dark clouds hang heavy over the mountain,
birds circle silent in the sky.
shielded from the world by unearned wealth,
our old friends stayed teens until their 60’s,
faces unlined, hands soft,
they joined professions, raised children, without ever growing up.
mistaking stunted growth for everlasting youth,
untested and untempered by life,
ripe for the abuse of prescription drugs
and the grand promises of elective surgery.
they fear us because we don’t believe their rap,
they try to think their money makes them better humans,
but in their hearts they know we’ve outgrown them,
know we still live a glory they’ve hoped was just unreal dream.
grimly smiling through pickets of implanted teeth, they hang to the essential lie,
if only they’d had our privilege, they too would be doing something with their lives.
they refuse to see our fortune has been having less to spend,
has been knowing which modern madness to avoid.
they’ve forgotten good books train the brain to build a world,
that cooking feeds more than just the belly,
that doing something is different from having something done.
mornings we drink mugs of sweet hot chai,
afternoons there are pots of strong green tea.
every evening after dinner,
on one knee I ask her for her hand.
twenty years now our shared life has grown in magic,
where she ends and I begin, we long ago forgot.
another full day finished,
we wait for our sheets to warm.
outside wind sighs thru the aspens,
above stars burn in the deep cold night.
This song was born in sorrow and in anger.
Sorrow that so many people whom we’ve known for so many years are now so very miserable, bored, terrified, and preyed upon by their herds of damaged children.
Anger that so many of them have grown from their seeming early promise and integrity into large fatty self protective lumps.
Sorrow that so many of our old friends are obviously such ignorant, arrogant, unaccomplished, and uninteresting adults that albeit reluctantly we’ve been forced to chuck virtually all of them.
Anger that most of them have stubbornly refused to relate to us as humans with elegant, self reliant, and creative lives, preferring instead to see us as only lazy, privileged, failed refugees.
Still all of this powerful negative emotion should not in any way be surprising. After all I’m not singing about some abstract group, I’m singing about dear old friends, people I’ve known for years and decades who are now crashed and burning on the expensive rocks at the bottom of their expensive cliffs.
But grim though this situation is, and while occasionally we still kick ourselves for being so slow to understand it, really we must be thankful to have finally come to our senses, to have finally started seeing things for the way they are…
Because it’s absolutely clear that many of our friends have managed to turn winning into losing hands, and that despite being gifted with wealth, brains, and often even beauty, they’ve done astonishingly little with their lives. Even worse, by failing miserably to take advantage of their huge privilege, they’ve ended up by becoming shamefully tiny humans.
They live in a world where no one tries hard, indeed in a world where it’s distinctly uncool to do more than give the appearance of trying hard. It’s a world afflicted by a chronic fatigue syndrome of the spirit, a world where the aim of the game is to slide through on one’s inherited privilege until the finish line.
Of course all these folks who pat themselves on the back for being clever enough to correctly read the tea leaves and for refusing to be carried away by immature enthusiasm, are in fact making a terrible error. Even those who manage to tread their way into financially secure old age, arrive there without the tools or toughness to confront the terrifying problems against which money is powerless; boredom, meaninglessness, loneliness, weakness, and pain. Since for them everything has always been easy, when the going, as is inevitable, gets more difficult, since they’ve had no practice dealing with problems they’re just out of luck.
So they do what they’ve always done, rush out to the experts who then overmedicate them to control their blood pressure and depression, cut them up to relieve their joint pain, and who for very hefty fees are willing to extend to them false sympathy as they complain about their problems in unthreatening therapeutic situations.
The one thing they would never even think of doing is to make some significant change in their lives. Because they tell themselves that they have no problems, and in fact that they have done masterful jobs of living in the face of great difficulties. Indeed they’re quite sure they’ve never made any mistakes (except perhaps in the dim distant past) though they may suspect that they have occasionally erred on the side of being too brave, too generous, and too compassionate.
So certain are they of their spiritual stature that they congratulate themselves for accepting everything, loving everyone, being non judgmental and non materialistic, and for being generally open to life.
