It’s July 4th, do you know where your independence is? THIS IS NOT A TEST #28 (transcript)

Published July 4, 2015 [Podcast link]

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Greetings and salutations, permutations, deviations and reverberation. Connotations, stipulations, exclamations and revelations to you all. Who knew there were that many words that rhymed with salutations? There are probably a lot more out there. Maybe I should do one of these where every line rhymes. That would be – awful. Don’t worry, I wouldn’t put you through that.

So the President was in town to do Marc Maron’s podcast. He was going to be on THIS IS NOT A TEST too, but Maron ran long, so I guess that’s the way it goes. Hey, if he can go to Maron’s garage he can come to my kitchen, right? Right. because our audiences are so similar. My three hundred and his three million. But it was a great show and you could say a coup for Maron. He did an episode of the podcast just talking about how that interview came about and what it’s like when the President comes to your house. It’s pretty good, you should go check it out. But not right now. Stay where you are right now. There was a bit of debate in a podcasting community thing that I waste time in, about whether the President being on Maron’s show was “good for podcasting.” I’m not sure why it would be. Or if we need anything to be “good for podcasting.” It’s here isn’t it? We’re participating in it, you and I. What else do we need? Our picture on the cover of Rolling Stone? Don’t hold your breath.

Speaking of Rolling Stone the magazine or the Rolling Stones the band, did you see the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame show? It seems like they inducted someone from every decade, the 5 Royales from the 50s, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and Lou Reed from the 60s, Bill Withers and Stevie Ray Vaughan (and Lou Reed) from the 70s, and Joan Jett from the 80s. Of course Joan started in the 70s with her band the Runaways, and by the way, why aren’t the Runaways in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? The whole thing is so ridiculous, because they can’t get everyone in there who should be in there. If anyone should be in there. I happen to think the whole idea of a rock and roll museum is sort of anti-rock and roll, but what do I know. I liked the letter John Lydon wrote to them when the Sex Pistols were entombed in there in 2005. “Rock and roll and that hall of fame is a piss stain. Your museum. Urine in wine. We’re not coming. We’re not your monkey and so what?” Then he went on to point out how much money the hall of fame wanted them to pay for tickets and that it was basically a museum ceremony for rich old wankers. He ended with, “We’re not coming. You’re not paying attention. Outside the shitstem is a real Sex Pistol.” That – is rock and roll, you see? That is the spirit and attitude that launched rock and roll. That “screw the old guard, and screw you too” kind of thing.

Pretty much every record company on the face of the earth rejected Joan Jett after the Runaways broke up, so she put out records herself and persisted and built a good career for herself, outside of the shitstem. And the record company types who vote for those inductions love that kind of thing because they’re short sighted idiots who only know how to count money, and when a real rocker comes along they want to attach themselves to them because they think some of that spirit and beauty can rub off on them. It doesn’t, it can’t, but that’s what they think, and that’s why they put someone like Joan into their museum. I can prove to you that all they know how to do is count money. Why else would a second rate hack outfit like Green Day be inducted? because they made a lot of money for people in that industry, that’s why. It sure as hell isn’t because of their dull, derivative music and their little brother bratty post-punk posing. When they put tripe like that in there and don’t have bands like the New York Dolls or the Shangri-Las or N.W.A. or the probably 50 other groups or musicians that really shook things up, you know you’re dealing with people of, let’s say, limited vision. It’s a dumb thing anyway, that hall of fame. And I wouldn’t go to a rock and roll museum to stare at Kurt Cobain’s underpants or Elvis Presley’s whiskey decanter. Or all those guitars behind glass never to be played again. What a load of shit.

