The new USA motto: “It don’t matter no more, so pass the Oxy, Cheetos, and vodka.”
As I stated the day after Trump won the US Presidency, his win marked the end of the Age of Enlightenment in the United States of America. Although Hillary Clinton thoroughly dominated the popular vote by well over 3 million votes, our insane Constitutional loophole called the Electoral College gave Trump the win. Millions of people across the states needed for an Electoral College victory for Trump voted for this insane, bloviating, utterly contemptible human being, like it or not. Sure, he lies like no other public figure in recent memory. Sure, he bragged like a randy frat boy about grabbing pussies and assaulting women against their will. Sure, he insulted and mocked the disability of a New York Times journalist. Sure, he bankrupted nearly every business he started and yet parades himself as a success. He’s an avowed racist asshole, pathological liar, failed businessman, and raging dumbass, and yet people voted for him.
That question I asked then was, simply, what the fuck, America? Why would people vote for this insane, silly, deeply pathological man-child? What insanity gripped so many millions on that Election Day in 2016? What nihilism led to this madness? Well, now I know.
The USA is, simply put, populated by some increasingly irrational, stupid, insane, and self-destructive people. Voting for Trump is just one symptom of a much larger problem with this country. Rejecting science is another, as is the rise in fundamentalist and evangelical religions and other irrational belief systems such as libertarian ideology or Chicago School economics. And finally there’s this amazing sad fact: recent health statistical data points to a declining life expectancy in the USA, due mainly to profligate alcohol and drug abuse (alcohol-related deaths have risen 41% since 1999; fatal drug overdoses have increased 387% in the same period!); overeating and morbid obesity and all the chronic ill-health pathologies associated with it (hypertension, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, et al.; mortality rates for obesity-related maladies have increased 114% since 1999); and a 39% increase in suicide rates for Americans aged 25-65—with a whopping 56% suicide increase for ages 55-64!
That’s right: Americans are killing themselves either slowly or quickly in much greater numbers. And this increase is largely happening to people in their middle-age years after 40. It has shifted health stats overall to reflect the first decline in life expectancy in a century in the United States of America. Crazy but true.
People are literally killing themselves in this country with a frightening, and, I might add, highly perplexing self-destructive streak that defies logic and reason. So why not vote for a fucking asshole like Trump when you already don’t give a damn whether you live or die any more? Why bother listening to scientists who are screaming at the top of their lungs that our planet’s climate is in serious danger, or that income inequality continues to rise and the middle class is largely disappearing, when you’re going to OD on smack, or overeat yourself into a diabetic ketoacidosis state, or drink yourself into systemic organ failure, one abjectly self-destructive habit or other that will lead to an early death before you’re 60? Worse, why care at all if you’re going to blow your brains out with a gun immediately? Live and let die, bitches. Flip the world the bird as you exit that mortal coil. God and Ayn Rand are waiting for you with open arms in the afterlife you so quickly want to join, so fuck it, right?
I probably sound like an elitist jerk, and maybe I am, but I’m completely dumbfounded and stupefied by the overwhelming irrationality and suicidally self-destructive behavior of far too many of my fellow citizens. Rejecting science is insane on its own, and fraught with horrific peril for our future as a species. Voting for reprehensible human beings as our democratic leaders who then do everything to destroy the self interest and well being of tens of millions citizens to favor the super-rich elite few is another form of insanity. Add all that to millions of citizens—millions!—deliberately eschewing good health and longevity through shitty eating and not exercising, or suicidally abusing drugs and alcohol, or simply killing one’s self outright.
What the fuck, people? Are nihilism and self-destruction your only coping mechanisms for a life you so obviously hate? Is dragging everyone else down that rat-fucked hole with you your master plan? It sure feels that way any more. Like a kid who shoots up his school then turns the gun on himself, people are no longer content killing themselves, they have to take everyone with them. People voting for Trump in numbers great enough that he won the Electoral Vote indicates this insane nihilism as much as anything I have witnessed in my 56 years of living. Just look at the map of where life expectancy decline is the greatest: it’s in places where Trump won lots of votes. Think it’s a coincidence? Hell no.
Not all Trump fanatics are self-destructive alcoholics, drug fiends, or chronic overeating fat pigs. Nor are they all uneducated dopes who reject science and higher learning. Of course not, and I would never state something like that with any sort of scientific certainty. But, let’s be honest, his success seems to be greatest in regions where so many of the citizens are dying young from these highly preventable maladies, so there is some provable correlation between voting for Trump and all this self-destructive behavior that drives down our national life expectancy. He won because he got votes across the Ohio Valley, from Pennsylvania and West Virginia to Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky, and also throw in Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa, and Missouri too; all of which, if you look at the map above, is where life expectancy dropped the most since 1999. The exception is northern New England where life expectancy dropped considerably too and Hillary won those states, but that’s not a lot of people (or Electoral Votes) compared to the states I mentioned above.
I rest my case; I really can’t say much else. The facts, as they say, are clear on this. Res ipsa loquitur. Extreme negligence towards one’s self means extreme negligence towards others. If people don’t give a flying fuck about themselves, how little do they care for others? The evidence clearly indicates they don’t give a damn at all about anything. Just pass the Oxy, Cheetos, and vodka, and everyone else can go to hell.
I’m spending more and more time living in Valencia, Spain, as I’ve built a nice home office here and can do my job more than adequately some 6200 kilometers from my home office in Philadelphia. Spanish culture is vastly different than in Philly, considerably safer, cleaner, and less frenetic, and, for the most part, much cheaper, especially thanks to a strong US Dollar these days. I work US hours, so I have mornings off to go biking or walk around this old, beautiful, utterly magnificent city. With each passing day my Spanish gets better, but it’s a difficult process to fully master enough of the language to be effectively conversant. It will take me years to do so, but I welcome the challenge.
The good news is I have lost 40 pounds since I broke my arm in 2016. I haven’t been this thin or healthy in ages, and I’m working harder every day to keep thin and fit. I’m also gathering a nice group of friends here with whom to pass the time watching fútbol while guzzling beers at Bar Obispo or Bar Canada, our hangouts for such an activity. My friends Chris and his partner/girlfriend Klara own bike rental shops, called Bike Alao, in the Russafa and Grau districts of Valencia, and sometimes I join Chris as he takes tourists on bike tours of Valencia and the surrounding environs. Most of my friends are British and Belgian ex-pats who have lived in Valencia for ages, so much so that many have married or partnered with Spaniards or other ex-pats and have built nice family lives in this great city.
The Scheck Brothers bicycling to El Monasterio de Santa Maria, El Puig, Spain, 1 Nov 2019.
The best aspect of living part time in Valencia is spending time with my brother John, who has lived here 13 years and speaks Spanish like a native. John’s been arduously writing three novels the past few years and I’ve been helping him as his sometimes editor and critic. All three are fantastic and I hope they get published soon or picked up as the next cool Netflix series. John’s life experience as a master linguist, world traveler, and well-read intellectual has helped him create novels of tremendous depth, insight, and thoughtfulness, while also being exciting works that grip the reader’s attention on every page.