Of course since the truth is the exact opposite, that is that they’ve had free rides and blown all of their advantages, they can only continue to believe such horseshit because of their highly developed “not seeing” skills. Even though they all pride themselves on their self awareness, the fact is that they have virtually none. They ignore their own inner failings and turmoil just as thoroughly as they ignore those of the disasters who are their children. They even manage to ignore the all too obvious unfairness of their economic position. Like the good Germans who enjoyed their Vienna schnitzel even as Hitler was busy barbecuing, they manage to not see that their doing nothing is only made possible by other poorer people having to do too much.
And of course all this not seeing is just as important for understanding their mediocrity as is their not trying. In fact the two are cousin brothers.
Because not seeing tends to spread. What starts as a refusal to see their own problems and mistakes soon grows into a more general not seeing. And when they stop looking, they stop learning, until finally they even stop thinking. Which of course means they learn little from experience and never grow up.
But they just don’t want to be disturbed.
Sigh, it’s no wonder that their brains go soft.
It’s also no wonder that they run away from us as soon as they realize we don’t believe their rap. Because all of this not trying, not doing, not seeing, and not thinking is only sustainable if the foundation of one’s politeness is never questioning anyone else’s story. After all if one doubts someone else, one opens oneself to having questions asked about one’s own vital lies.
Far better to just take another sip of organic bird-friendly gourmet coffee and to piously mumble, “everyone is different”.
But it’s a clear case of better late than never. At least now having nearly cut our ties to the depressing leftovers of our past, we’re ready to move on into a more human and decent future.
And obviously this break out into freedom from our past is one of the things that all the songs so far posted on this blog have been exploring.
Still we feel they have an importance that goes way beyond the merely personal, since the class on which we’ve turned our backs, in addition to including many pitiful and relatively harmless people who are merely rotting while doing almost nothing on their inherited incomes, also includes some of the more dangerous types who have done and are doing real damage as professionals, doctors, professors, business men, politicians, artists, musicians, and media types…..
Because in all of the areas where these types of people are in charge, things are obviously falling apart and no longer running the way they should. Doctors remove organs belonging to the wrong patients, socks start wearing out after just one wash, pilots fall asleep at 40,000 feet, roads are full of potholes, people have forgotten how to read and think, there’s virtually nothing truly new in art or music, while everywhere folks just keep getting fatter and weaker.
Of course there are also moral arguments to be made about the unworthiness of the folks at the top, since the sad fact is that most of them have attitudes towards the rest of humanity that are downright slimy. Somehow they manage to live quite comfortably with their unearned privilege and somewhat pathetically they are off scale greedy even though their lack of self awareness means that in general they do a terrible job of buying themselves what they need. Not to mention that they are materialistic, self-righteous, arrogant, prejudiced, hypocritical, and lazy.
This is not the place to go into this in any detail, but as part of their general misunderstanding of life, religion, and spirituality, they completely fail to get the meaning of “self awareness”. This they think is some sort of quasi magical direct awareness of a hypothetical inner or core being. A kind of golden glow that comes from breaking one’s identification with one’s body and external socially conditioned self.
In fact it has nothing to do with this, but rather it involves knowing who you are so you can make sensible decisions about what you need and where you are going. It means learning stuff like what you can and can not do, what you really enjoy doing, what type of friends are good for you, and what type of exercise and activities are necessary to keep your mind and body from decaying….
As the zen folks put it, it means sleeping when you are sleepy and eating when you are hungry.
So “self awareness” rather than being some sort of mystical blissful state is the most down to earth practical type of knowledge. In simple language it boils down to wanting what you need.
It’s also worth noting that the exploding economic difference between those at the top and those who actually do the work contributes to a terrible prognosis for our civilization. Like a huge brain tumor, it is a symptom of rotten health, and indeed this sort of disparity has long been singled out as one of the clearest symptoms that a society is in deep trouble and that one way or another it’s about to be ushered off the stage of history. This seems to be especially true when as is the case during the current ongoing train wreck of the modern world, the unfairly rich have little but the size of their bank accounts to distinguish them from the oppressed masses, that is when the last vestiges of any elite culture have melted away. Nowadays those at the top watch the same mind numbing TV as our slum dwellers…..
