Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Greatest Liberal Rock Songs (Revised & Updated, with Readers' Picks)

Now that someone has put together the list of the Fifty Greatest Conservative Rock Songs, someone ought to do a list of the greatest liberal rock songs. Since I have an hour to kill, I think I'll give it a whirl.

Perhaps, as R.J. Eskow argued (see yesterday’s post), this is unnecessary, since all rock music is by definition liberal. It is liberal because, according to him, it “raises blood pressure, stimulates adrenaline, [and] creates sexual stimulation and physical aggression.”

Of course, I disagree with Eskow. Nevertheless, even if we were to stipulate that all rock music is liberal, still, some is obviously more liberal than the rest. As a matter of fact, the vast majority of rock music, at least until recently, was surprisingly apolitical -- or at least the politics was implicit and ambiguous, such as in Bob Dylan’s best work (very early on he saw through the left and stopped writing the kind of tedious and didactic songs they enjoy, such as Masters of War).

It’s true that when there is an explicit political message in rock music, it is virtually always from the left. In fact, this is what makes the songs so unartful, ham-handed, and generally lame. It is what makes them so wince-worthy. As we have discussed before, there is a vast difference between art and didacticism, the latter being a form of pornography.

In no particular order, I’m just going to rely upon my memory to call up some of the greatest liberal songs of all time. The list will obviously be incomplete, and readers are welcome to add to it with suggestions of their own.

The first song that comes to mind is War, by Edwin Starr. Although it is now over 35 years old, it still expresses the universal leftist sentiment about the military and about the need to defend ourselves from evil. In fact, the king of moonbat rockers, Bruce Springsteen, has taken to singing it in concert. Its boneheaded lyric asks the famous question,

What is it good for?

The answer, of course, being absolutely nothing! (say it again, y’all!).

For the left, the problem is never the existence of evil. They scoff at that unsophisticated notion. Rather, it is the existence of people who fight it. For war itself “is an enemy to all mankind.” It “can't give life, it can only take it away!,” as every Jew who survived the Holocaust or every Kurd who escaped Saddam’s torture chambers knows.

They say we must fight to keep our freedom,
But Lord knows there's got to be a better way.

Sure there’s a better way. As the girl who spoke at the New School commencement put it last week, “We have nothing to fear from anyone on this living planet.... We can change the universe by being who we are.... it really is just that simple.” It seems to me that this approach has a long way to go before it can even be considered simplistic, let alone simple.

Even before Neil Young, there were America-bashing Canuckleheads making an extravagant living by attacking the country that makes their frivolous lives possible. American Woman, by the Guess Who, expresses sentiments that are still widely shared by our leftist friends to the north, who, in a recent poll, ranked the United States as the most dangerous country on earth:

American woman, said get away...
Don’t come hangin’ around my door
Don’t wanna see your face no more
I don’t need your war machines
I don’t need your ghetto scenes
Colored lights can hypnotize
Sparkle someone else’s eyes
Now woman, get away from me
American woman, mama let me be.

Of course, not all Canadians share the sentiments of their their pinheaded elites. I am told that normal Canadians who live outside the major cities, especially in the western provinces, are much more appreciative of the security and prosperity made possible by the United States. They know that the American “war machine” actually shoulders their share of the world’s defense, so their government can waste money on other things.

But leftist elites have always had trouble relating to the middle class. Secretly they have contempt for the middle class, whom they regard as clueless boobs for not being default leftists. They just can’t figure out why a middle class American would ever vote Republican, since Democrat elites know what is best for them. The song Pleasant Valley Sunday, written by Carol King, mockingly expressed the contempt that leftist superbians feel for suburban Americans who are not bitter activists and who simply want to enjoy their lives:

Another Pleasant Valley Sunday
Charcoal burning everywhere
Rows of houses that are all the same
And no one seems to care

See Mrs. Gray she's proud today because her roses are in bloom
Mr. Green he's so serene, he's got a TV in every room

Another Pleasant Valley Sunday
Here in status symbol land...

Creature comfort goals
They only numb my soul...

Carol King is a wonderful songwriter, one of the greatest ever. But give me a break with the "creature comforts." I think she owns a village in Idaho.

Of course, a major theme of contemporary liberalism is gender identity confusion. For this reason, I have chosen I’m a Boy, by the Who, which expresses the anger and confusion of a child whose mother is obviously a doctrinaire feminist who believes that sexual differences are simply cultural constructs:

I'm a boy, I'm a boy
But my ma won't admit it
I'm a boy, I'm a boy
But if I say I am, I get it!

