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THIS IS NOT A TEST with Michael Phillips

Billionaires, mass shootings and other tidbits for your leisure time perusal – THIS IS NOT A TEST #50 (transcript)

Published December 5, 2015 [Podcast link]

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Oh, hello. Good to see you. And I can see you. Technology, you know. The least you could have done is put on pants before you started listening. Or a frock of some kind. Seriously. Okay, I’m Michael Phillips and THIS IS NOT A TEST. Back in August I talked about Trevy Felix, and some of my memories of him, and at one point I said, “I could tell these stories for another hour.” I didn’t do that, so I’d like to tell you a couple of them now, if you’d be so kind as to not click stop and just continue to listen. You trust me, right? If you don’t trust me by now, I’m definitely doing something wrong. Trevy’s brother Ray is planning a commemorative concert in Dominica on Trevy’s birthday, so it seems like a good time to tell a couple more little stories. Well I told you we were living in Topanga canyon, and for some unexplained reason I got myself a mountain bike to ride around up there. Considering Topanga is right on the side of a mountain, a mountain bike was appropriate, but also kind of insane. because, you know, it’s the side of a mountain. Every day I would go out in the morning and start pedaling toward what we called “the top of the hill,” which was at the top of our particular little bit of the Santa Monica mountains. It was more than two miles up windy two lane roads, and believe me when I tell you it was uphill all the way, with maybe a hundred yard stretch where it almost leveled out and you could almost catch your breath. Anyway, a pretty brutal ride any way you slice it, but every day I’d get a little further.

One day, after I’d been at it for a couple of weeks, Trevy was driving up the hill and he saw me getting ready to head out and he stopped, rolled down the window of his blue van and said, “Dude. What are you doing, man?” “Oh, you know, I’m riding to the top,” I told him, and he said, “I think you’re crazy man. Hold on, let me get a bike and come with you.” So he did. There was a 10 speed at his house and he hopped on and said, “Okay, let’s go.” But the thing about mountain bikes, like I had, is they have some very low gears, to make it easier to climb hills. A 10 speed is a street bike, so even in the lowest gear Trevy was standing on the pedals and huffing and puffing and sweating trying to get up the hill. I know he was miserable because I remembered what it was like the first day I attacked that hill on the mountain bike, and it was rough. The muscles in my legs protested the torture, and I could imagine that his were doing pretty much the same thing. They had to be. But he kept up with me. “This is a good workout!” he’d say, panting and struggling, standing on the pedals all the way. He kept that up for about half a mile, then he stopped and put his elbows down on the handlebars and said, “This is where you turn around, right?” I just said, “Yeah, today I guess this is where I turn around.” But he kept riding with me every day on the 10 speed. I don’t know how the hell he did it, but he was a persistent dude, if you didn’t get that already. But after a couple weeks he showed up with a new mountain bike, all smiles, “Let’s go, man!” And it still took him a week’s worth of rides to get to the top of Topanga, but he did it. I kept riding every day, and eventually moved from the streets to some more rough riding over on the other side of the canyon in the state park, but I mainly did that alone, since once Trevy made it to the top of the hill, he pretty much stopped riding along with me every day.

Another time, during a gig in Long Beach, I had what I called a “mixing board buddy.” It was an odd thing that happened sometimes, where a person would stand by the board and talk to me throughout the show. I never understood it, and it was kind of irritating, because it might look easy, mixing, but it still requires concentration, and when someone is yelling in your ear every five minutes it’s distracting. Anyway, this guy was just talking usual drunk shit about some band that had played there recently, and how he went to Mexico every third weekend and that he once killed a man with his bare hands. The usual. Then out of nowhere – he hadn’t said anything about the band – he said, “They’re good, but they need a better singer.” During a break between sets Trevy came back to the board and the guy was still standing there, and Trevy being Trevy said, “What’s up man, how you doing?” and the guy mumbled something about lampshades or doorknobs. I don’t think he realized that the singer from the stage was standing there next to him. So I said to Trevy, “He thinks the band is good…but they need a better singer.” I don’t think I’ve ever seen Trevy laugh as hard as he did at that. He said to the guy, “Dude man, you should go up there and sing when they come back out.” “I should!” the guy said, and Trevy said, “Yeah man, you should go tell them you want to do a few tunes,” and the guy walked over to what he thought was the backstage area but went through a different door, a kitchen or something, and that was the last time I saw him.