I return to the USA in early December, so my days are winding down on this trip. Next year my company is kicking off a huge project in Souther California, so I won’t have as much time to live in Valencia until that project is finished in a few years, though I’ll escape to here when I can. This trip will be my longest continuous stay, 46 days, though my last one was 40 in February-March of this year. It gets harder and harder to go back. It gets easier and easier to stay.
Das Marabu Diskothek, Zweibrücken, West Germany I was at a German dance club called Marabu, located in the city Zweibrücken near the French border, in early 1987, and the DJ spun this song. I think nearly everyone in the club thought it was a new Depeche Mode song because the lead vocalist definitely sounded like Dave Gahan, but when I asked the DJ who the fuck this was, he said Kissing the Pink, an English band I knew but who had been more of a chic arthouse band to my recollection. No bother. This was an amazing dance track and all the cute girls packed in Marabu danced their perky asses off to it. Good enough for me. I met the love of my life at that club that April in 1987, a ginger-haired beauty named Tanya, who could have been Scarlett Johansson’s hotter twin (no shit!), and who introduced herself to me one night rather aggressively by pinching my ass; her English and my German were poor, but our attraction to each other overcame that barrier. Oh, it was on. Certain things are likely indeed. I can still picture that smoking-hot Teutonic beauty dancing her perky ass of some 32 years later. And so it goes.
Certain Things Are Likely – Kissing the Pink (1987)
My old man died of a brain tumor on October 15, 1973. He was 48, 8 years younger than I am today.
Memories fade as we grow older, but I cling to the memories of Michael Leo Scheck greedily with every fiber of my being. He was a very good man taken from this world at far too young an age. Some men, some fathers, are complete shitbags and hardly worthy of living, but my Dad was one of the good ones, a smart, kind, gentle, highly moral and ethical, loving, and yet super-strong man who loved his wife and nine kids with all his heart and sacrificed his own well being to ensure we had a good home and everything we needed. He just ran out of time too soon to be there for most of my life; 82% of my life has been spent without him around, which sucks.
I take full ownership of every aspect of my being and how I have conducted my life, and I certainly don’t blame the fact my Dad died when I was ten years old for any of my mistakes or shortcomings in my life. I am responsible for everything fucked-up that I have done, no excuses, no blame anywhere but towards me. However, my teen years were a fucking bleak nightmare of trying to overcome his massive loss in my life. I don’t even remember who I was before he passed. I just remember the dark wilderness through which I tried to navigate the decade after he died and what a god-awful time I had finding my way to the light again. How, in my 20s, my fear of dying young like my old man led me to unbelievably stupid behavior, reckless and thoughtless at every turn, and how my anxiety and self-loathing damn near destroyed me, and yet how I overcame that toxic shitpile of neurotic self-abuse and emerged a better person. Not a great person like Mike Scheck, but I’m not a villain or scumbag either.
I can tell you this: I’d have rather he lived longer. Over 16,360 days have gone by since he died, and on not a single one have I not thought about him, that 6’4″, lanky, eternally-grinning, charming, deep-voiced man that he was, and a delight to be around. He was as human as the rest of us, sure, and like us all he had flaws, but he was a better human being than 99.99999% of the other human beings I have encountered in my life. I say that from an objective point of view as well as a highly biased one.
I don’t know how many days I have left in this world, but already I have lived over 3000 more days than he did, so I have been luckier than he in that respect, but I’m hardly half the man my father was, and everyone who knew him and knows me would heartily agree. And I am at peace with that fact. He was a great man and I’m merely average at best.
My retreat from the social media world since I quit Facebook and Twitter some 18 months ago has been a rebirth of anonymity for my personal life. This silly and pointless blog remains my one tie to the weird, crazy, and confusing Internet culture. For my friends and family, this photo is a proof of life, and as you can see, I’m thriving. I still look and feel younger than my age and my hair refuses to get grey or fall out of my scalp.
Life slips by so fast; I wake up today and I’m 56, my bones are creaking, I’m diabetic with a congenital aorta defect that is like a ticking time bomb in my chest, and yet I’m as fit and healthy as I have been in 20 years. The true key to good health is a sparse, processed-foods-free diet mostly consisting of fresh plant-based foods, abstaining from alcohol, and exercising like a demon. My blood test results recently were astonishingly great, a massive improvement since I started my new exercise and diet regimen 18 months ago.
Mostly I have eliminated stress from my life by reducing the need to give a shit about anything, whether it’s my work life, politics and current affairs, finances, whatever. I can keep this up for 40 more years. I don’t plan on aging a lot in the upcoming decades as I think I’ve found the key to arresting the sinister forces of aging. Sure, I will get older, but I will fight like a motherfucker not to surrender to its more nefarious effects on my health and well being.
The news headlines and relentless babble emanating from the boob tube all scream we’re in one crisis or other, but the truth is, life and living in this world will always present challenges to one’s survival and well being, and yet living life is a brilliant gift that one should not waste wallowing in fear, anxiety, or self-doubt. Yes, the future feels dark if we don’t fix the environmental crisis we’re creating with our pollution, and, yes, democracy is failing everywhere. Yes indeed. But wait.
Those out there who try to upset my karma can all suck the sweat off my fat ball sack. I am stronger, smarter, tougher, and more resilient that 99.9999% of humanity, so don’t tread on me, you miserable fucks who try to bully or impose your will on the weak. I am not one of the sheep, motherfuckers; I am the Alpha wolf who would rip your fucking heart out if you mess with me. Bold words, sure, but I am also mostly indifferent to anything but living life in the now and enjoying the good vibes of living well for as long as I can. Anyone trying to upset that balance is unwelcome in my immediate vicinity.
People who know me best know that I am a generous, altruistic, magnanimous, and mostly positive friend. People know where I stand because I am thoroughly unafraid to express my feelings, thoughts, and ideas. I will never be the most well-liked person in a room because I am so direct and blunt when I speak, but I will also never be known as a cowardly, timid, untrustworthy, and duplicitous person.
Like all human beings, I am far from perfect and my flaws and pathologies could fill volumes of books. I apologize for nothing about myself at this point in my life. I’m super-self-confident—some would label me arrogant—but I tender that bluster by always admitting when I am wrong, by always learning from my mistakes and shortcomings as a person and trying my best to fix, correct, or change them. I never try to obfuscate or deceive others when honesty and directness are truly warranted.
I am a weird guy, maybe an anachronism like some old medieval knight swinging his sword at windmills as if they were giant monsters. The principles that guide me are often obscured in a culture obsessed with opulent wealth, fake beauty, the anti-intellectual dimwittedness brought on by fanatical religious and political certainty, and hugely compromised moral and ethical standards in the reckless pursuit of greedy, self-obsessed ambitions, even at the expense of others and the future of humanity. There are plenty of good people out there, but there are also masses of rotten ones too. The balance seems to weigh towards the rotten, to be honest.
