Anyone who knew me from 1982-85 knows how much I loved the English 2-Tone Ska band The (English) Beat. I played their records relentlessly and found so much joy from their wildly danceable and peppy tunes. Roger was just a couple months older than I am when he passed yesterday, and losing one of my favorite music stars from my youth is of course hard to take, but especially for this eternally-positive frontman for one of my all-time favorite bands. The Beat brought me so much pure fun in my youth. Sad to see you pass, dear Roger, you were such an icon of style and unpretentious cool in the early 80s. I bought my first porkpie hat and wraparound Ray-bans after seeing Roger on MTV. Ranking Full Stop indeed, mate. Rest in peace.
There’s not much to report these days except that I’m happily enjoying my time in Valencia, where I spend my days riding bicycles, reading from a large list of books I have wanted to read for ages, practicing my conversational Spanish, eating great food, and socializing with my new friends here. I’ve been off Facebook for a year now and I can say with great certainty that I shall not return to it. I have to return home soon, but my time here in Spain has greatly improved my physical and mental well being, something I needed desperately after a hectic fall and winter work schedule back in the USA. I wish everyone the best and you can reach me through email if you know it.
I quit Facebook ten months ago, plus I’ve taken my life as private as one can these days of rampant privacy invasion, social media, etc. No bother.
I’m 55 years old and as healthy as I have been in a long, long time due to a rigorous exercise and diet campaign since last February. Work is going well, we just finished our second largest project, a superb automated warehouse for Kroger and Vitacost. I’ve met a few deliciously gorgeous women in Las Vegas, Cincinnati, and here in Philly. Of course, nothing serious, just lots of fun. Perhaps some day I’ll settle down with just one. I’m off to Spain for a couple of months as soon as I can get away.
Life is good. Email me if you want to talk more.
A Declaration of (non)Faith
My atheism has been the easiest intellectual decision of my life, a view I’ve held since I began forming conscious memories as a child; indeed, I honestly have no recollection of ever seriously believing in god. After all these years of non-belief, and not once wavering, I’d say I’m just not wired for belief in god, gods, religion, or “spirituality,” whatever that means or entails. I’ll be even more honest in saying that it has required little or no contentious thought, or intellectual effort, to be atheistic. I just am.
However, atheism is also difficult intellectually because, in denying the power of god, gods, and religion, and all the intellectual certainty that comes from such belief systems, doubt plays a much heavier role in how atheists view everything. But, to be honest, I welcome the doubts as one of the greatest gifts of pure freedom we humans possess, but are mostly afraid to confront.
Atheism is neither a “religion” nor school of thought. It simply means not believing in god, or gods, or a spiritual existence of any kind. Moreover, I don’t belong to any kind of organization, movement, or group associated with atheism, nor do I follow any leaders or gurus. On this matter I am completely and wholly on my own, a free-thinking, free-living individual, alone in my (non)belief system, willing to stand on my own two feet and face the world on my own intellectual terms.
Ever since the Age of Enlightenment, and especially since the formation of the United States of America, with its brilliant First Amendment Establishment and Free Exercise clauses (which have made the USA a secular nation by law), organized religion has slowly lost its ability to coerce belief from a position of power and authority, and eventually more and more people have slipped through the cracks of the religious majority. With each new generation the number of non-believers grows, and with each new generation the oppression, abuse, and denial of rights by the religious majority upon the non-believers has been reduced through countless challenges to, and victories over, unconstitutional laws that supported the religious majority.
To me, atheism is simply the last—and most important—step to complete freedom and liberty. The formation of the USA was the first step in creating a democratic republic free from the rule and power of the Ancien Régime that lorded over Europe since the fall of the Roman Empire and enslaved a vast majority of the people. However, in the last 200 years the USA, while ridding itself of kings, princes, dukes, and other hereditary rulers, could not quite become the secular state it intended itself to be by its founders. Religion, though not formally sanctioned by the government, still found ways to exert its power over the people simply because a vast majority of American citizens supported religious authority over the supposedly secular institutions and power structures of American government.
Luckily, a brave few have challenged religious authority in American governance by appealing to our excellent check against majority power, which is the judicial branch of our government, and it has been in the courts where religious authority and power over the secular government has been defeated and denied. America is not a theocracy ruled by the Christian majority, and although secularism was the original intent of its founders, it didn’t truly come to pass until late in the 20th Century after many contentious court battles and judgments, many of which were extremely unpopular with the Christian majority.
Atheism, however, goes one step beyond that in establishing freedom for individuals. Ultimately, religious belief is an individual intellectual choice. In choosing to believe in religions, individuals subjugate and submit themselves willingly to a higher power and authority, whether spiritual or temporal, or both. Whether religious people will admit it or not, this subjugation to a higher power and authority begins to strip them of their intellectual freedom and individuality, creating for them a “safe” belief system free from doubt and filled with absolute certainty egged on by false hope, group think and coercion, and phony religious fables, hotly writ, and folklore masked as dogma and, to a lesser extend, philosophy.
