Friday, May 31, 2013

Why Music Sucks

Right before we started dating, I and my wife took a drive up to Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. We were already good friends and heavily flirting so we decided to take the day off one morning, leave at the crack of dawn, and take the 3 hour drive from El Paso, Texas to Carlsbad Caverns.

We spent all morning and much of the afternoon out there and I drove her green Honda Civic with the Smashing Pumpkins decal on the back window back to El Paso. I remember her dozing on the passenger seat while I was listening to a CD I brought. I was already a Beatles fanatic and had bought the Anthology 2 CD back when people still bought those. It included a track off the sessions for Revolver—“And Your Bird Can Sing.” The version on Anthology 2 is an earlier take with much laughter from the band throughout the singing of the song. The official version on Revolver is already quite merry and has that driving rhythm and crazy guitar riff. The take on the Anthology is even crazier and merrier with all the stoned-seeming laughter throughout the track. Perfect driving music.

My wife was lying on the seat. The sun was pouring down on her beatific face. I was driving along down the highway in time to the Beatles. A very nice little memory. Now every time I hear that particular version of the song I’m brought back to that specific moment in time (changed by nostalgia I’m sure but precise in the essentials). It’s hard to listen to that song and think of anything else.

There are many songs I hear that evoke moments in time. And whether those memories are good or bad I’m always slightly uneasy and sad. If the memory evoked is painful, I remember the painful times and re-experience, if even only slightly, that feeling. Now when I hear “It Keeps Right On A-Hurtin’” by Johnny Tillotson (and many other permutations) I’m reminded of my aunt telling me she used to cry to this song after my father died. Or if I hear “Amor Eterno” (Juan Gabriel’s song) I can feel the sun beating down on me at the cemetery when a Mexican trio were singing this at my grandfather’s funeral.

But I also feel a little melancholy in remembering good things. The Doors’ songs make me wish I was back gallivanting around the desert at night with my buddies under the influence of various interesting and amazing substances. Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring makes me want to be back climbing Mt. Cristo Rey in my zarape as if I were going to some sacrificial slaughter. Or listening to the Smashing Pumpkins fills me with an urge to be dating my wife again, in the halcyon days, before I got older and fatter and more responsible….

Maybe it’s just my own disposition to turn melancholic and nostalgic when listening to music. I don’t suppose I always do that. I really do enjoy music and if it always brought some feelings of loss I wouldn’t enjoy it too much. I wonder if those melancholic feelings are actually pleasurable. Maybe there’s something in the human psyche that seeks out a feeling of wistfulness and a glorification of our past. It’s almost as if I’m recreating a past whenever I listen to these songs. I can view events from a distance and observe and contemplate the passage of time. Maybe it’s my mythologizing of myself.

Something about music seems to bring the past, my own past, vividly alive. And although I appreciate the present and still have hope for the future, it is hard not to seek some meaning or nourishment from that past. And although I’m excited about moving on to new career opportunities and seeing my child grow up and making new life decisions with my wife as we get older and try to get wiser, sometimes I just want to be driving down a desert highway with my beautiful and close friend with whom I just finished having an amazing walk under the earth and flirting all morning with, listening to an early take of the Beatles’ “And Your Bird Can Sing”. Maybe I’ll go hear the song now.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Stupid Los Angeles

Please read Tim Cavanaugh's neat summation of the Bell scandal and typical stupidity of Los Angeles city politics over at City Journal.  (I like how he mentions that L.A. can't solve its traffic problems but is able somehow to ban plastic bags.) 

This is a great place for anyone wanting to write about Kafkaesque situations within the relative security of an American city.  I think there is a fundamentally evil spirit in Los Angeles, but maybe I'm just sick of all the stupidity!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Kumaré, Easter, and the Problems of Faith

Kumaré is a very amusing and enlightening film. Whether you are religious or not you should watch this film to get a proper sense of perspective on faith and belief. I think the director, Vikram Gandhi, came to the important realization that everyone of us is important and can tap into the capacities we all have as human beings without the need of any “spiritual” leader or organization. We just sometimes need a little push.

What is most frustrating about religious belief and faith is how easily manipulated people seem to be or to allow themselves to become. It seems to take nothing more than a charismatic leader, a supposed air of tradition and authority, and some arcane rhetoric and magic tricks to make people follow someone to the ends of the earth. Most people’s motives for wanting to follow any spiritual tradition or belief are sincere and noble. I think many people want to find something for themselves to adhere to and feel a sense of peace and security with the universe. Unfortunately, there are too many charlatans willing to take advantage of that good will.

After watching the film I was reminded of Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra. In the First Part, Chapter XXII: “The Bestowing Virtue,” Zarathustra tells his followers to deny him and be ashamed of him. “Perhaps he has deceived you.” He advises them to find themselves and then he will return. “One repays a teacher badly if one always remains a student.”* The best teachers guide their students to overcome and supersede them. The best students render their teachers superfluous.

This reminds me of something else. Easter is around the corner. That holiday is the prime event for Christianity. After all it commemorates Christ’s death and his overcoming of death. His apotheosis is the whole instigation behind the religion. If Christ did not come back from the dead, there is no reason for Christianity as we now know it.

This helps to point to a prime problem with religion. People seem to feel the need for magic tricks and silly superstitions. Dostoevsky touched on this theme in the “Grand Inquisitor” chapter of The Brothers Karamazov. People want magic, bread and circuses. People seek out easy answers and cheap illusions.  And many religions are quite content to provide that so long as they are given power.  The rituals might have meaning but they become nothing but show. The teachings behind the rituals are nothing more than rhetoric easily spouted by believers but poorly understood.

If Jesus Christ did not come back from the dead, would anyone care about his teachings? The ethical philosophy behind what he is purported to say in “The Sermon on the Mount” is poignant and subtle. But what if he was not born of a virgin? What if he is not the son of God? What if he was just some regular guy in Judaea who had the same conflicts and desires and failings as all human beings have? Does this render his message any less poignant? I think most people prefer him to be divine than human.  Most people seek out the Grand Inquisitor, the charlatan, the con-man, the cult leader and not the simple, human "magic" within all of us.  We don't need any gods for that and we don't need gurus or priests.

Since there is no God we must constantly create him in order to have a simple answer to the complexity and anguish of our universe. I hope someday we learn to live without Easter, or God, or Jesus, or Abraham, or Muhammad, or Buddha, or Krishna and come to the realization that all of that is meaningless without the followers who are the true leaders. We, as individuals, are more important than any religious leader or any religion. Religion, as we know it, is something we must overcome and render superfluous. It is a part of the infancy of the human race--back when people still thought it was okay to stone a witch or castigate millions into Hell. Someday we will learn how silly our religions truly are and how "divine" we are without God.

*With apologies to Friedrich Nietzsche and Nietzsche fans and scholars for my bad paraphrases and poorly annotated quotes (I only had Google, not good texts I could use).