I see democracy fading as the guiding ethos of even the most advanced nations, mainly because wealth and power have fallen into the hands of a few oligarchs and warlords worldwide who don’t like the idea of sharing their wealth or equality with their fellow citizens; they prefer subjects to their wealth and power over citizens sharing the wealth and power. I see our environment barreling downhill into catastrophe as mankind destroys it by emptying its filth into the air, land, and sea without regard to its horrific effects. Ugh. So much is wrong. And yet I worry less.
I’m 56 and will be dead before the environment collapses and the world falls into chaos. In my youth as a soldier I joined the fight against worldwide communist aggression because, truly, they were the bad guys and evil, and their rapacious criminal enterprise collapsed in 1989 just as my military service ended. I never thought in 1989 that the world would be far more dangerous 30 years after the fall of communism. How naive I was at the age of 26. I thought democracy, regulated capitalism, and good will would triumph and uplift the world. It has and it hasn’t. Maybe as people were uplifted they forgot how we got to that good place, and now cannot wait to tear it down even if they don’t know why. It’s a weird world right now.
The anarchy, nihilism, and chaos we face today is far more evil and much more dangerous than anything since World War II. There is no singular entity or nation-state driving this chaotic madness today because it is driven more and more by powerful but not politically-connected people who thoughtlessly pursuit personal ambition over the good weal of humankind. Meanwhile hundreds of millions of people seem to have accepted this fate brought on by such dark forces without putting up much of a fight against it, or perhaps are thoroughly incapable of even acknowledging or understanding that it exists, and so the chaos, anarchy, and nihilism the world faces grows stronger and more deadly while more and more people get captured in its whirlwind of destruction and decimation. At some point good people will turn on each other in a savage pursuit of simple survival. This isn’t a science fiction fantasy; this is our future and I’m sadly pessimistic we humans can vanquish it before it engulfs us all. Or maybe we find our way out and the world thrives in the future. Maybe, a big maybe indeed.
All I can do is stay true to my beliefs and live my life being on the side that is good and just and caring. I don’t wallow in misery and fear of this future I see because I realize I will be dead long before it truly gets awful. What precious life I have left will be spent enjoying what is still good, beautiful, and wondrous about the world outside my door. To enjoy the company of good people, to savor all the good food, to enjoy every day I draw breath, to keep myself fit and healthy and not let the aging process piss on my parade.
That will be my role as a faithful witness to a life lived well. Please don’t try to get in my way.
Solo rocker Eddie Money and Ric Ocasek of The Cars, two acts that hit it big the summer of 1978, passed away over the weekend. Oddly, both were born a couple days apart and died a couple days apart; Ocasek: March 23, 1949-September 15, 2019; Money: March 21, 1949-September 13, 2019.
In the summer of 1978 both The Cars and Eddie Money had huge hits that made it a fun summer, as music was fantastic that year and their songs were among the most memorable, and certainly made that summer rock & roll like few others.
My two best friends and I were 15 and about to start high school that summer, and we had the best time of our lives mostly fucking off, smoking pot, and hitting on cute girls everywhere we could. Doug Russell and Chip Johnston, wherever you are, these are tributes to you two and that amazing summer and all its great music. You dudes are the best friends I’ve ever had by a huge margin. What’s great is I’ve been in contact with both the past year and we’ve shared a lot of laughs and memories since those wild times as bad boys 40 years ago.
From left: Chip, Mat, Doug, high school, 1979
RIP, Eddie & Ric, you were both great rock stars from my youth. Your music made life fun and worthwhile and cool.
Just What I Needed – The Cars (Released May 1978)
Two Tickets to Paradise – Eddie Money (Release June 1978)
The Smiths: The band that changed everything. From left: Andy Rourke, Steven Morrissey, Johnny Marr, Mike Joyce.
I was 22 when I first bought the album Hatful of Hollow by the Smiths. I found it at a record shop in Athens, Georgia in the fall of 1985, recommended to me by the weird kid working at the shop, who, after learning I was a devout fan of Athens, Georgia’s proudest sons of the moment, R.E.M., informed me that this album by The Smiths—mostly recorded live in the studio for the John Peel BBC radio show, plus containing new songs not on the band’s eponymous 1984 debut album—was a masterpiece and much better than their first, and, he added emphatically, better than anything by R.E.M., which was almost a sacrilege to utter in that town.
The Smiths was a band about whom, at that moment in 1985, I knew nothing, and luckily this weird kid educated me on this unknown subject. He declared grandiloquently, and with great passion, that Hatful of Hollow would change my life. Bold words by a goofy, odd, and yet wise young man when it came to music, and I was a willing and hungry student, eager for something—anything—new and exciting. So I bought it.
And of course Hatful of Hollow changed my life. From then until when The Smiths broke up in 1987, I was a devoted and fanatical lover of their music and bought every record they released. Since their breakup in 1987 my devotion waxed and waned over the ensuing decades, but every now and then I’ll return to their music if only for the intense nostalgia I felt for that period of my life. But also for the band’s songs, their incredible motherfucking songs, each and every one of them; the Smiths recorded 74 songs in their brief career, and every goddamn one of them is great.
I shall list my 10 favorite songs by The Smiths in descending order. Everyone’s opinion varies on any subjective art form like music, so my favorites may not be your favorites, or anyone else’s for that matter, and if you disagree with mine, so what. It’s just an opinion. My opinion.
10. Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now (1984, Hatful of Hollow)
The anthem that I am sure articulates the existential angst felt by all mopey, dorky, sexless boys too afraid to leave their bedrooms. In 1985 I was not among their ranks, as I was a randy and fun-loving US soldier sleeping with every pretty girl I could possibly bed and was as cocky and confident as any annoyingly smart and charming pretty boy, but I appreciated Morrissey’s lamentations on this song. Johnny Marr truly began experimenting more here with his idea of a beautiful guitar sound, a crisp, wonderfully jingley-jangley cacophony of chords and picks that make this song perfect. Morrissey’s prissy, quasi-faggie demeanor and complete lack of testosterone, coupled with the fact he possessed not a molecule of muscle tissue on his body, made him the most curious and yet fascinating pop star, especially since he was capable of articulating his angst with such eloquence and poetic silliness, plus he had the coolest haircut in the 1980s, hands down. He was a far cry from the arena rock gods like Robert Plant or Punk assholes like Johnny Rotten. Morrissey’s Rock & Roll rebellion was to be smarter and more annoying than his peers, and to hold the entire pop world in sneering disdain, and yet to succeed in it despite his dyspeptic view on life. We fans just loved his dark bedroom, navel-gazing rants. He was nothing like me as a man and everything like me as an intellectual.
