Be The Camera

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There’s no overestimating the influence William Burroughs has had on modern literature. Probably the greatest writer of the last half of the 20th Century, he has confounded as many readers as he has enlightened. Endowed with immeasurable freedom of expression, he’s a true trailblazer, an eerily perceptive renaissance artist, carving an unconventional path of wisdom for future societies.

After I read ‘Naked Lunch,’ his most renown work, I put the book down and asked myself, “What the hell am I going to write now?” It was as if everything of value a writer could express was snatched away forever, utterly failing to remotely approach his brute honesty, creativity, and sarcastic truths. Much of his fiction is very difficult to read, but there is always something wonderful to glean with enough patience. His non-fiction is superb, as are his interviews. He’s got quite a presence on You Tube- what I’ve selected here is a great example of his humor and powerful ideas.

No God’s A Man

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When I first saw on television in 2003 that the United States was invading Iraq, I grabbed the remote and muttered to myself what I always do whenever we use military force in the world: “Where are those Get Smart re-runs?”

It is true—the more you watch Get Smart the more you understand KAOS and its effect on the planet. You learn KAOS is omnipresent and CONTROL a myth, at least as far as human activity is concerned. However, the universe, and universes beyond, all the way to Univers Zero, experience chaos and control simultaneously. In other words, they experience objective order. You could say Maxwell Smart encapsulates in human form how the universe operates, manifesting chaos and order in the same instant.

The more the U.S. tries to CONTROL the Middle East, the more KAOS ensues, and the more recalcitrant that region of the world becomes. We ought to see the incongruities and damage this suffocation produces. The ideology any powerful nation uses to protect or advance their interests, essentially can be interpreted as, “Those little children over there won’t play ball with us, so they must be spanked.” Or, “That tiny country over there, you know, the one you can barely see on a map, is threatening our illusion we possess various freedoms, and must be stopped by whatever means necessary.”

This won’t be an essay about the brutality of extreme American foreign policies, Mr. and Mrs. Patriot, so don’t click me away just yet. I won’t go on about how our leaders purposely choose the intelligence to support their ambitions overseas, while ignoring opposing intelligence entirely without debate.

I won’t argue how undemocratic any decision to go to war is without robust, comprehensive congressional dialog, or how no serious conversation, concerning grave matters such as war, among our leaders and the populace ever takes place. It really doesn’t matter what Joe and Mary Twelvepack think about anything until it’s time they head for the polls. Then you’ll see a barrage of images showing politicians talking to people on the streets as if they’re actually concerned for their welfare. You’ll see them yapping in restaurants, schools, fire and police departments, senior citizen living centers, and hospitals. You might even see one throw out an excruciatingly horrible pitch before a baseball game. Then, when the election ends, you’ll only see them yapping in front of a camera. I repeat, I’m not going to go into all that.

What I will do instead, is let a progressive rock album very near and dear to my heart, Gentle Giant’s The Power and the Glory, do it for me.

The best vantage point in which to view the problems that beset humanity is from satellite distance. Gentle Giant does this superbly with the album’s general theme—despotic rulers and the people who blindly follow them. At the time the album came out (1974), corrupt kingdoms and the evils of war were already a tired theme running through progressive music, and to look at the cover you might think you were getting more of the same. Not from GG. There is much more going on here.

The concept of King, represented on the cover as the king of spades from a deck of cards, suggests this charade between ruler and servant is nothing but a game. The king has shifty eyes and a worrisome look, however, ready to draw his sword. This is not an interplay for the faint of heart. Throughout his rule (the analogy of course applies to a queen as well), the king knows he must have his head on a swivel, lest it be chopped off.

The game is the conquest of power and glory—never for money. Money is a prerequisite for holding an elevated position. The poor can never seek high rank in government. Additionally, there can’t be power and glory if there is not the conquest and domination of other nations. Where is the far-reaching power and glory in simply helping your own countrymen live better lives with an all-encompassing, well implemented domestic policy? No, it’s only found in expansionism—confiscating as many natural resources, pillaging as much freedom, and ending however many lives as necessary, so the mighty can stand as tall as they desire.

In the song So Sincere, we see how a leader deceives the population with false pretenses and empty rhetoric. The goal is to maintain an ideal, or fulfill a mission of exploitation. These vary from politician to politician, and from century to century, but the bewildered herd is only given enough consideration to prevent the collapse of society, never enough of it to noticeably improve the quality of their lives. So, an aggressive government’s quest for power and glory is fought on two fronts; with weaker nations it knows it can defeat, and with its own people.