Ah well, it’s the 4th of July today, the day I’m releasing this episode anyway. So if you hear explosions or gunshots in the background, don’t be alarmed. That’s just how we celebrate. By blowing shit up. Yes, independence day. It’s that glorious day of the year when Americans celebrate breaking off from Britain 239 years ago. Refusing to pay those taxes to the crown, refusing to kiss the king’s ring any longer. And because of that bold move we now live in a tax-free shangri la of freedom and independence and liberty and equality, all of that. Right? I doubt those colonists paid more tax to the crown than I pay to the crown that runs this joint now. Almost 30 grand last year, just saying it here is painful. I don’t mind paying taxes so that things can keep working and people can eat and the sun can keep coming up in the morning. But I have to wonder how much less I’d pay – how much less we would pay – if the really wealthy types didn’t weasel their way out of paying anything. A few politicians over the years have advocated a flat tax of 10 or 11 percent, but they didn’t last long as politicians, because common sense like a flat tax doesn’t fly in that world. But imagine getting 20% of that money you pay to taxes now back. Everyone would be better off, the economy would be better – but I don’t want to talk about taxes, I want to talk about independence. Though I imagine they are related somewhere.

The Rastafarians like to play with words and language, and one of the things they warned us about the evils of isms, and patriotism is no different. Especially blind patriotism, the “my country right or wrong” kind of patriotism that you used to see a lot, back when the world war II generation was running shit. They were some tough bastards and they really could run shit. And most of them were proud of America, proud of being American. It seems like lately the only people who call themselves patriots think the country is all wrong, all the time. Or at least all politicians are. I can’t disagree with them there, but that’s about the only common ground we might have. Patriotism is a slippery slope, and taken too far it only isolates us and makes us look foolish. I love living in America. I love the ridiculous hugeness of this country and all of the different people scattered across it. But I was born here, so I’m not exactly objective. It’s one of the funny things about love of country. You can go to other countries, even live in other countries, but it’s rare to do that and say, “You know, I love the Maldives more than I love the country I was born in!” You just don’t hear that because there’s something about being from a place.

But I’m not objective about that either come to think of it, because someone born in a country that’s constantly unstable or at war might not have such fond feelings for their homeland. And when did America become the “homeland” anyway? That was that fucker Bush, wasn’t it, or his crew of drooling cynics. When I first heard them refer to this country as “the homeland” I was shocked. It sounded like the Third Reich to me, the Fatherland and all that. The Homeland. Aside from just being generally idiotic, it doesn’t even sound right as a descriptive term for a country. It sounds like idiots coined it. Homeland. But they kept saying it so the press kept publishing it and now here we are, in the god damned Homeland. Homeland security! Safest fucking country on the face of the earth as far as attacks from outside. One of the most dangerous countries on the face of the earth because of attacks from inside. Because of us slaughtering each other. While they point at the middle east as the great enemy. The enemy is us, man, like Walt Kelly said in his Pogo comic. But if the country is great it can’t also be bad, can it? That kind of dichotomy is probably what drives a lot of self-proclaimed patriots to drink.

Can a country even be great? Objectively? What is a country? It isn’t geography, it’s people. People brought together by geography. But I don’t know if a country can be great, I think countries just are. They sit there existing and maybe you go to visit them and you think, “Well I had a good time there, I like that country.” Or it had mountains and you don’t have those at home, or it had locals who dressed in colorful hats or good river boating. Whatever it is that makes us like a place. So I don’t know what could make a country great. But I know what makes a country not so great. You know, dictators, military regimes, repression, censorship. When I say those things you’re probably thinking of extreme examples, but you could argue that we have every one of those things right here in the great U.S.A. What’s the difference between cops rolling into your neighborhood in tanks and a military regime? Not much. And repression and censorship, we have plenty of each to go around. We can point that out and complain about it, which makes us different from places where the repression and censorship are more pervasive and the people can’t even speak of them without suffering some kind of retribution, but we have them just the same.

So are we great? I guess no one wants to say they live in a not-as-bad-as-some-of-the-others country. That doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue or look magnificent spelled out on a banner in the beak of an eagle on a bumper sticker or a tattoo. Like I said before, the things that make this country great to me aren’t political or ideological, it’s the physical awesomeness of the place and the weird collection of people we’ve amassed. And I speak the language. That’s very important. It’s hard to love a country when you don’t speak the same language as most of the people living in it. It’s hard to do anything when you don’t speak the language of a country. Which I suppose limits me to potentially loving only a small handful of countries. You know, Canada, the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and most of the Caribbean. Who else speaks English? Nigeria. I don’t know if it’s their official language, but everyone speaks English there. South Africa? I think there too. Though I’m not exactly chomping at the bit to go to Nigeria or South Africa. Call me crazy, but, no. And just because they speak English in places like Wales and Scotland doesn’t mean I could understand anything they’re saying, so there’s that too.

