Saturday, January 23, 2010

I Am A Light Bulb

I am a lightbulb. A self aware lightbulb. I am lit when I am born and I go out when I die. The light switch may be shower or faster depending on circumstances but that’s the general idea. As a self aware lightbulb I get more and more convinced of myself the longer I last. I learn about my lightbulbness through history lessons and civics classes at lightbulb school. I learn that I am an American lightbulb of the majority white light male variety and that I have certain privileges associated with that. Because I was made in the same shop as some of my elder bulbs I look like them and I come to see myself as part of the family. I develop family loyalties.

The longer I last before my filaments give out the more attached I become to my self definitions. I see myself as the culmination of thousand of years of historical lightbulb generations and I really feel my weight. I am important. Sometimes I think that something as important as I am can’t just quit so I look around for a way to salvage my self. What would I do without me?

Extra-natural theorists tell me that there is an after glow for bulbs like me. They say that under certain circumstances and after a certain exemplary lifetime I may continue on to another sphere of existence. I like this idea because it gives me more time to be with myself.

The nuts and bolds crowd tell me that I am only made of wire and glass and when I go out that’s it. This is disturbing to me because I don’t like the idea of seeing myself when I’m burnt out. I imagine sitting next to my lifeless bulb self for eternity. All that darkness. The first idea is better so I go for that one. There are some unscrupulous characters who pretend to have some secret knowledge and they try to frighten me with stories of bad places and after burnout miseries. They say that they can help me to stay in the good graces of the Great Candelabra so that I will more likely be recycled. I don’t know what to think, but just to play it safe I do the behaviors and tithe.

The realists say I’m being silly and the extra-naturalists say okay, but what if I’m wrong? Better to be on the safe side. So I walk the fence. I “keep an open mind.” Then one day I have a vision, a dream. And in that dream a magical electrician speaks to me and he makes a lot of sense. This is what he says.

First of all he says that being alive as a self awareness is like being a focused point of light. There has to be something to focus that light through, he says, and in my case its’ my lightbulb self. Before that self came into being the light was diffuse. Then he asks me if I can remember anything from before I was born. I say no and he says that’s because I didn’t exist. The “I” that he is referring to is the focus point that I call “me.” Through years of life as a fully operating focus point lightbulb I get used to myself and seriously define myself as a Subject. I won’t take no for an answer, I am Somebody, damn it! Then he says that at the moment of death the light doesn’t just go out it loses its focus point and goes diffuse again. This is because the wire and glass that is my physical bulbness craps out. There is no “me” to survive afterwards in any definition because “I” was the focus and that’s all gone now.

“What about my light,” I say, almost pleading for immortality?

He smiles and says, “It’s diffuse, gone like smoke.”

Then he tells me to imagine a glass of water and an eye dropper. He tells me to imagine putting the eye dropper in the glass and sucking up a little. Then squeeze until one drop hangs above the glass. “That’s you,” he says, “an individual. Now squeeze some more until that individual drop falls into the glass.” I see it in my mind. “It’s still there,” he says, “but you will never find it again. You can take another drop out of the glass but it will never be the same one.”

“I guess I’ll find out when I die,” I say and he says, “No you won’t. There will be no you to do the finding out. That’s the hardest part of this whole thing. But it’s very democratic. It happens the same way to everybody.”

I must have looked disappointed or something because put his hand on shoulder and said, “But there is an after life.”

“There is?”

“Of course. Just like Martin Luther King Jr’s afterlife is happening today. And Beethoven’s afterlife happens in the symphony halls. It’s what the world does with you after you’re gone.”

“Then some people don’t get one. Everybody can’t be famous. Most of us are anonymous.”

Again he smiled. “Everybody leaves and impression, everybody is essential. Beethoven wouldn’t have amounted to a hill of beans without an audience. And Martin Luther King Jr had to have all those people to march with and come hear him speak. Don’t fooled by spectacle.”

I had a realization, and then I woke up.

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Monday, January 18, 2010

This Is Not the Original Starbucks

Saturday, January 16, 2010

If There Is A God How Come We Don’t All Know About It?

