One thing I can't stand is when a music critic tries too hard, especially ones who push past the material being reviewed in such a way as to make it perfectly plain that what they are really offering is a chance for the rest of us to bask in the glorious sunlight of their own genius.
I recently read an article for an e-magazine where a young lady stated that one could better appreciate Bob Dylan's music if he wasn't always singing the songs himself. She went so far as to imply that it is always best to listen to his music when it was being covered by other artists because his singing so terrible. She was actually writing in defense of his selection as a Nobel laureate by saying we should just appreciate his lyrics but not his versions of the songs. She finished the article with this cringeworthy statement, "Bob Dylan is one of the greatest writers of our time — and you don't have to listen to one of his records to agree."
If the lady had stripped down naked and dipped her entire body in yellow tinted pig shit while farting and belching in unison with a calliope and carrying a sign that said she wanted to have a baby by Spongebob Squarepants, she couldn't have come off looking any sillier. She made it worse though, however, by adopting both a diffident tone and the snarky attitude of a spoiled child. I feel she must have written the piece looking in mirror and telling herself how great it was. But, actually it wasn't.
I had just recently used my blog to blast another writer who had slapped together a list of John Prine's most influential songs within nanoseconds of the music legend's death. My youngest daughter took me to task and informed me that I maybe I should go easier because some people are just trying to make living and must write what they are told. I changed the tone of what I had written. This time it's different because the lady in question was being so unbelievably ignorant and mean spirited.
Admittedly, Dylan might not be for everyone. There are people who actually hate Jesus for telling us to love our neighbors. The ability to appreciate transcendent genius is not a gift; it is something that people achieve after expending energy, and usually after experiencing no small amount of suffering. It is almost never given to childish, the dull, or the unappreciative.
The writer's quote that you can appreciate Dylan's genius without listening to him sing is like saying you can appreciate a great restaurant by reading its Yelp reviews.
I did run across another article that got it right exactly. The author paraphrased Elvis Costello when he said, “You don’t listen to Dylan to hear a sweet voice singing, you listen to experience the feeling he is singing about.”
The author also quoted Christopher Ricks to point out, “Song is a triple art, a true compound. And it doesn’t make sense to ask which element of a compound is more “important”: the voice, or the music, or the words.” The article's author goes on to firmly nail the truth down by stating that, "With Dylan, the compound becomes more than the sum of the parts, and we experience something that combines emotions and intellect and spirit; something that transmutes, and transcends."
The article also asked the reader to compare a Dylan cover to the real version. The author compared Elvis Presley's version of Tomorrow Is a Long Time to Dylan's own version. It came off a bit like comparing The Mamas and the Papa's performance at the Monterey Pop Festival to Janis Joplin's.
I have taken the liberty of following those directions by comparing a few other covers to the real thing.
Just Like a Woman
Just Like a Woman - Bill Medley
I don't think that anybody would argue that Bill Medley can't sing. His is a very polished version. It is a great listen. But that is all it is. Dylan's on the other hand, is the lived-in version. It is scruffed at the elbows and the knees. He is singing to and about someone he knows. It has roughness about it because life has a roughness about it. In Medley's version, he is singing to the audience, and the piano is way too smooth and polished to lend much support to the lyrics. In Dylan's, the dry, cracked, sandpaper voice is the essence of the lyrics.
To Ramona - The Flying Burrito Brothers
Once again, the smoother, polished version comes off as a bit detached. The Flying Burrito Brothers were known for their vocal harmonies, and once again the treatment fails to get to the heart of the song. In fact, it works against the lyrics and becomes a part of the scheme that Dylan writes about.
"Your cracked country lips
I still wish to kiss
As to be by the strength of your skin
Your magnetic movements
Still capture the minutes I'm in
But it grieves my heart, love
To see you tryin' to be a part of
A world that just don't exist. It's all just a dream, babe
A vacuum, a scheme, babe
That sucks you into feelin' like this."
I Threw It All Away
I Threw It All Away - Cher
I'm not even going to say anything about this one other than some people transcend and others pretend. There is a nice version of Chris Cornell singing the song that serves to support my argument though. Cornell's version sadly expresses the truth because Dylan's lyrics about losing his wife and marriage are universal in meaning. You step inside of them; you eat them, you let them enter into your bloodstream, you don't just sing them.
I'm not trying to knock other artists either. There are many great versions of Dylan covers, Joe Cocker's Just Like a Woman comes to mind and Jimi Hendrix's All Along the Watchtower. I'm just irritated at how many people try to look better than they are by trashing his voice.
The ancient Greeks knew that true beauty always contains a flaw. It is the trademark of our species. We ain't perfect. Neither is Bob Dylan. Some people foolishly like to seek perfection out in everything. As for me, I am beyond ecstatic that Bob Dylan wasn't born with the voice of a Pavarotti, or even Elvis Presley for that matter.
And it makes me very sad that we still have to explain why this is true.
I have decided to enter some old stories and essays into a few writing competitions and to send off others. In an effort to get things sorted out, I ran across the following passages.
From On The Road (with Mom) - non-fiction
And when I was young right up until the time I married, their journey was my own. My friends and I relived it a thousand times speeding up and down the highways, searching through the back streets, slowly driving down the country roads of Central California, and incessantly cruising up and down the main street of Corcoran. It was always a spiritual journey even though we didn't know it at the time as we were always searching for our own metaphorical hill in San Francisco and seeking our own tiny taste of ecstasy.
The sad thing is that the effort we expended was always doomed to failure. No one ever found satori on the back roads of Corcoran, or on Whitley Avenue for that matter. All the minute mouthfuls of sweet juice that we tasted were chemically enhanced and vanished the moment the drugs wore off leaving us to spit out the lifeless liquid in the dirt on the side of the road.
From The City That Lied - short story
The next day, however, something happened that blew the top off of the whole affair. A dairy farmer who lived on the edge of town, cleaned out a tool shed, spread new straw across the floor, pulled out his wife's colorful nativity set, and wiped the dust from all of the characters. He went so far as to tie a baby goat and a calf outside the garage style opened door. Then he painted a huge sign on his barn that said that the holy baby Jesus had been born in his stable and not the one in Bethlehem. And just like that, Corcoran was suddenly the holiest city in the whole world.
This was when the cracks started to appear. People were having trouble buying into this fraud. The dairy owner produced a birth certificate attesting that someone name Jesus had been born there. The certificate had been doctored. For example, the last name had been altered to spell Son of God, and the birthdate once marked Feb. had been changed to look like Dec. The facts later showed that a Mexican dairy worker named Jesus Manuel (pronounced Hay-Sus) Martinez had been born there in 1936.
The thing that really destroyed the farmer's story happened after the local denominations started trying to horn in on the act and began arguing over the facts related to Christ's birth. A member of the local clergy, Reverend P. N. Ochio, an Episcopalian, got so angry he shouted at the Freewill Baptist preacher, "Everyone fucking knows he was born in Bethlehem, Asshole!"