However though we certainly do sing (and think) about all of this stuff, we feel that we are even more useful when we speak as individuals who having been raised and who lived our early lives among such “leaders of society” are in an excellent position to point out their human deficiencies. (Obviously here we are merely proceeding on the more general principle that art based on personal experience is always the most powerful.)
So our gut feeling continues to be that we should not focus too much of our creative attention on the statistical, economic, political or even moral arguments against inequality, and that instead we should concentrate more on the totally inferior lives led by most of our old friends who are now “enjoying” their fading years at the top.
Especially since we would have to agree that so far every effort to reduce inequality, every program of reform, and every revolution has failed when its leaders have deserted to the opposition as soon as they have succeeded (or inherited), and have then immediately gone for more subtly hidden and up to date versions of the undeserved and silly luxury which they used to condemn in those that they replaced (or joined).
This was certainly true after the failure of the counterculture when the leaders of the politicos, that is the folks who led the demonstrations, sold out before the ink had dried on their manifestos, and moved on to become stockbrokers and professors of revolutionology. Of course with hindsight it’s obvious that few of these folks ever had any real interest in radical change. That is they never wanted to change the system so much as they wanted to take over its leadership, or to say the same thing with a terminology we find useful, they were merely rebellious rather than being true revolutionaries….
And even today you have the pitiful sight of the leaders of the radical left blogosphere being completely comfortable with lifestyles where they eat most of their meals in restaurants (which they see as providing jobs for many “little people”), send their kids to private schools (or so-called “charter schools” which are really just private schools scamming money from the government… the important point is they feel their kids are too good to associate with “inferior” lower class children at public schools) travel everywhere all the time (burning up huge amounts of fossil fuels), use Mac computers (designed and marketed for those with more money than brains), turn into raw food faddists (which is big time expensive and demands intact teeth that have profited from a lifetime of expensive dentistry), hire personal trainers (because they lack the discipline to get into shape on their own), and even more shamefully that these official cheerleaders for change think that they are much better than the “average Joes” whom they feel it is their duty to educate.
However in all fairness most of those from the psychedelic flower child wing of the counterculture, that is most of the folks with whom I hung out and in whom I placed my hopes, sold out almost as completely when without the slightest hint of hesitation they transformed themselves into compassionate sensitive alternatives who bought large houses as soon as they inherited. These are the folks who support the organic industry by buying organic pastries, steaks, and wine. These are the hybrid driving folks who drink lattés in coffee shops as they discuss the plight of the homeless. These are the folks who love brown and yellow people so long as they are safely off on some distant continent, but who never have a friend who does not belong to their same race, or at least to their same wealthy social class….
(Note that because their critique was deeper and because they opened themselves to truly life changing experiences, a small number of ex-flower children have managed to retain their ideals and are still trying to live lives of simple harmony. By contrast, among the politicos the sell-out rate appears to have been 100%.)
Also for the moment at least we’d just as soon avoid arguing over whether the situation has really gotten worse, or whether it has always been this bad.
Certainly there are many from our past who would claim that there’s been no deterioration, and that they live wonderful frugal lives rich with culture and crowned by higher consciousness. But since these are the same arrogant incompetent folk whom we are now trying to eliminate from our lives, there doesn’t seem to be much point wasting energy trying to convince them of their folly. Since they are all certain that they are more insightful, spiritual, less privileged, and less materialistic than we are, they would never listen anyway.
Of course looking at things from where we are now, it’s pretty obvious that neither one of us ever really fit in with our birth class. As long ago as when we lived in India we were already being ostracized. It got to the point that the Japanese expats in our neighborhood would literally turn their backs and walk away as soon as they saw us, while in general over time our connection to other foreigners steadily evaporated even as we grew closer and closer to the locals.
But it was only shortly before the end of the millennium when we moved back to northern California, an area I’d long thought of as full of high minded types who were sincere about crafting new styles of living, that it started to become absolutely clear we were no longer on the same wavelength as most our old friends.
