yet and I can hear the damn noise already. And I guarantee you even for the folks who aren’t feeling the pressure consciously, their bodies are telling them. It’s a lot harder to keep that waistline in check, butts and boobs are sagging, grey is in their hair (what they have left), wrinkles abound. It’s easy to get impatient with things because your own body is betraying you on a daily basis. You get impatient with it. And that makes you impatient in general.

I used to look like this!

Not to mention you’ve seen a bunch more stuff in the world than you did 30 years ago. I saw my first impeachment when I was 11. Now I’ve seen four. And not one of those guys ended up in jail. I’ve actually lost track of how many times the Republicans have threatened (or actually have) closed down government over a budget battle where they eventually caved. Five times? Six? I don’t remember! Three different GOP administrations have crashed the economy into the ground and left the Democrats to pick up the pieces. Three!

And it’s not just politics. The tornadoes in Kentucky are a horrible disaster. And how many disasters have I lived through in my life? I couldn’t possibly remember. The first was Hurricane Agnes when I was 9. Even just counting “hurricanes that cost billions” it’s got to be over a dozen by now. Add in earthquakes, tornadoes, droughts, floods, plane crashes, wars, etc., the brain kind of overloads. I’m not saying all these things aren’t terrible; I’m just noting there’s only so many of them you can take in before some part of you says, “Right; I’m done.” It’s not that you want to tap out; it’s that you want it over. You lose patience. You’re tired of the bullshit.

Which gets me around to my main point.

I don’t hate having kids on my lawn and actually invite them. I love having kids on my lawn. Seeing kids having fun brings me joy. Jeez, grumpy old widowers, I totally understand that you want to tap out, but don’t blame the kids, they’re just playing! Blame the politicians, oil executives, callous capitalist jerks, and so on! Let the kids climb trees and jump in the leaves!

What makes me grumpy, what I’m impatient with, is what a lot of people call “being diplomatic”. Here are a couple of examples that have direct bearing on my life, one very small, the other large.

Right now my company has implemented a vaccine mandate policy where you either have to get vaccinated by a certain date and show proof thereof, or file for an exception (usually religious). Without either of these, you have to resign. It being a high tech company, the vast majority have just gotten vaccinated, though a small minority have filed for exceptions. And here’s where I get grumpy and am tired of being diplomatic.

A very, very small minority of these anti-mandate folks are either anti-vaxxers, or anti-mandates. And there’s no question in my mind they don’t want to abide by the policy just because they feel they’re entitled not to. No other reason; just because. I’ve deduced this from the (mostly pathetic) arguments they’ve put up on the internal company channels, and the bigoted “manifesto” they sent to the company executives protesting the policy.

Now, because of corporate policy, I have to be diplomatic and say things like, “That statement comes from a web site of dubious quality”, or “that argument has been proven false”, or whatnot. But because of the aforementioned lack of patience and associated grumpiness, I want to say, “OH SHUT UP YOU ENTITLED, SELFISH, IGNORANT JERKS! Get vaccinated and stop whining!” (And that’s not even getting into the fact that straight white cis Christian men are using a religious exemption created for historically marginalized minority religions not because of “deeply-held regious beliefs,” but simply because they don’t wanna. It disgusts me.)

Just do it already, FFS

This is my old, progressive version of “get off my lawn.”

A broader example would be Taiwan. My son is Taiwanese. He’s not Chinese. The world’s policy about Taiwan is, in a word, nuts. And it makes me nutty having to listen to it, or deal with people who try to convince me it makes sense.

[Brief aside: If you’re unfamiliar, the U.S. treats Taiwan as a separate country, but pretends it’s actually part of China and never, ever says the word “country” when referring to Taiwan. China behaves as if Taiwan is part of China, even though they have zero authority over it. Taiwan pretty much ignores this to the extent they can, except for the fact that they sit right next door to a nuclear-armed autocracy that would like to occupy them like Hong Kong and would except for the U.S. Navy and world opinion.]

No grump-old-man Doug says: Screw all this “pretending Taiwan isn’t a country just because it makes China get their knickers in a knot” BS. They need to get over it. At my age, I have zero patience with coddling to the tender consciences of politicians in general, and politicians in other countries in particular. The heck with ’em! Get off my lawn, you snowflakes!