The crowd was shocked into silence. The Freewill Baptist preacher accidentally tripped over the rope holding the Star in place, and it fell to the ground and broke. Five year old, Tessie McGee pointed to it and exclaimed, "Wookie, Daddy, the Stah is bwoke. The Stah is bwoke."
The little girl's words punctured the bubble of stupidity that had enveloped the whole town quicker than an old man's fart could clear a small room. Corcoran's only surviving prostitute put the fork in it when she gave out a heartfelt, "We ought to all be ashamed of ourselves."
Danny, however, took umbrage at her words while thinking to himself, "Dang girlfriend, I only said the F word a couple of times, you gave half the bar patrons in town syphilis, let's not be so quick to judge here." He let it go though and went to sleep that night somewhat relieved.
From Things Worth Fighting For - non-fiction
I was so naive back then that I read an article about hippies, and it mentioned that they smoked banana peels to get high, and I actually got some bananas, peeled them, and was baking them in the oven right in front of my mom. When she asked me what I was going to do with the baked peels, I told her, "I'm going to smoke them banana peels and get high."
She hit me upside the head with a wooden stirring spoon. That was when I first realized that there was a difference between the way my parents looked at life and the way that some others looked at life. I thought smoking banana peels could be a good thing, my mom knew better. Yet, I persisted in holding out against the wisdom of experience and going with the novelty of stupidity.
I don't care about what your thoughts are on the morality of the Vietnam War; those young soldiers who fought and died there deserved better. There is still an ongoing silliness wherein many people believe that all wars are unjust and that America should never participate in another. It's a belief whose nobility is canceled out by its naive ignorance.
It would be nice if the world were composed of only reasonable people. It would also be a fantasy. It is usually the countries that are not aggressive that have wars thrust upon them, and it is often those who most desire peace who weaken their resolve to defend themselves from evil. A belief in world peace is a truly noble desire, but it is also a lot like smoking banana peels. And it's even worse if your mama ain't around to jar you back to reality.
From Notes: On Testing the Waters - non-fiction
So, I've always known that you don't find truth in the words of a Sunday school teacher who only mimics the party line. Truth only comes as the result of suffering and with keeping one eye open even as you sleep lest it sneaks up on you.
I'm come to one hard and fast rule of life, and it is that you learn some from other men, great books, and the observance of nature, but depending on the outer world to provide your life with meaning, is futile. The truth that most of us, not all, desire can only come from the deep wells located in our inner selves. What we must do to obtain it is to open up and let some sunlight into those areas that the raisin counters tell us to ignore.
Back in Sunday school, Tolstoy raises his hand and the Sunday school teacher acknowledges him. The children listen because his haunted eyes, slow movements, and deeply creased face commands them to, "Once we admit that human life can be guided by reason, all possibility of life is annihilated."
The teacher's mouth drops open as he ponders the meaning of the word annihilated, and a twelve-year-old boy sitting in the corner raises his finger to his chin.
From Swimming in Ditches - non-fiction
I didn't sleep well the night after I heard the news. I spent the entire night dreaming it was all an illusion, that I'd wake up and Billy would come strolling down the piece of dirt road that was the southern end of Estes Avenue where it ran past my house, knock on my door and ask me if I wanted to go shoot some pool down at Pop's while sipping on a Coca Cola bottle full of peanuts.
But alas, that dream was a lie, the first of many, an urgent, heartfelt, yet ephemeral wish written on a piece of tissue, and I was forever stuck instead with the wistful memory of Billy flipping himself over the school yard fence at the corner of Letts and Oregon, and walking out of my life forever and waving goodbye with an upraised hand while never looking back.
From The Tears of Oak Trees - non-fiction (response to mass shooting at Borderline Bar and Grill)
I reject those voices that claim that mankind is not worthy of mercy. You have to overlook massive mountains of human achievement to utter such nonsense. Humans have died by the hundreds of thousands to halt the spread of tyranny. We feed, and we heal. We stand erect and move forward despite the ignorance of our self-serving politicians and having to overcome the fact that we carry an ever-increasing mass of humanity on our backs because they have already chosen to give up the fight. On top of it all, we now have to work all day and then guard the night from those who can't stand the fact that we are still standing, or, at least, care enough to make the effort.
From Our Own Dead Eyes - non-fiction
I caught myself looking at my reflection the first thing this morning while I relieved myself. (That's kind of sad in itself, the Lord graced me with a brand new day, and the first thing I can think of doing is pee.)
I was drawn toward the eyes. I saw there for a moment the eyes of my father, not the laughing eyes of Grandpa Bill, but that other guy, the old one who went to the grave carrying all of the anxiety of a maze stuck mouse with eyes that will haunt me as long as I live and hopefully no further.
I know that I'm still grounded with both my feet firmly rooted in what now passes for reality. I still have enough of the required respect for angles, lines, and borders for me to think I'm going crazy. Still, I'd be lying if I denied that there is more than just a little hint of fear and anxiety hidden behind the eyes in my reflection.
Hell, I'm too old for it to be otherwise.
From The Dimensions of Loneliness - excerpt from The Lazarus Letters
I can’t wrap my mind around why any sane person would identify with atheism. It is one thing to purse your lips and imitate a prudish, middle-aged, spinster schoolteacher and point out all the misery poured out on the human race in the name of the religion. Any sanctimonious jackass with a halfway decent grasp of history could do that to their heart’s content.
History is a virtual smorgasbord of man’s inhumanity toward his fellow man; not just any smorgasbord either but the one at Caesar’s in Vegas. There is something very perverse in taking such great pride in the ability to point just how more perverse and venal everybody else is.
I can not imagine anything more horrible than the idea that the universe has no purpose, or in the belief that I brought my two beautiful daughters into existence in such a universe where the sole point of their being was to create a few isolated moments of happiness sandwiched into the pages of a larger book documenting their slow and painful march to the grave.
From Love in the Time of Zombies - non-fiction
The young don't seem to have it much better in today's world. They've been told that hooking-up is the way to go, and that marriage is not only outdated, it is oppressive. My God, what kind of a world are we creating. Everything has to be easy, even when it is not.
There is something truly magical that goes into the creation of baby. It just might be the most magical thing in the entire world, yet, we treat the process like it's something that even the stupidest people on earth can do, which is actually true, but then again, they can't write shit like,
"I'd go hungry; I'd go black and blue
And I'd go crawling down the avenue
No, there's nothing that I wouldn't do
To make you feel my love"
There is a difference in babies created only by lust and those created in an act of love. And there is a difference in those who appreciate the magic of love that went into the sexual act and those who only think of it as scratching an itch. The former bring light into a dark world, the latter rain clouds that block out the sun.