I know what you’re thinking, why don’t you just learn another language, mjp? Sure, easy for you to say. And which language? I live in Los Angeles, so Spanish is an obvious choice. But I’ve tried, and I can’t keep another language straight. I had a girlfriend years ago who used to always say, “Let me teach you to speak Arabic, it’s easy!” Easy? I can’t even do a romance language and she wants to teach me a language that uses Arabic script? Read right to left? Though the way the world is now, I probably should have taken her up on that. Seems like it would be handy to know Arabic. And Chinese. I work with a lot of Chinese speakers and I’d like to know what they’re saying about me behind my back, or in front of my face. German, no, nein! Hardly anyone speaks that. French? No. But that one is used in a lot of places too. Like English. But no. I enjoyed France when I’ve visited, but I didn’t enjoy it that much. Most of us – here in America, anyway – are stuck with one language and we have to muddle through life, crippled and sad and wondering what everyone else is saying.

But it’s not language that makes a country great either, so we have to scratch that off the list of possibilities. Flags certainly don’t make a country great. Flags are only symbols, and if the country or the people who fly a certain flag are all fucked up, the flag eventually becomes a symbol of that fucked upedness to the rest of the world. And all the old flags that incorporated parts of the British flag in them because they were “territories” – how does that affect people who live under them. Seeing a symbol of your ownership every day. “Man, we were doing fine before those British came along, what happened? How are we the subjects of their king now? I’ve never even seen the guy…” But in those explorer days that was how countries demonstrated their greatness, by subjugating huge groups of people around the world. It’s such a ridiculous concept when you look at it now, it’s hard to believe that it was just taken for granted back then. “Look, over there – it’s a place we didn’t know about before. Let’s go ashore and stick our flag there, then we’ll own it.” Imagine the mind set you’d have to have to do that. To look at entire civilizations and think, “Okay, they are as dumb as dirt, let’s get them on board with JESUS and then see what kinds of things we can get from them to take back home with us. Throw a couple of those natives into the ships too, we’ll put them in a museum or a circus, or let our finest medical professionals remove their brains and examine them to find out why they’re so stupid.”

Of course what they really wanted were the resources, raw materials, silver, gold, spices, plants, anything they could get their hands on, since apparently there wasn’t much in the way of resources in Europe. Or they didn’t want to dig up all their own land to get it. Just a lot of peat and rocks. I know they had rocks, because they built crazy shit like Stonehenge. So in those days the ability to sail around the world raping and pillaging was what made you great. Not raping and pillaging Viking style, but still just as destructive. Maybe more destructive. But there was your greatness. Right there in your ability to dominate. And I’m not so sure that our definition of greatness has changed much, since armies are used so often to enforce greatness onto those who are less great. And while we’re on the subject, I have to mention that I had a great, great grandmother who was full blooded Oglala Sioux, so I have some different ideas on how great the colonial Americans were, and later the 19th century settlers who seemed to have the same outlook as the explorers a few hundred years earlier. That outlook being that the natives were not people but simply obstacles to be overcome or eliminated on the true path to progress and, yes, greatness. The idea that the relatively newly arrived Americans could just murder or starve out the people who had been living here for, oh, 15,000 years is more than a little mind-boggling. And you can’t really say it speaks to any kind of greatness by any definition of the word.