The question in the title is simple and obvious but it doesn’t seem to get dealt with very much, at least not out in the open. Think about it: a one true deity (or 40, or 50 of them, depending on your version), all powerful, all knowing, always there at all times. Creator and destroyer, best friend and worst enemy. With a plan and a morality and a penal code for breaking commandments. The original source and the final destination. Wouldn’t we all know about it? Wouldn’t we all get born knowing? In the real world everybody knows about the wind, and the rain, and the sunset. It’s just there. Wouldn’t we also know about god? We all know that it hurts to get hit with a brick. Wouldn’t we also know about a great supernatural personality hovering right there over our shoulders?

Why do we have to be convinced? And why do those who are already convinced have to re-convince themselves over and over again? Are they afraid they’ll forget? Why is the most dangerous tool in the devil’s arsenal The Doubt? Isn’t the doubt just the first foot in the door to discovery? Wouldn’t we still have small pox if somebody didn’t doubt that it was incurable? Wouldn’t we still have slavery if some people hadn’t doubted that it was the natural order of things? And am I the only one who thinks it’s weird that Christians take credit for abolition when the institution itself was biblically sanctioned? Isn’t it almost impossibly crazy that slavery is both scripturally endorsed and condemned? Can you really have it both ways if you believe strongly enough?

Mother Teresa explained in diary how her purpose in Calcutta was to harvest souls for Jesus. She wasn’t there to heal the sick, or to alleviate their suffering. She didn’t even give people any pain medication. All they had was aspirin. And it wasn’t for of lack funds - when she got sick she got heart surgery and a pace maker. But treatment for the poor of Calcutta was never her intension. She was harvesting souls. And for that to happen people had to die first. That’s why she baptized them at the last minute. But again, if there is only one true story, one true god, why the baptism? What are they baptizing you away from? What other story are they protecting you from?

In the Bible, in Luke 19:27, King James version, Jesus is quoted as saying, “But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.” Is this really the Prince Of Peace? Damn! You could use a quote like that to do all sorts of damage. Columbus, the Inquisition, Salem. And you could truly say that you were a follower of Jesus. Yes you could! Pat Robertson is not a fake Christian, he is true to the fold. As was Jerry Falwell. You can wring your hands and ask for clarity, you can blame it on the translation, but the fact remains: these are the words that are attributed to the Lamb Of God in the book which was written by the Hand Of The Almighty. Scary, isn’t it?

I’ve been doing a lot of digging into this stuff over the past few years, as you can probably tell. I was raised agnostic and quite naturally became atheist over time. Anything else is embarrassing. It’s like walking through a smoky hall of mirrors, a land that is reflective of our own real world but does not actually connect to it. It informs the opinions and values of many of our fellow travelers but does not ever truly affect either the outcome or the beginnings of our situational existence. As far as I can tell religion by itself amounts to almost nothing. People gaze into the interior of colored Easter eggs and see angels. That’s fine. But when religion partners with politics, when it gets in bed with the State with all of its police, courts, armies, and so on – all of its thug force - now it becomes dangerous. Now we have the Dark Ages.

Billy Graham was the official State Magician of America for years. He ministered to several successive administrations. Whenever there was a war he was in the White House on his knees with the President praying for the success of the bombing raids. He had weekly lunches with Ronald Regan, talking about the end times, looking for signs in Middle Eastern affairs that would signal the approach of Armageddon. A nuclear war, they knew – and they said as much – would be good for god’s plan. It would bring on the Second Coming. Why was Billy Graham not publicly denounced as a dangerous psychopath? Is religion really that strong?

I think I might have an insight. I remember reading about a photographer back in the 1800s who traveled extensively throughout the West taking pictures. Sometimes it got dangerous. When they asked him how he kept safe he told then that if he found himself surrounded by hostiles he would play crazy and they would let him alone. There seems to be a universal human taboo against hurting crazy people. I used it myself once in New York City, 40 years ago. It was just instinct. I was surrounded by young toughs on a deserted street with no help in sight. One of them had a knife, I had nothing. So I played crazy, it felt like the right thing to do and it was. After a short harassment they left me alone. Is this what religion does? Do we tolerate madmen and obvious charlatans because they have faith? Do we feel sorry for them the way that we feel sorry for people with mental disabilities? Is it a no-go area like making fun of retarded people? It certainly seems so. When a devout person makes an obviously stupid faith-based comment most people get a little quieter and change the subject. Do the faithful do this on purpose?