All babies are little seeds of light, but those who create them with a mindset that they are disposable and tiny nuisances without a soul, are the truly lost because they can no longer see the magic of life and can only view a world of ash colored skies
From Saints of the Southside Proper - non-fiction
Pop's candy store was a little like the Agora of Athens. I said "a little like" so don't go getting all freakin crazy on me. It was where we all met up and discussed philosophy, analyzed events, and fed all the bits into the gaping yawl of a giant queen mother who popped it back out in a gel having the same consistency of toothpaste that we all chewed for sustenance.
It was not the sustenance we got at home at the breakfast table, but the sustenance that fed our souls and rendered us impervious to the many social diseases that ran amok in those days. The paste temporarily blinded us to the poverty of our existence and helped us to envision old run down shacks and packed dirt alleyways as being places of great mystery.
The philosophical discussions we had weren't very elevated I'll admit.
It was always more like, " Do ya think those are her real titties?"
"Hell no! She and her sista bofofem flatter than sheet rock."
"Well, what's she doing then?'
"Why ask me? Iffn I hadda guess, I'd say socks."
"You a idiot."
"Why ya say that?"
"Girls don't wear socks the way we do."
"Well fucken toilet papuh then! Hell's I know!"
It wasn't much, but just enough for the time. It was the way we reached conclusions and established consensus. It joined us all at the hip. To this day, I can tell you pretty much what the others would think about most subjects even though I'm lucky if I see them once a year.
From Notes On Writing the Short Story 'Lines' - non-fiction
The bottom line is that a whole hell of a lot more things gets said than get heard.
All this craziness has got me by the heart. It is blurring my vision and fills me with more sadness than I can almost bear. I spend more time now looking for salvation than writing. I was going through some of the old stuff looking for some inspiration and found with some lines that I'm actually proud of having written.
From Lonesome Toothbrushes and Unused Pillows
I mumbled the word, "Fuck," to no one in particular as I was realizing that there would be nothing short of blinding myself like Oedipus to keep from bumping into the broken pieces of my past, and that life is a lot like that weird friend who tells you jokes no one else thinks are funny.
From Friendship is a Sulfur Match
I didn't send that card for the same reason that I don't like to talk to the grieving family at funerals, I don't know what to say and know there ain't really nothing to say. I don't want to say that thing's are going to be okay; that it just takes some getting used to it because they ain't, and it don't. The death of a loved one hurts you till the day you die.
I have become somewhat obsessed with writing things down so that I might leave something behind that acknowledges the fact that I was once alive at this particular time and place on a planet zooming through the fucking universe like a Clayton Kershaw fastball, and that I once mattered somewhat and saw things good and bad, and knew people good and bad, laughed and cried, and fell over and got back up.
It's just that words at funerals are, well, words at funerals. We so much want them to say a lot more than they do. Looking back though, I wish sometimes that we could have told each other how we felt without the expletives, the sarcasm, and the code words, without having to show that we were the sons of men, and that sons of men don't use sissy words like love when they talk to their friends.
From The Prodigal in the Land of the La La
I keep putting it off thinking somehow that Jesus is going to come back someday and handle all the people who did nothing but eat, waste their life, and defecate. We think that they are all out living dirty on the street, but they'll be plenty of bon-bon eaters bursting into flames up in Beverly Hills too.
From Running in Circles
We understood that spinning around things is just what we earthlings do, and it didn't matter a whole damn mouse fart where the axis of the circle was; it's the ass end of things going around it that makes life tolerable.
People say that order always descends into chaos once the primary energy source has been exhausted. I think it works the other way too. Once there was a time and place when I was young where I could let go and live without restraint for few hours at a time, howling at the moon if I so wanted or even pissing on a flat rock while howling at the moon. It was wild and chaotic; it was liberating, it was unscripted and totally ignorant, and it was a lot more fun than anything I've ever done since.
Then the fire ran out of wood, cardboard and car seats, and life quickly descended into order as most life eventually does.
From My Grandma’s Ghost
I find it interesting that most avowed atheists attack the idea that mankind created God out of fear of death and the unknown. I find no shame in that position. Instead, it speaks powerfully about mankind's needs. I have no problem with the idea that God came out of the void in response to our desire to believe that life has a greater purpose than becoming a transcendent form of high-end fertilizer.
If I needed a toothpick and whittled down a twig to use, no one would have a problem with it. Yet creating a means to deal with existential fear and anxiety by whittling down a bit on the immensity of creation to create something to clutch on in a hour of despair hardly seems that crazy to me.
From Sporks Are Made From Mashed Potatoes
So, I am sitting there in Popeye's Louisiana Chicken, trying my damned well best not to get this book greasy, cursing my decision to eat chicken while I'm reading it, and the damn spork breaks in the middle of the chicken breast, so I start cussing a blue streak.
And it dawns on me that sporks are a lot like atheistic thinking and the lunatic politics of the extreme left. They handle mashed potatoes pretty well, but suck when you really need them.
From On Birth and Rebirth
Thirty-nine years ago I became a man. It was the night that my firstborn daughter came into this world. I was 28 years old, and you would think that age alone would qualify me to be a grown-up, but it wasn't the case. Boys grow up slower than girls, and I was still clinging with both hands to adolescence, afraid that the grown up world would turn me into my daddy who worked like a dog and never seemed to smile.
From Waving at Ghosts
Maybe we use graveyards more to separate life from death. The walls we build around them and the gates we place upon their entry ways are meant more symbolically to keep death within certain boundaries so that the knowledge of death is limited and restricted and does not come out to play in the land of the living.
The problem is that ghosts are made of the stuff of memories and are no great respecters of boundaries, walls, and gates, or even the rules that govern the land of the living. In many cases, they inhabit our reality and influence our decision making far more than most living beings. And, I guess, in most cases, this is well and good too.
Death is a part of life. And the best way that we can deal with its frightful visage is to honor the ghostlike memories of those who traveled before us and along side of us and to use them to guide us forward.
And maybe wave at them as you drive by, or give them a shout out with the window down,..... tip your hat. Something.
From The Southside of Paradise – Chapter 24 – Almost Crazy
He came over by me, turned over a white bucket and sat down on it. "Well just who the fuck sits out in the dark by hisself on a Friday night?"
"You ain't even got no hook on here, fool! You are fucking crazy!"
I opened up my beer, took a swig and answered, "It might be crazy if I was trying to catch a fish, otherwise not so much."
He stared at me open mouth then stared at the pole then back at me, "Catching a fish is the whole point of fishing, Danny."
"Maybe, maybe not. Maybe I was trying to catch something else completely."
"Sumpin else? Like what?"
I didn't hesitate, "Like a clue, Hopalong. Maybe I just needed a clue."
Now he looked at me, then the pole, then the water. "And it's out there in the river somewhere?"