Remember “The Eve of Destruction,” by Barry McGuire? Liberals like to make fun of fringe religious groups that predict the end of the world, and rightfully so. But hysterical mainstream liberals have been predicting the end of the world since I was a little kid, whether it's alar in apples or nuclear power plants or giving toy guns to boys. In the 1980s it was global cooling. Liberal scientists were unanimous that the world was catastrophically cooling as a result of manmade influences. It was even on the cover of Time and Newsweek. Now they unanimously agree (except for the ones who don’t) that the world is catastrophically warming.

For the hysterical left, it’s always the Eve of Destruction, like with Al Gore's new movie, which is the feel-bad hit of the summer:

Al Gore’s mind, it is implodin’
Penguins dyin’, cities floatin’
If cars are so bad, how come he isn't strollin’?
He don’t believe in oil, but what's that SUV he's rollin'?

What is it with the left’s perennial fascination with authoritarian regimes, whether Castro, or Arafat, or the Sandinistas? In “Washington Bullets,” the Clash sang,

For the very first time ever,
When they had a revolution in Nicaragua,
There was no interference from America
Human rights in America

Yup, for the first time, human rights in America. For the left, it’s a topsy-turvy world. Because of their anger at America, it causes them to ally themselves with anyone who opposes America. For example, the other day, leftist heavyweight intellectual Noam Chomsky, who was also a champion of the totalitarian Sandinistas, argued that the policies of Hamas were “more conducive to a peaceful settlement than those of the United States or Israel”.

It’s like the criminals are the good guys and the police are the bad guys. That’s what Eric Burdon sang in “San Franciscan Nights”:

Cop's face is filled with hate
Heavens above,
He's on a street called "Love"
When will they ever learn?

Cops. Selfish bastards. They’re nothing at all like the beautiful people of the left. As Joanie Mitchell put it in “Woodstock,”

We are stardust
We are golden
And we've got to get ourselves
Back to the garden

Yes, that would be the same reality-based garden where we have nothing to fear from a single person on this planet. Even if he wants to blow up the garden.

I’ll admit it, when I was in high school and had a devastating crush on Suzie Campbell, who sat next to me in biology class, I didn’t really get “Love the One You’re With.” Sure, it sounds good on paper, but unless you’re a rock star with groupies at your feet, or a President with interns under your desk, how do you get the opposite person of the complementary gender to cooperate?

If you're down and confused

Yes, that would be me.

Concentration slips away

Exactly! How did he know?

Don't be angry, don't be sad
Don't sit cryin' over good times you had
There's a girl, right next to you
And she's just waiting for something to do

Right on, dude!

Turn your heartache right into joy
She's a girl, and you're a boy
So get it together, make it nice
You ain't gonna need, any more advice

Wait! Don’t go away! I think I do need some more advice!

If you can't be with the one you love,
Love the one you're with
Love the one you're with
Love the one you’re with

Stop taunting me!

Like I said, there are surprisingly few explicitly political rock songs, but there are a number of repeat offenders such as John Lennon, David Crosby and Graham Nash. Nash is another guy who doesn’t see evil as the problem. Rather, it’s the military. In Military Madness, he sang,

In an upstairs room in Blackpool
By the side of a northern sea
The army had my father
And my mother was having me
Military Madness was killing my country

Not nazi madness, totalitarian madness, anti-Semitic madness, Islamo-fascist madness. Just “military madness.” And as we already know from Edwin Starr, war itself is evil. It can’t give life, it can only take it away. Presumably, Nash's father was insane for fighting the nazis:

And after the wars are over
And the body count is finally filed
I hope that The Man discovers
What’s driving the people wild
Military madness is killing your country

Similarly, Donovan, in The Universal Soldier (written by Buffy Saint Marie), blamed the individual GI:

He's the one who gives his body
As a weapon of the war,
And without him all this killing can't go on.

He's the Universal Soldier and he really is to blame,
His orders come from far away no more,
They come from here and there and you and me,
And brothers can't you see,
This is not the way we put the end to war.

Such a terminally adolescent view of the world. Perhaps the Doors, in their epic, The End, touched on the reasons for this pervasive developmental arrest:

Father, yes son, I want to kill you.
Mother... I want to... f*** you!!!!!!

I think I can sum up liberalism with just a few more anthems. First, as John Lennon observed, All You Need is Love. Just don’t ask for details of how this would work in practice. For if you read dailykos or huffingtonpost or listen to Air America, you immediately realize that the Who were correct: I Can’t Explain. Why? Because, as Morris Albert crooned, liberalism is based upon Feelings, nothing more than feelings...

