A Slideshow about Guilt: Personal, Collective, and a River in Egypt

A Slideshow about Guilt: Personal, Collective, and a River in Egypt

Also posted yesterday at The Daily Kos. I had a rather disturbing conversation the other day with someone I very much respect, someone—in fact—who has probably done more to improve my outlook on myself and even the world than anyone I have met in a long time. I had just shown him two slideshows, They Moved the Moon (about the California genocide of American Indians), and The Freshmen, a slideshow that started out as an attempt to find a foundation for dialogue in the pain that every individual inevitably experiences, but ended up being more like a prophecy of mutual doom amounting to a kind of self-genocide that would hardly be acknowledged (if ever) until it was far too late. He seemed to be saying that the problem was not with the world, but with me; and if I could just figure out the roots of my attraction to subjects like injustice, inequality, unmerited suffering, and genocide then everything would be—if not exactly all right—at least I wouldn’t be very concerned and therefore a happier, better adjusted human being.

I recognize that there is a good deal of truth in his point of view, I probably would be a happier, more well-adjusted human being, although probably never “normal,” at least in the normal sense of the word. This slideshow is to some extent a product of that conversation a few days ago, and I realize that I, with characteristic perversity, have responded to his call for more tightly focused self-exploration of my anxieties and fears with the goal of eventually forging a more optimistic perspective on life by doing exactly the opposite. While I wouldn’t have really thought it was possible for me to go darker after The Freshmen (which at least started out as an attempt to empathize with people I didn’t like very much at all), I think I may have managed it, in part by Guilt’s wider focus, and in part by its direct attempt to address subjects which are usually either suppressed, denied, or belittled in America: the toxic effect of social expectations and stereotypes, the use of a religion as a justification for exploiting and destroying the marginal and powerless, the silencing and even murder of those who dare to tell us truths we don’t want to hear, and the deliberate suppression of many of the more unpleasant parts of our own history that do not conform to our self-flattering image of ourselves, to our incessantly repeated mantra that “America is the greatest country in world” (I suppose it may be true, depending on what you think “greatest” means).

All of these slideshows essentially grow out of a subject (here, guilt) and a song (here, three songs). Perhaps not surprisingly I chose Marianne Faithfull’s song “Guilt,” originally released on her brilliant Broken English album, although this version is from a live performance on a late-eighties television show. I chose it largely because I thought the drums, and the propulsive drive of the song, were a bit sharper and crisper than on the original. This section largely deals with private and personal feelings of guilt, but also introduces some larger issues explored in the second section. For this next section, I chose a version of Iggy & the Stooges “Dirt,” originally released on the 1970 Funhouse album, although this one is from a 2011 live performance in Detroit, which I chose largely because of the late Ron Asheton’s stunning atonal guitar work. Here I really move into questions of collective responsibility for the way the world is and don’t really come to any cheery conclusions. The final section, to a large extent inspired by Arctic Monkeys “This House is a Circus” from their Favorite Worst Nightmare album (2007). The “house” in question is, of course, The White House, with Hair Furor being the embodiment and inevitable conclusion of the escalating fear, hatred, selfishness, and victimization that are undoubtedly hard-wired into human nature, merely waiting for the proper circumstances (unfortunately now) to bring them to full, poisonous fruition.

I would certainly understand if you decided not to watch something that I freely admit is pretty depressing (in fact, kudos to you for having read this far).  I should warn you that there are a couple of curse words (it is Iggy, after all), and one of them is even written out, a young woman flips off the camera, and a few of the images are disturbing, although probably not as bad as something you could see any day on cable TV. Personally, I’d rate it a PG. I hope you do watch it, in part because I think it works as an aesthetic object, in part because I think it is emotionally powerful and moving, and finally because they are pretty terrific versions of some pretty terrific songs.

Substitute: Richard Donald Milhouse John Nixon Trump

Substitute: Richard Donald Milhouse John Nixon Trump

Previously posted, in somewhat different form, on The Daily Kos. The Who song “Substitute” always seemed to be a perfect description of how I lived my life, displacing or substituting easier or less anxiety-producing people, goals, and life perspectives for ones that I seemed unwilling or unable to cope with. Studying medieval literature and religion thus substituted for the Catholicism I was raised in, my mentor became a kind of substitute father who I felt it was at least possible to please, and alcohol replaced romantic relationships. Everybody does this to some degree, in part simply because circumstances or the inner drives of our personalities force us to.

This slideshow applies this playful early Who song to our current president, who of course displaced Obama (displacement being basically part of how our political system is structured), a change that I believe represents a yearning to return to an even earlier time and president when—at least in the cultural memory of certain segments of the electorate—“other” people knew their place and ethical behavior was neither practiced nor really expected as long as a superficial respectability and deniability was maintained, even in the face of considerable factual evidence.