I felt a wave of energy rush over me from the head down. Goddamn, this damn fool was getting deep, and it made some sense too, hell, it made a lot of fucking sense. "Damn it, Dean. That shit was good. For a minute, you sounded just like that dude we were talking about a while back."
He didn't know if I was pulling his leg, or not, so he asked hesitantly, "Who dat?"
"Cyrano. The dude in the play we were discussing back when this shit started happening."
"That long nosed dude?"
"Yeah. I know his nose wasn't near fucked up as yours, but that shit you said was pretty deep."
He didn't know what to do at first. He still didn't know whether I was kidding or not. Finally, he grinned and reached over and gave me a high five. "Damn right that shit was deep. Come from the heart too." He settled back onto his bucket. A little while later, he slurred," Remember that shit for me, Danny, and remind me what I said when I sober up."
He looked over at me and grinned again, and I fucking lost it. I laughed so hard, I completely forgot about the reason I was out there fishing with no hook.
From My Friend Cooper
If I ever make it heaven, I'm going to look him up. I'll walk up to where he's sitting and tell him something like, "Coop, you remember that time I saw your dog licking my dog's butt?"
He'll look at me, shake his head, grin with those big sad eyes, and look over his shoulder to make sure St. Peter ain't listening and reply, "Fuck you, Dougie."
From - Staring Down Monsters
You can bet your ass that these fears will keep coming up in your life with more and more riding upon each successive episode, until, sooner or later, you will be forced into a situation where all of the walls are made of mirrors and the only door is locked from the outside. By this time, a simple display of courage and/or common sense will no longer satisfy the god of chaos, and payment must instead be made in muscle tissue, thickened blood, shattered bone, broken hearts, bounced checks, and a flood of tears.
From The Southside of Paradise – Chapter 23 – The Beckoning Stars
I almost made it through the night, but when I knew that nothing I could say was ever going to change her mind, a single tear showed up on my right cheek. I had cried without meaning to. It was the worse fucking mistake I could have ever had made. I don't care what other people say; girls don't want to see their guys cry. They might pretend to like the James Dean type, but deep down they really want a young John Wayne, the mythic hero, guys who aren't afraid to make the hard decisions and brave the future no matter what the cost.
I trudged down to the next intersection. It was the corner of Eustace and Lemon. It was the smallest most unassuming intersection in the whole town. The huge full moon hung brightly over the single forlorn lamppost that stood on the left side of the intersection. It felt like I was dragging concrete boots along. I stopped for a second time in the middle of an intersection, and I looked up hopefully at the moon. I didn't want to walk anymore and would have been perfectly happy just to stand there gawking at the big old moon forever.
From The Hard Remember – Mama Loved Clark Gable
I didn't even know there was such a thing as the color purple. I saw it in nature, but no one had ever explained it to me. I noticed that she had no color purple either, and Mama patiently informed me how she mixed colors together to make it. While she was talking, she was sitting on the ground smiling, and her smile was so lovely that I still tear up when I think on it. It is that smile that I remember most whenever I think about her.
From All the Ghosts of Christmas
It is an absolute fucking miracle that we are alive and occupying this place and time, and a wonder of wonders that we have eyes and ears with which to explore all the mysteries of universe. We can not only see and hear its glories, but we can break off small chunks of it to taste and smell. We are separated from infinity by the thinnest layer of an epidermis that not only distinguishes us from the rest of the universe but also allows us to feel a wide range and multitude of sensations, some pleasurable and others not so much.
From The Not So Very Great Big Deal
I guess, what was even worse, if there was something worse than losing your vision, was that I had lost my sense of perspective too. Well, maybe not lost; I still had a perspective, but it wasn't the same one I took over there. That one was still sitting around Vietnam somewheres probably smoking hash and drinking hot Pabst Blue Ribbon with all the other perspectives that got left behind.
From Love in the Time of Zombies
In other words, I went crazy for a while. I wrote down shit in a fever with words just pouring out of my head like rainwater out of the mouth of a sculpted Greek monster. The situation wasn't helped much by the onset of tinnitus and the lack of sleep caused by it. I did manage to write my way past that initial bout of madness, helped no doubt, by finally finding a sleeping pill that let me dream through the night.
All I know is that I got a hole the size of Alaska in my heart and that the person who filled it best is dead. That and the fact I am such a hard person to understand that even I, who knows me better than anyone else, can't seem to do it all that well.
From Listening to Miles While Talking to God
I want to be quiet and know that God is God. I want it so much, but I have trouble doing it. Sometimes, the best I can do is putting on Freddie the Freeloader and pretending that we both are listening to Miles Davis blow his horn.
God: "Gabriel's better."
Me: (cocking one eye) "Oh Please!"
From This Magic Moment
I was driving along 99 Highway and listening intently, and the memory Steve was painting moved me greatly; it was like a tiny bit of magic had attached itself to some very brutal reality. It was like a fantasy from a Fellini movie, and it made me wonder just how many such magical moments we encounter in our lives and why we are so hell bent to ignore them. Is it because we have our noses so far up the fat ass of reality that we no longer possess a sense of magic?
From Rainbow Over C-Town
It seems to me like everybody's been waiting for Jesus to come back, even the ones who deny that he's real, and we all keep glancing over our shoulders nervously expecting him to suddenly appear in the eastern sky with his arms outstretched looking warm and inviting, but, at the same time a little bit angry. You know the kind of the look our moms used to give us when we came home six hours past our curfew.
From On Staring Into the Void
I was only around ten or eleven years old when my Sunday School teacher told our class that we would all burn in hell unless we had accepted Christ and repented of our sins. I had a bit of a problem wrapping my head around the concept that I was going to be barbequed in perpetuity for a preadolescent lust for my elementary teacher and stealing penny candy.
I've read somewhere that Nikita Khrushchev met with John Kennedy to discuss ways to make the relationship between our two countries much more normal. For the Soviets, it offered up an opportunity for some much needed political reform.
Khrushchev's alleged mistress, however, afraid of losing her privileged position, secretly undermined her lover by aligning herself with other party apparatchiks who were also afraid of losing their status. Khrushchev was ousted before he had a chance to implement the reforms.
In Christ's case, it was the Sadducees and the Pharisees, religious authorities, who became the poster children for the type of people who, fearing change, undermine the the opportunity for truth to take hold. They not only undermined Christ, but also initiated the legal proceedings which led to his crucifixion. And then we were left with the metaphor that the status quo always kills truth to protect mediocrity.
I'm watching our country burn now and am sickened by watching thousands of youths in the streets doing things that have little do with honoring the memory of the murdered victims or achieving any kind of justice. I am saddened even more by watching people who should know better trying to justify criminality and violence because they don't want to appear to be on the side of law and order which is kind of like saying that they wish they can do away with the structure and form of their own life and get out there in the streets themselves.