But there you go, that was Trevy. Determined, relentless, impatient, not real keen on re-climbing hills he’d already climbed, and humble and funny. It’s been more than three months and it still hasn’t really settled in my mind that he’s gone. Ah, well, that’s the way it goes for hose of us left standing. We have to deal with the void. The dead are probably looking at us from beyond somewhere and thinking we should lighten up. Speaking of relentless, Mark Zuckerberg announced that he intended to give away 99% of his wealth to charities. That’s a lot of money to give away, and giving away 99% of his dough would only leave him with 450 million dollars, so I’m not sure how he’s going to get by on that. And now he and his wife have a kid, what will be left for her? Right, only 450 million. A paltry sum these days I suppose. This mega-wealth is a relatively new thing. It wasn’t so long ago that there were only a handful of billionaires in the world, now every third person here in California seems to be a billionaire, and the other two thirds of us are only allowed to stay here by their good graces and benevolence. And because they need people to clean up after them, and cut their shrubbery into interesting shapes.

You used to have to do things like pillage a continent or finance the Napoleonic Wars or start the world’s biggest oil company to become a billionaire. Now apparently you just make a website or a phone or some other unnecessary piece of shit and you’re all set. But a modern Internet billionaire like Zuckerberg doesn’t have to make anything. Not a product, not a profit, all they have to do is convince a bunch of other people that what they’re doing is incredibly valuable and will one day turn a profit, then they sell stocks to those people. When Facebook started selling stock they had to release their actual profit numbers, which were around one dollar per user per year. So even if every living human was on Facebook every day, which they’re not, despite what Facebook would have you believe, their profit would be seven billion dollars a a year. You know, if they could “monetize” every human, which they can’t. Sadly for them.

So how does the founder of a company that makes a billion dollars a year in profit become worth 450 billion dollars? Without living to be 500 years old? That’s right, our friend the stock market. It’s all a fantasy, but as long as people buy in to the fantasy new billionaires will keep cropping up like weeds, buying up city blocks in London, New York and Los Angeles and sitting around counting their Ferraris and Bugattis and sending the nanny to CVS in a chauffeur driven Bentley. The old school billionaires were a lot more destructive and polluting, real slash and burn, fuck the little guy types, so they were no picnic either. They showed their wealth by imitating wealthy Europeans – building grand Euro-style mansions and filling them with European art, spawning generations of offspring too stupid or lazy to do anything themselves. Wealth may not be a curse to the people who amass it, but it’s sure as hell a curse on their descendants. Not to mention the millions of regular people who do the work that actually generates that wealth.

Ah but it has been ever thus, has it not, Mork from Ork? Yes it has, and it will always be that way I suppose. Even when the non-billionaires among us are running through the streets tearing each other to bits over the last can of beans in Pasadena. But back to Zuckerberg and his hundreds of billions of dollars going to charity. That sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? A lot of people will benefit from that money, won’t they? I don’t know. Maybe some will. Most modern charities are just another dodge, another ruse to make a few people a lot of money. What would really benefit “the people,” the little people who need benefiting, is a little bit of income equality. If those 450 billion dollars never went to Zuckerman they’d have to go somewhere. And the odds are good that out of a number like that, you and I might have a chance to pocket a few of those dollars.

Listen man, I don’t have any answers. If you’ve ever listened to me before you know that. But I have a lot of questions. Like how people can get wound up over these “mass shootings” that we have, yet still cling to their guns as if they were pacifiers or finely aged bourbon. Here in Califonia this week, in San Bernardino, a couple people shot up another place and ho hum, it all becomes so pedestrian and expected. Everyone expresses shock and sadness and then outrage and in two weeks no one will remember where it even happened. Well that’s not true, we’ll make sure they remember, because we celebrate tragedy in this country. We love nothing more than to mourn. We thrive on it. Carving names into memorial statues and holding up pictures and candles, until the next pile of bodies somewhere, then we go carve a fucking memorial there too, and I guess that’s what we do about these kinds of things, erect memorials.