On a personal level, you don’t usually actually marry your Mom, but you might marry someone who styles their hair in a remarkably similar way; when booze loses its ability to depress your anxiety or create a false sense of self-confidence, you find other substances or life strategies to substitute for it. In its extreme form, you end up living a kind of fake life, in which legitimacy is conferred by status symbols and your ability to get other people—and by a kind of feedback loop even yourself—to accept them as authentic. Oh well, before digging myself into a hole I can’t get out of by pretending to a knowledge of human psychology and motive that I don’t actually have, here’s the brief slideshow. This is the 2nd version of “Substitute” from The BBC Sessions album (a kind of substitute “Substitute”), which I liked for its crispness, concision, and the overt sarcasm in Roger Daltrey’s vocals, which is much more muted in some of the group’s more pop recordings of the song. I kept the count in, possibly as a symbol of inevitable repetitiveness of such behavior, but mostly because it sounds pretty cool.

By the way, that rather cryptic photograph I picked to illustrate the lyric, “the simple things you see are all complicated,” showing Woody Guthrie, Trump looming over an apartment block, and Trump’s father Frederick, refers to this story, which I hadn’t been aware of before. Speaking of things I had not been aware of, here is a possibly even more danceable, and even more depressing vision than the one above. Here is a song–not from half a century ago, but from “Now,” that I ran into about five minutes ago, and was apparently first posted to YouTube two (now three) days ago. Wow. This so nails me, or at least the me of a just a few months ago.  It doesn’t help that the “viewer” character who ages during the video really comes to look like a thinner me, the fear is certainly there in the eyes, giving way to a kind of tired, hungover stare. If the Townshend song focuses on how substitution works in personal relationships, the Moby song wants to illustrate its psychological cost in the most devastating way possible.  Anyway, although I had nothing to do with this video, it seems to be about me, and this is a personal blog, so I’m posting it here.

Apart from a considerable production budget, Moby’s singing, writing, arranging talent, and producing his song and the video attached to it, and his rather penetrating ability to express the depressive mind and how it reacts to the world around it, what’s his got that mine hasn’t?

Two Slideshows about Trump

Two Slideshows about Trump

But you know I predicted it; I knew he had to fall.
How did it happen, I hope his sufferihng was small.
Tell me every detail, I’ve got to know it all,
And do you have a picture of the pain?

Phil Ochs, “The Crucifixion”

I really had planned on posting a nice, uplifting Donovan slideshow after last week’s horrific “War on Drugs,” but recent events kind of forced my hand. Some people will find much of the first (and some of the second humorous), although in a rather rueful, pained way (some people will be offended by both, but they probably aren’t likely to see them in the first place). The resignation of Scott Spicer as White House Press Secretary last week and the firing of Reince Priebus  as White Chief of Staff yesterday for having displeased Hair Furor, just made both of these terribly timely (The Pride Parade and Unhappy Anniversary have been previously published on The Daily Kos). Despite the introductory quote from Phil Ochs,  there is nothing particularly prophetic about predicting their downfall. This is simply what happens who choose to associate themselves with Trump. The title is partly a misnomer, because only the second slideshow is really about Trump; the first focuses on people in his orbit and explores his effect on them which–despite all the notoriety, temporary power, and occasional wealth their relationship with our fearless leader brings them–seems to be more traumatic than anything else.

As I suggest above, this slideshow focuses on those who hitch themselves to Donald’s star rather than Hair Furor himself. I consciously crafted it to generally fit the narrative of  one of Loudon Wainwright III’s older songs, “Unhappy Anniversary.” It basically is a love story told in reverse (sort of like Harold Pinter’s Betrayal), which I always assumed was a semi-autobiographical take on Loudon’s marriage to Kate Mcgarrigle (this was just an assumption on my part, I have no inside information). I had been playing with the idea of using it as a way of illustrating some parts of America falling out of and then in love with Trump (remember, we are going backwards in time). Anyway, this is the result (I think from late last May), and I am reasonably happy with how it turned out.

I realize that I am employing some awfully broad stereotypes here, particularly when I look at the “Trump voter” in general rather than at specific individuals, and for that I apologize if anyone is offended. For all I know, the poor whites in those photographs didn’t vote for Trump (and much of his support came from people–usually white people–who were not impoverished at all); it is at least as likely that the poor people didn’t vote at all, and I suppose it is at least conceivable that one or more of them voted for Hillary. In a similar vein, I suspect that the woman in the photograph at the top of this diary is in fact expressing ecstasy rather than horror at suddenly being within touching distance of her American idol; it’s probably an accident of timing that it comes across as horror in the photograph. Still, it was too good not to use.