I've seen it before and asked myself then what causes people, especially our youth, to do such things. The answer I arrived at then is the same as the answer that I see now, that is, the lack of hope, a lack of resolve, and the lack of understanding that life is a fucking hard row to hoe for everybody.
We all die at the end, but not all of us have the courage and wisdom to live. This is our true problem. An awful lot of us wish that we can burn it all down and start over. And when you get more people who think like that than not, you will more than likely actually burn the shit down and then later have to sit out in the rain, cold and mud munching on twigs and cursing your own stupidity.
The people who are in charge of our educational system have removed all vestige of meaning from our schools. They have taught for years that children are victims and that we should just surrender them over to the nanny state and, by so doing, create paradise on earth.
The problem is that these people are too unintelligent to even know how incredibly ignorant and short sighted that they are, and how lacking in truth. They cling to their false notions because they don't want anyone knowing that they have no actual fucking clue about what truth is, and, like the Sadducees and the Pharisees, are all too perfectly willing to see it crucified rather than admit their own shortcomings.
They believe that by teaching only humanism, or the insane idea that only human ideas and shit are important, mankind will achieve ultimate harmony, while failing to notice that they are only producing the opposite.
Any three year old could recognize the fundamental truth that what's out there in the universe is so much freaking larger than our ability to understand it all, that if we have to wait for science to provide explanations, we will never achieve anything. The great and mysterious unknown should be our guiding star and not an object of scientific derision.
People want, more than anything else, their life to mean something. They can't ever achieve that though if all spirituality and sense of divine purpose is taken out of the equation.
The answer to the problem is to let all children know from the moment that they are born that not only are they all special and unique, but that their lives need to be made meaningful. We need to teach them that, regardless of their given circumstances, that they are put on this earth to make it and themselves better and the farther they travel, the greater the meaning they will create.
We act like we do this now, but not really. Most people only pay lip service to what is actually needed. When you enact educational programs that do not hold kids accountable for their actions because you perceive them as victims, you will be the one who should later be held accountable for their ultimate lack of success in creating meaning for their life.
Too many times, the people who profess to doing the most for the children only do so because they want to look good or are afraid what changes that the truth might bring. Sometimes, they obey the commands of people even more clueless than they are only because they cannot admit they don't know what else to do.
The one thing we need to teach all kids is that it is okay to be born into a world without hope, to face obstacles, and to fail. But, it is a sin to stay in that world, to run away from opportunities to achieve, and to not even try. Most of all, it is time for the rest of us to quit paying lip service to the idea that our real job is to manufacture and hand out hope.
There is one event in the Bible that people have always needed to pay particular attention to, yet very few have ever done so. I mention it because the event is especially relevant now.
And in case you're wondering, it is the time that Jesus Christ, in a fit of righteous anger, drove the moneychangers from the Temple. Somebody asked on Google where did all the anger stem from, and I think the answer is spot on, "This was in violation of God's intent that all people should be able to worship Him at the temple. The priests knew this was wrong. The merchants knew this was wrong. They were all in the wrong."
In my search for knowledge, I've have come to regard Christ as the mythological representative of the underlying truth of all creation (And before you Christians get all butt hurt, there's is nothing about that statement that says he wasn't real.)
I have also come to believe that the temple represents the highest place within the individual which would be that part of our mind which controls who we are in essence.
Preston Herald, a pseudonym, in the staggeringly brilliant The Shining Stranger referred to it as the High Place where we are meant to retreat to when everything else descends into chaos and despair. This means that our truth will not always be found in the material world. Quantum physics says that we create the world around us, so what we believe in our heart of hearts will ultimately be our truth. It is not for sale, or, at least it shouldn't be.
Looked at from this perspective, the story reads that truth itself becomes fundamentally enraged when that most essential of our self is profaned and given over to the making of profit and especially to the buying and selling of that sacred space. It will destroy us as individuals once the tipping point is reached and then as a society when more and more of us succumb to its insidious poison.
Great literature has always taught that the tension in the narrative is created when the main character is thwarted in his/her quest to become whole. The search for wholeness is, in fact, the story of life. So, this narrative structure is the blueprint for correct living, and learning how to overcome obstacles is the lesson that both literature and life teaches.
Over the last sixty plus years, since the invention of and the rise to dominance over our culture by television, the climax or highest points of tension once used to signify the transformation of the hero/heroine, are now only used as seques into the buying and selling of our consciousness.
We still get transformative endings, but we only after the buying and the selling. This changes the meaning of the narrative as it now prioritizes commercial activity as being fundamentally more important than the transformative experience itself.
This is not only untrue, but also blasphemous. Remember blasphemy is the only unforgivable sin. Selling the space that is the seat of your essential self ultimately means that your life becomes pretty much meaningless.
And to paraphrase that Google response so that it more correctly fits into our modern outlook, "This is in violation of God's intent that our minds should always be somewhat focused on truth (able to worship at the temple). The priests know this is wrong. The merchants know this is wrong. Politicians know this is wrong. Hollywood knows this wrong. Most importantly though, we know this is wrong."
Don't misunderstand me, this does not mean that buying and selling is wrong. But the story does explicitly state that when the buying and selling of our souls becomes the dominant economic and cultural truth of our world, truth will be forced to step in to defend itself. This point is also driven home in Mark 8:36-38 “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, but lose his soul?"
To put it even more simply, "What does it profit a person knowing that Kim Kardashian and her sisters will always have an unresolved issue lying around somewhere, if you have to watch a Vagisil commercial to see it resolved?" Or more honestly, "How long will it take us before we can understand that none of their fucking television traumatic issues are real."
I have grown very worried about this country. It is mainly because I have become increasingly aware of just how much we are being held captive by the Media. The Media lies and manipulates, but worst of all, it is controlled from above and does only what it is told.
The truth is there is probably not a left-right split in the body politic. There is slightly, but it ain't the Grand Canyon like we have been told. Yet, the Media has gone to great lengths to convince us that such a split is the correct paradigm. It also supports the illusion that absolutely no one occupies a position in the no-man's-land between the two sides. This is a lie seeing that that it is exactly where most of us live. It is the Great Lie of the Age and proof positive that we are being sold a bill of goods.
It has become perfectly obvious that the true split is above/below, or to put it in more simple terms, those who control and those who are controlled. This is why in times of a pandemic we are still being lied to and deluged with tweets, gossip, rumors and videos of rich and famous celebrities whose only real value lies in their ability to divert us from realizing the truth.
I am worried now because I can see that everything will become more and more divisive as we head into the November election. On one side, we have a group which says it now has proof of the greatest government malfeasance but can only hand it out in dribs and drabs, and on the other side a group that has more than once implied that lying and manipulation of facts is ok by them as long as it serves the cause and supports the ongoing narrative. It is like the whole thing is being scripted by HBO and is leading us to the greatest end of the season episode in the history of the world.
