Earth's most beloved podcast

THIS IS NOT A TEST with Michael Jerome Phillips


THIS IS NOT A TEST, with your pal and confidant Michael Jerome Phillips

Dropping Propaganda From My Helicopter in the Sky (transcript)

Published May 4, 2020

Wait, wouldn’t you rather listen? Reading is so 20th century, and besides, this is a transcript of an audio presentation that was meant to be heard with your ears. Follow this link to podcast happiness.

Ah, and a fine spring day to you all. If it is indeed daytime when you’re hearing this. Here comes the sun. Here come the birds and insects. Here come the warm jets. Here comes the Western Tanager. What’s a Western Tanager? It’s a bird I saw the other day. I was minding my own business out back, looking at the rocks and cactus and wondering what was for lunch when a crazy bright yellow and red bird swooped in and hopped from creosote bush to creosote bush. It caught my eye because you don’t see a lot of bright yellow birds with bright red heads flapping around out here. The locals tend to be more camouflaged. It’s a survival thing. But there it was. Carol looked it up and told me that we’re just a stopover for them in the spring. They’re on their way somewhere else. Like all of us.

Spring, spring, spring. They tell me it’s spring anyway, but I was just outside screwing a “Bunny Crossing” sign onto the mailbox post and it sure feels like summer to me. It’s 85 degrees, and it’s not even the hottest part of the day yet. Funny thing is it snowed a few weeks ago. But that’s the desert for you. I like summer in the desert, which is not a popular point of view and probably a little perverse, but I like the heat and the smells and the sounds. As long as I’m not chopping wood or building a temple to the lizard gods or anything while I’m out there. I like it when I’m sitting on a chair on the porch in the shade, perhaps drinking a beer, as a survival thing, that’s when I like the summer. If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the high desert, isn’t that what they say?

So what did you do for Earth Day? Yeah, I didn’t do anything either. “I know, let’s think about the earth for one day a year! It’s green! Save the whales!” I remember the first Earth Day. Only because I did something called “The Walk For Mankind” on that day, or around that day. In the spring of 1970. The Walk For Mankind was 22 miles of, you know, walking, and you put the squeeze on your neighbors and relatives to pledge to pay a certain amount per mile. You know how those things work. I didn’t do it because I cared about “mankind.” I didn’t know what mankind was. I lived in the woods. All I knew about mankind is what I saw on TV. Which was Gilligan’s Island and The Flintstones. And the Vietnam war. That was a popular TV show when I was growing up. I did it, walked for mankind, because everyone was doing it. And probably because a pretty girl stood up in front of the class to recruit walkers.

All I remember about the walk was it was hot, a sunny day, and there was no shade along the route. We were bussed to some suburban location and forced to march. Every few miles there would be a table set up with water and Space Food Sticks. Remember Space Food Sticks? Kind of like a miniature Slim Jim only instead of the parts of the pig no one wants to eat, they were made out of a doughy, pasty kind of chocolate-like substance. Something that came from space, I assumed. Technological, futuristic food. I liked Space Food Sticks because I liked anything that was even remotely related to candy. About halfway through the day we came to a more elaborate table setup with big mounds of hot dogs. Piles of hot dogs the size of one of those big chest freezers everyone in the Midwest had in their garage to hold the frozen deer meat.

I walked up to one of the piles and grabbed a hot dog and the guy behind the table yelled at me. “Don’t touch those! I have to hand it to you!” I looked at him and looked at the hot dog that was already in my hand. I said, “Well, I have it now…” but he said no, I had to put it back onto the pile and let him hand one to me. It was probably a good rule, the handing of the hot dogs to the marchers. You don’t want a bunch of sweaty kids pawing the food everyone has to share. But putting it back on the pile seemed a little…counterproductive to me. It kind of flew in the face of the general hygiene they were trying to maintain. But I did as I was told and put the soggy hot dog back on the pile and let the guy behind the table hand one to me. And that was the Walk For Mankind, 1970.

