It was a few months after the World Trade Center got taken out that I signed up for an on-line course from Prof. Anna Villegas at San Joaquin Delta College entitled “Rock Lyrics As Literature”, thinking it would be an interesting and marginally entertaining way to earn some cheap credits that could one day be put to good use. Thought it would be cool to see how the tempers of the respective times were reflected by the voices from the Richie Cunningham Era, and Camelot, and the Armies of the Night, and Watergate all the way through 9/11.
It also kind of piqued my interest as to whether or not there would be anything Fred Durst might ever have to say that could possibly have been of any fucking interest to me.
Pretty eclectic group of people in the class, none of whom met face-to-face, relying on a cyber Bulletin Board to exchange any thoughts, feelings, or theories, maybe trade some stories and share some of our individually unique insights into the given subject. Largely college age students listening to Staind or System of a Down, there were still a handful of us fogies harking back to the halcyon days of the Brill Building, Leiber & Stoller and Phil Spector, of Brian Wilson,Lennon and McCartney, Ray Davies, Paul Simon, and, of course, Brother Zimmerman from Hibbing, MN. along with Robbie Robertson, Jim Morrison, Robert Hunter, Stills and Neil among others.
A diversifiedepresentatives from the three stages of life that settle in shortly after the pubescent maelstrom has subsided: Real Young, Feel Young and Neil Young (Sorry ’bout that, brother. Love you deeply).
The course was designed not only to discuss rock lyrics specifically, but to reflect on the observations the chosen artists had to make on Life and the World Around Them. Needless to say, with a veritable plethora of decades and generations being represented to one degree of efficiency or another, it made for some heart-felt dissertations and mutually spirited enlightenment.
Of course, human nature being what it is, it all too often ended up in each contributor truly believing that they were right and everybody else was either a burned-out hippie, a brainless slacker, mindless dweeb, self-absorbed twit or gum-clicking teenie bopper.
My personal highlight of the year was the exchange between me and a fellow named A.J. Something about the trouble we had run into in Viet Nam roughly three decades earlier, before the dude was even born. I had mentioned the fact that the time we overspent in Southeast Asia was never (to the best of my recollection) officially referred to as a war by anyone calling the shots. Those actually taking the shots might have felt differently.
I don’t know: billions of bullets, boxcars of bombs, battalions of body bags… sounds like a war to me, if those phrases were to be included in a textbook definition you could safely quote in a History thesis. I wasn’t basing my contention on the absence of a Congressional (i. e. legal) declaration of war but rather on The Evening News, Time magazine and the stories brought home by the vets.
It just seemed that the military definition of war was based on the predication that it was a battle, or series thereof, history could point to and qualitatively and quantitatively proclaim that our forces had won – which would, of course, rely entirely on the definition of “won”. Probably some sort of correlation between the number of soldiers we lost, the number we killed and the relative cost per body in relation to the amount of natural resources and marketable commodities we took home on the planes and boats along with all the flag-draped coffins, all neatly packaged as a thoroughly impersonal algebraic formula.
My assertion was simply that the USMC (Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children) had their claim to fame resting on their assertion that they “never lost a war”. The stone-faced refusal to accept that we left that corner of the world in much worse shape than we in which found it excluded the Viet Nam conflict / police action / hostilities from attaining the lofty status of War.
Kind of like the following years we spent dealing with Iraq. I can’t recall any declaration of was from Congress. The closest we came was when Dubyah Bush stepped out of a fighter plane onto a flight deck and standing in front of an endearing bunch of sailors boldly proclaimed “Mission accomplished!” shortly after we captured the jack-off who had years before put out a hit on Dubyah’s old man.
A quasi- Michael Corleone / whack-’em’-during-the-baptism moment for the Prez. At that point, with that simple, theatrical overstatement, Iraq officially became a war that the Marines won. And if you have any doubts whatsoever in your mind that we won, just check out how well the Iraqis are doing these days. Anyone who’s paid attention to the history and the culture of the Middle East should not be surprised that there at least a dozen psychopaths in Iraq glad to see Sadam out of the way so they could follow in his prosperous footsteps. But, I digress. It’s a hobby of mine. Anyway, ol’ A.J. unloads on me, advising me that we “kicked ass” in Viet Nam, that we had “won every major battle”, and that we only went over there to help North Viet Nam and they were the ones who fucked it up.
