Lyrical therapy

The world is a tough place. Everyone has their own way of getting by. There was a song a few years ago about making a choice between “drugs or Jesus.” There are more options than that though. Some people use liquor, some escape into television and movies, some read, others seek solace in music. Combination cures are popular as well. Lyrical therapy has always been one of my favorites though. I’ve written a few songs; novelties mostly. There’s “Cousin Sally” about an awkward love affair, and then my greatest hit was “Lola’s House.” It’s about a brothel frequented by all the self righteous in the community. Kind of like “Harper Valley PTA,” but slightly edgier. You won’t be hearing either on the radio. Despite my interest in many musical genres, my songs always come out country. Probably because they’re simple to write, and simple is a good descriptive of my musical ability.  It’s been years since I’ve written any songs. Now I mostly escape into other people’s lyrical wonderlands. Drive-By Truckers have one of my recent favorites, “If you’re supposed to watch your mouth all the time I doubt your eyes would be above it.” Classic.

Styx has been stuck in my head the last couple of weeks, specifically “The Grand Illusion.” It works on a macro and micro level because it paints a picture of the illusions in the media and our personal lives. Micro: Long time readers will remember a treatise I wrote several years ago against the Facebook. My opinion on the social platform hasn’t really changed, but last year I needed to get the word out on a local political issue. My business page was not the place to do it. I’ve used FB for years to peddle my stock in trade, but hadn’t used it personally until then. So over the last several months I’ve been experimenting with it, and I must say, I hate it even more than I thought. Between the immodest moms posting selfies of their finely toned abs, the lewd jokes, and the misspelled words, it is a tragicomedy of modern vanity and general stupidity. It’s the place people go to cast their illusions and pretend they have a wonderful life, or to garner sympathy for how pathetic their life is. They also announce to the world when they’re leaving town, who their kids are, and what they’re cooking for dinner. And I let it suck me in. Shame. Macro: The political cycle we are currently in has the media in a tailspin, literally. They spin, and spin, and spin. It’s getting to the point where I don’t believe any of it. They cut their sound-bites, and push their agendas, and can make anyone look bad (or good). Technology has reached a place beyond the imagination of Joseph Goebbels. Had he been afforded all our modern tools, the Third Reich would’ve ruled the world (and it may yet). While “The Grand Illusion” is a subtle reference to personal and political delusions, “I’m The Slime” by Frank Zappa is a more direct indictment of the corporate media and our personal weakness for their trickery. It’s not nearly as catchy though. Zappa is an acquired taste.

Wading through the levels of symbolism in another person’s lyrics can be a wonderful adventure. If you really want to get lost, Pink Floyd is a good place to start. If you want to go to the combination therapy I mentioned earlier, pair Pink with the Wizard of Oz and you’ll be lost for the next couple of years trying to figure it all out. I heard an author on a podcast a while back talking about The Wizard of Oz, and found that there are actually several levels of symbology going on there. His name was Robert W. Sullivan IV and he wrote Cinema Symbolism. I haven’t read the book yet, but based on his lecture it is one that I should pick up. It’s important to remember that these songs and movies (not unlike the article you’re reading now) are sometimes written for reasons beyond their face value. Some fiction is quite true, and some fact is highly fictionalized. Wonderful adventure that it may be, setting out on an expedition through pop art can also be dangerous. Thomas Cardinal Wolsey said, “Be very, very careful what you put in your head, because you’ll never, ever get it out.” Once you open your mind beyond the vulgar surface of things, it’s hard to go back on Facebook and see anything but stupidity and a lot of sad, sad people.

Facebook Snipers

One minute you’re here, the next you’re not. Such is life. As entertainment has gotten more and more violent over the last thirty years, it has become more common for writers and directors to build a character up only to rip them from the story in a moment with a sniper shot. The person who just saved the day is usually walking and laughing along when, from out of the blue, their head explodes. They never see it coming, and it’s most unsettling to watch. When you think of all the vets that have had to witness it in battle, it’s no wonder they have trouble rebuilding their lives when they get home. All’s fair in love and war, but to execute someone without any chance of defense is both callous and cold-blooded. It’s regrettable that treachery has become so commonplace in our culture, but here we are.
I watched a show where one of the characters got sniped the other day. I won’t tell you which one because I’m ashamed I was watching it. It’s one of those train wrecks I just can’t seem to look away from, but it’s not at all uplifting. Then last week I became aware of another kind of sniper, one with a much less permanent and consequential result. I got nailed by a Facebook sniper. It would seem I made a mistake. I’m sure the reader is shocked to learn that I’m capable of doing so, but it happened. It was a fairly insignificant thing that I could’ve completely corrected in less than five minutes, but the sniper was not so kind as to allow me that courtesy. Instead of picking up the phone and alerting me to my error, they picked up the i-Phone and went to social media to tell the world what a buffoon I am. Classy. It wasn’t till one of my actual (non Facebook) friends called later in the day that I found out I was being lambasted by a bunch of people I didn’t even know. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but small people on the web will never hurt me. It was a trivial thing, but it did take the wind out of my sails for a couple hours. That’s my fault for sweating the small stuff.
Like alcohol, some people can use social media responsibly. Others just turn into drunken idiots who hurt everyone around them. There’s an old Johnny Paycheck song that says: “But you know every beer joint that you’ve ever been in. Some big, mean drunk who just ain’t got no friend. Sure enough, he wants to fight. Yeah, he’s gonna whip everything in sight.” That’s Facebook for you; a bunch of big mean drunks with no friends. Most people just go in for a drink, but there’s one in every crowd who can’t wait to pick a fight.
Less than a week after that sniper took a potshot at me, I was sorry to see a colleague get hit. What purpose did it serve? None. It was just someone who should’ve known better taking advantage of a situation. I suspect a little green eyed monster had more to do with it than anything else. Author, Wendy Mass, wrote, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” The reader might note that anyone writing internet attacks at one o’clock in the morning might have more issues in their life than their words imply. The internet is a wonderful tool that has brought much knowledge and efficiency into our lives, but the power that it brings is a dangerous one. Voltaire told us that great power imposes great responsibility. This was never truer than with the bullhorn that is social media. Inciting a riot is a crime, but there is no sheriff on patrol in cyberspace at 1:00 am. The damage those rioters do is generally emotional, not property. It’s harder to prosecute even if there was a sheriff.
The moral of the story is this: Think before you post. I imagine someone is scoffing at this point. With all the things I’ve published here, you might think I should heed my own advice. My material gets reviewed and re-reviewed by me before publishing, and it has to get past my editor after that. I can only imagine how much trouble I’d be in if I just wrote it up in the middle of the night and put it out there without anyone reading. If only I could get someone to edit all my emails and text messages, I’d probably have stepped on far fewer toes over the years. Even with those, I’m learning to slow down and think before pushing send. With each gray hair I’m thinking more about how people will take things, and what I’m actually trying to say. After all, there’s no body language or inflection in an email or web post. We may rarely mean to take potshots, but a keyboard is like a gun. It must be handled with respect for human life.