These things are not necessarily violence caused by guns anyway, they’re violence caused by mental illness that isn’t taken care of or addressed. The guns just make it easier for the mentally ill people to rack up more impressive body counts. The same people a hundred years ago probably would have run through downtown stabbing people or dropping bricks off high rises. They would have still acted out. But now as the population increases so do the number of people who have a grudge against the rest of us as a whole and are looking for some way to take out their unnecessary anger. Their curable anger and frustration. We could help them too, but we don’t want to. We don’t want to stop selling guns and we don’t want to take care of anyone other than ourselves. Not if caring means letting go of any more of our money. But we will burn down buildings and murder doctors who provide legal abortions. because, you know, the fucking precious babies. You babies in the womb out there listening right now, you hear me out there? Get closer to the speaker. Mothers-to-be, hold the headphones up to your bellies, stick an ear bud into your belly button, I have something to say to your precious unborn children. Okay, can you hear me kids? Wake up in there. It’s your pal mjp and you know I’d never lie to you. But I’ve got some brutal truth I have to lay on you, I’m sorry. Ready? You’re only precious until the day you’re born, then you’re nothing, so enjoy your time in the womb, kids.

I know they are calling the San Bernardino killings terrorism now, but isn’t walking in to an office building where you used to work, or a school you go to and mowing down a bunch of people terrorism? I mean, isn’t that what it all is? Terrorism committed in the name of a “prophet” or any other cult leader is still terrorism, and I’d argue that it’s still curable mental illness. Well, however you want to classify it, we should really stop wringing our hands and weeping and moaning when one of these shootings happens and just get busy building the memorial wall or statue. Skip right to the part we actually care about. Well, not you. I’m not talking about you. I’m sure you are a caring and wonderful person. I’m not, but I assume you are. Someone has to be. I mean, they’re out there, right? I wonder why they never accomplish anything. I think I know why though, it’s because they’re out there trying to change people’s minds, and you can’t do that. That doesn’t work anymore. No one’s mind can be changed. That’s just how we’ve evolved, apparently.

What anyone who wants change really needs to do is start doing something that has an actual effect. Form a group of people who agree with you and get busy raising all the money you can raise. Because if you sashay into the halls of Congress and start throwing around more money than the NRA has, you’ll get gun control in three weeks. I know that sounds like a joke, but it’s not. That’s how you affect change, with money that you pay politicians to get them to do what you want them to do. Wake the fuck up, it’s been that way forever. You can march and sing and chant and occupy everyplace you want and the politicians and people who pay them will just keep laughing at you and doing what they’ve always done. If you want to defeat them you have to beat them at their own game. That’s the way it works. Otherwise you’re just stroking your ego and whatever you need to stroke to make yourself feel good, to feel like you’re doing something. Think I can get anyone to share that on Facebook?

I know it sounds harsh, to say that we don’t care about these horrible tragedies. I’m just going by what I see, and it keeps repeating over and over. The memorials and the prayers and the commemoration. Remember when we used to commemorate good things and good people? Now we commemorate horror, for some reason. I don’t live in New York, but if I did, I’d leave town at the beginning of every September, because those people will not let the World Trade Center attacks go. Is that something that needs to be brought up every year? For what? I’m not saying just forget every bad thing that ever happens, but what good does the commemoration do, and when is it going to stop? I won’t be surprised if there’s a 9/11 parade 20 years from now, and the people along the route throw papers and phones and things from their desks from the windows to make the city look just like it did on that holiest of days. Then they’ll stand by a memorial somewhere and read names, then go home and start planning for the St. Patrick’s day parade. Or which parade would come next, it wouldn’t be St. Patrick’s day, it would be Thanksgiving, right? Maybe Macy’s can sponsor the 9/11 parade too. Welcome to the 45th annual Macy’s 9/11 day parade!

Well. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe everyone in New York can’t wait to remember those attacks every year. Somehow I doubt it, but someone won’t let it go. Someone on some committee or in some office, it’s on their calendar now, so every year there will be something. It’s like remembering the day or date that some well-known person died every year. If you liked them, remember the date they born. Or the date they made their first billion, or married their personal assistant. Something other than when they died. Death and horror have probably always fascinated us, so I guess it shouldn’t be too surprising that most of us dwell on the bad things. We pay money to be scared by movies and theme park rides, so what’s the difference. Well, no one really dies in the movies, usually. I’m not sure why we need all these days to remember or celebrate the millions of things we want to remember or celebrate anyway. Maybe we should go back to a big feast in the spring and maybe one in the fall, you know, to mark the passage of time and seasons.