That’s right: “help North Viet Nam”.
As I pointed out to A.J. and whoever else happened to be “listening” at the time, my esteemed classmate had his Civil Wars mixed up. In that particular Civil War, the good guys were actually from the south. South Viet Nam. That’s who we were there to help. South Viet Nam, the capitol city being Saigon when we first got there, Saigon being the city that was renamed Ho Chi Minh City once we left, Ho Chi Minh being the leader of the North Viet Nam regime, the North Viet Nam regime being Communist, the Communists being the bad guys since even before Tailgunner Joe discovered them at Warner Bros.
I suggested A.J. ask his folks or his grandparents if they saw the news those last few nights of Our Glorious Mission, if they saw the same newsreels and satellite images that my family did of every single shell-shocked Euro- American face and its accompanying ass being shuffled up to the roofs of the American Embassy, the Consulate and every remaining reasonably friendly edifice that remained.
Ask them to tell him about the non-stop barrage of helicopters lowering cables to those terrified people so as to hoist them up and take them home to the comfort and affluence of our Purple Mountains’ majesty.
Then he needed to ask them about the horrified families being left behind in the smoldering ruins, the people who helped us “help them”, having put their own lives and their subsequent futures in the hands of the hordes of those “good guys” streaming down from the north.
Ask them about the citizens our staffs had befriended, frantically trying to pass their infants over the heavily fortified fences of the embassy towards the last hope of safety and freedom their lives might ever be offered.
Ask them about the looks on the faces of those whose lives were left on the ground by the choppers that had no room for their bodies.
Just because we had hauled ass long before the last of the South Viet Nam patriots was executed with a bullet to the temple in a public square didn’t get us a pass on having gotten our asses kicked, toasted and handed to us on a bamboo platter.
Well… I told you about that so I could tell you about this:
Towards the tail end of the class, one lady posted a note to me saying that in some of my earlier posts she had taken me to be “a pompous ass” but that she had grown to appreciate what I had to say and the way I went about saying it. I thanked her for the compliment and commended her on her undoubtedly and painfully accurate assessment: “I am, indeed, a pompous ass, but having recently reached the age of fifty I thought I need to start spending more time and effort justifying it.”
I had always felt (well, the most recent “always” for certain) that I had a pretty good handle on myself and on life as it spun out of control around me. Because of my past, my history, my experiences, I had found myself often having to face circumstances and issues and challenges, to confront thoughts and emotions that others my age would likely not have to consider for years. I had also found myself in a position to be able to take some time to leisurely explore what was going on in my mind, where it came from and how it related to those around me.
I had always believed that I had pretty good insight into myself and into all those things and all those people who made me into who I am. I’ll take the lion’s share of the credit for what I turned out to be keeping in mind I’ve never been as comfortable about the “what” part of it all as I am about the “who”. A lot of folks did a better job with me than I have.
I had also believed that I might be giving myself too much credit, all things considered, especially in the more recent years when, largely thanks to the insight and wisdom of our two children, I had learned that there were always changes in the air that should perpetually cause one to rethink many of life’s holiest axioms.
So there are times, most of them late(r) at night, when all the insignificant worldly distractions are tucked in and I am being driven by those of an internal nature, when I get back to thinking about things I first started thinking about long ago.
Some date back to the ages and eras when my life was ruled by whiffle ball games starting shortly before the sun reached its mid-day throne and lasting until the time it was fading, by The Cleavers and the Andersons, and by bedtimes listening to the stories and wisdom of Jean Shepard on the transistor radio hidden under my pillow; others greeted me in the wake of experiences rolling my way during a less sheltered period of my life as the world around me started to expand at a rate only somewhat less chaotic than that of the Big Bang.