9. Bigmouth Strikes Again (1986, The Queen is Dead)
Hell hath no fury like that of a prissy sissy, and on this rolling rocker Mozz thumbs his nose at his critics while the band rollicks through a pretty kick-ass tune, especially Johnny Marr’s brilliant wall of guitars, so gleefully recorded over god-knows-how-many overdubs, and sounds wildly majestic and overwhelmingly alluring here, moreover Andy Rourke’s pulsing bass lines and Mike Joyce’s steady drumming resonate with frenetic pace and feeling, and meanwhile Mozz sneeringly mocks everyone who mocks him, wiggling his bum triumphantly as he figuratively compares himself to Joan of Arc being burned at the stake for the way he’s lambasted in the press; it all works because the song fucking rocks by a pretty damn good Rock & Roll band. It’s silly, yes, but silly is Morrissey’s strong suit and why he so endeared himself to his fans as the sad, brilliant, witty clown, the mopey, sneering smart-aleck with the heart of gold. We all wish we could articulate such an annoyingly funny “fuck you” at our own critics backed by such cool music. Yeah. The Queen is Dead is an album of a great band maturing into the best one of its era, hands down. Most of my Army friends fell for The Smiths because of this song or Boy with the Thorn in His Side, or simply because I played the fuck out of this album the fall of 1986.
8. How Soon is Now? (1984, Hatful of Hollow)
Most people rate this song higher than I do in compiling their Smiths greatest hits list, and I can understand why, yet I do not agree that it’s top-5 worthy great compared to other songs by the band. But of course I love it, cherish it, and thought it was wonderful from my first listen onward. Johnny Marr’s wall of guitars sound is incredible, and of course Morrissey’s whiny, self-absorbed plea for social acceptance is both poignant and yet annoying as only he can exude so gloriously eloquent, and obnoxiously so. It’s a great song, rocking, and should be on everyone’s playlist for the band.
7. Handsome Devil (1984, Hatful of Hollow)
Here we have The Smiths as Punks, although smart ones who could deftly play their respective instruments better than most Punks, and fronted by an almost anti-Punk singer who sounds like a gayer and smarter version of Roy Orbison in the throes of a horny hissy fit over someone obviously oblivious to Steven’s desires. Mozz was an admitted celibate (or so he claimed), so all his sexual longing was theoretical and creepy like in all involuntary celibates, and even when he became a huge pop icon in England he vehemently clung to his celibacy as a weird badge of honor, as if shagging other people would ruin his intellectual purity. It was obvious he was gay, not that we fans cared, as homophobia was not only stupid but also just plain wrong, and I think we all collectively wished he’d just get his fuck on at some point with some muscular football hooligan bloke with good hair, though we loved his musings on the subject of forced sexlessness. This is a fucking rocking tune, The Smiths doing Jumping Jack Flash or I Wanna Be Your Dog in their own wonderful way. Rolling Stones and Iggy and the Stooges, meet Steven Morrissey, sissy crooner and well-coifed pop star wannabe, backed by his kick-ass band.
6. Stop Me if You Think You’ve Heard This One Before (1987, Strangeways, Here We Come)
By the time we got this one from the record store, the band was no more. This is, in effect, their swan song. And what a tune! Morrissey and Marr could no longer agree on the band’s sound or musical direction, yet when they did collaborate it was fucking beautiful, like here. Morrissey’s had a decent solo career, but none of his post-Smiths songs sounded this great. Without Johnny Marr, Morrissey’s just a weird-looking singer with a slightly annoying voice and some clever wordplay, but never as good as he was in this great band. I have never really dug Morrissey’s solo work, and, in fact, since his first solo record, I’ve ignored him completely. Now that’s he’s super old and still prancing around the stage singing his songs of youthful sexless celibate angst to crowds of dorks living in the long-gone Smiths past, I find it sad and weird and boring. I was even happier when Morrissey was forced in court to dole out part of his wealth to brilliant drummer Mike Joyce, whom Steven fucked out of royalties since day one. This wasn’t a one-man band nor was Mozz the sole genius in the band. Marr was equally brilliant in creating the band’s sound, and Mike Joyce and Andy Rourke certainly played a massive part in making the band’s music amazing.
5. This Charming Man (1984, Hatful of Hollow, Peel Session Version)
This version is hugely better than the original single that put the band on the UK pop charts for the first time. It’s got a cheeky ebullience lacking in the original, and Johnny’s guitars sound better, with more jingle-jangle for the buck, so to speak. And Andy Rourke’s bass sounds utterly perfect. On the original version, Johnny’s guitars sound annoyingly like an 8-bit telephone ring tone, while here the stereo mix by John Peel’s amazing engineer/producer Roger Pusey sounds fabulously warm and utterly inviting. The version produced by John Porter annoys me. In fact I have never liked the first album by The Smiths because Porter’s production makes the band sound tinny and hollow and gross, while on Hatful, the songs, especially the Peel Session versions, all sound fantastic. It’s why Hatful made me love the band and luckily I didn’t hear their debut first.
4. The Boy with the Thorn in His Side (1986, The Queen Is Dead)
Easily the best pure pop song by The Smiths, almost AOR-radio-friendly, and for most of my friends it was the first Smiths song that truly pricked their ears. Johnny Marr again shines with a layered symphony of guitar sounds so sublime it feels like you’re listening to pure heroin. I also think it’s Steven’s finest vocal performance of his recorded career, as he sounds completely sincere in his expression of his angst and isolation. Say what you want about the guy, but he was a proper pop star at this point, working perfectly with his excellent band to make songs on The Queen is Dead that put The Smiths on the top tier of English Rock & Roll greatness with The Beatles, Kinks, Stones, Who, Zeppelin, Sabbath, and Clash (and later Stone Roses, Oasis, Blur, and Radiohead). Really. That good. And on my list we’ve yet to get to the best song on that great album.
3. What Difference Does It Make? (1984, Hatful of Hollow, Peel Session Version)
Again, this is a vastly superior version of the song than the one on the band’s eponymous debut record. That version is very good, sure, even great, but this version is magical. Mozz later slagged this song, but, dude, we fell in love with your band because of songs like this, shut the fuck up, you silly wanker. This has the anger and energy and brilliant wordplay that made you a star and endeared your band to its most ardent supporters. What makes this song swing is Andy Rourke’s bass line, coupled with Marr’s angry guitar attack, like the band is assaulting a hill in wartime, led by that prissy sissy singer all filled with vim and sneering vitriol. Punk never sounded this good except on the occasional Clash song. This is, to me, the song that sold me on The Smiths as a great Rock & Roll band and not just a silly novelty act of a bitchy, weird, sissy-boy lead singer.
2. There Is a Light That Never Goes Out (1986, The Queen Is Dead)
In many ways The Smiths’ defining song, of course beginning with Johnny Marr’s brilliantly layered guitars, but also because Morrissey’s lyrics—sad, ironic, wistful, tragic, and yet beautiful—convey everything that made him a brilliant voice of his generation. He manages to sound sincere and not the least bit cheesy or phony. He was who he claimed he was, a mad genius trapped in the walls of his angst and frustration at dealing with the humanity around him. On this album the band figured out what made them great and finally produced a recording worthy of their greatness. Is it any wonder most critics call this the best album of the 1980s? And most fans agree? This just sounds perfect. I cannot describe how many late nights in 1986 I listened to The Queen is Dead over and over. It’s one of my favorite albums in my long life of music fandom, right up there with London Calling by The Clash; Remain in the Light by Talking Heads; The Bends and OK Computer by Radiohead; Daydream Nation by Sonic Youth; Doolittle by Pixies; Nevermind by Nirvana; Murmur by R.E.M.; and of course the greatest: Pet Sounds, Sergeant Peppers, Let it Bleed, Ziggy Stardust, Paranoid, Who’s Next, Physical Graffiti, and Dark Side of the Moon.
