Published November 5th, 2016
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Yep, yep, yep, what do you know, it’s another fantastic plastic THIS IS NOT A TEST, featuring me, Michael Phillips, the same guy it always features. Today’s special guest is me! And next time I’ll be bringing me in for a talk. Me, me, me, it’s always me and it’s all about me. Well, you too. It’s all about you, really. I lay awake at night wondering what I can do to please you, but you’re like an iceberg. So cold and distant. So unpleasable. Well, I have to carry on anyway. A contract is a contract.
Did you hear, Bob Dylan got the Nobel Prize for Literature. Does that make you go, “What the fuck?” It makes me go what the fuck. What is Nobel saying? That lyrics are literature? Or that Dylan’s lyrics transcend lyrics and are considered poetry? Both of those would seem wrong to me. Very wrong. Lyrics are nowhere close to being literature, and Dylan’s lyrics, despite what millions of people have been saying for a few decades now, are not poetry. As a lyricist, Bob Dylan is unsurpassed. He’s one of the greatest. But song lyrics are not poetry. Lyrics are repetitive and they rhyme for fuck’s sake. Like a poem from the 19th century or something. His lyrics also don’t read like poetry. Oh, now I know the Dylan lovers out there are laughing into their metamucil, but it’s true, they don’t. Go read some. Pick 20 songs at random and read the lyrics. Not poetry. Again, as songs, they’re great. As lyrics, well, no one does it better. But read as poetry they’re random rhyming buckets of slop that don’t usually say anything cohesive.
Yes, I know there are “story songs” like Tangled Up In Blue that read as coherent, linear stories. But for every one of those there are 50 lyrics that, if you didn’t know the songs, don’t make a god damn bit of sense. Again, just pick a Dylan song at random, and the odds are it won’t make any sense. He’s really good at little cinematic snippets, little scenes, setting a stage that way, but it’s often a bunch of disjointed or random scenes that go nowhere. Which is fine, I can appreciate those scenes, and they make for great lyrics. They don’t make for good literature though. And story songs aren’t such hot shit, you know. “The night Chicago Died” is a story song. So is “Knock Three Times.” No offense to Tony Orlando or Paper Lace, but most story songs are heavy on the cheese and light on the literature. I think Paper Lace was also responsible for that timeless story song, “Billy Don’t Be a Hero.” And Tony Orlando and Dawn, well, they were responsible for a dozen songs you know, whether you know it or not. But that’s neither here nor there, is it. “Tie a Yellow Ribbon.” Story song.
Anyway, while we’re on the subject, Dylan is notorious for changing his own lyrics, changing the songs, basically just refusing to play anything live the way you’re used to hearing it on the records. Which might thrill some people, but I have to assume just annoys the vast majority of the people at his shows who don’t recognize a single song, even though he’s playing hits. If the lyrics are Noble prize literature, why does he seem so intent on changing them up every time he sings them? Didn’t get it right the first time? And the thing is, think about it, when you know a song, you can’t objectively read the lyrics as poetry or literature. You just can’t. Try it. Within 3 or 4 lines you’ll be singing it in your head. Which is only one of the many reasons that lyrics are part of songwriting and not part of literature. I love you Bob, you kicked the songwriting world in the ass in the 60s and 70s and forced a lot of people to start being smart and clever and stop being lazy. You should get a prize for that, for sure. Maybe we can start the Bob Dylan prize and you can be the first recipient. I don’t know Bob Dylan, but I have a feeling he’d say, “Fuck that.” So to him getting a literature prize, I say, “Fuck that.”
What’s funny is that Dylan, at the time I’m doing this anyway, Dylan hasn’t said a word about receiving the prize. Not a single word, which is pretty impressive. It’s driving the Swedes crazy and making some of them spout off against Bob, saying he’s not being suitably thankful. He isn’t bowing to them and doffing his cap, so to speak. Which, hey, he didn’t apply for the Nobel prize, you know. You can’t, they just give it out. So criticizing someone for not being sufficiently thankful after you gave them something they didn’t ask for is a little weird. Even for Sweden, which is a weird place anyway. I saw some people online saying the Nobel literature prize should have gone to Leonard Cohen instead. Leonard Cohen? I never got the attraction that some people have to that croaking toad and his music-to-fling-yourself-off-a-tall-building-to. The only thing Cohen has in common with Dylan is that neither one of them can sing. Still with me? All you non-Cohen and Dylan fans still there? Good. We can talk frankly. No literature prize should go to a fucking songwriter. Period. There shouldn’t even be literature prizes, but there are, so let’s keep them confined to the realm of literature. I don’t know what that is, but I know what it isn’t. Hallelujah.