Still, what does it hurt to live in a parallel reality-based world? The number one liberal anthem, as always, is Imagine:

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing John's brownstone

I don’t know... I imagine other things...

Imagine no Islamists
It isn’t hard to do
No damn bin Laden
And no Zarqawi too
Imagine all the people
Living in the same century....


The readers speak:

"One Tin Soldier," from the movie Billy Jack
"Sky Pilot," by Eric Burdon
"Feel Like I'm Fixin' To Die Rag," by Country Joe and the Fish (Also, let's not forget the brilliant "Fish Cheer" at Woodstock)
"The Flower Children," by Marcia Strassman
"San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)," by Scott McKenzie
"At Seventeen," by Janis Ian
"I Got You Babe," by recovered liberal Sonny & terminal case Cher
"When the Music's Over" and "Five to One," by the Doors
"Street Fighting Man," by the Strolling Bones
"Get Together," by the Youngbloods
"God Save the Queen (The Fascist Regime)," by the Sex Pistols
Rage Against the Machine, Their Entire Angry Corpus
"Little Boxes," I believe written by Malvina Reynolds
"American Skin--41 Shots," Bruce Springsteen (try getting past his security & see what happens)
"Woman Is The N-Word Of The World," by John Lennon (who would be the first to admit that he had some major issues with abusing women)

There were some obvious ones I purposely left off the list, such as:
"Give Peace a Chance," by John Lennon (who was, not coincidentally, giving heroin a chance when he wrote it)
"Almost Cut My Hair," by crackhead felon David Crosby (with CSNY)
"Long Time Gone," by felonious crackhead David Crosby (with CSN)

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Devil's Devil Music

Not much time this morning, so I guess I'll just start an argument.

Perhaps you have heard of the list on National Review of The Fifty Greatest Conservative Rock Songs.

Although there are some good choices here, I’m sure that I could come up with a better list if I put my mind to it, since I’m pretty much of an idiot savant in my knowledge of rock music history. I’ll admit that I can only claim any real expertise to somewhere around the early 1990's, when rock began to be displaced by rap and hip-hop anyway.

Although I could be wrong, I am unaware of any true innovations or genuine artistic breakthroughs after that. It’s not that there haven’t been some decent performers. It’s just that they are recycling settled forms from the past. Rock has basically become just a genre exercise, like groups that perform rockabillly, doo-wop, power pop, or prog-rock. It’s all been said and done before. It reminds me of when I would go to Disneyland in the 1960’s, and they would have big bands from my parents' era, a bunch of old guys trying to bring the past to life. Now you might see Aerosmith in the midst of their Lifestyle Support Tour on the Tomorrowland Bandstand.

As a matter of fact, most artistic movements have a beginning, middle and end. There won’t be another Bach, Mozart or Beethoven. There was a time that Dixieland jazz was at the cutting edge, but it never will be again. Then came big band swing, bebop, cool, hard bop, free bop, and jazz fusion. Each of these successive genres came and went. Although there are people who still do them, they are just shadows of the past, when the genre was vital, innovative and exploratory.

Interestingly, this makes contemporary rock extremely conservative in the negative, or passive sense of the word--it’s decadent and exhausted, with nowhere to go, just like contemporary liberalism. Liberalism is about the past. It’s extreme form, “progressivism,” is about driving the car while looking into the rearview mirror, so it should come as no surprise that progressives were outraged at the thought of conservatives encroaching on their sacred art form: rock music.

I found an amazingly obtuse article to this end on puffingtonhost, Right-Wing Rockin’: The Hypnotized Never Lie (bad link... no time to fix). The author, R. J. Eskow, hauls out all of the usual clichés, writing that “All the kids are talkin' about the National Review's new list of ‘the 50 greatest conservative rock songs of all time.’ Heh, heh. It looks like the righties are assuring us that they're 'hep.' You can almost hear the squeak of pencil protectors against Ban-Lon as they insist: Yes, sirree, we're down with what the young people are doing.”

That’s a big giveaway right there. I recognize that obnoxious, juvenile attitude, because I used to share it when I was an idiot. It goes like this: liberals are cool. Conservatives are uncool. End of issue. No actual thought is required.