1. Well I Wonder (1985, Meat Is Murder)
Oh my fucking god. What a song! In the fall of 1985 I split with a girl I adored but didn’t really love, and immediately began missing her when I saw her with another guy I considered a huge step down from me, so I felt sad for her and even sadder for me as I missed her but could never admit it to her—or even me for that matter. And then I heard this fucking song and it penetrated my cold exterior into my heart like a searing hot dagger made of a welding high-intensity arc used to cut titanium. Oh, Steven, you created the ultimate depressing, mope-friendly, hide-from-humanity classic. Jesus, has ever a song evoked such heartache like this? “Gasping, dying, but somehow still alive, this is the final stand of all I am.” Fucking hell, that’s brilliant. Everything about this song is great, from the sublime guitars to the slow, rolling feel as the tune wanders through that rainstorm and Steven bleeds out his heart with such earnest candor. This, my friends, is all the proof you need of this band’s true greatness. This is a magical song, sad, yes, but sadness is an integral part of human feeling. Mozz spent much time in the dark pondering his own sadness, then penned this classic song for all of us to view his dark psychological depth along with him. Love him or hate him, he had a gift. Hand this to Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, or some Country star, and it’s a pop hit these days.
Do NOT RIP, David Koch. I hope your last days, months, and years were horrific and you died miserably.
Oh, I shouldn’t speak ill of the dead, you say? This cocksucker doesn’t get that kind of magnanimous treatment.
Just read Jane Mayer’s excellent New Yorker piece on the Koch Brothers from 2010. The Koch Brothers have done more harm to the world’s environment and America’s democracy than any two individuals ever. They deserve a fate worst than death. Prostate cancer wasn’t horrible enough for David Koch. A good old public Medieval disemboweling, castration, hanging, and quartering would have been better.
He died being worth over $42 billion. How many billions of humans will suffer from the environmental calamities that this bastard and his even more vile older brother Charles helped to create by spending a good part of their fortune to block even the mention of the word “Global Warming,” let alone how many politicians they bought to keep our government from acting even the least bit sensible and proactive? How many poor American children will starve or go without adequate health care because of this so-called “libertarian” tax cut advocate? And your legacy will be that you were a gigantic, vile, evil, useless piece of shit exiting the asshole of hell. Yeah, you’re worth all that money and your asshole still rotted out, you fucking creep.
Fuck you, David Koch. I hope your asshole brother, Charles, dies even more horribly, perhaps by some Biblical malady like being eaten from the inside out by huge maggots while being gang raped by a pack of rabid and syphilitic wolverines. OK, if I ever read the Bible, and I haven’t, that would be how I would hope someone evil died in days of yore.
Surrealist vs Realist Progressives
Perhaps as recently as 10 years ago I would have been included in the surrealist faction of the Democratic Party, a place where a vivid imagination meets the bold and visionary determinism to “do good for all” and right all the wrongs in America as quickly as possible. End all racism, sexism, homophobia, and the ugly specter of divisive hate that has poisoned the USA since its inception. Bridge the massive—and growing—income inequality. Provide government-financed health care for all citizens. Protect and uplift all children by providing excellent public schools and government programs to shield them from hunger, extreme poverty, and abuse. Reduce crime by reducing the reasons to engage in criminality in the first place (such as more well-paying jobs). Provide government-financed drug treatment for the millions of addicts across the country. Clean up the environment to provide safe and clean water and air, moreover reduce greatly the pollutants and behaviors that have led the world down the perilous path of increasing global warming and catastrophic climate change. Reduce the massive number of incarcerated citizens, many of whom are charged with drug crimes of simple possession and use, where treatment would have been a better option rather than prison terms. Decrease the Defense budget and stop the USA from engaging in unnecessary military engagements that have nothing to do with national security. Banking and business reform for a business community where superbanks, too big to fail, poison our financial system and commerce, and massive mega-monopolies control our markets. Ban assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, and restrict the sale of guns through better background checks.
All bold, noble, lofty, and yet cogent ideals. All shared by a vast majority of Democrats I am sure. All provable to work too, as most of our Social Democratic European allies have implemented these progressive ideals for decades. One can visit Sweden, Norway, Denmark, France, Germany, and Spain, for instance, and witness the success of so many of these ideals in practice. It can be costly and these folks pay more taxes than citizens of the USA, but the quality of life in these countries is far better for all citizens than in the USA.
Some would call it Socialism; I call it Social Democracy since Socialism was originally devised to be foisted on the proletariat by revolutions against the ruling class and run by a hierarchical, all-powerful, “dictatorship of the proletariat.” Meanwhile citizens freely choose Social Democracy through free elections, and vote for the government that manages it. It’s huge distinction, one which, of course, the dopes on FOX News and other far-right media outlets fail to make in all their irrational, logical-fallacy-laden blathering.
So why do I call this a “surrealist” viewpoint? Simply because, while I agree with the eventual implementation of all these great ideas and programs—unlike the surrealists who want everything now—I believe, as a realist, that most Social Democratic change can only be truly enacted slowly and incrementally in a country greatly divided not only over political ideology, but also religiously and philosophically. Most importantly, it must be done with the will and assent of a majority of the citizenry with respect to our Constitutional process for passing laws, not through revolutions, coups, or any other shortcut to usurping power from the people.
Nearly half the country doesn’t want most of these things, or at least it doesn’t think it does. It isn’t much of a democracy if we try to force the other side to submit to ideas for which it holds no purchase. Which, in a way, is quite funny, since the country right now is ruled at all levels—national, state, local—by a determined, mostly shamefully gerrymandered, minority political faction who do believe it’s perfectly fine to force their ideology on those who oppose it, and who will assume power by any ruthless means necessary, the Constitution and people be damned. That is the fundamental difference between right-wing ideology and the progressive, Social Democratic left. Democracy matters to the left.
The realists want the same things as the surrealists, at least philosophically. The problem has become that the surrealists have wrapped themselves in an arrogant and self-righteous stance fueled by their so-called belief they are “woke,” and hence more enlightened and certain that their beliefs are more correct and just than the rest of humanity on issues of race, social justice, economics, environmentalism, and public policy. Being “woke” is some sort of divine enlightenment that implies a higher state of consciousness about “what is going on and what needs to be done,” which is, of course, a ridiculously puerile kind of arrogant and often destructive certainty also held by religious fanatics and a vast gaggle of political radicals in the past—fascists, communists, socialists, and anarchists—who did great harm to societies all over the world by trying to shape them into narrow and restrictive, often repressive confines poisoned by their radical certainty and arrogant belief that their way was the only way. It is a destructive mindset regardless of the ideology or belief system guiding it. It is also highly anti-Democratic.