Don’t ask me why, but I had my DNA tested by one of those joints that will tell you your general ancestry and what diseases you might be prone to handing down to your children. Or in my case, my non-existent children. I saw an article somewhere, or was distracted by a shiny ad or something, and I just went to the site and bought the thing. The kit. The service. Sometimes you just have to follow where the advertising takes you and surrender. You can’t fight every minute of every day. So I got the little spit tube, filled it with my precious DNA/spit and mailed it off, and now I have the results. Kind of useless, since I pretty much know what my ancestry is. It’s Irish, Scandinavian, those kind of people. White people. Super white, like transparent white. But according to my father, there’s something else in there, since my great, great grandmother was Oglala Sioux. Which I always thought might explain things like my dark hair and unnatural attraction to tribal drumming. Well, my formerly dark hair. Anyway, last time I visited him we talked about that, because I kind of wanted to verify the story. I didn’t want to be going around saying I was something I wasn’t, and he said yep, it is indeed so, my son. But it’s not a big thing in the family because it was something that people didn’t talk about “back in the day.” There was shame around it for some reason. Seems stupid to me, but it’s a complicated relationship between the white people and the natives up there in the great lakes and the plains, so who am I to judge.
So mostly northern European with a little dash of native American pepper in there to keep things real, for spice, you dig? Yeah, that’s me, and that’s what the DNA test confirmed. Not. No, the DNA test says I’m 99.9% European, and not even .1% North American. The other .1% is “undefinable” they say. Though I have to say, undefinable is almost better than North American. Now when people ask me “what I am,” I can say, “I’m undefinable, bitch!” Not that people ever ask me what I am. You notice it’s only brownish people who get asked that question. That’s pretty fucked up. I wouldn’t take kindly to that if I was brownish. But anyway, yep, how do you like them DNA apples? You open yourself up to the truth and it kicks you in the balls every time. Stupid science. Now I have to re-adjust my thinking, my sense of self and just deal with being whiter than white. Casper white. Don’t-go-outside-it’s-sunny-again-white. Not really. My sense of self isn’t exactly wound up in my ancestry. Who gives a shit? I’m not all about tracing the roots of my families or anything. Finding out my distant relative jumped over the side of a ship in the 1600s to avoid being tarred and feathered, or raped by the other pirates. I mean “explorers.”
I’ve seen those genealogy shows, where some celebrity always finds out the are descendents of revolutionary war heroes or obscure kings of Spain. It’s like people who believe in reincarnation, and they were all Cleopatra and King Tut. They were all Jesus or Gandhi. Right. I think that’s what people expect to find when they go deep into genealogy. That they are really heroes, not just someone sitting in front of a computer or at the Mormon Church looking at 200 year old newspapers on microfilm. But most of us are ordinary and aggressively unspectacular. Which has to be enough, because that’s how it is. I’m not sure what that does for you anyway, to be able to say that someone you’re related to did something notable 300 years ago. You’re still you. You still need a shower and some new shoes. I guess the reason I was curious was because I could never get any details about that supposed great plains ancestor. It was a mystery, and mysteries are cool. I think a recent ancestor who no one wants to talk about, well, there’s something awesome there. How could there not be? And I may well have that somewhere, I mean, everyone has some nuts in their family tree, but no indigenous American nuts in mine, baby. Just lefse and lutefisk and long, dark winters with a lot of angst and silence. That’s about it, and that sounds about right. Sounds familiar.
When I was younger and people talked about their heritage it always bored me. I’d say, “I don’t know, I’m American, I was born here,” and those are more or less still my feeling about it now. Descending from Vikings or Irish prostitutes doesn’t change anything about me. Everything that happened in the past led to me being here, yes, I know that, but the rest of it is of little interest. I like knowing what the recent members of my family were up to, what they were like, what they did, but after a few generations – or as soon as I don’t recognize a name – I lose interest. It’s like astrology. Well, it’s not exactly like astrology because genealogy is an actual thing, but you know how people study stars and planets and planetary maps and claim that where those planet are at any given time – which is anywhere from 35 million miles away to two and a half billion miles away – that’s how far away the planets are, I think, something like that anyway, and astrologers believe that the position and motion of those things all that distance from you has an effect on you and your life.