It’s funny that all I remember is the food, but other than the food it was just hundreds of kids walking from nowhere to nowhere. There was no rally or speech at the end, that I can remember. There probably was a speech of some kind at the finish line. It just doesn’t stand out in my memory because there was no food. And there must have been a speech at the beginning, right? We didn’t just get off the school busses and start walking. I suppose someone, maybe the mayor of Petticoat Junction, talked about what a noble and necessary thing we were doing. Sacrificing our Saturday for the betterment of mankind. Feeding the world. Saving the whales. Actually, I don’t think we cared about the whales in those days. Were we saving the whales in 1970? I don’t know. But whenever we started, it seems like it worked, yeah? I mean, there are still whales, right? Congratulations humans.

That was my first and last entry into the world of politics. Or protest, or whatever it was supposed to be. I guess it was a show of solidarity with those who had no access to hot dogs or Space Food Sticks. But I didn’t have a realistic idea of hunger or poverty. Those were abstract concepts to my 10-year-old brain. Well, maybe not hunger, because I was always hungry. But not hungry hungry. Not hungry-but-there’s-no-food-anywhere hunger. But then I’m not sure you could get that idea across to any 10 year old who wasn’t living it. How much money did the Walk For Mankind raise, I wonder? And where did they send it?

That’s the problem with fundraising isn’t it. Especially for something as vague and broad and wide-reaching as hunger. How do you decide where that money goes? If you read Bob Geldof’s famine aid book, you know that that is the hardest, and usually most impossible, part. That Live Aid spectacle raised hundreds of millions of dollars somehow, and when they tried to send relief to parts of Africa, all the food and supplies and money was just stolen by the people who signed for it. Like standing in front of someone’s house and taking the package from the UPS guy, and saying, “Thanks! Have a good one!” then running off down the alley. Or like the shipping palates of cash that the U.S. government sent to the middle east to help “fight terrorism.” That was a solid plan. That worked well.

It seems to me, and I’m just a simpleton, but it seems to me that best way to aid people, to help them, is to help them directly. If someone needs money or food or a house, give them money or food or a house. But we can’t do that. Help and aid has to go through an organization. Governmental or non-governmental, someone else has to decide who is worthy of receiving help. Who deserves it. Otherwise it could all just wind up in the hands of lazy people who don’t want to work for a living. I mean, that’s the only reason you’d be hungry or homeless, right? because you refuse to work for things. We can’t just bring a truckload of food to people who are starving. They might eat it all! Geldof learned that the hard way. But it applies to every kind of aid or assistance in most places. Someone, usually someone employed by a government, has to size you up and make sure you’re worthy or deserving of help.

But that’s the world we’ve created. And you can walk or march or drop propaganda out of helicopters, but it won’t change. When I express that view to some people they’re shocked and disgusted and they look at me like they feel sorry for someone who’s so unenlightened. “Of course people marching in the streets can cause change,” they say, “it happens all the time! What about the civil rights movement in the 60s in America?” Yeah, what about it? What good is change that doesn’t change anything? What good are laws that go unenforced? What good does winning “freedom” do when all it means is you’re free to suffer and die the same way you always have? And not for nothing, but none of the segregationists in the south gave a shit about any protests until black people figured out how to protest in a way that took money out of white people’s pockets. Once they hit on that, suddenly there were equality laws. Miraculous!

You know, you have to say that laws promising equality are a good thing. But laws are just another tool of oppression used by the ruling class. Now I sound like a protester. Can’t you just see that on a picket sign at an occupy rally? LAWS ARE TOOLS OF OPPRESSION USED BY THE RULING CLASS! “What do we want?” “NO MORE LAWS USED AS TOOLS OF OPRESSION BY THE RULING CLASS!” “When do we want it?” “NOW!” But a law telling me I’m equal when I’m not is just a trap. Equality under the law is a fantasy anyway. Equality is granted by people, not laws. If we all treated each other as equals there wouldn’t be any need for equality laws, would there. And if people aren’t treating each other equally in day to day life, no law can change that. As long as people believe that other people are different from them in some way, they’ll justify the suffering they cause them.