This divide is growing in the Democratic Party and was partially responsible for Hillary losing the 2016 election. A great many of the surrealist followers of Bernie Sanders just couldn’t seem to hold their noses and vote for the realist Hillary Clinton. Moreover, Hillary’s campaign did a poor job convincing the surrealists—and many independent voters alike—that she was on their side. Of course, it didn’t help that she lacked the charisma and mass appeal that should have sold her to her own party and created enough unity within it to carry her to victory as Obama had done in 2008 and 2012. Sadly, Hillary was not Obama, who would have crushed Trump in 2016 as he had done to McCain and Romney in the two previous elections.
It will be interesting to see if one of the current candidates can unify these two biggest factions of Democrats. I think, honestly, Elizabeth Warren has the greatest chance and is a solid, smart, and masterful political leader, but so far she’s polling behind Joe Biden, a centrist and realist, and to me, honestly, an utterly ridiculous choice merely because of his advanced age and the fact he’s always been a bit of a boob and bumbler, not a bad second banana as he proved working as Obama’s Vice President, but being the top leader, the POTUS? No. Biden hardly inspires the surrealist or realist, but he is still a better choice than bumblefuck Trump and most of the other Democratic candidates. That’s not saying enough in my mind. Warren is clearly more capable than Joe on most intellectual levels, but even I acknowledge Uncle Joe has a warmth and inspirational side that makes Trump look like the fat, ignorant child that he is.
Bernie Sanders. Ah, Bernie. On Bernie I am conflicted. He’s too old, he’s too irascible and petty at times, and far too radical for a vast majority of centrist voters. Yet of course—of course!—he has some amazing progressive ideas, and as the only admitted Socialist in the race, he does inspire the left with his promises of health care for all, bridging the income gap, taxing the rich more, attacking global warming with gusto and substantive legislation, providing free university education, and the like. Bravo, Bernie! The man has brass balls and never fears to speak his mind. We all love the bastard for this. Without a doubt all leftist progressives, especially the surrealists, love Bernie. He and Liz Warren are the only candidates capable of articulating a real path to change in this country. I just don’t feature Bernie as the leader of the free world. His job is to keep the Democratic Party inspired to push progressivism as far as is possible with a hostile conservative Congress, even if its the minority on both houses after 2020.
Beto O’Rourke has lots of energy and ebullience, but he often seems awkward at articulating intellectual subjects on the fly, which hardly inspires confidence that he’s got the depth to grasp the big picture. Kamala Harris has an impressive political résumé, but, like Beto, seems awkward at articulating on the fly on deeper subjects, and her policy proposals lack any sense of gravitas compared to Liz Warren, who literally has a good plan for everything. Cory Booker has always had a boatload of ambition, but to me he’s never really shown the moral courage and spine to handle leadership under fire. Mayor Pete seems nice and smart, but he’s also boring and uninspiring, plus, and I hate to say this, a lot of America will not vote for a gay man for President. Maybe in eight years, Mayor Pete. The rest of the field, who the fuck cares, they can’t win.
It’s Warren or Biden, I’m afraid. I hope that’s enough.
While I disagree with the surrealists because of their often myopic and ridiculously arrogant approach to public discourse, where they often shout down even those with whom they are mostly in agreement on what must be done to fix this country, I do agree heartily with what they believe on most issues. And while many issues do require a greater sense of urgency—the environment comes to mind—democracy isn’t about always getting your way, it is about two sides of an issue agreeing to compromise in the best interest of all citizens. Surrealists, much like far-right and religious fanatics, fail to grasp this. Yet I do not hold any malice or hatred toward surrealist progressives like I do the far right and religious fanatics in this country. I realize the surrealists are of course my brothers and sisters, and I love and cherish their deterministic values and passionate desire to change this country for the betterment of all people. I only dislike their tendency toward intellectual myopia, hysteria, and excessive certainty.
The surrealists’ destructive approach to public discourse often turns off the great mass of people in this country who just do not even begin to understand what they truly need. These largely indifferent and/or ignorant people need to be respected even in their indifference and/or ignorance, not berated or condescend upon, nor should they be talked over in the national discourse as if they are children or incapable of making rational choices. This great mass of indifferent and/or ignorant voters is the key to winning back our democracy if we progressives can state our case to them in a rational, respectful, and convincing manner. Shouting at ignorant and/or indifferent people, calling them pejoratives like “racist” or “redneck” or “moron” or “deplorables” won’t win their vote. Treating them, not as unenlightened enemies, but instead as potential allies who just need to hear our views without treating them as inconsequential—but instead extremely vital—is the key to trouncing Trump.
A great communicator can do this, as Obama proved so effectively. Obama, however, probably failed to implement as much progressive ideology as he could have, and that was why many surrealists came to embrace Bernie Sanders in 2016. They felt that Obama fell short of their lofty expectations, and to be honest, they were not wrong. Obama was too much a realist and centrist and not enough surrealist progressive. His ultimate failure was not doing enough when he had the chance, when he held the power to make significant changes. Had Obama done this, there never would have been the need for a Bernie Sanders to voice the frustration of so many progressives as we witnessed in the 2016 Democratic primaries.
A realist always understands the amazing power of reason, logic, and rational discourse. Passion is great, sure, but only if it’s wrapped in the above principles. Passion without reason, logic, and rational discourse is fanaticism. And it’s destructive. What we truly need is a leadership that embraces progressive idealism, but also can communicate a sane, rational, and realistic path by which we can implement these great ideals. Moreover, this leadership needs to convince the tens of millions out there who are, ideologically, on the fence, and win them back to where they will be championed by people who not only believe in what is right for them, but can convince them of this without insulting them.
I don’t see a Democratic Presidential candidate who is doing this very well. Trump is very successful at roiling up the ugly, mean, and divisive hate that so many people who follow him feel inside themselves; that they are mad is justifiable, but what’s wrong is Trump makes them mad at everything–Mexicans, Muslims, Chinese, etc. etc.—except why they should really be mad. We need someone who can reach these mad and frustrated people and help enlighten them on why they are being screwed, not make them angrier like Trump does over false boogiemen and phony red herrings. Let the facts convince the masses. Just present them better and with more clarity. It’s a tough task given the angry and divisive era in which we live, but it can be done.
Trump doesn’t give two shits about helping or uplifting these people at his rallies, he just wants their votes, and he says the things that appeal to their uglier irrational sides, not their reason. Demagoguery always wins in a vacuum. If it’s countered with a positive and rational set of progressive Democratic arguments that also appeals to the same masses who respond to the demagoguery, then Trump can be defeated. Hillary lost because she always sounded shrill and condescending to the very people she needed to convince to vote for her, while Trump stirred them up by appealing to their worst selves. Millions of people voted for Trump as a “fuck you” to the elites who so often talk down to them or treat them as inconsequential. So let’s start treating these fellow citizens as how they should be treated, as our allies who we need to convince about our cause, not ignorant children for whom we think we know better.
We need surrealists and we need realists in the Democratic Party. But what we need most is to win, not to always be right and just and “woke.” We need to focus on what we can do realistically, and meanwhile how we can convince millions of our fellow citizens that we are on their side and they are on ours, not how pure and righteous and just our cause is, to that they are stupid and wrong because they fall outside our lofty expectations. That never wins converts. That never wins elections. That never wins power in a democracy.