Will there be a sequel or a second season? I can't tell you that. I do know that they left it hanging in The Joker, and if that piece of shit is is looked upon as being worthy of a sequel, I guess the total fucking mess we made of things might be as well.
It depends a lot though, on just how willing we are to be used as the extras in the final battle scene, or to spread the required amount of hatred and distrust. Or maybe, in our willingness to cancel our subscriptions to Cable TV after realizing that for some reason it never tells us the complete story and keeps asking us for more and more to buy their lies.
A lot will depend on just how big of a tool we are willing to be.
"Her arched look could slam a door from across a room, and more than a few dreams had died at its command."
Yep, it was that kind of morning. I had been reading a description of the English iconoclast Jessica Mitford and the author had placed great emphasis on her singular ability to arch an eyebrow and wither somebody's heart with just a glance.
I resolved to make use of that idea somewhere, and when I woke up in morning I put the quote above in the 'to be used later' section of my journal.
I shared my morning coffee with Carl Jung. He was writing about a dream he had where he was placed into a supplicant position requiring him to touch his head to the floor. He made a strong effort but could not close the last millimeter. In his interpretation, the inability to touch the floor explained man's relationship with God, the willingness to go so far but always holding something back. Without it, he said, there would not have been a need for book of Job, or for Christ to enter the world.
It gave me some food for thought. So much of what is going on in this crazy world carries the same import of the incidents told about in the scriptures, only we are far too stupid to understand this simple fact, and too given over to the belief that what we say and do is somewhat meaningless. I never liked using the word stupid when I was in the classroom, but the word does seem to perfectly describe the condition of being intentionally ignorant.
Jung was a compassionate thinker too, but he used the phrase maliciously stupid to describe such a state. God forgive me, but I can't help but think that there is a certain maliciousness involved both in mankind's inability to perceive the truth and in our unwillingness to believe that our lives even matter.
I see Shakespeare's fingers all over this current script, and it looks a lot like he's ripping off Faustus and Oedipus the King. I think that he's also been watching some Tarantino movies and possibly The Sopranos on TV. Who knows maybe Sophocles and Goethe are collaborating on this project.
In other words, it don't seem to make any fucking sense at all. I try to keep my hopes up and remember the time that me and my brother Timmy brought Tinkerbell back to life by believing with all our hearts. But then I remember reading in a history book that World War One made absolutely no fucking sense at all either.
I was so shocked that the historian had written the F word that I ran and got a highlighter out of my desk drawer. When I got back to the book, the word was gone. I still remember it though, and that phrase has stuck with me, and I often use it to describe situations like what this old-people seeking missile of a virus has created.
To take my mind off of such thoughts I decided to ride my bike around Corcoran while listening to Dylan's Blood on the Tracks. It's a trick that I often use to try to trick the Universe into yielding up some of it's secrets.
When I got down to the road by the park, he was singing about a book of poems that she(?) had given him where,
"Every one of them words rang true
And glowed like burning coal
Pouring off of every page
Like it was written in my soul."
And I knew that it was his way of telling me to pay close attention to my surroundings. That there was something afoot here that most people weren't catching.
As I rode along, my mind often twisted back into the past when I was young and rode my bike along these same paths, and it was like realizing that no time had really elapsed between then and now. When I was looking at these streets through those younger eyes, I was also seeing them as I do now without realizing that it was so, the time between being the illusion.
When I got down to the road in front of the church that used to be the Nazarene church, the song was A Simple Twist of Fate with lyrics that said,
He woke up, the room was bare
He didn't see her anywhere
He told himself he didn't care
Pushed the window open wide
Felt an emptiness inside
To which he just could not relate
Brought on by a simple twist of fate."
Dylan, and especially this album, talks to me, and these words remind me of my wife's leaving. He wrote them to describe his own heartbreak when his wife left. Pushing the window open wide and feeling the void enter the room, damn, what a soul sucking image. The location where I was when I heard them reminds me that even churches change over time. You wouldn't think so, but they do.
What few simple twists of fate could have brought about my wife still waking up beside me in the morning and/or the Nazarenes still holding court on the corner of Letts and Hall? I'm left with the distinct impression that those should have been the choices that were made, yet weren't.
He next compounded the feeling of guilt and confusion from those bad decisions with some words from You're a Big Girl Now,
"I'm going out of my mind, oh, oh
With a pain that stops and starts
Like a corkscrew to my heart
Ever since we've been apart."
I don't know about the people who once attended the Nazarene church. I suspect that most of them have since died. But I do know that every now and then I need that corkscrew applied to remind me of the importance of making better choices.
Then later as I made my way up Letts toward home, Idiot Wind comes on, and this time, it's Job himself telling the story.
"You hurt the ones that I love best
And cover up the truth with lies
One day you’ll be in the ditch
Flies buzzing around your eyes
Blood on your saddle."
Prophetic lines if there ever were prophetic lines. While listening, I can't help but to think that truth remains the truth in spite of all the savage, maliciously stupid people we now have shouting nonsense to the winds. I don't wish anyone ill, but there will be a certain grim satisfaction knowing that them flies will buzz around those vacant eyes, at the bottom of a ditch too, and right next to blood stained saddle. He doesn't explicitly say that the horse ran off, but it's implied.
But Dylan doesn't just leave things there. He admonishes the rest of us too. He once said he couldn't find a place to break this song off, that the words just kept coming, some of them insanely beautiful, trenchant, and addressed to our materialistic bent,
What's good is bad, what's bad is good
You'll find out when you reach the top
You're on the bottom."
Or else, frighteningly apocalyptic,
"The priest wore black on the seventh day
And sat stone-faced while the building burned."
It is the chorus though where he warns all not to go back to a world of worshipping movie stars and athletes and tells us that we need to take our politicians out to the woodshed in order to remind them they need to work for us and not the opposite. The song's title Idiot Wind seems to perfectly describe our current news media and makes me wonder if it will be all the people who pay them, follow them, or enable them who will eventually wind up seeing/not seeing the buzzing flies.
There is a message of hope at the end of the album too, but it's words are juxtaposed against the bleakness of world where true wisdom has fallen beneath the cushions of the sofa where we watch and measure our lives away as time spent between commercial breaks.
The repeated chorus of Shelter From the Storm reminds us that true wisdom only results in recognizing our situations and surroundings for what they really are, biblical settings and events where God is always negotiating for our lives,
"Suddenly I turned around
And she was standing there
With silver bracelets on her wrists
And flowers in her hair
She walked up to me so gracefully
and took my crown of thorns
'Come in,' she said, 'I'll give ya
shelter from the storm.'"
Returning from my journey, I realize that yes, there is such a thing as malicious stupidity. Covid-19 is its cousin and apathy its twin. I also know that there is a stern, austere beauty attached to my hometown . You have to squint sometimes to see it, or else mentally go backwards in time to when you can remember what it looked like before you missed the opportunities offered up by a few simple twists of time and made your own series of bad choices.