Not China

A lot of this stems from my basic life stance, which is that I have no itch to power, and don’t understand people who do. So I don’t understand politicians in general, people like Mitch McConnell in particular, and autocrats like Trump, Putin, and whoever-the-fuck is in charge in China right now (frankly I don’t keep track because it seems to change every few years and I have enough trouble keeping up with our clown show). I do not and never will understand why China seems to get so bent about people calling Taiwan a country, and intent on grabbing more territory. Why can’t they leave Tibet alone? Why are they constantly pushing into India? Why do they need to grab even more tiny islands in the South China Sea? They have the biggest and most populous country on Earth; isn’t that enough? WTF, Chinese leaders!

Those are just examples. My point here is that men in particular and humans in general are not destined to get more conservative as they get older, but I do think they tend to get more impatient, and thus more grumpy. And this grumpiness is going to manifest in different ways. In my case, it’s a profound impatience with “diplomatic niceties”; just say WTF you mean, people! With some of those insensitive old widowers, they’re yelling at poor kids. With power-hungry straight white cis Christian men, they get more conservative because they see that as a way to get more power and money (I guess?).

But take heart, you aging GenXers; you don’t have to become more conservative! You can be like me and get more radical, and PO and whole different set of people!

And meanwhile, invite those kids on your lawn! They need a place to play!

Listening to the Music


Recently, Peter Jackson’s edit of The Beatles’ epic 60+ hours of material from their Get Back sessions was released on Apple, and I’ve been slowly imbibing it. And for me—pushing 60, and old enough to have grown up listening to this music as the background of my childhood—it’s kind of a weird experience.

We had music on basically all the time when I was a kid. It was either playing in the background in the living room our 6-record turntable (just thinking about those vinyl albums thwacking down onto the surface makes me wince in pain), or on the radio in the card. The Beatles, of course, but my parents had eclectic tastes, so there was also Simon and Garfunkel (and Paul Simon), Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon, Bette Midler, Steely Dan, Seals & Crofts, Harry Nilsson, Jesus Christ Superstar (and other soundtracks), Stevie Wonder, Vince Guaraldi, Dave Brubeck, Crosby Stills & Nash, and of course everything else on the radio.

Yes, these actually existed

This was also the case once I left home. My college roommates and housemates were almost all music people, too. The first thing I would set up in moving to a new place—and I moved 12 times in 12 years in Santa Cruz—was my stereo. And before the iPod/iPhone/MP3 digital era, that was a hassle, kids! It wan’t the fanciest stereo in the world, but it had a turntable and a cassette player (ask your granny), and it did the job for me.

21st Birthday gift from my Mum!

But this is a new era. When I had kids, and they got a little older, a couple of things happened. First, they didn’t like my music, and didn’t hesitate to let me know it. They were fine with Ella Fitzgerald (who isn’t?) and ZZ Top’s “La Grange”—which they called “the How How song”—but weren’t so good with, I dunno, Fleetwood Mac or The Nightfly. “Fogey Rock”, my daughter called it. (She was listening to Kei$ha, but I heroically refrained from criticism.)

The second thing was, the iPod came out, and were inexpensive (and easy-to-use and indestructible) enough to buy as birthday and holiday gifts. And so everyone could listen to the music they personally liked, and long road trips could be much more peaceful than Mama or Papa pointing out they were the parents and so if they wanted to listen to the soundtrack of Chicago, that was tough darts, go back to your coloring and LEGOs and make sure the dogs have their treats!

Killer of family music listening

But under the heading of unintended consequences was that we stopped actually having a “family stereo” in the house. Not even a central set of speakers and a plug-in for an iPod. And so my personal domicile stopped having an audio soundtrack all the time. And over time, other than by myself in the car, or (rarely) while I worked with headphone on, I stopped listening to music almost entirely.

A solution might have been to have music playing in my bedroom, but there were two problems here, as well: Our special-needs kids were constantly bursting in, and my partner and my relationship was deteriorating, so it just created another area of conflict. And that was that. Until my kids grew up, my daughter moved out, and my partner and I split up.

Now, with just my autistic son and I, I find myself with a lot more…well, space to listen in. I may still have to use my headphones more often than not, but I’m listening to music a lot more again. My old music catalog, of course, but I went ahead and splurged on the monthly Apple Music cost and am slowly expanding my reach. Right now I’m listening to Alanis Morrisette’s Jagged Little Pill for the first time, for example. (Hey, I was raising a family!)