I was born in 1963, and my fondest childhood memories in the 60s were of riding with my large brood of siblings and my parents in our station wagon as we headed to our favorite quaint little family resort called Turkey Hallow, run by our dear friends the Verschor family. It was a small lake with a beach and camping grounds, and most of its members were friends of my parents or older siblings. During that hour-long ride from our house in Rock Island, IL to the lake located to the southwest of the city, we’d have the radio blaring all the hits of that magical era, and we’d all sing along, usually badly and without knowing all the lyrics, but who cared, we were together, happy, and life was fun.
My childhood coincided with the golden era of Rock & Roll, which began with the Beatles and Stones and the rest of the British Invasion, and lasted until the late 70s when Punk tore it all down. It was a musical era of bold experiments and brilliant pop, of larger-than-life superstars and brilliant singer-songwriters who turned the simple chords and beats of Rock & Roll into art. It saw the rise of the massively wide appeal of its brightest stars and their sold-out stadium tours, and also of the abject depravity of the decadence surrounding these wild tours. Within all this madness came the music. Oh, man, the music! It defined my generation, and its greatest anthems, even now, forty and fifty years later, echo with amazing potency to our future generations
It would be difficult to list ten of my all-time favorite Rock & Roll anthems, as there were hundreds of amazing songs from my youth that would be worthy of such high praise. However, there are a few that, as a 56-year-old, still resonate in my memories like a brilliantly-bright star that refuses to collapse. I will list them from 10 to 1, the anthems that ruled my life for so much of it. I could easily list 100 others of almost equal potency, but I like to think these are the most cherished by me.
10. Cinnamon Girl – Neil Young with Crazy Horse (1969)
Young was—is—a moody, irascible, restless artist who would change musical direction with each song he wrote, never comfortable as a pop star, though of course he was one of the biggest of his generation. His voice could be shrill and annoying, and he wasn’t the deftest guitar player, and yet the man wrote so many songs of lasting brilliance and popular appeal. What Neil had was a depth of feeling that translated perfectly to his music, and at his best he could captivate the listener with songs written in simple chord progressions and even simpler beats, and yet within that narrow confine lay something of sublime sonic beauty. I smoked a ton of pot listening to Neil Young in my teens, often at night in my bedroom with my headphones on, and during this song I dreamt of a gorgeous girl, a classmate in junior and senior high of mine I adored, unrequited, for many years, and I was sure Neil had written about her specifically in this superb song. Powered by a simple but catchy guitar chord progression and Neil’s winsomely subtle vocal harmonies with the rest of Crazy Horse, this song captures the romantic vision of the type of girl like my youthful obsession, a free-spirited, mysterious, tight-jeans-clad, ethereal beauty who left me breathless with desire. I wish you all could have known her; I felt honored just to be able to be in her majestic presence despite the fact she barely noticed me. Later, as adults, we got together in Las Vegas in 2010 and I confessed my undying teenage adoration of her. She was like, dude, you should have talked me, you were cute and I so would have dated you. Whatever, c’est la vie. My Cinnamon Girl was too good for my teenage version of myself in my insecure mind.
9. Ventura Highway – America (1972)
Yes, yes, they were a knockoff of Crosby, Still, and Nash, blah, blah, blah, but in 1972-1973 I was a monumentally-depressed boy watching his father slowly die of a brain tumor, and the older brother of my best friend murdered, during that horrible awful painful fucking two years, and music was my only respite from the horror show, especially America’s sweet, simple, folksy, extremely catchy pop songs that kept me afloat as I slowly drowned in sorrow. It was the life preserver around my neck. Dewey, Dan, and Gerry captured magic in a bottle on some of their best songs, and this was reflected in the high pop chart positions this bottled magic yielded as millions (fuck the critics!) hummed along to them as they played on radios or hi-fi stereo systems all across America and beyond. For years after my Dad died, I couldn’t listen to this song without bawling, so I avoided any memory that took me back to that horrible place, even if it had been something that kept me from slashing my wrists or jumping off our roof as I contemplated so many times. I owe music my life. It kept me sane even in my darkest moments. This beautiful little tune was my drug of choice to keep me alive. I am forever grateful.
8. Madman Across the Water – Elton John (1971)
See #9 for reasons for Mat Scheck to live, the 1972-73 edition of my life. While America’s songs were the drug that kept me sane, Elton’s best songs were the pacemaker that kept my heart beating. I have no happy memories from those years, not a single fucking one. I hated the world and I wanted to die. But here I am 46 years later, living, breathing, thriving. Thank you, Elton and Bernie. You lads wrote some amazing tunes. I owe you both more than I could ever repay.
7. Sitting Still – R.E.M. (1983)
My Army buddy Jim Torey rushed into my barracks room with a record album under his arm, and he was nearly hyperventilating with excitement as he manically described what he was sure was the best fucking album he’d ever bought. Jim was a deep, nutty, and brilliant guy, ergo this declaration had to be taken seriously, so we we spent a few hours listening to R.E.M.’s album Murmur that day, and, damn, Jim was right, it was the best fucking record I’d ever heard in my life. There was nothing like it. NOTHING. The music was somewhere between the jingle-jangle rock of The Byrds and the Do It Yourself fuzzbox cool of Punk, moreover you couldn’t understand a lick of what the singer was inarticulating, but the sound was so crisply cool, so moving and magical, and so utterly original, that Jim and I were immediately enthralled. It changed our lives in 1983. Music would never be the same to us. R.E.M. opened up whole new sounds and styles and forms on this record. Strong words, I know, and a bold declaration, but you had to be there at Fort Benning that day and feel the immense vibes created by this amazing music by this band from Georgia that captured our love in that moment. Thirty-six years later I still have no idea what Michael Stipe was singing, and I still don’t give a fuck. I still love this song as much today as I did then. It still moves me to almost indescribable bliss.
6. What Difference Does It Make? – The Smiths (1983 Peel Sessions Version)
Hatful of Hollow was the first album by The Smiths I bought, and by the second song on Side One I knew—KNEW—this would be my favorite band. The brilliant level of musicianship and lyrical eloquence grabbed my sensibilities almost violently, almost painfully. This song in particular, played live in the studio for John Peel’s BBC show, just spoke to me in ways I couldn’t even explain back in 1985 when I bought this album. It just worked for me. It had the anger and energy of Punk, but it wasn’t Punk, it was amazing guitar rock with a driving sound and the nuttiest fucking lead singer ever. This lead singer had a funny high baritone timbre and he sounded like a prissy, persnickety sissy with nutty homoerotic obsessions, but goddamn was he also smart and funny and utterly fucking relevant to me, moreover the guitar player was freak-of-nature great, wildly inventive and superbly sublime, and, finally, goddamnit, as if to add insult to the happy violent injury in my already elated brain, the bass and drums were just plain perfect. This was a great fucking band. I was smitten, floored, and forever enthralled with this weirdly wonderful and highly original Rock & Roll band from Manchester, UK. Oh fuck yes.