You don’t have to lurk about the leftwing blogosphere or Air America for very long to discover this pervasive adultolescent attitude. Cognitively it’s a very pre-formal operations way of thinking--basically a sort of tribalism based upon status, status revolving around “coolness.” The content of what it means to be cool will change in arbitrary ways, but the point is always to be among the cool and to project the uncoolness outside the group. This is one more reason why liberalism is so conspicuously “content free” to those who can view it coolly and objectively from the outside.

Eskow, who is obviously very cool, makes the trenchant observation that just because conservatives are “pro-war business tools in thrall to religious extremists, that doesn't mean we don't know our 'beat groups' and 'rhythm combos.' We read Teen Beat too, you know! And conservatism can be fun.”

Now there’s another interesting giveaway, because it directly parallels liberalism itself. Unaware of the irony, Esky notes that rock music can never be conservative, because “words are less important than the sound in rock & roll.” Like liberalism itself, rock music is a merely a cacophonous “sound.” The sound of liberalism is the message. As if we didn’t know that. As if Eskow’s piece doesn’t drive home the point.

And what is the liberal message of all rock music? Well, for one thing, it’s very cool. Your parents wouldn’t like it at all, dude: “people receive rock & roll as a rhythmic construct and a sonic texture. The effect is physiological. Real rockin' music raises blood pressure, stimulates adrenaline, creates sexual stimulation and physical aggression.”

There you have it. Rock music is inherently liberal because it releases adrenaline and makes you want to fight and copulate. In other words, it is entirely reptilian and subhuman. To perform or enjoy it, a medulla will suffice. This would apparently explain why Eskow is such a medullard. For him, rock music bypasses the neocortex and simply stimulates the hormones, just like those crazy pastors and preachers said it did, back in the 1950’s.

For Eskow, the content of rock--musical or lyrical--doesn’t matter. You could sing the “the foreword to ‘God and Man at Yale,’" but the effect will nevertheless “be subversive to everything conservatism represents.”

And what does conservatism represent? In a delightfully clueless display of unintended irony, Esky notes that the present administration, or “cabal,” is “demonstrably the incarnation of evil. Modern conservatism is Satanic.”

So for clueless liberals, rock is still the devil’s music. But they merely project the devil into conservatives. But isn’t the whole point that “devil music” is cool?

Since conservatives are lawless devils, Eskow notes that “I Fought the Law” might be a good conservative choice. Of course, "robbin’ people with a six gun” is “cruder than the Halliburton-style corruption that dominates the conservative movement, but it may be apt nonetheless. What's striking about the song is the sheer amorality of the singer's explanation for his life of crime."

In fact, Eskow wonders if “the National Review will be coming up with a list of ‘Top 50 Conservative Hip-Hop Songs’ soon. That’s one I'd like to see, given the Right's inclination toward easy money, bling, infidelity, theft, gas-guzzling cars, and shooting people in the face.”

So now we’ve come full circle. Rock music is all about releasing cool, “outlaw” sexual and aggressive energy, so it has to be liberal. But because it is about those things, it must be conservative. Make up your mind. Is it the devil's music? Or the devil's music?

Whatever. It’s cool. The Dude abides. Preserved in amber, where it’s always 1967 and the grown-ups are way uncool.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Unspeakable Nonsense: Glishing the Unglishable

While we’re on the topic of Word and words.... I’m reading this book entitled Mystical Languages of Unsaying, by Michael A. Sells, about apophatic, or "negative" theology. Apophatic theology deals with the problem of how we can talk about something--God--that is beyond all description. In other words, how do we use mere words to capture that which is by definition beyond words?

I was attracted to the book because it discusses many of my favorite mystical theologians: Plotinus, Denys the Areopagite, John the Scot Eriugena (very underrated ninth century Christian mystic), and Meister Eckhart. I’ve only just started it, so at this point I must unsay whether or not I can recommend it for your reading pleasure.

This is ironic. I googled “Michael Sells,” and it turns out that he was involved in the controversy at the University of North Carolina, in which they required incoming students to read the Koran. As a matter of fact, Sells was the one who wrote the text to be used. The problem was, he assembled a bowdlerized version of the Koran, removing all of the naughty bits that might give us the correct, I mean, incorrect, impression of Islam.

I found an interview with Sells, in which he defended his decision by stating that he didn’t want to confuse the students with all those irrelevant parts of the Koran that deal with 8th century Arab politics--you know, dismembering infidels, killing Jews, beating your wife, all that crazy stuff.

Excuse me... I’m no Arab scholar... but... when you say “Arab politics”... why the qualifier, “8th century?” Isn’t that redundant? And those parts you excised from the Koran... might they have anything to do with why the Islamic calendar is running, oh, about 800 years slow?