“Oh, but mjp, you can see the effect of the moon’s gravity on the earth every day! Look at the tides!” Yes, look a the tides, motherfucker, that’s some physical science at work. Unless your argument is that varying gravitational pulls affect your personality and your destiny, then don’t talk about the tides. The tides don’t belong to you, they belong to science. The moon is only like a quarter of a million miles away anyway. You can see the god damn craters on it with your eyes. It’s not surprising that its orbit or gravity have a measurable effect on earth. But when you start talking about the effect of some ball of gas or rock that’s 150 times further away? And that’s the closest planet. What’s two and a half billion divided by a quarter million? I should be able to do that in my head, they’re nice round numbers…two and a half billion is 2,500 million…times…4 – it’s 10,000! Pluto was 10,000 times further away from you when you were born than the moon was. Come on, man.
Any eight year old can tell you it’s all bullshit, but I don’t really want to go off on a tangent about astrology, the point I think I was trying to make was…was what? I’m all confused by math now, and math isn’t my thing. Oh, the point was that even if I believed in astrology, so what? Even if I believed that Jupiter being in this place on this date meant I was going to stub my toe sometime on a certain date, so what? What good does that do me? So I’m really careful where I put my toes that day? Well then of course I’m not going to stub one of them. How would I know if I was going to? You dig me, babies? It’s all self-fulfilling prophecy. And if an in-depth reading of the position of all that celestial shit at the moment of my birth tells me that I’m prone to whimsy or turpitude and I think to myself, that’s right! I AM prone to whimsy and turpitude! So what? What is the value to me of that information that I already had? Though I’d like to meet someone prone to both whimsy or turpitude. I’ll bet they’d have some stories. Anyway, I know I said I wasn’t going to go off on a tangent – but what’s the deal with the moment of your birth being significant in astrology? Like they want to know down to the minute, so they can be, you know, more accurate.
The moment of your birth is meaningless. You five minutes before your birth and you five minutes after it are the same being. You’re just colder and everyone is putting their hands all over you. Shouldn’t the position of the solar system be marked at the time of your conception? When those cells started dividing in the egg in your mother’s womb? Now there’s a significant fucking moment in your life. But see, astrologers can’t pinpoint that time, or explain exactly when you became you, so they use an event as random as the moment you went from inside to outside.
Okay, Jesus Christ, enough of that. To me, the knowledge gained from astrology is just about as insignificant as the knowledge gained from who your family was 500 years ago. Neither one of them can do anything for you today, when the electric bill is due and your tooth hurts. But I have to say that some of the information the DNA tests can give you is pretty impressive. A lot of it is just things you already knew, but then there are things like being 36% likely to have Neanderthal in your background. Or that your specific DNA is what makes it unlikely that you’ll have back hair. Thanks for that, by the way genetics. I like a smooth back. So it was interesting to go through all of that stuff, and find out I was not a carrier for a lot of really awful sounding diseases, but other than that it was not terribly eye opening. It made me think though, or wonder about why we care about things like ancestry. Like if your DNA comes back and you find you had ancestors in Africa or Asia, but you never knew that, does that information make you cooler somehow? Does it suddenly bestow a new set of rights on you? Now you should have an opinion on Black Lives Matter when you didn’t think about it before? Now you can turn up your nose at some sushi and scoff that it isn’t “authentic”?
Would having my phantom native American ancestry verified entitle me, or obligate me even, to feel some kind of way about what happened to the natives in this country? Well I already feel some kind of way about that, and DNA or blood wouldn’t make me feel it more. A story about a relative from those settler times, now that would make me feel more strongly about the whole dirty business, but that’s not in the cards so I get what I get. Or should I say it’s not in the stars. I’m not dismissing that, I’m sure that some tenuous relationship to something can change how you feel about it, just saying for me it doesn’t make any difference, in this here particular case. I don’t know, man. If you go back far enough we all came from Africa, so what’s the difference? We all come from the dusty hellhole that is now Ethiopia, though it wasn’t quite as dusty when we were percolating there. It was pretty nice and everyone was chill. Sure, when they weren’t trying to kill you for a scrap of meat or a handful of weeds or because you were from a different tribe. But we all hail from there, and it wasn’t even that long ago, in the geological scheme of things. A couple hundred thousand years. It’s like a grain of sand in the dumpster of time.