As the Firesign Theater said, “Forward, into the Past!”  This slideshow I made over a year ago (actually the first one I did, I think with iDVD rather than iMovie, which is why it tends to use different kinds of technical effects), at the beginning of April 2016, when it was only starting to become apparent how popular Hair Furor really was. Its obvious intent was to persuade people not to vote for Trump, and its lack of success is probably a pretty good measure of my power and influence. Looking at it now, though, I am struck by  how sympathetic it was to our current president, who–through circumsances, his own choices, as well as their consequences–became the person he is. The sympathy is mostly the result of Don Mclean‘s brilliant, scathing, and little heard song, although I do seem to have chosen a number of photos in which the then-presidential candidate looks distinctly depressed and–therefore–a possible object of empathy.

The following is from my introduction to the video on YouTube:  A slideshow on the life of Donald Trump. Set to “The Pride Parade” by Don Mclean. The song is from the album “Don Maclean,” which was the follow up album to his massively successful “American Pie” (still widely available on DVD). I had always assumed the song was an immensely probing, rather cynical self-evaluation following his sudden success. It obviously has a much more universal application than that, as I hope this slideshow shows (frankly, it always seemed to be about me); however, it applies quite well to our own Hair Furor.

By the way, although I obviously made it to convince people not to vote for Trump, I have to admit I now see it as profoundly empathetic to him, not as a presidential candidate, but as a suffering, isolated human being (apparently he does have an almost pathological fear of being alone). By the way, a few footnotes, the guy with the moustache early in the slide show is Trump’s father, Frederick Trump (slumlord and, apparently, KKK member). The really creepy looking guy sitting in the wing chair holding the American flag is Roy Cohn, Trump’s acknowledged mentor in dirty tricks and a self-loathing homosexual (he has a big part in Tony Kushner’s Angels in America), he also appears in a number of pictures with Trump indulging in New York City night life–I know Trump is supposed to be a teetotaler, but he sure looks stoned to me); the guy in the mug shot is Jeffrey Epstein, financier and noted pedophile. Trump has at various times claimed to be one of his best friends, and other times to have never met him. I think he was the man who procured the 13 year old girl that Trump is alleged to have raped back in the nineties (to be fair, apparently he also did some procuring for Bill Clinton too). The guy in the hospital bed that Trump appears to be looking at (they are actually two separate photos) is a very young John McCain (you might remember there was something of a controversy when Trump said McCain was no hero; only losers are POWs, after all). I am assuming you recognize Ronald Reagan, Ben Carson, and Chris Christie (I’m still impressed by that photograph of Christie talking to Trump; I didn’t even think it was possible to get a fake, forced laugh across in a still photo, but it actually does). The guy Trump is shaking hands with in the photograph above the one where he calls Fox News viewers the dumbest voters in America is David Bossie, the head of Citizen’s United (he is basically the one who opened the floodgates to money taking over U.S. politics, which of course it was well on the way to doing anyway). He also apparently helped Trump set up his campaign and hire his first group of campaign staff, as the Donald tried to assuage his wounded ego by running.

Next week, I promise something more upbeat, unless–of course–events intervene.


Dead Man (Trump ed.): A Slideshow about Mortality

Dead Man (Trump ed.): A Slideshow about Mortality

I was seven when I first became aware of my own mortality. I was looking at my hand, and I suddenly became aware of all the fine lines, virtually webs of wrinkles on my hand. All at once, getting older was not something to look forward too, a future in which I had ever greater control over myself and my environment, but instead one in which my body would deteriorate, wither, and die, and that it was a process that would occur regardless of my desires or best efforts, which might  (with some luck) temporarily put off but never avoid my inevitable extinction. It was as if my whole perspective on my existence pivoted around the focal point that was my hand, and nothing would ever be quite the same again.

What I am describing, of course, is the near universal experience (assuming you live long enough) of apprehending my own mortality, essentially my first encounter with existential dread.  I was immediately struck by Loudon Wainwright III’s song, “Dead Man,” which I first heard a few days ago, a song that seems to have been inspired by his father’s death and going through his father’s effects at some time after the funeral. As is so often the case with Loudon’s songs, I was immediately struck by a painful honesty, leavened with his characteristic humor, and an absolute willingness to apply his insights to his own life.

The slideshow began as an exploration of universal human experience, but I realized that one could apply it to Hair Furor, and that is what I do in this version (I get a certain schadenfreude from imagining his horror if he ever saw it, which I know perfectly well is extremely unlikely). The images I picked to illustrate the first two verses are intended to illustrate mortality’s universality, while the last verse focuses more on our current leader. However, the insights apply to all human beings, including myself, and I suspect I’ll be doing another version with photographs of myself in the final section. In any case, I hope you appreciate the song (the brilliant lead guitar work is courtesy of Richard Thompson) and aren’t offended by the slide show, which will probably make some people uncomfortable, more because of the issues it explores than any particularly graphic image.