So in Sells’ case, he “unsaid” some of the most important parts of the Koran--instead of “Mystical Languages of Unsaying,” we get “Mystifying Students With What’s Best Left Unsaid.”

So now it’s hard for me to enjoy the book, even though there are some good parts. I keep thinking about the disingenuous intellectual dishonesty. Stupid cognitive dissonance!

Switching gears now.

They say you can’t prove the existence of Spirit, but that’s not true, any more than you can’t prove the existence of love or beauty. Of course you can, but only to someone who’s inclined to accept the appropriate proof. In my case, once I began achieving a bit of “vertical liftoff” ten or eleven years ago, I began to “discover” things about Spirit. Or at least I thought I was discovering them. Turns out I wasn’t, any more than I discovered Lake Tahoe on vacation just because I had never been there before.

Two things about these “discoveries” were striking. First, I suddenly had the capacity to understand the meaning of spiritual writing in a way that I never had before. Somehow I understood its “within,” or inner significance. Secondly, instead of a process of “learning,” it was more like a process of confirmation. In other words, I would think that I had discovered something by myself, only to discover that others before me had discovered the same thing.

This book, Mystical Languages of Unsaying, is a case in point. It helps me understand exactly what I was attempting to do with language in the prologue and epilogue of my book. In those two parts of the book I attempt to use language to describe what is clearly beyond language--specifically, what is “before” the big bang and what is “after” our separate existence, whether you want to call it ego death, transcendence, union with God, whatever. Language can’t go there, so it must be deployed in a special way so as to not mislead. In short, you have to “unsay” what you want to say.

Mystical languages of unsaying are used in order to deal with the problem of God’s transcendence. In order to talk about God at all, we must give God a name. But as soon as we do, we have placed an artificial linguistic fence around God. It’s no longer God we’re talking about, only “God.” So how do we get around that?

Through what is called “negative” or apophatic theology. This idea--which is especially prominent in Eastern Orthodox Christianity, Orthodox Judaism, and Vedanta--is that everything we say about God must, at the same time, be “unsaid.” It’s a way to talk about God without fooling ourselves into thinking we know what we are talking about--a way for language to “turn back upon its own propositions.” As I put it in the book, it is a way to make perfect nonsense.

So, for example, on page 10 of my book, it says “What a punnish ontic! [Combining Upanishads + ontology.] Is the author of this cacography [combining cacophony, or discordant noise, with what is possibly pure caca] an ainsoferable gnosis all [the Ain Sof is the Kabbalist word for the ultimate reality beyond name and form] or just an inrisible [i.e., risible, or laughable] mythmatician?... My yokes are easy, my words enlight [a reference to Jesus' statement that 'my yoke is easy, my burden light'].”

At least I was hoping that my yokes would be easy. Frankly, I was a little worried that the humor was overly broad. Turns out that my yokes may be hard and my words obscure, at least for a lot of people. More on that below.

Hello? Is anybody still with me?

Anyhoo, about a week before I finished the book, I discovered that I was hardly the first person to use jokes and puns to try to unsay ultimate reality. The Jews--it figures, doesn’t it?--specialized in a comedic approach to interpreting the Torah. Various esteemed rabbis would read between the lines of scripture and invent a midrash to illuminate a passage. Midrashim are often full of paradox, puns, wordplay and other midrashcally rabbitorahcal devoices, almost like zen koans.

And I only really dove wholeheartedly headwrong into the amuzing Meister Eckhart after I finished the book. His apophatic language is so full of punning and paradox, that it landed him in some real trouble with the religious authorities, who said to him, "how would you like an apophat lip, Meister?"

Sells writes of what he calls “performative intensity” in negative theology. In other words, when writing in this way, the “performance” of the language cannot be separated from its meaning: just as in case of the genome or the mathematical constants that undergird the cosmos, semantics can by no means be reduced to syntax. Again, the language itself is paradoxically trying to take you where language cannot go--it is trying urgently to say something that cannot be said. Yes, you can reduce apophatic theology to cataphatic, or positive theology. But as soon as you do this, you have eff’ed up the ineffable and screwed the inscrutable.

This has gone on a bit long, hasn’t it? Next week I hope to continue this line of thought and deconstruct some of the more mystifying passages at the beginning and end of my book, in order to shed some additional obscurity on what it is I was apparently attempting to unsay. As I said, I think it will help you ruahlize that my yokes are easy and words (hopefully) enlight. Who knows, you might even have a guffah-ha! experience.

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