But given the choice of staying inside again and listening to the children of the corn argue about what our options are, it's well worth the effort to rediscover.
I am something of a moderate when it comes to politics. I believe that most us, if left to our own devices, generally are. I try to avoid political conversation preferring instead to concentrate on a wider and more inclusive search for knowledge and the truth, something I believe that should be unifying and not divisive. Of course, I could be wrong. Afterall, Jesus said he came armed with a sword implying that even truth can be divisive.
It's hard not to think about politics nowadays. It's is steady being thrust into our faces like a little brother holding up his skid marked underwear and telling us to 'smell this'. It would be like trying to ignore a Doberman chewing on your ankles to think that you are somehow going to be magically able to avoid being splattered with all the shit that so many of our dumbassically inclined fellow citizens are throwing without aim.
My biggest fear though is the loss of the Middle. Who stole it and where has it gone? Americans used to be able to talk to one another, disagree about some stuff, and still be able to go on with life with a great respect for the fundamental decency of our friends and neighbors. This is no longer the case. If we so much as disagree as to which day is better for watering our lawns, we are labeled as being, selfish, racist, Nazis or Commie scum.
What has changed? How about the fact that we have a media that traffics in lies and selling garbage and a too compliant and often comatose populace who thinks that this a normal state of affairs. Ninety-five per cent of our news media says the same thing at the same time with the same exact words. We used to be able to see that as a red flag telling us that something was seriously out of whack. No longer.
Our politicians lecture us. A politician's job, as our servant, should never include lectures. Lectures are our parent's responsibility. Politicians are not our parents as much as they would like to pretend. They work for us and not the other way around. They are more like gardeners, painters, carpenters, lawyers or doctors. We are not their children and even less their employees to be ordered around.
Movie stars, musicians, comedians and professional athletes are being paid millions of dollars to divert our attention away from the search for truth and from learning how to deal with the fact of our mortality. They speak on behalf of corporate masters and often feel compelled to justify their own sell out by pretending to be preternaturally wise, politically enlightened, paragons of virtue which the rest of us should emulate. I can only take that to mean that I should just take the product and not criticize the hand that feeds them even when it is my own.
They are not being paid enough, however, to tell me that I'm a bad person just because I think that many of them are freaking idiots and sell outs on top of it. How about this, how about you come to terms with the face you shave and put makeup on before you tell me anything about who I am as a person. Try doing it without drugs or alcohol. Try doing without projecting your own lack of self worth upon me and friends.
Then try doing it with the knowledge that using the word 'woke' to describe yourself pretty much marks you as a poser. (Real people don't feel the need to place a label on the idea of being a decent human being. That only comes from the deep seated feeling of insecurity that people don't seem to be noticing just how much better you are than everyone else.)
Our problems began years ago when people first learned that they could create some rules and dogma that would enable them to charge admission to heaven. Even then people didn't want to do the real work involved in the spiritual contract and if a ticket could be purchased that would bypass the need to not covet your neighbor's goods, well so much the better. The fact that people should have known that the ticket would ultimately only take them to a shabby little grave on the outskirts of nothingness and bought them anyway, should tell us a lot about our current predicament. The idea that the Church sold them, even more.
We got further sidetracked when the Pope told Galileo to shut up about Copernican theory or be burned. This created the enmity that now exists between science and religion that has resulted in the idea that human beings are somehow a lot smarter than the creator of an infinite universe. These enlightened fools, while trying to maintain their own 'wokeness', thought it was a good idea to chain us all to a Newtonian treadmill that leads only to oblivion. Quantum physics has since proven that this was a bunch of bullshit, but, so far, they want to keep that knowledge to themselves even though it offers up a bridge back to more honest approach to dealing with humankind's spiritual needs.
And as foolish and vain as humans sometimes are, we fell for it all because we were able to make great margaritas with the blenders which science had provided. And as long as the McDonald's drive through was open, pizza could be delivered, alcohol bought and consumed in copious amounts, and nothing got between us and the Super Bowl, we were willing to let politicians handle the homeless problem while pretending that a disproportionate amount of the dirty wrinkled bills we pulled out of our pockets and threw at them wasn't ending up in their own pockets and the pockets of their cronies.
I don't like talking politics mainly because we always seem to blame and point our fingers in the opposite direction and away from the one person who has really come to exemplify the problem.
If we no longer have a middle inside of us which would allow us to hold our material needs in balance with our search for truth and meaning, how can we honestly expect for it to be restored in America?
Are we making ourselves stupid? Or, are we only being blind?
I had an epiphany once. There's no other way to say it. Some people look at you strange when you say that, mainly people who've never had one. What the heck? St. Paul had one. Descartes too. Archimedes and Isaac Newton had them too. I've pretty sure that Einstein had one, probably a few.
Wikipedia says that the word epiphany originally referred to gaining sudden insight through the intervention of the divine. Mystery schools and initiatory rites used to evoke them and Greek drama would purposely attempt to "induct the audience into states of catharsis or kenosis," where the theater goer would achieve a sudden and more penetrating insight of the play's message.
Wikipedia ironically goes on to state, "Today, this concept is more often used without such connotations," referring to the aspect of the intervention of the divine. I say ironically because whoever put that definition in and felt compelled to make it more palatable to modern taste by playing down the divine origin of such a sudden expansion of knowledge has also identified the problem with the concept of epiphanous insight and the modern age of clown school thinking. (My apologies to clowns.)
The Wikipedia definition then goes on to say, "but a popular implication remains that the epiphany is supernatural, as the discovery seems to come suddenly from the outside." This made me want to put a little asterisk and write the word, "Duh!" at the bottom of the page. However, it is really more of the case that the divine outside of us makes contact with the divine that is inside of us. And by divine, I mean all of the immense stuff of the universe that has yet to be spayed and neutered by the lab coated high priests of mediocrity in their insane worship of Groucho, the Roman God of burnt toast.
My epiphany was basically that I suddenly understood the power of the subconscious and its importance to the life of an individual. I know that it was real because I suddenly understood a whole bunch of shit that was always right in front of my face. How literature really works, the meaning and symbolism of the classic young adult novel Old Yeller, the meaning of the book Tuck Everlasting, the role of mythology in religion, what to tell my oldest daughter about her, at that time, impending move to Portland, and mainly the realization that most human beings on this planet are playing a dumbed down but slightly more complex version of Monopoly adapted to their own setting.
The saddest thing though was I suddenly found myself like Jim Carrey in The Truman Show realizing that most of the dialogue all around me was pure blather and that a lot of my friends and acquaintances spoke it fluently. It's not like everybody else around me were just actors in this movie; no, they were all Trumans too in their own little shows who had yet to notice the props and all the other clues.