Again, I am suggesting that religion itself is nothing, and nothing to worry about. It is the political power that counts. And I think that for the purposes of overall progress and the advancement of the human condition it is correct, at least at this point, to continue to use tolerance in the presence of such belief. But we must we very careful about where to draw the line. Religion should under no circumstances be allowed to infiltrate into our national affairs. They should stop swearing in Presidents on the Bible, they should stop opening congressional sessions with prayer, and they should take all magical references off of our money and documents. The State, if nothing else, must be atheist. In over 200 years we have elected no one other than male Christians. We finally have a black man in the White House, and that’s good. Some day a woman. Maybe some day a Buddhist, a Jew, a Hindu, even (gasp) a Muslem. Some day a lesbian, some day an openly gay man. And some day, some day an atheist.

A parting shot: One day about 20 years ago I stopped to get gas a local convenience store. A banjo player friend of mine who I hadn’t seen in ages suddenly stepped out of a blu van on the other side of the pump. He was wearing grease stained overalls and his hands were real dirty. Donny,” I said, “I haven’t seen you in ages, how are you? What you been doing?” “I just finished putting a new transmission in that van. I’ve been taking care of those two wonderful men,” he said, motioning toward the two figures in the van. “They are so wonderful! They don’t use money. They live entirely on faith!” “Donny,” I said, “you just did hours of work for them for nothing. At an auto shop it would have cost real money. They don’t live on faith – they live on labor like everybody else.” He looked at me like I just didn’t understand. And I still don’t

It’s like coming out of the cave after a long winter. There are still shadows everywhere, long solid arcs of darkness obscuring the countryside. We hear sounds but we can’t see what they are. We imagine things. We are prey to the carnivores. We stick close to the fire, we are afraid of the dark. But the sun is rising now and the day is getting light. The shadows are receding and the sounds are only the falling leaves or running squirrels. Disease is no longer demon possession, witch doctors are obsolete. We know that we are not the center of the universe, that there is no malevolent intelligence directing the floods and the earthquakes. We can take these ancient weights off of our shoulders and stand up straight. What a relief

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Nickelsville, and the Ugly Underbelly Of Seattle

Seattle was always a pretty good town, but it’s got a mean streak. Just ask the Wobblies, they’ll tell you. Or anybody who was here during the WTO. Or anybody these days in Nickelsville.

Seattle was a little salt water town when I got here, small and friendly. You could talk to almost anybody. I always sat down at the front of the bus and talked with the driver. You could spend an hour buying a tube of toothpaste in the drug store, telling stories, where you’re from, about the weather, anything. I once walked into KING TV and told them that I had a song they should put on the news and they did. It was human back then.

But there was always a group of people who wanted more. They wanted to be like New York, or Los Angeles. They wanted to be “something,” to have penthouses and limousines. They wanted Seattle to be on the map. Well, they got their wish. And they got all the arrogance and stupidity, the swagger and pomp that comes with it. New money is real full of itself. New money sticks out its chest and pushes people out of the way to get there first. New money thinks it deserves it.

Balzac once said, “behind every great fortune is a crime.” I think he was right. I’m not saying that everyone who is well off is a criminal, but I am saying that this is a criminal system and behind the boardroom doors are some real shady characters doing some real shady deals. Massive accumulations of money have to come from somewhere; somebody has to get along with less so that someone else can have more. It’s just common sense: There are four people in a life boat with four gallons of fresh water. The successful capitalist will gather up most of it, say three of those gallons. On TV and the game shows it looks like a winner, but in that life boat it just looks like greed.

So, on to Nickelsville…. We all know that poverty is an issue mostly of irritation as far as the media is concerned. In the depths of the system it serves a useful purpose, keeping wages down with a surplus labor pool willing to work for almost anything, and sending a fear through the private lives of those who might want to be socially inventive. “Better finish school or you could wind up like that!” But for the most part it’s just a nuisance. Who are these people and how dare they take up space in my clean city! I paid for it goddamnit! Get ‘em the hell out of here.

The Times ran a story a few days ago about Nickelsville being forced yet again to relocate, this time to a park. Same old same old. But the reader comments were really scary. And I can’t be the only one who finds it this way. Here’s an example: Some guy who calls himself “The Truncheon” said: “Time for the cops to unsheath their truncheons and get these bums ‘moved on’... to involuntary institutionalisation at De-Tox facilities, work-camps, or insane-asylums.” Someone called “tsgt” said: “Time for ICE and the SWAT teams to get THEIR truncheons out to clean up and DEPORT the illegals and their so-called ‘gangs’ (barbarian invaders).” I’m not making any of this up. “Vitamin G” said: “tsgt.. yeah, suppose your right on this one... maybe we can figure out how to make biodiesel with them... gotta have plenty of booze running through their pipes..” “Magog”says: “They should be sent to work camps and forced to earn their keep. All them jobs we give illegals can be theirs. they can shift though garbage all day sorting class items form plastic items and paper items. Minimum stay five years to make sure they sober up and learn to work for a living and stop asking people to pay their way.”