But ah, all that ancient history – water under the bridge, man! Stop complaining. Yes, let’s move on. No point in dwelling on the ugly aspects of our rise to greatness. because really, there are so many things that make the place great right now. And I don’t mean our wonderful interstate freeway system or strip mining and fracking. In fact the freeways may have been the end of the really great period in this country. Great in the way that I think is great anyway. The regional differences were a lot more obvious before convenient high speed travel and television came along to make us all a little more homogenous. Driving from Chicago to Los Angeles on route 66 was like traveling through a dozen different countries. It took forever and you saw a lot of variety in people, places, buildings, food, everything. Now you’d have to be a fool to take a route like that. I moved out here to Los Angeles from Minnesota 30 years ago and trust me, we didn’t take the scenic route. I mean we thought we did, we wanted to see things, but there isn’t much to see from the freeways. They go around the cities rather than through them, so unless you’re stopping for the night all you see in the skyline as you drive past. “Hey, the gas stations and McDonald’s here in Denver are just like home!”

You can still see everything that you used to see traveling around the country, but you have to seek it out now, you have to stay away from the airport, get off the freeway and spend a lot more time on the road. But if you do, if you can afford to, that’s where you find the real beauty and greatness of America. The weirdness and the unique cultural bits. In the smaller cities and small towns. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a small town, but to me, that’s where you’ll find the most interesting people. Yeah, they’re still small towns, so you’ll also find a lot of not so cool things, like, you know, racism and small-mindedness. But I can find that on my block here in Los Angeles, so I don’t lay that all at the feet of the people outside the big cities. That’s kind of an unfair brush they get painted with, since it isn’t unique to them. But I like working people, people without a lot of pretense and poofery. And again, I suppose that’s just because that’s what I grew up around, but I’d much rather sit in someone’s back yard drinking beer from a keg on the 4th of July than go to a bar in Silverlake and be surrounded by people celebrating the holiday ironically. Even though patriotism isn’t exactly my wheelhouse, and I might think it’s misguided, at least it’s genuine. And genuine people are the ones you want to be around. Especially on a holiday. If you have to be around people on a holiday. Which I’d rather not, but you don’t always get what you want.

And even if you took all of the people out of the U.S., you’d still have a really interesting place. The terrain and the different climates. Is there another country on earth that has rainforests and deserts? I don’t think there is. Maybe in South America somewhere, but I didn’t too very well in geography in school. Standing out in a field in the plains states is such a vastly different experience than the mountains on either coast or the rockies ripping through the middle of the country, or the swampy south east. In the plains states you can really feel the vastness of the country. The endlessness of everything. The despair. Ha, hey, let’s be realistic. I’m talking about traveling somewhere and experiencing something. If you live in the middle of a thousand square miles of flatness it probably isn’t as enticing or wonderful. You probably want to see a mountain, a hill, a mound, anything. But there’s the beauty, you can just get into your pickup truck and drive for a day and half and be in a completely different landscape. And you can live there if you want to. No passport or new language required.

I’m saying how wonderful it is to travel around the country and see everything, but I hardly ever go anywhere anymore. I traveled a lot in my 20s and 30s here in the U.S. and in a lot of other places. It was a good thing to do, but after a while, maybe not so much. I always liked coming home, anyway, wherever home was. I don’t understand people who live and work in one place most of their lives and then travel when they’re old. I mean, I get the allure of living in a giant Winnebago 9 months out of the year, I really do. But I think we do a lot of things backwards. We should enjoy ourselves when we’re young, and then when we’re 40, 45 we go to work for 25 or 30 years. That’s the way it should be, since most jobs are trying to kill you anyway. Why not work until you’re going to die no matter what you’re doing. Then it’s no great tragedy. “Well, work killed him.” “Yeah, but he’s 80 years old, so…” When you’re in your 20s you don’t need anything, so why work every day? For what? To buy a car? I had lots of cars in my 20s. Each one of them was only worth about $500, but like I said, you don’t need more than that at that age.