Thanks Alanis!

Which brings us back to The Beatles and Get Back. (I’m slowly coming around to the point here.) As I was watching, it caused me to look up some detail online, which led me Rolling Stone’s list of “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.” (Which one has to take with a grain of salt from an organization that didn’t include Carole King in its Hall of Fame until this year, but never mind.) So I’m scrolling through the list, with a little perspective, given I’m, as previously noted, pushing 60.

One thing Rock fans often fight over is which genre “counts” or “matters” or “is more vital” or some such rot. eg in the late 70s, punk rock was seen as a reaction to the “overblown excesses” of “art rock” or “progressive rock”. The back-to-basics approach of groups like The Ramones or The Sex Pistols was viewed as a necessary correction to all that silly noodling around with string orchestras and synths those pompous jerks from London (King Crimson; Genesis) and Long Island (Yes) and so forth were doing. Kick over the jams, you dinosaurs!

And watching Yoko Ono scream into the mic—God it was painful—and listening to some of the stuff on John Lennon’s first solo album John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, which were clearly precursors to punk, it’s pretty clear all these narratives are bollocks. These tensions have always been there in rock and roll/rock music. Pete Townsend wrote some of the most orchestral, art-rocky music ever with Tommy, Quadrophenia, and “Baba O’Reilly,” and The Who also blasted the living crap out of people with “My Generation”. Same band. What is “You Really Got Me” by The Kinks but Punk 15 years early? It was always there, just without the clothes pins. (And The Beatles had the leather and smokes in Hamburg, thanks. Lennon wore a toilet seat as a collar, FFS. Don’t talk to me about Sid Vicious.)

What I’m getting from Get Back is just how much the music mattered to those guys, and how much effort they’re putting in—amidst the squabbling and weariness and irritation and pressure and everything—to putting out the best music they can. Will overdubbing do it? The acoustics in here suck; will doing it somewhere else be better? Will playing live give us a better sound? How about Eric Clapton? Billy Preston? They want the best for the music.

And ultimately that’s why the arguments seem silly to me (and why I went on the long digression): To all these artists, they’re doing all this for their music. Pete Townshend managed to fuse synthesizers and hard rock and bitter, cynical lyrics and an anthemic sound into one amazing song for “Won’t Get Fooled Again”. Who gives a shit he used synths to make his point? The Ramones amped up their beat to 160 per minute because for them, that got their point across. The Clash used the trappings of Punk and a lot of incredibly sophisticated studio techniques in conjunction to kick your teeth in with their songs. Rush managed (somehow) to fuse bizarre time-changes, complex poly-rhythms, eclectic science-fiction lyrics, and almost oppressive virtuoso musicianship with heavy metal stylings to create unheard-of Progressive Metal because that’s the music they wanted. The music. That’s what mattered to them. Neil Peart tossed in reggae rhythms to “Spirit of Radio” because he had been listening to The Police and thought it was cool. THE MUSIC, people.

Just because it’s a really awesome album

So now I’m listening to the music, and there’s a lot of music out there, and what I like I like, and what I don’t I don’t, and I don’t apologize for either one. And when I’m dancing to 30s dance tunes by Duke Ellington I’m loving that, and when I’m listening to Alanis Morissette for the first time, I’m loving that. And I hope you do, too. And to hell with musical political BS.

And BTW: Jagged Little Pill just wound up. Pretty cool; I can see why it sold 30+ million copies.

Some words on consent

This post contains coarse language. You have been warned.

In the era of #MeToo, ass-clown and probably pedophile Matt Gaetz, ex-President and serial sexual molester Trump, and the years-long focus on sexual predation, powerful men being outed as predators (Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Matt Lauer, et alia), you’d think the rules on sexual consent would be clear to my idiot gender by now.


I can’t even imagine how frustrated women must be by this. “No means no, you boneheads! Where is the confusing part!” Well, that’s not the confusing part. The confusing part, and where we men are dumb, testosterone-filled, hard-on-driven morons, is the withdrawal-of-consent portion.