Because when expecting a warm welcome we moved into a town where I’d lived twice before and where there were still literally hundreds of people whom I had known for decades, we were shocked to discover that almost none of them wanted to have anything to do with us.
Which forced us to realize that most of them had aged past their periods of “voluntary poverty”, and that after having inherited and moved into proper houses had evolved into “higher types” who no longer wanted to have anything to do with “losers” like us.
Of course we weren’t really “losers”, and in fact it was an exciting and highly productive period of our life when we were taking our first steps in what empirically seems to be the almost impossible task of building a life in the first world after years of low budget third world expat existence (in our experience we’ve yet to meet anyone else who has successfully done this). It was when our instrument craft was exploding , when we were recording our first CD, when we were beginning to create a truly new music, and when we were honing the skills needed in expensive American society to live an elegant life on very little money.
But we were seriously broke and living in a lovely but rotting old trailer, and to my old friends for whom money had become the most important value (though of course they would have been furiously insulted if anyone had ever been rude enough to say something like this to them), that was a good enough reason to reject us. That and as I sing in my song because we were still living a dream they had long ago given up as impossible, a sin we compounded by refusing to believe their raps and preferring instead to look at their realities…..
Then there were others who didn’t inherit and for whom the poverty turned out to be real, who had started to lose their teeth because of inadequate dental care, and whose aging bods were no longer comfortable in the humble elegant hippy structures we’d all enjoyed living in during the 70’s. Well most of this group had been so ground down by physical hardship and the sneers of the voluntary poverty crew that they’d turned bitter and taken up permanent residence in their pain caves. And of course since we were upbeat and optimistic these folks also shunned us.
It was then that we started to realize the whole alternative rap was just a crock of shit. That the Green Party crew were for the most part just as firmly in the inherited privilege camp as the most reactionary Republicans………
Now ten years later, having moved from northern California, that hotbed of hypocrisy and “alternative” consciousness, to much less pretentious and more beautiful northern New Mexico, we are pursuing a policy of increasingly complete localization.
The chucking of our past is of course a kind of localization in time, but we’ve also realized that physical localization is just as important for the preservation of our sanity. So in the past 4 years only once have we gone more than 20 miles from our little town, while 2 days out of three we don’t even leave the property of our lovely rented house.
But why go anywhere when at home we can live in the supremely elegant and delightfully old fashioned world which we have fashioned for ourselves?
Our wonderful home cooked simple food is awesome, we are surrounded by green fields and flowers, the air we breath is clean, and except for our not very noisy refrigerator our environment is dead quiet. While as icing on our cake we have thought provoking books to read, we have wonderful magical instruments and a lovely recording system, we have an excellent working environment with two very functional computers, we have lovely neighbors, we have the birds, and we have each other.
And this is of course why over time our anger has tended to mellow into sadness.
Our poor old shrinking friends. They were given so much and they’ve ended up with so little…..
Meanwhile this is a song and a post that struggled to be born, not because of any musical problems, and not because of any troubles with the words, but rather because it was difficult to find the time to take the final steps towards their creation since we were hit by an overwhelming but badly needed flood of translation jobs (which fortunately for our localization policy we can do at home) which meant that these past three months we’ve been more than fully busy cranking out nearly 100,000 words of finished translations.
Of course our old fashioned belief that it’s not worth doing something unless you do it well, means we work slowly and refuse to cut corners, that is we refuse to “just write something” and we struggle with every knotty poorly written Japanese passage until we’re convinced that we’ve gotten as close to the original meaning as we are capable of getting. We even take the time to reproduce the formatting of the original text, which is something that many commercial translators flatly refuse to do, preferring instead to just run their translations straight down the lefthand margin.
But what to do. We need to eat, and now that we’re making enough money to dream about paying off debt accumulated last fall when the near total absence of work gave us the chance to start recording again and to create this new web presence, we must take it. There’s no one out there who’s about to help us, and we must just be thankful that in this rotten economy we seem to be in a position to help ourselves.