Now, aside from the obvious lack of viable mentalities in these folks there seems to be a truly nasty mean streak. I mean, these posters are actually suggesting things that would have been normal in the early days of the Reich. So I jumped in with my own two cents. I called myself “SongTool.” I don’t have my posting anymore – it was deleted by the moderator – but I can tell you generally that I referenced the postings above – especially the one from The Truncheon and I made a direct comparison to the early Nazi rantings. I was pretty clear. Now, above each posting is a link that says “log in to report abuse.” I assume that Mister The Truncheon reported me. Here’s his follow up after I was deleted:

“I see ‘song fool's’ pandering comments have been removed. Personally, even 'tho I was attacked, I don't see exactly why, other than being compared to a NAZI.

”That term and comparison get thrown around A LOT these days. The NAZI's were SO BAD that there is really no comparison at all. There is a BIG difference between stating a desire for, and solutions to, basic law and order requirements for society, and a genocidally brutal and sadistic police state.

”Read your history... also read some history about how civilizations rot and fall in part because of the breakdown of the rule of law, and the cancerous growth of anarchy in all it's guises.”

(Pandering? How did he come up with that…) The Truncheon makes the usual right winger’s leap – ignoring the fact that the regime started out small, with grotesque calls for the systematic bothering and eventual eradication of undesirables. First they talked about it, then they did it. In fact, an international precedent was set after the fall of Germany that to propagate genocide, in all of its forms and stages, was to be considered a crime against humanity. It was part of the Nuremburg Principles.

I wish I knew who these people were – The Truncheon, tsgt, Magog. But they remain nameless and hidden. And I would like to ask the moderator, or whoever it was who deleted my post, how it is that pointing out the historical similarities of somebody’s publicly expressed ideas to the ideas of fascism is somehow worse than calling for “the cops to unsheath their truncheons and get these bums ‘moved on’... to involuntary institutionalization…” I am not calling for the beating of homeless people – The Truncheon is!

The Truncheon – come out, come out wherever you are. You and your friends – come out and say these things in public. Let’s have a public conversation. Let’s have a round table discussion in front of an audience. I think that would be good. Not a debate, just a talk. How about it?

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Saturday, July 25, 2009

Goodbye Joe

Sad news: Joe Paquin has passed away, June 30th 2009. I got the email from TJ Politzer, old friend and mutual musician. Not much I can say, at least not any better than this – ripped off from the web site

“Our dear friend, Joe Paquin, lost his 6 year battle with cancer yesterday, June 30th 2009. At his side were fellow SunDogs Tom Rigney(Flambeaux) & Jimmy Hobson. Just Sunday he said "The Death Card was a tough one, but I revel in the Mystery of it all," showing his true bravery and continued curiosity for life and it's many faces. A Vietman Veteran, A Peace Activist, A husband, A father, A friend, and A great musician, Joe is survived by his wife Nancie, son Luke of the band Hot Hot Heat, and the many musical brothers & sisters he touched along the way. Joe was a resident of the town of Fillmore in Central California, and formerly called Marin County his home for over 10 years.”

Here’s the web site itself:

Everybody was on Joe’s side, how could you not be. That we had him with us as long as we did to inspire and to uplift with music humor and plain humanity is something to be thankful for.

Thanks Joe.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Joe Paquin

Speaking of great players… Let me introduce you to Joe Paquin. I’ve known Joe for a long time. He used to be in a Northwest hippie/country band back in the early seventies, I think they were called Swift Current. I played their breaks back then, along with everybody else’s, but never really hung out with them. Fast forward to the mid eighties and Joe’s playing with a California band called the Sundogs. He’s writing songs, playing electric guitar and washboard. My old friend TJ Politzer was also in that band and that’s how I got to be there. They a blending of Cajun, R&B, Funk, and straight ahead Rock and Roll. They were good. Anyway, I liked Joe’s song writing and we hung out a few times, even drinking a little red wine once to see if we could collaborate. We collaborated on the bottle but not much else happened.