And of course that common ancestor makes sense, scientifically. Though I probably know more than one person who would argue with me about that and start talking about what the fucking bible had to say about it. Or the Koran or the whatever-ishads. But science tells us we’re all one. Or at least we all share that scrap of DNA. All of us. The actual science of it is complicated and convoluted, but if you have an infantile mind like mine that isn’t to good about the learnin’, there’s a good documentary you could watch, called “The Real Eve.” Check that out. Religion, most religions, I suppose I should say by way of qualification, most religions are not laying down that kind of truth. The truth that we’re all brothers and sisters once you scratch the surface. We’re sure as hell not all the same, which is a good thing, but we’re all kin. We’re all part of the same stupid family. That ought to count for something, you know? It ought to make a difference in the way some of us think. But then people who are super gung ho about their religion tend to be more likely to believe that there is no such thing as science.
I’ve been reading a lot about why half of America thinks the way it does and believes the things that it does. This election has made that the subject of half a trillion articles and Tweets and twats, but most of those articles get it wrong. They get it wrong because they’re all based on a fallacy, and that is that this is a divided society. But it’s not. The idea that this is divided society can be laid at the feet of big business and the people who love big business. Because those are the people who started something they call the “culture wars,” which is another made up thing. I say big business, but that means big business and wall street and the wealthy in general, we’ll call them “big business” as a group to make things easier. They started the so called culture wars to deflect attention from their systematic rape of the country and its inhabitants. They started saying – right around the time of the hippies is when this started – they started saying that you, you “good” people, you aren’t like “them,” the bad people. They don’t share your values. They don’t love your god and your guns. In fact, they are coming to take away your god and your guns, and replace them with free love and heroin in the schools, so you should vote for this guy over here, because he’s just like you.
Meanwhile, back in reality, “this guy over here,” that they are convincing you to vote for, is a rich white man whose agenda, his goal, his reason for being, is to change the laws to make the world better for businesses. For millionaires, billionaires and stockholders, to hell with everyone and everything else. They want to change those hard fought for laws, the ones that make things better for people without any money, or without very much money. People like you. People like most of us. But they can’t just stand up there at a podium wearing a suit and a plastic hairdo, saying, “Vote for me, I’m going to fuck you hard,” because, you know, they’d lose. So they stand up there and say, “Vote for me because babies are precious and guns are your birthright,” and it works. It’s been working for 50 years. They talk about social issues that aren’t issues. Abortion is legal, and it’s always going to be legal. You can’t cast a ballot anywhere that is ever going to change that. And since it’s impossible to change, the suits can keep shouting about how wrong it is, election after election after election, and people will continue to vote them in, regardless of how bad those same politicians are making their everyday lives.
The very same thing applies to guns. Guns are as legal as they’ve ever been, and in fact are much, much easier to get now than they’ve ever been, yet there are a thousand suits standing at podiums around the country saying the you need to vote for them because your guns are in danger. The liberals want to take away your guns and give them to ISIS. Abortion, guns, religion, all of these things have remained unchanged for decades, or centuries, but big business wants to convince you that you are living in a state of extreme emergency, and everything you hold dear is about to be snatched away from you by the liberal monster that’s hiding under your bed. If you want a perfect demonstration of that, look no further than the so-called “war on Christianity.” You don’t have to look very hard to find thousands of people in an uproar because they believe their religion, Christianity, is under vicious attack. That they are involved in a war for the very survival of their belief system. But where is this war being fought? I’ve looked everywhere for news about a Christian church being shut down by liberals – by anyone – but I can’t find any. I can find a lot of examples of Christians wanting to close – or burn down – mosques, but Christian churches? Same as they ever were. Same as they’ll always be. Praise Jesus.