How you fix that, I don’t know. I’m not sure you can. Tribe against tribe. That vibe goes back a way. Like back to when we first stood upright or painted pictures of elk and moon gods on cave walls. Is that ingrained in our DNA, conflict? I suppose it would be when you had to rely on the natural resources around where you lived. No one was coming in with a truckload of food or relief. So fighting over water or water buffalos, I guess that was something we had to do. There wasn’t much benefit to unity between tribes. So maybe we aren’t meant to be united. I don’t really believe that, but I’ll just put it out there. And like I mentioned last time – you did listen last time, didn’t you? – even the great external threat of COVID hasn’t done a lot to unite us in these current days of our lives. It may be uniting the people you follow on Instagram, but everyone else, hmm, I’m not sure.

So, COVID, yeah. I guess it all has to come back to COVID at some point, doesn’t it? In these times. Is it getting better? Hard to say. In March there was a lot of hand wringing about the millions of people who would die. If you watched the news, which I never recommend doing if you can help it, you would have thought the bubonic plague was back. The black death was knocking at your door, waiting for you to step outside and take your last breath. There haven’t been millions of deaths, of course, so the sensationalists, the fear mongers, the people who will say anything for money, are all screaming about the imminent collapse of the world economy now. They’ve convinced some of the “patriots” out there that their rights are being trampled by liberals and the shadow guvvamint. So they’re out in the streets protesting, all twenty or thirty of them, for their “freedom.”

Polls tell us – as much as polls can tell us anything objective – but they tell us that almost zero Americans think that we should suddenly resume business as usual. We, the polls say, believe that everyone staying home is decreasing the spread of the virus. I think we believe that because it seems to be true. But truth takes a holiday when a few dozen people stand on the steps of the local capitol building with their automatic rifles and their LAWS ARE A TOOL OF OPPRESSION picket signs. And the news, all of the news, who, remember, will say anything for money, even things they don’t believe, well, they’re all over that. Reporting on the protests, the “movement.” The nonexistent movement. Whipping up more discord and division. As if we needed any help with that.

And yeah, all news. Not just the sputtering, dead-eyed reptilian idiots on Fox TV or on 90% of the country’s radio stations, but also the “mainstream media,” that great liberal machine that rules the liberal zombie hordes with a Trilateral fist. They’re all the same when it comes to fear-mongering. All news outlets. The whole “if it bleeds, it leads” approach of television news would collapse in on itself without sensationalism and impending doom. Doom sells advertising. If you take away the fear, they’ve got nothing to talk about. That’s been going on for a long, long time, it didn’t start with COVID. But man, COVID is like a godsend to them. It’s tailor-made for whipping up panic and fear.

This is what they’ve been waiting for, the Fox News outlets of the world. This is what they’ve spent the last few decades preparing for. They’ve been laying the groundwork with their misdirection and bastardization of what people consider to be news. With their endless loop suggesting, or just claiming outright, that there is no such thing as truth. Now their goal is right out in the open. Now their government-should-not-regulate-or-otherwise-oversee-or-control-business agenda is in a perfect place. Tired of staying in the house? Go out and protest and let the liberals know that your “freedom” is god-given and guaranteed by the constitution! Lost your job? Blame it on the communist liberal Centers for Disease Control lackeys who concocted this whole scheme, and who lounge around their mansions laughing and drinking cocktails while keeping their boot on your neck.

Listen, I question everything and everyone. But when it comes to a group of people who are experts on the spread of infectious diseases, I listen to them when they talk to me about the spread of infectious diseases. To put the idea out there that a group like the CDC should be questioned or discredited because someone throws the word “liberal” at them is cynical and dangerous. And only someone who will say anything for money could say it. But that’s how far they’ve gone. They laid the groundwork of mistrust and they have to go all the way with it. They have to double down, even when it comes to something that could kill off a lot of their followers. The casualties are just collateral damage on the way to the bank anyway. Like in any war. We’re just collateral damage, standing between them and the dollars they are entitled to.