Then time went by and Joe got sick. Stage four colon cancer, not a good thing. But Joe was a Marine in Vietnam and he’s hard to kill. He doesn’t lie down and give up when you tell him to. Besides, one of our mutual friends works at Genentech, a genetic research company just south of SF. Now, we all know people who make the sign of the cross at the mere mention of genetic research – all they can see if Frankenstein and the end of the world. Global mutations, creeping humanoid sludge and all that sci fi stuff. The truth is that Helga, that’s the friend’s name, goes to work every day thinking that this might be the day when they make that breakthrough and find the cure for cancer or aids or Hep C. No cures yet but there have been improvements. And Joe has become almost a poster child for the new medications. His attitude never goes cold and his will to survive is solid. Every time I see him he’s got something new.

A year or so ago I added one of Joe’s songs to my repertoire, a tune called Pray For Peace. It’s a great song, about a Vietnam vet who drinks all the time and prays for piece while he’s at it. I could never write a song like that because I didn’t have that experience, but Joe did and he lets me sing it. Thanks.

There’s another one I’m going to learn called Little Winnebago. It’s the only song I’ve ever heard that takes a positive view of people who travel in motor homes. It’s easy to trash them, and to trash the whole culture for that matter – it’s like trashing trailer parks and working class lifestyles in general - but if you spent 40 years working for some company and finally got to retire with a little money put away, you might just want to see the country in style. And you might just have earned it too.

So here’s a little You Tube clip to give you some idea. Go check him out, see him do a gig. You won’t be disappointed.

Pray For Peace

Just A Kid

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Friday, June 12, 2009

Time In San Francisco

I’m in San Francisco right now – have been for over a week and will be until the 21st. I love it here, it’s one of the most beautiful places on earth. I grew up down in Cupertino, so this is my old stomping grounds. I graduated high school in 1967, the Summer Of the Big Buzz, and flew right into the waiting arms of Augustus Stanley Owsley The Third! My brain cracked like an over excited light bulb, and I almost drowned in the stained glass worlds of extra dimensional holographic lucidities. It was the time of the home coming napalm terrors, with me and my childhood friends running in cosmic circles around and from the police, in all their many forms. Nothing was ever the same after that. I can go back there in a flash just by going to Golden gate Park.

I’m house sitting here for my friends Richard and Helga who are in Europe on Holidays. I have a few gigs around the area, making a little money so I don’t have to eat off of other people’s plates in the cafes. I played in Fairfax and San Anselmo, Santa Cruz and Pescadero. Soon I do a barbecue in Santa Clara and an Irish bar in san Francisco. Then a gig at winery in Murphy, in Sierra foothills. I drive back up north after that, stopping to see my dad in Medford.

I don’t know how I’m going to do it yet but I need to connect with Michael O Connelly, in Santa Cruz. He’s calling himself Michael O these days and plays with a harmonica player named Virgil Slaughter. (why can’t I have a name like that? What’s with this “Jim Page” nonsense? Why not Homer Destroyer, or William the Decimater?) Anyway, his gigs don’t seem to correspond with my empty spaces. Here’s a little You Tube thing to give you an idea. I go back 42 years with Michael O, and that kind of time doesn’t slide by easily. That carries some weight.

He and I were part of an amazing and magical scene down in Los Gatos in the late 60s. It was me, Michael O Connelly, Chris Ramey, Billy Dean, and Pat Simmons – it was unknown and invisible to anybody who wasn’t in the loop but it made a big impression on me. I left on New Years Day, 1970 – hit the hitch hiker’s road to New York City. The scene went on without me and people went their separate ways. Pat Simmons went on to form the Doobie Brothers. Chris Ramey became the greatest bar singer around, and had the drinking capacity to prove it. Billy Dean died while playing a three day biker party, the way I heard it. And O Connelly moved off into the distance, living in Central America for a while, and later on winding up in Amsterdam with one of life’s habits. Ramey’s dead now too, he passed on about 4 years ago, so there’s not many of us left. Just Pat, Michael and me. Michael was old friends with Robert Hunter, of Grateful Dead fame, and Ramey was one of the original Pranksters, so that’s how that circle goes. Life goes on and there are too many stories to ever all get told. Maybe some of them will leak out from time to time. Maybe I can help in the process.

Anyway, I promised to myself that I would get this blog thing going again. And I promised my writer friend Danny Morrison that I would practice. So here goes.