Atheism frees an individual from subjugation and submission to any and all authority, spiritual and temporal. For me, this choice was made easier simply because my not believing in god, gods, religion, or spirituality was never challenged by much internal intellectual debate or contentious thought. For me it was more or less inherently embedded in my intellect that I do not believe. All the evidence presented in my life trying to change my mind and coerce me to believe was rejected as easily as my mind rejects fairy tales, folklore, and phony or fallacious philosophies. I have little room for sophistry in my intellectual world, especially religious sophistry.
Pardon me for sounding arrogant here, but maybe the next step in the evolution of the human mind begins with the rational mind gaining better control over the irrational. Maybe that’s why religion, god, gods, and spirituality—or, for that matter, any kind of superstition or supernatural thinking—have never gained even a weak foothold in my intellectual being. Maybe my mind is less encumbered, by design, with irrationality and illogical thinking. I think more and more humans will be wired this way in the future. I’m one of the lucky ones who got it early in the curve.
Here’s what I have difficulty expressing to the believers out there: It’s not just that I don’t believe, it’s also that I don’t, even for one millisecond, understand your religious beliefs at any intellectual level. It makes absolutely no sense to me. It never did. Moreover, while I certainly respect your right to believe whatever you want, the truth is I do not, and never will, respect your beliefs. But I also agree true freedom means you are more than welcome to worship and believe as you want. Moreover I am not like Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, or the late Christopher Hitches, public intellectuals who expended great energy and bluster in public forums and in print denouncing and debunking religious belief rather contentiously. I do not feel the need to tell you how good or bad, or right or wrong, your beliefs may be. I just simply say, whatever you believe, go for it; I shall leave you alone to your beliefs and faith. Just leave me alone because I have no religion or religious beliefs or faith in such things. Deal?
I will state this very clearly: do not trample on my Constitutional rights, or try to force me by law to adhere to or follow your beliefs. Do not try to establish a theocracy in the USA. In fact, make no attempt to even evangelize or proselytize your faith to me; rest assured I will never believe what you believe no matter how hard you try to convince or compel me. If you do not heed my warnings to not intrude in my free life with your religions and faiths, you will regret that deeply, I assure you.
This isn’t an essay about morality, right vs. wrong, good vs. evil, or even the primacy of belief vs. non-belief in the shaping of a culture or society. I am merely declaring, as simply as I can state it, my non-belief. I don’t have great certainty about much in this universe in which I live, especially about the existence of god, or gods, or spiritual beings, I am just certain I don’t believe in them, nor has anything in my 55 years of living done much to change that view. And I refuse to take leaps of faith that violate my logic and reason.
So here I am. An atheist in full.
Tommy perfected the art of the AM-radio-friendly 3-minute pop song like few others from the 60s. His songs were masterpieces of musical simplicity and endearingly groovy melodies that were finger-snapping cool, energetically sexy, and dance-friendly, helping to get the girls on the dance floor and smiling. Hippies, greasers, jocks, and goody-two-shoes all loved these songs. And the chicks, forget about it: Tommy’s tunes moistened a whole generation of female underpants.
Moreover, every cover of a Tommy James song turned out to be cool too for the 80s generation, by such artists as Joan Jett and Billy idol; even Tiffany’s cheesy-peppy-dorky teen mall rat cover of “I Think We’re Alone Now” was annoyingly decent, though you’d have never admitted it to your hipster indie rock friends. But you know you secretly wiggled your butt to it. I wiggled my bootie to it, you pretentious motherfuckers, though mainly because the German hottie I was dating the summer of ’87 loved it. You should have seen Tanya dancing around my apartment in her panties while Tiffany’s version played on the French radio station I frequently blasted on my stereo. Magic, pure magic. Sue me, bitches.
Here are some of his gems:
Crystal Blue Persuasion (1969)
The Summer of 1969; I was 6. My family was visiting my Uncle Don’s lake house near Sturgis, Michigan, every day at this glorious locale spent swimming and sunning, then at night we had sumptuous cookouts and lots of fun family time, Uncle Don often reminiscing fantastically epic stories of his and my Dad’s youth in South-side Chicago during the Great Depression. I have vivid memories of seeing horrible reports on TV news about the battle for Hamburger Hill in ‘Nam, then watching the Apollo 11 Moon landing, which was one of the greatest experiences of my life. This song was on the radio that magical summer like a guiding beautiful light passing through all the good and bad, uniting life into a glorious sonic cacophony and visual kaleidoscope of psycadelic technicolor perfection. Some memories are better than others.