5. Ten Years Gone – Led Zeppelin (1975)
Like so many American teenagers from the 1970s, I had a few years where Led Zeppelin was my favorite Rock & Roll band; how many nights did I lie in bed listening to all their amazing songs? Untold. I could name ten songs by this great band that could make this list, but this subtle, sad lament about past love has always been my favorite Zeppelin song. You can feel Robert Plant’s remorse not only for his lost love from days gone by, but also for the fact his vocal range will never be what it once was from his younger years, and there’s a sadness to that fact. He was still a great singer, but he’d never hit the high notes again as he had back in 1969. That made me sad in 1975. By 1978 Zeppelin fell hard from my favorites as I moved on to other bands and newer sounds, and for years afterward I never really gave their records a whirl. But in the mid 70s the band’s music defined so much of my life.
4. Bad – U2 (1984)
I saw U2 live in Paris on July 4, 1987 with my then girlfriend, a beautiful German girl from Zweibrücken named Tanya, who bought the tickets for my 24th birthday. Tanya was a tall, lithe, and super-sexy ginger with mesmerizing eyes who looked like the actress Scarlett Johansson, and she was by far the singular love of my life; no woman has ever loved me with such passion and intensity as this gorgeous German girl with a violent temper and almost destructive intensity. Our romance was tumultuous as fuck as she never fully trusted me, mainly because I was a philandering fool who never gave her good reason to earn her trust; it all ended a few months later when she caught me with another girl. She was the only woman I had ever even imagined making babies with, and holy fuck would she and I have made some beautiful ones. To say I fucked up here is an understatement, the greatest romantic tragedy in a life filled with such toxic disasters.
We drove to the show from Martinshöhe, Germany, where I lived, in my 1980 Pontiac Firebird, an exotic American muscle car few French people had ever seen, so when we parked it became a popular oddity for so many of the show’s denizens who parked near us. The show was of course magnificent, as U2 never fails to deliver live, but on this song, while high on hashish and crowd energy, and just weeks after the worst imaginable experience of my military career, The USS Stark Incident where I played a key role in recovering and identifying the dead sailors from that horrible tragedy, I broke down in tears like a child. Tanya had been my rock during the horrible aftermath of my USS Stark experience where I often needed a tremendous push just to get out of bed every day, and she immediately grasped the magnitude of the psychic pain I was releasing in my tears as U2 played this fucking powerfully beautiful song that night in Paris. It didn’t fully heal me, but it did get easier each day afterward to get out of bed and get back to the fun of living again. When Tanya left me in September 1987 I thought I could find another like her, but 32 years have passed and no one has ever come close to her. How many women have I fucked since her while I imaged it was her? All of them.
3. L.A. Woman – The Doors (1971)
When I was at Burning Man in 2000, I related to the group who sat with me around the bonfire about the story of my brief friendship in 1983 with a nefarious and motley group of bikers and outlaws I met through my stripper girlfriend, who I met at a club on the outskirts of Fort Benning. They lived in a rural campground out in the nowhere of Southwestern Georgia near the Chattahoochee River, a gaggle of redneck gypsies and hardcore bikers and their old ladies who consumed drugs and alcohol in such copious quantities that I, an Army medic, stared in wonderment that they weren’t all dead from overdose. The men were all roughnecks and the women both beautiful and yet feral; the men got by selling dope and fixing cars and cycles while the gals all danced at the clubs for Benning’s endless supply of horny soldiers with fistfuls of payday cash.
My crazy new friends lived free and on their own terms in campers and tents, and didn’t give a fuck if tomorrow ever came as long as tonight was epic. Every night they’d build a huge bonfire and blast music, and the campground turned into an insane orgy of dancing, illicit substance abuse, and sexual perversity that would have made the Romans of old embarrassed. Fast forward to Burning Man in 2000. I said to the so-called “rebels and outcasts” and whatever these dippy kids thought they were, you have no idea what it means to be a crazy outcast until you met this wild crew I met in the summer of 1983 is Southwestern Georgia out in the swampy woodlands near Fort Benning. These motherfuckers were crazy, free, and insane like no one I ever met again; they really didn’t give a fuck. I was so terrified by this freedom I ran away from it after a few weeks when I dumped my crazy stripper girlfriend who dragged me to this encampment of nihilistic insanity and licentious self-destruction. I would guess most were dead by 2000. I asked, can we play L.A. Woman by The Doors and dance around the fire like I did back in ’83 with my insane outlaw pals? The Burning Man gang, eager for “alternative” authenticity, of course agreed. And off we went. Still, it wasn’t much like my experience with my stripper baby and her insane gang. But the memories sure felt good. You wanna get your hippie dance on, motherfuckers, like my crazy redneck gypsy biker friends and their stripper old ladies in Southwestern Georgia who embraced my straight-laced Army ass that summer of 1983, well, put this fucking awesome song on your music player and TURN IT THE FUCK UP.
2. Gimme Shelter – The Rolling Stones (1969)
I was six in 1969. Men walked on the Moon. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy had been assassinated the year before. There seemed to be almost nightly reports of horrific race riots in every major American city. The fucking 1968 Democratic National Convention turned into a violent shit show as Chicago cops beat the fuck out of hippies while CBS News videotaped it all. The Vietnam War raged on and we watched the casualty lists daily to see if another relative or neighborhood boy serving over there died. And the horrors in ‘Nam never seemed to end: Khe Sanh, The Tet Offensive, Hamburger Hill, etc. I am sure there was plenty of free love and peace in America, but it was a lie to say things were good. Things were not good. We were a country divided, mortally wounded, and angry. These pale British Rock & Roll superstars put out a song that captured all this psychic angst in one bold, powerful, beautiful song that captured the airwaves as 1969 turned into 1970. Goodbye, hippie love fest, hello reality, motherfuckers. Reality was a police nightstick smashing a black face as buildings burned in the background and the Viet Cong killed Billy down the street who joined the 101st Airborne after high school. We were in pain and this was the anthem. Unity in America died in 1969 and it’s never come back.
1. Bohemian Rhapsody – Queen (1976)
We were driving from our new home in Indiana to our old one in Illinois to visit friends and family, I recall it was a cold, shitty day in 1976, when this nutty song came on the radio. I was sitting in the back seat with my sisters Jeanne and Maggie, and when this played we looked at each other, both puzzled and yet we could not help but fall in love with this crazy, weird, wonderful song. When it was over we looked at each other and were too confused by what we heard to speak. And then, about 20 minutes later on another radio station, we heard it again. On that 5-hour car trip were heard it about six times. By the sixth it was our favorite song and we knew all the words and sang along like idiots. Queen had pushed the limits of Rock & Roll way beyond what anyone thought was the outer boundary, and this insanely brilliant song is testimony to the band’s hubris and genius. It’s silly, sure, but also has powerful moments and kicks ass; it fucking ROCKS. It’s easily the most memorable Rock & Roll song of my lifetime. It’s Metal; it’s Pop; it’s Opera; it’s Rock & Roll! I dare Taylor Swift or Lady Gaga or Beyonce or some other shitty pop star from today to come close this kind of brilliance. I double-dog dare you.