These thoughts were more often than not followed by the most deeply rooted philosophical query dating back to the timeless heart-to-hearts between Socrates and Euthyphro, the watchwords and guiding principal behind man’s perpetual search for order within the cosmos. Perhaps the eternal foundation of all the intellectual journeys chronicled in the history of epistemology and ethics. The profundity of the Meaning of Life Itself so concisely contained in three immaculately simple words: “What the fuck…?”
These were the questions for which tortured intellects had concluded in defeat that there were no answers which would once and for all put the matter to rest:
“If a tree falls in the middle of the forest and there’s nobody there to hear it, does it still make a sound?”;
“If a bear pisses in a creek but there’s no environmentalist there to see it, is it still safe to drink the water?”;
“If I click on this link, will I really win a $50,000 shopping spree at The Sharper Image?”;
“Are those real or fake?”;
“Where can a guy score a real aphrodisiac?”;
“Just who IS Khloe’s father anyway?”;
and “Hey Bieber – you do realize you’re not black, right?”
These remain questions for which there is no verifiable evidence upon the strength of which one could proportion the strength of their belief in any ultimate conclusion. It is an endeavor agonizingly akin to pissing into a funnel cloud: you’re going to catch the futility of it all from one side or the other. It’s going to splash right between your eyes or soak the soft spot at the base of your skull and trickle down your back.
With nothing of a remotely empirical nature to solidify whatever conclusion your punch-drunk cranium has reached, you really have nothing else as a reference except your collective experiences and a modicum of insight into how those experiences have affected you as an individual; it’s far beyond the capacity of your demonically narcissistic pre-frontal cortex to formulate what could be universally considered to be The Answer.
So here it is, more than twelve years later, and I find myself begrudgingly acknowledging that in spite of the fact that I have thought I developed a pretty good handle on things, I really don’t have any of the Answers that I gave myself credit for. Late at night, my mind gets to wandering, my soul gets to ruminating and I am forced to agree with the ugly truth that I neither know nor understand as much as I’ve deluded myself into thinking I did.
There. I said it.
I admit it.
You get it?
“Nocturnal Admissions”… being the meandering metaphysics and philosophical flatulence of a Prodigal Orphan; the delusional diatribes and preposterous postulations of a smart-ass hippie fearing nothing more in life than having the final gasp of knowledge he passes on th his beloved grandson, the one morsel of truth and wisdom attained through years of standing on the outside looking in, forever remain immortalized by those three immaculately simple words.
For the time being, I’ll have to settle for the inner peace of believing that I finally, at the very least – or maybe the most – have actually figured out the right questions. Now I just have to start asking them all over again. You’re welcome to come along for the ride. Maybe, hopefully give you something new to think about or a different way of looking at something you’ve been working on for a while.
Agree with me about things if you must, I could live with that.
By all means, tell me I’m full of shit if the urge hits you, ’cause I very well might be and I don’t know how much time I have left to straighten out that ship.
All I ask is that if you’re going to read any of it, at least think about it. I’d rather someone tell me that I have no idea what I’m talking about and take a stab at giving me a reason to agree with them than to just take it all in and respond with a mindless “ditto” and not try to add anything to the conversation.
I’ll give you fair warning from the get-go that what I am writing about at any given time might not be what I’m actually talking about: ever since I had a blockage in an artery located between my ears, when they were worried about my blood pressure and how the partial loss of sight and how it might manhandle my chronic anxiety, I had to stop taking the medication I was prescribed for ADD. While I was never one to bounce off the walls, my mind was always cruising around the room, so to keep things under a safe and respectable speed limit they had Ritalin (the red-headed stepchild of the Amphetamine family) riding shotgun and choosing the music.
So from the opening capital letter to the last punctuation mark, it’s hard at times to tell where I’m heading or how I plan to get there. I might take a while to get where I’m going – you never know what kind of detours I’m going to take on the way – but the scenery remains interesting.
At least, it has for me.
Hopefully will be for you.