Aspirations is an remarkable song. It’s about the citizenry relinquishing power to politicians, essentially placing their own lives in the greasy palms of their hands. The melody is haunting, sung with a sense of surrender. There are no answers except for ones their leaders provide. It’s a beautiful piece of music, fitting well in a funeral procession. Immediately after 9/11, I envisioned America singing this to our president, in near full unison, similarly how billions of people have “sung” to their leaders throughout history in the midst of harsh circumstances:

As the dust settles, see our dreams,

all coming true it depends on you,

If our times, they are troubled times,

show us the way, tell us what to do.

Be our guide, our light and our way of life

and let the world see the way we lead our way

Hopes, dreams, dreaming that all our sorrows gone

forever.

This surrendering is the beginning of the end in the quest for a just society. The people have given their government a get out of jail free card, allowing them to act with impunity however they see fit.

Leaders, therefore, can continue Playing the Game, another gem on the album. Infused with total confidence from the people’s unwillingness to thoroughly examine how they are being maneuvered, rulers are convinced they not only are doing the will of the people, but of God as well. Retribution is quick and deadly, in many cases cruel beyond belief. In the eyes of the powerful, CONTROL is rarely arbitrary, but an operation planned well in advance.

A lyric in Playing the Game is especially interesting;

All my games are won before they’re played for… I have planned that no opposition can stage a fight.

A country bent on tyrannical acquisition always picks on someone they can handle. That philosophy is dangerously self-defeating, for instance, if America had designs on invading China.

Ignorance is a permanent fixture to the machinations of government, as it will always be in the thought process of the citizens it supposedly serves, even for dedicated seekers of justice, such as Maxwell Smart. For example, in one scene from the show, Max is in the Chief’s office talking to him about the kidnapping of Agent 99 by Kaos.

“Where do you think they have her hidden, Chief?” Max asks.

“Come over here, I’ll show you.” The Chief walks in back of his desk, presses a button, and the walls begin to separate. We see a glimpse of what will be a large map.

“They have her hidden behind the wall, Chief?” Max asks, as the Chief sadly shakes his head.

A population’s analysis in choosing worthy leaders is continually off the mark. They may pick an adequate candidate once in a blue moon, but any success achieved from this clumsy alliance, as in the success of Maxwell Smart, is usually the result of sheer luck. History has proven there is as much incompetence in electing as leading.

In the end, despite all the destruction and death, nothing has really taken place. It’s a continuous loop where events will always play out exactly the same way. Strong country must get stronger or die. It gobbles up weaker countries, either literally or figuratively. Small risk, but over time, perhaps centuries, big reward. And big business. The weak remain in perpetual poverty. Entropy, though, will take hold sooner or later, and the mighty will turn weak, or at least weaker. Eventually, no matter what good has been accomplished during the reign of a ruler, the people eventually will tell him to go. Other well connected politicians in search of The Power And The Glory pop up out of nowhere to rule, heralding their own Proclamation of being So Sincere with Aspirations of Playing The Game. The wheel slowly turns around, everyone afraid to jump off.

Fifth Avenue Boogie

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I don’t think much about the afterlife. Outside stimuli poke and grind our psyche from day one, shaping what we will become and how we function. Our universal concept as a single ego-entity, rather than thousands of identities inhabiting one body, is solidified and strengthened on a daily basis. Our belief systems become so impenetrable a sledgehammer cannot crack them open. Therefore, in regard to knowledge, it’s best to determine as early as possible, and more importantly, what not to stuff our minds with, than what to put in.

However, if there is a next life, I hope I live it as a musician. Music is probably more important to me than writing. If I had the discipline for it when I was younger, I wouldn’t have turned to putting words on paper. I think in terms of music’s relationship with daily existence, as my soon to be released collection of stories will show. So… one day while pondering the impending implosion of Trump’s presidency, I thought of the perfect ‘Official Impeachment Song’ to accompany the event. From song title to the final sullen, empty acoustic guitar notes, Steve Hackett’s, ‘A Tower Struck Down’ has it all: death march chord sequences, hypnotic soloing, touches of the absurd, and crowd noise recalling 20th Century brutality. The lasting effect is certainly one of a dystopian nightmare. As always, for the best results, play it loud.