Maybe that’s what’s behind all this. Maybe there’s a human need to mark the passage of time, otherwise we’d wake up one day being 80 years old and sore all over and cranky and saying, “What the hell happened?! Why didn’t anyone tell me I was getting old!” That’s all graduations and weddings and things like that are, I suppose, rites of passage. Okay, your life was this way, now it’s going to be this way. This is the line, this is where things change. Or maybe life is just so easy that we need distractions to break up the monotony. It is a little monotonous, this existence. For most of us anyway. I don’t know if can ever not be monotonous. When I think back on the supposedly exciting parts of my life, when I was traveling around in bands, that was really fucking monotonous most of the time. Same thing every day, you’re just in a different city. But at least the scenery changes. You don’t have to drive past the same 7-11 and Pizza Hut every day. You get to drive past a different 7-11 and Pizza Hut.

I’m not sure life is supposed to be exciting anyway. I don’t need excitement, I know that. I’m not easily bored, so I’m probably not a good gauge of what humans want or how humans behave. I sit around now, in the dentist’s waiting room, or waiting for new tires to be put on the car or waiting in a line for whatever we’re always waiting in line for, and I don’t do anything, I just wait. You know, look around, think. Just be in that chair or that line and see what happens. But I’m the only one doing that now. We all used to do it. Or read magazines, I suppose, but we all used to have to wait. Now no one just sits and waits, they stare at the phone in their lap. Little kids, old people, older than me, which is pretty old, all just looking at the phone. When I’ve tried to do that I can’t find anything to look at. What are you going to do, read Twitter? Send an email? I can’t type with my thumbs, man, so that’s out. There’s nothing on that phone, so I don’t know what people are staring at, what they’re doing.

I took Carol to a Steely Dan concert at the Hollywood Bowl or the Greek, some outdoor thing, because she digs Steely Dan and she’d never seen them. Anyway, the kid in the row in front of us was typing on his phone the entire time. I mean the entire time. Texting and emailing. I guess for some people that’s how they connect to the Internet, through a phone instead of some uncool 20th century computer sitting on a desk somewhere. But it’s a bit much, isn’t it? Texting through an entire concert? Or dinner, or funeral or whatever. I’m as compulsive as the next person, but sometimes when I look at people who can’t stop staring at the phone I just think they’re idiots. Like if there was no computer in their pocket they’d just be staring out the window and drooling. Is that what they did before? Stared and drooled? That can’t be. They must have had personalities and hobbies and not seemed like simpletons hypnotized by a shiny toy. I know they aren’t idiots, most of them anyway, because I work with a guy who’s really smart, really sharp, but when he’s away from his desk he is staring at his phone. All the time.

Well, I’m no better. Staring at a phone every minute of the day is only slightly different than living in front of a computer, and I definitely do that. I’ve been getting up earlier than I used to so I can go to work earlier and come home earlier and I’ve found that I just have to avoid even looking at the computer in the morning, because if I do, I lose an hour. It doesn’t matter what’s happening or even if nothing’s happening, I lose an hour. And it’s really kind of nostalgic, standing in the kitchen getting some coffee, looking out the window, listening to the radio. It reminds me of life before the Internet. Which wasn’t necessarily better, but it was different. So here I am, marking the passage of time. Pre-Internet and post-Internet. Doing what humans do.

I’ll tell you though, shifting to an earlier schedule has been weird. I’m used to staying up until 2, getting up at 8:30, dicking around for an hour or two and rolling in to the office at 11. Staying until 7. It seems leisurely and modern, but it’s really just staying late instead of getting in early. And now that it’s getting dark at 4 it seems wrong to be sitting in my office in the dark. Well I’m not in the dark, I have a lamp, but I mean it’s dark outside. I don’t like that, driving home in the dark. It makes me feel like I’ve been at work too long, which I have been, whenever I go in or leave. It’s too much. And honestly I only actually work for maybe 5 hours a day anyway, but I’m there for the rest of the time, and it seems wrong. Well, I don’t want to get off on a work tangent. We talk about that enough. And why give work the satisfaction of talking about it when we don’t want to be there in the first place? We shouldn’t. I won’t. I refuse!

Instead I’ll talk about how cool you are, because you listened this far. This is like the secret part of the show, I think. The tail end when everyone else has faded away or been interrupted or has just given up and taken off. Not you. You’re still here. I wish I had some way to reward you for your persistence and attention. To thank you for your dogged determination to stay until the end. You probably watch the end credits of movies too, don’t you. You’re the last one in the theater while that kid waits by the door with a broom and a trash bag, looking at his phone. He needs to get to work but you won’t let him, because you have to see all the credits. Anyway, here we are, thanks. As for that reward, maybe I could send you a book or a box of chocolates, or a United States Savings Bond. I should probably do that. Just let me know where to send it. See you next time.