But the proponents of the culture wars have planted the seed that — well, no they’ve pretty much established it as fact that if someone disagrees with you, they are at war with you. If they disagree with you they are dangerous to your way of life and you have to do everything you can to stop them. Which means, by the way, voting for the person who’s telling you that lie. It wasn’t always like that. If you’re old enough you can remember when disagreement was just disagreement, and you could disagree with someone and even be their friend. Not so much these days. Do you want to really stump someone who’s voting for Donald Trump or voted for George Bush or Ronald Reagan? Ask them about how things were when they were kids. They love talking about that. It’s the promised land for them. Everything was better, America was great, women stayed in the kitchen. Well, they won’t admit the last one, but you get the idea. After they’ve waxed nostalgic over how great the 40s were, or the 50s or the 60s or the 70s, ask them how their day to day lives are different now. How things are worse. The chances are very good that they won’t be able to give you a single objective reason. Becasue as most of us get older, things get better for us. For most of us.
Oh, but they’ll give you a lot of bogus reasons why their lives are worse, a lot of reasons directly related to the imaginary culture war that big business has convinced them is raging at their doorstep. But nothing that really affects their day to day lives. And anything that they can objectively name as being worse can easily be explained as being the result of business, and the political interests of businesses taking precedence over those of people. You won’t convince them of anything, because facts and reality have been rendered meaningless, but you’ll stop them from ranting about liberals for a few minutes. So that misdirection, that prestidigitation that would make David Copperfield and Criss Angel proud, that’s how big business makes people act in ways that are against their best interest. Convince them they are part of a culture war, not a class war, which is what they’re really unknowingly engaged in. That’s how you convince 40% of the country that more people having health care is a very bad thing. A horrible thing. A disaster. That’s how you convince them that National Parks are a fraud that was perpetrated against them. Or that the Social Security system – something that a large percentage of them rely on – should be handed over to Goldman Sachs or JP Morgan or Merrill Lynch.
But like I said when I was talking about Trump supporters a couple of episodes ago, I won’t call the people who have been taken in by big business stupid. I will call big business and the money interests evil, because they have proven that to be a fact. They are also short-sighted, because they won’t be able to build enough walls or moats to keep the people they’ve deceived out of their bedrooms when the shit eventually hits the fan and everyone who has been lied to starts to see what’s really been happening. They won’t be able to get far enough away from that wrath. The Hamptons will be awash in their blood. Well, probably not, but in a just and equitable world that would be the case. A light bulb would suddenly illuminate over half the country’s head and they’d realize that their completely justifiable indignation and frustration and anger should be refocused on the people who have been the real cause of their misery, the politicians who have been screwing them for most of their lives. Anyway, then what? what happens after the light bulb goes off? A bunch of politicians lose their jobs and bunch more replace them. I’m pretty sure that’s not the real answer to a problem that goes back to our Ethiopian ancestors who were caving in each other’s skulls over nothing.
It might not be the answer, but shit, it would sure make things interesting for a while. But what’s really going to happen is Clinton will be elected President and you’ll wake up the day after she’s sworn in and it will be a day just like every other day. No one’s beliefs will be changed, the phony culture war will continue, in fact it will be invigorated by its loss, and the sun will set and rise again in the morning. Or – one thing might change, a change that would probably be good for people who believe in reason and science and justice, and that is the traditional Republican political party may split in two. It’s hard to see that not happening, really. If I was a semi-reasonable Republican, or as semi-reasonable as a Republican can be, I’d already be looking for a party that isn’t associated with extremists who don’t see any problem in rallying behind a cartoon monkey like Trump. I’d be looking hard, and I have to think I wouldn’t be the only one. So it seems inevitable that that party will split, which will make it almost impossible for them to elect a President for a long time.
But otherwise how are things? Looking forward to this election being over? Looking forward to a new season of Vikings or Portlandia? Looking for love in all the wrong places? Hey, that’s a story song. Isn’t it? I’m going to go write an article about how Johnny Cash should have won the Pulitzer for “A Boy Named Sue.” That has to be the greatest story song ever written. Or maybe I just think it is because I heard it 10,000 times when I was growing up. My old man loved Johnny Cash, and he had an 8-Track player in the truck and I’m pretty sure all I ever heard in there were the same four Johnny Cash tapes. For years. That will leave a mark on you. But then just about everything leaves a mark on you, and that’s why we need to get together to hash these things out. So I’ll see you next time and we’ll commence to hashing. Or we’ll have a spliff and listen to some dub records. Or some tequila around a fire in the backyard. Any way you slice it, it’s all gravy, baby! Laissez les bon temps rouler!