The last few years of my teaching career were open rebellion , but not because I really wanted it to be that way. Our educational system, like pretty much all the rest of all our institutions, government agencies, and organizations seem to be just acting like the Mainstreet USA sets on the backlot of some bizarre Hollywood movie studio. Worst still, they were teaching our kids how to blather too.
I read this book The Divine Code of Life written by a Nobel Prize winning professor of biogenetics named Kazuo Murakami. In the book, the professor says that not only are we capable of altering our DNA for the better, but that we are also hardwired to be the best version of ourselves.
This to be the same exact message that Jesus is speaking of in the Parable of the Talents. It is at essence, the purpose of human life, "Become the best version of yourself." Not only religion, but mythology, fictional literature, quantum physics, and psychology seem to be echoing the same idea.
It could be thought of as a method of acquiring more bandwidth, a way of gaining download speed. In other words, being able to see and understand more elevated content without any of the ads for wart remover.
Murakami also said that there are things in life that keep "the switches" on in our DNA which allow us to change things for the better: humor, positive thinking, curiosity, a sense of wonder, and even some types of stress. It goes without saying that the opposite is also true. Frustration, negative thoughts, apathy, and too much stress and anxiety can keep the switches in the off position.
What this means in terms of education is that we need from day one to let all of our students know that the purpose of life isn't about gaining success in a material world, but that our very existence is predicated on the idea of realizing our best selves, and that true success lies in learning how to overcome obstacles in order to become your best self.
I wrote about this frequently and brought up at staff meetings too, only to be greeted a lot of grass chewing stares and the same lack of comprehension you recieve when you tell someone you just had an epiphany.
My attention floated back to this subject after I stumbled onto and an old blog post I had written back then. Afterwards, an article appeared on my Facebook timeline that pointed out just how badly that Common Core has failed in its purpose.
I thought, "Well, what did they expect from a political solution to a spiritual problem? What did they think was going to happen with a program that denigrated literature in favor of information gathering, a curriculum willing to throw meaning under the bus in order to kiss the ass of a data driven corporate America?"
At that moment I had another small epiphany, an understanding of something that has been right there all along.
I have been sheltering in place longer than Noah was on the Ark waiting for a sign from God. Hell, I didn't even want a white dove, all I wanted was to find something on television that didn't involve stupidity, fighting, screaming, laughing at other folk's misery, using sex to sell me something, gratuitous violence, fake news, etc. And it wasn't there find it.
Remember what Murakami said about keeping our switches on? American society seems to be more concerned with keeping us all in the dark.
Then there was an article about some policemen in Fresno arresting two people for going to a Waffle house during the lockdown. All of the comments I read on social media regarding the incident were as heated and angry as the public commentary that preceded the American Civil War.
Can you imagine what the history books are going to say, telling future people that the Second Civil War was triggered by the eating of waffles?
The news media has become even more blatently dishonest than the Soviet Union's. You can't say that our politicians behave like spoiled children without insulting spoiled children. They are like watching terrible, coke addled actors performing in a poorly written soap opera.
We have been watching the demented comedies and moronic TV shows that Hollywood produces for so long, that it shouldn't be any wonder that we are currently living in some extremely bizarre and dangerous reality show.
But what else should we expect when even a lowly Wikipedia content provider feels compelled to dumbsplain his/her use of the word divine?
My grandpa was once put on trial in Arkansas for a murder he didn't commit. The news coverage during the trial is widely credited with giving Arkansas the backwards image that it has in the American imagination.
Anytime you give a movie a name like Arkansas, you are implying something. I recently rented and reviewed a movie named Addicted to Fresno. It was a horrid piece of crap that basically played on the backwards image of Fresno to gather laughs. I'm pretty sure that none of people in that movie had ever been to Fresno.
It's truly not that great looking of a place, but I've seen parts of Los Angeles and San Francisco that made Fresno look like Aspen in comparison. The people in Fresno are not the hicks that late night talk show hosts poke fun of for cheap laughs. I think those jokes only indicate that the hosts are really not quite as funny as they might think.
That's why it surprised me to find out that first time director Clark Duke, who also starred in and co-wrote the screenplay with Andrew Boonkrong, is from Arkansas. If I wrote a movie about my neck of the woods, I would show all the warts and blemishes too, but the viewer would walk out of the theater at least knowing how much I loved the place too.
That kind of love was missing in this movie, and it made all the difference in the world as it pretty much was a missing any kind of a heart as well.
The movie really doesn't give you any reason to care about it one way or the other. So you don't. The only reason to somewhat invest something of yourself in it is because of the female lead Johnna who is ably played by Eden Brolin. Johnna was a good character, a faint glimpse of innocence, someone you could care about about, and even she ended up in Kentucky.
The movie packed some star power with Liam Hemsworth, Vince Vaughn, Duke, his brother Chandler, Michael Kenneth Williams, Vivica A. Fox, Eden Brolin, and John Malkovich. All of them did commendable jobs including the director as one of the two male leads.
Duke's performance was one of the bright spots because his character, a low level drug dealer, had some depth to him. He was witty and the more socially adapted of the two. He had an annoying porn star mustache though. Hemsworth's character, another low level drug dealer, brusque to the point of rudeness, simply lacked depth. Kyle Ribb was as shallow as the water in a kiddie pool. There was some attempt to rescue him by some selfless actions at the end, but it was not only too little, too late; his decision to accept his fate as a drug dealer at the very end, marked him as a low rent Tony Soprano or Al Swearengen wannabe, while lacking the personality of either.
And in my opinion, there are way too many of these monstrous motherfuckers being pushed on us already.
Vaughn and Malkovich both gave credible performances, but their characters were also too emotionally lacking to be compelling.
It wasn't the acting that failed, however, it was the narrative. The storyline couldn't carry the weight that it was expected to carry. The slow pacing failed to create adequate suspense and when combined with the lack of humanity in the Hemsworth character, nobody seemed to care enough to make the audience care. It was one of those movies that kept you mildly interested but not so much so that you didn't take fifteen minutes to make a sandwich in the middle of it.
Maybe the script was trying to say something about how the hardness of life in Arkansas turns you into a soulless zombie or something to that effect, but it was like it really didn't want fully commit to that concept. The script spread its net too widely in that regard and basically said that whole American South is something of a snakepit with Oklahoma City being the worst.
The high point of the movie came when Duke's character Svenn chastises Johnna for her obsession with celebrity. He goes on a rant that exposes modern culture for what it truly is, a cheap distraction that causes us a lot of us to lose faith in our lives and to mass project our fears and shame in the form of zombie and purge movies. To be honest, that thought has crossed my mind more than few times.
All I got to say is, it ain't just Arkansas, Duke. And it's even less fair to not place more emphasis on Hollywood's role in such a mass projection. Unless, that was what you were trying to say in the first place. In that case, I was fooled by the title.