But work is what we do. It’s how a lot of us define ourselves, maybe more so in the past, but we still do it. When people ask me what I do – and by the way, why do we ask each other what we do? Speaking of work defining us. We always ask it of people we just met. As if that’s the most interesting thing about them. But if you talk to them for a few hours you usually find out their work is about the least interesting thing about them. Anyway, when people ask me what I do I just say “I work for an Internet company,” because explaining web site hosting is still too arcane and boring for most people, even though more of them know what what it is now than did 15 or 20 years ago. But when I say Internet, people immediately say, “Oh! Wow. No kidding.” and they make assumptions about me, like I’m probably pretty smart or work in a pile of beanbag chairs enjoying the free catered meals every day. It’s a much different response than I got when I was younger and said, “I’m a printer,” or “I don’t do anything.” No one oohs and ahhs over printing. But they still make assumptions about you, like, maybe, you’re not so bright and probably slowing dying from all of the toxic chemicals.

But I’m the same guy, I just did two very different things. I’m still no smarter than a typical printer, though there aren’t many printers left, so who knows. There could be some survival of the fittest thing going on in that industry. To have survived as a printer in these times kind of demonstrates a canny knack for survival, so maybe printers on the whole are a lot smarter than they were when I was among them. The point being, though, that someone’s perception of me based on my job is a pretty shallow and ultimately false impression. But at least I’m not an investment banker. I think if I was, whenever people asked me what I do I’d say I work at Walmart. No one wants to be a villain. I suppose the importance we put on work or vocation or whatever you want to call it goes back a long time. A couple hundred years ago, when we didn’t live very long, we probably worked 12 hours a day, 6 days a week until the day we dropped dead, so our job was kind of who we were. I don’t know if that’s still true though. Especially now, when jobs aren’t exactly a dime a dozen. Good jobs anyway. And work is one of the ways America is way, way behind almost every other developed country. We work like dogs compared to smarter people around the world. We take lees time away from the job, work longer hours.

All of this technology we’re surrounded by – I remember when I was a kid even, growing up in the 60s and someone was always saying, “In the year 2000 men will only work 20 hours a week and the rest of the time they’ll go fishing.” They said men because only men worked in the 60s. Or that’s what they’d have you believe anyway. Yeah, no one will have to work, food will cook itself – and hover cars and jet packs, don’t forget those. We were all going to be like the Jetsons in the magical year 2000. But all of our advances have had the opposite effect. We work more. And we don’t feel any job security anymore, so we’re afraid to leave the job for more than a few days. When’s the last time you took a three week vacation? I have 3 or 4 weeks of vacation I can take and I never take more than a week off. I think if I left for a month there would be someone else in my office when I got back. I mean, I know there wouldn’t be, but that’s how they do us now, that’s how they get their indentured servitude. Not at the end of a whip, but by filling us with irrational fear.

Speaking of independence. Really, no country is independent, we all rely on each other. You can see what happens when we don’t in countries like Cuba and North Korea. I saw a picture of North Korea online the other day, and it was a picture of a six lane highway going through what looked like a sizeable little city. The highway stretched out as far as you could see, and do you know what was on it? A few people walking. Some walking right down the middle. Not one car to be seen. Not a truck, motorcycle or even a bicycle. Just a few people. Walking. There’s and independent country for you. That’s what you get when you’re truly independent. But really, are any of us independent, here inside our independent countries? Are you independent? If we have to work at a job every day just for the privilege of living in this country, are we really independent? I would say that very few of us are. There were times in my life when I didn’t work a job. I removed myself from all of that. But I wasn’t truly independent. I had to live somewhere, I had to eat. I was always relying on others, so I can’t say I was truly free. I don’t know if people can really be free, anywhere, not just here.

But listen, I’m not saying America is not a great place or a great country or whatever, I’m not that guy. I’m a realist though, which is an unfortunate trait to have sometimes. So while I can’t join you in the parade on the 4th, I’m still glad I’m here and not in Kosovo or Syria. Or Germany or France for that matter. England, you name it. I wouldn’t trade places because I like it here. And I’m sure if you’re listening to this in England or Canada – Hi Steve – or Kosovo, you probably wouldn’t trade places with me either. And that’s as it should be. So boil some ears of corn and overcook those hamburgers on the grill, man. Blow some shit up. Enjoy yourself, you live in a great country. Wherever you are. Next week – maybe we’ll talk about clothes. I’ve been thinking about clothes lately anyway. Or bowling, or plastic or weather. One of those things. Or something else. OKBYE.

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