Up front I want to explain that I am not Not NOT excusing our behavior. No. NO NO NO. I’m explaining why we seem like such a bunch of dumb bunnies whose blood has all run down into our genitalia. Partly because it has, and partly because we don’t get how consent can be withdrawn.

I know; “How can you be so stupid?” Well, that’s what I’m here to tell you.

See, for a long time, the whole point of consent from a guy perspective was, once you finally had it—through marriage, or engagement, or “going steady”, or whateveryou had it for good. A marriage license was a license to have sex whenever you wanted, whether your partner wanted or not. “Going steady” meant you got to make out with your partner, with some ground rules (“I’m not that kind of girl!” mean no PiV sex). Or whatever. But the idea in the boneheaded male brain was, fine, negotiations over, we’re done.

I’m not saying this is reasonable, or fair, or okay, or equitable. I’m not saying we should go back to this. I’m agreeing this is patriarchal BS. Unfortunately the vast majority of men carry it in the back of their tiny little brains at all times. Guy thinks: Once we’ve negotiated consent with you, we’re done. If you agreed to have sex, we get to have sex. If you agreed once, that’s it forever. If your clothes are off, we’re going to have sex. Etc. No more negotiations! Consent achieved!

Obviously, this is insanity.

But I’m telling you, this is what guys are thinking when their dicks are hard (if you can call it thinking). Not about birth control, or negotiation, or (often) your pleasure; that they already have consent to have sex. It’s a done deal. So when a guy is told at some point, “Stop,” a part of him (or if he’s an incel ass-clown, basically all of him) is utterly bewildered. “Duuuuuh, what? But you said ‘Yes’ [yesterday | last week | in 2011 when I married you | when you downed that fifth margarita ]. What do you mean, ‘Stop’?”

And of course, the closer you get to the actual moment of PiV sex with us knuckleheads, the more this cognitive dissonance is going to cause neuron failure, and who knows what will happen then. If he’s actually bending over you, nude, johnson in hand, all bets are off. Will he become enraged? Faint? Head explode like a Cronenberg film? One hopes he’ll say, “Of course not, babe; maybe later? Do you want some water? Are you warm enough?” And I’m sure some percentage of guys (including me, I hope) will do so. But scroll back, read, and see what you think.

There is a way to combat this utter nonsense, and that’s education and persistence. My son Joseph is autistic. And with Joseph, to get him to understand a concept I have to tell it to him in brief, answer his questions about it (but not go into too much detail or he’ll get bored and tune me out), and then revisit it. Over and over and over. But the good news is, he does end up getting it. Folks on the autism spectrum are supposed to not understand empathy. But you know what? After living together in close quarters with me, Joseph brings me coffee and biscuits while I’m working, offers to make me food, and does other things on the “empathy” scale. (It’s pretty awesome, honestly.)

If he can learn this stuff, your average lunk-headed, penis-driven man can learn consent as well.

I’m not saying it’s fair we have to train men like this; it’s not. Of course it’s not. But I’m trying to recognize reality here. Men are idiots. You can either bail on us—and I wouldn’t blame you if you did—or you can dig in. Just keep repeating it to us—well, not me; I think I have it now, but you know what I mean—slowly, simply, until we get it.

  • “Look, Biff; just because we had sex last week doesn’t mean you can grope me in Safeway whenever you like.”
  • “Saaed, I’m not in the mood, so get please let me just read my book. Yes, I’m serious!”
  • “Yes Roger, I know you’re ‘hard as a rock,’ but I changed my mind and you’ll just have to live with that.”
  • “Juan, you push that thing against me again and I’ll have Madame Maxime lock you in a chastity cage so fast it’ll make your head spin.”


Yes, I know I’m being mildly humorous with these examples, but I’m deadly serious about the thinking behind what’s causing guys to behave the way we do. We think “consent once”=”consent always”. Furthermore, that some things no sane person would consider “consent” do equal consent: Being unconscious, being drunk, being stoned, being high on nitrous oxide; being frightened or otherwise emotionally distraught (say by peer pressure). This idiocy can only be countered by constant and sustained repetition of the facts:

  • No means no
  • Consent must be pro-actively given
  • A partner can change their mind and withdraw consent at any time

You’d think this would be simple and obvious. It isn’t. I’m truly sorry it isn’t, and that my gender is such a bunch of idiots, but we are. I’m doing what I can on my end, I promise.