Their tireless work to discredit science and education and facts and truth is paying dividends now. Their generation is primed and ready. They’re open to anything they’re told by the people who don’t care about them. The people who will say anything for money. And make no mistake, none of the conservative media figureheads believe the ridiculous shit they spout. Look at it sometime. Unblock the Fox channel on your cable box and take a look. It’s so entirely batshit crazy, everything they say, that you can’t tell me they seriously believe one word of it. It’s like the old tabloid Weekly World News over there, only four hundred times more insane. They’re playacting, and they are playacting for money. Because they believe that money will protect them from the world they’re creating.

And maybe it will. The thing is, they don’t have to believe anything they say. They’re paid for saying it, and that’s justification in itself. Every criticism they lob at the liberal boogeyman are things they themselves are guilty of. It’s an old tactic that still works, even though it seems incredibly stupid. Try it yourself sometime. Accuse someone else of everything that’s awful about you. And just keep doing it. It won’t take long for the stink of your awfulness to cover your opponent like green Nickelodeon slime. And your friends will side with you against the monster that you’ve created out of thin air. Your friends will blame the other side for the boot on their neck. They’ll never notice that the boot is on your foot. And if they do notice and say, “Hey, your boot is on my neck!” you just say, “No it isn’t.”

And there you go, modern politics in a nutshell. And religion too, for that matter. The big-box religions are no different than politics. It’s all lies and misdirection. For money. I’m sure you’ve seen the preachers sending out COVID cures via TV, and telling their followers to hand over the $1200 checks they’re receiving. All of that was to be expected. No surprise there. Meanwhile, what happens to mankind? How many walks and marches is it going to take to fix this mess? Twenty-two miles ain’t going to do it. It’s going to take a lot more than a truckload of expired Space Food Sticks and soggy hot dogs.

Bukowski wrote, “There’s a small balcony here, the door is open and I can see the lights of the cars on the Harbor Freeway south, they never stop, that roll of lights, on and on. All those people. What are they doing? What are they thinking? We’re all going to die, all of us, what a circus! That alone should make us love each other but it doesn’t. We are terrorized and flattened by trivialities, we are eaten up by nothing.” If that doesn’t just about say it all, nothing does. We’re all in this together. We’re all the same. We should love each other. It’s interference from the outside that makes it impossible. It’s your friends, your government, your newspuppets. They’re all telling you ‘no,’ but the answer is ‘yes.’ They’re all terrified and terrorized by the same things, but the answer they’ve come up with is wrong.

And before it occurs to you to say that I shouldn’t complain about something without offering a solution, a popular pastime on the Internet, allow me to just say for the record, go take a long bike ride up sand pound road, hombre. First, the idea that complaining about things that are unjust or wrong or just generally fucked up without offering a solution at the same time is just another way of saying, “shut up,” and I was absent on that day of school. When they taught us how to shut up. Secondly, I have offered a solution: the answer is ‘yes.’ That’s my solution. When they say ‘no,’ just say ‘yes.’ And by “they” I mean everyone. And by ‘yes’ I don’t mean when the world says ‘no’ to murdering your insurance agent you should say ‘yes.’ I mean that when you’re met with skepticism or negativity about an idea that has value or truth or, dare I say, righteousness, ignore that shit.

People with wrong ideas that are untrue and not at all righteous are very comfortable doing that. They ignore the truth like honey bees ignore socket wrenches. Which makes it all seem impossible. All of this. But it’s not. There was a time, brothers and sisters, and I tell you there was a time because I lived in it, I am testifying before you now, that there was a time when people who were wrong were still sitting around being wrong, but the people who were right were in control of things. So, sure, in those days you could stand on your porch and wave an assault rifle at the police if you wanted to, but it wouldn’t end well. For you. Unlike now, where they bring in the civil rights lawyers and give the gun-wielding lunatic a box of Girl Scout cookies and a podcast. Now, I’m not going to lie, the people who were wrong about everything, they didn’t like living in those times. When they couldn’t get whatever they wanted. But they did, and they had to put up with it. Because they were wrong.