Mony Mony (1968)
Even now, 50 years later, I still can picture in my mind groovy hippie chicks in mini skirts and knee-length go-go boots dancing lasciviously to this hip little ditty with it’s snappy snare-and-handclaps beat and the tamborurine-led magic of its bridge. And Tommy wailing with his blue-eyed soulful pipes, not quite as badass as Otis Redding or Marvin Gaye or James Brown, but not bad for a whiteboy from southern Michigan. Back in the day you played this at a party to get the gang pepped up and dancing like fools. Billy Idol’s cover of this in the 80s was a sing-along staple in bars and pubs worldwide, with “Drink, get laid, get drunk, get FUCKED!” added by the singing-along crowd during each vocal-less guitar break, and of course “FUCKING BULLSHIT!” sung between the pauses in the chorus instead of “Mony Mony.” Good times.
Hanky Panky (1966)
Along with Louie, Louie, this was the epitome of lo-fi American garage rock. How many kegs were tapped at 1960s frat parties while this was blasting out of cheap record players as frolicking girls twisted and wiggled to its snappy beat? LOTS. The song was naughty in a clean-cut, white-bread way, and yet I am sure the evangelical Jesus freaks swore this was the opening salvo of Babylon taking hold of American hippie youth. Sure, the evangelicals knew black folk had been dirty dancing to their satanic R&B for a decade, but now the white kids were shaking their asses like those dirty negroes, ergo culture was collapsing. Bravo.
I Think We’re Alone Now (1966)
Bubblegum pop perfection. That goddamn bass line just ROCKS, and even an idiot can learn the one-finger organ line in about five minutes. There’s nothing fancy here, just a driving 4/4 beat and cool pop magic that made Tommy the master of AM radio. I stole this 45 from one of my sisters and played the crap out of it on our family’s hi-fi console when I was about 5, dancing around the house like a demon. So maybe in a small way I am channeling that little kid’s memory some 50 years later.
Crimson and Clover (1968)
The Summer of Love was dominated by San Francisco psychedelia-crazy hippies who made great music but were also pretentious douchebags. Tommy took that LSD-driven imagery and placed it into an AM-friendly format that proved he could be as cool as those silly San Fran fucks but without all the annoyingly tedious pretense. The result was some great music, such as this song and the wonderful Crystal Blue Persuasion, two great hippie songs if ever that really meant anything. Even the wankers from The Dead and Jefferson Airplane and Moby Grape probably smiled every time this song played on the radio, and at the end they all muttered, “Well played, Mr. James, well played!”
Draggin’ the Line (1971)
By the early 70s AM and FM radio were polar opposites, culturally; FM was where the cool kids played while AM was the home to Country and bad, corny Pop. Tommy James, who was brilliant in both formats, had one last great tune to unleash on the airwaves of both with this snappy, groovy little pop song that rode up the charts merely because it’s awesome. He proved that, despite the popularity of LP albums and 18-minute Yes songs with ponderously boring instrument solos that dragged on forever, there was still a place for the 3-minute pop song, especially cool ones—Tommy James’s forte.
Ah, Rock & Roll. It wasn’t all long-haired macho dudes in cod pieces playing loud, misogynistic piffle. There were some fun and silly bands that also played great music. Here’s my homage to a few of the best ones.
Rock Lobster – The B-52s (1979)
Life Begins At The Hop – XTC (1979)
(What’s So Funny ’bout) Peace, Love & Understanding – Elvis Costello & The Attractions (1979)
Another Nail in My Heart – Squeeze (1980)
Once In A Lifetime – Talking Heads (1980)
It Must Be Love – Madness (1981)
That’s Good – Devo (1982)
I Could Be Happy – Altered Images (1982)
Just Got Lucky – Jo Boxers (1983)
Five Get Over Excited – Housemartins (1987)
It’s about time the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame honored this superb band. Here are a few of my favorite songs. So light up a bowl of your best weed, put on your best headphones, and enjoy one of the greatest bands that ever was and will ever be, The Moody Blues. Deep, melodic, harmonious, mellow, rocking, brilliant, heady, psychedelic, profound, beautiful. This was the music for deep within your mind about the vast the universe around us, and of how it felt to be alive, breathing, and thinking. Goddamn I love this band.
Nights in White Satin (1967)
Ride My see Saw (1968)
The Story in Your Eyes (1971)
Tuesday Afternoon (1967)
Legend of a Mind aka Timothy Leary’s Dead (1968)
I’m Just A Singer (In A Rock & Roll Band) (1973)
Queen Bitch (1971)
Moonage Daydream (1972)
The Jean Genie (1973)
Golden Years (1976)
Ashes to Ashes (1980)
Modern Love (1983)
ABC – Be Near Me (1985)
What’s your reputation? Ecstasy!
What’s your destination? Next to me!