Now we don’t seem to know what’s right and what’s wrong. If the president of the United States can call you an asshole on Twitter, maybe there is no ‘wrong’ anymore. And I hear you not-wrong people out there, with your facts and science and compassion, you’re frustrated, and you’re saying, “mjp, what can I do with all this wrong that I’m soaking in? How do I get myself out and live in a world that’s right again?” To which I say, and write this down, it’s important, I don’t know. Well, I think I know. I think I know, from looking at and living through history that the pendulum, which is to say life in America, and a lot of other places, will swing back to the place of doing what’s right and having compassion and not valuing business above humans eventually. We were there once, the moment may have been brief, you may have missed it, but it happened and I have to think we’ll get there again.

And I welcome the COVID conspiracy theorists and the anti-taxers and anti-vaxers and paste waxers and everyone else who chose lies over truth. I welcome them all to the sunny side of the pendulum. To my porch here, to sit in the shade and have a cool drink and look at the rocks. Because I know when we do that, all the commonalities come to the surface and all the differences will fade. When we look into each other’s faces and speak like human beings we don’t see so much conflict or evil or hatred. Unless you’re sitting with, you know, Mitch McConnell or any of the other soulless, walking dead. But even Mitch McConnell, I have to invite him to the porch. He may never make it off the porch, but I digress. There I go, over to the dark side when we were talking about light. What’s wrong with me? Well, we’re all subject to human nature. Most of us, anyway.

See, when I started this I was going to talk about chipmunks and bunnies and birds and weather, but look what you’ve made me do. Oh, I did it myself? I suppose I did. I did it myself and I did it to myself. Whatever happened to talking about books or music or Christmas lights or pretty shoes? What happened to all that? Good question. Here you go, I read a really good memoir recently. It was everything a rock and roll memoir should be, and I really enjoyed it, even though it was written by someone who’s name I didn’t know, and whose band I never listened to. The author’s name is Steve Gorman, and his book is called, Hard to Handle: The Life and Death of the Black Crowes – A Memoir. That’s a hell of a long title, but it’s a five-star rock and roll book. Check it out.

He thinks his band was a lot more important than it was, but that’s what you’re supposed to think when you’re in a band. But, you know, again, I never listened to one of their records, so maybe they were important. Maybe they were up to some groundbreaking, revolutionary soul shakedown parties over there. Who knows. Maybe they rewrote history and I just never noticed. Good book though, and I can’t say that about 95% of the rock memoir things that I read. One of the other five percent of winners was Mo’ Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove. That one was great too, but for a lot of different reasons. It isn’t a straightforward life on the road and in the studio book. Questlove is operating on another frequency, and once you tune into it, the book is a great ride.

On another different frequency is Carlos Santana’s book, The Universal Tone: Bringing My Story to Light. That sounds very pompous, I know, but Carlos is a solid dude, and even if I don’t really listen to his music either, it’s a book worth picking up. Yes, some of his ideas and his world view sometimes teeter a little far out there, but for the most part he reigns it all in. And even the far out parts make sense somehow. The way he explains them. So read it already. And the Santana records, at least the older ones, and definitely worth a listen. Soul shakedown party indeed. If you were hearing timbales and congas on the radio in the 70s, you were probably hearing Santana. And you gotta hand it to anyone who played Woodstock while they were out of their mind on acid.

I can’t say many good things about some other books by musicians that I’ve read recently, like Carly Simon, Michael Nesmith, Belinda Carlisle, Morris Day. Nesmith especially. Wow, what a piece of shit that is. I had no expectations for it, I have no expectations for any of these books, but somehow he still disappointed me. I mean, the book reads like a book, most of the words make sense, after you go to the dictionary to look them up, but it really reads like a book written by someone you’d never want to sit on a porch with. And by that I mean a know-it-all Christian Scientist who will never make a definitive statement about anything, important or trivial. Bad read, bad news, bad vibes. Ouch, Mr. Monkee, ouch.

There you go, I should have talked about books or music this whole time, but the books were just relegated to the end of this thing like afterthoughts. Well, if you feel let down, come back next time, when this will probably look sane and coherent in comparison. I mean, I don’t know that. The next one could be the best one ever, right? Sure, the odds are against it, but I hold out hope. Not Obama poster hope, real hope. That’s what keeps me coming back. How about you?